“…you do not know the work of God, who makes everything.” Our not-knowing: that’s been one of the teacher’s main themes. It would not be hard for that not-knowing to be paralyzing, precisely the danger today’s text addresses.
Verses 1-2 are sometimes taken as investment strategies, but since that involves a fair amount of interpretive squinting, perhaps the older Egyptian proverb is a better clue: “Do a good deed and throw it in the water; when it dries you will find it.” Why not some senseless random acts of kindness: who knows what effects they might have?
“Whoever observes the wind will not sow; and whoever regards the clouds will not reap.” That’s the pragmatic angle: when do we have the information we’d like before making an important decision?
“Just as you do not know how the breath comes to the bones in the mother’s womb, so you do not know the work of God, who makes everything.” The teacher could have chosen any example; why this one? Perhaps G. K. Chesterton’s observation re Job provides a clue: “Lastly, the poet has achieved in this speech…another and much more delicate thing. Without once relaxing the rigid impenetrability of Jehovah in His deliberate declaration, he has contrived to let fall here and there in the metaphors, in the parenthetical imagery, sudden and splendid suggestions that the secret of God is a bright and not a sad one–semi-accidental suggestions, like light seen for an instant through the cracks of a closed door.”
Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?
Speak if you have understanding.
Do you know who fixed its dimensions
Or who measured it with a line?
Onto what were its bases sunk?
Who set its cornerstone
When the morning stars sang together
And all the divine beings shouted for joy? (Job 38:4-7)