Written by Paul J. Bucknell on September, 02, 2022
Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 Investments and Preservation of Wealth with Bible Study Questions
A. Wise Living: (Ecclesiastes 11:1-6)
(1) Investments and Preservation of Wealth (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2)
Solomon continues to advise those seeking wisdom. His words do not present a successful program but wise principles to assure the best life possible. Even the wisest person can die early, and the wicked live long, but the wise live better and longer because they observe specific standards. Following these principles does not guarantee the absence of disasters. Troubles (i.e., misfortune) are anticipated in verse 2. However, these principles are sound if observed, enabling people to live the best life possible within their limited circumstances. Let’s look at the two insightful financial principles applicable to both the ancient agricultural time and today’s modern society.
While verse 1 refers to investments, temporal or eternal, verse 2 talks about the preservation of wealth, “your portion.” Some view verse 1 referring to charity, while others view it as an allusion to business investments. In either case, the sense counters the modern mindset which is to spend what one has and go into debt. Solomon in verse 1 refreshes us with the notion of saving/investing (1) and protecting (2) what God has given us. Let’s now evaluate the two interpretations for verse 1.
(2) Investments of Wealth (Ecclesiastes 11:1)
#1 Charitable Giving (Ecc 11:1)
“Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.” (Ecc 11:1)
The charity interpretation sees “your bread” as food that one shares with the poor or those in need, or even in genuine hospitality (Rom 12:13). Help people in need; support God’s work in missions. The “surface of the waters” represents sending our aid out of our sight and control. The destination and timing are unclear, except they lay beyond our direct benefit.
The discovery of it later on, “You will find it” assures us that God will somehow reward the giver for his kind sharing of food and resources. Do not keep close track of what you gave but rather trust God. The “many days” might refer to events on earth or in eternity where God rewards. In the former, the “find it” does not necessarily mean a direct reward from those you gave. For example, if you helped John during a crisis, don’t expect John to later help you out. God oversees the gift given and the type and timing of reward. The writer frames the proverb within the sovereign control of a faithful God who gives to the cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7). God knows the circumstances in which we share our resources with those in need; He, in time, will return it to us.
“So that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you” (Mat 6:4).
#2 Business Investment (Ecc 11:1)
The commercial interpretation sees bread as grain, a commercial product that one sells and makes a profit from. “The surface of the waters” indicates, for example, the shipping lanes around the Mediterranean Sea. “Find it” points to the profit from a solid long-term investment rather than short-term high-interest risky investments. Solomon profitably carried out trade with other countries. He was very rich and initiated and maintained strong trading investments. He shipped common resources to a distant country where it was not plentiful, trading them for other cheap and plentiful cargo, bringing them back to sell at a reasonable price in his own country. He made a profit by selling the original goods where they were needed and in turn gains new goods for sale. The yield finally makes its way back to him.
Which interpretation for 11:1?
Although both interpretations of Ecclesiastes 11:1 have merit, we must remember the overall purpose and design of Proverbs and this section. Solomon aims to increase the wisdom of his people—the average person, allowing only for the first interpretation. Swindoll paraphrases, “Give of yourself generously, for eventually you will be repaid abundantly.” The later financial investment in trade could help only the extremely wealthy. After discussing verse 2, we will return to this verse to see if the first two verses should influence each other’s interpretation.
(3) Preservation of Wealth (Ecclesiastes 11:2)
“Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.” (Ecc 11:2)
“Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight” instructs us to store our wealth in many different places to preserve it. If a thief or disaster like a flood eliminates one resource, we will have another, or as Solomon suggests, seven or eight storage places. This makes good sense not only in our world that faces energy crises, web hacks, financial shakedowns, and global instability but in any age. Christian investment books use this phrase to encourage people to diversify their investment portfolios wisely. We cannot plan on tragedies and natural disasters—“You do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth,” but we can, to some degree prepare for calamities. Though this seems to be a common sense approach to money, some have challenged this interpretation with another, suggesting it means making loans to others.
The first verse does not speak about commerce, keeping a finger on the investment to ensure a gain. The surface of the waters illustrates how the shared resources go entirely out of one’s control. Their trust is in God’s reward.
However, let’s be careful not to think only of wealth but also of resources. “Portion” can undoubtedly refer to whatever good things the Lord has given us. For example, it can include the cash under our mattress, children and their contribution, storage shed, a valuable coin, insurance policy, etc.—anything that prepares us for “what misfortunate may occur on earth,” including natural or man-made disasters. A common idiom says, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
Evaluating the Two Interpretations
Do the two verses function as one? Kaiser joins the diversification of verse 2 with a varied business interpretation of verse 1, suggesting it means to make diversifications through loans to one’s friends rather than from the bank (as common today). He uses one verse to influence his interpretation of the other, but I don’t think their proximity should affect each other’s interpretation.
I have discussed verses 1 and 2 together because they both involve financial investment. However, the context, 11:1-6, as a whole does not. Their proximity derives from a common theme giving us insights into wise living. Again, they speak on different topics: verse 1 speaks on investment, while the second is on maintaining one’s resources.
In summary, the meaning of “surface of the waters” points to losing control over our resources rather than a long-term investment. The business meaning is not appropriate. Verse 2, likewise, is meant not for the businessman but the average man, even as verses 3-6 are loosely arranged tidbits of wisdom to help the average person.
We care most for ourselves and should personally make those decisions that bless and guard what God has given to us—our portion. We have forces surrounding us that threaten our well-being. The individual, then, discovers the best ways to manage his small lot in light of the counsel of these two verses. While both interpretations of verse 1 look forward to future rewards from the word “find it,” they differ in the way the investment is returned. We are not misers or hedonists but wise stewards of our God-given resources. Kaiser says, “Be liberal and generous to as many as you can and then some.”
Bible Study Questions for Ecclesiastes 11:1-2
1 Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days. 2 Divide your portion to seven, or even to eight, for you do not know what misfortune may occur on the earth.
- Do you think verse 1’s “bread” means literal bread or something else? Explain.
- What does “Cast on the surface of the waters” mean?
- Do you think it’s fair to conclude the author’s meaning is that what is cast on the waters practically means one will never see it again? Do we relinquish control over it?
- What does the author say about the business investment interpretation for verse 1?
- What does it mean for one to “find it after many days?” (11:1) How might this relate to God’s sovereign hand over earth’s affairs?
- How can we practically carry out verse 1? Give an example where you did what verse 1 instructs us.
- How would you phrase Ecclesiastes 11:2 in your own words?
- Give examples of what the 7-8 portions might practically mean.
- Do you follow the insights from verse 2? Explain.
- What is your biggest takeaway from these two verses?
- Advanced: Read verses 1-6 and consider the author’s conclusion that verses 1-2, though discusses the same topic of wealth, are not presented as one thought. How does the context help support this conclusion?
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