1 Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.
2 Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.
3 If the clouds are full of rain,
they empty themselves on the earth,
and if a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where the tree falls, there it will 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 the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.
6 In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. – Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 ESV
As Solomon returns to a theme he has addressed before: The uncertainty of the future and man’s inability to discern what it may hold. To a certain degree, Solomon finds himself between a rock and a hard place. He has discovered that there is nothing in this life that really brings true joy and meaningful satisfaction, and he has tried it all. He is wise beyond belief. He has wealth beyond measure. He has experimented with every imaginable form of pleasure and self-gratification. And none of it has brought any sense of purpose or fulfillment. He describes it as little more than chasing the wind or trying to catch smoke in your hands.
So, his less-than-optimistic conclusion has been that chasing after all the material things you can see and touch is ultimately an exercise in futility. Wine, women, and song are not enough. Palaces, gardens, vast orchards, and fruitful vineyards cannot produce contentment. Enough is never enough. Life, even with all its pleasure-producing pursuits, ends in death.
And that raises the other distressing issue for Solomon: Nobody knows what happens next. Death is like a door behind which lies a foreboding and forbidden future. Only God knows what awaits man at the end of life. So, he is left to experience futility in life and uncertainty in death. Back in chapter nine, Solomon shared his somewhat pessimistic view of the future.
It seems so wrong that everyone under the sun suffers the same fate. Already twisted by evil, people choose their own mad course, for they have no hope. There is nothing ahead but death anyway. There is hope only for the living. As they say, “It’s better to be a live dog than a dead lion!” – Ecclesiastes 9:3-4 NLT
For Solomon, death was an unknown. But life, in spite of its inherent problems and potential risks, was at least something over which you could have influence. This is what led him to share the proverbial statements found in the opening part of this chapter. He concludes that there are certain rewards that come as a result of living life.
Solomon was a horticulturalist who possessed many vineyards and orchards. As king, he had thousands of acres of farmland that produced abundant harvests used to feed his people and fill his treasury with gold when exported to other countries. And he acknowledges that if you “cast your bread upon the waters”, it will eventually come back to you. In other words, if you export your grain in ships and sell it to other nations, you will eventually reap a financial reward. Your diligence to plant and harvest will come back in the form of profit.
And when you make that profit, you should invest it wisely and diversely. In other words, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
for you know not what disaster may happen on earth. – Ecclesiastes 11:2 ESV
Diversification makes for a good investment strategy. You don’t want to have all your wealth in one place, because you never know what may happen. Disasters come. The market can drop like a rock. Be prudent. Invest wisely. And take advantage of the opportunities as they present themselves.
If the clouds are full of rain,
they empty themselves on the earth… – Ecclesiastes 11:3 ESV
In other words, learn to read the signs. Plant in a timely fashion. If you misread the clouds, you may fail to plant before the rains come. If you procrastinate, you’ll miss the window of opportunity. Once again, Solomon is encouraging prudence and wisdom. You may not be able to control the future, but you can take advantage of the present situation. Plant before the rain, not after it. And don’t let the threat of storms keep you from doing what you know needs to be done. Conditions will rarely be perfect in this life. There will be few times when the stars align and the circumstances turn out just as you had hoped. So don’t delay. Yet, some of us seem to live by the tongue-in-cheek advice of Mark Twain: “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.”
Solomon would strongly disagree with Mr. Twain, instead sharing the insight he gained from years of living and working on this planet.
Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest. – Ecclesiastes 11:4 NLT
If you fail to take advantage of the moment, it may just pass you by. This is what he seems to be inferring when he writes, “if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie” (Ecclesiastes 11:3 ESV). Once the tree has fallen, you can’t plant it back in the ground. Once the rain has fallen, it makes no sense to plant. If you wait for everything to be just right, you’ll never accomplish anything.
Life is full of mysteries and inexplicable situations, and there are certain things we may never fully comprehend.
Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things. – Ecclesiastes 11:5 NLT
Even with all the advancements in science, we still don’t know exactly how a baby forms in the womb of its mother. We can watch the progress through the use of sonograms, but we can’t see or explain how God has ordained the process of birth, from the moment of conception all the way to delivery. Even with all our technology and scientific know-how, much of it remains hidden from us.
Solomon was wise enough to know that he would never understand the ways of God. There are things that happen in life which only God can explain, and He is not obligated to share all that He knows with us. He often leaves us in the dark, wrestling with our questions and struggling to understand His ways.
The bottom line for Solomon was to work wisely and diligently. Start sowing your seed in the morning and don’t stop until the sun goes down. Do what you can do and then leave the rest up to God. You don’t know the results your efforts will produce but rather than worry about it, do what you can to impact that outcome positively. Work hard. Be diligent. Act wisely. Use common sense. Don’t procrastinate. In some sense, Solomon is promoting the idea behind the old adage, “make hay while the sun shines.” None of us knows how long we have to live on this earth, but God does. And since He chooses not to divulge the length of our days, we should do all that we can to make the most of every moment. Moses put it this way: “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom” (Psalm 90:12 NLT).
Solomon’s own father, David, also understood that man’s lifespan was relatively short when compared with eternity. So, he asked God to never let him forget the fleeting nature of his own existence.
Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.
Remind me that my days are numbered—
how fleeting my life is.
You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
at best, each of us is but a breath. – Psalm 39:4-5 NLT
Death is an inevitable reality for all of us. David ultimately died. So did Solomon. And so will you. You can attempt to prolong your life but God already knows your expiration date. Solomon would recommend that you spend more time enjoying the life you have, rather than futilely chasing after unfulfilled dreams and desires. Find joy in today, rather than wasting time pursuing a tomorrow that may never come. Solomon is not dismissing the idea of setting goals for the future. He is not discounting the need for planning or demonizing the pursuit of unrealized dreams. He is simply reminding us that the present is all we have. We can’t change the past and we can’t know the future, so we should live with a sense of immediacy.
And even more importantly, for those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ, we have no need to worry about the future, because it has already been taken care of for us. Our future is secure. Our eternity is set. So, we are free to live our lives free from anxiety, focusing our efforts on doing the work for which God has created us.
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. – Ephesians 2:10 NLT
Solomon had an inordinate fear of the future. He let the uncertainty of death rob him of peace. He found himself forced to find all his joy and satisfaction in this life, using the limited resources at his disposal. Occasionally, he caught glimpses of the blessings of God in the form of a loving relationship or the fruit of his labor. He was able to enjoy a good meal with a close friend, or a deep sleep after a hard day’s labor. But he lived with an unhealthy fear of the unknown. He had lived his whole life pursuing more, but the one thing he really needed was confidence in God’s sovereign control over all things, including the past, the present, and the future. What Solomon really needed was faith.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.