Cast your bread on the waters: for you shall find it after many days.
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.