Summary: 19th in a series from Ecclesiastes. How Christians are to respond to uncertainty in the world.
There was once an elderly gentleman who loved playing golf. But he was almost eighty, and his vision was not very good anymore. He always had partners with him when he went out to play so they could watch his ball and tell him where it went. One day his buddies did not show up. It was a beautiful day for golf, and as he waited at the clubhouse he got more and more upset that he wasn’t going to get to play his round. Another elderly man in the clubhouse saw him and asked, “What’s wrong?” The man explained his predicament: “I was really looking forward to playing golf today. But I don’t see very well anymore, so I need someone to watch the ball after I hit.” The second man was even older than he was, but he said, “That’s no problem. I’ll be glad to ride around with you. I’ve got 20/20 vision. I can see like a hawk. You just hit the ball, and I’ll watch it fly right down the fairway.” So they went out on the first tee, and the old man hit the ball right down the center. He turned to his spotter. “Did you see it?” The man replied, “I saw it all the way until it stopped rolling.” “Well, where did it go?” The older man paused for a moment and then said, “I forgot.”
That just goes to show that even the best-laid plans don’t always work out – a message that we have seen over and over throughout the Book of Ecclesiastes. So how are we to live in the face of the uncertainly of life? That’s the question that Qoheleth answers at the beginning of Chapter 11. And I think that the answer certainly surprised his readers. And perhaps it will surprise us as well. Since we’re only covering 8 verses this morning, let’s stand and read them out loud together:
1 Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days. 2 Give a serving to seven, and also to eight, For you do not know what evil will be on the earth. 3 If the clouds are full of rain, They empty themselves upon the earth; And if a tree falls to the south or the north, In the place where the tree falls, there it shall lie. 4 He who observes the wind will not sow, And he who regards the clouds will not reap. 5 As you do not know what is the way of the wind, Or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, So you do not know the works of God who makes everything. 6 In the morning sow your seed, And in the evening do not withhold your hand; For you do not know which will prosper, Either this or that, Or whether both alike will be good. 7 Truly the light is sweet, And it is pleasant for the eyes to behold the sun; 8 But if a man lives many years And rejoices in them all, Yet let him remember the days of darkness, For they will be many. All that is coming is vanity.
Ecclesiastes 11:1-8 (NKJV)
In many ways, this is one of the easiest passages to understand in the entire book of Ecclesiastes. The thoughts all seem to be related to each other and to a common theme. But there is still some room for a variety of interpretations that depend almost entirely on what the author meant in verse 1. There are basically three schools of thought regarding that verse and this is such a crucial matter that I’m going to take a few moments to examine each one:
Verse 1 – Three Possible Approaches
1. Refers to commercial activity
The verse could accurately be translated something like:
Send out your bread upon the waters…
So some commentators have taken the position that this proverb relates to the overseas trade that took place during Solomon’s reign. According to most of these commentators, bread is not just to be taken literally, but rather to refer to goods in general. So the idea expressed here has to do with engaging in trade with those who are across the sea – commercial activity that would have been quite risky in Solomon’s day.
If one follows that approach, then this passage focuses primarily on financial matters. In that case, verse 2 becomes an admonition to reduce risk by diversifying one’s investments.
To me, there are several problems with that approach. First, it ignores the plain reading of the text. There is nothing in the passage or its surrounding context to lead us to believe that Qoheleth is not referring to literal bread here. The other significant issue is that such a focus on finances and commercial activity doesn’t seem to fit within the overall context of the Book of Ecclesiastes.