The Bible contains many stories and events that seem coincidental or conveniently-timed. From Abraham and Isaac encountering the ram in the thicket just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, to Esther becoming queen of Persia right as the Jews faced extermination, these fortuitous happenings move the Biblical narrative forward.
Some view these coincidences as the unseen hand of God orchestrating events. Others argue they are literary devices or myths meant to teach theological lessons. Regardless, the coincidences of Scripture provide opportunities to reflect on God’s sovereignty, human free will, and finding meaning amid life’s apparent randomness.
- Biblical coincidences highlight God’s sovereignty and the concept of “Providence”
- Yet free will and human choices also play an essential role in Scripture
- Reflecting on life’s coincidences can reveal meaning and purpose amid uncertainty
- Coincidences connect to broader debates about God’s nature and relationship to time
- Some coincidence stories likely contain literary embellishment or symbolic meaning
Examples of Coincidence in the Bible
The Bible contains several stories involving remarkable timing or coincidence. Here are some of the most well-known examples:
Abraham and Isaac’s Sacrifice
In Genesis 22, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a test of faith. Abraham brings Isaac to Mount Moriah, constructs an altar, and just as he is about to kill Isaac, an angel stops Abraham and he sees a ram caught in a thicket to sacrifice instead. The sudden appearance of the replacement ram right as Abraham needed one is quite a coincidence.
Some see this as God providentially providing for Abraham. Others argue the original story likely portrayed Abraham going through with sacrificing Isaac, and the ram detail was added later to soften the horror. The text is ambiguous. But either way, the ram’s coincidental arrival helps teach about faith and God’s provision.
“When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built the altar there and laid the wood in order and bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.” (Genesis 22:9-13 NKJV)
Joseph’s Timely Interpretations
In Genesis 40-41, Joseph is able to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker while in prison. This leads to him being brought before Pharaoh to interpret Pharaoh’s own troubling dreams about upcoming famine. Joseph’s ability to decipher their dreams – and reveal their prophetic nature – seems quite coincidental and changes the whole trajectory of his life.
Joseph acknowledges that interpretations belong to God alone. This emphasizes God’s providence and omniscience in revealing mysteries to Joseph right when he needed it. Yet Joseph’s intelligence and willingness also play a role. Once again Biblical “coincidence” highlights both divine sovereignty and human free will.
“Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do…It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” (Genesis 41:25, 16 NKJV)
Ruth “Happens” Upon Boaz’s Field
In the Book of Ruth, Naomi and her widowed daughter-in-law Ruth are living in poverty after losing their husbands. They devise a plan for Ruth to encounter the wealthy kinsman Boaz, lie at his feet while he’s sleeping, and covertly request he “spread his robe” over her – essentially proposing marriage. The next morning, Ruth heads to the threshing floor and by chance ends up at Boaz’s field. What luck!
“So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law instructed her. And after Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was cheerful, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came softly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. Now it happened at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself; and there, a woman was lying at his feet.” (Ruth 3:6-8 NKJV)
This “coincidence” pushes the story in the direction the author desires. Yet the convenient timing and questionable ethics make it problematic as history. More likely it is meant as literary foreshadowing. Either way, the coincidence highlights human initiative within divine providence.
Esther’s Ascent to Queen
After King Ahasuerus banishes Queen Vashti, officials gather beautiful young virgins from across the empire as candidates to replace her. By coincidence, the Jewish orphan Esther is selected and crowned queen – just in time to prevent the extermination of the Jews under Haman’s edict (the feast of Purim).
Again, perfect timing provides opportunity to reflect. Esther interprets it as divine providence, saying “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). Yet the suspicious convenience also shows the literary/theological nature of the tale.
Jesus’ Miraculous Arrival
According to prophecy, the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. By coincidence, Joseph and the pregnant Mary lived in Nazareth but had to travel to Bethlehem right when Jesus was due “because of a census” (Luke 2:1-7).
This explains how Jesus fulfilled contradictory prophecies – a Bethlehem birthplace but Galilean upbringing. Skeptics argue it sounds like contrived storytelling. But Luke may have simply conveyed events as described to him by early Christians. In any case, seemingly coincidental timing highlights God’s unseen hand in fulfilling His grand plan.
Perspectives on Coincidence in the Bible
Scholars and theologians interpret the many coincidences in Scripture differently:
Signs of Providence and God’s Sovereignty
Many Christians see biblical coincidences – like Esther becoming queen or Joseph interpreting dreams – as evidence of God’s Providence and sovereignty over all things. God orchestrates events and reveals knowledge to guide His plan forward. What seem like chance occurrences have deeper purpose and meaning.
This emphasizes God’s omnipotence and omniscience. It comforts believers that their lives are in God’s hands, not simply chaos and chance. Even apparent coincidences have significance to an all-knowing, all-powerful God.
Emphasis on Human Free Will
At the same time, biblical characters like Joseph and Esther express their own free will and initiative within God’s Providence. Esther bravely chooses to approach the king, and Joseph humbly acknowledges God as the ultimate dream interpreter.
So biblical coincidence highlights human responsibility and choices amid God’s overarching purposes. Esther says “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16), courageously accepting consequences of her risk-taking. This contrasts fatalistic views of God’s ordination.
Symbolic Meaning and Literary Devices
Many scholars argue some biblical coincidences are literary embellishments meant to foreshadow events, convey symbolic meaning, or streamline complex histories. For example, the convenient ram substitute in Genesis 22 may have been added much later to an authentic story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac.
Later writers shaped events to fit prophecies and archetypes. This was a common ancient literary device and need not deny divine inspiration. But it does caution against reading events too literally. The coincidences communicate theological messages in symbolic terms.
The Philosophy of Time and Free Will
At a philosophical level, divine foreknowledge and human free will seem difficult to reconcile. If God already knows the future, are humans still freely choosing or just playing out a script? And does God transcend time, or move through it as events unfold?
Biblical coincidences connected to prophecy force thinkers to grapple with knotty issues of God’s relationship to time, knowledge, and determinism vs free will. There are sophisticated arguments on all sides. The coincidences of Scripture provide opportunities for philosophical reflection.
Lessons and Meaning from Biblical Coincidence
Whether one sees biblical coincidences as literal divine intervention, symbolic communications, or somewhere in between, reflecting on these stories can provide insight about life’s uncertainties. Here are some key lessons:
God’s Grand Plan
Even when humans can only see isolated, random events, the totality of biblical narrative reveals God unfolding a grand plan of salvation and redemption. Biblical coincidences – like Jesus’ birth or Joseph’s dreams – highlight there may be greater logic and meaning beneath surface chaos.
This offers hope that our own lives fit into a larger pattern and purpose guided by a sovereign God. Apparent coincidences may have profound significance from an eternal perspective.
Embracing Present Opportunities
When moments of opportunity arose – like Esther being selected as queen – biblical figures had to embrace present-moment possibilities without full knowledge of the future. As Esther said, “If I perish, I perish.”
Free Will Within Providence
Biblical characters expressed their free will even amid God’s providence. Ruth courageously approached Boaz, and Joseph humbly ascribed his powers to God. They acted, rather than sitting back passively.
This suggests we should make faithful choices within our sphere of control, trusting that God can weave even our limited powers into His plans. We are responsible for the decisions in front of us right now.
Finding Purpose in Uncertainty
The biblical authors found meaning in coincidence and uncertainty. Even amid confusing times, they traced God’s hand and purposes. This gave them hope.
When we encounter apparent coincidence, we can draw assurance that these events also have significance in light of God’s oversight. There is meaning even in life’s uncertainties when viewed from the perspective of God’s eternity.
Many biblical stories contain remarkable timing and coincidence. Whether these reflect literal divine intervention, symbolic communication, or exaggerated fables, they provide opportunities to reflect on profound issues. How does God interact with time and human free will? How can we find purpose amid life’s apparent randomness? What is our responsibility in aligning to God’s will versus passive fatalism? Biblical coincidences will continue to inspire awe, debate and insight about living faithfully in a complex world. The central messages – of God’s ultimate sovereignty despite human free will, and finding purpose amid uncertainty – offer reassuring guidance that has sustained generations up to our day.