Our gracious Heavenly Father has liberally distributed to all of His covenant children great wealth consisting of His law, the breath of life, His thorough redemption in Christ, and the bountiful resources of His earth. From these magnificent resources, we, as God's covenant people, receive true knowledge, true righteousness, true holiness, families, and, of course, our material estates, all of which compose our covenant wealth. Through these God-given, intangible, and tangible components of wealth, we can retain and increase that covenantal wealth which we possess.
Since wealth includes more than financial resources, covenant wealth retention requires a broader perspective than that of diversifying a mutual fund portfolio. Solomon the king the wisest, wealthiest, and most glorious and influential king who has ever ruled on this earth was a foremost expert in acquiring and preserving wealth. He was a multifaceted man, possessing a plethora of knowledge, wisdom, skills, and interests. His Ecclesiastes reveals that he knew how to retain wealth in all of its forms. Most striking, however, is Solomon's teaching in Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 regarding diversification. Among other things in this passage, Solomon taught the covenant community that diversification mitigates life's known and unknown variables (risks), enabling the elect to retain their covenant wealth.
In Ecclesiastes 11:1-6 (my translation from the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia Hebrew text), Solomon presents his diversification principle as systematically encompassing every area of life. I, therefore, refer to it as "systematic diversification":
(1) Send your bread upon the face of the waters, for after many days you will find it. (2) Give a portion to seven and also to eight, for you do not know what misery may come upon the land. (3) If the clouds are full, they release rain upon the land, and whether the tree falls to the south, or whether [it falls] to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will fall earthward. (4) One watching wind will not sow, and one looking at the clouds will not harvest. (5) Just as you do not know what is the path of the wind, [or] as bones fill the womb, so you cannot know [the] work of God, who works the all. (6) In the morning, sow your seed, and at the evening do not let your hand rest, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both of them will do equally well.
First, this robust passage in no way teaches about our giving to charity or about someone starting a church missionary program to which someone else must contribute. To the contrary, the ancient Hebrew reader would have understood "sending forth bread" in verse one as a maritime term denoting ocean-oriented commerce. On one hand, sea-going trade was very risky; but on the other hand, it was very, very profitable. Maritime trade bore the risks of ships being destroyed by storms, of sinking due to poor maintenance or fire, of being robbed by pirates and/or mutiny, and of delivering spoiled goods to their destinations due to their long journeys. Solomon exhorted men to send their goods on seven ships, or perhaps on eight, in order to diversify their labors and investments, to reduce their risks of loss, and to maximize their long-run returns. Solomon added in verse three that one was to diversify his labors and investments while managing both the known variables of life (rain clouds usually bring rain) and the unknown variables of life (a falling tree will fall somewhere, but where?). For us to apply his wisdom of diversification, we, as a covenant community of faith, must systematically diversify our knowledge, our vocational skills, and our estates.
Our knowledge and wisdom begin with the fear of God. From that foundation, we should diligently seek to learn as much about as many fields of study as opportunity and resources afford us, and we must refuse to be narrow, restricted, or confined in our learning. For example, we should add to our understanding the knowledge of rhetoric; resource management; bearing rule over families, churches, and civil governments; theology; and the trading of our skills, capabilities, and products for that which increases our wealth (money or other tangible or intangible assets). Possessing a broadly diverse and true knowledge base affords us many options for obtaining and retaining covenantal wealth. A narrow or false knowledge base (e.g., debt is "always" bad, charging interest is "always" a sin, building an estate is "worldly") can sabotage and eat away at covenantal wealth. Such a broad and true knowledge base is one of the notable characteristics of prominent Reformers, especially of Calvin. All of the Reformers were multifaceted men and not specialized theologians only. Furthermore, many early American, Reformed elders pastored churches while managing general stores, practicing medicine, and teaching in village schools.
This leads us to Solomon's clear implication that we must possess a diversified, vocational skill base in order for us to reduce the risks of losing our covenantal wealth. I believe that Solomon encourages us to possess at least two marketable, moneymaking skills (Ecc. 11:6). The more narrow one's skill base is, the more one risks the reduction of his wealth. Even today's large information technology firms, such as Microsoft and Cisco Systems, buy many diversely skilled firms, thus expanding their portfolio of marketable services and products and increasing and preserving their shareholders' wealth.
In addition to knowledge and vocational diversification, we must also diversify our financial estates, which requires us to understand and to invest in many markets ("seven ships, or eight"). More importantly, we must impart this concept of diversification to our children and our children's children, or else future generations will lose that which we build now. Ensure that their knowledge, vocational skill sets, and estates are diverse. Furthermore, we should be fruitful, and, God willing, should bear many children, reducing our risk of dying without heirs to continue managing our covenantal wealth. If we have only one child, and if that child were to die, God forbid, we greatly risk our wealth being scattered to the wind. Abraham well understood this concept of wealth preservation through heirs (Gen. 15:1-5).
Risks should not paralyze God's people with fear. Ecclesiastes 5:4, 6 warns instead that we mitigate those risks through diversification. Are you fearful of losing your estate because of wealth-destroying risks? Welcome to life under the sun. We can never eliminate our risks of failure and/or loss. We can only identify those risks and lessen them as much as is possible through systematic diversification.
We can clearly deduce that Solomon sees systematic diversification as key to preserving covenantal wealth. Be multifaceted! Learn and master many skills, several disciplines, and various estate-building strategies. Systematic diversity will increase the probability of your increasing and retaining the covenantal wealth for which you and your fathers have labored and which your gracious Heavenly Father has bestowed upon you.
- Gerald W. Tritle