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ECCLESIASTES CHAPTER 11
Liberality to the poor commanded. We know not what we may come to: God giveth rain plentifully; and our time of doing good is short: not too much regarding difficulties: the providence of God is full of mysterious events; which must quicken us to duty and diligence, Ecclesiastes 11:1-6. Life sweet; but the days of death shall be many, Ecclesiastes 11:7,Ecclesiastes 11:8. Young men are exhorted in the midst of their delights to think of the day of judgment, Ecclesiastes 11:9,Ecclesiastes 11:10.
Cast thy bread upon the waters. Solomon having discovered divers vanities, and amongst others the vanity of heaping up riches, he now teacheth us that it is our interest as well as duty, not so much to lay them up, as to lay them out in pious and charitable uses; and having taught us the true and best use of worldly things, for our present comfort and benefit, which is to enjoy them with a cheerful and contented mind, he now directs us to the best improvement of them, for our future and greater advantage; and having acquainted us with our duty towards our superiors, he now directs us in our carriage towards our inferiors, and especially to such of them as are poor. The sense of these words is either,
1. Cast thy seed (which is here called bread, as it is also Job 28:5; Isaiah 28:28, and elsewhere) beside (for so the Hebrew particle al is oft used) the waters, i.e. either by the river’s side, or in moist and waterish grounds, which usually are very fruitful. Or,
Cast (freely and liberally bestow)
thy bread (i.e. thy money or provisions, which are oft signified by the name of bread. By saying thy bread, he cautions us that we give away only that which is our own, and not that which is another’s; as they do who give either what they get from others by fraud or power, or what they owe to others, and are unable to pay, and so exercise charity to the hinderance of justice, or of the payment of their just debts)
upon the waters, i.e. upon those poor creatures upon whom, by reason of their unthankfulness or inability to make any returns to thee, it may seem to be as utterly lost as the seed which a man casts into the sea or river. This sense agrees much better,
1. With the words; for he doth not barely mention
the waters, ( for then the particle al might have been translated beside,) but the face, i.e. the surface or top, of the waters, in which and such-like cases al constantly signifies upon.
2. With the design and scope of the place, which is to persuade men to be liberal and charitable, notwithstanding the discouragements which they meet with in so doing, of which see the next clause, and the next verse.
Thou shalt find it; it shall not be lost, as covetous men, or thine own corrupt heart, may suggest, but it shall certainly be restored unto thee, either by God or by men, and that with great honour and advantage. This is added to prevent an objection, and to quicken us to the duty enjoined.
After many days; not immediately, but in due time, and when you least expect it. So you must be content to wait for it with patience, as the husbandman doth for the fruits of the earth.
Give a portion; a part of thy estate or provisions. He alludes to the ancient custom, whereby the master of the feast did distribute several parts to each guest, and withal sent portions to the poor; of which custom see 2 Samuel 6:19; Nehemiah 8:10,Nehemiah 8:12; Esther 9:22.
To seven, and also to eight; to as many as thou art able; a certain number for an uncertain, as Micah 5:5, and oft elsewhere.
Thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth; great calamities may come, whereby thou mayst be brought to poverty, and so both utterly lose that blessed opportunity of doing good, which now thou hast in thine hands, whereby thou mayst gain unspeakable honour, and comfort, and advantage to thyself, and moreover need the charity of others, which thou mayst comfortably expect, either from men, or at least from the powerful providence of God, disposing the hearts of men to pity and help thee, if thou hast been kind and merciful to others; as, on the contrary, they can expect no mercy from God or men, who have showed no mercy to others. Thus he not only answers, but retorts, the argument by which the covetous man excuseth his uncharitableness, because he must lay up against a rainy day.
If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: learn, O man, the practice of liberality from the very lifeless creatures, from the clouds; which when they are filled with water, do not hoard it up, or keep it to themselves, but plentifully pour it forth for the refreshment both of the fruitful field and of the barren wilderness.
In the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be: these words contain either,
1. An argument to persuade men to charity, because they must shortly fall or die, and then all opportunity of being charitable will be lost, and they must expect certainly and eternally to reap whatsoever they have sown, whether it hath been mercy or unmercifulness. Or rather,
2. An answer to a common objection against it, because we are not certain whether the person who desires our charity doth really need it, or be worthy of it. To this he answers, As a tree when it falls, either by the violence of the wind, or being cut down by its owner’s order, it is not considerable whether it falls southward or northward, for there it lies ready for the master’s use; so thy charity, though it may possibly be misapplied by thee, or abused by the receiver, yet being conscientiously given by thee, it shall assuredly return to thee, and thou shalt reap the fruit of it.
He who neglects or delays the necessary works of sowing and reaping, because the weather is not exactly suitable to his desires, may possibly lose his harvest; whereby he intimates what is easily understood out of the foregoing verses, that men will never do good here, which is expressed by sowing, Psalms 112:9; 2 Corinthians 9:6, and consequently not receive good hereafter, Which is called reaping, Galatians 6:7,Galatians 6:8, if they be discouraged and hindered from it by every doubt or difficulty, such as covetous worldlings object to themselves, that others either do not want their charity, or with abuse it, that they may possibly need it hereafter.
Of the spirit; of the spirit or soul of man, how it first comes into the body of the child in the womb, whether from God by creation, or from the parents by propagation; nor how it is united with and so fixed in the body, that it cannot get out of it when it would; nor how and whither it goes out of the body; all which things are great mysteries. Others translate it, of the wind, whence it cometh, and whither it goeth, as is observed John 3:8, or how violently it will blow, or how long it will last. But the former translation seems to agree better with the following clause.
The bones, i.e. the whole body, which is elsewhere signified by the bones, as Psalms 34:20; Psalms 35:10, because they are a principal part, and the very foundation and support, of the body. Grow in the womb; how it comes to pass that one and the same small quantity of seed should diversify itself into skin, and flesh, and sinews, and veins, and bones, and entrails, or how it receiveth nourishment and growth.
The works of God; what God is doing, and will do with thee and others; the counsels and methods of God’s providence in the future time of thy life, what evil God will send upon the earth, Ecclesiastes 11:2, or what weather he will send, of which Ecclesiastes 11:4, how long or how little a while God will continue thy life or estate, and how soon God will call thee to an account. These and many other future events thou canst not foresee, and therefore thy wisdom and duty is to cast off all distracting cares and distrustful fears about them, and cheerfully to commit thyself, and all thy affairs, into the hand of God in well doing.
In the morning, and in the evening; early and late, in all seasons and occasions; do it speedily and continually, be not weary of it. Sow thy seed; do all good works, and especially that of almsgiving, as sowing is understood, 2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7.
Withhold not thine hand from working or giving.
Whether shall prosper; which shall prosper most, as the next clause explains it; the positive degree being put for the comparative, or the superlative, which is not unusual in the Hebrew text. Which shall best answer thine end, or do most good to others, or which shall tend most to the comfort of thy great and last account; for thy morning alms may possibly be given to an unworthy person, or to one who did not need it, and will abuse it, and thy evening alms may fall upon a person of eminent worth, yea, upon an angel in human shape, which is remembered as a motive to hospitality, Hebrews 13:2, or upon one in extreme necessity, who might possibly have perished both in soul and body, if thou hadst not comforted and relieved him: or one time thou mayst give with more sincere intention, and with more tender compassion, than another time, and so one will be more right and more acceptable to God than the other.
Alike good; equally successful to the receiver, or to the giver.
It cannot be denied that this present life (which is called light, Job 3:20; Job 33:30; Psalms 56:13, and which is expressed synecdochically, by seeing the sun, Ecclesiastes 6:5; Ecclesiastes 7:11) is in itself a great blessing, and very desirable; but it is not perpetual nor satisfactory; which is here implied and expressed hi the next verse.
Live many years; which is a privilege granted but to few persons comparatively.
And rejoice in them all; and suppose he enjoy all the comforts, and escape all the embitterments, of human life, all his days; which also is a great rarity.
Let him remember, it is his duty and interest seriously to consider, the days of darkness; of death, or of the state of the dead, which is oft expressed by darkness, as Job 10:21; Psalms 88:12, &c., and here is opposed to the foregoing light.
They shall be many, i.e. far more than the days of this short life, especially if to the time of lying in the grave be added that greater and utter darkness which is reserved for impenitent sinners, and which is everlasting, Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30; 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 1:13. And this is added for the caution of mankind, that they may not rejoice excessively in, nor content themselves with, the happiness of the present life, but may seek for something more durable, and more satisfactory.
All that cometh; all things which befall any man belonging only to this life, whether they be comfortable or vexatious, they are but vain and inconsiderable, because they are short and transitory.
This verse is to be understood either,
1. As a serious advice to this purpose, Seeing life is short and transitory, improve it to the best advantage, take comfort in it whilst you may, only do it with moderation, and the fear of God. Or rather,
2. As an ironical concession, such as are usual both in Scripture, as 1 Kings 18:27; 1 Kings 22:15; Ezekiel 28:3,Ezekiel 28:4; Matthew 26:45, and in other authors; for this agrees much better with the context, and with the expressions here used. And so the sense is, I foresee what evil use some men will make of what I have now said. Things being thus, let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die; as they also reasoned, 1 Corinthians 15:32.
O young man; he speaks to young men particularly, because they have both the greatest ability and the strongest inclinations to pursue sensual pleasures, and are most impatient either of restraint or admonition.
Let thy heart cheer thee; indulge thy frolic and jolly humour, and take thy fill of delights.
Walk in the way of thy heart, and in the sight of thine eyes; whatsoever thine eye or heart lusteth after, deny it not to them; as this phrase is taken. Numbers 15:39, nor is it ever used in a good sense. Compare Job 31:7; Psalms 81:12; Jeremiah 18:12; 2 Peter 2:14; 1 John 2:16. But know thou; but in the midst of thy feastings and jollity it will become thee, if thou art a reasonable creature, to consider thy reckoning, and whether thou dost not purchase thy gold too dear.
For all these things, for all thy follies and sinful lusts, which thou slightest as tricks of youth,
God will bring thee into judgment; will force thee to appear before his judgment-seat, to give a serious account of all thy youthful and exorbitant courses, and to receive that sentence which thy own conscience will then say thou dost justly deserve. And if thou likest thy sensuality upon these terms, much good may it do thee; I do not envy thee, nor desire to partake of thy delicates.
Sorrow, i.e. sensual and disorderly lusts, which he elegantly and emphatically calls sorrow, with respect to the foregoing words, to intimate, that although such practices do at present gratify and delight men’s senses and vain minds, yet they will shortly and certainly bring a man to intolerable and eternal sorrows, which it is thy wisdom to prevent. Sorrow; or, as it is rendered in the margin, and by divers others, anger; a passion to which men are most prone in the heat of youth; whereby he may understand either anger against him for this sharp admonition; or rather against God, who hath laid such severe restraints upon them, and threatens such punishments to them for following their own natural inclinations. So the sense is, Do not quarrel with thy Judge, but submit and make thy peace with him by declaring war against all thy sins.
Evil; all evil concupiscences or lusts, which though now they seem good to thee, will another day appear to be very evil and bitter things.
From thy flesh; from thy bodily members; which he mentions not exclusively, as if he would allow them their spiritual evils; but emphatically, because young men, to whom be is here speaking, are most given to fleshly or bodily lusts.
Childhood and youth are vanity, i.e. most vain, either,
1. In their temper and dispositions. Young men are frothy, and foolish, and inconsiderate, whereby they run into manifold dangers, and therefore they shall do well to hearken to the counsels of those who by their greater wisdom and experience are more capable judges of these matters. Or,
2. In their condition. The time of youth is vanishing and transitory, and old age and death will speedily come, against which every man in his wits will take care to lay in solid provisions and comforts.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany