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Leaving now the matter of perverse kings and rulers, the discourse is of making life happy by kindness and conciliation toward those on the level with ourselves, or even below it.
1. Cast thy bread upon the waters This metaphor is to be explained from the form of eastern loaves, which from all time have been thin and flat, and float off like shingles on a stream. The “bread” passes from sight and reach swiftly, and apparently beyond recovery, like our hard tack not soaking and falling apart readily, and may be sometimes recovered far down the stream. The scope of this verse is hypothetical, or of a supposed case. “Though one cast his bread upon the surface of a stream, he may, though long after, find it again.” That is, an investment, whether of toil, of benevolent giving, or good doing, which shows little promise of being remunerative, may in the end prove extremely advantageous. This prepares us for the precept next following.
2. Give a portion That is, of thy bread.
To seven, and also to eight Meaning to no limited and selected number, but donating it widely and generously. “Seven” is often used in Scripture to suggest an exclusive number. Of those thus hospitably treated, some will be unthankful, but others will hold their kind treatment in grateful remembrance and in some emergency will repay it. But even where the generous man has reason to hope for nothing again, and even suffers from the sting of ingratitude, it is still good, when evil reverse of fortune may come, to comfort one’s self, as the thought did Job, that he “ate not his morsel alone” while he had it.
3. If the tree fall The idea of a reversal of fortune is continued. A “tree” by the rivers of water, fully flourishing, may be undermined and washed out in time, when the full clouds send down their floods, and the tree falls and lies utterly helpless. So one now prospering in trade, or, like Wolsey, in politics, may in an evil time “fall,” to lift up himself no more. Then if he, like “the tree,” has blessed others with shelter and generous fruit, they will take hold and lift him up.
4. He that observeth the wind The advice to liberality and freeheartedness takes now the form of expostulation. In the most simple forms of business some risk must be had. He who watches until the weather shall become perfectly and reliably favourable will waste in waiting both seedtime and harvest. So in gifts and hospitalities, some risks must be ventured of aiding worthless men; yet if one wait until he is sure of his man, he will be likely to aid and benefit nobody.
5. The way of the spirit Better, “The way of the” wind. Our utter ignorance of the commonest things in nature really extends to all the works and ways of God. The wind is viewless and trackless, though it surely blows; the growth of the embryo is a mystery, though it surely comes to birth. So with other works of God, who doeth all things.
6. Sow thy seed This precept is an inference. Diligence in labours calculated for good, will be sure of some return, perhaps of very copious returns. This beautiful verse, with its lively rhetorical figure, is often and aptly applied to the labours of the Christian ministry, and fits well to all deeds and efforts of benevolence. The next verse gives one sure return.
7. Light is sweet A cheerful and happy temper is the unfailing reward of a life given to doing good. This verse should not be separated from the preceding. To none is the light of life so sweet as to those who, being delivered from selfishness and misanthropy, spend life in diligence and benevolence. Many beautiful instances will occur to every mind of men skilful and unremitting in business, yet liberal and kind in using their fortunes; and of those, too, who, having neither silver nor gold, have given such as they had to bless their race. Such are always cheerful, joyous people.
8. But if, etc. Better, Even though a man live many years let him rejoice in them all. This course of activity and kindness should be maintained to the last. In this way the longest life will have the longest sunshine. Not long ago Koheleth was urging the brevity of life, and the length of the abode in the grave, as the reason for grasping the largest possible amount of pleasure: now, from a higher view, he urges the same as the reason for the unceasing activity of nobler things of kindness and generosity and benevolence.
9. Know thou, etc. The writer now, like a mariner, discerns a final guiding star. Having looked at human life from various points, and reasoned his way through many theories and suggestions, he sees that, crowning every consideration, however copious, of earthly good, the true restraint and hope and consolation of the soul, at every turn of its fortune, is in the future judgment of God. Lifting his eye above the sad uniformity of sorrow and death, he discerns the great event of the hereafter, and is comforted.
10. Remove sorrow, etc. In this verse the precept so often given is exactly reversed. The way has been, to reckon the present as every thing, and grasp all it has to give, because the future is vain and uncertain. Now Koheleth fixes his vision on the calm and crystal ages beyond the judgment, and urges the enjoyment of the present because it is “vanity,” and the future is every thing.
Youth Hebrew, the time of black hair, meaning the early prime the juventus or military age until forty-five years. Even this best and choicest part of human life is vanity compared with the hereafter.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent