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Wednesday, May 29th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 11

Trapp's Complete CommentaryTrapp's Commentary

Verse 1

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

Cast thy bread. — Thine own well gotten goods. Alms must not be given, said a martyr, Acts and Mon., fol. 765. until it have sweat in a man’s hand. "Let him labour, working with his hands," saith the apostle, "that he may have to give to him that needeth." Ephesians 4:28 And the bountiful man giveth of his bread to the poor, saith Solomon. Proverbs 22:9 God hateth to have ex rapina holocaustum, a sacrifice of things got by rapine and robbery; Amos 2:8 "With such sacrifices God is not well pleased." Wherefore, if thou hast of thine own, give; if not, better for thee to gratify none than to grate upon any, saith Augustine. When our Henry III (an oppressing prince) had sent a load of frieze A kind of coarse woollen cloth, with a nap, usually on one side only; now esp. of Irish manufacture. to the friar minors to clothe them, they returned the same with this message, that he ought not to give alms of what he had rent from the poor, neither would they accept of that abominable gift. Daniel’s Hist. , 168. The Hebrew word signifying alms signifies properly justice, to intimate that the matter of our alms should be goods justly gotten. öã÷ä . - Buxtorf. Hence also the Jews call their alms box Kuphashel tsedaka, the chest of justice. Into this box or basket, if thou cast but bread (so it be thy bread ), brown bread, such as thou hast, and then wait for the Lord, when he will return from the wedding with a full hand, thou shalt be fed supernae mensae copiosis deliciis, as one saith, with the abundant dainties of the heavenly table.

Upon the waters. — Heb., Upon the face of the waters, where it may seem clearly cast away; as seed sown upon the sea, Eις υδωρ οπιειν . or a thing thrown down Avon, as we say, no profit or praise to be had by it. Or upon the waters, i.e., upon strangers (if necessary) whom we never saw, and are never likely to see again. Or, "upon the waters," i.e., upon such as being hunger bitten, or hardly bestead, do water their plants, being fed "with bread of tears." as Psalms 80:5 To this sense Munster renders the words thus, Mitte panem tuum super facies aquas, sc., emittentes, Cast thy bread upon faces watered with tears; or, "upon the waters," upon the surface of the waters, that it may be carried into the ocean, where the multitude of waters is gathered together; so shall thine alms, carried into heaven, be found in the ocean of eternity, where there is a confluence of all comforts and contentments. Or, lastly, "upon the waters," i.e., in loca irrigua, upon grounds well watered - moist and fertile soil, such as is that by the river Nile, where they do but throw in the seed, and they have four rich harvests in less than four months; Blunt’s Voyage, p. 37. or as that in the land of Shinar (where Babel was founded, Genesis 11:1-9 ), that returns, if Herodotus and Pliny may be believed, the seed beyond credulity. Herod., lib. i. c. 193; Plin., lib. vi. c. 26.

For thou shalt find it after many days. — Thou shalt "reap in due time, if thou faint not": slack not, withdraw not thy hand, as Ecclesiastes 11:6 . Mitre panem, …, et in verbo Domini promitto tibi, …, saith one; Cast thy bread confidently, without fear, and freely, without compulsion; cast it, though thou seem to cast it away; and I dare promise thee, in the name and word of the Lord, Nequaquam infrugifera apparebit beneficentia, Greg. Thaum. that thy bounty shall be abundantly recompensed into thy bosom. "The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth shall be watered himself." Proverbs 11:25 See Trapp on " Proverbs 11:25 " See also my Common Place of Alms. Non pereunt sed parturiunt pauperibus impensa, That which is given to the poor is not lost, but laid up. Not getting, but giving, is the way to wealth. Proverbs 19:17 Abigail, for a small present bestowed on David, became a queen, whereas churlish Nabal was sent to his place.

Verse 2

Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.

Give a portion to seven, and also to eight. — A portion - i.e., a good deal, a fair proportion - to a good many; as B. Hooper did to his board of beggars, whom he fed every day by course, serving them by four at a mess, with whole and wholesome food. Acts and Mon., fol. 1368. Or give a portion, i.e., a part, such as thou canst well part with, not stretching beyond the staple, lest ye mar all, while "others are eased, and you burdened, but by an equality," … 2 Corinthians 8:13-14 Give to him that asketh, saith our Saviour Luke 6:30 - scil., according to his necessity, and thine ability. Give with discretion. Psalms 112:5 Have a special respect to the family of faith, Galatians 6:10 those "excellent ones of the earth," in whom was David’s "delight." Psalms 16:3 The Jews, from this text, grounded a custom of giving alms to seven poor people every day, or to eight at utmost, if they saw cause. But here is a finite number put for an infinite, as when Christ bade Peter forgive his brother "seventy times seven times," and as Micah 5:5 "seven shepherds and eight principal men" signify so many shepherds, both teachers and rulers, as shall sufficiently feed the flock of Christ, and defend it from enemies.

For thou knowest not what evll shall be upon the earth. — Therefore lay in lustily; or rather, lay out liberally, and so lay up for a rainy day. Thou mayest be soon shred of thy goods, and as much need other men’s mercy as they now need thine. Sow, therefore, while thou hast it, that thou mayest "reap again in due season." "Water, that thou mayest be watered again." Proverbs 11:25 "Lay up for thyself a good foundation against the time to come." 1 Timothy 6:18 Lay out thy talent; work while the tool is in thine hand. Make friends with thy mammon. Say not, as one rich churl did, when requested to do somewhat toward his minister’s maintenance, The more I give, the less I have. Another answered that he knew how to bestow his money better. A third old man said, I see the beginning of my life, but I see not my latter; I may come to want that which I now give. Thou mayest do so, saith Solomon here, and by thy tenacity thou art very likely to do so; but wilt thou know, O man! how thou mayest prevent this misery, and not feel what thou fearest "Give a portion to seven," … Part, therefore, freely with that which thou art not sure to keep, that thou mayest gain that which thou art sure never to Lose."he that giveth to the poor shall not lack." Proverbs 28:27

Verse 3

If the clouds be full of rain, they empty [themselves] upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.

If the clouds be full of rain. — As the sun draws up vapours into the air, not to retain them there, but to return them to the earth, for its relief, and the creatures’ comfort, so those that have attracted to themselves much riches should plentifully pour them out for the benefit of their poorer brethren. Clouds, when full of great and strong rain, as the word here signifies, pour down amain; and the spouts run, and the eaves shed, and the presses overflow, and the aromatic trees sweat out their precious oils; so should rich men be ready to distribute, willing to share. But it happens otherwise, for commonly the richer the harder; and those that should be as clouds to water the earth, as a common blessing, are either "waterless clouds," as St Jude hath it, or at best they are but as waterpots, that water a few spots of ground only in a small garden. The earth is God’s purse, Domini marsupium. as one saith, and rich men’s houses are his storehouses. This the righteous rich man knoweth, and therefore he "disperseth," as a steward for God; "he giveth to the poor; his righteousness," and his riches too, "endureth for ever." Psalms 112:9 Whereas the wicked rich man retaineth his fulness to rot with him; he feedeth upon earth like a serpent, and striveth, like a toad, to die with much mould in his mouth, and is therefore bidden by St James to "weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon him," for his cursed hoard of evilgotten and worse kept goods. The rottenness of his riches, the canker of his cash, the moth of his garments, "shall be a witness against him, and eat up his flesh as fire." James 5:1-3 He shall be sure to be arraigned as an arrant thief, as a cursed cheat; for that, having a better thing by him, he brings a worse; Malachi 1:14 and being a rich man, he makes himself poor, lest he should do good to the poor. As Pope Alexander V said of himself that when he was a bishop he was rich, when a cardinal he was poor, and when he was pope he was a beggar. I should sooner have believed him if he had said as his successor, Pius Quintus, did, Cum essem religiosus, sperabam bene de salute animae meae; cardinalis factus extimui; pontifex creatus pene despero: Corn. a Lap. in Numbers 11:11 . When I was first in orders, without any farther ecclesiastical dignity, I had good hopes of my salvation; when a cardinal, I feared myself; but now that I am pope, I am almost out of hope.

And if the tree fall toward the south,i.e., Which way soever it groweth, it bears fruit; so should rich men be rich in good works, 1 Timothy 6:18 and being fat olive trees, they should be, as David, Psalms 52:8 green olive trees, full of good fruits. Or thus: Trees must down, and men must die; and as trees fall southward or northward, so shall men be set either at the right hand of the judge, or at the left, according as they have carried themselves towards Christ’s poor members. Matthew 25:31-46 Up, therefore, and be doing while life lasteth, and so lay hold upon eternal life. Mors atra impendet agenti. Where the boughs of holy desires aud good deeds are most and greatest, on that side, no doubt, the tree will fall; but being fallen, it can bear no fruit for ever.

Verse 4

He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.

He that observeth the wind shall not sow. — In sowing of mercy, he that sticks in such objections and doubts as carnal men use to frame out of their covetous and distrustful hearts, neglects his seedtime, by looking at winds and clouds, which is the guise of a lewd and lazy seedsman. A word in season, saith Solomon, so a charitable deed in season, "how good is it!" He that defers to do good in hope of better times, or fitter objects, or fewer obstacles, or greater abilities, …, it will be long enough ere he will do anything to purpose. When God sets us up an altar, we must offer a sacrifice; when he affords us an opportunity, we must lay hold on it, and not stand scrupling and casting perils, lest we lose the sowing of much seed, and reaping of much fruit; lest we come with our talent tied up in a napkin, and hear, Thou idle, and therefore evil servant.

Verse 5

As thou knowest not what [is] the way of the spirit, [nor] how the bones [do grow] in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.

As thou knowest not what is the way of the Spirit. — Or, Of the wind, as some render it, grounding upon the former verse - q.d., Why should any so observe the wind, the nature whereof he so little understands, John 3:8 and the inconstancy whereof is grown to, and known by, a common proverb? But by spirit I rather think is meant the soul , as by bones the body . Who can tell when and how the body is formed, the soul infused? The body is the "soul’s sheath," Daniel 7:15 marg. an abridgment of the visible world, as the soul is of the invisible. The members of the body were made all by book, Psalms 139:16 "and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth," that is, in the womb: as curious workmen, when they have some choice piece in hand, they perfect it in private, and then bring it forth to light for men to gaze at. What an admirable piece of work is man’s head piece! - God’s masterpiece in this little world - the chief seat of the soul, that cura divini ingenii, as one calls it! Homo est σοφου τεκτονος καλλον ποικιλμα . . - Eurip. There is nothing great on earth but man, nothing in man but his mind, said the philosopher. Favorin. Many locks and keys argue the price of the jewel that they keep; aud many papers wrapping the token within them, the worth of the token. The tables of the testament - First, Laid up in the ark; secondly, The ark bound about with pure gold; thirdly, Overshadowed with cherubims’ wings; fourthly, Enclosed with the veil of the tabernacle; fifthly, With the compass of the tabernacle; sixthly, With a court about all; seventhly, With a treble covering of goats’, rams’, and badgers’ skins above all - must needs be precious tables. So when the Almighty made man’s head, the seat of the reasonable soul, and overlaid it with hair, skin, and flesh, like the threefold covering of the tabernacle, and then encompassed it with a skull of bones, like boards of cedar, and afterwards with various skins, like silken curtains, and, lastly, enclosed it with the yellow skin that covers the brain, like the purple veil, which Solomon calls the "golden ewer," Ecclesiastes 12:6 he would doubtless have us to know it was made for some great treasure to be put therein. How and when the reasonable soul is put into this curious cabinet, philosophers dispute many things, but can affirm nothing of a certainty: as neither "how the bones do grow in the womb," how of the same substance the several parts - as bones, nerves, arteries, veins, gristles, flesh, and blood - are fashioned there, and receive daily increase. This David looks at as a just wonder. Psalms 139:14-15 Mirificatus sum mirabilibus operis tuis, Montanus. saith he, I am fearfully and wonderfully made: and Galen, a profane philosopher, could not but hereupon sing a hymn to man’s most wise Creator, whom yet he knew not.

Even so thou knowest not the work of God,i.e., The rest of his works of creation and providence, which are very various, and to us no less unknown than uncertain. Do thou that which God commandeth, and let things occur as they will, there is an overruling hand in all for the good of those that love God. "Trust therefore in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding." Proverbs 3:5 "Hide not thine eyes from thine own flesh." Isaiah 58:7 He that doeth so shall have many a curse. The apostle useth a word for liberality, Aπλοτης . 2 Corinthians 8:2 which properly signifieth simplicity; and this he doth in opposition to that crafty and witty wiliness of the covetous, to defend themselves from the danger, as they take it, of liberality.

Verse 6

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.

In the morning sow thy seed, … — At all times be ready to every good work, Titus 3:1 as the bee is abroad as soon as ever the sun breaks forth. Sow mercy in the morning, sow it likewise in the evening, as those bountiful Macedonians did, to the shame of those richer but harder Corinthians, sending once and again to Paul’s necessities. 2 Corinthians 8:3 Philippians 4:16 Oh, sow much and oft of this unfailable seed into God’s blessed bosom, the fruit whereof you are sure to reap at your greatest need. Men may be thankful, or they may not, Perraro grati reperiuntur, saith Cicero: it is ten to one if any cured leper turn again to give thanks. But "God is not unrighteous to forget your labour of love in ministering to his saints." Hebrews 6:10 Haply you may not sow and reap the same day, as the widow of Sarepta did: haply the seed may lie underground some while, and not be quickened except it die; but have patience, nothing so sure as a crop of comfort to those that are duly merciful. Up therefore and be doing, lose no time, slip no season; it is but a morning and an evening, one short day of life wherein we have to work, and to advance your blessedness. Sow therefore continually: blessed is he that "soweth beside all waters." Blessed Bradford held that hour lost wherein he had not done some good with his hand, tongue, or pen. Acts and Mon. Titus remembering one day that he had done no good to any one, cried out, Amici, diem perdidi. Friends, I have wasted a day. And again, Hodie non regnavimus. Today we were not the master. We have lost a day, … This was that Titus that never sent any suitor away with a sad heart, and was therefore counted and called Humani generis deliciae, the darling of mankind, the people’s sweetheart. The senate loaded him with more praises when he was dead than ever they did living and present.

Verse 7

Truly the light [is] sweet, and a pleasant [thing it is] for the eyes to behold the sun:

Truly the light is sweet. — The light of life, of a lightsome life especially. Any life is sweet; which made the Gibeonites make such a hard shift to live, though it were but to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. "I pray thee let me live," live upon any terms, said Benhadad, in his submissive message to that merciful nonsuch. 1 Kings 20:32 "If I have found favour in thy sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be given me at my petition," said that καλη και σοφη , that paragon of her time, Queen Esther. Ecclesiastes 7:3 Sic de Aspasia Milesia, Cyri concubina. - Aelian, Var. Hist. lib. xii. cap. 1. Ebedmelech is promised "his life for a prey"; Jeremiah 39:18 and so is Barak, as a sufficient reward of that good service he had done in reading the roll, for the which he expected some great preferment. Jeremiah 45:5 ; Jeremiah 36:1-2 The prophet chides him, and tells him he might be glad of his life in those dear years of time, when the arrows of death had so oft come whisking by him, and he had so oft straddled over the grave, as it were, and yet was not fallen into it. To maintain our radical humour, that feeds the lamp of life, is as great a miracle, saith one, as the oil in the widow’s cruse, that failed her not. To deliver us from so many deaths and dangers as we are daily and hourly subject unto, is a mercy that calls for continual praises to the Preserver of mankind. But more, when men do not only live, but live prosperously, as Nabal did. 1 Samuel 25:6 "Thus," said David to his messengers, "shall ye say to him that liveth," viz., in prosperity; which such a man as Nabal reckons the only life. The Irish use to ask what such a man meant to die? And some good interpreters are of the opinion, that the Preacher in this verse brings in the carnal churl objecting, or replying for himself against the former persuasions to acts of charity. Ah! saith he; but, for all that, to live at the full; to have a goodly inheritance in a fertile soil, in a wholesome air, near to the river, not far from the town; to be free from all troubles and cares that poverty bringeth; to live in a constant sunshine of prosperity, abundance, honour, and delight; to have all that heart can wish or need require - what a heavenly life is this! what a lovely and desirable condition! … "What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days that he may see good?" saith David. Psalms 34:12 I do, saith one; and I, saith another; and I, a third, …, as St Augustine frames the answer. It is that which all worldlings covet, and hold it no policy to part with what they have to the poor for uncertainties in another world. In answer to whom, and for a cooler to their inordinate love of life, the Preacher subjoins -

Verse 8

But if a man live many years, [and] rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh [is] vanity.

But if a man live many years and rejoice, …,q.d., Say he live pancratice et basilice, and sit many years in the world’s warm sunshine, yet he must not build upon a perpetuity, as good Job did, but was deceived, when he said, "I shall die in my nest," Job 29:18 and holy David, when he concluded, "I shall never be moved." Psalms 30:6 For as sure as the night follows the day, a change will come, a storm will rise, and such a storm as to wicked worldlings will never be blown over. Look for it, therefore, and be wise in time. "Remember the days of darkness," that is, of adversity, but especially of death and the grave. The hottest season hath lightning and thunder. The sea is never so smooth but it may be troubled; the mountain not so firm but it may be shaken with an earthquake. Light will be one day turned into darkness, pleasure into pain, delights into wearisomeness, and the dark days of old age and death far exceed in number the lightsome days of life, which are but a warm gleam, a momentary glance. Let this be seriously pondered, and it will much rebate the edge of our desires after earthly vanities. "Dearly beloved," saith St Peter, "I beseech you, as pilgrims and strangers abstain from fleshy lust," …, 1 Peter 2:12 q.d., The sad and sober apprehension of this, that you are here but sojourners for a season, and must away to your long home, will lay your lusts a-bleeding and a-dying at your feet. It is an observation of a commentator upon this text, that when Samuel had anointed Saul to be king, to confirm unto him the truth of the joy, and by it to teach him how to be careful in governing his joy, he gave him this sign, "When thou art departed from me today, thou shalt find two men at Rachel’s sepulchre." 1 Samuel 10:2 For he that findeth in his mind a remembrance of his grave and sepulchre, will not easily be found exorbitant in his delights and joys; for this it was, belike, that Joseph of Arimathea had his sepulchre ready hewn out in his garden. The Egyptians carried about the table a death’s head at their feasts; a and the emperors of Constantinople, on their coronation day, had a mason appointed to present unto them certain marble stones, using these ensuing words -

Elige ab his saxis ex quo, invictissime Caesar,

Ipse tibi tumulum me fabricare velis. ”

“Choose, mighty sir, under which of these stones,

Your pleasure is, erelong, to lay your bones.”

a Isidor.

Verse 9

Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and 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.

Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth,i.e., Do if thou darest; like as God said to Balaam, "Rise up and go to Balak" Numbers 22:20 - that is, go if thou thinkest it good; go since thou wilt need to go; but thou goest upon thy death. Let no man imagine that it ever came into the Preacher’s heart here, oleum camino addere, to add fuel to the fire of youthful lusts, to excite young people, unruly enough of themselves, to take their full swing in sinful pleasures. Thus to do might better befit a Protagoras, of whom Plato Plato in Meneu. reports, that he many times boasted, that whereas he had lived sixty years, forty of those sixty he had spent in corrupting those young men that had been his pupils; or that old dotterel in Terence, that said, Non est mihi, crede, flagitium adolescentem helluari, potare, scortari, fores effringere: I hold it no fault for young men to swagger, drink, drab, revel, … Solomon in this text, either by a mimesis brings in the wild younker thus bespeaking himself, Rejoice, my soul, in thy youth, …, and then nips him on the crown again with that stinging "but" in the end of the verse; or else, which I rather think, by an ironic concession he bids him "rejoice," …, yields him what he would have, by way of mockage and bitter scoff; like as Elijah jeered the Baalites, bidding them cry aloud unto their drowsy or busy god; or as Micaiah bade Ahab, by a holy scoff, go up against Ramothgilead and prosper; or as our Saviour bade his drowsy desciples, "Sleep on now, and take your rest," Mark 14:41 viz., if you can at least, or have any mind to it, with so many bills and halberds about your ears.

And let thine heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth.In diebus electionum tuarum, so Arias Montanus reads it; In the days of thy choosings - that is, when thou followest the choice and the chase of thine own desires, and doest what thou wilt without control. Luke 12:45

Walk in the way of thine heart. — Which bids thee eat, drink, and be merry, and had as lief be knocked on the head as do otherwise. Hence fasting is called an "afflicting of the soul"; and the best find it no less grievous to go about holy duties, than it is to children to be called from their sports, and set to their books.

And in the sight of thine eyes. — Those windows of wickedness, and loop holes of lust.

But know. — Here is that which mars all the mirth, here is a cooler for the younker’s courage, sour sauce to his deserts, for fear he should surfeit. Verba haec Solomonis valde ernphatica sunt, saith Lavater. There is a great deal of emphasis in these words of Solomon. Let me tell thee this as a preacher, saith he; and oh that I could get words to gore the very soul with smarting pain, that this doctrine might be written in thy flesh!

That for all these things. — These tricae, as the world accounts them; these trifles and tricks of youth, which Job and David bitterly bewailed as sore businesses.

God will bring thee to judgment. — Either in this life, as he did Absalom and Adonijah, Hophni and Phinehas, Nadab and Abihu, or infallibly at thy death’s day, which indeed is thy dooms day; then God will bring thee perforce, be thou never so loath to come to it; he will hail thee to his tribunal, be it never so much against thy heart, and against the hair with thee. And as for the judgment what it shall be, God himself shows it in Isaiah 28:17 , "Judgment will I lay to the line, and righteousness to the plummet, and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding place." Where, what is the hail, saith one, but the multitude of accusations which shall sweep away the vain hope that men have, that the infinite mercy of God will save them, howsoever they live? And what is the hiding place, but the multitude of excuses which men are ready to make for themselves, and which the waters of God’s justice shall quite destroy and overthrow? Young men, of all men, are apt to make a covenant with death, and to put far away from them the thought of judgment. But it moves them not so to do; for Senibus mors in ianuis, adolescentibus in insidiis, saith Bernard. Death doth not always knock at the door, but comes often like a lightning or thunderbolt; it blasteth the green grain, and consumeth the new and strong building. Now at death it will fare nothing better with the wild and wicked youngster, than with that thief, that having stolen a gelding, rideth away bravely mounted, till such time as being overtaken by hue and cry, he is soon afterwards sentenced and put to death.

Verse 10

Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth [are] vanity.

Therefore remove sorrow from thine heart. — One would have thought that he should have said rather, considering the premises, remove joy from thy heart, "Let thy laughter be turned to mourning, and thy joy into heaviness," James 4:9 turn all the streams into that channel that may drive that mill that may grind the heart. But by sorrow here, or indignation, as Tremellius renders it, the Preacher means sin, the cause of sorrow; and so he interprets himself in the next words, "Put away evil from thy flesh," - i.e., mortify thy lusts.

For childhood and youth are vanity. — The Septuagint and Vulgate render it, Youth and pleasure are vain things. They both will soon be at an end.

Bibliographical Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11". Trapp's Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jtc/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1865-1868.
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