Cast Thy Bread upon the Waters

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 20 August 2010

“Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11:1).

The Book of Ecclesiastes is not likely to be one you will turn to if you are looking to find some encouraging promises in the Word of God.

In fact, the book has such an apparently negative tone that many thought that its theme is “vanity of vanities”—that life is meaningless.

Well, that certainly is not the theme of the book. I would suggest that the theme of the book must have something to do with the phrase that keeps repeating over and over again in the book, namely, “under the sun.” This phrase occurs 27 times in this book, and in almost every chapter, viz.: Ecclesiastes 1:3, 9, 14; 2:11, 17-20, 22; 3:16; 4:1, 3, 7, 15; 5:13, 18; 6:1, 12; 8:9, 15, 17; 9:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 10:5. The only place in the first 10 chapters in which it does not occur is chapter 7. And even there, the concept is alluded to though the exact words are not used.

So what is the theme of the book? Well, perhaps the best way to phrase it is “vanity under the sun.” The word ‘vanity’ occurs 28 times in this book. What Solomon is saying in this book is that life consists in more than what can be seen under the sun. If you live merely on the physical, visible, sensual plane, your life would be a vanity. Solomon should know that. He wrote this book in his evening years after repenting of backsliding and of squandering his life away in the pleasures of this world.

This explains why this book sounds so negative. Solomon is seeking to warn others of following the path he trod. He is saying, “Don’t go that way. I have gone through it, and I have experienced the miseries and regret. See to it, rather, that you live before the face of God keeping His commandments in His fear and bearing in mind that one day you have to stand before Him in judgement.”

Now, this may still sound quite negative. But really there is a silver edge, for there is an implicit promise in all that Solomon is saying. And that implicit promise finds expression in the only explicit promise in this whole book. Where is the explicit promise? It is Ecclesiastes 11:1—

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

Well, the Lord helping us, we want to study this promise under our series on the great and precious promises of God.

Let’s consider this promise under two heads. First, what does it mean to cast bread upon the waters? Secondly, what does it mean to find it after many days?

1. Casting Bread

Solomon says:

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

What does that mean? Well, actually commentators are not sure.

Some suggest that Solomon is alluding to the practice of planting rice since rice grows on wet, muddy field, flooded with water.

Others suggest that it is an allusion to the ancient practice of casting seed on the flood plains of the Nile when the water is flooding the river valleys so that when the water has receded, the seeds would be spread far and wide.

I wonder if it might refer to feeding the fishes in the lake or pond with your leftover bread—that way after many days, you will find the bread in the form of fat juicy fishes.

But whatever the case might be, it is clear that Solomon is speaking about doing good to the poor. Verse 2 is clearly on the same subject: “Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth” (Ecc 11:2)

Perhaps Solomon is suggesting that while helping the poor may seem like a wasteful casting of bread upon the waters, it is not really so.

What is this principle to us? Well, naturally, it reminds us to be merciful towards the poor. Over and over again, the Scriptures remind us to do good to the poor rather than to invest in the rich.

The Lord himself says:

“When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not … rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor…; and thou shalt be blessed…” (Lk 14:12-14)

Let us, beloved brethren and children remember to do so. The poor have a special place in the heart of the Lord, and so they must have a special place in our heart as the sons and daughters of God. We must not be tempted to think that it is foolish to do good to the poor since there are no conceivable benefits of doing good to them. Let us rather learn to cast our bread upon the waters.

And let us realise that the principle of casting bread on waters also extends beyond doing good to the poor. It really extends to all that we may do which is intuitively right and yet may not seem to have any immediate benefit. Speaking a word of grace in season. Giving a gospel tract to a neighbour. Giving a sum to help an orphanage. These are just some ways of casting bread upon the waters.

Let us, brethren and children, seek to live by the grace and mercies of the Lord, always seeking to do good rather than being calculative and seeking an immediate and selfish profit in all that we do. “He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap” (Ecc 11:4).

But now consider our Lord’s promise for those who cast their bread upon the waters.

2. Finding It

Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

We have seen how Solomon might have in mind the rich harvest that would result from sowing seed in the flood plain or perhaps from feeding fish.

Whatever the case may be, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he tells in no uncertain terms that we will find the bread we cast in the waters after many days.

Now, of course, he is not speaking about finding literal soggy bread that one may cast into the waters. He is speaking figuratively. And he is no doubt speaking about what benefits we may expect from casting our bread.

Apart from the fact that it is more blessed to give than to receive, we may not enjoy any immediate benefit of casting bread into the waters. But God the Spirit has promised: “thou shalt find it after many days.

Do a good deed, and you may not expect anything in return. But many days later, when you have forgotten about the bread you cast, you will find it again.

How will you find it again? Well, in the first place, very often those who benefited from our good deed return to give thanks or return to be a blessing.

Some of you may remember the story of Ignacy Jan Paderewski. Paderewski was a very famous Polish pianist. One day in 1892, two geology students studying in Stanford University hit upon an idea to earn some money to help pay for their board and tuition.

They decided to engage Paderewski to give a concert recital. The manager of Paderewski asked for a guarantee of $2,000 which was a big sum in those days. Well, they agreed and so began to work hard to promote the concert and to get it going. But sadly, at the end of it all, they found they had grossed only $1,600; and that before paying for all the expenses.

Well, after the concert the boys told the great musician the bad news. They gave him the $1,600 with a promissory note that they would pay the remainder as soon as they could. It looks like it was the end of their college careers. They were in debt; could not pay the fees; and would have to go out to work to pay back the Paderewski.

But Paderewski refused to take the promissory note. He tore it into two; and handed back the $1,600 to the two boys. He instructed them to use the amount to pay for the expenses and to keep 10% of the balance each for their work and to give the rest to him.

Years later, World War I came and went. Paderewski became the 3rd Prime Minister of Poland. He was striving to feed thousands of Poles ravaged and starving because of the War. There was only one man who could help him. His name was Herbert Hoover, who eventually became the 31st president of USA. Hoover was then in charge of the US Food and Relief Bureau. Hoover responded to Paderewski’s plea and sent thousands of tons of food to Poland.

Later Paderewski travelled to Paris to thank Hoover. “That’s all right, Mr Paderewski,” was Hoover’s reply. “Besides, you don’t remember it, but you helped me once when I was a student at college, and I was in trouble.”

Paderewski cast his bread upon the waters and found them after many days.

Beloved brethren and children, this could be the case with you too. Indeed, it will be the case for you, for God’s Promise cannot be broken. I am not sure if Paderewski was a true believer though he was a Catholic. If he was not, the principle of recompense as taught in our text worked for him in this life.

But as the children of God who cast their bread upon the waters you will always find it after many days. If you do not find it in this life, you will find it on the day when the Lord Jesus Christ rewards His saints.

Did not the Lord Jesus say:

“And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward” (Mt 10:42).


Beloved brethren and children, “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

This is God’s promise. Seek therefore to be a blessing today. You have been blessed that you might be a blessing. It is more blessed to give than to receive. And if you would be a blessing today, you will receive your reward manifold after many days. God is no debtor to those who seek to magnify His name and to do good in His name.

Let us apply our text by taking heed to the words of the apostle Paul:

9And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. 10As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Gal 6:9-10).

“For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister” (Heb 6:10)

May the Lord bless us as we learn the joy of casting our bread upon the waters. Amen. Ω