Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Cast Thy Bread Upon the Waters

"In Matthew 13:3, Jesus began his parable with, “…Behold, a sower went forth to sow.” Unlike our farmers in the West who plow first then sow the seed, in the biblical culture the sower went before the plowman, who came after the sower and covered the seed that had been sown. The seed sown by the path was not covered, so the birds came and ate it (Matt. 13:4). If the sower had followed the plowman, the seed sown in the field would not have been covered and the birds would have eaten it just as they ate the seed by the path.

From April until late September or October no rain falls in Israel, and the summer sun bakes the ground hard as a rock. The sower and plowman have to wait until after the soaking rains of October start in order to be able to plant their crop. Plowing before the rains had softened the hard ground would be pointless. Once the autumn rains started falling and the ground softened, planting started.

If a farmer sowed his field just after a rain, many times there were puddles on the ground. The Bible encourages the farmer to sow anyway, saying, “Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days” (Eccles. 11:1). The seed the farmer throws to the ground is called “thy bread” because it was the very food that the farmer and his family ate. Each harvest the farmer had to make the tough decision of how much grain to eat, and how much to save as seed for the next planting. If the harvest was slim, the family would be hungry, and they would tearfully sow into the ground the grain that they would like to have baked and eaten.

Nevertheless, they sowed the seed in the dirt, hoping that they would rejoice the next year at a larger harvest. Scripture reflects this basic aspect of farm life when it says, “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy(Ps. 126:5). In the autumn the dutiful farmer would cast his seed upon the puddles of water, hoping that in the spring of the year, “many days” away, he would “find” his bread again, in the form of a bountiful harvest."

Bible Manners & Customs by Rev. G.M. Mackie, M.A, 1898.


  1. I have never understood Ecclesiastes 11:1 or Matthew 13:4 in this way. This opens up a whole new insight. Thanks.

  2. This has very interesting implications if we look at the hard ground as a hard heart, the seed of faith, water as revelation, birds aiming to destroy, etc.

  3. Wow, that makes a lot more sense that way. I always pictured some one throwing a slice of bread into the sea and having it wash back up on shore or something. This is much better!