Put out your bread on the face of the waters; for after a long time it will come back to you again.
Be generous: Invest in acts of charity. Charity yields high returns.
Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days.
Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
Throw your bread on the surface of the water, because you will find it again after many days.
Send* your grain* overseas,* for after many days you will get a return.*
tn The verb שָׁלַח (shalakh, “to send; to cast”) refers to the action of sending something to someone (e.g., Neh 8:12; HALOT 1995 s.v. שׁלח). The term is traditionally rendered here as “cast” (KJV, NAB, RES, ASV, NASB, NIV); however, some render it “send” (NJPS, NRSV, NEB). LXX uses ἀπόστειλον (aposteilon, “send”).
tnHeb “your bread.” The term לֶחֶם (lekhem) is traditionally rendered “bread” (KJV, NAB, RSV, NRSV, ASV, NASB, NIV, NJPS). However, 11:1-2 seems to deal with exporting goods overseas (D. R. Glenn, “Ecclesiastes,” BKCOT, 1002-3). It is better to take לֶחֶם (“bread”) as a metonymy of product, standing for the grain and wheat from which bread is produced (e.g., Gen 41:54-55; 47:13, 15, 17, 19; 49:20; Num 15:19; 2 Kgs 18:32; Isa 28:28; 30:23; 36:17; 55:10; Jer 5:17; Ezek 48:18; Job 28:5; Ps 104:14; Prov 28:3); see HALOT 526 s.v. 1; BDB 537 s.v. 1.b. It is taken this way by several translations: “grain” (NEB) and “goods” (Moffatt). Qoheleth encouraged the export of grain products overseas in international trade.
tnHeb “upon the surface of the waters.” This is traditionally viewed as extolling generosity from which a reward will be reaped. On the other hand, some scholars suggest that the imagery deals with commercial business through maritime trade. M. Jastrow took this verse as advice to take risks in business by trusting one’s goods or ships that will after many days return with a profit (A. Cohen, The Five Megilloth [SoBB], 181). Sea trade was risky in the ancient Near East, but it brought big returns to its investors (e.g., 1 Kgs 9:26-28; 10:22; Ps 107:23); see D. R. Glenn, “Ecclesiastes,” BKCOT, 1002-3. The verse is rendered thus: “Send your grain across the seas, and in time you will get a return” (NEB); or “Trust your goods far and wide at sea, till you get a good return after a while” (Moffatt).