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Bible Commentaries

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible
Ecclesiastes 11



Verse 1

"Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days."

"Cast"-"send forth, send away, let go" (TWOT p. 927). The bread in the East is made in the form of thin cakes, which would float for a time if thrown into a stream. Some see the in the word "cast" (send, side reference ASV, "send forth"), the image of a trading ship, i.e., a merchant sending forth his ships laden with trade goods ("Send your grain across the seas" NEB). One does not know when the ship will return, often large periods of time lapsed before the ship arrived at home port with goods in trade. "The idea is that just as the ship returns to reward the one who sent it forth, so God will restore generously the one who demonstrates compassion upon others" (Kidwell p. 263).

Points To Note:

1 The traditional Jewish view of this passage holds that the lesson is one of charity, and that one"s benevolence should be practiced freely without a view to personal return. "We already catch a breath of the New Testament blowing through the first two verses, a hint of our Lord"s favorite paradox that "he who loves his life loses it", and that "the measure you give will be the measure you get" (John ; Matthew 7:2).

2 The other interpretation encourages the daily pursuit of labor, or urging men to make bold business ventures and trust God for the profit.

2 Often we fall into the temptation of not giving as we should, because we want to have enough saved up for ourselves, if something bad happens to us. But Solomon seems to be saying, don"t let the possibility of hard times or an uncertain future keep you from being generous. In fact, the risk of hard times (2b) could well be an argument for giving liberally while you can (Acts ; 2 Cor. 9:6ff; Galatians 6:7ff). Give, do good while you have the opportunity!

"for you will find it after many days"-This isn"t to be the sole motivation for our giving, rather it is a further encouragement. The Bible makes it clear that God takes care of the generous (Psalm ; Proverbs 19:17 "He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed"; 11:25; Luke 6:38 "Give, and it will be given to you"; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8; Galatians 6:9). Notice the phrase, "after many days". Our generosity may not be immediately rewarded, in fact, we might not be rewarded for decades or our reward might simply be in the next life (Matthew 6:19-20). The idea seems to be that our good deeds will eventually come back to us, what we sow we will eventually reap (Revelation 14:13).

Verse 2

"Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth."

"Divide your portion to seven"-The idea may be of unlimited benevolence, i.e. give to many people who might be in need. Or, the idea might be, "divide your ventures", i.e. one is wise if he does not trust his entire fortune to one ship. As one would say today, it is unwise to put all one"s eggs in the same basket. ""Seven" or "eight" represent a wide diversity of investments. Such diversification is necessary because it affords protection against unforeseen calamity in one or two of the enterprises" (Garrett p. 338).

"for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth"-Once again we are faced with the truth that man is completely unable to predict the future, and that time and chance happens to all (). "you never know what will go wrong in this world" (Mof).

3 Solomon might be saying, "Help as many people as you can now, because a time may be coming that you will need help from others" (Luke ; 2 Corinthians 8:14; Galatians 6:1).

4 This verse could also admonish us to allow wisdom to prepare one for the unexpected misfortunes of life which are beyond control---Plan for the future!

Verse 3

"If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies."

Points To Note:

2 "speaks of a storm and means that it is inevitable that disasters sometimes will occur. "If clouds are full" means that when the time for such a calamity comes, it cannot be avoided" (Garrett p. 338). 2. The idea also seems to be that the future is beyond our control as are the acts of God in nature. 3. "The two examples given here---the clouds which follow their own laws and times, not ours, and the fallen tree which has consulted no-one"s convenience" (Kidner p. 97). 4. "When the evil day comes, we must bend to the blow, we are powerless to avert it, the future can be neither calculated nor controlled" (P.P. Comm. p. 276). "The laws of nature are fixed so that man should make use of the present opportunities for doing good, before some action of nature (which is unseen and unavoidable) cuts off the opportunity. Man may fret or even suffer over too much rain or too little, but he cannot control it" (Kidwell p. 265). Even in our present day of advanced technology, we are still completely helpless in face of adverse weather.

Verse 4

"He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap".

"Keep watching the wind and you will never sow, stare at the clouds and you will never reap" (Jerus). We can also be too cautious in this life. The unpredictable future can paralyze some people into inaction. The farmer who is ever watching the weather, and waiting for the ideal conditions---too much hesitation, too much caution, too much calculation. "Our business is to grapple with what actually is, and what lies within reach. Few great enterprises have waited for ideal conditions" (Kidner p. 97) There are risks in doing anything, but don"t let such things deter you from living or trying.

Point To Note:

Waiting for the ideal time to teach someone, obey the gospel, have a family or get married, etc…can cause you to put off something until it is too late. "One cannot use the possibility of misfortune as an excuse for inactivity. Someone who is forever afraid of storms will never get around to working his field. The Teacher in effect says, "Just face the fact that things may go wrong, but get out there and do your work anyway"" (Garrett p. 338).

Verse 5

"Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things."

"Just as"-Human ignorance, even in the things of this life is once again reaffirmed. If we can"t even know or understand various physical things in our universe that happen every day, how much more are the purposes and providential workings of God beyond our grasp Romans ). People are so prone to lecture God concerning His supervision of this world are so woefully unqualified of doing so. How can we tell God what He should be doing in the spiritual and moral realm, when we can"t even figure out the workings in the physical realm? (Job 38:1ff).

"you do not know the path of the wind"-Even in watching for the wind, the farmer doesn"t have a clue as to when the wind will change direction and what direction that will be.

"how bones are formed in the womb"-probably includes the entire development of the unborn child.

Points To Note:

2 "The lesson still is that man should make use of present and known advantages, not waiting to figure out the ways of God as to the future" (Kidwell p. 266). 2. Even though we do not completely understand everything about the development of the unborn child, this doesn"t keep us from having children. There are many things in this life that we do not understand fully, or cannot even control, but this does not keep us from working. 3. "In the context this means that since you cannot know that all will go well, do not demand assurance of success before you begin any enterprise. Just as in pregnancy a couple can only trust God that all will turn out well…Pregnancy is the supreme example of human endeavor, the results of which are out of human control" (Garrett p. 338). 4. In addition, these verses should humble us, and make us realize that we aren"t self-sufficient, even the most common events in this life are still beyond our control. We need to trust God, and such trust is needed even in seemingly usual and typical things.

Verse 6

"Sow your seed in the morning, and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good."

"do not be idle in the evening"-"Let evening find thee still at work" (Knox). "The Hebrew says, "Be busy early in the morning, and unto the evening let your hand keep at this task"" (Leupold p. 265).

"for you do not know"-here is the reason for such unremitting activity. Once again, man"s inability to predict the future, even if it is only months in the future is demonstrated. The proper response to uncertainty isn"t apathy, inaction or fear, but rather, trust in God and the redoubling of our efforts (Ephesians ; 2 Timothy 4:2).

"both of them alike will be good"-i.e. both might be successful.

Points To Note:

2 "It is a stimulating call, with no thought of faltering, yet not trace of bravado or irresponsibility. The very smallness of our knowledge (), and control (11:3), and the very likelihood of hard times (11L2) so frequently impressed on us throughout the book, become the reasons to bestir ourselves and show some spirit" (Kidner p. 98). 2. Note that God never says, "Sit back and just put everything into My hands." The response to the truth that God rules the world, is not sitting back, but rather, redoubling our efforts!

Youth, Old Age, And Death

"Appropriately, the last major discourse of Ecclesiastes concerns the grim reality of aging and death and the need to enjoy the life one has under the sun. Nevertheless, this is not a hedonist"s creed, for the demand that all be done in the fear of God stands behind and above the whole" (Garrett pp. 339-340).

Verse 7

"The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun."

"The light is pleasant"-i.e. it is good to be alive.

Points To Note:

2 One of the great questions, even for the Christian, is that in view of the hardships, uncertainties and trials in this life, is it good to be alive? God says, "Yes!" 2. "No matter how difficult tasks may become, or how sad the circumstances surrounding life, it is still a good thing to be alive" (Kidwell p. 267). 3. Note: Along with the call for earnest activity, is the call to enjoy life! 4. Yes, there are many hardships in this life, but God feels that it is inexcusable to resent the fact of being alive or to opt for suicide. The only reason that one can enjoy this life in view of all the cynical things that can happen here, is to have one"s mind fixed on God and eternal life. God expects the believer to enjoy his or her physical life (Ecclesiastes ; 3:12,22; 5:18; 8:15).

Verse 8

"Indeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many. Everything that is to come will be futility."

"if a man should live many years"-note the word "if". God doesn"t guarantee a long life to any one of us.

"let him rejoice in them all"-God believes that throughout life, in every stage of life, from youth to old age-life can be appreciated and enjoyed. In fact, here is a direct command to enjoy every stage of your life. The Apostle Paul had learned this secret (Philippians ).

"the days of darkness, for they shall be many"-Some feel that the "days of darkness" refers to the time of old age. Others, that it refers to the time you spend in the grave or Sheol. But such "days" aren"t dark for the believer (Luke ff; Philippians 1:21-23). It just seems to me that the days of darkness would refer to the days of hardship or calamity. Yes, the days of darkness will be many, even for believers. Hard times do not mean that God doesn"t love you. Enjoy life, and don"t let trials and hardships turn you into a cynical or bitter person. Don"t allow the days of darkness to remove your joy and appreciation in being allowed to live.

"Everything that is to come will be futility"-this is another truth that we are to remember as we are enjoying life. This doesn"t mean that there isn"t an afterlife, or that everything you do in life is meaningless, for it isn"t (2 Corinthians ). But it is saying, "As you are enjoying life, just remember that all your earthly accomplishments are only temporary". Hence, make sure that you accomplish something that will endure (Matthew 6:19-20). In addition, never let "joy" and "good times" be the ultimate goal in your life. Rejoice! But never allow rejoicing to become your god. Remember why you are rejoicing!

Verse 9

"Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things."

"Rejoice, young man"-On the surface it seems strange that God "commands" young people to be happy, for doesn"t such come naturally? Actually, no. How many young people are bitter, depressed, discouraged, resentful, bored, unhappy, confused, etc..? Instead of a period of great happiness, the temptation exists to allow our youth to be a period of great frustration, turmoil and rage.

Points To Note:

2 Youth has the pathway of life before them. Their hopes, dreams, and ambitions will be shaped by attitudes formed while still young. The time to learn how to enjoy life is when you are young. 2. Carefully note that God speaks to young people, "Solomon does not fear to enforce religious considerations upon the young mind" (Kidwell p. 270). Young people need to realize that they are accountable to God, and there are specific commands directed to them (Eph. ). 3. Parents and young people also need to realize that important attitudes, perspectives and convictions are formed during the days of youth. Unfortunately, even many Christian parents tend to excuse the bad attitudes on the part of their older children, often opting for the excuse, "Well, it is hard to be a teenager these days". God doesn"t have such an attitude. Rather, God is saying, "The time to get your head on straight is while you are young".

"let your heart be pleasant"-"let your mind be glad in the days of your vigor" (AAT); "Delight in your boyhood, young man, make the most of the days of your youth" (NEB); "Young man it"s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it!" (Tay)

"And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes"-Nothing here is encouraging a young man to engage in sinful or irresponsible activities. In fact, such activities deprive life of real and true joy (Titus ).

Points To Note:

3 The verse stresses the need in learning how to rejoice in wholesome activities that will stand God"s scrutiny on the judgment day. 2. "Meanwhile verse 9 reminds us of another aspect of joy: its relation to what is right…..The ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes-or, in two words, perfect freedom---must have a goal worth reaching, a "Well done! to strive for, to find fulfillment. Otherwise triviality takes over, or worse still, vice. Whichever of these connotations the word "playboy" has for us, we know that for lack of relating his life to anything demanding, still less to heaven"s assessment, that man is a pitiable figure. So this verse, by insisting that our ways matter to God and are therefore meaningful through and through, robs joy of nothing but its hollowness….To idolize the state of youth and to dread the loss of it is disastrous: it spoils the gift even while we have it" (Kidner p. 99).

"Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things"-"The exhortation to follow one"s inclinations (v. 9) does not endorse the reckless following of every impulse. Awareness of divine judgment turns the pursuit of joy away from crossing over into sins" (Garrett p. 340). Please note that judgment day was never meant to take all the joy out of living, but rather, to simply remind us not to waste our life in superficial or sinful activities. In light of the judgment day, the believer can have a very happy and rewarding life in this life.

Verse 10

"So, remove vexation from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting."

"So, remove vexation from your heart"-"Rid thy heart, then, of resentment" (Knox). "Vexation"-includes sadness, moroseness, fretfulness, grief, anger, wrath, spite and sorrow.

"pain from your body"-attitudes and practices which could hurt your body. "That which would rob youth of good times, pleasant days, happy memories, and general physical and mental/spiritual happiness is to be avoided" (Kidwell p. 272). Too many people have been convinced that joy or happiness can only be found in that which is forbidden by God. But the real truth is that happiness and joy are the result of doing the right thing. "Joy was created to dance with goodness, not alone" (Kidner p. 100). There are a good number of people who can"t enjoy a good portion of their life, because of all the bad choices they made while young.

"because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting"-"The freshness of youth with its unimpaired vigor of the body, which makes joy taste all the sweeter, is but of a short duration---Bad attitudes and the misuse of the body can make any enjoyment difficult or impossible" (Leupold p. 272). The prime of life, includes more than just the teens or twenties. Literally, it is the days of dark hair.

Take care of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually while you are young. If you neglect the wisdom of these verses, not only will you be a miserable young person, but also a miserable old person.


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:4". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". 1999-2014.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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