Money lessons from the first personal finance blogger

By Stew

bread

Solomon most famously wrote the Book of Proverbs. Thoughts about money are prominent in both Proverbs and his other book of wisdom entitled, “Ecclesiastes”. We might even say that King Solomon was the first “personal finance blogger”.

My pastor recently spoke on the following passage from Ecclesiastes 11:

Cast your bread upon the waters, For you will find it after many days.
Give a serving to seven, and also to eight, For you do not know what evil will be on the earth.
If the clouds are full of rain, They empty themselves upon the earth;
And if a tree falls to the south or the north, In the place where the tree falls, there it shall lie.
He who observes the wind will not sow, And he who regards the clouds will not reap.
As you do not know what is the way of the wind, Or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, So you do not know the works of God who makes everything.
In the morning sow your seed, And in the evening do not withhold your hand;
For you do not know which will prosper,
Either this or that, Or whether both alike will be good.
Truly the light is sweet, And it is pleasant for the eyes to behold the sun;
But if a man lives many years And rejoices in them all, Yet let him remember the days of darkness,
For they will be many. All that is coming is vanity.

This is a beautiful passage and it is here that Solomon (the author of the book) starts to depart from his theme of “vanity, vanity, all is vanity” that dominates the first ten chapters of Ecclesiastes. It is important to recognize that Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, a great builder, a great politician and a great hedonist at certain points in his life. Solomon was also the richest man of his day. He had seen it and done it all. He was by no means a perfect man, he was blessed with great wisdom, yet it seemed that he still needed to experience life in order to learn from it – the “school of hard knocks” you might call it. Ecclesiastes was written near the end of his life. As he muses on all that he had seen and done during his great life, he finally realizes that God is sovereign over all.

The passage is full of idioms that have been translated several times and the culture that surrounded them is long gone. However, we can still dig through all of the layers to find timeless truths about life and money. An idiom is a word or phrase that is not to be taken literally, but has come to its meaning through cultural usage. For instance, we might say, “don’t put the cart before the horse” to someone who was not talking about anything remotely having to do with horses, but everyone in the room understands the speaker’s point.

Cast your bread upon the waters

There are two possible meanings here. The first reference is to a merchant who is sending out his ships. He knows that the sea is dangerous, but with no risk, there is no reward. The author is telling his readers to step out in faith, God is in control. The other possible meaning has to do with generosity, we might think that our philanthropy goes unnoticed and will never bring a return, but God says that it might take a while, but giving money to those in need is just as good as investing that money. I lean toward the former interpretation as being correct, but both are good.

Give a serving to seven, and also to eight

Another statement with two possible meanings. One possibility is that the author is teaching the principle of “diversification”. Put your money in as many different place as possible because you do not know what investments might not come back to you. The other meaning is to give to as many people as possible because you never know when your gift will meet a great need. Do not be stingy if God has blessed you.

He who observes the wind will not sow

You can always find a reason not to work. All work requires some risk, if you do nothing but look at and be afraid of what might happen, you will get nothing done.

And if a tree falls to the south or the north, In the place where the tree falls, there it shall lie.

This one is tough, most commentators struggle with this particular saying, but possible meanings include “what will be, will be”, “bloom where you are planted”, or “don’t cry over spilled milk”. The bottom line is that we cannot always change our circumstances, we can only control our response to circumstances. Need a job? Don’t stop until you find one. In debt? Pay it off one dollar at a time. Once that tree has fallen, it is no use to try to stick it back in the ground.

As you do not know what is the way of the wind, Or how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, So you do not know the works of God who makes everything.

This is the most important thought in the entire passage. There is nothing we can do about the big things in life, only God can control the wind and the growth of a child. Our resonsibility is to learn truth and act with faith. God’s methods are not readily apparent to us, but we can always trust his hand.

But if a man lives many years And rejoices in them all, Yet let him remember the days of darkness, For they will be many. All that is coming is vanity.

Carpe Diem, Seize the day! If life is good, enjoy it and rejoice, don’t spend your days worrying about what lies ahead. Matthew 6:34 has a similar idea, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Obviously, the Bible (and Solomon) spend a great deal of time suggesting that the wise person plans for the future, so he is not advocating laziness, foolhardy procrastination or indulgent debt. This idea is more of an attitude where a person prepares for the future not with fear and worry, but with wisdom and contentment,  .

Lot’s of good stuff here. Not bad for a guy who lived over 4,000 years ago!

Photo by maggiephotos.


9 Responses (including trackbacks) to “Money lessons from the first personal finance blogger”

  1. Ray Says:

    Good passage. I don’t understand this part however:
    In the morning sow your seed, And in the evening do not withhold your hand;
    For you do not know which will prosper,
    Either this or that, Or whether both alike will be good.
    I understand sowing seed, but what is the witholding your hand mean? Does that mean help someone who may need it, or what is your interpretation?

  2. passatfreak Says:

    Ray,

    Oftentimes I look up verses in the NLT when they are confusing. v11 is translated this way:

    “Plant your seed in the morning and keep busy all afternoon, for you don’t know if profit will come from one activity or another””or maybe both.”

    HTH
    Michael

  3. Shawna Says:

    This was a wonderful way to start my day. Thank you!

  4. Dan Says:

    good stuff here. One of my favorite books in the bible, in fact. Don’t gloss over the ‘vanity, vanity, vanity’ parts, though. For those who are panting after the next dollar, ask yourself why? Why work yourself to death to accumulate things? You will die and your things will go to someone you don’t even know (i.e. after your kids inherit, they will spend it or pass it to their kids, who will neither know nor thank you). The same fate (i.e. death) comes to the rich and poor alike. Everything you try to build will crumble. So is life without God.

    However remember your God in the days of your youth! There is only one truly eternal thing, and it ain’t something that you can buy with all of your labor. Keep this truth in mind every day and with every decision you make, and it will cause you to put things in their proper place in the grand scale.

    God bless,
    Dan

  5. Carrie Says:

    I really like this post. These are good things to think about on a daily basis.

  6. Gina Says:

    Great post! I always enjoy a person’s perspective on Bible passages and how they relate to our lives today.

  7. Russ Smith Says:

    Thanks for sharing. Nice verse, and good to remember how important money management is to God.

  8. Greg Says:

    Great post. You are correct that the book of Proverbs is full of financial wisdom; however, my favorite money verse is found in the New Testament in the book of Luke. Chapter 16, verses 10 and 11, remind us to be faithful in the little things as well as the big things. If I only have $5, God is just as interested in how I spend “Honest Abe” as he is in how I spend $5000. That passage tells us that if we aren’t faithful in small things ($5), then God can’t trust us to be faithful in big things ($5000).

    Thanks for the insight into Solomon’s wisdom.

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