1* Send forth your bread upon the face of the waters;
after a long time you may find it again.
2Make seven, or even eight portions;
you know not what misfortune may come upon the earth.
No One Knows What Good Will Come
3* When the clouds are full,
they pour out rain upon the earth.
Whether a tree falls to the south or to the north,
wherever it falls, there shall it lie.
4One who pays heed to the wind will never sow,
and one who watches the clouds will never reap.
5Just as you do not know how the life breath
enters the human frame in the mother’s womb,
So you do not know the work of God,
who is working in everything.a
6In the morning sow your seed,
and at evening do not let your hand be idle:
For you do not know which of the two will be successful,
or whether both alike will turn out well.
Poem on Youth and Old Age. 7* Light is sweet! and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun. 8However many years mortals may live, let them, as they enjoy them all, remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that is to come is vanity.
9Rejoice, O youth, while you are young
and let your heart be glad in the days of your youth.
Follow the ways of your heart,
the vision of your eyes;
Yet understand regarding all this
that God will bring you to judgment.
10Banish misery from your heart
and remove pain from your body,
for youth and black hair are fleeting.*
* [11:1–2] These two sayings can be understood against a commercial background. They acknowledge the uncertainty and risk such activity involves. At the same time they encourage action and a spirit of adventure. The first (v. 1) speaks of trade and overseas investment: Export your grain (“bread”) to foreign markets and you may be surprised at the substantial profits. The second (v. 2) encourages diversification of investment (seven, or even eight shipments of grain) to insure against heavy losses.
* [11:3–6] Verses 3, 4, and 6 expand on the theme of uncertainty and human inability to assess accurately every situation. Verse 4, however, comments on the disadvantages of too much caution: Only those willing to risk will enjoy success. But only the Creator knows the mystery of the “work of God” (v. 5).
* [11:10] Fleeting: lit., “vanity.”