“Ship your grain across the sea; after many days you may receive a return.”
— Ecclesiastes 11:1
The meaning of this passage in Ecclesiastes has often puzzled people. Translated more literally, it says, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” Some think this refers to being generous toward others or to teaching people various skills that may take a while to learn. Others suggest that it has to do with trade and economic markets, which may bring a great return on investment. Still others say that, like other parts of Ecclesiastes, this simply describes some of the uncertainties in life.
For example, while some industries and businesses have thrived during the pandemic, others have struggled enormously. And in recent years, extreme weather events—droughts, floods, wildfires, and record-breaking temperatures—as well as social and political tensions, have made life alarmingly difficult and uncertain. Recovering or rebuilding could take a long time, and in some respects there may be no return to the way things were before.
The wisdom of Ecclesiastes suggests that whatever you do, be aware that it may take a long time before you see results. Overall, Ecclesiastes emphasizes that while life is fleeting and fragile, we live and act with trust, enjoying things that can simply be enjoyed now, and believing that God, not us, guides the outcomes. We take risks, and we may or may not see a return. There are no guarantees—except that God will sustain us.
Lord our God, help us to trust you in all circumstances. Amen.