The glue that seems to hold Ecclesiastes 11 together is that Solomon is talking about things that we cannot entirely control. The impermanence of life should lead us to be careful about expecting our plans and projects to work out just the way we predict. Knowing this, we can all benefit by making certain choices, and living a certain way – the wise way.
1 Send your bread over the surface of the water, because you will find it again in many days. 2 Give a portion to seven, and also to eight, because you do not know what time of distress might happen here on the land. 3 If the clouds get full, they will pour out rain upon the land; and if a tree is going to fall toward the south or toward the north, in the spot where the tree falls, there it is.
One of the frustrating things about our plans is that we never know which projects are going to succeed, and which are going to flop. I don’t think the Hebrews had the saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” but if they did, Solomon would have used it here. The idea is that if you concentrate on only one thing, and you fail at it, you are a total failure. Instead, diversify. Be generous with what you have to as many as possible. Some day you might need one of the friends that you made by helping them out when they have a need now.
Why does Solomon say this? Because things happen which we cannot control. When that tree falls it may fall harmlessly in the woods with no one around to hear it. Or, it may fall on your car. Diversification helps you deal with the accidents that happen, and keep you going strong.
4 A watcher of the wind never plants and a looker at the clouds never harvests. 5 In the same way that you do not know what path the wind will take, or how bones emerge from a uterus, so you do not know what God is doing when he is making all these things. 6 Plant your seed in the morning, and do not take it easy in the evening, because you do not know which will succeed, this or that, or whether both times together will be beneficial.
Sometimes we find ourselves paralyzed by what might happen. Solomon instructs us to stay engaged and diligent in our work, and not to stop working because of what might happen. Things are going to happen that we cannot control. The wind might interfere with today’s planting, and the rain might interfere with today’s harvest. But you never know — just like you don’t know what is happening inside a uterus where an infant’s bones are forming. God is at work, and he has not filled you in on his agenda. So, keep at it until the work is done. You never know which work times will turn out to have been the most productive. Engage and stay engaged, and persevere through the learning experience that is life. God has a plan, but you never know it, so don’t try to second guess him. Just stay at the work – whatever it is.
7 That morning light is sweet, and it is a good thing for the eyes to see that sun rising. 8 Even someone living many years can rejoice in them all; yet that someone should remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is temporary. 9 Rejoice, young man, during your youth, and let your heart please you during the days of young adulthood. And walk where your heart wants to go, and see what your eyes want to see. Yet be aware that God will hold you accountable for all these things. 10 So, take away any irritation your heart feels and let any pain your body feels pass, because youth and the times of dark hair are temporary.
Ultimately, the thing we have the least control over is the passage of time. There is a play on words in this passage that is lost in every English translation I know of. It is a contrast between the days of darkness (yemey ha choshech) in verse 8, and the times of dark hair (hashachrot) in verse 10. Solomon is an old man now. His times of dark hair are past. As his hair and beard get greyer, he wants to tell the next generation to enjoy life while they are living it, because the prime of life does not last. He does not want them to forget that they are accountable before God for what they do, but he does not want them to miss out on living life either. He tells them that as long as they realize their accountability, they should go where they feel like going, and see what they want to see. Enjoy life! Wise people walk with integrity, without losing the joy of completely experiencing life.
There is so much of life that happens to us which is way beyond our capacity to control. That is ok. We do not have to have everything under control. It should be enough for us to have a Father in the sky who has it all under his control.