Ecclesiastes 11:1-10

I wish that I had thought up the title, but I did not. It was the title to a book by the late Francis Schaeffer, "How Should We Then Live?" But the question itself is not unique to Dr. Schaeffer. It is a question that all Christians ought to ask. And it is a question to which we are brought by the Preacher.

Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, we have been treated to a sober and realistic view of life as it exists "under the sun." It is not a pretty picture. You are born and you struggle through life and then you die. The years that pass by can never be reclaimed. And that realization should motivate us to live purposefully, making our lives count.



Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days. 2 Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth. (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2).

We have come to use this phrase about casting bread upon the waters without thinking much of its meaning. Casting bread upon the waters meant either throwing it into a river or into the ocean. In either case, that is a good way to lose a loaf of bread. It does not seem to be the better part of wisdom. And yet, the Preacher who gave us the Proverbs and who exhorted us to walk in the way of wisdom tells us to throw our bread in a location where it will be swept away. What does this mean? I believe it to be a reference to attempting a venture.

1. Casting Your Bread upon the Waters Appears Wasteful.

After all, that bread could better be used elsewhere. Waterlogged bread isn't good for anything. Bread is made to be eaten, not thrown away. Human wisdom would lead you to believe that bread thrown upon the waters is bread wasted.

2. Casting Your Bread upon the Waters is Risky.

The Jews were not a seafaring people. Nearly every time you read of Jews getting into a boat, it results in a navigational hazard.

Anything that you did with waters that did not involve either drinking or washing was by its very nature dangerous. The word "cast" is the pi'el imperative of a word meaning "to send." The picture is perhaps not merely of throwing bread on the water or even of setting it adrift, but rather of sending it out in ships of trade. Such an undertaking was considered to be a risky venture to the Jews. The ship could sink. It could be captured by pirates. It's cargo could rot in the sea air. A thousand things could go wrong.

Here is the principle. When you cast bread on the waters, you are taking a risk. There are no guarantees that you will get anything back. You are taking a chance that there will be no return.

Most of us are not real risk-takers. We like the "sure thing." But the Christian life is one of risk. It is one in which you give up your own life to live Christ's life. It is one in which you subordinate your own desires to fulfill the desires of another. And that involves the greatest risk of all.

3. Casting Your Bread upon the Waters means that you do without for a time.

If you have cast your bread on the waters, then that is one loaf of bread that you no longer have. Americans are not used to doing without. We long ago lost sight of our needs in the midst of our wants. We want what we want and we want it right now. But such an attitude is not Biblical. Jesus said, "He who wishes to save his life must be willing to lose it." The way to save is to lose. The way to get is to give. And the way to enjoy a return is to let go for a time.

4. Casting Your Bread upon the Waters brings Eventual Gain.

The reason that you ought to step out on such an undertaking is because it brings eventual reward. On the one hand, this could merely be a reference to the fact that taking great risks sometimes allows for the receiving of great rewards. We have a similar saying - "Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

While I do not believe that the primary emphasis of this passage deals with generosity, it IS a practical application of the truth of the passage. One of the ventures which the Christian is called to undertake is that of GENEROSITY. Jesus taught that generosity brings eventual gain.

"Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.'"

"Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?'

"The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.' (Matthew 25:34-40).

The scene is the Second Coming. Notice what is the determining factor in this judgment. It is what you GAVE. Jesus says, "When you give, it is as though you are doing it to Me."

The unbelievers are quick to protest, "Lord, if we had known it was You, we would have acted differently. We would have visited You; we would have clothed You; we would have baked You a cake." And Jesus answers, "That's the whole point. If you had known it was Me, then your actions would have been selfish in nature."

A man died and went to heaven. When he arrived there, he found an angel with a clipboard who said, "Before you are allowed to enter heaven, I must ask you whether you have ever committed a totally self-sacrificial deed?" The man replied, "As a matter of fact, I was walking down the street and saw this big burly biker mugging a little old lady. I ran to him and I punched him in the nose and then picked up the old lady to her feet and told her to run away and then I kicked the mugger in the stomach." The angel was visibly impressed and asked, "Wow! When did this take place?" The man replied, "Oh, about 5 minutes ago."

If Jesus were being mugged, would you help Him? If He were hungry, would you feed Him? If He were thirsty, would you give Him something to drink? If He came to your doorstep, would you invite Him in? Jesus says, "You do it, because that is Me."

5. The Return on Water-Cast Bread does not come Immediately.

You do not see soon results on this kind of investment. And that is okay. God is building for eternity. And it takes many days. The Bible teaches that you reap what you sow. But you do not reap in the same season as when you sow. You do not put a seed into the ground and then pick the fruit the next day. Reaping takes place in a different season than sowing. Investments take time to produce significant rewards.

The second verse is similar to the first. But there is a slightly different emphasis.

Verse 1

Verse 2

Cast your bread on the surface of the waters...

Give your portion to seven, or even to eight...

Take a risk...

Diversify that risk...

For you will find it after many days.

For you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Don't put all of your eggs in one basket.

Do you remember the story of Jacob? He is on his way back to Israel after having been away for 21 years. He receives the news that his brother Esau is coming to meet him - that is good. But his brother is bringing with him a band of 400 horsemen - that is bad. He does not know if his brother will be peaceful or vengeful. So Jacob seeks to act wisely. He diversifies. He prepares of possible misfortune. He divides his caravan and his family into two parts, reasoning that if one group is attacked, the other has a chance to escape. Risk is good, but foolish risk is - foolish.



If 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.

He who watches the wind will not sow and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.

Just 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.

Sow 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. (Ecclesiastes 11:3-6).

Verses 3-5 give observations concerning the way things are. Verse 6 gives the practical application - the "so what" of the passage.

Verse 3

Verse 4

Verse 5

Verse 6

Falling rain and a falling tree are things that happen "by chance."

Watching the sky results in inaction.

You don't know the way of...
- The wind
- Life in the womb
- The Lord

Sow your seed both in the morning and in the evening.

Things happen in nature over which you have no control.

Being overcareful means never venturing anything.

There are things that happen about which you have insufficient knowledge.

Do what you can in covering all the bases.

Can you picture the plight of the over-careful farmer? He goes out to sow his seed, but he looks up at the clouds and thinks, "It might rain today and if it does, then it might not be the best day for sowing seed because it would then be washed away." And so, the seed stays in the barn. The same thing happens the next day. He waits for a perfect set of events that never come. The Preacher exhorts us not to be like that farmer.

It is true that the rains MIGHT come and the seed MIGHT be washed away. Today's work might be ruined and I might have to do it over again tomorrow. But that is okay. Today's work might succeed as well as tomorrow's And if so, then I will be able to reap the rewards for both.

Verse 2

Verse 6

Exhortation to diversify efforts so that the failure of one does not result in the failure of all.

Exhortation to be diligent as all of the diversified efforts might lead to success.

Here is the point. Risk does not have to result in immobilization. It should instead result in redoubled efforts. It is true that we should work smarter and not just harder. But there are also times when we ought to work harder.

Nothing comes without effort. That is true in the natural realm and it is also true in the spiritual realm. Even your salvation took effort - it took the strong arm of the Lord.



The light is pleasant, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun. 8 Indeed, 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. (Ecclesiastes 11:7-8).

Life is good. It is a gift of God. And it is to be treasured. And the beauty of light is all the more pleasant when it is recognized that darkness eventually comes.

Even if a man lives many years, the days of darkness will also be over a course of many years. You live and then you die and the days in which you will be dead far outnumber the days which you will live. The emptiness of death comes to all men. So live while you are alive.

In Ecclesiastes 3 we read that there is an appointed time for everything and a time for every event under the sun. This includes each of the seasons of life. The morning. The noon. And the twilight of life. We are called to treasure all of the seasons of life. Here is the principle. Life is meant to be enjoyed, not merely endured.

"There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second." (Author unknown).

That sounds good and even has a measure of truth, but it contains a subtle trap. It is the trap of thinking that you must obtain certain THINGS or achieve certain GOALS before you can begin enjoying life.

I tend to be like that. I remember one particular vacation where we were going to spend several weeks in the mountains of North Carolina. We drove north along the coast, going through Savannah and Charleston over a couple of days. By the third day, we still had not gotten to the mountains and I found myself not having much fun. It was as though I had a goal - "Get to the mountains" - and couldn't bring myself to relax until I had achieved the goal. I like to think that I am better than I used to be. And I'm learning to enjoy the journey. But this applies to more than just vacations. It also applies to LIFE.

The Westminster Catechism asks the question, "What is the chief end of man." The answer is, "To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." We are called to enjoy the life which God has given and to enjoy the God who has given it. I am rather fond of the twist that John Piper has put on this by saying we are "to glorify God by enjoying Him forever."



Rejoice, 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. 10 So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting. (Ecclesiastes 11:9-10).

You are only young once. Enjoy it while you can! This is a call to the optimism of youth. Time enough to be pessimistic in the grave. There are a series of parallel injunctions:

Rejoice, young man...

During your childhood


Let your heart be pleasant...

During the days of young manhood

The parallel continues:

And follow...

the impulses of your heart


the desires of your eyes

This is a call to follow your dreams. What is it that you want to accomplish in life? Do it NOW while you are still young!

I love the part that Robin Williams plays in the movie, "Dead Poets Society." He is a teacher of poetry for an old, established all-boys school. On the first day of class, he takes his students downstairs to a hall filled with old photos of past classes. Some of those photographs are 50 and 75 years old. Most of those in the photos have lived and died.

They are nothing but worm food and daisy fertilizer. The pictures portray them in their youth and vitality, but that was in the past and now they are dead. And as they gaze on these long-forgotten portraits of youth, they hear the whisper of the Preacher. Carpe Diem - "Seize the Day!" Life is short. All too soon, they will be nothing more than a faded photograph on a wall. So seize the day - make each day count. Live purposefully. Meaningfully. Do great things while there is time for greatness. And yet, there is a warning. This warning serves as a balance.

Yet know that God will bring you to judgment for all these things (10:9). In your quest to live your life meaningfully, do not forget that it is God who sets the standard for what is truly meaningful.

In verse 10 is a third injunction. As in the previous two cases, the injunction is given, followed by its rationale.

Verse 8

Verse 9

Verse 10

Enjoy Life while you Live

Follow the pursuits of Youth

Remove anger from your heart and pain from your body

Darkness is coming

You will be judged

Youth is fleeting

So, remove anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting (11:10). Life is too short to harbor anger. As to pain, put it aside while you can. There will be plenty of time to hurt when you are older.

The reference to "pain from your body" can refer either to a physical evil (pain) or to moral evil. The context seems to favor the former as a part of a contrasting parallel.

Anger from your Heart (Emotional)

Is compared with...

Pain from your Body (Physical)

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