Give a serving to seven, and also to eight, For you do not know what evil will be on the earth. – Ecclesiastes 11:2 NKJV
Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth. – Ecclesiastes 11:2 ESV
But divide your investments among many places, for you do not know what risks might lie ahead. – Ecclesiastes 11:2 NLT
Interesting, right? I thought that for a verse about dividing out portions, it might be a good time to divide a verse out in multiple translations for a discussion.
I believe that looking at some commentaries on this unfamiliar phrase “to seven, or even to eight” should shed some light.
Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers
(2) To seven, and also to eight.—Quite similar forms of expression occur in Job 5:19; Proverbs 30:21; Amos 1:3; Micah 5:4. The numbers seven and eight are used indefinitely in the advice to multiply our modes of exertion, ignorant as we are which may miscarry.
So let’s look at the verses referenced:
From six disasters he will rescue you; even in the seventh, he will keep you from evil. – Job 5:19 NLT
There are three things that make the earth tremble— no, four it cannot endure: – Proverbs 30:21 NLT
Thus says the Lord : “For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they have threshed Gilead with threshing sledges of iron. – Amos 1:3 ESV
And he shall be their peace. When the Assyrian comes into our land and treads in our palaces, then we will raise against him seven shepherds and eight princes of men; – Micah 5:5 ESV
SIDE NOTE: Pretty cool that in Micah the scripture is alluding to shepherds and princes, saviors and lords, huh?
And I found it odd that a verse that immediately came to mind in this same train of thought that Ellicott is mentioning was not included, so I’ll add it here.
There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. – Proverbs 6:16-19 ESV
And Benson has a great commentary on this — even though his language might be a barrier for us to easily read and understand because of his old English style. (But doesn’t this illustrate one of our points this morning as we compare translations, I think?)
Ecclesiastes 11:2. Give a portion to seven — A part of thy estate or provisions. He alludes to the ancient custom, whereby the master of the feast distributed several parts to each guest, and withal sent portions to the poor. And also to eight — To as many as thou art able. For thou knowest not what evil shall be, &c. — Great calamities may come, whereby thou mayest be brought to poverty, and so disabled from doing good. And moreover thou mayest possibly hereafter need the charity of others, which thou wilt have good reason to expect, through the powerful providence of God disposing men’s hearts to pity and help thee, if thou hast been kind and merciful to others; whereas, on the contrary, they can expect no mercy from God or men, who have showed no mercy to others.
So Benson essentially reveals to us that this phrase of speech “to seven, or even to eight” alludes to distributing 6 parts to those close to us (personal intimate relations like family and guests & those whom we owe loyalty, allegiance, or obligation), another part (7) to the poor and needy, and an “extra good measure” to all those we are able to help. We see that this is in His commentary about a merciful yet pragmatic approach of handling our resources.
As Christians, as believers, as followers of Christ, we can participate in this certain practice of sevens – we can divide out our time, our days, our wealth, and have a certain allotment and allocation and pouring out into others in these 15% (7 equal parts) certain guidelines/guardrails when we feel convicted that our lives are not for ourselves but are meant to pour out into others and strive to leave this place better after we are gone. We can also prepare for that uncertainty of the eights – not knowing what lies ahead for us, but helping others as much as we can, willing with that “extra portion” to all who we are able to help, that is done not or if obligation or ritual, but as a hospitable and loving way of life — and in doing so, if evil befalls us, we might find someone in turn that will show mercy to us as well. This eighth portion isn’t a formula, it is uncertain like the wind or like smoke that we cannot grasp in our hands or control with our strength or our minds – but it is a flow that we can align ourselves in and participate in willingly and generously, led by the very Holy Spirit that orchestrates all things for the good of those called according to His purpose.