Ship your grain across the sea;
after many days you may receive a return.
Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight;
you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.
Ecclesiastes 11:1-2 (NIV)
A couple of chapters ago, I discussed the challenges and mysteries that accompany the translation of ancient Hebrew text into modern English. As I spent some time in today’s chapter, I encountered another mysterious challenge that has spawned a very interesting interpretation.
The translators of the NIV have given the interpretation of the first two verses of today’s chapter a decidedly commerce-driven slant. The Hebrew does not so much allude to shipping grain across the sea, but more simply says to throw/cast ones bread/grain on water. The interpretation of invest is also a choice for a Hebrew word that is more simply translated as give. Here are a couple of other ways other translations or paraphrases say these same verses:
Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth. (KJV)
Don’t be afraid to release your bread upon the waters,
for in due time you will find it.
Divide your portion—put seven here, maybe eight there—
for you can never be sure when or where disaster will strike. (Voice)
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, or even eight,
for you do not know what calamity may happen on the earth. (CEV)
Over the past couple of decades, the craft of brewing beer has exploded into a 22 billion dollar industry with about 9,000 different breweries. I know several individuals who enjoy making their own home brews to share, and I always enjoy sampling when I’m invited to do so. Along with this heightened interest, some craft brewers have delved into investigating the ancient brewing practices of different cultures. For example, there’s an ancient Akkadian text that describes the process of brewing beer in which dates and bread are “thrown into water” as part of the mix of ingredients.
This has led a few scholars (whom I suspect might be craft beer lovers themselves) to consider that the interpretation of these verses of Ecclesiastes may mean that when you throw your bread into the water and it comes back to you in a barrel of beer, be sure to share it with seven or eight others, so that when tough times come they will share their beer with you.
As I consider these translations and interpretations in the quiet this morning, I humbly conclude that I can’t be certain either way. Both the NIV’s decidedly pointed interpretation in favor of commerce and the beer-lovers decidedly pointed interpretation in favor of sharing your beer could be what the Sage of Ecclesiastes intended.
What is clear to me is the general spiritual principle the Sage was getting at, to which all the various translations and paraphrases point: invest, produce, and generously share the profitable returns with many. In doing so, I’m insuring myself for lean times which may certainly come.
I never know where this chapter-a-day journey is going to lead me each morning, and sometimes I’m genuinely surprised at where I end up. Today, I not only have a good spiritual principle on which to meditate and apply to my life, but I also have a pleasant bit of trivia about Akkadian brewing and Hebrew wisdom to share with some unsuspecting new friend over a pint. Cheers!
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.