Precepts From the Preacher
Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, 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 spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all. In the morning sow thy seed, and In the evening withhold not thy hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.
It would be presumptuous to assume that The Preacher in writing the Book of Ecclesiastes by divine inspiration, had Sunday School work or Child Evangelism specifically in mind. Nevertheless, in chapter 11, verses 1 to 6, there are some suggestions which, lifted out of the context, may be thought-provoking to those who have an interest in the spiritual welfare of the young.
“Cast thy bread upon the waters.” This is a strange expression, difficult to understand. At a certain season, a small group of devout Jews were seen by the water’s edge, literally casting their bread upon the waters. It was explained that they were casting their sins, figuratively, into the deep, in order to obtain divine forgiveness and remission. We know that there is remission only through the blood of God’s Lamb, who died at Calvary.
Some commentators have suggested the casting of seed upon the waters, as with the growing of rice, to obtain a harvest. One translation says, “Cast thy bread upon the face of the multitude.” This would imply the giving of spiritual food to those who are hungry for the Bread of Life.
Some years ago, at a Sunday School Teachers’ Conference, the question was asked, “For best results, how many pupils should there be in the class?” The brother who replied read Ecclesiastes 11:2, “Give a portion to seven and also to eight.” One can find Scripture for almost anything!
Work among the young, however, is divided into two fields; the multitude of faces, as in children’s meetings, and the seven or eight in the Sunday School class. The Preacher gives three precepts which are suggestive of the activities in which a faithful worker should be engaged: cast, give, sow.
“Cast” suggests an attitude of self-sacrifice; it is the opposite of greed or covetousness. The God-fearing worker is enjoined to a life of self-denial and sacrifice for the welfare of those precious children who are brought under his influence.
The second precept is, “Give.” Reference to a concordance will show that the word thus translated is given a great latitude of meaning. In each case, it seems to emphasize the recipient of the gift and the attitude of the giver.
One would consider the children in their need for spiritual food: without the Bread of Life they will surely perish. Our Lord placed in our hands the Gospel, which is the only remedy for the dying multitude. In doing so, He said, “Give ye them to eat.”
Notice that each one is to be given his portion. This means that we must constantly guard against showing partiality among the children. There are some who, by their winsome appearance and sparkling personality, gain the prominence. Remember, though, that the shy, timid tot stands equally in need of a portion. Give to each and to all whatever the Lord has entrusted to you from Himself, and do it lovingly.
The third precept is, “Sow.” This suggests carefulness and wisdom. To the casual observer it may seem that the sower is casting away his seed with reckless disinterest as he strides across the field. But no! Years of experience have developed a skill in scattering, so that he puts the right seed in the right soil, and always the right amount too.
The Gospel worker among children must choose his lesson material carefully, as seed is selected. He must diligently plant the Word in the good and honest hearts of the young. He must go forth weeping, watering the seed with his earnest prayers, if he desires to come again with rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves of a spiritual harvest.
The Preacher, in our passage, not only gives us these three precepts —cast, give, sow — but he also reminds us of three things which we do not know. This lack of knowledge should spur us to greater efforts in service among the young.
First of all, we know not what evil shall be upon the earth (V. 2). We little guess what sinister influence may soon be at work to undermine the faith of those now in our care. Nor can we tell how much longer the privileges of hearing the Gospel and the truths of God will be afforded to them. Privileges now taken for granted may soon be denied. The Master says, “Work … for the night cometh, when no man can work.”
Secondly, we know not the works of God (v. 5). We know not how marvellously the Lord is able to use even a little portion of the precious seed of the Word, causing it to germinate and to produce fruit unto eternal life. Ours is the responsibility of sowing the seed, and of watering it with our prayers. God has pledged to give the increase.
Thirdly, we know not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good (v. 6). We cannot discern what the results will be, but we go forth in hope, wondering whether this or that, or both alike, shall be blessed of the Lord into producing that which will be to His eternal praise and glory.
Finally, let us consider the precious promise which is given to us as an incentive to cast, give and sow. “Thou shalt find it after many days.”
The full results of children’s work are not immediately seen: perhaps not until the passing of many days. Yet the promise of God has been given, and by faith we may accept it at face value. Only in the Coming Day, when all the sheaves of harvest are gathered in, will the full story be unfolded. Then shall the sower and the reaper rejoice together.