Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.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.
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.Ecclesiastes 11:2. Give a portion to seven — A part of thy estate or provisions. He alludes to the ancient custom, whereby the master of the feast distributed several parts to each guest, and withal sent portions to the poor. And also to eight — To as many as thou art able. For thou knowest not what evil shall be, &c. — Great calamities may come, whereby thou mayest be brought to poverty, and so disabled from doing good. And moreover thou mayest possibly hereafter need the charity of others, which thou wilt have good reason to expect, through the powerful providence of God disposing men’s hearts to pity and help thee, if thou hast been kind and merciful to others; whereas, on the contrary, they can expect no mercy from God or men, who have showed no mercy to others.
If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.Ecclesiastes 11:3. If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves, &c. — Learn, O man, the practice of liberality from the very lifeless creatures, from the clouds; which, when they are filled with water, do not hoard it up, but plentifully pour it forth, for the refreshment both of the fruitful field and the barren wilderness. And if the tree fall, &c. — As if he had said, Therefore, let us just now bring forth the fruits of righteousness, because death will shortly cut us down, and we shall then be determined to unchangeable happiness or misery, according as our works have been.
He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.Ecclesiastes 11:4. He that observeth the wind, shall not sow, &c. — He who neglects the necessary works of sowing and reaping, because the weather is not exactly suitable to his desires, will lose his harvest. Whereby he intimates, that men will never do good here, which is expressed by sowing, and consequently not receive good hereafter, which is called reaping, if they be discouraged from it by every doubt and difficulty.
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.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.
In the morning sow thy seed, and 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.Ecclesiastes 11:6. In the morning — Early and late, in all seasons, and on all occasions; do it speedily and continually: be not weary of it. Sow thy seed — Do all good works, especially that of alms-giving, as sowing means, 2 Corinthians 9:6; Galatians 6:7. In the evening withhold not thy hand — From working, or giving. For thou knowest not whether shall prosper — Which shall prosper most; which shall best answer thine end, or do most good to others; or which shall tend most to the comfort of thy great and final account. For thy morning alms may possibly be given to an unworthy person, or to one who did not need them, and will abuse them; and thy evening alms may fall upon a person of eminent worth, or upon one in extreme necessity, who might possibly have perished, both in soul and body, if thou hadst not relieved and comforted him. Besides, at one time thou mayest give with a more pure intention, and a more single eye to the glory of God, and with more tender compassion to thy distressed fellow-creature, than at another time, and so the one will be more right and acceptable to God than the other. Or whether they shall be both alike good — Equally successful to the receiver or to the giver.
Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun:Ecclesiastes 11:7-8. Truly, the light is sweet — It cannot be denied, that this present life is in itself a great blessing, and desirable; but it is not perpetual nor satisfactory: for, if a man live many years — Which is a privilege granted but to few persons comparatively; and rejoice in them all — Enjoy all the comforts, and escape all the imbitterness of human life all his days; yet let him remember the days of darkness — Of death, or the state of the dead, often expressed by darkness, as Job 10:21; Psalm 88:12; and here opposed to the foregoing light: for they shall be many — Far more than the days of this short life, especially if, to the days of the body’s lying in the dark grave, be added that greater and utter darkness reserved for impenitent sinners, which is everlasting. And this is added, for the caution of mankind, that they may not rejoice excessively in, nor content themselves with, the happiness of the present life, but may seek a life more durable and satisfactory. All that cometh is vanity — All things which befall any man belonging only to this life, whether they be comfortable or vexatious, are but vain and inconsiderable, because they are short and transitory.
But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity.
Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.Ecclesiastes 11:9. Rejoice, &c. — This is an ironical concession, like many which occur in the Scriptures, (see 1 Kings 18:27; 1 Kings 22:15; Ezekiel 28:3-4; Matthew 26:45,) and in other authors: O young man, in thy youth — He speaks to young men particularly, because they have both the greatest ability and the strongest inclination to pursue sensual pleasure, and are most impatient, either of restraint or admonition, Let thy heart cheer thee, &c. — Indulge thy humour. and take thy fill of delights. And walk in the way of thy heart, &c. — Whatsoever thine eye or heart lusteth after, deny it not to them. But know thou — But in the midst of thy feasting, jollity, and mirth, consider thy reckoning, and whether thou dost not purchase thy delights at too high a price: that for all these things — For all thy sinful lusts and follies; God will bring thee to judgment — Will force thee to appear before his judgment-seat, to account for all thy forgetfulness of him, and neglect of his service, thy misemployment of thy time and talents, and of all the gifts of his providence and grace, and for all thy carnal mirth, sensual pleasures, and the extravagances and exorbitances of thy youthful days, as well as of thy riper years.
Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.Ecclesiastes 11:10. Therefore remove sorrow — Sensual and disorderly lusts, which he elegantly calls sorrow, to intimate, that although such practices at present gratify men’s senses, yet they will shortly bring them to intolerable sorrows. And put away evil from thy flesh — All evil desires, though now they seem good to thee. For childhood and youth are vanity — Most vain. The time of youth is vanishing and transitory, and old age and death will speedily come, against which every wise man will take care to lay in solid provisions and comforts.
Benson Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
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