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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Ecclesiastes 11

Verses 1-6

Continue to Work Diligently and Persistently

With Ecclesiastes 11 the Preacher begins his final discourse. He has completed his theme that human toil on earth has no lasting value and he is now ready for some practical conclusions. One of them is, that despite the absence of permanent value there is certainly a reward attached to hard labor and satisfaction to be found in it. Therefore he exhorts to work hard and persistently.

In Ecclesiastes 11:1 the Preacher appeals to an action that at first sight is not logical, and even looks like a waste. The purpose is that we have to use our resources, “bread”, vigorously, “cast”, without seeing immediate results, but with the expectation that it will come, “you will find it after many days”. We can also link this verse to the following saying: You have to spend money to make money. One should first invest in order to be able to hope for result. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

The result of an action or deed can be unsure, but it is certainly not a gamble. In this way capital can be used in trade, but it should be done in consideration. We must use our capabilities and rely on future rewards. The element of patience is also emphatically present, “after many days”, and necessary to take into account. In all cases it is important that God holds us accountable for our deeds.

He who is wise, trusts in the Creator and Ruler of all things and considers the future and the hereafter. Therefore Solomon uses the picture of the sower who is not busy with the here and now, but with the future. In faith the sower sows the grains and expects them to grow into a crop with the final result of having bread. He does not keep the grains to himself.

The fool sees how unsure everything is and tries as much as he possibly can to secure and safeguard his property. The wise sees the same thing and it leads him to act in the opposite way. He does not put his trust in the uncertainty of wealth. He shares it (1 Timothy 6:17) instead of hoarding what he cannot keep anyway.

Spiritually applied, we can say that we have food for this world, namely the Lord Jesus as the bread of life (John 6:22-James :). Just spread it. Cast you your bread on the surface of the water as free and available (Isaiah 55:1). Sow the seed of the gospel. The water represents the nations (Revelation 17:15). We can feed hungry people without thinking about whether there will be a result. We will find it after many days. We sow in faith.

The bread that is cast, is the wheat (Job 28:5; Isaiah 28:28). When the fields are wet from the rain, the wheat is sown in it. The bread can also represent everything that man needs to live of. What the Lord has entrusted us with, He has entrusted it to us mainly to sow it (2 Corinthians 9:10). We first have to sow, then we will get what we need. We can distribute what we have, among the poor (Deuteronomy 15:10-1 Kings :). Everything that we do to others in the Name of the Lord, will be rewarded at the resurrection of the righteous (Luke 14:14; Matthew 10:42; Galatians 6:9).

It also implies that we sow generously on many places, meaning in many hearts and lives. We must open our hearts and properties to those who are needy in a material or a spiritual sense. We should not sow sparingly, for the harvest is equal to the quantity of the seed that has been sown (2 Corinthians 9:6).

Ecclesiastes 11:2 tells us that we need to get to work carefully. The Preacher advises us not to put all your eggs in one basket or hang all on one nail. He suggests to keep more irons in the fire, or divide what you have to invest between different projects. Spread your risks, for you never know “what misfortune may occur on the earth”, which means that you never know what setbacks may befall you.

Seven is the number of completeness. Maybe a certain job or a group of people stands clearly for your attention. You can fully commit yourself to it. But do not be afraid to start a new group or a new job. That is what number eight refers to. Eight refers to a new beginning after a complete period has been closed. So a week has seven days. When the week is ended a new week begins, but you might also say that the eighth day follows.

The Preacher did not know “what misfortune might occur on the earth”, but we do. We know that the judgment is at the door. The judgment will come upon the world, for “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Therefore Christ will come soon to judge the world “the Judge is standing right at the door” (James 5:9).

In this verse there is an aspect of enthusiasm. The dividing “to seven” or even “to eight” does not happen in fear but with good courage and exciting expectation of the harvest. It is about the most possible investment, depending on what the means allow. This case is pressing “the time has been shortened” (1 Corinthians 7:29) because we do not know what may occur in the future and whether these possibilities to take action on earth will still be there tomorrow.

Ecclesiastes 11:3 connects to the last words of Ecclesiastes 11:2. The Preacher states that, with the examples of the natural laws given by God, we ought to consider that the evil will come once. As sure as the clouds that are full of water will pour out rain upon the earth, it is sure that God’s judgment will come when the measure of injustice is full.

We also do not know when the life of someone will be cut off. But we do know that at the moment that it is being cut off, there is no more possibility to bring a change in the situation that then has arisen. It is as with a tree that has been cut down and fallen. The tree has been cut off from the source of life, from its roots that extract juices from the soil. On the spot where the tree falls, there it lies. Life has ended and change is not possible anymore.

In Ecclesiastes 11:4 the Preacher points out that we also should exaggerate his advice on caution in taking risks (Ecclesiastes 11:2).We should not sit and wait with our arms folded and endlessly ponder on and reflect on the possibilities and impossibilities. The ideal circumstances that, in our opinion are necessary to take action, will most probably never come. The farmer who waits on the ideal weather conditions will never sow and therefore never reap.

We can apply this spiritually to what Paul says to Timothy when it comes down to the preaching of the Word: “Be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). That also applies to us. Whether it suits us or not, or whether it suits the other person or not, let us continue to preach the Word. We often have to work without knowing what result it will have in the future. This uncertainty should not prevent us from being busy.

A Christian that is not focused on winning souls for Christ, whether those of unbelievers or those of believers, neglects his task. So a local church neglects its task if it is not focused on winning souls for Christ and the connecting of souls to Christ. In both cases self-examination in the light of God’s Word will be useful. We should also examine how in personal and collective prayer we can make room for the preaching of the gospel in the broadest sense of the word.

It is one of the tasks that we have been left on earth to do. Let’s not make ourselves too comfortable on earth. We are surrounded by luxury and feel comfortable in the midst of all benefits with our arms folded, while so many people around us are on the way to a place of eternal pain.

By the examples that the Preacher in Ecclesiastes 11:5 uses, he wants to make us realize that we cannot measure and certainly not influence God in His work. If it is about “the activity of God who makes all things” we only can see its results, but cannot verify how He did it. That realization must exhort us to work hard and diligently with the confidence that God will take care of the result. It will also keep us from taking a wait-and-see passive attitude as in Ecclesiastes 11:4.

The Preacher connects the wind and the growth of a child in the womb with each other. The wind in its movements is not to be controlled by us. Neither do we know how a birth happens. The Lord Jesus uses this picture in connection with the new birth. He says to Nicodemus: “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). The Lord connects the work of the Spirit to it in the creating of a new birth in an unbeliever (John 3:7; John 3:9).

We see only the result. We do not know how God will use what we are doing, we do not know in which way He works in the souls of the people that we talk with about Christ. “God who makes all things” establishes that new creation. All things are from God. The seed of the Word of God creates the new birth (1 Peter 1:23).

The life of a baby begins in hiddenness with the conception, then the prenatal growth, and continues with the mystery of the working of the whole plan of God in the womb of the mother. This is exactly the application of the Teacher in John 3 of the plan of God. Even stronger, it illustrates the whole theme of this book of Ecclesiastes. We cannot understand all the ways in which God carries out His plan, but we can apply God’s rules to daily life and in this way help to fulfill His intention with the new birth.

Ecclesiastes 11:6 states as a conclusion that we must do our work diligently and persistently, from the early morning until late in the evening. Just because we are completely unsure about the future, we must commit ourselves to our tasks with all the energy we have. We just do not know whether the one work or on the contrary the other work will succeed. Maybe both works are successful. We can work and leave the result to God.

With “sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening” we can think, in the spiritual application, of being engaged as an evangelist from early in the morning until late in the evening, the whole day. Whether we are at school or at our work or at home, our whole attitude ought to be: to live out Christ in everything we do. What a testimony, often without words, will come out from that.

We can also apply “in the morning” and “in the evening” to our years of lifetime. The morning of life refers to the period of our youth and the evening refers to the time when we have become old. This work must go on, regardless our age. There is no retirement for the servant of God. His or her work may probably change as the years go by, but “do not be idle”. Sowing, continue, is the assignment. Paul was deeply aware of that and stated: “For woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16).

In the latter part of the verse “for you do not know whether it will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good”, there is a great encouragement. It does not say that something is not good. On the contrary, it is: or this will be good, or that will be good, or both of them alike will be good. It is considered this way, that each of us can do this ‘sowing work’ in our own way in our life. Herein lies an encouragement for us. If we do it this way, we are working well. Its result is in God’s hand and He will show that to us in His time.

Verses 7-10

Young People Also Will Be Judged

The Preacher said in Ecclesiastes 11:1-Joshua : that we must work diligently and persistently, even if we realize that all our earthly labor has no permanent value. We must take advantage of the opportunities, while we carry out our plans in such a way that we do not get out of balance if something unexpected happens. At the same time we must realize that our labor still has temporal value anyhow. This is what he will argue about in the following verses.

On top of that, even though the earthly labor has no permanent value, this does not mean that there are no things at all that do have a permanent value. For there are things that indeed have permanent value, which the Preacher will bring forward at the end of his book. That is where he, with all his observations in which he lets us participate, wants us to end up.

The observation of the futility of life if we only see it under the sun, must lead us to the question whether there is also something above the sun. In other words: in the above-mentioned he addressed us about the present life in itself, but now he is going to consider the present life as a preparation for the life after this life.

Before he arrives there, he first wants to share a number of observations with us, which we can accept as certainty in this life and which we can also enjoy to a certain extent. Therefore, from Ecclesiastes 11:7 he will speak about the certainty of growing up and becoming older.

“Light” and “to see the sun” are characterizing life here (Ecclesiastes 11:7; cf. Job 3:16; Job 3:20; Psalms 49:19). Living in the light is not just living, but living with joy, the opposite of life in bitterness. Life is “pleasant”. ‘Pleasant’ indicates that life is tasted and enjoyed with enthusiasm and enjoyed as honey is tasted and enjoyed.

We should be glad about it if we are given a long life, “many years” (Ecclesiastes 11:8). We are allowed to rejoice in the joy of life as intense as possible, “all” those years. Certainly at the beginning, when we are young, life is pleasant. It is a time in our life that there is much enjoyment of life and energy, so that all things seem possible and the sun is shining all the time (Ecclesiastes 11:7; cf. Ecclesiastes 12:2).

Nevertheless, we must also pay attention to the inevitable limitations associated with old age (Ecclesiastes 11:8).The Preacher describes those days as “the days of darkness”, of absence of the sun. It is not that he mitigates the joy of seeing the light and the good, but he puts it in the right perspective. He will describe the limitations of old age in the next chapter in visual language. The life of the older human being is like the sun that we see going down in the direction of the evening, then finally disappears, through which the night falls.

What he now already wants to point out, is that we must continue to realize that life is being lived in a world of emptiness and futility. A part of that futility is the aging process. This process was set in motion on the day that Adam and Eve disobeyed God. That is when their bodies started to die (Genesis 2:17; Genesis 3:19).

With “days of darkness” we should not think of death, but of the consequences of old age (Ecclesiastes 12:2-Leviticus :). The enjoyment of life and vitality given by God are good and intended to be used and enjoyed. However, any age has to acknowledge that the consecutive changes in the rhythm of a day – sunrise, noon, afternoon, evening and night – are reflected in the rhythm of life.

At the old age the days can be “many” and at the same time they are experienced as “futility”. This final remark underlines that with the many days and “everything that is to come” not death is meant, for death is not futility, but an endless situation.

The Preacher has orientated himself. He comes to the conclusion of Ecclesiastes 11:9. The young man is called to pursue real joy and to do so during his “young manhood”, during his childhood. Rejoicing is not only allowed, but commanded.

He is allowed to follow “the impulses” of his heart. They are good impulses if in his heart “the highways” are found (Psalms 84:5), meaning that he finds his strength in God. The heart is the center of life, the source of thoughts, feelings, decisions and character. The eyes are the instrument of the heart (Job 31:7). Orientation happens by what we see. What we are looking at and the way we look at something, is determined by our faith (Genesis 3:6; 2 Samuel 11:2; Joshua 7:21). What we see may make us rejoice.

Joy is a purpose in life. The question is only about what kind of joy the Preacher is talking about. In order to have the good joy, we have to verify it by the awareness of the judgment of God. That puts the emphasis on God’s involvement, in His sovereignty over and His might in the life of man.

The warning “yet know” connects to the act of man and to his joy directly the awareness that there is Someone above him. ‘But know’ goes further than intellectually agreeing with what he has learnt. It is the understanding of a truth that corrects and shapes life, it is modeling. It has to do with knowledge, but also with setting the will into motion.

For older people it may seem risky to advise a young man to follow the impulses of his heart and the desires of his eyes. But, as it has already been noticed, the advice is connected to a reminder of the responsibility towards God. Enjoying does not mean just ‘having a great time’, lawlessly enjoying, a temporal pleasure of sin (Hebrews 11:25). There are boundaries set by God to enjoy really and meaningfully what He has given.

The Preacher does not say this to take away with the one hand what he has given with the other hand, but to make clear that the awareness of responsibility belongs to childhood just as well as lust for life. Besides, he has already spoken about it earlier in his teaching (Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 8:12-1 Chronicles :). This awareness of responsibility must be there, no matter how it has been broken down or distorted in society or all mankind. It is something that we all have at some point or another, as soon as we say something or do or do not say or not do something.

Young people are addressed personally. They are a part of it. Just the fact that he points out their responsibility, proves that he takes them seriously. The old and wise Preacher knows how to appreciate being young. It is God’s will that old and young together honor and serve Him.

In several New Testament letters the children and young people are also addressed separately (Ephesians 6:1-Leviticus :; Colossians 3:20; 1 John 2:13-2 Chronicles :). Being young does not always only have to do with age. Someone can also be young at heart. This is certainly true for those who wait for the Lord (Psalms 103:5; Isaiah 40:31).

The Preacher points out to the young man that there are robbers who want to take his joy away from him (Ecclesiastes 11:10). These are problems that can attack the heart and body and prevent them from living life with joy, but which can be repelled or removed. The heart is the inward man, the body is the outward man. Our human life consist of these two aspects.

The first problem is “grief and anger”, or irritability, displeasure, in the “heart”. This grief and anger can be caused by fear or sorrow as a result of sin in us or around us. The cause can also come from stress at school, at work or in a friendship. Game addiction can also be a cause. The danger is that grief and anger, due to the mysteries and annoyances of life, get a hold on our heart, which leads to disillusionment and cynicism. Beware of a root of bitterness, for whatever reason. The call of the Preacher is to remove the grief and anger from our heart, to deny the access to our heart. Gratitude must come instead.

The second problem is “the pain” from our “body”. Anything that blocks our physical joy, must be put away as something evil. We can abuse our bodies for example to commit fornication with it. Fornication is a sin whereby our body is directly involved in an extremely inappropriate way (1 Corinthians 6:18). If that is the case with us, then it is out and done with the joy. It is all about a life in purity, not a life of excesses of any kind (Romans 13:13-2 Chronicles :).

It is clear that a young person is confronted with strong temptations. If he does not resist these temptations, it will make him realize that emptiness and frustration are just as much a part of youthfulness as lust for life and power of life. Every young person has to learn to say both yes and no and has to remove what damages the mind or body (cf. Colossians 3:8-2 Chronicles :). Then he will be able to optimally enjoy “his childhood and the prime of life”, the glow of the dawn of life.

After all, the prime of life is “fleeting”, the time of young manhood flies (cf. Psalms 90:10). One of the signs that the years of young manhood are over is the appearance of the first grey hairs. This cannot be stopped, also not by dyeing the hair.

Anyone who spoils that wonderful time of youth through ‘grief’ and ‘anger’ has nothing to be happy about. Therefore: enjoy life now, and live for Christ. This is what the Preacher will talk about in the next chapter.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Ecclesiastes 11". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/ecclesiastes-11.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.