The Preacher, now drawing, nigh to the close of his sermon; is here laying down certain rules for the regulation of the conduct, which under grace, may tend to lessen human vanity, and soften the evils of life.
Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. (2) Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
The opening of this Chapter, in the precept given, seems to be figurative. Casting bread upon the waters, is perhaps intended to imply an act of grace, or of charity, given in a way, as our Lord hath marked, so secret that the left hand knoweth not what the right hand doeth: Matthew 6:3. Like seed sown in the field, it lays hid for awhile. Its product is in future, not now. Preachers of the gospel of Christ, may find great beauty, as well as great encouragement, in these precepts blended with promises. How often, indeed, after many days and years do they find the fruit of their labours. Precious Jesus! how blessed is it to have an eye to thee in all things - to make thy glory our sole aim - and thy salvation of sinners the one design of all our poor services!
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. (4) He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. (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. (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.
Nothing can be more beautiful than these verses; and both in a natural and spiritual sense, they open a large scope for the most improving meditation. The chief tendency of the whole passage, however, is to teach the inability of man in his highest attainments, to cater for himself; and how much the wisest ought to look up in every concern, both of this world, and of that which is to come, for divine direction. Under the similitude of the husbandman's unconsciousness, whether the morning seed, or the evening seed, be most prosperous, the attention to winds or clouds, for the regulation of his conduct and the like, the Preacher most strikingly sets forth the blessedness of waiting upon the Lord for direction. If the farmer sows his seed in ever so promising a soil, yet unless the dew and the rain from heaven, and the sun's heat, and cloud's fatness, be graciously dispensed in their season, there will be no harvest. Reader! can you need a more striking subject of instruction, respecting the spiritual seed of the gospel? is it not the Lord that gives us fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness? Is not Jesus the bread of life to his people? And is he not the Father's gift to his people? And as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, is it not Jesus that by his coming from heaven, hath visited the earth, and blessed it, and made it very plenteous? It is true, indeed, that the kingdom of God cometh not by observation. And so the Lord Jesus himself observes in that beautiful parable, Mark 4:26-29 - But this is similar to what the wise man here said in this chapter. We know not even in natural things, how the bones of the child grow in the womb: and is it wonderful that in spiritual things, the seed of grace cast into the heart, should spring we know not how? But is it not blessed to refer all, and to depend for all, and seek a blessing for all, from Him who is excellent in counsel, and faithful in his promises? Isaiah 55:10-11; Deuteronomy 32:2; Acts 14:17. Perhaps there is not a portion in the whole Bible more pointed, to set forth the nothingness of man, and the necessity of referring all things to the divine agency, than these verses of Solomon.
Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun: (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.
If to the eye of the body, as most evidently it is, this truth holds good, what must it be to the eye of the soul? Oh! thou Sun of righteousness, what blessedness is there in thee who art the fountain, and source of all light, and life, and joy, in thy church, to angels and men! Let what will of clouds and darkness intervene below, thou shinest with unceasing, undiminished lustre; neither can sin, nor sorrow, nor all the unworthiness of creatures, induce a momentary darkness in thy sphere! Shine, blessed Lord; in my heart, in a fulness of grace here, until that day when the moon shall be confounded, and the sun of this lower world ashamed, when thou shalt shine and reign as the Lord of Hosts in Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem above, before thine ancients gloriously, Isaiah 24:23.
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. (10) Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.
Some have thought that the Preacher, in these verses, is adopting an ironical language to the younger part of his audience, by way of deterring them from evil; as if he had said, Pursue the ways of thine own heart, and the desire of thine eyes, and then mark the consequence. And they that adopt this opinion of Solomon's irony, suppose that it is similar to the case of Elijah, mocking the priests of Baal. 1 Kings 18:27, or Micaiah Ahab, 1 Kings 22:15, or the Prophet Isaiah 50:11. But I confess that the scripture doth not strike me in this point of view. Solomon's address all along is too serious to admit any trifling. And it should be observed, that in all the pages, where mockery is used by the servants of the Lord, it is invariably to the enemies of God, and not to the church. This book of Ecclesiastes is one continued sermon to the church. Solomon is now closing up his discourse on the subject of all things out of Christ being vanity. In addressing the young man, therefore, on the subject, he admonisheth him to dedicate the first strength of his youth, and the prime of his days to the Lord; that in the after stages of life, he may find cause of joy in that Lord, whom he had loved in his strength. Solomon had before declared; that there could be no real joy in any creature-comfort, and therefore he advised the young man to put away evil from him. And, if we accept the words of Solomon in this gracious point of view, the whole passage is beautiful and corresponding to the general tenor of the gospel. How lovely on this account is Timothy's example, who from a child had known the Holy Scriptures, and whose faith the Apostle so delightfully commends. 2Ti 3:15. and 1 Chap. 5.
MY soul! pause over the perusal of this very interesting Chapter. And while thou art studious to obey the wise man's precept, and to cast thy bread upon the waters, let thine eye, like the prophet's upon the watch tower, be upon the lookout for the Lord's direction, and the Lord's blessing upon thy labors. But, my soul, what are the portions which thou canst give to seven, or to eight! Alas! what hast thou which thou didst not receive? Surely it is all the Lord's, and of his own must thou give him. Oh! how blessed to be the Lord's almoner, when the Lord condescends thus to employ his creatures.
And, my soul! while like the husbandman in the morning, thou sowest thy seed, and in the evening withholdest not thine hand; look to it, that the seed sown is pure and uncorrupt, and that he that ministereth seed to the sower, may both minister bread for thine own food, and multiply the seed sown, and increase the fruits of righteousness. Blessed Jesus! thou art the Almighty Sower, that hath both produced, and sown the good seed in every age of thy Church. Oh! do thou thyself dwell in the hearts of thy people. Let no tares spring up to choak the good seed. But do thou water it with the dew of heaven from above, and let the sunshine with all its loveliness and fruitfulness upon it, that it may bring forth a glorious harvest, some an hundred fold, some sixtyfold, some thirty-fold.
My aged fathers! do not forget what the wise man here saith: If a man live many years, and rejoice in them all, yet let him remember the days of darkness, for they shall be many. Oh! for grace, when walking upon the confines of the eternal shore, to have done with this world, and all its dying concerns. Oh! for grace to see, like the Patriarch, the evil days of our pilgrimage, and like him to be waiting for dismission, from all the objects around, that the hoary saint may gather up his feet into the bed, and from long acquaintance with a covenant God in Christ, as he had, the dying triumph may be, I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord! And you no less, young men! see that your rejoicing is in Jesus. Oh! for grace to give the strength of your days to Christ, that in the weakness of years, Jesus may be the support; and when both heart and strength shall fail, Jesus may be the strength of your heart and your portion forever. Amen.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on Ecclesiastes 11". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30