Ecclesiastes 11:2
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
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(2) To seven, and also to eight.—Quite similar forms of expression occur in Job 5:19; Proverbs 30:21; Amos 1:3; Micah 5:4. The numbers seven and eight are used indefinitely in the advice to multiply our modes of exertion, ignorant as we are which may miscarry.

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.

11:1-6 Solomon presses the rich to do good to others. Give freely, though it may seem thrown away and lost. Give to many. Excuse not thyself with the good thou hast done, from the good thou hast further to do. It is not lost, but well laid out. We have reason to expect evil, for we are born to trouble; it is wisdom to do good in the day of prosperity. Riches cannot profit us, if we do not benefit others. Every man must labour to be a blessing to that place where the providence of God casts him. Wherever we are, we may find good work to do, if we have but hearts to do it. If we magnify every little difficulty, start objections, and fancy hardships, we shall never go on, much less go through with our work. Winds and clouds of tribulation are, in God's hands, designed to try us. God's work shall agree with his word, whether we see it or not. And we may well trust God to provide for us, without our anxious, disquieting cares. Be not weary in well-doing, for in due season, in God's time, you shall reap, Ga 6:9.The verse means: "Let your hospitality and your alms be extensive: for you know not what reverses may befall either that person who by your liberality will be strengthened to meet them, or yourself who may come to need grateful friends." Compare Luke 16:9.

Seven, and also to eight - A definite number for an indefinite (compare marginal reference).

2. portion—of thy bread.

seven—the perfect number.

eight—even to more than seven; that is, "to many" (so "waters," Ec 11:1), nay, even to very many in need (Job 5:19; Mic 5:5).

evil—The day may be near, when you will need the help of those whom you have bound to you by kindnesses (Lu 16:9). The very argument which covetous men use against liberality (namely, that bad times may come), the wise man uses for it.

Give a portion; a part of thy estate or provisions. He alludes to the ancient custom, whereby the master of the feast did distribute several parts to each guest, and withal sent portions to the poor; of which custom see 2 Samuel 6:19 Nehemiah 8:10,12 Es 9:22.

To seven, and also to eight; to as many as thou art able; a certain number for an uncertain, as Micah 5:5, and oft elsewhere.

Thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth; great calamities may come, whereby thou mayst be brought to poverty, and so both utterly lose that blessed opportunity of doing good, which now thou hast in thine hands, whereby thou mayst gain unspeakable honour, and comfort, and advantage to thyself, and moreover need the charity of others, which thou mayst comfortably expect, either from men, or at least from the powerful providence of God, disposing the hearts of men to pity and help thee, if thou hast been kind and merciful to others; as, on the contrary, they can expect no mercy from God or men, who have showed no mercy to others. Thus he not only answers, but retorts, the argument by which the covetous man excuseth his uncharitableness, because he must lay up against a rainy day.

Give a portion to seven, and also to eight,.... Or, a "part" (q); not the whole of a man's substance, for he must have to support himself and his family; he that does not take care of that is worse than an infidel; a man may bestow all his goods on the poor, and not have charity; though no doubt there was true charity, or love, in the poor widow that threw in all her substance into the treasury, which was an extraordinary case, 1 Timothy 5:8; but a man is to give of such things that he has, ordinarily, and not all that he has, Luke 11:41; he is to give according to his ability, and what he can spare from the service of himself and family; and this is to be distributed, and given in parts to the poor, according to their necessities; not all to one, but something to everyone, "to seven, and also to eight": if seven persons apply, give them everyone a part; and, if an eighth person comes, send him not away empty; give to every one that asketh, Luke 6:30; compare with this phrase Micah 5:5; Some think this respects time, so Aben Ezra; that a man should give constantly and continually, should be daily giving, all the seven days of the week, and when the eighth day comes, or the week begins again, go on in the same course. The Targum is,

"put a good part of seed in thy field in Tisri (the seventh month), and do not cease from sowing even in Casleu,''

the eighth month;

for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth; what calamities shall come upon it, which may sweep away all a man's substance; it may be destroyed by fire, or washed away by a deluge of water, or plundered by an enemy; or, however, the day of death may quickly come, as it certainly shall, and then it will be no longer in a man's power to do good with what he has. Moreover, the arguments which covetous men use against liberality, the wise man uses for it; they argue that bad times may come, and they may sustain great losses; or have a greater charge upon them, a growing family; or they may live to old age, and want it themselves: be it no, these are reasons why they should give liberally while they can; that when these things they fear shall come upon them, they may be relieved and supplied by others; for those that show mercy shall find mercy; and this is the way to make themselves friends in a time of need, and against it; see Luke 16:9.

(q) "partem", Pagninus, Montanus, Munster, Vatablus, Drusius, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, &c.

Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
2. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight] The precept is clearly a pendant to Ecclesiastes 11:1 and has received the same variety of interpretations. Following the same line of thought as before, we find in it the counsel to give freely as opportunities present themselves. The combination of “to seven and also to eight,” is, like that of “six and seven” in Job 5:19, of “three and four” in Amos 1, 2, like the “seventy times seven” of Matthew 18:22, a Hebrew form of the definite for the indefinite. There is, in our acts of kindness, to be no grudging narrowness. In such things

“Kind heaven disdains the lore

Of nicely calculated less or more.”

And the reason given fits in with the counsel, “Thou knowest not what evil shall be on earth.” “Hard times may come, when thou shalt have no means for giving; therefore waste not the present opportunity. Help those to whom thou givest to meet the hazards of the uncertain future.” Here again men interpret according to their character, and so, we have, as before, the licentious moralist finding a plea for unlimited voluptuousness, while the prudential adviser sees in the precept, which he renders “Divide the portion into seven, yea eight parts,” a caution like that which led Jacob to divide his caravan into two portions for the sake of safety (Genesis 32:7-8). Taken in this last sense the precept stands on a level with the current saying of the Stock Exchange that it isn’t wise to “put all your eggs into one basket,” with the “hedging” of those who bet on more than one horse at the Derby and other races. It may well be left to the student to decide which of these interpretations has most to commend it.

It may be admitted, however, as it is the enigmatic form of the precept which has given rise to these discordant views as to its meaning, that the grave irony of the writer, which we have already traced in ch. Ecclesiastes 10:4; Ecclesiastes 10:20 may have led him to adopt that form because it served as a test of character, each scholar finding what he sought. Here also it might be added “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 13:9).

Verse 2. - Give a portion to seven, and also to eight. This further explains, without any metaphor, the injunction of beneficence in ver. 1. Give portions of thy "bread" to any number of those who need. Delitzsch and others who interpret the passage of maritime enterprise would see in it a recommendation (like the proceeding of Jacob, Genesis 32:16, etc.) not to risk all at once, to divide one's ventures into various ships. But the expression in the text is merely a mode of enjoining unlimited benevolence. The numbers are purposely indefinite. Instances of this form of speech are common enough (see Proverbs 6:16; Proverbs 30:7-9, etc.; Amos 1:3. etc.; Micah 5:5; Ecclus. 23:16 Ecclus. 26:5, 28). Wordsworth notes that the word for "portion" (chelek) is that used specially for the portion of the Levites (Numbers 18:20); and in accordance with his view of the date of the book, finds here an injunction not to confine one's offerings to the Levites of Judah, but to extend them to the refugees who come from Israel. For thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. A time may come when you yourself may need help; the power of giving may no longer be yours; therefore make friends now who may be your comfort in distress. So the Lord urges, "Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness" (Luke 16:9). It seems a low motive on which to base charitable actions; but men act on such secondary motives every day, and the moralist cannot ignore them. In the Book of Proverbs secondary and worldly motives are largely urged as useful in the conduct of life (see the Introduction to Proverbs, pp. 8, 9.). St. Paul reminds us that we some day may need a brother's help (Galatians 6:1). The Fathers have spiritualized the passage, so as to make it of Christian application, far away indeed from Koheleth's thought. Thus St. Gregory: "By the number seven is understood the whole of this temporal condition... this is shown more plainly when the number eight is mentioned after it. For when another number besides follows after seven, it is set forth by this very addition, that this temporal state is brought to an end and closed by eternity. For by the number seven Solomon expressed the present time, which is passed by periods of seven days. But by the number eight he designated eternal life, which the Lord made known to us by his resurrection. For he rose in truth on the Lord's day, which, as following the seventh day, i.e. the sabbath, is found to be the eighth from the creation. But it is well said, 'Give portions,' etc. As if it were plainly said, 'So dispense temporal goods, as not to forget to desire those that are eternal. For thou oughtest to provide for the future by well-doing, who knowest not what tribulation succeeds from the future judgment'" ('Moral,' 35:17, Oxford transl.). Ecclesiastes 11:2"Divide the portion into seven, yea, eight (parts); for thou knowest not what evil shall happen on the earth." With that other interpretation, עליך was to be expected instead of 'al-haarets; for an evil spreading abroad over the earth, a calamity to the land, does not yet fall on every one without exception; and why was not the רעה designated directly as personal? The impression of the words לשׁם ... תּן־, established in this general manner, is certainly this, that on the supposition of the possibility of a universal catastrophe breaking in, they advise a division of our property, so that if we are involved in it, our all may not at once be lost, but only this or that part of it, as Jacob, Genesis 32:9, says. With reference to 1a, it is most natural to suppose that one is counselled not to venture his all in one expedition, so that if this is lost in a storm, all might not at once be lost (Mendelss., Preston, Hitz., Stuart); with the same right, since 1a is only an example, the counsel may be regarded as denoting that one must not commit all to one caravan; or, since in Ecclesiastes 11:2 לחמך is to be represented not merely as a means of obtaining gain, that one ought not to lay up all he has gathered in one place, Judges 6:11; Jeremiah 41:8 (Nachtigal); in short, that one ought not to put all into one business, or, as we say literally, venture all on one card. חלק is either the portion which one possesses, i.e., the measure of the possession that has fallen to him (Psalm 16:5), or חלק נתן means to make portions, to undertake a division. In the first case, the expression ל ... נתן follows the scheme of Genesis 17:20 : make the part into seven, yea, into eight (parts); in the second case, the scheme of Joshua 18:5 : make division into seven, etc. We prefer the former, because otherwise that which is to be divided remains unknown; חלק is the part now in possession: make the much or the little that thou hast into seven or yet more parts. The rising from seven to eight is as at Job 5:19, and like the expression ter quaterque, etc. The same inverted order of words as in Ecclesiastes 11:2 is found in Esther 6:3; 2 Kings 8:12.
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