11:1 Cast your bread upon the waters [Wiersbe paraphrase: “Send out your grain in ships.”], for after many days you will find it again.
Solomon, who amassed great wealth during his lifetime, offered advice on investments. The expression send or cast your bread on the surface of the waters refers to taking calculated risks in business. Some have paraphrased this expression, “Send out your grain in ships.” Solomon certainly followed his own advice by engaging in overseas trade. His fleet of ships (see 1 Kings 9:26-28; 10:22) sailed the sea and returned with “the treasure of kings and provinces” (see Ecc. 2:8).
Sending ships out for indefinite periods of time involved faith and patience. Some ships never returned because they were lost due to weather, reefs, or pirates. And, the grain in the cargo holds was vulnerable to insects. However, the payoff came after many days when a ship did return to its port with cargo that enriched its owner.
11:2 Give portions to seven, yes to eight [advise to not put all your eggs in one basket but to spread out your wealth in different ventures; send out cargo on several ships], for you do not know [a reminder that man is ignorant of the future and therefore should exercise caution in planning] what disaster may come upon the land.
Solomon expanded on the thought of the previous verse. Instead of sending out only one ship or investing in only one venture, Solomon advised giving a portion to seven or even to eight. In other words, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket!” Because we don’t know what disaster may happen on earth, it is better to send out cargo on different ships or to diversify our investments.
The fact that we do not know what may happen later today or tomorrow should motivate us to have a varied portfolio. In the event of unforeseen troubles, the individual with a varied and balanced portfolio is more likely to experience some return on investments.
11:3 If clouds [clouds come and go] are full of water, they pour rain upon the earth. Whether a tree [tress are anchored to the ground and somewhat permanent] falls to the south or to the north, in the place where it falls, there will it lie.
11:4 [don’t put things off lest it become to late to do them at all] Whoever watches the wind will not plant [don’t wait until circumstances are ideal to sow]; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap [don’t wait until circumstances are ideal to reap].
I enjoy reading historical accounts of great adventurers and explorers—individuals who dreamed of achievement and then courageously acted to realize their dreams. Not all of these individuals met with success. Some lost their lives in pursuit of their dreams. However, all of these individuals share a common trait—they did not allow the fear that something might go wrong as an excuse for inactivity. They launched into their respective adventures without guarantees or certainties that all would go well.
Solomon said that we should not allow the uncertainties of life to immobilize us or keep us from doing what we need to do. A farmer, for example, cannot wait until circumstances are ideal to sow or to reap. A farmer cannot spend all of his time watching the wind and looking at the clouds until conditions are absolutely favorable. In the same way we should not put things off lest it become too late to do them at all. Unless we make a commitment to act, many opportunities will pass us by and never return.
Note: “My experience is that unless you make a commitment opportunities pass by. Life seemed full of people who talked about achievement yet never did anything more adventurous than watch television.” • William Lindesay, “Alone on the Great Wall”
11:5 As you do not know the path of the wind [cf. Jn. 3:8], or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb [cf. Ps. 139:14-15], so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.
There are many things we don’t know, such as the path of the wind or the mystery of birth. Despite all of our advances in the study of weather, no one can track the exact course of the wind with total accuracy. And, despite all of our advances in medical science, no one knows exactly how the breath of life enters the fetus in the womb or can predict with absolute certainty what a particular child will look like.
God’s works and ways are beyond the scope of our comprehension. In business as in pregnancy, we can only leave the outcome to God. We should not sit and wait for a guarantee of success before launching an enterprise. There is certainly danger in acting impulsively, but there is also danger in being passive. Many opportunities are missed by those too timid to risk or to act.
11:6 [use each day wisely] Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle [redeem the time (cf. Eph. 5:15-17)], for you do not know which [a farmer plants more than one crop to insure that one if not all will succeed] will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.
We should use each day wisely, making the most of every moment (see Eph. 5:15-17). Like a hard-working farmer, we should sow our seed throughout each day—in the morning and in the evening. And, like the merchant who sends out more than one ship (Ecc. 11:1), we should plant more than one crop because we do not know whether one or both will succeed.
Solomon was not advocating workaholism, but rather working wisely and responsibly in the hope of increasing the likelihood of success. The best way to avoid looking back on life and seeing it as a series of missed opportunities is to always give our best effort. Regardless of the uncertainties inherent in most enterprises, we are to act responsibly before God, trusting Him to accomplish through us what He purposes.
Note: Dealing with life’s uncertainties:
No one is exempt from life’s uncertainties. Disappointments, defeats, and disasters are no respecters of persons. Each of us must learn to live responsibly before God regardless of life’s uncertainties. Here are a few things to keep in mind the next time you get knocked to the ground or are afraid to act because of disastrous reverses.
• Uncertainties will come. Be prepared!
• Life is not fair. Accept it!
• You will get knocked down. Deal with it!
• You can get back up. Do it!
• You must not give up. Dust yourself off!
• Get back to work. Move on!
11:7 Light is sweet, and it pleases the eyes to see the sun [learn to enjoy and to thank God for each new day].
11:8 However many years a man may live, let him enjoy them all. But let him remember the days of darkness [old age and death], for they will be many. Everything to come is meaningless.
11:9 [make the most of your youth] Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth [not an encouragement to gratify every passion or lust but to enjoy the things that belong to youth that can never be experienced again]. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment [an indication that Solomon was not encouraging participation in sinful pleasures].
“Oh, to be young again!” is the lament of those who feel the aches, pains, and limitations of advancing age. Solomon, who understood the problems of old age, advised people to make the most of their youth. Rejoice, he urged, and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth. In other words, enjoy the simple pleasures of being young. Without question, the days of our youth are too few.
Time relentlessly pulls the young toward the years of increased responsibility and pressures—and ultimately to a place where they will never again experience the carefree days of their youth. So, Solomon said to the young, walk in the ways of your heart and in the sights of your eyes. This is not an endorsement to recklessly gratify sinful passions or impulses. Rather, it is a solemn reminder that life only offers a limited number of days in which to enjoy being young.
The young should live and temper their behavior with the understanding that God will bring them to judgment for what they do. God wants people to enjoy the blessings of this life within the boundaries of His revealed will. Although Solomon directed his words to those who are young, they have application to people of all ages.
11:10 So then, banish anxiety [needless worry; cf. Matt. 6:24-26] from your heart [cf. Prov. 12:25] and cast off the troubles [cf. 2 Cor. 7:1] of your body, for youth and vigor are meaningless [or transient].
Because the days of youth are so few, Solomon advised the young to remove sorrow from their hearts. Anxiety or needless sorrow or fear weigh the heart down (see Prov. 12:25). Many do not enjoy their youth the way in which God intended because their hearts are full of sorrow, sadness, and fear. Some of these become so depressed that they lose sight of all hope and choose take their own lives.
The rise of suicide among teens and young adults is alarming. And, for each person who successfully commits suicide, many others try and fail. Solomon also advised the young to put away pain from their bodies. This is an admonishment to avoid the destructive sins of the flesh and instead to cultivate healthy and holy habits. Those who embrace destructive habits in their youth lay a foundation for problems in their older years. We should instead live each day to the fullest, accepting both the challenges and opportunities each day brings, because youth and the prime of life are fleeting.