In this chapter, or at least its first half, we find not so much warning as exhortation in the dark style of apothegm which the writer delights in.
"Cast thy bread on the face of the waters, for after many days thou shalt find it. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight, for thou knowest not what evil shall be on the earth. If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth; aid if the tree fall toward the north and toward the south, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be. He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap. As thou knowest not what is the way of the wind, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child; even so thou knowest not the work of God who doeth all. In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not which shall prosper, whether this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good" (vers. 1-6).
Earlier in the book is shown the folly of setting the heart on any object under the sun; and if any understood more deeply what, is in man and in the world, as the writer in fact did, it is only the more profound sorrow. Receiving what God gives and using it all in His fear is wisdom.
Now the Preacher exhorts to liberal action in assured faith, as he may well do who knows that the righteous and the wise and their works are in the hand of God. The waters may be unpromising for bread or even bread-corn; but casting in faith at His word is never in vain. One may have to wait many days, but He cannot fail, and thou shalt find it at length. Again, we are surrounded by need. The poor never pass away, as the world is full. The next word is "give a portion to seven," not to one here or another there, but all round where need exists. Even so arrest not that you have to the end; for more need may unexpectedly arise. Therefore he says,, and also to eight." For what does any one know of evil here below? Little indeed; yet we are in an evil world, and for what purpose? Behold the perfection of this in Christ Who went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him. Yet was it from a resource above the world, as was plainly proved when He bade the crafty ensnarer show Him a denarius: He had none, but far better which passes not away.
Whether one look up or down, one may see how God orders on the earth for the help of needy man, constant object of His compassion. If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth; and if a tree fall toward the south or toward north, there it shall be. Goodly sights are they both! Yet God turns them to the use of an ungrateful race. Wherever we may be, we too can serve God by helping man in his wants, as Christ did, the perfect Servant no less than perfect Saviour. Never a cry without an answer of goodness, and as ready to act in the wilderness for man's need as if He had not invited His disciples apart there to rest awhile, Himself unwearied in love everywhere.
Nor is it true wisdom to trust one's own prudence, or to be turned aside by objections and difficulties. "He that observeth the wind will not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds will not reap." Whatever may not be, God is; and God's word is plain, as to fear Him is wise. Appearances are meant to try faith in a world departed from God, Who worketh hitherto where all is wrong, instead of keeping sabbath as if all were right. So Christ, to the horror and hatred of all who idolize man and the world as they are, could and did say, "I work" even on the sabbath. So ought those that know Him, with a fresh power, besides the sense that all here is vanity.
It is true that man knows little of the wondrous working or the end of God. Why, what does he know of his own being? To say nothing of that which follows death, with its alarm save for the most hardened of unbelievers, what does he know of what precedes birth? "As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, how the bones [grow] in the womb of her that is with child, even so thou knowest not the work of God who doeth all." But this is no excuse for self-indulgence, no right reason for inertness in the face of appalling need, suffering, sorrow, danger, death, in a world of sin and ruin. It is the louder call to act on His word Who deigns to direct our path in simple faith and earnest love, as we may surely add who confess the Lord Jesus; the spirit of which here dimly led him who saw dimly the Coming One. Therefore follows the word, "In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thy hand; for thou knowest not which shall prosper, whether this or that, or whether they both [shall be] alike good."
The closing words return to the more wonted strain of chap. 11.
He begins with any, old or young; he winds up with a warning of grave pungent irony to him who in his levity and pride overlooked sin and sorrow, and withdraws for a moment the veil from his coming into God's judgment. Youth and the prime of life, like all the rest here, are vanity. Jesus Christ, we can add, as the blessed contrast for man now, is "the same yesterday and today and for ever," never more manifestly God, the true God, and eternal life, than when He became man and tabernacled among us, full of grace and truth. "Upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."