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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Ecclesiastes 11

 

 

Verses 1-8

Chapter Ecclesiastes 11:1-8 Advice From The Wise Man To The Wise.

Central to these verses is the recognition of our ignorance. We do not know what will happen when we do things, we do not know what God will work, thus we should seek to make the maximum effort recognising that some of our efforts will be blessed, and we have no idea which.

Ecclesiastes 11:1

‘Cast (send away) your bread on the waters, for you will find it after many days.’

Various interpretations have been given for the meaning of this verse. The most probable is that he has in mind the waters as representing people. Let a man feed the needy generously and without thought of what he can get from it (‘cast’) and he can be sure that one day he will get his return. What we do now will reap its deserved reward one day, possibly in unexpected ways. A kindness shown will result in kindness being shown. What we sow we will reap (Galatians 6:7-8).

Others have seen in it a reference to overseas trade. Take the risk of sending your bread over the waters and you will eventually receive benefit from it, the profits from trade. To the Israelite the sea was not seen as a friend. To go to sea was a risky venture. But they are being assured that if they were willing to take sensible risks in trade they would benefit by it, although it may take a long time. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

If the latter interpretation is correct it is probable that he was not expecting all the people to become sea traders, rather that he intended it as an example of the need to venture out on things and not remain in one’s shell. The idea was that men should not look just at the short term, and be timid and avoid risk, but should be venturesome and consider long term benefits.

Ecclesiastes 11:2

‘Give a portion to seven, yes, even to eight, for you do not know what evil will be on the earth.’

The idea here would seem to be of the need to spread risk. Compare our proverb, ‘do not put all your eggs in one basket’ (if you drop it you will lose the lot). While he has suggested being venturesome, he also recommends being careful. The wise man will be both.

Seven was the number of divine perfection, and eight thus represented even excess of that. So he has in mind the need to remember that the world can be an evil place, and to take sensible precautions to the widest extent possible, and more.

Ecclesiastes 11:3

‘If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls towards the south or towards the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will be.

The wise man keeps his eye on things. While it is God Who proposes and disposes it is up to man to use planning and forethought. He should be awake to what is going on around him, and to what God is doing. He knows that if the clouds are full of rain, then eventually it will rain, so he is prepared, and takes advantage of the situation. He knows that if a tree falls down it can fall in a number of directions. Therefore he is prepared. It is no good wishing afterwards that it had fallen the other way. He does not ignore the future, but approaches it sensibly to obtain maximum benefit from it, and to ensure that he has taken all necessary precautions. He cannot necessarily change what is coming, but he can prepare for it.

He also knows that when chopping down trees they will fall in the direction intended by the axeman. So he considers where he wants it before chopping down the tree, for once it has been chopped down it is too late (see Matthew 3:10). Or if a tree may possibly blown down, the same need for thought applies. He arranges to protect the tree, or to ensure that there is nothing that it could fall on, so that it will not cause damage in a storm. In that case he cannot arrange in which direction the tree will fall, but he can ensure that it will not fall on anything important.

The thought in both cases is of keeping awake to possible eventualities, and planning in the light of eventualities which we cannot change. The wise man does not live life carelessly. Thus he is not caught out and achieves what he wants to achieve. If a person plans to read his Bible and pray every day he should fix a time, otherwise he will never do it. If a person has something he needs to do he should determine when he should do it. Then it may get done.

Ecclesiastes 11:4

‘He who observes the wind will not sow. And he who regards the clouds will not reap.’

Having warned about the need to take precautions, he now warns against the danger of being too cautious. It is one thing to be sensible, it is another to be over-anxious. Those who are always looking at the difficulties will never get anything done. It is a matter of common sense.

Ecclesiastes 11:5

‘As you do not know what is the way of the wind, or how the bones grow in the womb of a pregnant woman (her who is with child), even so you do not know the work of God who does all.’

Even in this scientific age we do not really know the secrets of the wind, nor the secrets of the human body. We may know about genes but we do not fully understand them. Things still happen invisibly that we cannot comprehend. Even more therefore do we not know the workings of God. They are invisible and unpredictable. God works His own will, and does what He will with His own, and none can know what it will be, except in so far as He has revealed it to us.

Ecclesiastes 11:6

‘In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not withhold your hand. For you do not know which will prosper, whether this or that, or whether they both alike would be good.’

So because we do not know the workings of God we are to take advantage of our time and gifts and sow them at all seasons. For we have no idea which will prosper. Indeed both might prosper. We need to sow in the morning, and sow in the evening (or it may mean from morning until evening), for how sad it would be if we picked and chose, and later we discovered that the time we decided to sow was the wrong one and we had missed the harvest.

I remember once on a beach mission where we needed all our personnel, we were asked to send some to a local ministry in an out of the way spot. We did so out of duty but feeling some regret because of the effect it might have on our own outreach. It was stretching our resources, and the dear brothers were ministering in too barren a place. And it was there the blessing fell. How easily we could have missed out on God’s plan.

So we must be faithful to God with all that we have, recognising that He will work in the way He chooses. And this is just as true in physical things as in spiritual.

Ecclesiastes 11:7-8

‘Truly the light is sweet, and it is a pleasant thing for the eyes to behold the sun. Yes, if a man live many years, let him rejoice in them all. But let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many.’

The idea of seizing the opportunity and making the most of the time continues. The sunny days are welcome, and bring great joy. For however long we enjoy them we must make the most of them, with gratitude and praise. For they will not last for ever, and we must remember that there will also be days of darkness, dark times, and they too will be many, in which we can do nothing because there is no light to work by. (But compare also Ecclesiastes 2:13-14. It may thus mean days when we walk as fools in the darkness. We are not always wise). Then we will regret that we did not make better use of the sunny days.

Alternately ‘the days of darkness’ may be referring to death (Ecclesiastes 6:4). Thus it is then saying, make the most of your life whether short or long, for death lasts a long time, and the opportunities will have gone.


Verses 1-14

Chapters Ecclesiastes 11:9 to Ecclesiastes 12:14 The Venturing Of The Young, The Trials Of The Old and Man’s Final Destiny.

As we come to the end of the writer’s musings we are rewarded with the final conclusions that he has reached. He calls on the young man to arise out of life’s vainness and look to his Creator, recognising that God will bring him into judgment in whatever he does. Interestingly he no longer appears to see life as meaningless, but as something to be treated very seriously, with attitude towards God being seen as of prior importance. Outwardly life is still indeed vanity, but that only refers to life on this earth, life under the sun (Ecclesiastes 12:7-8). What must not be overlooked is what lies beyond life ‘under the sun’. Thus in the light of everlastingness (Ecclesiastes 3:11) the godliness of the godly will turn out to be the one thing that is important after all. Hope is arising out of despair.

Young Men Are To Make The Most Of Their Youth, But Are To Remember While They Are Young That God Is Their Creator And Will One Day Judge Them, And Should Live Accordingly, For One Day They Will Grow Old And Then Their Spirits Must Return To The God Who Gave Them (Ecclesiastes 11:9 to Ecclesiastes 12:7).

We have already seen that the Preacher has continually recognised that there is a judgment coming ( (Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 8:5). Now he applies that to the young (Ecclesiastes 11:9) and to all men who fear God (Ecclesiastes 12:14).


Verse 9

‘Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth, and walk in the ways of your heart and in the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. Therefore remove causes of sorrow from your heart, and put away evil from your flesh. For youth and the prime of life are vanity. Remember also your creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come, and the years draw near when you will say I have no pleasure in them.’

The young men are told to enjoy the fact that they are young, and their lives while they are yet young, and make the most of their youth, doing the things that they desire, but to remember that for how they behave they will be brought into judgment. Thus they must remove from their lives anything that will cause distress and sorrow to others, and not give way to the evils of the flesh.

But they must remember that youth and the prime of life are soon over (they are ‘vanity’). Or that they are futile and vain. Thus they must consider their ways and not over-exalt themselves.

‘Prime of life.’ Alternately the word possibly means ‘black hair’, and thus the period before they become grey-headed.

Consequently they must in their youth remember their Creator (compare Psalms 100:3; Isaiah 43:15), for it is He Who will call them to account. The thought is that they are to give Him due regard, something that will involve being faithful to Him with regard to the covenant (Deuteronomy 8:18; Deuteronomy 15:15; Psalms 78:35; Psalms 119:55; Numbers 15:40; Judges 8:34; 1 Chronicles 16:12; Isaiah 46:9; compare the use in Exodus 20:8; Exodus 32:13; Leviticus 26:42; Leviticus 26:45). Each will have to answer for what he is and does.

They are reminded that they will one day grow old, and the evil days will come, the days of weakness and failing faculties, the days when life becomes more of a burden than a pleasure. Thus they must enjoy youth while they may, and make the most of the oportunities that it offers, always; however, remembering that God will be their Judge..

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ecclesiastes-11.html. 2013.

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