I’ve spent the last year writing a verse-by-verse devotional on the Book of Ecclesiastes. Below, I’ve shared the original version of a devotion that was later shortened to fit on a single page.
“Cast your bread upon the waters, “the Book of Ecclesiastes advises us, “for you will find it after many days” (Eccles. 11:1). Why throw bread into the water? This question is not easy to answer. One of two possibilities seems most likely.
Solomon could be talking about business. Success in business requires some risk. Entrepreneurs invest their capital and hope for a return. Water evokes maritime trade. Bread signifies goods or livelihood (159). Business seems like a strong candidate for this verse’s subject.
Solomon could also be talking about philanthropy. Show generosity to people in need, and they may end up helping you down the road (159). Support for this view is bolstered by a proverbial saying found in a piece of ancient Egyptian wisdom literature called The Instruction of Ankhsheshonq. The author tells his son, “Do a good deed and throw it in the water; when it dries you will find it” (785). In the place of bread, we find “a good deed.” Perhaps this Egyptian proverb was familiar to Solomon.
Whichever interpretation we choose, we understand that life is unpredictable and full of risk. Because of the unpredictable and risky nature of life, we must take action. We must use wisdom to the best of our ability to make money and show generosity to others. Earning and giving are both important.
Early interpreters understood this verse to refer to generosity. Jewish rabbinical tradition preserves one story about a rabbi and a group of Jews who witness a shipwreck. One survivor makes it ashore and begs for help. He is a descendant of Esau. The Jews, descendants of Jacob, snub him. The rabbi, though, shows this survivor kindness. He generously gives the man clothing, food, drink, money, and transportation.
Later, the man rescued from the shipwreck becomes king. He orders the death of all the Jewish men in the province because they refused to help him. The rabbi goes to the king and pleads for mercy. The king extends mercy to the rabbi and rewards him for his prior act of mercy, saying, “Go in peace to your people whom I forgive for your sake” (285–287). The rabbi’s kind act returned to him as a blessing. Life is unpredictable. God can bless us through our efforts to bless others. Give generously to those in need and trust God to bless you as He chooses.