It is a call to unpromising work to sow the seed upon the waters looks hopeless; little good seems likely to come of such toil and sacrifice. So work for the world’s good sometimes seems sadly unpromising; the giving of money, time, influence, feeling, seem only like ploughing the sands, throwing treasure into the sea. But we must hope in hopeless work, or what to the carnal eye looks like hopeless work. The most unpromising ground sometimes yields the richest results. The finest grapes in the world are not grown on fat soil, but on sand deserts and barren shingle that would not afford nourishment to a patch of oats; and the lover of man not rarely gets his richest clusters on the most unpromising ground. It has often been so with the missionary. Who, looking at ancient Britain, would have thought that it would become the vineyard of the Lord? It is often thus in families–the careless, undutiful children turning out the parents’ strength and joy. (W. L. Watkinson.)
If Ecclesiastes is promoting charity, it is asserting there will be an eventual payoff for the act. This thought has echoes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain (Luke 6:38). A modern illustration might be the classic 1946 film It’s A Wonderful Life whereby George Bailey’s (played by Jimmy Stewart [1908-1997]) years of service to the town of Bedford Falls are rewarded when its residents pay off his debts.
A less famous example comes from the May 8, 1960, episode of the anthology drama The Loretta Young Show (1953-1961) titled “Faith, Hope and Mr. Flaherty”. In this installment, Loretta Young (1913-2000) portrays Sister Ann, a nun and worker at Mercy Hospital. Beginning with only 25¢, Sister Ann continually reinvests money given her. Eventually, Mr. Flaherty (played by J.M. Kerrigan [1884-1964]), an Irish curmudgeon and hospital patient, gives the nun five dollars for the hospital building fund. Sister Ann proceeds to “invest” the sum. This development continues and by the time that the program concludes, Sister Ann parlays the initial contribution into $20,000, and in the process blesses a lot of people as Mr. Flaherty merits a plaque for his generosity; Mrs. Spencer (Virginia Christine [1920-1996]) is able to adopt a baby; a man is saved from making a drastic marriage mistake; and another is able to pay his rent. The quarter’s continual returns through supernatural means fits the charitable interpretation of casting bread upon the waters (Ecclesiastes 11:1). – Chandler Vinson
If I had to pick a similar verse in the New Testament, I would choose Luke 6:38.
I think the act of giving is an act of faith. You meet a need today and in love, a response from the Holy Spirit to reach out and touch someone else, a gift is made. You hope for two things – you hope that the gift will make a difference, but you know it will because you placed the gift in God’s hands – and secondly, you know that by giving and sharing of yourself, you have made room in your life for God to pour into you. It is a spiritual law, not one I understand, but in giving you receive. When giving to God, He meets your needs in your life abundantly. It is a law that has been tried to be manipulated and used to bribe and coerce, but at the end of the day, it is a law that God created to bless the pure in heart as they give from that heart to meet a need that God called them to meet with whatever resources they might have.
Send out your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will get it back.– Ecclesiastes 11:1