“Bread upon the Waters” -- By: Percy P. Stoute

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 107:426 (Apr 1950)
Article: “Bread upon the Waters”
Author: Percy P. Stoute

“Bread upon the Waters”

Percy P. Stoute

In Ecclesiastes 11:1 we read, “Cast thy bread upon the waters; for thou shalt find it after many days.” What is this statement designed to teach? If we ask ten individuals to explain this verse, probably all of them will say practically the same thing: that we should give to those in need, and that later we shall be rewarded for our kindness.

This answer shows how thoroughly we have become imbued with the traditions of “the Fathers.” Someone, years ago, gave this interpretation (all the marginal references in the A.V. show that meaning to have been in the mind of the translators; the heading of the chapter says “Directions for Charity”) and we have accepted it and have never sought elsewhere to find perhaps the real meaning of this bit of wisdom. It is obvious that the language is figurative; and if we have to guess at its meaning, one guess is as good as another and no one can be sure of what the Lord would have us learn from this portion of His Word. And we cannot get much help from the context, since there does not seem to be any particular subject being discussed. We shall try then in this paper to discover what is hidden under the surface of Ecclesiastes 11:1.

A scripture that deals with the future is prophetic in scope, and this one tells explicitly what shall happen “after many days.” It may be argued, however, that this book of the “man under the sun” is not a book of prophecy; yet it is nevertheless a part of the “all Scripture” which is “God-breathed,” and is intended to be profitable for us (2 Tim 3:16). It may be claimed, too, that since the verse cannot be taken literally, it is not prophetic. This argument

does not hold, as there are scores of prophecies which are given in types and parables. Much of Zechariah is in symbol. Matthew 13, which is parable, is prophetic in scope. It should be said in passing that all prophecies, in whatever form they are given, have and must have a literal fulfillment.

On reading this verse we find two words which are clearly symbolic. Our problem is to discover whether these—”bread” and “waters”—mean, as has been taught, “charity” and “reward” or whether there is hidden here something more profound which will help us to see more clearly the marvelous harmony of the Bible and its oneness of purpose, to reveal the blessed Son of God. And since He is the central theme of the Book as a whole, we expect indeed to find Him here likewise.

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