Once in a while, you will find a word in the Bible that surprises you because it seems it should not be there. Hap is such a word. The King James Version renders this word as chance, event, or haply. “Hap” refers to something that, from our human point of view, happens by chance, an accident, or a seemingly random event. “Hap” is indeed a strange word to find in the Word of the sovereign God! Yet when we read our Bibles, we run into this word more often than we might expect.
When Ruth went out to glean in the sprawling barley fields outside Bethlehem, “her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz” (Ruth 2:3). After finding the image of Dagon prostrate before the Ark of Jehovah, and themselves afflicted with emerods, the Philistines wondered whether “it was a chance that happened to us” or whether it was Jehovah’s “hand that smote us” (I Sam. 6:9). Solomon reflecting upon man’s powerlessness to control his own destiny, stated “but time and chance happeneth to them all” (Eccl. 9:11). In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, our Lord mentioned a priest who “by chance…came down…that way” and found the half dead man lying at roadside (Luke 10:31). See also II Samuel 1:6 and Ecclesiastes 2:14.
When the Bible uses a word that at first glance seems out of place, it gives us an opportunity to pause and reflect. Why did the Holy Spirit choose this word? On purpose, of course. To make a point! When the Bible uses the word hap or chance it is not teaching that there is such a thing as chance or fortune, some independent, capricious power outside of God’s control that shapes the course of human life. Rather, the Bible uses this word to describe events as they appear to man. Man’s field of vision is so very narrow and his understanding so very small. There are many events in life that appear random to us. Things seem as though they “just happen.” But what man sees as hap is in reality the operation of the hidden hand of God. What man calls chance is in fact the manifestation of the almighty and everywhere present power of God by which He upholds and governs all things. What man sees as happenstance the Bible reveals is providence.
When Ruth surveyed the sprawling barley fields, she chose to glean in Boaz’s field, without knowing who Boaz was and without any plan to meet him. What appeared as chance was in reality the hidden hand of God guiding her. The same hand that plucked her out of Moab and placed her in Bethlehem now led her to light upon Boaz’s field. What appeared to be an unplanned hap was in reality the outworking of God’s eternal plan for Ruth. God had promised to give Israel a king after His own heart. God had ordained that Ruth the Moabitess and Boaz the Bethlehemite would be the great great grandparents of King David. More significantly, God chose Ruth and Boaz to be foremother and forefather of David’s greater Son Jesus Christ. Ruth’s hap of lighting upon Boaz’s field was a link in the divinely assembled chain of events that in the fullness of time would lead to the birth of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, our Immanuel. Ruth 2:3 emphasizes the point: every hap, every seemingly random, unplanned event in our lives, whether good or bad, significant or insignificant, is determined and directed by the sovereign hand of God, “who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will (Eph. 1:11). The rest of the Bible passages that speak about hap or chance teach this same truth.
Only when you have this understanding of hap can you be happy. In our English language, the words hap and happy have the same root. This reflects the age-old notion that happiness and prosperity are the result of fickle fortune. When fortune smiles on you, then you will be happy. A happy person is a lucky person. Man’s unbelief is built into his very language. But God’s Word frees us from this comfort-robbing notion. The eyes of our understanding have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:18). By faith, we perceive that behind every hap there is the hidden hand of Jehovah working all things for the good of His chosen people. God employs His almighty, everywhere present power to make every single hap in our lives be subservient to our salvation.
Thus, believer, you can be happy, truly happy, no matter what your hap may be! You are happy because God’s countenance shines upon you in Jesus Christ. You are happy because for Christ’s sake, all things are for you, nothing can separate you from God’s love, and not even a hair can fall from your head without the will of your Father. Truly, “this doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father” (Belgic Confession Art. 12). Let us, therefore, “in all things, which may hereafter befall us…place our firm trust in our faithful God and Father” (LD 10 Q&A 28). We know that “all things come, not by chance, but by His fatherly hand” (LD 10 Q&A 27).