Ecclesiastes 11:3
If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves on the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it shall be.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(3) The world is ruled by fixed laws, the operation of which man has no power to suspend.

Ecclesiastes 11:3. If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves, &c. — Learn, O man, the practice of liberality from the very lifeless creatures, from the clouds; which, when they are filled with water, do not hoard it up, but plentifully pour it forth, for the refreshment both of the fruitful field and the barren wilderness. And if the tree fall, &c. — As if he had said, Therefore, let us just now bring forth the fruits of righteousness, because death will shortly cut us down, and we shall then be determined to unchangeable happiness or misery, according as our works have been.11:1-6 Solomon presses the rich to do good to others. Give freely, though it may seem thrown away and lost. Give to many. Excuse not thyself with the good thou hast done, from the good thou hast further to do. It is not lost, but well laid out. We have reason to expect evil, for we are born to trouble; it is wisdom to do good in the day of prosperity. Riches cannot profit us, if we do not benefit others. Every man must labour to be a blessing to that place where the providence of God casts him. Wherever we are, we may find good work to do, if we have but hearts to do it. If we magnify every little difficulty, start objections, and fancy hardships, we shall never go on, much less go through with our work. Winds and clouds of tribulation are, in God's hands, designed to try us. God's work shall agree with his word, whether we see it or not. And we may well trust God to provide for us, without our anxious, disquieting cares. Be not weary in well-doing, for in due season, in God's time, you shall reap, Ga 6:9."Unforeseen events come from God; and the man who is always gazing on the uncertain future will neither begin nor complete any useful work: but do thou bear in mind that times and circumstances, the powers of nature and the results to which they minister, are in the hand of God; and be both diligent and trustful." The images are connected chiefly with the occupation of an agricultural laborer: the discharge of rain from the cloud, and the inclination of the falling tree, and the direction of the wind, are beyond his control, though the result of his work is affected by them. The common application of the image of the fallen tree to the state of departed souls was probably not in the mind of the inspired writer.3. clouds—answering to "evil" (Ec 11:2), meaning, When the times of evil are fully ripe, evil must come; and speculations about it beforehand, so as to prevent one sowing seed of liberality, are vain (Ec 11:4).

tree—Once the storm uproots it, it lies either northward or southward, according as it fell. So man's character is unchangeable, whether for hell or heaven, once that death overtakes him (Re 22:11, 14, 15). Now is his time for liberality, before the evil days come (Ec 12:1).

If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: learn, O man, the practice of liberality from the very lifeless creatures, from the clouds; which when they are filled with water, do not hoard it up, or keep it to themselves, but plentifully pour it forth for the refreshment both of the fruitful field and of the barren wilderness.

In the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be: these words contain either,

1. An argument to persuade men to charity, because they must shortly fall or die, and then all opportunity of being charitable will be lost, and they must expect certainly and eternally to reap whatsoever they have sown, whether it hath been mercy or unmercifulness. Or rather,

2. An answer to a common objection against it, because we are not certain whether the person who desires our charity doth really need it, or be worthy of it. To this he answers, As a tree when it falls, either by the violence of the wind, or being cut down by its owner’s order, it is not considerable whether it falls southward or northward, for there it lies ready for the master’s use; so thy charity, though it may possibly be misapplied by thee, or abused by the receiver, yet being conscientiously given by thee, it shall assuredly return to thee, and thou shalt reap the fruit of it. If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth,.... They do not retain it; sad would it be for the earth if they did; but they let it down softly and gently, in plentiful showers upon each of the parts of the earth without distinction, by which it is refreshed, and made fruitful; nor are they losers by it, for they draw up great quantities again out of the ocean, and so constantly answer the ends for which they are appointed. And so rich men, who are full of the good things of this world, should not keep them to themselves, and for their own use only; but should consider they are stewards under God, and for others, and should be like the full clouds, empty themselves; and give to those who want of what God has given them, freely and cheerfully, bountifully and plentifully, and that without respect of persons, imitating their God and Creator, who sendeth rain upon the just and the unjust, Matthew 5:45; and such in the issue are no losers, but gainers; they fill again as fast as they empty;

and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be; where the seed falls, and it grows up into a plant, and to a tree, there it continues, whether to the north or to the south; and so accordingly brings forth fruit, and such as it is men partake of it; to which purpose Jarchi, and who applies it to the disciple of a wise man, who is profitable in the place where he is, not only in life, but after death: or where the fruit of a tree fall, "there they are", so Aben Ezra reads the last clause in the plural number; that is, there are persons enough to gather the fruit; and so where a rich man is, there are poor enough about him to partake of his bounty: or as when a tree is cut down, let it fall where it will, there it abides, and is no more fruitful; so when a man is cut off by death, as he was then, so he remains; if a gracious and good man, and has done good, he is like a tree that falls to the south, he enters into the paradise of God, the joys of heaven; and if not a good man, and has not done good, he is like a tree that falls to the north, he goes into a state of darkness, misery, and distress; see Revelation 22:11; or however, be this as it will, he is no more useful in this world; and therefore it becomes men to do all the good they can in health and life, for there is none to be done in the grave where they are going: or else the sense is, that as when a tree falls, whether it be to the south or to the north, it matters not to the owner, there it lies, and is of the same advantage to him; so an act of beneficence, let it be done to what object soever, a worthy or an unworthy one, yet being done with a view to the glory of God and the good of men, it shall not lose its reward: and so this is an answer to the objection of some against giving, because they do not know whether the object proposed is deserving: though some think the same thing is intended by these metaphorical expressions, as is suggested in the latter part of Ecclesiastes 11:2, that evils or calamities may come upon men like heavy showers of rain, which wash away things; or like storms and tempests of rain, thunder and lightning, which break down trees, and cause them to fall to the north or to the south; and thus in like manner by one judgment or another men may be stripped of all their substance, and therefore it is right to make use of it while they have it.

If the {b} clouds are full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the {c} tree falleth toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.

(b) As the clouds that are full pour out rain, so the rich that have abundance must distribute it liberally.

(c) He exhorts to be liberal while we live: for after, there is no power.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
3. If the clouds be full of rain] The thought is linked to that which precedes it by the mention of the “evil coming upon the earth.” In regard to that evil, the sweeping calamities that lie beyond man’s control, he is as powerless as he is when the black clouds gather and the winds rush wildly. He knows only that the clouds will pour down their rain, that the tree will lie as the tempest has blown it down. Is he therefore to pause, and hesitate and stand still, indulging the temper

“over exquisite

To cast the fashion of uncertain evils”?

That question is answered in the next verse. It may be noted, as an illustration of the way in which the after-thoughts of theology have worked their way into the interpretation of Scripture, that the latter clause has been expounded as meaning that the state in which men chance to be when death comes on them is unalterable, that there is “no repentance in the grave.” So far as it expresses the general truth that our efforts to alter the character of others for the better must cease when the man dies, that when the tree falls to south or north, towards the region of light or that of darkness, we, who are still on earth, cannot prune, or dig about, or dung it (Luke 13:8), the inference may be legitimate enough, but it is clear that it is not that thought which was prominent in the mind of the writer.Verse 3. - If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth. This verse is closely connected with the preceding paragraph. The misfortune there intimated may fall at any moment; this is as certain as the laws of nature, unforeseen, uncontrollable. When the clouds are overcharged with moisture, they deliver their burden upon the earth, according to laws which man cannot alter; these are of irresistible necessity, and must be expected and endured. And if the tree fall toward the, south, etc.; or, it may be, in the south; i.e. let it fall where it will; the particular position is of no importance. When the tempest overthrows it, it lies where it has fallen. When the evil day comes, we must bend to the blow, we are powerless to avert it; the future can be neither calculated nor controlled. The next verse tells how the wise man acts under such circumstances. Christian commentators have argued from this clause concerning the unchangeable state of the departed - that there is no repentance in the grave; that what death leaves them judgment shall find them. Of course, no such thought was in Koheleth's mind; nor do we think that the inspiring Spirit intended such meaning to be wrung from the passage. Indeed, it may be said that, as it stands, the clause does not bear this interpretation. The fallen or felled tree is not at once fit for the master's use; it has to be exposed to atmospheric influences seasoned, tried. It is not left in the place where it lay, nor in the condition in which it was; so that, if we reason from this analogy, we must conceive that there is some ripening, purifying process in the intermediate state. St. Gregory speaks thus: "For when, at the moment of the falling of the human being, either the Holy Spirit or the evil spirit receives the soul departed from the chambers of the flesh, he will keel, it with him for ever without change, so that neither, once exalted, shall it be precipitated into woe, nor, once plunged into eternal woes, any further arise to take the means of escape" ('Moral.,' 8:30). "Woe to thee, O land, whose king is a child, and whose princes sit at table in the early morning! Happy art thou, O land, whose king is a noble, and whose princes sit at table at the right time, in manly strength, and not in drunkenness!" Regarding אי. Instead of שׁם ן, the older language would rather use the phrase מלכּו נער אשׁר; and instead of na'ar, we might correctly use, after Proverbs 30:22, 'ěvěd; but not as Grtz thinks, who from this verse deduces the reference of the book of Herod (the "slave of the Hasmonean house," as the Talm. names him), in the same meaning. For na'ar, it is true, sometimes means - e.g., as Ziba's by-name (2 Samuel 19:18 [17]) - a servant, but never a slave as such, so that here, in the latter sense, it might be the contrast of בּן־חורים; it is to be understood after Isaiah 3:12; and Solomon, Bishop of Constance, understood this woe rightly, for he found it fulfilled at the time of the last German Karolingian Ludwig III.

(Note: Cf. Bchmann's Feglgelte Worte, p. 178, 5th ed. (1868).)

Na'ar is a very extensively applicable word in regard to the age of a person. King Solomon and the prophets Jeremiah and Zechariah show that na'ar may be used with reference to one in a high office; but here it is one of few years of age who is meant, who is incapable of ruling, and shows himself as childish in this, that he lets himself be led by bad guides in accordance with their pleasure. In 16b, the author perhaps thinks of the heads of the aristocracy who have the phantom-king in their power: intending to fatten themselves, they begin their feasting with the break of day. If we translate yochēēlu by "they eat," 16b sounds as if to breakfast were a sin, - with us such an abbreviation of the thought so open to misconception would be a fault in style, but not so with a Hebrew.

(Note: Vid., Gesch. d. jd. Poesie, p. 188.f.)

אכל (for לחם אכל, Psalm 14:4) is here eating for eating's sake, eating as its own object, eating which, in the morning, comes in the place of fresh activity in one's calling, consecrated by prayer. Instead of אשׁ, Ecclesiastes 10:17, there ought properly to have been אשׁריך; but (1) אשׁרי has this peculiarity, to be explained from its interjectional usage, that with the suff. added it remains in the form of the st. constr., for we say e.g., אשׁריך for אשׁריך; (2) the sing. form אשׁר, inflected אשׁרי, so substitutes itself that אשׁריך, or, more correctly, אשׁרך, and אשׁרהוּ, Proverbs 29:19, the latter for אשׁריו, are used (vid., under Sol 2:14).

Regarding běn-hhorim, the root-word signifies to be white (vid., under Genesis 40:16). A noble is called hhor, Isaiah 34:12; and one noble by birth, more closely, or also merely descriptively (Gesen. Lehrgeb. p. 649), běn-hhorim, from his purer complexion, by which persons of rank were distinguished from the common people (Lamentations 4:7). In the passage before us, běn-hhorim is an ethical conception, as e.g., also generosus becomes such, for it connects with the idea of noble by birth that of noble in disposition, and the latter predominates (cf. Sol 7:2, nadiv): it is well with a land whose king is of noble mind, is a man of noble character, or, if we give to běn-hhorim the Mishnic meaning, is truly a free man (cf. John 8:36). Of princes after the pattern of such a king, the contrary of what is said 16b is true: they do not eat early in the morning, but ba'et, "at the right time;" everywhere else this is expressed by be'itto (Ecclesiastes 3:11); here the expression - corresponding to the Greek ἐν καιρῷ, the Lat. in tempore - is perhaps occasioned by the contrast baboqěr, "in the morning." Eating at the right time is more closely characterized by bighvurah velo vashshethi. Jerome, whom Luther follows, translates: ad reficiendum et non ad luxuriam. Hitz., Ginsb., and Zckl., "for strengthening" (obtaining strength), not: "for feasting;" but that beth might introduce the object aimed at (after Hitz., proceeding from the beth of exchange), we have already considered under Ecclesiastes 2:4. The author, wishing to say this, ought to have written lshty wl' lgbwrh. Better, Hahn: "in strength, but not in drunkenness," - as heroes, but not as drunkards (Isaiah 5:22). Ewald's "in virtue, and not in debauchery," is also thus meant. But what is that: to eat in virtue, i.e., the dignity of a man? The author much rather represents them as eating in manly strength, i.e., as this requires it (cf. the plur. Psalm 71:16 and Psalm 90:10), only not bashti ("in drunkenness - excess"), so that eating and drinking become objects in themselves. Kleinert, well: as men, and not as gluttons. The Masora makes, under bashti,' the note לית, i.e., שׁתי has here a meaning which it has not elsewhere, it signifies drunkenness; elsewhere it means the weft of a web. The Targ. gives the word the meaning of weakness (חלּשׁוּת), after the Midrash, which explains it by בּתשׁישׁוּ (in weakness); Menahem b. Saruk takes along with it in this sense נשׁתה, Jeremiah 51:30. The Talm. Shabbath 10a, however, explains it rightly by בּשׁתיּה שׁל־יין.

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