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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 11

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

III. THE LIMITATIONS OF Wisdom 6:10-11:6

Clues in the text indicate the value and purpose of Ecclesiastes 6:10 to Ecclesiastes 11:6. The phrases "does not know" and "cannot discover" occur frequently (Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 7:14; Ecclesiastes 7:24; Ecclesiastes 7:28; Ecclesiastes 8:17; Ecclesiastes 10:14; Ecclesiastes 11:2; Ecclesiastes 11:6). Also, the recurrence of "it is good" (Ecclesiastes 7:18), and "is better than" (Ecclesiastes 7:2; Ecclesiastes 7:5; Ecclesiastes 9:16; Ecclesiastes 9:18), helps us realize that in this section, Solomon gave much practical advice on how to live. He did not let us forget that our understanding of God’s ways in the present (Ecclesiastes 7:13; cf. Ecclesiastes 8:17) and in the future (Ecclesiastes 9:1; Ecclesiastes 10:14; Ecclesiastes 11:2) is partial. The conclusion is: we should fear God (Ecclesiastes 7:18; Ecclesiastes 8:12; Ecclesiastes 12:13) and seek to please Him (Ecclesiastes 7:26; cf. Ecclesiastes 2:26).

Verses 1-6

C. Man’s Ignorance of the Future 9:1-11:6

The emphasis in this section (Ecclesiastes 9:1 to Ecclesiastes 11:6) is on what man does not know because God has not revealed many things. Solomon also emphasized, however, that the remaining mystery in this subject (Ecclesiastes 8:16-17) must not diminish human joy (Ecclesiastes 9:1-9) or prevent us from working with all our might (Ecclesiastes 9:10 to Ecclesiastes 11:6). [Note: Kaiser, Ecclesiastes . . ., p. 92.] The subsections that follow begin "no one knows" or the equivalent (Ecclesiastes 9:1; Ecclesiastes 9:12; Ecclesiastes 11:2; cf. Ecclesiastes 9:5; Ecclesiastes 10:14-15; Ecclesiastes 11:5 twice, 6).

"Before the positive emphasis of the final three chapters can emerge, we have to make sure that we shall be building on nothing short of hard reality. In case we should be cherishing some comforting illusions, chapter 9 confronts us with the little that we know, then with the vast extent of what we cannot handle: in particular, with death, the ups and downs of fortune, and the erratic favours of the crowd." [Note: Kidner, p. 80.]

Verse 1

Casting one’s bread on the water probably refers to commercial transactions involving the transportation of commodities by ship, not to charitable acts. [Note: Ibid., p. 1189.]

". . . Eastern bread has for the most part the form of cakes, and is thin (especially as is prepared hastily for guests, . . . Gen. xviii. 6, xix. 3); so that when thrown into the water, it remains on the surface (like a chip of wood, Hos. X. 7), and is carried away by the stream." [Note: Delitzsch, pp. 391-92.]

If you follow the advice in this verse literally, you will experience disappointment. It probably refers to buying and selling.

Verses 1-6

4. Wise behavior in view of the uncertain future 11:1-6

"At last the Teacher is approaching the climax of his book. We cannot see God’s whole plan, and there is nothing in this world that we can build on so as to find satisfaction or the key to the meaning of things. Yet we are to fulfill God’s purpose by accepting our daily lot in life as from him and by thus pleasing him make each day a good day. But how can we please him when there is so much we cannot understand? The Teacher has already shown that certain things stand out as right or wrong, and a sensible conscience will see these as an indication of what God desires. This section gives further wise advice in the light of an uncertain future. We must use common sense in sensible planning and in eliminating as many of the uncertainties as we can." [Note: J. S. Wright, "Ecclesiastes," pp. 1188-89.]

Ignorance of the future should lead to diligent work, not despair.

Verse 2

This proverb advocates diversifying your investments, rather than putting all of your resources in one place.

"’Seven or eight’ is a Hebrew numerical formula called X, X + 1. It occurs frequently in Proverbs (chaps. 6, 30) and in the first two chapters of Amos. Here it is not to be taken literally but means ’plenty and more than plenty,’ ’the widest possible diversification within the guidelines of prudence. . . .’ Seven means ’plenty,’ and eight means, ’Go a bit beyond that.’" [Note: Hubbard, p. 227.]

Verses 3-4

Do not wait until conditions are perfect before you go to work, but labor diligently even though conditions may appear foreboding. [Note: Cf. Delitzsch, p. 396.] After all, God controls these conditions, and we cannot tell whether good or bad conditions will materialize.

Verse 5

"Few parents understand precisely how a baby is formed, but most follow the rules of common sense for the welfare of the mother and the unborn child. This is exactly the application that the Teacher makes here to the plan of God. Indeed, it illustrates the whole theme of the book. We cannot understand all the ways God works to fulfill his plan, but we can follow God’s rules for daily living and thus help bring God’s purpose to birth." [Note: J. S. Wright, "Ecclesiastes," p. 1189.]

Verse 6

Since the future is in God’s hands, the wise person proceeds with his work diligently, hoping his efforts will yield fruit, as they usually do.

"Put in a nutshell the theme of the passage is this: we should use wisdom boldly and carefully, cannily yet humbly, taking joy from life while remembering that our days of joy are limited by the certainty of death." [Note: Hubbard, p. 225.]

Verse 7

A. Joyous and Responsible Living 11:7-12:7

Solomon had already advocated the enjoyment of life and responsible living in several of the preceding sections (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; Ecclesiastes 3:12-13; Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18-19; Ecclesiastes 8:15; Ecclesiastes 9:7-10). Now he stressed these points.

Verses 7-8

The first reason we should enjoy life now is that we cannot do so after we die. As Christians we realize that life beyond the grave will be much better for believers than life on this earth. Solomon would not have disputed this had he known what we do as a result of revelation given after his lifetime. For Solomon, the future after death was unclear, enigmatic, and therefore vaporous (Heb. hebel, "futility" in Ecclesiastes 11:8) in this sense (cf. Ecclesiastes 8:10; Ecclesiastes 8:14). Solomon’s advice to enjoy life is still good for today, since our earthly experience is indeed short, and we will never return this way again. Even though the future is bright for the believer, the relative futility of our work and the uncertainty of our future on the earth still make joyful living a wise choice.

Verses 7-10

1. Joyful living 11:7-10

Verses 7-14

IV. THE WAY OF Wisdom 11:7-12:14

In Ecclesiastes 1:12 to Ecclesiastes 6:9, Solomon demonstrated that all work is ultimately futile for two reasons. It does not yield anything really permanent under the sun, and we can never be sure we will enjoy the fruits of our labor before we die. In Ecclesiastes 6:10 to Ecclesiastes 11:6, he pointed out that we can never be sure which of our efforts will succeed, because we do not know God’s plans or what the future holds. In Ecclesiastes 11:7 to Ecclesiastes 12:14, he emphasized how to live acceptably before God in view of these realities.

"The Teacher has discussed how we should act in view of the uncertainties of life. We must recognize the certainties but must plan in such a way as not to be thrown off balance when the unexpected happens. Now the Teacher goes on to speak of the certainty of growing up and growing old." [Note: J. S. Wright, "Ecclesiastes," p. 1190.]

Verses 9-10

The second reason to enjoy life is that youth is fleeting. [Note: See Kaiser, Ecclesiastes . . ., p. 116.] Solomon balanced his counsel to the youth to follow his or her impulses and wholesome desires, with a reminder that God will judge us all eventually. Solomon probably thought of God’s judgments before death (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; Ecclesiastes 7:17).

"To older people it may seem to be too risky to advise a young person to walk in the ways of his heart and the sight of his eyes. Yet the advice is coupled with a reminder of responsibility before God. This is not to take away with one hand what is given with the other because a sense of responsibility belongs to youth just as vitality does." [Note: J. S. Wright, "Ecclesiastes," p. 1191.]

In all his writings, Solomon never advocated sinful self-indulgence, only the enjoyment of life’s legitimate pleasures and good gifts.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/ecclesiastes-11.html. 2012.
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