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Ecclesiastes 11


Cast Your Bread on the Waters The Value of Diligence Sayings About the Future and Its Uncertainty What A Wise Person Does Wisdom and Folly
11:1-6 11:1-8
11:1-2 11:1-6
  (3-4)   11:3-6  
  (5-6) (5)    
  Old Age
11:7-10 (7-8) 11:7 11:7-8 11:7-8
  Seek God in Early Life
11:8 Advice to Young People
  11:9-10 11:9 11:9 11:9-10
    11:10 11:10  

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentarywhich means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. Notice that several translations think the last literary unit (i.e., before several brief concluding statements) begins in chapter 11.

1. 11:9-12:8 (NKJV, TEV) 

2. 11:7-12:8-9 (NRSV, NJB)


B. There are several commands in this chapter:

1. "cast," Eccl. 11:1, BDB 1018; KB 1511, Piel imperative

2. "divide," Eccl. 11:2, BDB 678, KB 733, Qal imperative

3. "sow," Eccl. 11:6, BDB 281, KB 282, Qal imperative

4. "be idle" (lit. "rest"), Eccl. 11:6, BDB 628, KB 679, Hiphil jussive

5. "let him rejoice," Eccl. 11:8, BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal imperfect but used in a jussive sense

6. "let him remember," Eccl. 11:8, BDB 269, KB 269, Qal imperfect but used in a jussive sense

7. "rejoice," v, 9, BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal imperative

8. "let your heart be pleasant" (lit. "do good"), Eccl. 11:9, BDB 405, KB 408, Hiphil imperfect used in a jussive sense

9. "follow" (lit. "walk"), Eccl. 11:9, BDB 229, KB 246, Piel imperative

10. "know," Eccl. 11:9, BDB 393, KB 390, Qal imperative

11. "remove," Eccl. 11:10, BDB 693, KB 747, Hiphil imperative

12. "put away," Eccl. 11:10, BDB 716, KB 778, Hiphil imperative

13. "remember," 12:1, BDB 269, KB 269, Qal imperative


C. This paragraph (or stanza depending on the genre, cf. NKJV, NJB), Eccl. 11:1-6, uses agriculture and rural imagery to communicate wisdom teachings.



 1Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days. 2Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth. 3If the clouds are full, they pour out rain upon the earth; and whether a tree falls toward the south or toward the north, wherever the tree falls, there it lies. 4He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap. 5Just as you do not know the path of the wind and how bones are formed in the womb of the pregnant woman, so you do not know the activity of God who makes all things.

11:1 This is a recurrent proverb in the Bible relating to one's generosity (rabbinical sources) and God's gracious response (cf. Deut. 15:10; Prov. 11:24; 19:17; 22:9; Matt. 10:42; 2 Cor. 9:8; Gal. 6:9; Heb. 6:10).

11:2 "Divide your portion to seven" This either refers to (1) diversifying your wealth (NET Bible #5, p. 1143) or (2) more probably in context, helping many people (cf. Matt. 5:42; Luke 6:30).


NRSV, NJB"disaster"
TEV"bad luck"

This is the term "evil" (BDB 949). See note at Eccl. 2:17 ("grievous"). It is coming! Act while you can (Eccl. 11:4,6). Give while you can (Eccl. 11:1-2). Enjoy while you can (Eccl. 11:7-8).

11:3 Humans experience, but cannot predict or control, the events of their lives (a recurrent theme in Ecclesiastes), but we can share our wealth in good times and when the dark days come, others will share with us.

11:4 At first, this verse of two parallel statements implies a warning against inactivity (i.e., referring to giving from Eccl. 11:1-2). However, I prefer the interpretation of the UBS Handbook For Translators, p. 398, which asserts that it is not inactivity (cf. TEV, REB), but timely activity, that is being advocated.

1. Farmers do not sow in a strong wind.

2. Farmers wait until the wind direction denotes rain, not hot desert winds.

3. Farmers sow during rainy periods, but reap during rainless periods.

When one is happy and successful, then give to others. If you wait the dark days may come when you cannot give.


NJB, LXX"wind"
NRSV, JPSOA"breath"

Some translations take "wind" (BDB 924) as "spirit" or "breath," thereby connecting the two lines and relating them both to prenatal activity (cf. KJV, NRSV, TEV, REB, JPSOA, NAB). The interpretive question is, "Is there one illustration of mankind's inability to know, or are there two illustrations in Eccl. 11:5?"

The big issue is that in some areas (i.e., planting and harvesting times) humans can learn by observation and tradition, but in other areas (mysteries of nature and mysteries of God's activities) humans cannot know. Wisdom, though good, helpful, and desirable, cannot solve all of life's unknowns!

"how bones are formed in the womb" See one view expressed in Ps. 139:13-16.

"so you do not know the activity of God" This has been a common theme (cf. Eccl. 1:13; 3:10,11; 8:17). God and His works and ways cannot be completely known by fallen mankind, but we can trust Him because of what we do know!

NASB"all things"
NKJV"all things"
NRSV, TEV"everything"

This is an idiom for the entire creation (cf. Ps. 103:19; 119:91; Jer. 10:16).

NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 730, lists several other phrases that are used to designate the entire creation:

1. heaven and earth (e.g., Gen. 1:1; Ps. 115:15; 121:2; Prov. 3:19-20

2. "the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them" (e.g., Ps. 24:1-2; 50:12; 89:11; Jer. 51:48; 1 Cor. 10:26

3. in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth (e.g., Exod. 20:4; Ps. 135:6)


11:6 "sow" Sow (used metaphorically of giving) with confidence and leave the results to God (cf. 2 Cor. 9:6). Verses 5 and 6 are connected by the word "know" (BDB 393, KB 390, Qal active participle).

"succeed" This Hebrew verb (BDB 506, KB 503, Qal imperfect) is found only here and in Eccl. 10:10 (Hiphil infinitive construct). The noun is found only in Ecclesiastes as well (cf. Eccl. 2:21; 4:4; 5:10), meaning "skill," "success," or "profit." Success is uncertain. It may come (i.e., Eccl. 11:7-8) and it may not (i.e., Eccl. 11:8b). When it does, act (i.e., share).

 6Sow your seed in the morning and do not be idle in the evening, for you do not know whether morning or evening sowing will succeed, or whether both of them alike will be good.

 7The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun. 8Indeed, if a man should live many years, let him rejoice in them all, and let him remember the days of darkness, for they will be many. Everything that is to come will be futility.

11:7 "light is pleasant" This is metaphorical for the enjoyment of life (cf. Eccl. 2:24-26; 3:12,13,22; 5:18; 8:15).

11:8 This verse seems to relate to Eccl. 11:1-6. Share your wealth and influence while you can because dark days come into every life, and in those days others will share with you.

Live life fully every day. One does not know how many of them will be good and bright!

 9Rejoice, young man, during your childhood, and let your heart be pleasant during the days of young manhood. And follow the impulses of your heart and the desires of your eyes. Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things. 10So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.

11:9 At this point in the context, Qoheleth begins to talk about the different opportunities and problems that regularly occur during the different stages of life (11:9-12:7).

1. childhood

2. youth

3. young adult

4. old age


▣ "follow the impulses of your heart" This advice does not refer to evil, but to the natural human instincts of young people:

1. be with friends

2. enjoy life at social events

3. desire a family and children

4. find one's vocation


▣ "Yet know that God will bring you to judgment" We are responsible for our acts (cf. Eccl. 3:17; 12:1; 14; Matthew 25-26; Rom. 2:16; 14:10; 2 Cor. 5:10; Gal. 6:7; Revelation 20)!



This term (noun, BDB 495, verb, BDB 494) has several possible connotations:

1. anger of men, 7:9

2. anger of God

3. grief, 1:18; 2:23; 5:16

4. sorrow, 7:3

This verse could fit with #3 or #4. Life is hard; enjoy it when, where and while you can!

▣ "the prime of life" This is possibly related to the concept, "days of black hair" (BDB 1007), which is the same basic root as "dawn" (BDB 1007). Youth, as all things, will pass away (lit. "vanity," BDB 210 I, in the sense of fleeting or meaningless).

NKJV, NRSV"vanity"

This is the term "breath" (BDB 210 I), used in the sense of "fleeting" (cf. Eccl. 6:12; 7:15; 9:9; Job 7:16; Ps. 39:5,11; 62:9; 78:33; 144:4).


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