Who Knows?

Young man thinking

The Hebrew writer said, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). This is the one thing in our future that is certain – death followed by judgment. Besides that, we cannot say with certainty what will happen in our future. James wrote, “You do not know what your life will be like tomorrow” (James 4:14). The wise man asked, “If no one knows what will happen, who can tell him when it will happen?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7).

Who knows what will happen in the future? None of us do. How then do we approach life with this kind of uncertainty? The Scriptures provide some lessons for us to consider. In this article, we will examine several passages that discuss uncertain futures. In each of them, the phrase “who knows” is used to express the fact that mere men could not know where the events would lead. We will consider the events that were happening and see what lessons we can learn from them.

David’s Prayer for His Son

He said, ‘While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, “Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live.” But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me’” (2 Samuel 12:22-23).

When David committed his infamous affair with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:2-4), she became pregnant and he tried to cover up the affair (2 Samuel 11:5-13). When that failed, he arranged to have her husband killed so he could marry her (2 Samuel 11:14-27). Nathan the prophet confronted David and convicted him of his sin (2 Samuel 12:1-9). As punishment, the child would die (2 Samuel 12:14).

David prayed earnestly to God that the child might be spared (2 Samuel 12:16). The king was in such a sorrowful state that his servants were afraid to deliver the news to him when the child finally died (2 Samuel 12:17-18). Yet when he found out, David immediately “arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the Lord and worshiped” (2 Samuel 12:20). The servants were confused by his behavior, so David explained why he “fasted and wept” and prayed to God: “Who knows, the Lord may be gracious to me, that the child may live” (2 Samuel 12:22). He knew it was possible that God would allow the child to live, but he did not know what the final outcome would be.

The lesson for us is that we need to pray in faith regardless of what the final outcome might be. We know that God is “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). We also know that we can cast our “anxiety on Him, because He cares for [us]” (1 Peter 5:7). Therefore, we need to trust in Him regardless of the outcome – just like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego who knew that God could deliver then from the fiery furnace, even though they did not know if He would (Daniel 3:16-18). We need to trust in the Lord that His way is best. “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts’” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Mordecai’s Counsel to Esther

Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not imagine that you in the king’s palace can escape any more than all the Jews. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?’” (Esther 4:13-14).

Haman, who had been promoted by the king of Persia “over all the princes” (Esther 3:1), conspired against the Jews in order to have all of them killed (Esther 3:8-14). The reason why he did this was because he was “filled with rage” since Mordecai refused to bow down before him (Esther 3:5). But instead of punishing Mordecai alone, he “sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai” (Esther 3:6).

After Mordecai learned of Haman’s plot, he informed Esther by sending her “a copy of the text of the edict” and pleaded with her to intervene on behalf of the Jews (Esther 4:7-8). Initially, Esther was hesitant because someone who went before the king without being summoned could be put to death (Esther 4:11). However, as Mordecai explained, her life was in jeopardy anyway because of Haman’s plot. Furthermore, even though he was convinced that “relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place” if Esther refused to help (Esther 4:14), she was in the best position of anyone to help her people. Therefore, he said, “Who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). In other words, he had no revelation from God that would indicate that the Lord put her in that position for this purpose. However, he knew that she should do what she could in her position.

The lesson for us is that we need to use our circumstances, whatever they are, to serve the Lord. Many people misapply Mordecai’s words and use his statement as a springboard to speculate about what God could be doing behind the scenes in their lives that has resulted in them being in their current situation. Yet that is not what the passage is about. Mordecai did not speculate; he just recognized Esther’s situation. Rather than looking for “signs” of God’s will, we should simply serve Him in everything. Paul said that the “Jews ask for signs,” which made the simple preaching of the gospel of Christ “a stumbling block” to them (1 Corinthians 1:22-23). Instead of speculating about what we think God may have done, we simply need to make the most of every situation to serve the Lord.

Solomon’s Lament Over His Labor

Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity. Therefore I completely despaired of all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:18-20).

Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon discussed the vanity of life: “‘Vanity of vanities,’ says the Preacher, ‘Vanity of vanities! All is vanity’” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Referring to all of the things he was able to accomplish and accumulate for himself, he wrote, “Thus I considered all my activities which my hands had done and the labor which I had exerted, and behold all was vanity and striving after wind and there was no profit under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11). Shortly after this, he wrote, “So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). He recognized the reality that his life was temporary. Just as there was “a time to give birth,” there was also “a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2).

The wise man knew that the fruit of his labor would go to someone else after his death (Ecclesiastes 2:18) – someone “who had not labored” with the “wisdom, knowledge, and skill” that he had (Ecclesiastes 2:21). Despite his best efforts, there was no way to guarantee that his work would carry on after him. As he said about the one who would inherit his possessions, “Who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?” (Ecclesiastes 2:19). Naturally, this was a source of frustration to the writer. Everything he accomplished in life could be undone by someone else after his death.

The lesson for us is that we need to remember what is truly important in life. We do need to work in order to earn a living (2 Thessalonians 3:10). It is also good to leave something for others (2 Corinthians 12:14; Proverbs 13:22). However, we need to put spiritual things first. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). We need to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Since we “brought nothing into the world” and “cannot take anything out of it either,” we need to learn to “be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8). Ultimately, what happens to our possessions after we die is inconsequential to the fate of our eternal soul. We should be good stewards while we are here, but we cannot allow ourselves to worry about earthly possessions to the point that it causes a hindrance to our spiritual life.

The Repentance of the Ninevites

Then the people of Nineveh believed in God; and they called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. He issued a proclamation and it said, ‘In Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing. Do not let them eat or drink water. But both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; and let men call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish” (Jonah 3:5-9).

God sent Jonah to Nineveh to prophesy against the city because of “their wickedness” (Jonah 1:2). Rather than leaving for Nineveh immediately to carry out his mission from the Lord, Jonah fled (Jonah 1:3). God used a storm and a great fish to turn him back (Jonah 1:4-2:10). After all of this, God again said to Jonah, “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you” (Jonah 3:2). This time Jonah obeyed the Lord, went to Nineveh, and told the people of the city, “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:3-4).

The message that Jonah preached was not repent or perish (cf. Luke 13:3, 5). Instead, it was a message solely of destruction (Jonah 3:4). However, the response of the people, by the direction of the king, was to repent in sackcloth and ashes and earnestly appeal to God to change His mind and allow the city to be spared. In his proclamation, the king said, “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish” (Jonah 3:9). It is important to note that they had no promise of God’s mercy. Again, Jonah’s message was simply that “Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jonah 3:4), not that they will be overthrown unless they repent. Yet they repented in case God would decide to spare them. In the end, God did spare the city (Jonah 3:10) as Jonah knew that He was able to do (Jonah 4:2).

The lesson for us is that when we know we are in sin, we need to repent. We have been given hope. We can repent and be saved (2 Peter 3:9; Acts 2:38). However, we must not allow anything to stand between us and God’s mercy. Paul wrote, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). No matter what we have done in the past, we can be saved if we will repent and obey the Lord.


Our lives are uncertain, but we should not allow the uncertainly of life hinder our service to God. We know what comes at the end – death and the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). Therefore, let us be ready for that day whenever it comes.

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