What this World is Like
Life is fragile. Physical health is fragile, mental stability is fragile, and as we’ve seen lately, even economies and nations can be fragile. How do we prepare for times of stability, times when we may need help of one form or another?
Where Stability Comes From
As Christians, our foundational answer to that question is that we place our hope in God. God is our refuge and strength, and ever present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). If our hope is in Jesus and his sacrifice on our behalf, then we are right with God. The book of Romans would say that we are justified. In Romans 5:1 Paul says, Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Peace with the Almighty God of the universe - what could bring more stability?
But How Shall I Live?
So this is where we start. We begin our search for stability in a heavenly place, looking toward a heavenly city whose founder and builder is God. Toward an eternal hope which cannot be shaken by earthly troubles. But is there any instruction in Scripture on how to prepare for earthly trouble? Are the only solutions we have to “look up and look forward”? In short, no. God has given many practical instructions in his word on how to deal with life’s nitty-gritty. I simply want to consider one passage, perhaps an obscure one.
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight,
for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.
I’ve read through Ecclesiastes countless times, but I remember first grappling with this passage when teaching it to an adult class several years ago. What in the world is Solomon talking about when he says to toss your bread in the water? Are we feeding the ducks ?
There are three common understandings of these verses.
- 1) This could possibly be an agricultural reference. Solomon says in verse one to “cast your bread upon the waters.” Apparently the ancient Egyptians (whose culture and practices Solomon would have been familiar with) had a custom of taking their “bread grain” out on the Nile river when it was at flood stage, throwing it out into the water, and then as the waters receded, the grain would be covered in silt and sprout and grow in the formerly flooded area. So they’d be throwing out their bread, as it were, and finding it after many days.
- 2) The second possibility is the one taken by most modern commentators. Namely, that Solomon is talking about financial diversity. He was involved in international commerce, and perhaps in saying “cast your bread upon the waters” he means the shipping of grain over the seas. Invest in this way, and it will come back. But be sure to take into account verse two, and send it out to seven or eight (not necessarily those precise numbers, just get spread out) so that you don’t have all your eggs in one proverbial basket. It would be much akin to investing in mutual funds, rather than placing all your stock in Apple. Or Gateway. That would have gone badly for you.
- 3) The third option, held by most of the older commentators, and the one that I think is probably right, is that Solomon is speaking metaphorically here. He doesn’t have actual water in mind. Rather, he is saying, be generous with what you have been given, give to the poor, and do so in all directions. It will come back to you in the form of blessing (perhaps financial, perhaps spiritual). And do so to seven, even eight, that is, be liberal with whom you bless. Don’t make people jump through hoops to receive your generosity, just be generous: you never know where it’s going to pay off in their life or yours. And you don’t know what friends you might make that, come the day of disaster, will be there for you.
Are You Prepared?
This is a radically counter-cultural way to “prepare” for the day of disaster. When we conceptualize preparing, what comes into our minds is hoarding, hiding, and saving. Make sure you have what you need. But Solomon says to give generously. So does Moses (Deuteronomy 15:7). So does John (1 John 3:17). So does Jesus (Luke 6:35). God’s path to spiritual prosperity will take you down a road that gets the focus off of yourself. So be prepared for the day of disaster, and spread your bread.