Uncertainty (Ecclesiastes 11:1-6)

  1. For starters
  1. Share honestly with each other your current emotional state as we face a period of uncertainty
  2. Have you had to make sudden and drastic changes to your plans as a result of Coronavirus? Give examples.
  3. Have you made specific plans to get you through the next three months?
  • A Look at the text

I What does the text say?

V1 -2 I’ve often seen verse 1 quoted but what exactly does it mean?  In my mind it has something to do with feeding ducks. I guess if you feed bread to the ducks and then one day catch and eat the duck, your bread will in one sense have returned to you.  Some people associate it with international trade and therefore wise investment. The NLT takes this approach translating “bread” as “grain” shipped in the expectation of profit.  The problem with this is that the bread is cast onto and not over the waters.

Remember that the poetic style of Hebrew wisdom literature uses repetition and parallel to emphasise a point. So we read verse 1 and 2 together.  If verse 1 invites you to send out bread in expectation of return, verse 2 tells us to give portions not knowing if disaster will come.  “Seven or eight” has the idea of fullness, completion and even overflow.  Put the two verses together and we are being told to give, give and keep on giving even though we don’t know whether or not we will get anything back. We are to be open handed with what we have.

These words are challenging in uncertain times. The temptation is to save up what you can, food, money etc.  God’s Word says “No” we are to be generous.  Remember that Ecclesiastes shows us that life is full of uncertainties.  It is fragile, fleeting and puzzling but it is also clear that it is not without meaning. That meaning is seen from the end as God gives judgement at death.[1]

V3-4 tell us that things will happen and we cannot control them. It will rain, the wind will blow and trees will fall and watching won’t change that.  You can sit refreshing the weather app on your phone but it won’t change the fact that it is going to snow next Wednesday.[2] Scrolling through the live feed is not going to make coronavirus go away any sooner.  Notice however, that the believer’s response is not fatalism. We don’t just give up because without control life is pointless. Rather we are invited to stay busy in the work that God has called us to do.

V5-6 The reason why our watching is pointless is because we don’t truly know God’s ways. We can of course give scientific descriptions of physical and biological processes, we know how a baby develops in the womb. However, we don’t really understand how God gives it life. We just know that the child is a living, sentient being with value and identity.  So often our behaviour is about trying to control and manage every detail. Some of try to do that by superstition and others by mental or physical efforts. But we cannot change the facts of history.  So don’t get distracted by worrying about those things out of your control. Focus on what God has given you to do. Work hard, try different things because you do not know which things you try will work out.

II. What does the text mean?

  1. In what ways does this point to Christ?

As I read these verses, first of all I am reminded that Christ is quite unlike any of us.  Whereas I do not know what the future holds and cannot see into the secret will of God, Jesus being fully God as well as fully man sees and knows everything. Jesus knew what his future held, not just in his lifetime but from the before the very foundation of time and space. Knowing all of that, Jesus still came, knowing he must suffer, be rejected, mocked handed over and killed. Why did Jesus do that? Well we often talk about him doing it for us but actually Hebrews 12:2 tells us that we are to look

to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

It was because Jesus knew what was beyond, with certainty he knew that what he gave up would return to him that he was able to lay down his life.

  • Where is hope in the passage?

This then points us to the hope we have. The future in this life may be uncertain. It is not that there are not good things to look forward to.  I am currently in self-isolation due to Coronavirus. We are all living in strange times, schools are closed, people are in lockdown, our church cannot gather physically together. These are testing times but we keep on sharing the good news about Jesus (via texts, emails and phone), we keep loving our neighbours. We do that looking forward  to 3 months from now when we hope that the worst of the pandemic will have passed. We look forward to life returning to normal. We look forward to a big celebration as we gather again as church (I am imagining Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Harvest and New Year all rolled into one).  There is he constant reminder of the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. However, we cannot guarantee that. Some of us may not make it through, many sadly will die, we are likely to lose loved ones.  Others will be hard hit financially.  Some businesses won’t make it through. Some churches may not make it through.

However, we look with Jesus further beyond the here and now to the great celebration, all of our Christmases, Easters, Pentecosts, Harvests and New-Years will be rolled into one and multiplied ten thousand, thousand times when Christ returns.  That is the joy we have set before us in him.

  • A Look at ourselves
  1. How do you feel when people panic buy and hoard? How does this text encourage us to respond?
  • What are you tempted to hold onto tightly?
  • In what ways can we be giving generously at this time?
  • How does this verse encourage you personally as we face these next few months?

Please note comments are open for (on topic) discussion. You can also watch the talk by clicking below.

[1] H/T David Gibson, Life Lived Backwards

[2] Hypothetically … not a prophecy.

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