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Bible Commentaries
Ecclesiastes 11

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Ecclesiastes 11:0


Cast Your Bread on the WatersThe Value of DiligenceSayings About the Future and Its UncertaintyWhat A Wise Person DoesWisdom and Folly(Ecclesiastes 9:13-6)
Ecclesiastes 11:1-6Ecclesiastes 11:1-8(vv. Ecclesiastes 11:1-2)Ecclesiastes 11:1-6(vv. Ecclesiastes 11:1-4)Ecclesiastes 11:1-2Ecclesiastes 11:1-6
(vv. Ecclesiastes 11:3-4) Ecclesiastes 11:3-6
(vv. Ecclesiastes 11:5-6)(vv. Ecclesiastes 11:5)
(vv. Ecclesiastes 11:6)
Conclusion(Ecclesiastes 11:7-8) Old Age(Ecclesiastes 11:7-8)
Ecclesiastes 11:7-10(vv. Ecclesiastes 11:7-8)Ecclesiastes 11:7Ecclesiastes 11:7-8Ecclesiastes 11:7-8
Seek God in Early Life(Ecclesiastes 11:9-8)Ecclesiastes 11:8Advice to Young People(Ecclesiastes 11:9-9)
Ecclesiastes 11:9-10Ecclesiastes 11:9Ecclesiastes 11:9Ecclesiastes 11:9-10
Ecclesiastes 11:10Ecclesiastes 11:10

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. Notice that several translations think the last literary unit (i.e., before several brief concluding statements) begins in chapter 11.

Ecclesiastes 11:1. Ecclesiastes 11:9-8 (NKJV, TEV)

Ecclesiastes 11:2. Ecclesiastes 11:7-8-9 (NRSV, NJB)

B. There are several commands in this chapter:

1. “cast,” Ecclesiastes 11:1, BDB 1018; KB 1511, Piel IMPERATIVE

2. “divide,”Ecclesiastes 11:2; Ecclesiastes 11:2, BDB 678, KB 733, Qal IMPERATIVE

3. “sow,” Ecclesiastes 11:6, BDB 281, KB 282, Qal IMPERATIVE

4. “be idle” (lit. “rest”), Ecclesiastes 11:6, BDB 628, KB 679, Hiphil JUSSIVE

5. “let him rejoice,”Ecclesiastes 11:8; Ecclesiastes 11:8, BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal IMPERFECT but used in a JUSSIVE sense

6. “let him remember,” Ecclesiastes 11:8, BDB 269, KB 269, Qal IMPERFECT but used in a JUSSIVE sense

7. “rejoice,” v, 9, BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal IMPERATIVE

8. “let your heart be pleasant” (lit. “do good”), Ecclesiastes 11:9, BDB 405, KB 408, Hiphil IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense

9. “follow” (lit. “walk”), Ecclesiastes 11:9, BDB 229, KB 246, Piel IMPERATIVE

10. “know,” Ecclesiastes 11:9, BDB 393, KB 390, Qal IMPERATIVE

11. “remove,” Ecclesiastes 11:10, BDB 693, KB 747, Hiphil IMPERATIVE

12. “put away,” Ecclesiastes 11:10, BDB 716, KB 778, Hiphil IMPERATIVE

13. “remember,” Ecclesiastes 12:1, BDB 269, KB 269, Qal IMPERATIVE

C. This paragraph (or stanza depending on the genre, cf. NKJV, NJB), Ecclesiastes 11:1-6, uses agriculture and rural imagery to communicate wisdom teachings.

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 11:1-5 1Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days. 2Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth. 3If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies. 4He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap. 5Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.

Ecclesiastes 11:1 This is a recurrent proverb in the Bible relating to one's generosity (rabbinical sources) and God's gracious response (cf. Deuteronomy 15:10; Proverbs 11:24; Proverbs 19:17; Proverbs 22:9; Matthew 10:42; 2 Corinthians 9:8; Galatians 6:9; Hebrews 6:10).

Ecclesiastes 11:2 “Divide your portion to seven” This either refers to (1) diversifying your wealth (NET Bible #5, p. 1143) or (2) more probably in context, helping many people (cf. Matthew 5:42; Luke 6:30).

Ecclesiastes 11:2

NASB“misfortune” NKJV“evil” NRSV, NJB“disaster” TEV“bad luck”

This is the term “evil” (BDB 949). See note at Ecclesiastes 2:17 (“grievous”). It is coming! Act while you can (Ecclesiastes 11:4, Ecclesiastes 11:6). Give while you can (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2). Enjoy while you can (Ecclesiastes 11:7-8).

Ecclesiastes 11:3 Humans experience, but cannot predict or control, the events of their lives (a recurrent theme in Ecclesiastes), but we can share our wealth in good times and when the dark days come, others will share with us.

Ecclesiastes 11:4 At first, this verse of two parallel statements implies a warning against inactivity (i.e., referring to giving from Ecclesiastes 11:1-2). However, I prefer the interpretation of the UBS Handbook For Translators, p. 398, which asserts that it is not inactivity (cf. TEV, REB), but timely activity, that is being advocated.

1. Farmers do not sow in a strong wind.

2. Farmers wait until the wind direction denotes rain, not hot desert winds.

3. Farmers sow during rainy periods, but reap during rainless periods.

When one is happy and successful, then give to others. If you wait the dark days may come when you cannot give.

Ecclesiastes 11:5

NASB, NKJV, NJB, LXX“wind” REB, VULGATE”spirit” NRSV, JPSOA“breath” TEV“life”

Some translations take “wind” (BDB 924) as “spirit” or “breath,” thereby connecting the two lines and relating them both to prenatal activity (cf. KJV, NRSV, TEV, REB, JPSOA, NAB). The interpretive question is, “Is there one illustration of mankind's inability to know, or are there two illustrations in Ecclesiastes 11:5?”

The big issue is that in some areas (i.e., planting and harvesting times) humans can learn by observation and tradition, but in other areas (mysteries of nature and mysteries of God's activities) humans cannot know. Wisdom, though good, helpful, and desirable, cannot solve all of life's unknowns! See Special Topic: Spirit in the Bible.

“how bones are formed in the womb” See one view expressed in Psalms 139:13-16.

“so you do not know the activity of God” This has been a common theme (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:13; Ecclesiastes 3:10, Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ecclesiastes 8:17). God and His works and ways cannot be completely known by fallen mankind, but we can trust Him because of what we do know!

NASB“all things” NKJV“all thingsNRSV, TEV“everything” NJB“all”

This is an idiom for the entire creation (cf. Psalms 103:19; Psalms 119:91; Jeremiah 10:16).

NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 730, lists several other phrases that are used to designate the entire creation:

1. heaven and earth (e.g., Genesis 1:1; Psalms 115:15; Psalms 121:2; Proverbs 3:19-20

2. “the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (e.g., Psalms 24:1-2; Psalms 50:12; Psalms 89:11; Jeremiah 51:48; 1 Corinthians 10:26

3. in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth (e.g., Exodus 20:4; Psalms 135:6)

Ecclesiastes 11:6 “sow” Sow (used metaphorically of giving) with confidence and leave the results to God (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:6). Verses Ecclesiastes 11:5 and 6 are connected by the word “know” (BDB 393, KB 390, Qal ACTIVE PARTICIPLE).

“succeed” This Hebrew VERB (BDB 506, KB 503, Qal IMPERFECT) is found only here and in Ecclesiastes 10:10 (Hiphil INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT). The NOUN is found only in Ecclesiastes as well (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:21; Ecclesiastes 4:4; Ecclesiastes 5:10), meaning “skill,” “success,” or “profit.” Success is uncertain. It may come (i.e., Ecclesiastes 11:7-8) and it may not (i.e., Ecclesiastes 11:8b). When it does, act (i.e., share).

Verse 6

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 11:6 6Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.

Verses 7-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 11:7-8 7The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun. 8Indeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything that is to come will be futility.

Ecclesiastes 11:7 “light is pleasant” This is metaphorical for the enjoyment of life (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:24-26; Ecclesiastes 3:12, Ecclesiastes 3:13, Ecclesiastes 3:22; Ecclesiastes 5:18; Ecclesiastes 8:15).

Ecclesiastes 11:8 This verse seems to relate to Ecclesiastes 11:1-6. Share your wealth and influence while you can because dark days come into every life, and in those days others will share with you.

Live life fully every day. One does not know how many of them will be good and bright!

Verses 9-10

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Ecclesiastes 11:9-10 9Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things. 10So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.

Ecclesiastes 11:9 At this point in the context, Qoheleth begins to talk about the different opportunities and problems that regularly occur during the different stages of life (Ecclesiastes 11:9-7).

1. childhood

2. youth

3. young adult

4. old age

“follow the impulses of your heart” This advice does not refer to evil, but to the natural human instincts of young people:

1. be with friends

2. enjoy life at social events

3. desire a family and children

4. find one's vocation

“Yet know that God will bring you to judgment” We are responsible for our acts (cf. Ecclesiastes 3:17; Ecclesiastes 12:1; 14; Matthew 25-26; Romans 2:16; Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 6:7; Revelation 20:0)!

Ecclesiastes 11:10

NASB“vexation” NKJV“sorrow” NRSV“anxiety” TEV“worry” NJB“indignation”

This term (NOUN, BDB 495, VERB, BDB 494) has several possible connotations:

1. anger of men, Ecclesiastes 7:9

2. anger of God

3. grief, Ecclesiastes 1:18; Ecclesiastes 2:23; Ecclesiastes 5:16

4. sorrow, Ecclesiastes 7:3

This verse could fit with #3 or #4. Life is hard; enjoy it when, where and while you can!

“the prime of life” This is possibly related to the concept, “days of black hair” (BDB 1007), which is the same basic root as “dawn” (BDB 1007). Youth, as all things, will pass away (lit. “vanity,” BDB 210 I, in the sense of fleeting or meaningless).

NASB“fleeting” NKJV, NRSV“vanity” NJB“futile”

This is the term “breath” (BDB 210 I), used in the sense of “fleeting” (cf. Ecclesiastes 6:12; Ecclesiastes 7:15; Ecclesiastes 9:9; Job 7:16; Psalms 39:5, Psalms 39:11; Psalms 62:9; Psalms 78:33; Psalms 144:4).

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/ecclesiastes-11.html. 2021.
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