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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 11

Expositor's Dictionary of TextsExpositor's Dictionary

Verses 1-10

Sowing and Reaping

Ecclesiastes 11:1

By general consent the primary reference of the text is to the Egyptian custom of scattering seed upon the oozy soil formed by the overflowing of the Nile. To the thoughtful mind there is a remarkable resemblance between the laws of the physical and the moral harvest:

I. The Natural Harvest. The golden grain once more gathered in reveals:

a. The power of God. Think of the vast machinery that He employs to produce our daily bread.

b. The wisdom of God. The electric telegraph, the steam engine, and all the other wonderful inventions of men are clumsy when compared with the skill of God in rearing a stalk of corn.

c. The goodness of God. Every autumn the race is within a month of starvation. But though so near the end of our food supplies we have never passed or even reached the verge of universal famine. Seed time and harvest have never failed.

II. The Spiritual Harvest. We will look at the same three aspects of the Lord's work in the moral world:

a. The power of God. Never doubt who grasps the sceptre. 'The Lord reigneth.' Neither let us fret or despair because we think the kingdom of God is spreading slowly.

b. The wisdom of God has its supreme manifestation in the plan of salvation. Christ is the only founder of a religious system who does not speak with a provincial accent, because he is a teacher sent from God. In Christ are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

c. The goodness of God. He delighteth not in the death of the wicked. He will love all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.

Ecclesiastes 11:1-2

It is 'Cast thy bread upon the waters'. All we can do is to cast the bread. The waters run and sway to and fro, and swallow the bread. But we have nothing to do but to cast it. 'In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand, for thou knowest not which shall prosper.' And we have nothing to do but sow. Fifty years of preaching seems like fifty years of beating the air; yet every Truth has a vitality like a grain of corn. And though we never may know it, many a Truth strikes root.

Cardinal Manning.

References. XI. 1. J. Hamilton, The Royal Preacher, p. 197. T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 239. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons for Daily Life, p. 325. E. A. Askew, Sermons Preached in Greystoke Church, p. 225. XI. 1-6. R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 391.

Ecclesiastes 11:4

We ought to gather in souls as the farmer gathers under a lowering sky in autumn, believing that the storm may next day rush down upon his fields.

A. A. Bonar.

The man who will not work becomes an astrologer.

Arabian Proverb.

There is no greater impediment of action than an over-curious observance of decency, and the guide of decency, which is time and season. For, as Solomon saith, He that observeth the wind shall not sow: a man must make his opportunity as oft as find it.


See also Bacon's Essays, lii.


Ecclesiastes 11:4

Work was once the recreation of Paradise; it is now the stern necessity of daily life. It is the tax we pay for life.

I. The text exhibits the indolent and undecided.

a. Inaction may spring from indolence.

b. Spiritual idleness prevails.

c. Excessive prudence may apply to some churches, to spiritual prospects, to conversion of individuals.

II. Folly seen when we consider that the present alone is ours. God is frugal of time; gives but one moment at a time; does not give a second until He withdraws the first The best way to prepare for the last moment is to use the present well.

III. Regularity of nature encourages the farmer, but it may mislead those who think that length of day must be theirs, that gracious opportunity must come with constancy of the seasons. God has a right to set bounds beyond which we cannot pass.

J. R. Gregory, Harvest and Thanksgiving Services, p. 192.

The Fault of Over-prudence

Ecclesiastes 11:4

Just as a man may fail through too much zeal, so may a man fail through too much prudence.

I. Apply our text to the important matter of our bodily health. If a man is always thinking of his health, the chances are he will have a sorry harvest. I am not speaking of reasonable care; I am speaking of morbid and worrying anxiety.

II. Apply our text to the difficulties that beset our daily work, for we may so fix our eyes upon these difficulties that all the strength is taken from the arm. Genius is prodigal, and scatters its pearls abroad; genius, like childhood, is equal to its problem. It is men of the one talent and mediocre mind who are tempted to the sin of over-prudence. I have known so many average men who failed, because they were waiting for an impossible perfection.

III. Apply our text to moral effort, and to the battles we fight against besetting sins. Sometimes in such hours we fail through recklessness, but far more often through some over-prudence. There are times when it is folly to observe the winds. There are times when it is madness to regard the clouds. Past failures all that your friends may say 'What is that to thee? Follow thou Me.' In all high venture there is a glorious blindness blindness to everything except the beckoning hand.

IV. Our text has notable application in the great work of national reform. A certain disregard of obvious difficulties, and all that would discourage lesser spirits, has ever been one mark of great reformers whether in the Church or in the State.

It is an easy thing to make fun of the enthusiast who is so terribly in earnest that he is not wise. But I will tell you the man who is a thousand times more fatal to any cause in Church and State than the enthusiast, and that is the man who always eyes the clouds and spends his days in shrinking from the wind.

V. Apply our text to the great matter of decision for Christ Jesus. Think of Peter when he walked upon the sea to get to Christ. 'Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come to Thee,' and Jesus across the water cried to Peter, 'Come'; whereupon Peter leaped out of the ship and walked upon the water to his Lord. Then he regarded the clouds how the wild rack was flying! He observed the wind how boisterous it was! and so observing, he began to sink, and had to cry,' Lord, save me, or I perish'.

G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning, p. 207.

Illustration. When told that Duke George of Saxony was lying in wait for him, 'I would go, said Luther, 'if it rained Duke Georges'. When told that the devil would catch him if he went to the diet, 'I would go if there were as many devils in Worms as there are tiles upon the housetops'. The winds were bitter and the clouds black as midnight, and Luther sowed and reaped because he disregarded them.

G. H. Morrison, The Wings of the Morning, p. 213.

References. XI. 4. J. Bateman, Sermons Preached in Guernsey, p. 223. J. L. Richardson, Sermons for Harvest, p. 76. H. P. Liddon, Old Testament Outlines, p. 163. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxviii. No. 2264. XI. 6. Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 266. XI. 6-10. Ibid. Sermons, vol. lii. No. 3001.

Ecclesiastes 11:7

Beside this passage one may set the conversation between Lavengro and Mr. Petulengro, the gipsy, in the twenty-fifth chapter of Borrow's Lavengro: 'Life is sweet, brother.'

'Do you think so?'

'Think so! There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things; there's likewise a wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die? Wish to die, indeed! A Rommany chal would wish to live for ever.'

'In sickness, Jasper?'

'There's the sun and stars, brother.'

'In blindness, Jasper?'

'There's the wind on the heath, brother; if I could only feel that, I would gladly live for ever.'

Ecclesiastes 11:7

'A pleasant thing it is to behold the sun,' these first Gothic builders would seem to have said to themselves; and at Amiens, for instance, the walls have disappeared; the entire building is composed of its windows.

Pater's Miscellaneous Studies, p. 110.

The great sunlit square is silent silent, that is, for the largest city on earth. A slumberous silence of abundant light, of the full summer day, of the high flood of summer hours whose tide can rise no higher. A time to linger and dream under the beautiful breast of heaven, heaven brooding and descending in pure light upon man's handiwork. If the light shall thus come in, and of its mere loveliness overcome every aspect of dreariness, why shall not the light of thought, and hope the light of the soul overcome and sweep away the dust of our lives?

Richard Jefferies, Sunlight in a London Square.

Reference. XI. 7. S. Gregory, How to Steer a Ship, p. 126.

Ecclesiastes 11:8

Dean Stanley 'told me that except the phrase ἡλίου δύντος αὐγοῖς he could hardly remember an instance in which a classical writer referred to the setting sun; the fact was, that they disliked the idea of sunset, and recoiled from the end of everything. Whether he was right nay, whether he was quite serious in this opinion, I am not certain. At any rate, in modern as well as in ancient times, the finifugal tendency, as we may call it, is apparent. It takes manifold forms and disguises. It is especially noticeable in friends who, like Shelley, have a morbid abhorrence of wishing one good-bye; who feel this abhorrence strongly in proportion as they like one, and are fearful that they will never see one again; and who, though truthful in other matters, will resort to any evasion or artifice to throw dust in one's eyes as to the day of their departure.'

Tollemache's Safe Studies, p. 374.

Ecclesiastes 11:8

'Would you judge of the lawfulness or unlawfulness of pleasure,' she said, 'take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off the relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.' Well might Wesley consult upon such questions a mother who was capable of reasoning and writing thus. His father expressed a different opinion: 'All men,' he said, 'were apt to verge towards extremes, but mortification was still an indispensable Christian duty. If the young man will rejoice in his youth, let him take care that his joys are innocent; this, only this, remember, that for all these things God will bring him into judgment.'

Southey's Life of Wesley.

The old rigid order in Greece breaks down; a new power appears on the scene. It is the Athenian genius, with its freedom from restraint, its flexibility, its bold reason, its keen enjoyment of life. Well, let it try what it can do. Up to a certain point it is clearly in the right; possibly it may be in the right altogether. Let it have free play, and show what it can do. In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand; for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good. Whether the old wine is good, or the new wine, or whether they are both of them good, and must both of them be used, cannot be known without trying. Let the Athenians try, therefore, and let their genius have full swing. 'Rejoice; walk in the ways of thine heart and in the sight of thine eyes; but know thou that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.' In other words, your enjoyment of life, your freedom from restraint, your clear and bold reason, your flexibility, are natural and excellent; but on condition that you know how to live with them, that you make a real success of them.

M. Arnold (Speech at Eton).

Ecclesiastes 11:9 to Ecclesiastes 12:1

When I first entered Ranelagh, it gave an expansion and gay sensation to my mind, such as I never experienced anywhere else. But... it went to my heart to consider that there was not one in all that brilliant circle that was not afraid to go home and think.

Johnson to Boswell.

Compare Rasselas, xvi.

We have got a new family life, which is infinitely genial and charming and natural, which gives free vent to the feelings, and cares liberally for culture and advancement in life. Only the sense of obligation, of duty to God, of living forward into eternity, has disappeared.

C. H. Pearson.

See Jowett's College Sermons, pp. 133 f.

References. XI. 9. J. Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 381. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Ecclesiastes, p. 391.

Ecclesiastes 11:10

We are grateful to anyone who reminds us that there is nothing especially meritorious in gloom. Virtue will not be its own reward unless we have the honesty to admit that we have not given up anything much pleasanter for its sake. Un saint triste est un triste saint . (The nearest thing in English may perhaps be 'a sad saint is a sorry saint'.) Apparently, too, people are apt to forget that cheerfulness of mind is a habit which requires cultivation like any other.

From The Spectator, 27 August, 1904, p. 281. Compare Dante's Inferno, vii. 121 f.

References. XII. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxviii. No. 2264. Ibid. vol. 1. No. 3001.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1910.
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