I was very, very confused when I first read these two verses. Throw bread on the water and it’ll come back to you? Ew, mold. Give portions to seven, and even eight? Does this mean I donate a bunch of stuff to Goodwill and work at the soup kitchens every Saturday?
Well, not exactly. Here, the Teacher (the writer of Ecclesiastes, who might or might not have been Solomon), lays out a little business sense in the middle of his text.
#1: Take Calculated Risks to Grow Yourself
“Cast your bread upon the waters,” Biblically speaking, referred to merchants shipping their grain by boat. It was a dangerous and risky thing to do because boats could easily sink–but those merchants who risked it often were much more successful than those who did not risk anything, because they were willing to try. In our own lives, the times we’ve risked much of our own efforts in order to gain something even more valuable (a friend, a new love, a job, an accomplishment, etc.) often stand out in our minds as the times we truly understood our own mettle. Not to mention that it was a thrill to take a chance, and that it possibly led to more happiness.
As a habitual non-risk-taker by nature, I try to make sure that the thing I desire most is just about in my hand before I reach to grab it. But the few times I’ve really launched myself out and lunged for something, something I didn’t want to wait any longer to grab, I’ve surprised myself with unexpected passion and tenacity, as I strove to hold on to what I wanted. Yes, sometimes I had to let what I wanted go; sometimes it slipped from my hand. But I was better for having reached, and that’s what the Teacher is referring to here.
#2: Try Everything You Can–Don’t Limit Yourself
The second verse is just as hard to fathom. Who or what are we supposed to give portions to? Well, in fact, this relates back to good business practice as well. We have to try out many different ventures, “diversify our efforts,” you might say, because you never know which one will work.
Think about it–we don’t just fill out one college application, or one job application. We fill out many at a time, in order to get a broader “net” and possibly a better chance of getting a hit. If we pin all our hopes to one idea and that idea sinks, what happens to us? We are more easily discouraged and start to falter in taking risks. By contrast, if we have many ideas and no big hopes pinned to any of them, we can move on from the failure of one and maintain faith that one or more of the other ideas will yet bear fruit.
Where Does Faith Come Into This Picture?
Speaking of faith: “Where is the faith in this passage?”, you might be asking. “This sounds more like life advice and business advice rather than Christian living advice.”
Oh, but it is Christian living. The more we take risks and diversify our efforts, the more we learn to stop fearing and start trusting God. When situations are literally and figuratively out of our hands, we learn to place our trust in God and lift up our concerns to Him.
When we have no way of influencing the outcome of something in our lives, we can become more comfortable with praying about it and knowing that God has a perfect plan for everything. Risk helps test our faith, and broadened efforts helps reduce risk as well as develop our abilities in areas we might not have trusted otherwise. We begin to live a more balanced (and more faith-based) life as a result.