“That which is has already been called by its name and it is known to man; no one is able to contend with he who can overpower him.”
Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki (1040-1105AD), better known as Rashi, argues that this verse again contrasts the works that a man completes in life with the end result of all things…that is death. The angel of death is one with whom man cannot contend. Other commentators strike similar conclusions as they seek to come to terms with the vague language of this verse — though many seem to conclude that either death, the angel of death, or God himself is the power with which one cannot contend. Yet, each focuses on our temporal experience with this verse.
Yet, as Solomon is in the process of leading us to an eternal truth in this book, there seems to be an eternal application of this language as well. All things that are — every class and category and species of thing in this creation — were fully planned in the mind of God from eternity past. Nothing that is exists on its own merit and nothing that ever will exist is outside of the plan and design of our almighty creator. God has called all things by their name even before the creation was formed in Genesis 1:1. And, this not only applies to created things, but to souls as well and God’s election of some to glory and his permitting others to face the eternal judgment they have so earned.
When we set our minds on the passage from this perspective, we are driven to the reality that the one with whom we cannot contend is not so much death, but it is God himself who is our creator. Yet, how often even professing Christians seek to negotiate with God or try to “bribe” him with good deeds. “If I just do this, will you forgive me of that…” When people take on this mindset, they often fall into the trap of thinking that God “owes” them comfort, wealth, or a healthy, successful life — “Look, God, I’ve been good, I deserve this!” Yet, God does not owe anyone. As Isaiah writes…
“Woe to the one who quarrels with the one who made him — a pot surrounded by pots of earth. Shall the clay say to its maker, ‘What are you making’ and ‘Your work has no handles on it’?”
Indeed, which one of us has the right to challenge he who formed us? No, not one. It is not our place to contend with God nor is it our place to justify our sin before him — we cannot do it and have no grounds to even start. Our place is to throw ourselves entirely and wholly on the finished work of Christ and to submit to God’s will for our lives and seek to live a life of obedience to His glory and honor. The key is to repent and do just that.