Ecc 11:4 He who observes the wind will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap. (ESV)
We are quickly reaching the climax of The Preacher's sermon to us. These last few chapters are deeply emotional and charged with reflective moments. There are few things as gripping as the final words of wisdom from godly men. I feel much the same way when I read some of Paul's final words to Timothy. Especially when he urges him to "come before winter" (II Tim 4:21). I'm not exactly sure how old Solomon is at this point, but one certainly infers that these words are informed by years of experience. Unfortunately, much of it being bad experience. But before we talk about Solomon's failures (we'll likely do some of that next time), let's take some of his parting advice.
He tells us to cast our bread upon the waters, for we will find it after many days. Much could be said about this, but a general principle is that liberality and generosity are never a waste of time. When we reach the end of our journey, it is doubtful any of us will regret any acts of generosity. Furthermore, very few men on their deathbeds wish that they had spent more time at the office, or that they had made a few more dollars. There is a spiritual principle in the bible often referred to as the "law of sowing and reaping". This is certainly in view here, as we see that the bread we cast upon the waters will come back to us.
In verse 4 Solomon instructs us not to wait for all conditions to be favorable before taking actions. Solomon was certainly not known as a procrastinator,and was responsible for the creation of many projects and proverbs. There are very few things in life that come with 100 percent guarantees of success. There is risk involved in almost anything and everything. Some young people are waiting to get married "until they can afford it". Still, others are waiting until they are "more financially secure" before having children. I'm certainly not advocating a high-risk scenario where we live beyond our means in the name of faith. But how many of us that are married with children were actually truly prepared for the challenges? Honestly, some lessons are learned in the school of hard knocks. Some people are waiting to do ministry until everything falls into place. I once heard a wise minister say "never forget that the Promised Land was not a vacation for the children of Israel". While they wandered in the wilderness, one of the greatest challenges for the children of Israel was overcoming their own issues. However, when they came into the land of promise, there were all kinds of opposing nations that had to be subdued. And so it is with life- God doesn't remove all of the obstacles in our way before issuing directives to us.
In verse 5, we are reminded that God is in control. All of our forecasting and predictions come with limitations. Truly, only God knows the future. We are still seeing through a glass dimly. I like to summarize verse 6 by the old adage "don't put all your eggs in one basket". Solomon advises diligence in many matters, because we never know what will prosper, what won't, or if two different options will both prosper. Many view diversification as a lack of faith. But we are constantly reminded in scripture that God's will supercedes even the best of plans and intentions. It's a good idea to be skilled in as many areas as possible and to broaden every possible horizon. Not only does this make sense in the natural, but it also opens other doors for God to use your life in different ways. Many ministers end up in financial ruin because their areas of study are so specialized and they never learn any useful (to the secular world) skills or trades. When their ministry comes to an end (either by retirement or by some unforeseen unfortunate event!) they are often left unprepared.
Verse 8 is somber, yet real and truthful advice. "The days of darkness" will be many. We can make every attempt to avoid risk and harm, but life has a way of dealing us crushing blows in spite of that. Actually, God makes every attempt to remind us that we are just "passing through". Peter reminds us that we are "strangers and pilgrims" here on earth, and Paul says that our citizenship is in heaven. The brightest days are ahead of us. But here on earth, the days of darkness will be many. Solomon is not really trying to be pessimistic here though, for in verse 7 he says "light is sweet". We need to celebrate the good times and remember them fondly, because they can be few and far between.
I seem to be making a habit of summarizing some of these verses, and if you will allow me, I'm going to do it one more time. The end of chapter 11 reads to me as if Solomon is saying "enjoy your life, just remember to remember God!". When we're young, we feel invincible. Old age and death seem so far removed from us. Many of us put off things that need to be done now (not just unpleasant tasks, but even fruitful endeavors) because we feel like there is plenty of time to do it later. Solomon's advice is- don't wait- enjoy your life now. But make sure you enjoy it in a way that glorifies God. Because one day, we are all going to give an account.
We'll talk more about that next time....