Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 11:1

Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.
New American Standard Version

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Nave's Topical Bible - Faith;   Liberality;   Seven;   Thompson Chain Reference - Benevolence;   God's;   Liberality;   Liberality-Parsimony;   Promises, Divine;   Social Duties;   The Topic Concordance - Bearing Fruit;   Giving and Gifts;   Knowledge;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Liberality;   Missionaries, All Christians Should Be as;   Seed;  
Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Work;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Bread, Bread of Presence;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Ecclesiastes, the Book of;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Ecclesiastes, Book of;   Poetry;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Ecclesiastes;   Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types - Bread;  
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Ecclesiastes, or the Preacher;   Wisdom;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Bar Ḳ;   Ben Sira, Alphabet of;   Bread;   Eleazar I. (Lazar) (Eleazar B. Shammua');  
Every Day Light - Devotion for August 16;   Faith's Checkbook - Devotion for June 1;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

Cast thy bread upon the waters - An allusion to the sowing of rice; which was sown upon muddy ground, or ground covered with water, and trodden in by the feet of cattle: it thus took root, and grew, and was found after many days in a plentiful harvest. Give alms to the poor, and it will be as seed sown in good ground. God will cause thee afterwards to receive it with abundant increase. The Targum understands it of giving bread to poor sailors. The Vulgate and my old Bible have the same idea. Send thi brede upon men passing waters.

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These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

The verse means: “Show hospitality, even though the corresponding return of hospitality to you may seem improbable; nevertheless, be hospitable in faith.” Compare Luke 14:13-14; Hebrews 13:2. Some interpreters (not unreasonably) understand by “bread” the seed from the produce of which bread is made. Seed cast upon the fertile soil flooded by the early rains would be returned to the sower in autumn with large increase.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

Ecclesiastes 11:1

Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt find it after many days.

Cast thy bread upon the waters

This saying takes us to the banks of the Nile, where, every year, as the flood subsided, while the level lands were still all ooze and mud, the farmer went forth, and, without any ploughing, just cast the grain over the mud, and, simply trampling it in with his flocks of goats, knew that he should “find it after many days” in those fruitful harvests which made

Egypt the granary of the ancient world. Only, mark what it means. It is not a mere lesson of sowing. It is not cast thy “seed” upon the waters. It is cast thy “bread”--cast of thy bread-corn, that which you might use for bread--cast that on the waters, spare even of that to sow for the days to come. You see, it is a lesson not merely of sowing, but of self-denial and self-restraint in order to sow. There is a lesson here which is always needed, but which was never, perhaps, more needed than to-day. For, if I mistake not, the marvellous advances of our age, the quickening of the whole speed of life, have had this effect--to produce a sort of eager impatience and eagerness for the utmost immediate results, a remorseless sort of draining of the present of everything that can be got out of it. People want to make all their harvest into bread--yes, or into cake, if it can be--are not willing to forego any of it for seed, or to be put into the sinking fund of the future. Why, look at this even in what one may call the using up of life itself. All this marvellous advancement of our age should have given people--even the hardest-worked and busiest--a little more leisure for simple, happy living--living for its own sake. I asked a dressmaker once ii the invention of the sewing-machine had not lightened her labour. “Not in the least,” she replied. “Ladies only want so much the more work putting on to their dresses; and so they take just as long making as ever.” Is not that a good deal true, all through life? Every gain of time has been used up right away m new wants--none of it saved for those quieter uses and higher uses which would be the seed of a nobler, fuller future. You see illustrations of this in every direction. You see it in trade and the various material arts of life. In the older times it was the ambition of a business man to establish a business,--a concern that might stand, a business that his sons might be proud to take up and maintain the prestige of it. But such an ambition involves some foregoing of present advantage; and that is where modern life is so weak. Besides, men do not look to their sons to take up their business as they used to do. If they are successful their sons will hardly need any business! So what able men try to do is to make the utmost possible for a few years; and, to do this, there cannot be much sparing of bread-corn to cast on the waters, not much restraint in the use of opportunity. They must just drive the keenest trade they can, wring the last cent out of all dealings. It is all this excessive living for to-day: men haven’t patience, they haven’t faith, for the steadier, slower business which would build up character and reputation and last into long years to come. Or take another illustration, in the houses which are everywhere being built about our cities, for the housing of this hand-to-mouth generation. The building of a house was a serious business in our grandfathers’ time. What strong foundations they laid! What massive timbers you find in those old houses! Something to last, there! But now--well, to begin with, there is not the same desire to have a house; there is not the same idea of living steadily on in one place. So houses are built less solidly, but more showily. It seems to me that it is not houses only, but the whole fabric of society which is being built up thus flimsily and temporarily. Look at literature. There is such a demand as never in the world before for light sketches, superficial reading. It is not any lasting good that men want from books, but an hour’s excitement or relaxation. These are some of the conspicuous ways in which the hand-to-mouth spirit of the time is shown. But the thing, to take to heart is this: that it appears in these greater ways, because it is in common fire in all sorts of lesser things. You see it in home life, in society, in the education of children. The greatest lack of modern society, I do believe--all through, from children up to grown men and women--is thoughtful self-restraint, the willingness to forego the gratification of to-day for the sake of the days to come. People will go to the opera, even if they don’t know how they will pay next week’s board-bill--yes, often enough, even if they can’t pay last week’s! Now, if there is one thing which our religion ought to teach us, it is this spirit I have been trying to show the need of--of living not just for to-day, but for days to come, of casting one’s bread upon the waters--the spirit of patient, thoughtful permanence in life and doings. Why does “the law” stand in that noble emphasis at the beginning of the Hebrew religion? Simply, that is the first thing--thoughtful obedience and self-restraint. So spare even of thy bread-corn to east upon the waters; “for thou shalt find it after many days.” Yes I we shall find it. I do not believe we ever sow for future life; I do not believe men ever exercise a noble reserve in the use of comfort or luxury, or put their manhood into thoughtful efforts for mankind, without finding the harvest of it after many days, perhaps--yet still they find it, and, after the law of God’s true harvest, “thirty” or “sixty” or “a hundred-fold.” So with all pleasures, all indulgences--use them not to the uttermost, not as many as ever you can get hold of: let your principle in such things be a noble reserve. And, in all work, faith and patience! (Brooke Herford.)

Uninviting work

This passage may be regarded as an invitation to work of a special kind--work not likely to be popular, but, nevertheless, essential.

I. It is a call to unappreciated work. Our bread is to be cast upon the waters. We are to render service--service that often costs much--to thankless people. We must be content to work when our work is unacknowledged, unrequited--nay, when it is despised. Much of the highest, painfulest service wrought for the good of men--work of brain and heart--is least appreciated. Let us work in the spirit of a noble faith and consecration, knowing that what we give and suffer will be lightly esteemed among men, and knowing also that it will be accepted before God and become immortal in the life of the world.

II. It is a call to unobtrusive work. Seed sown on the waters suggest silent forms of service. Mark the way of the Master. In all His work there was an utter absence of theatricality and advertisement. Said His brethren: “If Thou do these things, show Thyself to the world.” How truly human such a request, as it all was lost that was not shown! But Christ declined the tempting publicity. He sowed the bread of heaven on dark waters So softly that history hardly noticed Him or His sowing. Did not our Lord, in following this course, intend to teach His people that the establishment of His kingdom would depend most of all upon modest evangelism? And, indeed, ever since Christ’s day His cause has chiefly grown out of noiseless, unobtrusive work. The history of the Christian Church wonderfully corresponds with geological history; it is the history of the snowflake, the demonstration of the prevailing efficacy of modest personal sacrifice and influence. All tourists love to tell of the cataract of Niagara, of its thunder, foam and rainbows; but, after all, cataracts like Niagara do little for the fertility of the world. The thousand little streams that go softly in the grass fill the earth with fruit and beauty.

III. It is a call to unpromising work to sow the seed upon the waters looks hopeless; little good seems likely to come of such toil and sacrifice. So work for the world’s good sometimes seems sadly unpromising; the giving of money, time, influence, feeling, seem only like ploughing the sands, throwing treasure into the sea. But we must hope in hopeless work, or what to the carnal eye looks like hopeless work. The most unpromising ground sometimes yields the richest results. The finest grapes in the world are not grown on fat soil, but on sand deserts and barren shingle that would not afford nourishment to a patch of oats; and the lover of man not rarely gets his richest clusters on the most unpromising ground. It has often been so with the missionary. Who, looking at ancient Britain, would have thought that it would become the vineyard of the Lord? It is often thus in families--the careless, undutiful children turning out the parents’ strength and joy. (W. L. Watkinson.)

Faith and duty

There are in this book aspects of truth that we are very apt to forget, an emphasis put upon certain out-of-the-way duties that are as essential to a proper, natural, and religious life as those doctrines and principles that we bring to the forefront of our evangelical preaching. Prudence is a virtue, but a man may be too prudent. Economy is an excellent habit, but a man may by penuriousness spoil his fortunes as much as if he were a spendthrift. There is a certain audacity in business, in love, and in religion that is essential to success. There is a certain scattering that brings increase, and there is a withholding more than is meet that tends to poverty. It is true of the world, it is true of the Church; true of your body, true of your fortune, true of your soul. Cast thy bread upon the water. Put your money into a number of ventures; do not be too timid, do not be too cautious; use a large-hearted, statesmanlike breadth and liberality in your enterprise and in your activity, and in the end your bread will come back to you--it will come back in large and wide profit. Again, in your benevolence, in your readiness to help a partner or a client, or even to do a good turn to a poor neighbour, do not be calculating just whether you must do it or whether you must not. Ecclesiastes says, “Give to the seventh, do a good turn to the eighth.” And it appeals to common sense. Do not call it unevangelical, do not call it selfish. There is a reasonable recognition of the law that connects causes and effects, results and those forces and actions that lead to them, that is of the very essence of nature, and it is perfectly justifiable that a man should look to it. Says Ecclesiastes: If you go always looking at the clouds, if you are always peering out to see where the cat’s-paw wind is coming, you will never sow your field, and you will never reap. You had better sow every year. Sow when the spring looks black; sow when the early summer seems to forecast a stormy autumn; sow year by year--that is the right thing to do. Some years you will lose, but at the end, when your life is done, you will have made a large gain, a great profit. Yes; there is a looking at that part and side of the world that is out of our control, that God holds in His own hands, that paralyzes human endeavour; and the Book of Ecclesiastes warns us, as men of the world, as men of religion, against concerning ourselves with God’s share in the transaction. Send your ships there and there, send them far and wide over the world, and in the end--that is your wisdom--leave the results to God. Do your duty at God’s bidding. Strike out into the world; sow on all waters, cast your bread far and wide; do good deeds here, do them there, and in the end you will reap a rich harvest. It is not difficult to gel people to make up their minds to be good; the real difficulty is to get them to carry it out. Nothing more easy than to stir men and women to start well in life; the job is to keep them going on. It is not just the first volley of cannon-balls against the fortification that will break the wall down; it is keeping at it day after day till the breach is made and the stronghold can be taken. You know what momentum is. Aye, a man has got to be good; he has to speak the truth to-day, to-morrow, the day after, the week after that, and on and on, if he is going to form within himself such a mass of light and honourableness that men may speak as if some great and noble monument had fallen: “That man’s word was better than his bond; that man never spoke a dishonest, untruthful word.” Oh, the power of momentum! the thinness, the weakness, and the poverty-stricken character of that goodness that comes in gushes, and then steps in fragments, in shreds and patches! What is it that makes our goodness so broken, so interrupted, so parenthetical? I think the commonest and chief cause is that we do good upon impulse, not upon principle. We set out to do right, riding upon a great wave of ardent emotion, not upon a serious, calm; earnest determination of will. A great many of us make another mistake. We misunderstand a wise principle; we say to ourselves that we ought to calculate profit, that we ought to look out for results; and so, mistaking this fact that we ought to choose to do our goodness in the wisest and likeliest way, we mistake that wise habit of prudence, judgment, and we turn it into a petty trafficking attempt to secure certainty that every little thing we niggardly do is going to bring us a definite and special return. Now, you cannot do that in business. Fancy a farmer aa he goes across the field sowing corn, taking it out grain by grain, and saying, “I wonder whether this grain will be eaten up by a bird, whether this will rot in the ground; I do not know, and therefore I will not sow it.” That would be about as silly as to be always calculating whether the penny you put into the plate is going to convert a heathen, or whether that Bible is going to convert a sinner, or whether going to that meeting will do any definite good. My friend, you have got to sow in faith, with a great prodigal generosity. Blessed those busy lives that are always at it, always working--working when it promises well, working when it promises ill, standing in the pathway of duty, of Divine service, in the pathway of blessing to others, in the pathway of certain blessing to themselves! It is not easy to be good; it is terribly hard to keep on doing right; you get awfully tired of it, and then you wonder and think that you cannot be really good when you are so sick of being so self-sacrificing, so sick of forgiving that brother or sister that always irritates you, and you feel that you really ought to get a little rest from it, to take an interval of not being good; and then you turn upon yourself and upbraid yourself. Not a bit of it, my friend. There is nothing more fatiguing and wearisome than being good. It is a crucifying of oneself to be good. How could it be but that you should be weary many a day? St. Paul says, “Be not weary,” because he knows you will feel it,--“Be not weary in well doing; if you are weary keep on doing right; if you faint not, in the end you shall reap.” Lift up thy heart and do not faint. In the morning sow thy seed and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou canst not tell whether shall prosper, this or that, or whether, since all rests at last with the great, big-hearted, loving God, both alike, beyond your very utmost dreams and hopes, shall be prosperous. (Prof. Elmslie.)

Excitements to missionary effort

The text applies to all attempts which are made to benefit the immortal part of man. In our charities towards the soul, we have need of patience; and it is evident that spiritual benefit is chiefly here intended. I wish to direct your attention to some of the important objects which the text places before us.

I. A large and liberal benevolence is enjoined upon us. Selfishness is at once the degradation, and part of the misery, of our nature. It shuts up some of the finest feelings of which we are capable. That which has separated man from God has also separated man from man. The doctrine of stewardship is peculiar to our religion. This is a fine principle which the Gospel has brought to light: it teaches us that, though God is the fountain of all good, He has made creatures the instruments of good to man.

II. Some motives to the exercise of benevolence.

1. Here is a motive addressed to our hope. What appalling spectacles presented themselves to the view of the missionary who first trod our Shores! He listened to the din of noisy festivals; he beheld obscene and lascivious rites; he saw the effect of the whole system of worship on the wretched people by whom he was surrounded; but he cast in the seed; and has it not been found “after many days”? You, with your religious assemblies, your faith in God, your love to our Lord Jesus Christ, your hope in heaven--you are proofs that seed cast upon the waters may be found “after many days.” Oh, then, go on: future ages shall call you blessed; and the glorious results of your labour shall be found in that day, when “they shall come from the east, and the west,” etc.

2. A motive addressed to our prudence and foresight: “Thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.” This may apply, first, to ourselves. Who can tell how near evil may be to us, how near may be sickness, how near the final call of death? Well, then, “cast your bread upon the waters.” If your tongues must be so soon employed in groaning and in complaints, let them now, at least, be employed for God. But let us view the subject on a larger scale. The prospect of evil has always been a motive for exertion to good men. They have endeavoured to meet the coming evil by laying up a store. The apostles, in the midst of their great and Successful exertions, prophesied a fatal apostasy. It might be supposed that this would have operated to check their exertions. But they acted on the principle of the text; they “cast their bread upon the waters”: they “gave a portion to seven, and also to eight”: they spread the seed freely and largely; and, amidst a great apostasy, seed sprang up, of which we are now some of the pleasing fruit.

3. A motive drawn from the fitness of the thing. “If the clouds be full of rain,” etc. Like the clouds in the spring of the year, which require no great effort to make them pour forth their waters, but tremble at the lightest breeze, and impart their living springs to the earth; so let Christian men be to the thirsty soils of this parched world.

4. A motive drawn from the consideration of human mortality. “If the tree fall toward the south,” etc. If those who are now within our reach, if those who are now in darkness, be not benefited by an application of the means God has given us in His providence, “a great gulf” will soon be fixed, over which no pity, no exertion, can step. How important it is to do the work of the day in the day I to “cast our bread upon the waters”! to “give a portion to seven, and also to eight!” to sow our seed “in the morning and in the evening”! We are dying, and the world is dying around us!

III. Several objections are implied in the text.

1. The first seems to be, that the opportunity is not favourable to such exertions (Ecclesiastes 11:4). What then? Are we to withhold the seed, or to sow it? We are to sow it--to sow it in faith--faith in the commission of Christ, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature”: faith in the promise of the Saviour, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world”: faith in the irreversible covenant, “Ask of Me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance,” and all these dark, ferocious savages, all these unwholesome, inhospitable climes, yea, “and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.”

2. A second objection seems to be that, even if we apply ourselves to works of this kind, very frequently the manner in which God carries on His work is very different from the conceptions which we had formed (Ecclesiastes 11:5). God acts not by any man’s plans, but leaves it to us to say, “Thou knowest not the works of God.”

3. A third objection is, that there will be a partial failure. “Thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that.” Part of the seed will perish. We admit this; it is a fact that part of the seed will perish, and that the condemnation of men is increased by the hearing of the Gospel. But what is your duty? Why, as to yourselves, it is to “give the more earnest heed to the things that you have heard, lest at any time you should let them slip”: and, as to others, to do all you can to give effect to the administration of the Gospel, by renewed exertions, and by more fervent prayers.

IV. Some reasons for diligence and constancy.

1. The first reason is taken from the quality of the seed (Ecclesiastes 11:6). The seed you sow is good. The seed hero referred to is that of bread, in which man’s vitality, nourishment and strength all seem to be bound up. So in the Word of God there is all that, can bless and dignify man here, and prepare him for everlasting glory.

2. Consider the small portion of the world which, after all, has been sown with this blessed seed.

3. Remember that you all, without exception, have it in your power still more largely to promote this good work. (R. Watson, M. A.)

The poor man’s portion

I. The duty recommended. In general it is, to do good with our property. It is the glory of true religion that it inspires and inculcates a spirit of benevolence. Christ went about doing good.

1. That with which we do good must be our own. “Cast thy bread.” As there are some who withhold more than is meet, so there are others who, from ostentation, give what is not their own.

2. We are to do good liberally. “Give a portion to seven, and also to eight.” It is a great, obstacle to many, and a Common objection, that cases are so numerous.

3. For the sake of doing good we should deny ourselves. “Thy bread.” It is a notion of many that they are required to give only superfluities; but this is treating God and the poor with only a dog’s portion--the crumbs, as it were, which fall from their table. Emulate the Churches of Macedonia (2 Corinthians 8:1-24.), whose deep poverty abounded to the riches of their liberality.

4. We are to do good, notwithstanding discouraging appearances in Providence. Give as the Lord hath prospered you, and leave another day or another year to take care for itself.

II. The motives by which this duty is enforced.

1. The reward which awaits you. “Thou shalt find it again.” What, we do for the poor is not, thrown away, though it may seem to be so. It is sowing the seeds of immortality, and, if done right, we shall find it, though it may be “many days” first. God so orders it, that merciful men meet with mercy in this life, and their children after them (Psalms 112:2); and who knows what ours may need? Or, if we never find it here, we shall find it in a dying hour, and still more at the judgment (Matthew 25:31-46). Yea, it will add to our joy hereafter, else it could not be called “laying up treasure in heaven.”

2. The impending ills that threaten us. “Thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.” Covetousness would turn this to another use: “We know not what we shall want; we must every one look to himself.” No! that which you now possess may be taken from you: foes may consume it, floods may sweep it away, enemies may invade it, or internal changes may strip you of your all. Do good while you have it, in your power--by and by you may be unable.

3. The design of God in affording us what we have--not that it may be hoarded, but communicated. “If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth.” Inanimate nature is brought in to provoke us. We are but stewards after all, and must give account of our stewardship.

4. The near approach of death, when all our opportunities will be for ever at an end. (A. Fuller.)

Sowing on the waters

This line contains a noble principle, which admits of many applications; we shall select one, and apply it to the Christian instruction of the young.

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.” Seed supplies poetry with a fit figure to illustrate anything mean which gives existence to anything magnificent. A seed is but a solitary grain, or a soft, and trembling flake of vegetation; yet from the seed gushes the bright flower--from the seed starts the towering tree--from the seed springs the bread of life. “Now, the seed is the Word of God.” Christ supplies it. “Christ,” writes John Milton, “gives no full comments, or continued discourses, but speaks oft in monosyllables, as a Master scattering the heavenly grain of His doctrine, like pearls, here and there, requiring a skilful and laborious gatherer.”

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. A distinction has been made between a radical reformer and a seminal reformer. The one strikes the axe at the roots of evil; the other sows the seeds of good. The first mode of action, though often a necessity, is frequently connected with disadvantage; for, in tearing up the ravelled roots of an ancient grievance, growing in a tangled place, we may rend and wither delicate interlacings that we wish to live; but sowing seed disturbs nothing--injures nothing; frets no weakling--startles no alarmist; and works a change the most complete, by a process soft as the flush of spring, and noiseless as the laws of nature. “Work while it is called to-day;” sow ideas, sow truths, sow thoughts suggested by God’s own Spirit, whose blossoms will soon “make the wilderness rejoice, and solitary places glad.”

3. The third reference in the charge is to the place where the seed is to be cast: “Cast it upon the waters.” As the seed fell on the soft and porous soil beneath the water, your hints may drop into yielding and receptive natures. Part with your most precious knowledge, then; venture to sow it in faith on the waters of thought; it may find a lodgment, dart the fibres of life in secrecy, and in due time reappear in those practicalities which most beautify and bless the world.

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. Here and there the spiritual life may spring and mellow early, but in most instances its appearance will be “after many days.” While you speak in agony to save, you may seem speaking to vacancy--the young spirit is not listening--it is far away in chase of a merry fancy. Yet when, “after many days,” that boy reaches some crisis of being, the sudden remembrance of this very word may startle him as if a sweeping spectre spoke, and save him from a crime.

III. What effects should this charge and this promise have on our faith and practice?

1. We must aim to sow the right seed. We should make unceasing search for this till we find it, and be anxious not to fall into a mistake with reference to such a primary condition of success. What, then, is the right seed? It 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. The main and master principle is love. The secret of Dr. Arnold’s ascendency as a teacher was the love that charmed his pupils into friends. Shining through many natural disqualifications for teaching, love will enlighten and enchant. Love will also, more than anything else, tend to overpower what disqualifies, and create efficiency. It will set mind in motion. It will “endow the plain-tongued man with heavenly eloquence.”

3. We should aim to look to the right quarter for success. We are not to forget that “God gives the increase,” and that man alone, like the cypher alone, is nothing. He is not able to manufacture a single seed, nor to give it a particle of vitality, but only to sow it.

4. We should aim to use the right rule for estimating success. It is true that “Bread cast upon the waters will be found after many days”: but these words contain no assurance that it will be found on earth. It may not reappear in the earthly lifetime of the sower, but, as an unseen spirit, he may watch it spring from age to age. (C. Stanford, D. D.)

Certainties and uncertainties

I. There are certainties and uncertainties in reference to God.

1. God worketh all. His wisdom plans, His power executes, and His love reigns over all.

2. The method is unknown.

II. There are certainties and uncertainties in reference to providence.

1. Man’s agency is subordinate. There are things certain belonging to man as the subject, minister, interpreter, symbol of God and of Providence.

2. Man must work according to certain laws. “Cast thy bread upon the waters,” etc. It is not certain you shall reap all you sow, but it is absolutely certain you cannot reap unless you sow.

III. There are certainties in reference to society. “Give a portion to seven, and also to eight,” etc.

1. That men have certain moral and spiritual duties to discharge.

2. That the latent evil of the human heart is liable to explosion.


1. Cultivate as much as possible your thinking powers.

2. Let not She uncertainties connected with Providence tempt you either to indolence or to despondency.

3. Work in faith through the power of God. (Caleb Morris.)

The social agency of good men

All men, whatever their creed, character, or conduct, have a social agency. “No man liveth unto himself.” The text indicates the kind of agency that a thoroughly good man exerts upon his race.

I. Divinely trustful. Faith in God and His eternal laws is the mainspring in all the efforts of a good man’s life. He is ruled by principles, not by results. He looks, “not at the things that are temporal, but at those things that are eternal”: he “walks, not by sight, but by faith.”

II. Eminently beneficent. What he gives out is not stones or chaff, but bread, corn, the life of the world. Like a seed--

1. His every act has life in it. His every effort is an embodiment of a living conviction. The efforts of others are mere chaff.

2. His every act has propagating power in it. It is a seed that will germinate, multiply. One really good act has proved the seed of millions of noble efforts.

3. His every act has a helpful power in it. It supplies moral bread for the world.

III. Inevitably remunerative. “Thou shalt find it after many days.” The reward will not come at once. You cannot force moral vegetation. But, though slow, it will come. “Thou shalt find it.” “A good man,” says Carlyle, “is ever a creative mystic centre of goodness. A good thing done 3,000 years ago works now, and will work through all endless times and years.” No good effort has ever been lost, or ever can be. It is a Divine incarnation, and more imperishable than the stars. (Homilist.)

Bowing on the waters; or, the reward of unselfish beneficence

I. A precious deposit. That which is to be parted with is not “seed” merely, but “bread,” i.e. in an anticipative and inclusive sense. If the husbandman would have increase he must sow again in faith, and commit himself to a watchful Providence. In commerce, too, it is exemplified: a man invests in land or in bonds which have no present market value; but his business sagacity tells him they will have in the course of years, and if he himself may not benefit by the venture, his son will. The capital the manufacturer sinks in plant, etc., has the same significance. It is in the realm of ideas, in fact, that the saying is most manifestly verified. The thinker stakes his reputation, comfort, life even, upon the realization of his doctrines, which are the most cherished embodiment of his spirit.

II. An uncertain receptacle. “Upon the waters.” The text seems to encourage an almost wanton openhandedness in beneficence. Is it so? If there is one phase of traditional alms-giving which the modern spirit deprecates more than another, it is its indiscriminateness. We not only desire to certify to ourselves the fitting objects of our compassion, but to follow them into the actual surroundings of their daily life, that the ultimate aim of our assistance may be secured. “When the starving man has been relieved, modern charity inquires whether any fault in the social system deprived him of his share of nature’s bounty, any unjust advantage taken by the strong over the weak, any rudeness or want of culture in himself wrecking his virtue and his habits of thrift.” To this we have to reply that--

1. Neither this nor any other Scripture forbids inquiry. It would, on the contrary, be true to the genius of Christianity to satisfy ourselves as far as possible that our alms is well bestowed, and that it is given in such a way as to secure the utmost advantage to the recipient.

2. When every practicable security has been taken charitable help and spiritual service will still be attended with much uncertainty. The methods of the mathematician are not applicable to Christian enterprise to any appreciable extent. No one can pretend to be an infallible reader of char-actor.

3. It is often the duty of the Christian to work and to give even when he cannot be certain as to results.

III. A certain return.

1. “After many days”--a sober promise, but true to the law of Moses. Even in this life, according to the Decalogue, the reward was at least to begin. Late or soon it is sure to come to all who are earnest and unselfish. God never loses sight of our “work of faith.”

2. “Shall find”--therein consists the romantic interest of the spiritual venture. What will it be for some who have laboured in the Church on earth with scarce any visible result, but whose welcome to heaven will be from the tips of one born here and another born there through services that seemed without fruit! (A. F. Muir, M. A.)

Spiritual efforts not lost

There can be nothing clearer from the Bible than that, though man can deserve nothing from the Creator, so that his best actions, if tried by their own worth, would procure him only wrath, nevertheless he will be tried by his works, and receive a recompense of which those works shall determine the extent. God, in His infinite condescension and love, has resolved to deal with us as though we had been able to deserve at His hands; proportioning what He bestows be what we have done in His cause, though all the while it is only as a free gift that we receive the least of those elements which constitute future happiness. And when this principle has been settled--the principle that, though we cannot merit from God, our actions are to decide our condition--we may speak of good works as hereafter to be rewarded, because they are as inevitably to regulate our portion as though that portion were a recompense in the strictest sense of the term. And if, then, it be lawful to speak of reward, we may certainly speak of the bread “cast upon the waters” as “found after many days.” It will very frequently happen that we have no moans whatever of ascertaining that any beneficial results have been produced by our most earnest and disinterested labours; and it is quite possible, moreover, that no such results have yet followed, and that none will follow. The utmost which many of the most devoted servants of God can affirm when they come to die is, that they have been diligently casting bread upon the waters. They have received no testimony of the usefulness of the bread which they have thus east--no testimony that the examples they have set, the exhortations they have uttered, the Bibles they have distributed, have been instrumental to the adding a single member to the visible Church. And are they on this account to conclude that they have made a wholly fruitless outlay of zeal and exertion? It were indeed a most erroneous impression. The attempt to benefit others, even if it spring from a pure love to God, may utterly fail, as far as its professed objects are concerned; but it cannot fail to be beneficial to ourselves. And when at the last those who have gladly spent and been spear in the service of God, and whose toils and sacrifices have never been sweetened by the knowledge that they were effectual in accomplishing the ends for which they were endured--when these men shall receive their portion from their Judge, there will be given the most effectual demonstration that “God is not unrighteous to forget their work of labour and love.” To every man will be allotted a recompense, to every sacrifice a compensation. But we have thus only vindicated the statement of our text on the extreme supposition, namely, that our labours to do good are so wholly ineffectual, that they produce no advantageous results to those whose benefit was their object. And we call this the extreme supposition, because we believe that ordinarily where God has prompted to exertion and to sacrifice He crowns them with some measure of success, though He may not always allow that success to be known. The quantity of good wrought by this or that agency is commonly amongst those secrets which only the future can unfold. And we can believe that this unfolding will be one of the most surprising and animating transactions of the last judgment. The minister who has been oppressed up to his dying hour by the melancholy conviction that his warnings, his entreaties, his expostulations, have been lost on his congregation, may be hailed by many, as the instrument of their conversion. And parents who have had to struggle with that heaviest of trials, the ungodliness of children, and who have not had the least ground to hope that their remonstrances and tears and prayers have wrought any effect upon their reprobate offspring, they may be met hereafter by the sons or the daughters whose contempt of religion entered as iron into their souls, but into whose hearts their admonition had sunk notwithstanding the apparent insensibility. Now, this naturally leads to our taking that view of the text which is practically of the greatest importance. We wish you to regard the text as a promise--a promise which is admirably fitted to guard you against becoming “weary in well-doing.” When considered under this point of view, the words are of extraordinary value, for they just meet that feeling of despondency which those who labour for God are often tempted to entertain. It is evident that we might apply the words to every endeavour to benefit our fellow-men by imparting to them that bread which came down from heaven. The text contains a decisive assertion that such endeavours shall not be unavailing. But, at the same time, by speaking of “many days,” it warns us alike against impatience and despondency. And it should lead us, in every case in which there seems to be no result from our labours, to examine whether we have faithfully complied with its precept; whether there have been diligence in casting the bread; and whether it has really been bread that we have east. Of course if there have been a defect in either of these particulars, it is no marvel that the promise has not been made good, and we cannot but think it in a high degree probable that much of the apparent failure in the fulfilment of this promise must be traced to non-compliance with its conditions. (H. Melvill, B. D.)

After many days

It does not seem to be a very lofty precept in the Preacher’s sense of it. He does not intend by it what we might mean by Christian charity, but rather a doing what you can with your own interests in view. Make your kindness a sort of investment. Be kind in every way you can, even in most unlikely ways, because they may turn out unexpectedly to be profitable to yourself. But we shall take the precept in a higher light, in the light of our Lord’s teaching, as when He said, for example, “He that loseth his life for My sake shall find it.”

1. No work done in Christ’s name is ever in vain. The tenor of all Scripture is in harmony with that. God’s word shall not return unto Him void. And Jesus said that the giver even of a cup of cold water in His name should not be without his reward. The great waste of loving labour in human history, labour spent on unworthy causes, has often been remarked upon. Mark Rutherford gives as an instance the love and sacrifice that were lavished on the Jacobite cause. The devotion to that cause on the part of many was wonderful. The Jacobite songs still live because they breathe a fervour of loyalty and a strength of attachment which were vividly real in their day. But the cause is a lost one. It is all love’s labour lost, and it is pathetic to think of the waste of love connected with it. Not so is it with the cause of Christ. What an amount has been spent on that cause in the course of the ages! What an amount of sacrifice made and suffering borne and loving labour endured! Useless, fruitless, we might have said many a time and oft. But not one of Christ’s countless followers would have recalled one jot or tittle of it all--not in the midst of their toil and travail, not in their final hour, and not assuredly now when they stand around the throne. From the very first it brought to them an immediate return in soul-satisfaction. It brought what the world could neither give nor take away. It was a saying of Cromwell’s that “he goes furthest who knows not where he is going.” It is not business-like to know not whither you are going, and he is not likely to go far who should enter upon business in that fashion. But in the spiritual realm it is different. The great thing there is to follow the Divine leading, and to sow even though it be in tears, trusting Him, who gives the command, that all will be well, and that in His own good time there shall come a reaping time of joy.

2. The text suggests to us also the blessing that may be hid in delay. It is not best for our spiritual life that we should always get immediate returns for our labours. The transaction which is done to-day, and whose results can be pocketed to-morrow, is not usually of the kind that gives strength and beauty to the character. Macaulay objected to school-prizes because the reward was too immediate. The true reward of hearty study comes to be realized only after many days. Is it not so also in business? The man who prospers too easily is not likely thereby to develop the finest type of character. In spiritual work immediate and abundant reaping tends sometimes to be productive of spiritual pride, to a man’s own undoing and to the undoing, probably, of the work itself. The noblest Christians are those who most markedly have in their patience won their souls. (J. S. Mayer, M. A.)

Cast thy bread upon the waters

Some think that this image is borrowed from sea-trading. The merchant sent his ship over the waters, he lost sight of it altogether, and in those days the quickest passage on record was unknown. Solomon had a navy, and once in three years it returned, bringing gold and silver, apes and peacocks. The merchant of that period had to wait long, to scan the horizon oft, before he was greeted with the sight of his returning barque. So if we do good to men, it is like launching some precious craft on the deep, which at best must be long before its return gladdens the eye. And some of the work we do seems specially doubtful, and calls for exceptional patience; it is not so much as if we sent a ship to India or China, but rather as if we put our heart and treasure into a fleet which must dare the dark and icy seas of the North Pole. But even then it shall return. “Thou shalt find it after many days.” Your work shall not be unavailing, your barque shall not be shipwrecked. To do any work with ardour and thoroughness and perseverance we must have a strong assurance that it will succeed, and in the noblest work we have that assurance. The seed that was sown generations ago is bearing fruit to-day, and it shall be so once more with the seed we sow. The ship we send forth with trembling, that is never reported from any foreign port, that is never spoken with by a passing sail, that sends no message in sealed bottle on the waves, that is frozen fast in abysses of frost and darkness, shall nevertheless return, bringing treasure beyond all ivory, pearls, or gold. On celestial cliffs we shall hail argosies that we fitted out and sent over stormy seas. Every kind word, every unselfish act, every true prayer, tells, and tells deeply, abidingly. (W. L. Watkinson.)

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Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ecclesiastes 11:1". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

In this and the following chapter, we find the conclusion of the author, whom we believe to have been Solomon. It is a conclusive denial of the hopelessness of earlier sayings in the book.

Ecclesiastes 11:1-6

"Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, yea, even unto eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth; and if a tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there shall it be. He that observeth the wind shall not sow, and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. As thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child; even so thou knowest not the work of God who doeth all. In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not which shall prosper, whether this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good."


These six verses are, "The first remedy proposed by the author for the perplexities of life,"[1] a life which he has repeatedly called "vanity of vanities." And what is this recommended remedy?

"Cast thy bread upon the waters, etc." (Ecclesiastes 11:1). For more than eighteen centuries, there was never any doubt about what was meant here. Franz Delitzsch noted, during the 19th century, that, "Most interpreters regard this as an exhortation to charity";[2] and this writer is absolutely certain that the passage could not possibly mean anything else. Nothing could be any more stupid than the New English Bible rendition: "Send your grain across the seas, and in time you will get a return; divide your merchandise among seven ventures, eight maybe, since you do not know what disasters may occur on earth."[3]

Ecclesiastes 11:1 and Ecclesiastes 11:2 here are parallel, Ecclesiastes 11:2 telling us exactly what is meant by, "cast thy bread upon the waters." "It means to give a portion to seven yea, even unto eight."[4] Why should this be called casting bread upon the waters? Simply because benevolence should be practiced without either any desire or expectation of ever getting it back, exactly as would be the case of casting bread into a raging river.

Similar admonitions to give to the poor abound in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. See Matthew 5:42,46; Luke 6:38; Proverbs 19:7; Psalms 112:5, etc.

One must be amazed and outraged at what many recent interpreters and translators are doing to this plain Scripture.

Peterson wrote that the passage, "Advises the undertaking of business ventures."[5] Fleming agreed that, "It refers to business ventures overseas trade."[6] Hendry likewise thought that he found here a recommendation for people to take risks in business enterprises, "He who will not venture until he is absolutely sure will wait forever."[7] All such views of this passage are absolutely ridiculous and should be rejected out of hand.

Even the radical and destructive critics of the International Critical Commentary did not subscribe to such foolish interpretations as these. Barton wrote back in 1908, "That bread cannot possibly mean merchandise";[8] and we find a similar contradiction of this popular error in the very first word of Ecclesiastes 11:2 (See below). Barton also noted that by far the most probably correct understanding of this place views it as, "An exhortation to liberality," pointing out the ancient Arabic proverb upon which the metaphorical words of the text are founded."[9]

"Give a portion to seven, yea, even unto eight, ..." (Ecclesiastes 11:2). What is the measure of a scholar's blindness who will read the word "Give," here as, "Invest your money"? or, "Send your grain overseas"!? That is exactly the way the translators of Good News Bible rendered this verse! "Put your investments in several places, even many places."[10] Oh yes, there is a marginal reference in the American Standard Version indicating that the word translated give may also mean divide; but the three most dependable versions of the Holy Bible, namely, the KJV, the American Standard Version and the RSV, unanimously render the word GIVE. Besides that, the word divide never meant either distribute, diversify, or any similar thing.

Now it is true that a lot of corrupt translations and paraphrases are available; but all of them put together do not have one tenth of the authority of the three standard versions of the Holy Bible just cited.

The remaining verses in this first paragraph (Ecclesiastes 11:1-6) are all related to the admonition in the first two verses. Waddey, a very dependable and discerning scholar stresses this.[11]

The mention of the clouds with their rain reminds men that all of their wealth comes via the providence of God; and the mention of the fallen tree is a reminder that death terminates one's opportunity to give (Ecclesiastes 11:3).

"A wind-observer will not sow ... a cloud-watcher will not reap" (Ecclesiastes 11:4).[12] This is Barton's rendition of Ecclesiastes 11:4. The application is simple enough. If one is never going to give charitable gifts until he is able to predict what good it will do in this or that case; or, if he will wait until he has no suspicions about the need or intentions of the recipient, he will never do anything at all. Of course, the agricultural metaphor here is true exactly as it stands. Get on with the job, no matter what objections might be raised against it!

"Thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones grow in the womb of her that is with child" (Ecclesiastes 11:5). The great mysteries of life are beyond our comprehension. The workings of God's providence are not subject to human understanding; and the future, even for ourselves, is absolutely unpredictable. There is more than a hint in these verses that the benevolent treatment of others by God-fearing people, while we have the ability to do it, might, at some unknown time in the future, be, even for us, the means of our survival.

"Thou knowest not which shall prosper ..." (Ecclesiastes 11:6b). In view of all that. is written in these verses, Solomon admonishes us to sow our seed, morning and evening; and this is not speaking of a farming venture, but, "It speaks of the acts of kindness and benevolence that we have opportunity to do."[13] The apostle Paul used exactly this same metaphor for benevolence in 2 Corinthians 9:6-20. He commanded us to, "Do good unto all men" (Galatians 6:10), and promised that if we "sow bountifully" we shall also reap "bountifully" (2 Corinthians 9:6). Paul's use of this metaphor for benevolence makes it virtually certain that the sowing here means exactly what it does in the New Testament, practicing liberality.

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Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Cast thy bread upon the waters,.... As the wise man had often suggested that nothing was better for a man than to enjoy the good of his labour himself, he here advises to let others, the poor, have a share with him; and as he had directed in the preceding chapter how men should behave towards their superiors, he here instructs them what notice they should take of their inferiors; and as he had cautioned against luxury and intemperance, he here guards against tenacity and covetousness, and exhorts to beneficence and liberality: that which is to be given is "bread", which is put for all the necessaries of life, food and raiment; or money that answers all things, what may be a supply of wants, a support of persons in distress; what is useful, profitable, and beneficial; not stones or scorpions, or what will be useless or harmful: and it must be "thy" bread, a man's own; not independent of God who gives it him; but not another's, what he owes another, or has fraudulently obtained; but what he has got by his own labour, or he is through divine Providence in lawful possession of; hence alms in the Hebrew language is called "righteousness": and it must be such bread as is convenient and fit for a man himself, such as he himself and his family eat of, and this he must cast, it must be a man's own act, and a voluntary one; his bread must not be taken and forced from him; it must be given freely, and in such a manner as not to be expected again; and bountifully and plentifully, as a man casts seed into the earth; but here it is said to be "upon the waters"; bread is to be given to such as are in distress and affliction, that have waters of a full cup wrung out unto them, whose faces are watered with tears, and foul with weeping, from whom nothing is to be expected again, who can make no returns; so that what is given thorn seems to be cast away and lost, like what is thrown into a river, or into the midst of the sea; and even it is to be given to such who prove ungrateful and unthankful, and on whom no mark or impression of the kindness is made and left, no more than upon water; yea, it is to be given to strangers never seen before nor after, like gliding water; so the Vulgate Latin version renders it, "passing waters": or else to such who may be compared to well watered ground, or "moist ground", as Mr. Broughton renders it; where the seed cast will grow up again, and bring forth fruit, and redound to the advantage of the sower, as what is given to the poor does; they are a good soil to sow upon, especially Christ's poor, who are partakers of his living water, grace; see Isaiah 32:20; though it may be the multitude of persons to whom alms is to be given are here intended, which are sometimes signified by waters, Revelation 17:15; as Ecclesiastes 11:2 seems to explain it. The Targum is,

"reach out the bread of thy sustenance to the poor that go in ships upon the thee of the water;'

and some think the speech is borrowed from navigation, and is an allusion to merchants who send their goods beyond sea, and have a large return for them;

for thou shalt find it after many days; not the identical bread itself, but the fruit and reward of such beneficence; which they shall have unexpectedly, or after long waiting, as the husbandman for his seed; it suggests that such persons should live long, as liberal persons oftentimes do, and increase in their worldly substance; and if they should not live to reap the advantage of their liberality, yet their posterity will, as the seed of Jonathan did for the kindness he showed to David: or, however, if they find it not again in temporal things, yet in spirituals; and shall be recompensed in the resurrection of the just, and to all eternity. So the Targum,

"for after the time of many days, then thou shall find the reward of it in this world (so it is in the king's Bible), and in the world to come;'

see Luke 12:12. Jarchi instances in Jethro. NoldiusF16Ebr. Concord. Partic. p. 155. No. 704. renders it "within many days", even before many days are at an end; for seed sown by waters in hot climates soon sprung up, and produced fruit; see Daniel 11:20.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Bibliographical Information
Gill, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

Cast thy bread upon the a waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

(a) That is, be liberal to the poor, and though it seems to be as a thing ventured on the sea, yet it will bring you profit.
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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Ecclesiastes 11:2 shows that charity is here inculcated.

bread — bread corn. As in the Lord‘s prayer, all things needful for the body and soul. Solomon reverts to the sentiment (Ecclesiastes 9:10).

waters — image from the custom of sowing seed by casting it from boats into the overflowing waters of the Nile, or in any marshy ground. When the waters receded, the grain in the alluvial soil sprang up (Isaiah 32:20). “Waters” express multitudes, so Ecclesiastes 11:2; Revelation 17:15; also the seemingly hopeless character of the recipients of the charity; but it shall prove at last to have been not thrown away (Isaiah 49:4).

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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.
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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

“Let thy bread go forth over the watery mirror: for in the course of many days shalt thou find it.” Most interpreters, chiefly the Talm., Midrash, and Targ.,

(Note: The Midrash tells the following story: Rabbi Akiba sees a ship wrecked which carried in it one learned in the law. He finds him again actively engaged in Cappadocia. What whale, he asked him, has vomited thee out upon dry land? How hast thou merited this? The scribe learned in the law thereupon related that when he went on board the ship, he gave a loaf of bread to a poor man, who thanked him for it, saying: As thou hast saved my life, may thy life be saved. Thereupon Akiba thought of the proverb in Ecclesiastes 11:1. Similarly the Targ.: Extend to the poor the bread for thy support; they sail in ships over the water.)

regard this as an exhortation to charity, which although practised without expectation of reward, does not yet remain unrewarded at last. An Aram. proverb of Ben Sira's ( vid ., Buxtorf's Florilegium, p. 171) proceeds on this interpretation: “Scatter thy bread on the water and on the dry land; in the end of the days thou findest it again.” Knobel quotes a similar Arab. proverb from Diez' Denkwürdigkeiten von Asien (Souvenirs of Asia), II 106: “Do good; cast thy bread into the water: thou shalt be repaid some day.” See also the proverb in Goethe's Westöst. Divan, compared by Herzfeld. Voltaire, in his Précis de l'Ecclésiaste en vers, also adopts this rendering:

Repandez vos bien faits avec magnificence,

Même aux moins vertueux ne les refusez pas.

Ne vous informez pas de leur reconnaissance -

Il est grand, il est beau de faire des ingrats .

That instead of “into the water (the sea)” of these or similar proverbs, Koheleth uses here the expression, “on the face of ( על־פּני ) the waters,” makes no difference: Eastern bread has for the most part the form of cakes, and is thin (especially such as is prepared hastily for guests, 'ughoth or matstsoth, Genesis 18:6; Genesis 19:3); so that when thrown into the water, it remains on the surface (like a chip of wood, Hosea 10:7), and is carried away by the stream. But שׁלּח, with this reference of the proverb to beneficence, is strange; instead of it, the word השׁלך was rather to be expected; the lxx renders by ἀπόστειλον ; the Syr., shadar ; Jerome, mitte ; Venet. πέμπε ; thus by none is the pure idea of casting forth connected with שׁלּח . And the reason given does not harmonize with this reference: “for in the course of many days ( berov yamin, cf. mērov yamim, Isaiah 24:22) wilt thou find it” (not “find it again,” which would be expressed by תּשׁוּב תּם ). This indefinite designation of time, which yet definitely points to the remote future, does not thus indicate that the subject is the recompense of noble self-renunciation which is sooner or later rewarded, and often immediately, but exactly accords with the idea of commerce carried on with foreign countries, which expects to attain its object only after a long period of waiting. In the proper sense, they send their bread over the surface of the water who, as Psalms 107:33 expresses, “do business in great waters.” It is a figure taken from the corn trade of a seaport, an illustration of the thought: seek thy support in the way of bold, confident adventure.

(Note: The Greek phrase σπείρειν πόντον, “to sow the sea” = to undertake a fruitless work, is of an altogether different character; cf. Amos 6:12.)

Bread in לח is the designation of the means of making a living or gain, and bread in תּמצאנּוּ the designation of the gain (cf. Ecclesiastes 9:11). Hitzig's explanation: Throw thy bread into the water = venture thy hope, is forced; and of the same character are all the attempts to understand the word of agricultural pursuits; e.g., by van der Palm: sementem fac muxta aquas (or: in loca irrigua ); Grätz even translates: “Throw thy corn on the surface of the water,” and understands this, with the fancy of a Martial, of begetting children. Mendelssohn is right in remarking that the exhortation shows itself to be that of Koheleth-Solomon, whose ships traded to Tarshish and Ophir. Only the reference to self-sacrificing beneficence stands on a level with it as worthy of consideration. With Ginsburg, we may in this way say that a proverb as to our dealings with those who are above us, is followed by a proverb regarding those who are below us; with those others a proverb regarding judicious courageous venturing, ranks itself with a proverb regarding a rashness which is to be discountenanced; and the following proverb does not say: Give a portion, distribute of that which is thine, to seven and also to eight: for it is well done that thou gainest for thee friends with the unrighteous mammon for a time when thou thyself mayest unexpectedly be in want; but it is a prudent rule which is here placed by the side of counsel to bold adventure:

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The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.
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Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". 1854-1889.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

The waters — Freely and liberally bestow it upon the waters; upon those poor creatures, on whom it may seem to be as utterly lost, as the seed which a man casts into the sea or river.

Find it — It shall certainly be restored to thee, either by God or men. This is added to prevent an objection, and to quicken us to the duty enjoyned.

After — The return may be slow, but it is sure, and will be so much the more plentiful.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary


‘Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.’

Ecclesiastes 11:1

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.

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. (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.

Dean Vaughan.


‘How imprudent, how absolutely reckless! Yet the very text itself affirms that we shall “find it after many days.” It is not lost; the seed has gone away from the granary that it may bring a hundredfold back with it; the little seed that went out as a handful will come back as a cart loaded with sheaves, so that you must enlarge the gateway to give the largest welcome.’

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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Ecclesiastes 11:1 Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

Ver. 1. Cast thy bread.] Thine own well gotten goods. Alms must not be given, said a martyr, (a) until it have sweat in a man’s hand. "Let him labour, working with his hands," saith the apostle, "that he may have to give to him that needeth." [Ephesians 4:28] And the bountiful man giveth of his bread to the poor, saith Solomon. [Proverbs 22:9] God hateth to have ex rapina holocaustum, a sacrifice of things got by rapine and robbery; [Amos 2:8] "With such sacrifices God is not well pleased." Wherefore, if thou hast of thine own, give; if not, better for thee to gratify none than to grate upon any, saith Augustine. When our Henry III (an oppressing prince) had sent a load of frieze (b) to the friar minors to clothe them, they returned the same with this message, that he ought not to give alms of what he had rent from the poor, neither would they accept of that abominable gift. (c) The Hebrew word signifying alms signifies properly justice, to intimate that the matter of our alms should be goods justly gotten. (d) Hence also the Jews call their alms box Kuphashel tsedaka, the chest of justice. Into this box or basket, if thou cast but bread (so it be thy bread), brown bread, such as thou hast, and then wait for the Lord, when he will return from the wedding with a full hand, thou shalt be fed supernae mensae copiosis deliciis, as one saith, with the abundant dainties of the heavenly table.

Upon the waters.] Heb., Upon the face of the waters, where it may seem clearly cast away; as seed sown upon the sea, (e) or a thing thrown down Avon, as we say, no profit or praise to be had by it. Or upon the waters, i.e., upon strangers (if necessary) whom we never saw, and are never likely to see again. Or, "upon the waters," i.e., upon such as being hunger bitten, or hardly bestead, do water their plants, being fed "with bread of tears." {as Psalms 80:5} To this sense Munster renders the words thus, Mitte panem tuum super facies aquas, sc., emittentes, Cast thy bread upon faces watered with tears; or, "upon the waters," upon the surface of the waters, that it may be carried into the ocean, where the multitude of waters is gathered together; so shall thine alms, carried into heaven, be found in the ocean of eternity, where there is a confluence of all comforts and contentments. Or, lastly, "upon the waters," i.e., in loca irrigua, upon grounds well watered - moist and fertile soil, such as is that by the river Nile, where they do but throw in the seed, and they have four rich harvests in less than four months; (f) or as that in the land of Shinar (where Babel was founded, Genesis 11:1-9), that returns, if Herodotus and Pliny may be believed, the seed beyond credulity. (g)

For thou shalt find it after many days.] Thou shalt "reap in due time, if thou faint not": slack not, withdraw not thy hand, as Ecclesiastes 11:6. Mitre panem, &c., et in verbo Domini promitto tibi, &c., saith one; Cast thy bread confidently, without fear, and freely, without compulsion; cast it, though thou seem to cast it away; and I dare promise thee, in the name and word of the Lord, Nequaquam infrugifera apparebit beneficentia, (h) that thy bounty shall be abundantly recompensed into thy bosom. "The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth shall be watered himself." [Proverbs 11:25] {See Trapp on "Proverbs 11:25"} See also my Common Place of Alms. Non pereunt sed parturiunt pauperibus impensa, That which is given to the poor is not lost, but laid up. Not getting, but giving, is the way to wealth. [Proverbs 19:17] Abigail, for a small present bestowed on David, became a queen, whereas churlish Nabal was sent to his place.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary


The Preacher, now drawing, nigh to the close of his sermon; is here laying down certain rules for the regulation of the conduct, which under grace, may tend to lessen human vanity, and soften the evils of life.

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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". 1828.

Sermon Bible Commentary

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.

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Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

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, Isaiah 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 Exodus 14:2 with Numbers 33:7. They are so likewise in some places, especially Genesis 32:21 and 2 Samuel 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.

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Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae



Ecclesiastes 11:1. Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

WHILST, in the purity of its precepts, the inspired volume exceeds all other books upon the face of the earth, it excels all other compositions in the variety and richness of the images under which it exhibits our duty and urges the performance of it. The image under which liberality is here inculcated is well understood in countries where the heat of the climate, uniting with periodical inundations, enables the husbandman to proceed in a mode of agriculture unknown to us in the colder regions of the globe. In Egypt, for instance, where the Nile overflows the country periodically to a vast extent, it is common for men to cast their seed, their rice especially, upon the waters, whilst yet they are at a considerable depth. This might seem to be folly in the extreme: but experience proves, that, instead of losing their seed, they find it again, after many days, rising into an abundant crop. Such shall be the return which we also shall find to our efforts, if we exert ourselves,

I. For the relief of men’s bodily wants—

Liberality to the poor is strongly insisted on in the Holy Scriptures. It is inculcated,

1. In a way of precept—

[Exceedingly clear and strong were the injunctions which God gave on this subject to his people of old [Note: See Deuteronomy 15:7-11 and cite the whole.] — — — So, under the New Testament dispensation, we are enjoined to “labour with our own hands;” and to “lay by us weekly, in proportion as God has prospered us,” for the purpose of relieving others [Note: Ephesians 4:28. 1 Corinthians 16:2.] — — — Nay, so obvious is this duty, that the man who lives not in the practice of it must be an utter stranger to the love of God in his soul [Note: 1 John 3:17.]: for “if he love not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen [Note: 1 John 4:20.]?”]

2. In a way of example—

[The good Samaritan shews us how we ought to exercise generosity, even towards those who, by reason of particular differences and distinctions, may appear to be most remote from us [Note: Luke 10:33-37.]. The widow, in giving her mite, which was all that she possessed, might be thought to have acted a very wild and extravagant part, especially when she gave it for a purpose to which it could bear no proportion, namely, the repairing of the temple: yet is that commended to us, by our Lord himself, as an example highly to be admired, and universally to be followed [Note: Mark 12:42-43.]. As for the Macedonians, who were proposed as an example to the Corinthians, their generosity exceeded all belief: for when in great affliction, and in a state of deep poverty, they abounded unto the riches of liberality, and of their own selves, without any solicitation on the part of the Apostle, besought him with much entreaty to take upon him the distribution of their alms [Note: 2 Corinthians 8:1-4.]. Nothing can give us a higher idea of the excellence of charity than this.]

3. In a way of encouragement—

[God assures us, that “whatever we give to the poor, we lend unto the Lord; and that he will, in one way or another, repay us again [Note: Proverbs 19:17.].” He will repay us, even in a way of temporal prosperity: for the giving of “the first-fruits of all our increase to the poor is the way, not to empty our barns, but to fill them with plenty, and to make our presses burst out with new wine [Note: Proverbs 3:9-10.].” Still more will he repay us in a way of spiritual prosperity; since, “if we draw out our soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul, he will satisfy our souls in drought, and make fat our bones, and make us like a watered garden, or like a spring of water, whose waters fail not [Note: Isaiah 58:10-11.].” Even with eternal rewards will he repay us, “recompensing, at the resurrection of the just,” the smallest services we have rendered his people [Note: Luke 14:14.], and not suffering “even a cup of cold water to be left without its appropriate reward [Note: Matthew 10:42.].”

I say then, with assured confidence in reference to this matter, “Cast your seed upon the waters; and you shall find it after many days.”]

But we may understand our text as encouraging our exertions also,

II. For the advancement of men’s mental improvement—

To this the same image is applied by the prophet Isaiah; who gives us this additional information, that persons, previous to their casting of their seed upon the waters, send forth their oxen and their asses to tread the ground with their feet, in order the better to prepare the earth for its reception: “Blessed are ye who sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass [Note: Isaiah 32:20.].” Now this refers to the publication of the Gospel in every place, however untoward the circumstances, or hopeless the appearance. And we can bear witness to the truth of the prophet’s observation: for in many places, and on many hearts, where there has been as little prospect of success as could well be conceived, God has given efficacy to the word of his grace; and the handful of corn sown upon the top of the mountains has sprung up, so that the fruit thereof has shaken like the woods of Lebanon; and those of the city where it has been cast have flourished like the piles of grass upon the earth [Note: Psalms 72:16. If this be a subject for Missions, this idea must be enlarged, and all that follows it be omitted.].”

To Infant Schools, for the promotion of which I now more immediately address you, the text is peculiarly applicable; since nothing can be supposed more hopeless than any attempt to benefit the rising generation, from the ages of two to five or six. But I must say, that, if you cast your seed upon these waters, you shall find it again, in very abundant benefits conferred on all the poorer classes of society—

[What a relief is it to the mother to have her infants duly attended to through the day; whilst she, instead of having her hands tied by the care of them, is enabled to earn bread for their support! What a benefit, too, is it to her elder daughter; who would otherwise have her time occupied in attending upon her younger brothers and sisters, and be thereby deprived of education for herself, whilst she was discharging that important office! This is of immense importance, because it secures to all the children of the poor the same advantages; the elder and the younger being alike partakers of the benefits thus freely accorded to them.

But to the children themselves the benefits are incalculably great. We cannot but have seen, times without number, what depraved habits are contracted by the children of the poor when playing about the streets or lanes of a town without control. At home, for the most part, they see nothing but evil; and abroad, they practise it in every way with sad proficiency, lying, swearing, quarrelling, the very pests of the neighbourhood wherein they dwell. As for any thing good, they learn it not; having no good principles instilled into them, and no good examples set before them. But by being brought into a school at the early age of two or three years, they are kept from all those temptations to which they would otherwise be exposed; and have their conduct watched over, their tempers corrected, their habits restrained, their principles improved, their whole deportment brought into subjection to good instruction and to well-ordered authority. They are insensibly taught, by the example of others, what could not have been infused into them by mere abstract precept; and they acquire, by imitation, habits of order and docility, which they could not by any other method have obtained. Now, then, who shall estimate the value of this to the children themselves? or who shall say, What benefit shall, in a course of years, arise to the whole community from such institutions as these, if they be generally established and well supported? I have not spoken respecting religious advantages accruing to the children, because it may be supposed that they are not at that early age capable of religious instruction. But is it nothing, to prevent the soil being overrun with briars and thorns, and to have it improved by the infusion of moral principles? In fact, a child’s religion consists chiefly in the fear of God, and in an habitual regard to his all-seeing eye: and this is implanted in their minds to vast advantage, by the entire system of discipline to which they are subjected, as well as by the distinct instructions which are given them. And though it is but too probable that they may afterwards lose the impressions which are then made upon their minds, yet they can never forget the general idea, that it was well with them when they were so disciplined and so instructed. Nor is the influence which they may carry home into their domestic circles, a trifling matter: for when their parents hear them giving an account of the lessons they have learned—lessons of meekness and patience, of truth and honesty, of purity and love—they may themselves be put to shame, and acquire very important hints for their own improvement.]

I beg leave, then, to recommend to your support this important institution—

I would recommend it,

[First, for the sake of the rising generation, on whom it will confer so great a benefit — — — Next, for the sake of those who have set on foot this benevolent plan. None but persons of very enlarged minds could ever have devised such means of benefiting the poor. To instruct such infants would, to any common understanding, have appeared as hopeless a task as that of “casting bread upon the waters.” Yet experience has proved its vast utility; and shewn, that if such institutions were to prevail in every town, a most extensive benefit would be conferred on the whole community. Shall, then, persons capable of adorning and instructing the highest ranks in society not meet with support, when they employ their talents in contriving means for benefiting the poor? Surely every person ought to bear testimony to the worth and excellence of such designs; and to give them, the beat tribute of applause, their active concurrence, and their most liberal support.

Lastly, for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, I would urge upon you the support of this beneficent institution: for he counted not little children beneath his notice; but took them up in his arms, and put his hands upon them and blessed them, and declared that every attention that was paid to such infants would be regarded by him as paid to himself [Note: Matthew 18:2; Matthew 18:5.]. If, then, you have any love to the Saviour, who himself assumed a state of infancy for you—yea, and died upon the cross for you—shew it by your liberality on this occasion. Let all endeavour to cultivate the ground. Let him that hath an ox, “send forth his ox;” and let him that hath an ass, “send forth his ass.” Let every one, according to his ability, contribute to help forward this good work, without intermission and without despondency. To every one amongst you I would say, “In the morning sow thy seed; in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good [Note: ver. 6.]”]

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Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible


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 11:7,8. Young men are exhorted in the midst of their delights to think of the day of judgment, Ecclesiastes 11:9,10.

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.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

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.


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Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Casting one"s bread on the water probably refers to commercial transactions involving the transportation of commodities by ship, not to charitable acts. [Note: Ibid, p1189.]

". . . Eastern bread has for the most part the form of cakes, and is thin (especially as is prepared hastily for guests, ... Gen. xviii6, xix3); so that when thrown into the water, it remains on the surface (like a chip of wood, Hos. X:7), and is carried away by the stream." [Note: Delitzsch, pp391-92.]

If you follow the advice in this verse literally, you will experience disappointment. It probably refers to buying and selling.

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Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Ecclesiastes 11:1. Cast thy bread — That is, thy seed, which is here called bread, as it is also Job 28:5, and Isaiah 28:28, because the produce of it makes bread, and the husbandman could ill spare it, wanting it, perhaps, for bread for himself and family; upon the waters — That is, either by the rivers’ sides, or in moist and marshy ground, or even on the waters that cover it, where there might be little prospect of a crop. Solomon here probably alludes to the manner of planting rice in the eastern countries; for, as Sir John Chardin observes in his note on Isaiah 32:20, “They sow it upon the water; and, before sowing, while the earth is covered with water, they cause the ground to be trodden by oxen, horses, and asses, which go mid-leg deep; and this is the way of preparing the ground for sowing. And, as they sow the rice in the water, they transplant it in the water.” But, though Solomon alludes to this, it is evident he means in these words to inculcate liberality to the poor. As if he had said, Cast — That is, freely and liberally bestow; thy bread — That is, thy money, or provisions, or the necessaries of life, of whatever kind; upon the waters — Upon the poor, on whom thy bounty may at first, and for a time, appear to be lost. (as the seed does, which a man casts upon the waters,) through their unthankfulness or inability to make thee any returns: yet, thou shalt find it — It shall be restored to thee, either by God or men, more certainly than the rice or other seed corn, cast upon the marshy or watery ground, produces fruit in due season: after many days — The return may be slow, but it is sure, and will be so much the more plentiful the longer it is delayed. This clause is added to prevent an objection, and quicken us to the duty enjoined.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Waters. Sow thy seed where it may produce a good crop. (Calmet) --- Be charitable to all, Luke vi. 30. Indiscrete faciendum bene. (St. Jerome) --- Assist those in distress, (Calmet) even though they may be ungrateful, or unable to make a return, Luke xiv. 12. (Tirinus) --- In this third part we are exhorted to serve God with perseverance. Of all virtues, the works of mercy avail most, Matthew xxv. (Worthington)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible

"Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days."

"Cast"-"send forth, send away, let go" (TWOT p. 927). The bread in the East is made in the form of thin cakes, which would float for a time if thrown into a stream. Some see the in the word "cast" (send, side reference ASV, "send forth"), the image of a trading ship, i.e., a merchant sending forth his ships laden with trade goods ("Send your grain across the seas" NEB). One does not know when the ship will return, often large periods of time lapsed before the ship arrived at home port with goods in trade. "The idea is that just as the ship returns to reward the one who sent it forth, so God will restore generously the one who demonstrates compassion upon others" (Kidwell p. 263).

Points To Note:

1 The traditional Jewish view of this passage holds that the lesson is one of charity, and that one"s benevolence should be practiced freely without a view to personal return. "We already catch a breath of the New Testament blowing through the first two verses, a hint of our Lord"s favorite paradox that "he who loves his life loses it", and that "the measure you give will be the measure you get" (John ; Matthew 7:2).

2 The other interpretation encourages the daily pursuit of labor, or urging men to make bold business ventures and trust God for the profit.

2 Often we fall into the temptation of not giving as we should, because we want to have enough saved up for ourselves, if something bad happens to us. But Solomon seems to be saying, don"t let the possibility of hard times or an uncertain future keep you from being generous. In fact, the risk of hard times (2b) could well be an argument for giving liberally while you can (Acts ; 2 Cor. 9:6ff; Galatians 6:7ff). Give, do good while you have the opportunity!

"for you will find it after many days"-This isn"t to be the sole motivation for our giving, rather it is a further encouragement. The Bible makes it clear that God takes care of the generous (Psalm ; Proverbs 19:17 "He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his good deed"; 11:25; Luke 6:38 "Give, and it will be given to you"; 2 Corinthians 9:6-8; Galatians 6:9). Notice the phrase, "after many days". Our generosity may not be immediately rewarded, in fact, we might not be rewarded for decades or our reward might simply be in the next life (Matthew 6:19-20). The idea seems to be that our good deeds will eventually come back to us, what we sow we will eventually reap (Revelation 14:13).

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Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". 1999-2014.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

bread. Put by Figure of speech Metonymy (of Effect), App-6, for the seed from which it is produced.

upon = upon the surface of.

it = the profit or result of it.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

Bread - bread-corn. As in the Lord's prayer, all things needful for the body and soul. Solomon reverts to the sentiment in Ecclesiastes 9:4.

Waters - image from the custom of sowing seed by casting it from boats into the overflowing waters of the Nile, or in any marshy ground. When the waters receded, the grain in the alluvial soil sprang up (Isaiah 32:20). "Waters" express multitudes; so Ecclesiastes 11:2; Revelation 17:15; also the seemingly hopeless character of the recipients of the charity; but it shall prove at last to have been not thrown away (Isaiah 49:4). Earthly seed is sometimes lost, but not so any heavenly seed of good works, sown in faith and love.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers


(1) In this section the preacher is drawing to a close, and he brings out practical lessons very different from those which views of life like his have suggested to others. From the uncertainty of the results of human effort, he infers that we ought the more diligently to make trial of varied forms of exertion, in order that this or that may succeed. From the instability of human happiness, he draws the lesson that we ought to enjoy freely such happiness as life affords, yet with a temperate and chastened joy, and mindful of the account we shall have to render. The most popular explanation of Ecclesiastes 11:1 is, that the figure is taken from the casting of seed on irrigated lands, as, for instance, in Egypt before the waters of the Nile have subsided; and that the duty of beneficence is here inculcated. We are to sow our benefits broadcast, and be assured we shall have a harvest of reward. It is easier to raise objections to this interpretation than to improve on it. That the word translated “bread” is sometimes used in the sense of seed corn, see Isaiah 28:28; Isaiah 30:23; Psalms 104:14. It is objected that the words “cast on the waters” are, literally, “send over the face of the waters,” the word “send” being nowhere else used in the sense of sowing. It has been remarked that in the East bread is used in the shape of light cakes, which would float on water; and the text has been understood as directing the casting of such cakes into a running stream—an irrational proceeding, not likely to occur to any but one to whom this text might have suggested it, and not offering ground for expectation that he who so cast his bread would find it again. It has been less absurdly proposed to understand the text as advising maritime enterprise; but the word “bread” does not harmonise with this explanation. There is nothing else in the book according with such advice; and the next verse, about “the evil that shall be upon the earth,” shows that the writer was not thinking of the dangers of the sea. I believe, therefore, that Ecclesiastes 11:6, which speaks distinctly of the sowing of seed, is the best commentary on the present verse, which means, cast thy seed, even though thou canst not see where it will fall. Possibly the application of the figure is not to be restricted to acts of beneficence; but the next verse may lead us to think that these are primarily intended, and to these especially the encouragement at the end of the verse applies; for in other cases this book gives a less cheerful view of the possible success of human plans.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
That is, says Bp. Lowth, "Sow thy seed or corn on the face of the waters;" in plain terms, sow without any hope of a harvest: do good even to them on whom your benefactions seem thrown away. Dr. Jebb has well illustrated it by the following passages:
thy bread
Deuteronomy 15:7-11; Proverbs 11:24,25; 22:9; Isaiah 32:8
Heb. face of the waters.
Isaiah 32:20
6; Deuteronomy 15:10; Psalms 41:1,2; 126:5,6; Proverbs 11:18; 19:17; Matthew 10:13,42; 25:40; Luke 14:14; 2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:8-10; Hebrews 6:10
Reciprocal: Leviticus 19:25 - General1 Samuel 25:11 - give it;  2 Samuel 17:29 - The people;  2 Chronicles 18:14 - Go ye up;  Psalm 112:9 - dispersed;  Proverbs 3:10 - GeneralProverbs 13:7 - that maketh himself poor;  Proverbs 14:21 - he that hath;  Proverbs 31:20 - she reacheth;  Ecclesiastes 3:6 - and a time to cast;  Isaiah 58:7 - to deal;  Ezekiel 18:16 - but hath;  Matthew 5:42 - GeneralMatthew 25:17 - he also;  Matthew 25:35 - I was an;  Luke 6:38 - and it;  Luke 11:41 - rather;  Luke 16:9 - Make;  Acts 2:45 - parted;  Acts 11:29 - to send;  Romans 12:8 - giveth;  1 Timothy 6:18 - ready

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ecclesiastes 11:1. In the presence of great catastrophes, earthly possessions are of very little value, for they may easily be overwhelmed therein; on the contrary, that God should be gracious towards us is of the last importance. This the author admonishes us to secure by benevolence, and by putting completely away that covetous narrow-heartedness, which, in times of distress, so easily creeps into the heart. The image is borrowed from sea-trading. In that, the temporary sacrifice of one's property brings in a rich reward, even though after a long interval: (according to 1 Kings 10:22, Solomon's vessels returned from Tarshish once in three years, bringing with them rich cargoes). So is it also in connection with benevolence: in His own good time the Lord restores that which may have been given to sufferers for His name's sake. If one casts one's bread oil the water in the usual external sense, it may very easily itself become water should the ship perish; it is in fact but a mere experiment: but when we cast our bread on the water in the spiritual sense, a return is certain; that which we have staked is sure to come back again, even though after a long season. Jerome says, "cum dies judicii advenerit, multo amplius quam dederat rccepturus:" and Cartwright, "tametsi enim non raro fit, ut deus compensationem in longum tempus rejiciat, tandem tamen mercedem in hac vita, certe quidem in futura reponet." We have here, in an abbreviated form, the comparison so frequently made, and which is, "whoso giveth alms is like a merchant who sends his property over the sea." Ecclesiastes 11:2, which gives the real substance, the idea, contained in the figurative representation, shows that we must not limit our attention to the common kind of trade. על פני מים is used of navigation also in Job 24:18, ‘where it is said of pirates—"swift is that one on the mirror of the water." Parallel in point of significance are the following passages:—Psalms 41:1-2, "Blessed is he who acts prudently towards the wretched: in the day of adversity shall the Lord deliver him. The Lord will preserve him and keep him alive, he is blessed in the land, and thou mayest not "deliver him unto the will of his enemies:"—Proverbs 19:17, "he that giveth to the poor lendeth to the Lord, and his gift will he pay him again;"—and 1 Timothy 6:18-19, where the apostle prescribes to the rich, εὐμεταδότους εἶναι, κοινωνικούς, ἀποθησαυρίζοντας, ἑαυτοῖς θεμέλιον καλὸν εἰς τὸ μέλλον. Luke 6:38; Luke 16:9; Galatians 6:9.

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:1". Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.