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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 11

Sermon Bible CommentarySermon Bible Commentary

Verse 1

Ecclesiastes 11:1

This text is generally regarded as an exhortation to charity, in that restricted sense of the word in which it is equivalent to almsgiving. But it is plainly capable of a far wider extension. It represents by a very striking figure the duties and the consequent hopes of every one of us in every one of our relations towards God and towards man.

I. The text teaches the lesson of obedience to present duty and of patience as to the future result. There is a sowing which is done by each one of us for himself: a sowing to the flesh or else a sowing to the Spirit; and according as our sowing is of the one kind or the other, so will our harvest be one of happiness or of misery. Now we can all understand that to sow to the Spirit is a thing which requires great patience. If we look only at the immediate result, we must be disappointed. It is only "after many days" "in due season," as St. Paul expresses the same thought that we shall reap if we faint not.

II. One great part of this sowing to the Spirit consists in our conduct towards God, the other in our conduct towards one another. (1) Suppose that one of you sets himself heartily to seek God. God never led you to expect that a few hours' or a few days' anxiety would set at rest for ever your prospect of salvation. He bids you seek Him, and He assures you that in due time He will be found of you. He bids you trust in His guidance, even when He is unseen. Let your comfort be in every time of hope deferred the animating and stirring exhortation on which we have dwelt: "Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days." (2) Withhold not the word that aims at a brother's good. It may well be spoken humbly, cautiously, reluctantly, gently; if not, it will lose its influence, and will be wrong in you. You may believe to the very end that it was all in vain; and yet in the sight of a God who sees the heart that one word may have been the turning-point for an immortal soul between life and death. Infinite will be the joy hereafter of having been instrumental but partially, but remotely, in the salvation of but one soul. "Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days."

C. J. Vaughan, Harrow Sermons, 2nd series, p. 509.

I. The charge is, "Cast thy bread upon the waters." (1) Its first reference is to seed, for this is what is meant by "bread." "The seed is the word of God." Only from the lips of Christ and from those whose utterances were instinct with the light of Christ's own Spirit do we obtain those gleanings of precious and suggestive thought which God will vitalise and make the seeds of heaven. (2) A second reference in the charge is to the sowing: "Cast" the seed. Weeds are self-dispersive, and have a frightful facility of growth; but fruits are God's blessing on labour. The winds of circumstance may float and scatter the thistledown of sin; but the hand of intelligence and piety must sow the seed of truth. (3) The third reference is to the place where the seed is to be cast: "Cast it upon the waters." As the seeds fell on the soft and porous soil beneath the water, your hints may drop into yielding and receptive natures.

II. The promise: "Thou shalt find it after many days." "Thou shalt find it;" therefore you may be at first inclined to think it lost. "After many days;" therefore you need not be strengthless with the chill of discouragement if it should not be found at once. "That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die." It must pass through the action of some kind of mental chemistry; it must mix with other influences; it must long unfurl and ramify in mystery and silence: and you are not to faint because you are unable to reap in sowing-time.

III. What effects should this charge and this promise have on our faith and practice? (1) We must aim to sow the right seed. The right seed appears to be this alone: teaching in its history and its connections the fact that "Jesus Christ is the Saviour of sinners." (2) We should aim at the best way of teaching. (3) We should aim to look to the right quarter for success. (4) We should aim to use the right rule for estimating success. (5) Let us aim to obey this message from God in our daily sphere of life.

C. Stanford, Central Truths, p. 315.

References: Ecclesiastes 11:1 . New Manual of Sunday-school Addresses, p. 271; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iii., p. 351; Homiletic Magazine, vol. viii., p. 199; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xii., p. 343; J. Hamilton, The Royal Preacher, p. 197. Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 . R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 391; T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes p. 239. Ecclesiastes 11:1-10 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 222.

Verses 1-10

Ecclesiastes 10:10-1

I. In chap. xi. Koheleth urges upon us the necessity of diligence. He has come to the conclusion that it is not worth while to have a nicely calculated scheme of life, because at every turn our calculations may be upset by the interference of an arbitrary Providence. But, on the other hand, as he now points out, we must do something, or we shall have no enjoyment at all. We shall never reap if we do not sow. We must be ready even to throw away our labour, to "cast our bread upon the waters."

II. In the third and following verses, he warns us against being misled by a doctrine on which he has previously much insisted; the doctrine, viz., that we never know what God is going to do with us. We must do what we have to do in spite of our short-sightedness. It is worth while to be diligent on the chance that our diligence may be rewarded. Young man, says Koheleth, enjoy yourself in your youth. Make the most of that golden season. "Walk in the ways of thine heart and in the sight of thine eyes." Only you must remember not to overdo it. God always punishes excess. In old age you will reap what you have previously sown. Remember, therefore, thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Bethink you, before it is too late, of those natural laws which cannot be broken with impunity.

III. Notice the contrast between this worldly philosophy of Koheleth's and the Jewish religion at its best. The precept which he here enunciates is distinctly contrary to one which we find in the Pentateuch (Numbers 15:39 ). There we read, "Seek not after your own heart and your own eyes; but remember to do all the commandments of the Lord and be holy unto your God." According to Judaism, God, righteousness, holiness, character, stand first; and to them our personal inclinations must be altogether subordinated. According to Koheleth, pleasure stands first. God is introduced only as an after-thought or a check. Communion with God was felt by the really pious Jew to be the supreme happiness of life; but according to Koheleth, God is to be obeyed merely because He will punish disobedience. True morality is devotion of the soul to goodness; true religion is the devotion of the soul to God devotion that is not increased by the hope of profit nor diminished by the certainty of loss. If we would be true to the manhood with which we have been endowed, we too must cultivate this spirit of self-abandoning devotion to goodness and to God.

A. W. Momerie, Agnosticism, p. 266.

References: Ecclesiastes 10:16 . S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii., p. 123. 10 C. Bridges, An Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 234; T. C. Finlayson, A Practical Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 227.

Verse 3

Ecclesiastes 11:3

I. In the first proverb in chap. xi. "Cast thy bread upon the waters," etc. do we not see, no less than in the parable of the sower, the common work of man as a tiller of the ground turned into the symbol and token of his life as an heir of God's kingdom? The words of the Preacher say to each man in the common daily tasks in which his life is spent, to each in his vocation and ministry, Do that which is right and true always; let acts of kindness be scattered freely. The seed never fails of fruit somewhere or at some time. The harvest may be a long way off, yet after many days thou shalt find.

II. The next verse gives in part the interpretation of the parable, in part presents a new one. "Give a portion to seven;" yes, and if an eighth appear at thy gate, send him not away empty: let him be a welcome guest to thee. Do good not according to the measure which thou appointest to thyself, but to the opportunities that God gives thee.

III. The text is in perfect harmony with this teaching. Before, there was the earnest call to well-doing; here the man who would use his life rightly and be what God meant him to be is warned against the perils of the overanxious, over-reflective temper. All the great thinkers of the world tell us, as with one voice, that the future which God appoints will come, for good or evil, joy or sorrow; that it is unwise in any man to anticipate the worst. Let him do the right thing at the present hour, and then he has done all that in him lies to make his path clear, and he may leave the rest to God. No temper is more fatal to energy, manliness, usefulness, than this of anxiety and fear.

E. H. Plumptre, Kings College Sermons, p. 40.

References: Ecclesiastes 11:3 . J. Baldwin Brown, Pulpit Analyst, vol. iii., p. 189. Ecclesiastes 11:4 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. vi., p. 292; H. P. Liddon, Old Testament Outlines, p. 163.Ecclesiastes 11:5 . Ibid., vol. x., p. 55.

Verse 6

Ecclesiastes 11:6

This text lays a general command upon us all that each in his vocation and calling should, as part of the work of every day, watch for and make use of every possible opportunity of helping those around him in the way to godliness, and, like St. Andrew in the early times of the Gospel, of bringing his brother to Jesus.

I. There are no such things as trifles in the life of a Christian. What we call trivial occasions are the very occasions which the precepts and examples of Scripture would have us turn to account. We must carry our religion about with us, so that its light shall be always shining before men, in such sort as that they shall see it sanctifying our business, and hallowing our pleasures, and pervading our whole character. God's law is not to be "hidden," not to be "far off;" but it is to be kept very nigh, "in thy mouth and in thy heart." So ran the command; and the reason of the injunction was added: "in thy mouth and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it."

II. Jesus Christ never missed an opportunity. He came into the world to seek and to save that which was lost. Men might hear Him gladly, or they might walk no more with Him; they might hear, or they might forbear: but He was so on the watch to draw them to Him that no chance was lost. The more we shrink from trying to lead others to good, the less we are like Christ.

F. E. Paget, Helps and Hindrances to the Christian Life, vol. ii., p. 85.

References: Ecclesiastes 11:6 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 276; Parker, City Temple, vol. i., p. 10; Spurgeon, Evening by Evening, p. 266.

Verse 7

Ecclesiastes 11:7

I. Good-temper is the result of a well-ordered character, in which each quality is so tempered as to act well with the rest, and to minister to the rightful and easy activity of the whole. It may be born with a man in whom the elements are kindly mixed; but for the most part it has to be won. And we can only win it by daily sacrifice of the impulsive, impertinent, and selfish demands of our different qualities, appetites, and passions to be first. If we work at this quietly, we shall get our character into harmony; and the result of that is good-temper, sunlight in heart and home.

II. There is another thing which goes with good-temper. It is that freedom is given to each member of the house to grow and express their growth in acts and words, freedom within the limits necessary for the pleasure and good of the rest. We are bound not only to prefer one another, but also to prefer them "in honour:" that is, to try and find out what each in the household does best, and therefore enjoys most; to find out in doing what things they will most shine and delight others, and to help them towards these things; to suppress ourselves in order that we may be able to make others appear in honour, and be better liked, reverenced, and loved by ourselves and all. This is true courtesy. It is its very flower; it is the essence of Christ's teaching set to music in daily life.

III. If you would have sunlight in your home, see that you have work in it, that you work yourself and set others to work.

Nothing makes moroseness and heavy-heartedness in a house so fast as idleness. What said Christ? "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work." Sunlight comes with work.

IV. The same results that follow sunshine in nature follow its moral image in a home. In such a home there is: (1) light; we see things as they are, and in their right relations. (2) Colour. The smallest flower shines, and enjoys, and expands in sunlight; the smallest child gives forth its special colour, and scent, and charm, and good in a home which is warm and bright with love.

This is the picture and these are the causes of a sunny home. Truly its light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold its sun. The light that lights it is the same light that enlightens the life of God. His sunlight is love and work; and if we would abide with Him, we must love and we must work.

S. A. Brooke, The Spirit of the Christian Life, p. 204.

Reference: Ecclesiastes 11:7 . F. O. Morris, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxix., p. 214.

Verses 7-8

Ecclesiastes 11:7-8

To most men there is something very hopeless about these words, a hopelessness with which too many of us are familiar. The tone is like that of some clever, old, hardened, unloving man of the world, who says to the young, and the aspiring, and the sanguine, "Ah, it is all very well, hope, and romance, and doing wonders, like infantine diseases a painful necessity; you will soon grow out of them. There is nothing worth caring for very much; and you will soon be old and done for, and then the grave. Vanity of vanities!" This is indeed a gospel of despair. I do not think it is good teaching for the young; and more still, I do not think its prophecies need to be fulfilled. To a large extent we may decide what our old age may be.

I. "Truly the light is sweet." Yes, to those who have once known what it is, otherwise not. For in practical life, whether we deal with the realm of faith or of morals, we still find men contented dwellers in the darkness. They go on in life with the morals and the religion of their class, with a morality and religion deeply unintelligent. They go on with the work of life, and a Sunday church if quite convenient; and they reach their ambition; and they place their children; and life thins off to the end; and they are dull and drowsy, for the night is spreading over them, and they have had no religious intention to be the light of their light.

II. As in the matter of faith and opinion we need at least one interpretative principle to make us know where we are, so in practice we need one definite intention if the gloom of practical irreligion is to be driven away. That which strikes one in the phenomenon of conversion, wherever it occur, as universally present, is the concentration of the mind to one point, and the new force which comes of the concentration. A man ceases to wander aimlessly in a fog, scarcely hoping to get anywhere, unless it be to heaven when he no longer can be here get to heaven by unintentionally stumbling into it in the dark. He now knows what he means, he now sees his object, and the path lies straight before him. And so we say that a man has "found peace;" and his character grows strong; and the consistent, well-knit life manifests the workings of a grace Divine.

III. But if men choose darkness rather than light in the matter of religious practice, equally true is it that they do so in the matter of religious faith and thought. The attitude of most men towards a new thought or a new side of an old thought is that of impatience and repugnance; they will not bear to hear it expressed and explained, but drown it in cries more forcible than intelligent. "This man speaketh blasphemy," said men of Christ; and to many a voice of God the same response has been made.

IV. From Christ we learn a rule of life, and that rule is conscientiousness. And from Christ we gain a saving light of faith for these dark days; and it is that "God is good, and His mercy endureth for ever." This light is sweeter and better far than the cynicism of disappointed age; it is a light for youth in its gladness, and for the strong man in the plenitude of his powers, and it is indeed a saving light as we feel our way to the sanctuary of the tomb.

W. Page-Roberts, Law and God, p. 52.

Verses 7-9

Ecclesiastes 11:7-9

I. Notice the reality of the contrasts presented in life. Full as life is of pathetic meanings, we are often strangely insensible to them. We may not regard them with indifference, but we fail to realise them. Life is made up of the endless play and vicissitude of circumstance, often rising into a tragic pathos. Men and women are apt to be engrossed with their own little share of life. They are unable to conceive life as a whole even in their own case, its breadth of shadow as well as of light, or how the one is meant to fit into the other, and harmonise the whole to a higher meaning than it would otherwise have. They are content with the passing hour, especially if it be an hour of enjoyment. They feel that the light is sweet, and that it is pleasant for the eyes to behold the sun; and beyond this their thoughts do not carry them. It is needless to say that this is an essentially irreligious frame of mind, barely a rational one. The Preacher warns us to look ever from the present to the future, from the light to the darkness, and even from the opening portals of life to a judgment to come.

II. And this points to the second and still higher view of life suggested in the text. It is not merely full of vicissitudes which should always awaken reflectiveness; but below all its vicissitudes, and behind all its joys and sorrows alike, there lies a law of retribution which is always fulfilling itself. It is only when we rise to this view of life that we rise to a truly moral or religious view of it. We must realise that all the moments of life have a Divine meaning, that they are linked together by spiritual law, and are designed to constitute a spiritual education for a higher sphere. This is the true interpretation of the judgment which God has everywhere set up against life, and especially against its festive moments, as the most dangerous and self-absorbing. The light is acknowledged to be good, and life, pleasant. The young man is acknowledged in his natural freedom. His heart is allowed to cheer him in the days of his youth, and he may walk in the ways of his heart and the sight of his eyes. Life is good and to be enjoyed; yet it is always grave, and the account is always running up against it. The true view is at once earnest and genial, bright yet always thoughtful, looking to the end from the beginning and forecasting the future, yet without anxiety, in the experience of the present.

J. Tulloch, Some Facts of Religion and of Life, p. 232.

Reference: Ecclesiastes 11:7-10 . R. Buchanan, Ecclesiastes: its Meaning and Lessons, p. 407.

Verse 9

Ecclesiastes 11:9

Was this a strain of savage irony? Was it the mocking wail of one who had done all these things in the very worst sense you can put upon them, and found out, in unspeakable bitterness of heart, what came of it all? Looking before the text and after it, thinking of the general scope and tendency of the whole book of Ecclesiastes, one would say that all the text conveys is this great truth, which we all find out as we grow older, that the reckoning always comes. There is no harm in rejoicing in hopeful youth; God made youth for that. Only remember for steadying and sobering, not for saddening, that the reckoning will come; that through all these things you are sowing, and that you will reap by-and-bye.

I. Solomon was right in this sense, that for all enjoyment, ay, for all you do, for hard work, and privation, and trial too, the reckoning comes, the painful reckoning; for all these things God will bring you into judgment as for the enjoyments of your early days: and the reckoning may be a very heavy one. Even where the present frost is not the direct outcome of the past sunshine, no more sorrowful experience can be known by any human heart than the awful blankness which is expressed by the one word "gone." To have had and to have lost that is Solomon's judgment in the text.

II. But you will not escape the reckoning, go which way you may. Rejoice or not rejoice, God will bring you into judgment. We must through much tribulation enter into what home soever we may reach at the last. The text does but tell us that the troubles tend to increase towards the journey's end. There is but one choice we can make, and be sure we shall never repent; it is the choice of Christ, the choice of life and good in Him. Make that choice. As for every other choice you make, you will have to enter into judgment for it. But this will abide the trial of that great day.

A. K. H. B., From a Quiet Place, p. 1.

I. There are perhaps two senses in which a portion of these words might be understood. (1) It may mean that youth is the appointed season of joy and gladness, and that God will have it made so. It may say, Rejoice, O young man for it is God's will in the days of thy youth. Only remember, amidst thy mirth and gladness, that coming judgment which will one day take account of all. (2) Or the sense may be not so much in the spirit of encouragement as of warning. If thou rejoice in thy youth so as to resign thyself without check or reserve to its pleasures, then know thou that, bright as earth may seem to thee, full of joys and tolerant of forgetfulness, yet in due time for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.

II. Each of these interpretations has a just and true meaning. "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth." God will have it so. If youth were not a season of joy, of few cares and abounding pleasures, who would live to old age? nay, who would be fit for the burden and heat of life's middle day? Rejoice then while you may. But if thou wilt forget God and enshrine thyself in the sanctuary which was built and furnished for Him, then take with thee this thought, to be thy counsellor if thou wilt, thy scourge if thou wilt not: that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment; and if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?

C. J. Vaughan, Harrow Sermons, 2nd series, p. 523.

What is the Christian application of the words, "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth "?

I. They may warn those who have the care of youth not to lay too much on the young. Sadden not the hearts which God would not make sad. Let there be at least one period of life on which the memory may rest hereafter gladly, a fountain from which the heart may perpetually renew its faith that unalloyed happiness is not unattainable.

II. Let the young believe, what all experience shows, that it is possible to rejoice in youth and at the same time to remember judgment. For pleasure is not life, but the reflex and incidental evidence to us of the life that is there. And while there are most certainly springs of gladness, which may prove hereafter to be the means of enriching life, let the heart which thinks it can discern such blessings be very careful in the use of them. How much may depend on the strength or weakness shown in this, the experienced alone can tell.

III. Let the young rejoice in youth, for it is the beginning of all things; it has possibilities which may well seem infinite. The strain, the conflict, the dust and strife, the heat and burden of the day, are to come afterwards; meanwhile the young are gathering strength in abundant leisure, that in the evil day they may be able to stand. Let us see that it is strength that they are gathering, and not weakness, and then we will not grudge them the brightness of moments which we can never know again.

IV. Let not the young be too ready to imagine that they are able to stand alone and to be a law unto themselves. It is one of the purest sources of joy in youth that it has the power of leaning upon an example, of looking up with reverence to another. It has the belief in human goodness unimpaired. It would be a sad thing if the disintegration of society were to proceed so far, that even this feeling should lose its freshness.

V. It would be wrong to forget that there are some to whom youth is not a time of joy, to whom their first severe trials come at a time when they are least able to bear them, a time when to feel sorrow is to think it impossible ever to smile again. It would be mockery to teach them to rejoice, perhaps even to speak to them of joy. But in fact life is full of compensations; and though the traces of early sorrow may long remain, yet it may have opened depths within them which long afterwards may become a source of truest blessing.

L. Campbell, Some Aspects of the Christian Ideal, p. 134.

We interpret this verse as a simple precept, containing no irony, nor bitterness, nor threatening, but merely an injunction to Christian joy in youth Christian joy in youth limited, tested, and directed by the prospect of judgment. When we turn to St. Paul to know the principles on which we are to make our rejoicing a Christian one, we find that in the passages in which he urges the duty of rejoicing he puts forward two principal reasons of joy. The one is in the Epistle to the Philippians: "Rejoice in the Lord;" and the other in the Epistle to the Romans: "Rejoicing in hope." Consider how these grounds of Christian rejoicing affect the young.

I. "Rejoice in the Lord." The familiar phrase "in the Lord" is one which really contains very deep and solemn meaning. It signifies that Christians are, in some signal and mysterious manner, "in Christ." Being in Him, they must stand fast in Him; being in Him, they are alike in Him, whether they are alive on the earth, standing fast in Him, or whether they sleep in Him. In Him they thank God acceptably; in Him it is their life to be. We then are in Christ, and St. Paul tells us that we are to rejoice therein: "Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, Rejoice;" "Rejoice that ye are in the Lord, and being in the Lord, rejoice." This rejoicing belongs to the young Christian as fully as to the old. If he has not yet had the time or opportunity for great advances towards Christian perfection, at least he is less far removed from the days of his baptismal innocence. Grace is yet unclouded by inveterate sin. His heart is still open to the freshness of early lessons, to the depth of first impressions, to the heartiness of childish duty. Thus he may rejoice in his youth, and let his heart naturally cheer him in the days of his youth.

II. "Rejoicing in hope." The hopes which are the ground of Christian joy are: (1) the hope that our present state of privilege and blessing "in the Lord" shall continue to us while we live, and (2) that in the final judgment we shall be received to the fulness of that inheritance of which we are heirs already. Hope might almost be called the natural privilege of youth. The loving and happy Christian hope often shines as brightly in infant and youthful hearts as even in mature and aged saints. If it be less of a deliberate and reflective feeling, it is more spontaneous and simple, insomuch that many a child who has been early trained to know God, His constant presence, His power, and His love, leans upon Him and trusts Him with the same unhesitating hope and cheerful confidence with which he trusts his earthly parents.

G. Moberly, Sermons at Winchester College, p. 209.

References: Ecclesiastes 11:9 . F. W. Farrar, In the Days of thy Youth, p. 89; G. Dawson, Sermons on Daily Life and Duty, p. 105; W. Spensley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 20; J. Sherman, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 97. Ecclesiastes 11:9 , Ecclesiastes 11:10 . R. Dixon, Penny Pulpit, No. 631; B. Jowett, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 204; J. Bennet, The Wisdom of the King, p. 406. 11 C. Bridges, An Exposition of Ecclesiastes, p. 263. 11, 12 G. G. Bradley, Lectures on Ecclesiastes, p. 123.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11". "Sermon Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sbc/ecclesiastes-11.html.
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