What Did the Wise Man Mean?
Seize the Opportunity
At times excellent opportunities present themselves for doing good or for getting something useful. Due to the uncertainties of life in this present system, however, a degree of faith may be involved when taking proper advantage of certain situations. And yet, if we have misgivings in such a case, we could lose out on something truly worth while. We may well fail to be a source of encouragement to others.
Wise King Solomon provided very practical advice on this matter. He wrote: “Send out your bread upon the surface of the waters, for in the course of many days you will find it again. Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what calamity will occur on the earth.” (Eccl. 11:1, 2) These words have commonly been viewed as an exhortation to generosity.
A person never knows what might result from his acts of generosity. It may seem to him that he is committing something to a body of “waters,” without immediate returns in sight. Nevertheless, his generous acts may endear him to the hearts of others, causing them to respond generously should he come into real need. Not that the truly generous person should be calculating and counting on being repaid. Rather, he takes delight in giving to others and is confident that he will always have what he needs. So, he does not restrict his giving to a select few, just two or three, but he is generous in a wholehearted way, giving to “seven, or even to eight.” Some cautious persons may think that this is most unwise, fearing that one could come into a needy situation should calamity strike. The generous person, however, is far more likely to receive help should he be faced with disaster. A similar thought was expressed by Jesus Christ when he said: “Practice giving, and people will give to you. They will pour into your laps a fine measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing.”—Luke 6:38.
One’s acts of generosity might even be compared to planting rice in soil covered with water. After “many days” what was thus planted comes to maturity and yields a rich return.
Next, Solomon draws on certain fixed laws in showing that irresoluteness in matters of life is not the best course. He notes: “If the clouds are filled with water, they empty out a sheer downpour upon the earth; and if a tree falls to the south or if to the north, in the place where the tree falls there it will prove to be.” (Eccl. 11:3) These things simply happen; they cannot be humanly controlled. So why be indecisive and hence hesitant about being generous or doing what needs to be done? If it is going to rain, it is going to rain. If a tree is going to fall a certain way, that is where it is going to fall. That is true of many other things in life. Inaction alone will not guarantee their not happening.
If a person sought to regulate his life by trying to determine first exactly what may or may not happen, he would not get anything done. As Solomon noted: “He that is watching the wind will not sow seed [fearing that the seed will be blown away]; and he that is looking at the clouds will not reap [fearing that if he cuts the grain it will get wet before he can put it into his storage place].”—Eccl. 11:4.
We, therefore, have to go ahead with what needs to be done, appreciating that there are bound to be uncertainties. There is no way to fathom the work of God, that is, to discover some rule by which to determine precisely what he may do or tolerate in the outworking of his purpose and then conduct our affairs according to such rule. Solomon pointed out that God’s work is just as much a mystery to man as is the development of a baby in the womb. He wrote: “Just as you are not aware of what is the way of the spirit in the bones in the belly of her that is pregnant, in like manner you do not know the work of the true God, who does all things.”—Eccl. 11:5.
In view of life’s uncertainties and human inability to change certain fixed laws, Solomon gives this advice: “In the morning sow your seed and until the evening do not let your hand rest; for you are not knowing where this will have success, either here or there, or whether both of them will alike be good.” (Eccl. 11:6) Hence, the best course is to go ahead diligently with our labors, not permitting uncertainties to worry us to the point of stifling our activity, whether spiritual pursuits, secular labor or acts of generosity.
This can contribute to a person’s having a cheerful outlook on life. Solomon wrote: “The light is also sweet, and it is good for the eyes to see the sun; for if a man should live even many years, in all of them let him rejoice.” (Eccl. 11:7, 8) Since only the living can appreciate the light and the sun, Solomon is here pointing out that it is good to be alive and that one should find enjoyment in living. However, he adds a sobering thought: “Let him remember the days of darkness, though they could be many; every day that has come in is vanity.” (Eccl. 11:8) A person should not lose sight of the fact that he may lose his strength and vigor when the “days of darkness” or old age set in. Reduced to a decrepit state, he may find that, as life drags on for years, every day is vanity, seemingly empty and meaningless. So while he can, he should strive to get wholesome enjoyment from life, using good judgment and seeking God’s guidance in all that he does.