For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4


Ecclesiastes 11

A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2004 James Melough

11:1.  “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.”


Clearly the language is metaphoric, for literal bread cast upon literal water will simply result in the loss of the bread which will absorb the water and sink.  But bread is one of the scriptural symbols of the written Word; and waters represent earth’s human masses, as it is written, “The wicked (unconverted) are like the troubled sea ...” Isaiah 57:20, so that the exhortation is to believers to spread the Gospel at every opportunity, and by every possible means, the expiration of the “many days” being the Bema, the judgment seat of Christ, where every one will receive an eternal reward commensurate with his faithfulness in spreading the Gospel.


11:2.  “Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.”


Seven is the scriptural number of perfection or completeness; and eight, of a new beginning.  The command therefore to “give a portion to seven, and also to eight” translates into the fact that the seven represents all those to whom the Gospel is presented by believers, while eight represents those of the hearers who will believe and be saved.  We can’t fortell the future.  We know not what calamities are yet to engulf the world, nor do we need to know: our business is to spread the Gospel.


Our lack of knowledge relative to the evil that shall be on the earth must be understood in context.  Everyone who reads the Bible knows that the earth is to be devastated by terrible wars, famine, anarchy, disease, etc., in the impending Great Tribulation.  What we don’t know is the precise nature of those coming judgments.


The giving of a portion to seven and also to eight is understood by some to be an exhortation from the worldly wise to diversify one’s investments, so that even if one or two should fail all will not be lost.


11:3.  “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.”


Just as surely as rain-laden clouds will drop water on the earth, so will a sinful life result in eternal judgment, unless the offender trusts in Christ as his Savior.


Beyond the literal language lies deeper spiritual truth.  No one can read the Bible and observe world conditions today, without being aware that the thunderheads of the foretold terrible  Tribulation judgments are piling up, ready to break and wreak havoc world wide.  And since trees are used scripturally as symbols of humanity, the falling trees in the present context represent those who will die during that awful era of judgmental destruction, the south being the biblical direction associated with faith; and the north, with mere human intelligence working in opposition to God.  The statement therefore is crystal clear: the trees falling towards the south are believers: those falling to the north are unbelievers.  Believers will dwell in eternal bliss in heaven; unbelievers, in eternal torment, first in hell, and ultimately in the lake of fire.


The fact that the tree lies where it falls is the symbolic announcement of the fact that death ends for ever any opportunity for a man to change his eternal state.


11:4.  “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.”


A wise farmer will not sow when there are turbulent winds, because the seed will be blown away; nor will he reap when thunderclouds presage rain, because the cut grain will be likely to rot or mildew.  It seems that this translates into instruction not to preach the Gospel where spiritual conditions are analogous to those mentioned here, and as directed in Mt 7:6, “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine....”


It may however, also be taken to mean that we are to sow the good seed of the Gospel no matter how unpropitious conditions may seem, see verse 6.


Taken literally, the message is that it is foolish to wait for just the right moment to do things, for the right moment seldom comes, with the result that nothing is accomplished.  It is better to “take a chance” in the hope that it will work out successfully.


11:5.  “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.”


The wind is a biblical synonymn for the Spirit, see, e.g., John 3:8, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”  See also Acts 2:1-4.  Man does not know how the Holy Spirit operates; nor does he know how a fetus develops in the womb.  These are just two examples of God’s workings which are beyond the ability of human minds to understand.


11:6.  “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.”


The spiritual instruction here transcends the literal.  As the diligent farmer will begin sowing early in the morning, and continue until evening, so are we to be equally industrious in sowing the good seed of the Gospel.  We are to seize every opportunity, being content to leave the results with God, knowing that He will hold us responsible only for the sowing, not for the results.  They are His business, not ours.


11:7.  “Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun:”


11:8.  “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.”


Sunlight is more desirable than darkness, but when enjoying the light, man should remember that just as day is succeeded by night, so for the unbeliever will the brief day of earthly life give place to an eternal night of torment in the lake of fire, that unending night being described in Jude 13 as “... the blackness of darkness for ever.”  The unbeliever’s future is an eternity of torment to be endured in an endless waste of empty darkness.


11:9.  “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.”


This is what God permits: not what He directs.  The unbelieving young man in the vigor of youth, follows the impulses of his own unconverted mind and heart in the pursuit of pleasure, never giving a thought to the fact that ultimately he will have to stand before God Who will judge his every thought, word, and deed, and banish him into eternal torment in the lake of fire because he neglected or deliberately rejected the pardon made available to him through the vicarious death of the Lord Jesus Christ.  How many a young person has been suddenly cut off in the midst of earthly pleasure, death plunging him instantly into eternal torment!


11:10.  “Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.”


“... sorrow” is also translated “resentment, anger, vexation, grief,” these things being invariably concomitant with sorrow; while evil in the present context means harm, trouble, mischief, wickedness, wrong.  The heart as used here refers to the intellect; while flesh refers to the body.  Both are to be kept pure for the Lord’s service.


In the case of the unconverted, childhood and youth are devoid of worth because for the most part they are spent in worthless activity, mentally and physically.

[Ecclesiastes 12]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough