1 Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. 2 Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth. 3 If the clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth, and if a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie. 4 He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. 5 As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything. 6 In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good. 7 Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. 8 So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity. 9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. 10 Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity.
A few thoughts for meditation:
1) We saw previously how God uses disasters to call us to repentance and to test our faith. The next biblical response to disaster is perhaps more practical; simply trust God and keep moving forward. Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon to explore the vanity of life in a fallen world. He explored all the major pursuits of mankind under the sun and realized all that truly matters is your relationship to God. That alone provides meaning, purpose, and hope in this broken world. Ch. 11 is part of his final conclusion. He is brutally honest about the many “days of darkness” we experience. The fear of such potential darkness can paralyze your initiative to work by leading you to despair, and rob you of the God-given joys of life. Solomon’s counsel is very practical. Some things are are beyond our control. Trees will fall. Storms will come. Our bodies will age and decay. Disasters will strike. But, we are called to be diligent and generous anyway, trusting God to work out his inscrutable ways through us and for us. He explained this hope with an apt illustration, how God secretly builds the child in the mother’s womb (vs. 5). Consider what we outwardly see in a pregnant woman, compared to what is actually going on inside the womb? We see only the swollen belly or the occasional kicks from the child within, but inside an intricate beautifully crafted human being is growing. Such are the secret ways of God in this fallen world. We see only the outer shell, but behind it all God is doing so much more in his plan of redemption.
2) It is in that hope and trust in the wisdom of God that Solomon tells us to live a productive life in a world full of many dark days and disasters. By trusting God, we find the balance between naive optimism and hopeless fatalism. Yes, life can be hard and dark at times. But there are joys too. Yes there are thorns but they often come with roses and blackberries. And behind it all is the secret plan of redemption for God’s people. In light of that hope we keep moving forward. He said, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.” What can seem more pointless than throwing your bread into a river? Yet, God promises that investment will actually come back to you. Its a picture of both diligence and generosity. You work hard to grow grain and make bread, you are generous with it to others, and God promises it will come back to you eventually, even if it seems vain at the time. And consider how much more joy generosity can bring into a dark world. Work hard and be generous. He continues, “He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.” Here Solomon confronted fear and despair. Work hard even if it seems pointless. It may not be the ideal time to plant crops, but an empty field won’t feed you either. Vs. 6, “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.” Often, after disaster strikes and our hard work is destroyed, it’s hard to start over. But we do not know what God will provide through the next day of labor. This hope is ultimately grounded and guaranteed by the resurrection of Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul explained the significance of Christ’s resurrection, and then encouraged them with the same wisdom Solomon had here, 1 Cor 15:58 “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Trust God and keep moving forward, and leave the rest to him. Your labors are not in vain. A day of resurrection is coming one day and all the labor it took to get there will be worth it.
3) There is more to meditate on in Ch. 11, but let me finish with his call to joy. Vs. 8, “So if a person lives many years, let him rejoice in them all; but let him remember that the days of darkness will be many.” Here again, Solomon is realistic. Yes, the days of darkness are many, but there will be great joys too. Don’t be afraid to enjoy them as gifts from God. If you are young, healthy, and strong then enjoy those gifts. Follow those desires and opportunities God has given to you. If you live many days, give thanks and enjoy them as much as you are able. Treat the dark days as trials and missions from a loving Father, and treat the “light” days as gifts of rest and refreshment from the same Father. But the joy commanded here is not a call to sinful hedonism and vice. Vs. 9, “Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” So, we enjoy life, but always within the context of our relationship to God. He will reward our sincere labors and joys in him but will also hold us accountable for our sins. So when disaster strikes, another biblical response is to keep moving forward. Keep working, keep sowing, keep reaping, keep being generous, knowing that your labors are not in vain. Dark days come but so will lighter days. And God is at work behind it all, in the secret womb of providence, accomplishing something far beyond our comprehension for his redeemed people.