Ecclesiastes 11:1-6

Click here to open the passage in a new window. Be sure to read the Bible text and not only my comments on it.

This short chapter has two sections, but 11:7-10 is part of a poem which continues to 12:7, so we will deal with those verses in tomorrow’s post. The first part of the chapter is a set of proverbs which relate to chance and predictability, work ethic, and risk-taking.

The first verse is a common expression which has been interpreted in different ways (cf NIV translation). Although it may refer to generosity, it makes sense in the context to think of it in the sense of taking a financial risk, such as trading at sea, in the hope of reaping a reward. In the same vein but with a totally different slant, Qohelet recommends not ‘putting all your eggs in the same basket’, but rather spreading your investments so that if there is some failure in one area due to natural disaster, another area may yet thrive. (Although it is equally possible to interpret 11:2 as being generous to others, if 11:1 was thought of in that way too.)

Already in the environmental theme, Qohelet’s train of thought continues down this track in 11:3 with two simple observations of reality. When clouds are full, it rains; when a tree falls, it lies where it fell. His point, perhaps contrary to 11:1-2, is that we can predict the future with some small degree of certainty at least. However, sometimes this ability to predict hinders rather than helping us. For example, a farmer who can see from the clouds that it is about to rain doesn’t go out to harvest; or the wind might stop him from scattering seed, for fear that it will not be planted evenly.

It is the whole context of 11:1-6 that indicates to me that Qohelet sees this cessation of labour, because of prediction, as negative rather than a positive from wisdom. (Also, the warnings in 10:15,18 about laziness, cf Prov 22:13; 26:13.) Here in 11:6, he encourages the reader to sow and not rest, whether morning or evening, because either or both might be good. The flavor of the passage is to try, to do, to work, in the hope that whatever you do will pay off. Take risks!

But there is also the sense that we can’t be confident that whatever we do will work out. There might be a natural disaster, the seed might be scattered, the bread might not return. Our investments may fail. We humans cannot know the path of the wind any more than we can know how babies are created inside the womb. But God knows all these things, because he is their creator.

The message, in a nutshell, is that we should take risks in the hope of return. But we should also recognize that things won’t always work out well. (Read this John Piper article on the topic of risk if you want to think about this further.) The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is full of heroes who took risks that paid off: Ruth, David, Esther, Daniel, Peter, Paul. God himself took a risk by sending his Son over the waters. That risk failed in some ways (in that not everyone received him, John 1:10-11) and succeeded in others. What risk is God calling you to take today?

Prayer: Here I am, Lord, with all that I have. Help me to trust in you as I risk it all for you and your sake.

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