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Ecclesiastes 11:1-3

Ignorance of the Future Demands Diligence in the Present

11:1 Send 1  your grain 2  overseas, 3 

for after many days you will get a return. 4 

11:2 Divide your merchandise 5  among seven or even eight 6  investments, 7 

for you do not know 8  what calamity 9  may happen on earth.

11:3 If the clouds are full of rain, they will empty themselves on the earth,

and whether a tree falls to the south or to the north, the tree will lie wherever it falls.

1 tn The verb שָׁלַח (shalakh, “to send; to cast”) refers to the action of sending something to someone (e.g., Neh 8:12; HALOT 1995 s.v. שׁלח). The term is traditionally rendered here as “cast” (KJV, NAB, RES, ASV, NASB, NIV); however, some render it “send” (NJPS, NRSV, NEB). LXX uses ἀπόστειλον (aposteilon, “send”).

2 tn Heb “your bread.” The term לֶחֶם (lekhem) is traditionally rendered “bread” (KJV, NAB, RSV, NRSV, ASV, NASB, NIV, NJPS). However, 11:1-2 seems to deal with exporting goods overseas (D. R. Glenn, “Ecclesiastes,” BKCOT, 1002-3). It is better to take לֶחֶם (“bread”) as a metonymy of product, standing for the grain and wheat from which bread is produced (e.g., Gen 41:54-55; 47:13, 15, 17, 19; 49:20; Num 15:19; 2 Kgs 18:32; Isa 28:28; 30:23; 36:17; 55:10; Jer 5:17; Ezek 48:18; Job 28:5; Ps 104:14; Prov 28:3); see HALOT 526 s.v. 1; BDB 537 s.v. 1.b. It is taken this way by several translations: “grain” (NEB) and “goods” (Moffatt). Qoheleth encouraged the export of grain products overseas in international trade.

3 tn Heb “upon the surface of the waters.” This is traditionally viewed as extolling generosity from which a reward will be reaped. On the other hand, some scholars suggest that the imagery deals with commercial business through maritime trade. M. Jastrow took this verse as advice to take risks in business by trusting one’s goods or ships that will after many days return with a profit (A. Cohen, The Five Megilloth [SoBB], 181). Sea trade was risky in the ancient Near East, but it brought big returns to its investors (e.g., 1 Kgs 9:26-28; 10:22; Ps 107:23); see D. R. Glenn, “Ecclesiastes,” BKCOT, 1002-3. The verse is rendered thus: “Send your grain across the seas, and in time you will get a return” (NEB); or “Trust your goods far and wide at sea, till you get a good return after a while” (Moffatt).

4 tn Heb “find it.”

5 tn Heb “give a portion.”

6 tn The phrase “seven or eight” is a graded numerical saying depicting an indefinite plurality: “The collocation of a numeral with the next above it is a rhetorical device employed in numerical sayings to express a number, which need not, or cannot, be more exactly specified. It must be gathered from the context whether such formulae are intended to denote only an insignificant number (e.g., Is 17:6 “two” or at the most “three”) or a considerable number (e.g., Mi 5:4). Sometimes, however, this juxtaposition serves to express merely an indefinite total, without the collateral idea of intensifying the lower by means of the higher number” (GKC 437 §134.s). Examples: “one” or “two” (Deut 32:30; Jer 3:14; Job 33:14; 40:5; Ps 62:12); “two” or “three” (2 Kgs 9:32; Isa 17:6; Hos 6:2; Amos 4:8; Sir 23:16; 26:28; 50:25); “three” or “four” (Jer 36:23; Amos 1:3-11; Prov 21:19; 30:15, 18; Sir 26:5); “four” or “five” (Isa 17:6); “six” or “seven” (Job 5:19; Prov 6:16); “seven” or “eight” (Mic 5:4; Eccl 11:2).

7 tn The word “investments” is not in the Hebrew text; it is added here for clarity. This line is traditionally understood as an exhortation to be generous to a multitude of people (KJV, NAB, ASV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, NIV, NJPS); however, it is better taken as shrewd advice to not commit all one’s possessions to a single venture (A. Cohen, The Five Megilloth [SoBB], 181). D. R. Glenn (“Ecclesiastes,” BKCOT, 1003) writes: “In view of the possibility of disaster, a person should make prudent investments in numerous ventures rather than put all his ‘eggs in one basket’ (e.g., Gen 32:7-8 for a practical example of this advice).” Several translations reflect this: “Divide your merchandise among seven ventures, eight maybe” (NEB); “Take shares in several ventures” (Moffatt).

8 sn The phrase you do not know is repeated throughout this section (11:2, 5-6). Human beings are ignorant of the future. This should motivate a person to invest their financial resources wisely (11:1-3) and to work diligently (11:4-6).

9 tn The term רעה (lit. “evil”) refers to calamity (e.g., Eccl 5:13; 7:14; 9:12).

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