“Send your bread to the face of the waters for in many days you will find it; give a share to seven and also to eight for you do not know what evil may take place on the earth.”
Growing up in church, we always used verse 1 a little out of context — and I confess that even to this day, the verbiage of “cast your bread on the waters” is verbiage that I associate with evangelism and with Isaiah’s words that the Word of God shall not return void (or empty) when it goes it, but that it will do what God designed for it to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11). And, one can make an argument that this proverb of Solomon’s can be applied to evangelism (I’ll come back to that), but at the heart of it, Solomon is dealing with generosity.
The phrase we have in English that conveys the heart of this passage is “what goes around, comes around.” In other words, be generous to others — give a share of your possessions to seven or even to eight people because you do not know when you will be in a position that you will need others to share with you. Jesus says not to store up your treasures here on earth. Why? There are two answers. The first and most significant is that where your treasure is there your heart will be. There is also a practical lesson — on earth, moth and rust will destroy. Calamities and evil things will happen and rob you of your wealth, don’t hoard it up. Similarly, Jesus tells us to use worldly wealth to make friends on earth so that when your wealth fails you will be welcomed into eternal places. The idea is very much the same as what Solomon is teaching here — be generous with worldly things and in your time of need, others will be generous with you.
Yet, as I mentioned, there is also a spiritual reminder connected to this language. For, what greater investment can be made in the life of another than by sharing spiritual truths? Friends, as I look back on my life, I am eternally grateful for those men and women who fed their time and their prayers into my life in meaningful ways. During my own years of rebellion, for instance, my grandmother organized a group of women from our church to pray for me daily. I think back to Dr. Rick Burnor, a philosophy professor in college, who took time to open his home to me to mentor me in the earliest days of my faith as a Christian (studying the book of Romans together). I am grateful to pastors and other Christian friends who did not completely throw up their hands in frustration with me during those years of trying to figure out my place in this world, and I am grateful to my wife for following as I led even when often she paid a greater price in terms of things being left behind. I am also grateful for Elders who have guided me and protected me over the years, teaching me wisdom and patience with God’s stubborn flock. And then, there will be many whose names I may never know here on earth who have spoken (if only briefly) into my life and have shaped me into the man that I am. Feed into the life of others and in time, what Solomon is saying, it will come back to you in one form or another.