The idea of chance in the sense of something wholly fortuitous was utterly foreign to the Hebrew creed. Throughout the whole course of Israel's history, to the Hebrew mind, law, not chance, ruled the universe, and that law was not something blindly mechanical, but the expression of the personal Yahweh. Israel's belief upon this subject may be summed up in the couplet, - "The lot is cast into the lap; But the whole disposing thereof is of Yahweh" (Proverbs 16:33). + A number of Hebrew and Greek expressions have been translated "chance," or something nearly equivalent, but it is noteworthy that of the classical words for chance, suntuchia, and tuche, the former never occurs in the Bible and the latter only twice in the Septuagint.
The closest approach to the idea of chance is found in the statement of the Philistines that if their device for ascertaining the cause of their calamities turned out a certain way they would call them a chance, that is, bad luck (miqreh, 1 Samuel 6:9). But note that it was a heathen people who said this. We have the same Hebrew noun and the verb, from which the noun is taken, a number of times, but variously rendered into English:
Uncleanness that "chanceth him by night" (Deuteronomy 23:10). "Her hap was to ligh t on the portion of the field" (Ruth 2:3). "Something hath befallen him" (1 Samuel 20:26). "One event happeneth to them all" (Ecclesiastes 2:14,15); "that which befalleth the sons of men" ("sons of men are a chance," the English Revised Version, margin) (Ecclesiastes 3:19). "There is one event to the righteous and to the wicked" (Ecclesiastes 9:2,3). Here the idea certainly is not something independent of the will of God, but something unexpected by man.
There is also qara', "If a bird's nest chance to be before thee in the way" (Deuteronomy 22:6). Both the above Hebrew words are combined in the statement "As I happened by chance upon Mount Gilboa" (2 Samuel 1:6). "And Absalom chanced to meet the servants of David" ("met the servants," 2 Samuel 18:9, the King James Version). "And there happened to be there a base fellow" (2 Samuel 20:1).
In the New Testament we have sugkuria, "coincidence," a meeting apparently accidental, a coincidence. "By chance a certain priest was going down that way" (Luke 10:31). Also ei tuchoi. "It may chance of wheat, or of some other kind," i.e. we cannot tell which (1 Corinthians 15:37). "It may be" (1 Corinthians 14:10).
If we look at the Septuagint we find tuche used twice. "And Leah said, (En tuche) With fortune" ("a troop cometh," the King James Version; "fortunate," the Revised Version (British and American); "with fortune," the Revised Version, margin, Genesis 30:11). Note, it was no Israelite, but who said this. "That prepare a table for Fortune, and that fill up mingled wine unto Destiny" ("fate," Isaiah 65:11). In this passage tuche stands or the Hebrew meni, the god of destiny, and Fortune is for Gad, the old Semitic name for the god of fortune found in inscriptions, private names, etc. Note here, however, also, that the prophet was rebuking idolatrous ones for apostasy to heathen divinities.
We have also in the Apocrypha, "these things which have chanced," the Revised Version (British and American) "to be opened unto thee" (2 Esdras 10:49).
George Henry Trever
These files are public domain.