Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Ecclesiastes 11:5

Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Economics;   God;   Ignorance;   Thompson Chain Reference - Knowledge-Ignorance;   Man;   Man's;   Mysteries of Nature;   Nature's;   The Topic Concordance - Creation;   God;   Knowledge;  
Dictionaries:
Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Abortion;   Providence of God;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Ecclesiastes, the Book of;   Nicodemus;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Ecclesiastes, Book of;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Ecclesiastes;   Medicine;   Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - World;  
Encyclopedias:
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Wisdom;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Winds;  
Devotionals:
Every Day Light - Devotion for August 14;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

As thou knowest not - the way of the spirit - Why God should have permitted such an such persons to fall into want, and how they came into all their distresses, thou canst not tell, no more than thou canst how their soul is united to their body, how it came to inform that body, or how the child was formed in the womb of its mother. Nor canst thou discern the end which God has in view in these things. He maketh all, every thing is open to him; and take heed lest, while pretending motives of scrupulosity and prudence, in not relieving the distresses of those thou pretendest to suspect to be unworthy, he does not see that a love of money is the motive of thy conduct, and a want of the bowels of mercy the cause why thou drivest this suspected beggar from thy door.

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:5". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1832.

The Biblical Illustrator

Ecclesiastes 11:5

Thou knowest not the work of God, who doeth all

Christian agnosticism

(with James 1:5-6):--The favourite intellectual mood of unbelief in recent times has been agnosticism.
It declares that the greatest things we do not know, shall never know. Ecclesiastes is a very modern book in respect of this recognition of human ignorance. And it is more than modern in that while it fully states the puzzle, it gives the key.

I. We know nothing. There is a farmer observing the wind now, saying, “It is in the right quarter; I will put in my seed.” He shall not. The seed is six miles away, and a cart-wheel is broken. To-morrow the land will be flooded. The next day his child will be dying, and he will postpone everything. Another was very anxious about the rainy harvest; he “regarded the clouds,” he chose a good week and set the men on; but he fell from his horse and died; some one else saw the harvest home. “Thou knowest not what is the way of the wind.” That is the kind of experience that makes Tennyson say, “Behold, we know not anything.” Of course there is very much in the regularity of things to make us think we know. A shrewd and careful farmer usually gets on well. The wind is a sign, and the clouds are a sign, that any man of common sense must pay attention to. Say we do not know what God doeth, if you like. But lay upon Him all that is done. If a man sows wild oats it is God who makes them come up. Do not say it is nature; it is God. And then if they seem not to come up--one man does wrong and is punished, another does wrong and is not punished--you are not embarrassed with any irregularity hard to account for. God has them both in hand. And with Him is no variableness or shadow that is cast by turning.

II. We know God. The unbelieving agnostic says we can know everything earthly, but nothing heavenly; we cannot know God. The Christian agnostic says, “We are not certain of anything earthly; but we are certain of God. We know whom we have believed.” God shines into all the world with the pure light of goodness; and all iniquity, greed, violence, and so on, of which we say the earth is so full, is really a vision, too, of God by contrast. The earth is full of the glory of God, and that is why the bad things about us show up so. Christ has come--a human character up against which every one begins to feel ashamed by sheer contrast. He dares to say, “I am the light of the world,” and men have to recognize it, because they all show up dark against it. The character of God is there, plain enough, in touch with us.

III. If we know God we are in the way to know everything--and the only way. Do not imagine there is some long, toilsome path, as the Deists used to say, “through nature up to nature’s God.” It is not far to get through nature. It is as thin as paper. Put the two texts together--“Thou knowest not the work of God, who doeth all.” “If any lack, let him ask of God, in faith, nothing doubting.” By faith all things are yours, ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. (J. H. Stowell, M. A.)

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ecclesiastes 11:5". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1905-1909. New York.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit,.... If indeed a man could foresee and be assured of seasonable weather for sowing and reaping, or a proper opportunity for doing good, all circumstances agreeing, it would be right to wait for it, and take it; but as these things are not in our power, nor within the compass of our knowledge, we should take the first opportunity of doing good, and leave the issue to divine Providence: as in many things in nature we are and should be content to be ignorant of them, and leave them with God, who brings them about by his secret power and providence: as, for instance, we know not "the way of the spirit", or "of the wind"F18הרוח "venti", Pagninus, Montanus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Drusius, Mercerus, Amama, Cocceius, Gejerus, Rambachius; so Broughton, and the Syriac and Arabic versions. , as some render it; from whence it comes and whither it goes, where and when it will subside, or what wind will blow next; or of the spirit or soul of man, how it enters into the body. So the Targum,

"how the spirit of the breath of life goes into the body of an infant:'

whether it is by traduction, as some, which is not likely; or by transfusion, or by creation out of nothing, or by formation out of something pre-existent, and by an immediate infusion of it: or, "what is the way of the breath"; of the breath of a child in the womb, whether it breathes or not; if it does, how? if not, how does it live? or what is the way of the soul out of the body, how it goes out of it when the body dies;

nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child; or is "full", pregnant, big with child: or "in the womb that is full"F19בבטן המלאה "in utero pleno", Mercerus, Gejerus, Gussetius, p. 936. "in ventre pleno", Cocceius, so Aben Ezra. ; full of liquids, and yet bones are separated from them, grow out of them, and in them, and are hardened; all which how it should be is unknown: "bones" are mentioned because they are the more solid and substantial parts of the body, the basis and strength of it; and because it may seem more difficult how any part of the seed should harden into them, while other parts are converted into skin and flesh;

even so thou knowest not the works of God, who maketh all; the Targum adds, in wisdom; as men are ignorant of many of the works of nature, so of those of Providence, especially which are future; as whether men shall be rich or poor, have days of prosperity or adversity; what their latter end will be, whether they shall not stand in need of the assistance of others, it may be of them or theirs to whom they now give; or what will be the issue of present acts of beneficence and liberality; these, with many other things of the like kind, should be left with God. Some understand this of the work of grace and conversion, which is a secret and difficult work, only wrought by the power and grace of God; and may be begun, or shortly will, in a poor person, judged an unworthy object of charity for supposed want of it, a thing unknown.

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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 11:5". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1999.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

spirit — How the soul animates the body! Thus the transition to the formation of the body “in the womb” is more natural, than if with Maurer we translate it “wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:6; John 3:8).

bones  …  grow — (Job 10:8, Job 10:9; Psalm 139:15, Psalm 139:16).

knowest not the works of God — (Ecclesiastes 3:11; Ecclesiastes 8:17; Ecclesiastes 9:12).

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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 11:5". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfb/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1871-8.

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

“As thou hast no knowledge what is the way of the wind, like as the bones in the womb of her who is with child; so thou knowest not the work of God who accomplisheth all.” Luther, after Jerome, renders rightly: “As thou knowest not the way of the wind, and how the bones in the mother's womb do grow; so,” etc. The clause, instar ossium in ventre praegnantis , is the so-called comparatio decurtata for instar ignorantiae tuae ossium , etc., like thy ignorance regarding the bones, i.e., the growth of the bones. כּעץ,

(Note: The Targ. reads בעץ, and construes: What the way of the spirit in the bones, i.e., how the embryo becomes animated.)

because more closely defined by ' בּב הם, has not the art. used elsewhere after כ of comparison; an example for the regular syntax ( vid ., Riehm, under Psalms 17:12) is found at Deuteronomy 32:2. That man has no power over the wind, we read at Ecclesiastes 8:8; the way of the wind he knows not (John 3:8), because he has not the wind under his control: man knows fundamentally only that which he rules. Regarding the origin and development of the embryo as a _secret which remained a mystery to the Israel. Chokma, vid ., Psychol . p. 209ff. For עצם, cf. Psalms 139:15 and Job 10:11. Regarding meleah, pregnant (like the Lat. plena ). With fine discrimination, the fut. תדע לא in the apodosis interchanges with the particip. יודע אינך in the protasis, as when we say: If thou knowest not that, as a consequence thou shalt also not know this. As a man must confess his ignorance in respect to the way of the wind, and the formation of the child in the mother's womb; so in general the work of God the All-Working lies beyond his knowledge: he can neither penetrate it in the entireness of its connection, nor in the details of its accomplishment. The idea 'oseh kol, Isaiah 44:24, is intentionally unfolded in a fut. relat. clause, because here the fut. in the natural world, as well as in human history, comes principally into view. For that very reason the words את־הכּל are also used, not: (as in passages where there is a reference to the world of creation in its present condition) eth - kol - elleh, Isaiah 66:2. Also the growth of the child in the mother's womb is compared to the growth of the future in the womb of the present, out of which it is born (Proverbs 27:1; cf. Zephaniah 2:2). What is established by this proof that man is not lord of the future, - viz. that in the activity of his calling he should shake off anxious concern about the future, - is once again inferred with the combination of what is said in Ecclesiastes 11:4 and Ecclesiastes 11:2 (according to our interpretation, here confirmed).

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Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:5". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kdo/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1854-1889.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.

The spirit — Of the soul of man, how it comes into the child in the womb; or how it is united with the body; or how and whether it goes out of the body.

The works — What God is doing and will do with thee or others; the counsels and methods of God's providence. Therefore use the present opportunity.

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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 11:5". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/wen/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1765.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Ecclesiastes 11:5 As thou knowest not what [is] the way of the spirit, [nor] how the bones [do grow] in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.

Ver. 5. As thou knowest not what is the way of the Spirit.] Or, Of the wind, as some render it, grounding upon the former verse - q.d., Why should any so observe the wind, the nature whereof he so little understands, [John 3:8] and the inconstancy whereof is grown to, and known by, a common proverb? But by spirit I rather think is meant the soul, as by bones the body. Who can tell when and how the body is formed, the soul infused? The body is the "soul’s sheath," [Daniel 7:15 marg.} an abridgment of the visible world, as the soul is of the invisible. The members of the body were made all by book, {Psalms 139:16] "and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth," that is, in the womb: as curious workmen, when they have some choice piece in hand, they perfect it in private, and then bring it forth to light for men to gaze at. What an admirable piece of work is man’s head piece! - God’s masterpiece in this little world - the chief seat of the soul, that cura divini ingenii, as one calls it! (a) There is nothing great on earth but man, nothing in man but his mind, said the philosopher. (b) Many locks and keys argue the price of the jewel that they keep; aud many papers wrapping the token within them, the worth of the token. The tables of the testament - First, Laid up in the ark; secondly, The ark bound about with pure gold; thirdly, Overshadowed with cherubims’ wings; fourthly, Enclosed with the veil of the tabernacle; fifthly, With the compass of the tabernacle; sixthly, With a court about all; seventhly, With a treble covering of goats’, rams’, and badgers’ skins above all - must needs be precious tables. So when the Almighty made man’s head, the seat of the reasonable soul, and overlaid it with hair, skin, and flesh, like the threefold covering of the tabernacle, and then encompassed it with a skull of bones, like boards of cedar, and afterwards with various skins, like silken curtains, and, lastly, enclosed it with the yellow skin that covers the brain, like the purple veil, which Solomon calls the "golden ewer," [Ecclesiastes 12:6] he would doubtless have us to know it was made for some great treasure to be put therein. How and when the reasonable soul is put into this curious cabinet, philosophers dispute many things, but can affirm nothing of a certainty: as neither "how the bones do grow in the womb," how of the same substance the several parts - as bones, nerves, arteries, veins, gristles, flesh, and blood - are fashioned there, and receive daily increase. This David looks at as a just wonder. [Psalms 139:14-15] Mirificatus sum mirabilibus operis tuis, (c) saith he, I am fearfully and wonderfully made: and Galen, a profane philosopher, could not but hereupon sing a hymn to man’s most wise Creator, whom yet he knew not.

Even so thou knowest not the work of God,] i.e., The rest of his works of creation and providence, which are very various, and to us no less unknown than uncertain. Do thou that which God commandeth, and let things occur as they will, there is an overruling hand in all for the good of those that love God. "Trust therefore in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not to thine own understanding." [Proverbs 3:5] "Hide not thine eyes from thine own flesh." [Isaiah 58:7] He that doeth so shall have many a curse. The apostle useth a word for liberality, (d) which properly signifieth simplicity; and this he doth in opposition to that crafty and witty wiliness of the covetous, to defend themselves from the danger, as they take it, of liberality.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:5". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1865-1868.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Of the spirit; of the spirit or soul of man, how it first comes into the body of the child in the womb, whether from God by creation, or from the parents by propagation; nor how it is united with and so fixed in the body, that it cannot get out of it when it would; nor how and whither it goes out of the body; all which things are great mysteries. Others translate it, of the wind, whence it cometh, and whither it goeth, as is observed John 3:8, or how violently it will blow, or how long it will last. But the former translation seems to agree better with the following clause.

The bones, i.e. the whole body, which is elsewhere signified by the bones, as Psalms 34:20 35:10, because they are a principal part, and the very foundation and support, of the body. Grow in the womb; how it comes to pass that one and the same small quantity of seed should diversify itself into skin, and flesh, and sinews, and veins, and bones, and entrails, or how it receiveth nourishment and growth.

The works of God; what God is doing, and will do with thee and others; the counsels and methods of God’s providence in the future time of thy life, what evil God will send upon the earth, Ecclesiastes 11:2, or what weather he will send, of which Ecclesiastes 11:4, how long or how little a while God will continue thy life or estate, and how soon God will call thee to an account. These and many other future events thou canst not foresee, and therefore thy wisdom and duty is to cast off all distracting cares and distrustful fears about them, and cheerfully to commit thyself, and all thy affairs, into the hand of God in well doing.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:5". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1685.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

5.The way of the spirit — Better, “The way of the” wind. Our utter ignorance of the commonest things in nature really extends to all the works and ways of God. The wind is viewless and trackless, though it surely blows; the growth of the embryo is a mystery, though it surely comes to birth. So with other works of God, who doeth all things.

 

 

 

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:5". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1874-1909.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

"Few parents understand precisely how a baby is formed, but most follow the rules of common sense for the welfare of the mother and the unborn child. This is exactly the application that the Teacher makes here to the plan of God. Indeed, it illustrates the whole theme of the book. We cannot understand all the ways God works to fulfill his plan, but we can follow God"s rules for daily living and thus help bring God"s purpose to birth." [Note: J. S. Wright, " Ecclesiastes," p1189.]

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:5". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/ecclesiastes-11.html. 2012.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Ecclesiastes 11:5. As thou knowest not the way of the spirit — Of the soul of man, how it comes into the child in the womb; or how it is united with the body; or how, and whether it goes out of the body. Nor how the bones do grow — That is, the whole body, which is elsewhere signified by the bones, because they are a principal part, and the very foundation and support of the body; that is, thou knowest not how, from small and unpromising beginnings, the various parts of the body, as nerves, arteries, veins, sinews, entrails, bones, flesh, and skin, are gradually formed, nourished, increased, and brought to perfection: even so thou knowest not the works of God — What God is doing, and will do with thee or others; the counsels and methods of his providence in the future time of thy life, what evil God will send upon the earth, how he will chastise or punish mankind for their sins, or how long he will continue thy life, or preserve to thee the enjoyment of thy property; or how soon he will call thee to an account. Therefore use the present opportunity, and commit thyself and all thy affairs to him in well doing.

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:5". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Spirit. In a man, or of the wind. Why then wouldst thou judge of the merit of thy petitioner? or pretend to determine why God has made thee rich and him poor?

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:5". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1859.

Mark Dunagan Commentary on the Bible

"Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things."

"Just as"-Human ignorance, even in the things of this life is once again reaffirmed. If we can"t even know or understand various physical things in our universe that happen every day, how much more are the purposes and providential workings of God beyond our grasp Romans ). People are so prone to lecture God concerning His supervision of this world are so woefully unqualified of doing so. How can we tell God what He should be doing in the spiritual and moral realm, when we can"t even figure out the workings in the physical realm? (Job 38:1ff).

"you do not know the path of the wind"-Even in watching for the wind, the farmer doesn"t have a clue as to when the wind will change direction and what direction that will be.

"how bones are formed in the womb"-probably includes the entire development of the unborn child.

Points To Note:

2 "The lesson still is that man should make use of present and known advantages, not waiting to figure out the ways of God as to the future" (Kidwell p. 266). 2. Even though we do not completely understand everything about the development of the unborn child, this doesn"t keep us from having children. There are many things in this life that we do not understand fully, or cannot even control, but this does not keep us from working. 3. "In the context this means that since you cannot know that all will go well, do not demand assurance of success before you begin any enterprise. Just as in pregnancy a couple can only trust God that all will turn out well…Pregnancy is the supreme example of human endeavor, the results of which are out of human control" (Garrett p. 338). 4. In addition, these verses should humble us, and make us realize that we aren"t self-sufficient, even the most common events in this life are still beyond our control. We need to trust God, and such trust is needed even in seemingly usual and typical things.

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Dunagan, Mark. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:5". "Mark Dunagan Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dun/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1999-2014.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

As = According as. See note on John 3:8. spirit. Hebrew. ruach. App-9.

God. Hebrew. Elohim.(with Art.) = the [true] God, or the Deity. App-4. See note on Ecclesiastes 1:13.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:5". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bul/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.

Thou knowest not ... way of the spirit - how the soul animates the body. Thus the transition to the formation of the body "in the womb" is more natural than if we translated it "wind." Ecclesiastes 1:6; John 3:8 evidently refers to this, "The wind bloweth, etc.

Bones do grow. The passage, John 3:3-7, again accords with this (cf. Job 10:8-12).

Knowest not the works of God. Since thou art no judge of what is the way of God's operation, as yet invisible to us, thy part is to work that which He commands now, undeterred by the threatening aspect of the political and social "clouds."

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:5". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(5) The wording of this passage leaves it ambiguous whether we have here two illustrations of man’s ignorance, or only one; whether we are to understand the verse as declaring that we know neither the way of the wind nor the growth of the embryo, or whether, retaining the translation “spirit,” we take the whole verse as relating to the latter subject. (Comp. John 3:6.) The word for “her that is with child” occurs in that sense here only in the Old Testament, and in later Hebrew.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:5". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/ecclesiastes-11.html. 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.
thou knowest not what
John 3:8
nor
Psalms 139:14,15
even
7:24; 8:17; Job 5:9; 26:5-14; 36:24-33; 37:23; 38:4-41; 39:1-41; Psalms 40:5; 92:5; 104:24; Isaiah 40:28; Romans 11:33
Reciprocal: Mark 4:27 - and grow;  John 9:10 - General1 Corinthians 15:35 - How

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:5". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/ecclesiastes-11.html.

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

Ecclesiastes 11:5. Things turn out very often quite otherwise than the understanding of men anticipated. For this reason we should avoid puzzling our minds much with the circumstances of the time, we should do what God commands and leave results to him. There is no doubt that our Lord alluded to the first words of the verse, when he said in John 3:8, of the wind οὐκ οἶδας πόθεν ἔρχεται καὶ ποῦ ὑπάγει. Like the bones, or, in other words, as it is with the bones. The only point of comparison is the invisibility. The principal passage in this connection is Psalms 139:15, "My bones were not hid from thee when I was made in secret, when I was wrought in the depths of the earth." Bone is in the Hebrew so designated from the strength which it has, and, as the most important part of the body, is used to represent the whole.

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11:5". Ernst Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/heg/ecclesiastes-11.html.