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Directions for charity. Death in life, and the day of judgment in the days of youth, are to be thought on.
Ecclesiastes 11:1. Cast thy bread upon the waters— Cast thy corn before the waters, for thou shalt find it, &c. Desvoex observes, the true design of this verse is so plainly pointed out by the context, that interpreters could not avoid seeing that it is an exhortation to benevolence and liberality; yet few of them understood the letter of the metaphor wherein that exhortation is in a manner wrapped up; and the Chaldee paraphrast would not even allow it to be a metaphor; but, through a very extraordinary synecdoche, made the surface of the water to mean poor sailors, whose ships sail on that surface. It has been observed by several interpreters, that in these words, cast thy לחם lechem, upon the face of the waters, לחם, which is generally translated bread, may as well be translated corn: besides other places, where it has that signification, no other construction can be put on it, Isa 28:28 nor in this place neither, if we consider that Solomon makes use of a proverbial metaphorical sentence, which must have a known, rational, literal sense, independently of the remoter moral application. But to cast one's bread upon the surface of the waters, where it must be either devoured by the fish, or diluted to nothing, before the waves leave it upon the shore, would be a very odd way of providing for futurity; and I doubt whether one who would try the experiment could find his bread again after many days. But the case is quite otherwise with respect to seed thrown upon the surface of an inundation: When the waters subside, the corn which remains in the mud grows, and is found again many days after, at the time of harvest. This is a very rational construction of Solomon's words, which the judicious Bishop Lowth, in his 10th Prelection, thinks may be illustrated from Psalms 104:14. But there is another, which, if I am not mistaken, has the advantage of being better connected with the other proverbial sentences, wherein the author has in a manner wrapped up his exhortation; and to which, for that reason, I have given the preference in my translation. The words פני על al peni, upon the faces, are often employed for לפני lipni, before the faces, to signify, in presence of, or over against; and the two phrases appear to be synonimous in that sense, by comparing Exo 14:2 with Numbers 33:7. They are so likewise in some places, especially Gen 32:21 and 2Sa 15:18 in the signification of before, with respect to time. Now, why should not המים עלאּפני al-peni hammaiim, in the passage before us, be rendered, Before the rainy season? Corn thrown at that time in the ground, which in hot climates is then like dust, may be looked upon as thrown away; and if you consider nothing but the impossibility of its thriving without moisture, it is very natural that you should wait for the wind which will bring clouds and rain (Ecclesiastes 11:4.). But the prudent husbandman knows, that in time of drought the clouds are filling, and that as soon as they are full they must pour down rain upon the earth (Ecclesiastes 11:3.): therefore he sows the seed in expectation of a crop, which he is not to see immediately, but only after many days. This kind of prudence is that which Solomon recommends with respect to the poor, as may be seen by the whole context.
Ecclesiastes 11:4. He that observeth the wind, &c.— The first precept, or advice, contained in Ecc 11:1-3 has a retrospect to the first proposition; and might be thus expressed, if we were not to make use of figurative language: since the goods of this world are mere vanity, do your best to fix, or to give them what stability they are capable of, with respect to another dispensation, by sharing them with the poor; or, to speak with one who was both greater and wiser than Solomon himself, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail they may receive you into ever-lasting habitations. But our author chose to make use of proverbial sentences, which, together with the advice given, carry an intimation that God Almighty has disposed every thing in this world in such a manner, that nothing is lost. Corn sown before the rainy season will nevertheless be found afterwards in the harvest time: the vapours emitted from the earth fall again into its bosom; and a tree, though torn from its roots, which seemed to be its strongest security against being carried away, remains for the use of the owner in the very place where the wind blew it down, being no further in the power of the storms. Thus our alms will, under the direction of the same God, have some sort of stability. They will be repaid; perhaps in this world; certainly somewhere. To this precept is added a caution, (Ecclesiastes 11:4.) lest, through an over-nice regard to proper opportunities, we should neglect to do good while it is in our power to do it.
Ecclesiastes 11:5-6. As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit— As thou knowest not which way the wind will blow, nor how the bones are formed in the womb of her who is with child; even so thou knowest not the work of God, who shall do all this; Ecclesiastes 11:6 therefore sow thy seed, &c. The morning and evening, possibly, may signify the early and late season, according to Symmachus's notion, which may very well agree with the original, Sow thy corn both early and late; do not desist, &c. The second precept contained in these two verses, and which has a retrospect both to the first and second proposition, as appears by comparing it with the conclusion drawn from both, ch. Ecc 6:10-11 stands thus: since it is not possible for men to find out the ways of God, and fully to discover whereunto our works and occupations shall tend, by the appointment of Him who is the author of every thing which happens; they must be satisfied to bestow their time and trouble upon that which it appears (by the circumstances wherein they are placed by him) it was his design they should; leaving the success to himself, who alone can tell what it will be, having kept it entirely within his own disposal.
Ecclesiastes 11:8. But if a man live many years— Yet, if a man was to live many years in a continual enjoyment of pleasure, and should remember that the days of darkness shall be many; all that is past is vanity.
Ecclesiastes 11:9. In the days of thy youth— In the days of thy wishes.
Ecclesiastes 11:10. Therefore remove sorrow— And remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away pain from thy flesh; because this youth, nay, this dawn of light, is but a vapour; Desvoeux: who puts a semicolon only at the end of this verse, and connects very properly the first verse of the next chapter with it thus:—and remember thy Creator, &c.]
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The great blessing of abundance, and the proper employment of it, is to use it in relieving the necessities of the indigent.
1. Solomon exhorts to liberality. Cast thy bread upon the waters, upon the multitude of poor objects; and, like ships of merchandize, the return made shall amply repay the venture: for thou shalt find it after many days; the blessing of God shall often restore it with increase in this world, at least in a better we shall reap the fruits of our benevolence. Give a portion to seven, not complaining of the number who seek relief, but also to eight; even to as many as through their indigence call for a supply, and our ability enables us to assist; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth, and therefore, instead of making that a reason for withholding the needful assistance, we should be careful to make a good use of what we have while we have it; and what our hand findeth to do, do it with our might.
2. He urges the duty by several considerations taken from the objects around us, and answers the objections which the niggard heart might make.
(1.) If the clouds be full of rain, they do not reserve their contents, but empty themselves upon the earth; so should the rich water with their bounty all around them.
(2.) If a tree fall toward the south or towards the north, either the seed which grows into a tree, or the stock when it is filled, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be, in the former instance freely producing fruit for those who come to gather it; or, according to the latter, when by death we are cut down as a tree, we can do good no longer; and therefore should now, while we have opportunity, improve the moment: nor should the unworthiness of the object discourage us; if we give in real charity, we shall not lose our reward.
(3.) We must not be deterred by the fears of want which may happen to ourselves; or by any probable future difficulties be discouraged from present duty. If every blast of wind or flying cloud discouraged the husbandman, he would neither sow his ground, nor reap his harvest.
(4.) Though we may not see how God will repay us for what is expended in his service, yet shall it infallibly be done. We know not whence the wind cometh, or whither it goeth, how the soul is united to the body, or the bones grow in the womb of her that is with child; and a thousand things in the ways of Providence are equally mysterious to us. But though we know not the manner of his operation, we feel and see the effects: and so shall we receive a return from him of what is in charity lent to him.
(5.) We shall finally reap, if we faint not. Our duty is, to labour with indefatigable diligence, and trust God for the success; we know not which of our works of faith and labours of love shall most prosper, whether those of the morning of youth, or the evening of age, and may hope that both shall be alike good, watered with the dew of the divine benediction, and producing a plentiful harvest, either in time or in eternity.
2nd, After the many directions given how so live, he proceeds in the conclusion to teach us how to die.
1. He addresses the aged. Those who have lived many years, and years of almost uninterrupted prosperity too, rejoicing in them all; to such the light of life is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is to behold the sun, to be numbered among the living, and enjoy the blessings that God bestows. But the more comforts we have found here, and the longer we have possessed them, the more need we fear, lest inordinate love of life should draw us away from our better hope above; and therefore let such remember the days of darkness, for they are many, days of sickness, pain, and infirmity; or days of death, when the body is inclosed in the silent grave, and no more to be found among the living. This should be ever placed in our view, that we may never be secure, or careless, but dying daily, and ready to meet the summons which calls our bodies to their bed of dust, and our souls to the world of spirits.
2. He addresses the youth. Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; which may be considered, as before, as his serious advice, to take the most comfortable enjoyment of the blessings of life, in such a way, as to be ever ready to answer at the judgment-seat of Christ: or the words may be regarded as a pointed irony, expressive of the vanity and misery of indulging youthful lusts, for which so solemn a reckoning must be quickly made. Rejoice, if such wretched gratifications can afford a drop of satisfaction, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, pass all the jocund hours in mirth and gaiety, and walk in the ways of thy heart, keeping it back from no joy, but giving a boundless scope to the indulgence of every appetite; and in the sight of thine eyes, let them wander unrestrained on every pleasing object: but know thou, however lightly it is thought of, however sadly forgotten, know thou, what God will shortly make thee know, whether thou wilt or no, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment; terrible expectation to those who spend their lives in vanity, and in a moment go down to the grave! Be admonished, therefore, before that fatal hour arrives; remove sorrow from thy heart, all those causes of it which will be bitterly felt in the days of more advanced age, if the pangs of repentance seize thee; or when in death, if found impenitent, the more terrible pains of hell come about thee; and put away evil from thy flesh, the sins of intemperance and uncleanness, to which the flesh is addicted: for childhood and youth are vanity; the pleasures of both poor and transient; the days swiftly hurrying by, old age advancing, and death at the door. The sooner we begin seriously to weigh these things, and the more awfully to be impressed thereby, the more diligently shall we set ourselves to prepare for our great change, and be happily ready for our appearance before the judge of quick and dead, whenever he shall summon us away.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24