Ecclesiastes 11


Ecclesiastes 11:1-6
Invest in Many Ventures

11 Ship your grain across the sea;
after many days you may receive a return.
2 Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;
you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
3 If clouds are full of water,
they pour rain on the earth.
Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
in the place where it falls, there it will lie.
4 Whoever watches the wind will not plant;
whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.
5 As you do not know the path of the wind,
or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb,
so you cannot understand the work of God,
the Maker of all things.
6 Sow your seed in the morning,
and at evening let your hands not be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
whether this or that,
or whether both will do equally well.

The first six verses seem to be rules for entrepreneurship and to some extent they are. Every entrepreneur talks about “multiple income streams”. However, the verses carry a deeper message as they contain a series of sayings about the uncertainty of human industry, and are held together by the fourfold occurrence of the expression “you do not know”. 

Although man cannot comprehend God’s work, nor predict success, he needs to be involved in life’s activities and trust God for the results.

There are two potential explanations of verses 1 & 2.
1. This is a reference to business. People must be willing to take risks during their life.  Some translations use the more literal expression “Throw your bread on the water.” This may mean to send ships that contain grain to sea. The ships that carried grain might not return home for months or years. This was of course a great risk, especially without modern communications systems.

Solomon’s ships took grain and other products to sell. They did not come back for 3 years. But they returned with gold, silver and other things that they had gained (1 Kings 10:22). This would be advice to the businessman. He should avoid the situation where he obtains his income from just one place. Then, if there is any trouble, he will not lose all his money

2. These verses could be an instruction to give food to hungry people. Because difficulties may be coming, the Jews and subsequently Christians are called to be generous to neighbours in need (Psalm 41:1, Psalm 112:9, Luke 6:38). We never know when tables will turn and it will be us in need but more than that it is an act of love and compassion, a demonstration of the heart of God.

Verse 3  hits again at the uncertainty of life. We can predict that rain is imminent when we see dark clouds. We know about trees that fall in a storm. They will stay where they fall. But we cannot control the clouds. And we cannot control the storm’s effect on a tree. Difficulties may come when we expect them. Or problems may come when we do not expect them. We do not know when trouble will come. Trouble is inevitable. It comes to everyone sometime. Our acceptance of this is placing trust in God.

Verse 4 challenges the issue of making excuses. If the external conditions prevent us from doing things then we will never get anything done. The conditions will rarely if ever be perfect.

Verse 5 is speaking of some of the mysteries of God. We are to be comfortable with unfathomable mystery and understand that God is the creator and author of our experience of life and all that is around us.

We do not know the future. The farmer sows his seeds. He does not know how much will grow. But he works hard. The call is to be industrious, work hard and trust God with the outcome.

The idea of working as though it depends on me but pray knowing that it depends on God may be a cliché but is an appropriate expression. It is how we partner with our creator.

Ecclesiastes 11:7-10
Remember Your Creator While Young

7 Light is sweet,
and it pleases the eyes to see the sun.
8 However many years anyone may live,
let them enjoy them all.
But let them remember the days of darkness,
for there will be many.
Everything to come is meaningless.
9 You who are young, be happy while you are young,
and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart
and whatever your eyes see,
but know that for all these things
God will bring you into judgment.
10 So then, banish anxiety from your heart
and cast off the troubles of your body,
for youth and vigour are meaningless.

I found this video on YouTube “How not to be angry all the time” It resonates a bit with the point of Ecclesiastes although secular and pessimistic but it is about changing expectations in a broken world. It connected with me and my present worldview.

In verses 7-10 the underpinning message is enjoy life whilst you can, there will be many days of darkness and difficulty. The joys will not come easily; they must be wrestled from a puzzling and futile life.

Verse 9 is not a hedonistic licence, because the benchmark factor in the youth’s enjoyment is said to be God’s judgment.

11:7 begins the closing discourse which crystallizes the book’s message. Death is imminent. Enjoyment and judgment, though strange partners, come together in this section because both clamour for our deepest commitment.

One does not win over the other. In a world created for enjoyment but damaged by sin, judgment and enjoyment/pleasure are held in tension.

With too much self indulgent pleasure, judgment stands as a threatening force, with too much focus on the inevitable impending judgment, then the enjoyment of life that God wants for us is held in suffering and self denial. The main thrust is that both are resolved in our relationship to God, which is the primary issue of our existence and the main point of the book of Ecclesiastes.

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