Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
1. Ec 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 (Ec 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 (Isa 32:20). "Waters" express multitudes, so Ec 11:2; Re 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 (Isa 49:4).
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
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.
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.
3. clouds—answering to "evil" (Ec 11:2), meaning, When the times of evil are fully ripe, evil must come; and speculations about it beforehand, so as to prevent one sowing seed of liberality, are vain (Ec 11:4).
tree—Once the storm uproots it, it lies either northward or southward, according as it fell. So man's character is unchangeable, whether for hell or heaven, once that death overtakes him (Re 22:11, 14, 15). Now is his time for liberality, before the evil days come (Ec 12:1).
He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.
4. Therefore sow thy charity in faith, without hesitancy or speculation as to results, because they may not seem promising (Ec 9:10). So in Ec 11:1, man is told to "cast his bread corn" on the seemingly unpromising "waters" (Ps 126:5, 6). The farmer would get on badly, who, instead of sowing and reaping, spent his time in watching the wind and clouds.
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.
5. 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" (Ec 1:6; Joh 3:8).
bones … grow—(Job 10:8, 9; Ps 139:15, 16).
knowest not the works of God—(Ec 3:11; 8:17; 9:12).
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.
6. morning … evening—early and late; when young and when old; in sunshine and under clouds.
seed—of godly works (Ho 10:12; 2Co 9:10; Ga 6:7).
prosper—(Isa 55:10, 11).
both … alike—Both the unpromising and the promising sowing may bear good fruit in others; certainly they shall to the faithful sower.
Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun:
7. light—of life (Ec 7:11; Ps 49:19). Life is enjoyable, especially to the godly.
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.
8. But while man thankfully enjoys life, "let him remember" it will not last for ever. The "many days of darkness," that is, the unseen world (Job 10:21, 22; Ps 88:12), also days of "evil" in this world (Ec 11:2), are coming; therefore sow the good seed while life and good days last, which are not too long for accomplishing life's duties.
All that cometh—that is, All that followeth in the evil and dark days is vain, as far as work for God is concerned (Ec 9:10).
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.
9. Rejoice—not advice, but warning. So 1Ki 22:15, is irony; if thou dost rejoice (carnally, Ec 2:2; 7:2, not moderately, as in Ec 5:18), &c., then "know that … God will bring thee into judgment" (Ec 3:17; 12:14).
youth … youth—distinct Hebrew words, adolescence or boyhood (before Ec 11:10), and full-grown youth. It marks the gradual progress in self-indulgence, to which the young especially are prone; they see the roses, but do not discover the thorns, until pierced by them. Religion will cost self-denial, but the want of it infinitely more (Lu 14:28).
Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.
10. sorrow—that is, the lusts that end in "sorrow," opposed to "rejoice," and "heart cheer thee" (Ec 11:9), Margin, "anger," that is, all "ways of thine heart"; "remove," &c., is thus opposed to "walk in," &c. (Ec 11:9).
flesh—the bodily organ by which the sensual thoughts of the "heart" are embodied in acts.
childhood—rather, "boyhood"; the same Hebrew word as the first, "youth" in Ec 11:9. A motive for self-restraint; the time is coming when the vigor of youth on which thou reliest, will seem vain, except in so far as it has been given to God (Ec 12:1).
youth—literally, the dawn of thy days.