Financial Advice From the Old Testament

Among the many personal finance and dividend blogs that exist, the common theme of ‘financial discipline’ seems to dominate our writings. We often talk about having financial discipline when it comes to our savings rate. We speak of living below our means and not chasing after material objects. We speak of financial discipline with our investment style by focusing on sustainable dividend growth from high quality companies as opposed to chasing high yield “fantasies.” We speak of financial diversity as well, whether spreading our investments over a few dozen stocks or by including real estate or peer to peer lending among our income mixes. All these seemingly common sense financial themes are nothing new though.

 

 

I wanted to share some interesting financial commentary I came across while reading Ecclesiastes. Just for the record, I do believe in God but I would not consider myself religious by any means nor do I intend to make this blog post a proselytizing session. I just found some very interesting writings from one of the 24 books of the Tanakh or Hebrew Bible that I wanted to share. It’s amazing to me that writings from the Old Testament, from a point in time that’s literally thousands of years old, can be relevant today. With that being said, let’s review some of the passages that have obvious financial themes, that I found which everyone can relate to, even today.

 

First, a little background on Ecclesiastes. It is widely believed that the book was written by the son of King David which implies it was written by Solomon sometime during the 3rd century B.C. It’s basically a narrative with a central theme declaring that everything in life is futile. We basically are born, live our lives and eventually die. Mighty kings and the poor all have the same fate. The basic premise of Ecclesiastes highlights the fact that all actions of man are temporary and fleeting. For an Old Testament writing I found it very interesting as a read and could relate and agree with many of the points mentioned. Of course, this is a financial blog so I’ll focus on the financial advice from this book.

 

I just love this first quote as it relates so perfectly to our investment styles of not trying to time the market nor listen wholeheartedly to all the talking heads and market prognosticators.

 

“Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come? As no one has power over the wind to contain it, so[a] no one has power over the time of their death.”

 

How true these words are. Everyone claims to know when a market hits a top or creates a bottom. No one predicted the collapse of oil in the summer of 2014. No one! It’s all a random guess. I can say the DOW will be at 25,000 in the next month or next year just as easily as I can predict DOW 10,000 in the next month or year. It’s all conversation and not fact. It just doesn’t matter what anyone says about the future as no one knows anything.

 

Similarly, “Whoever watches the wind will not plant; whoever looks at the clouds will not reap.” Is the Old Testament trying to tell me not to time the market? I think so. Sitting on the sidelines “watching the wind” and not taking any action seeking the “perfect time” to invest will never reap any rewards. Sometimes you just have to jump on in and spend time in the market instead of timing the market. Sure, stock/portfolio values may rise and fall but you’ll be reaping dividends all the while from quality companies.

 

How about diversifying your investments? We even have advice in that department. “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” I couldn’t have said that better myself. We should all occupy our time with multiple sources of income, whether from a job, dividends, real estate or some other venture for we truly do not know which will succeed. Of course, if you prefer more direct advice from the Old Testament, “Invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.”

 

Being a dividend growth investor we often talk about the long journey we are on towards financial independence and that creating our dividend snowball takes time and is rarely achieved in a hasty manner. In that respect we are reminded from Ecclesiastes that, “The race is not to the swift.” How true. Wealth creation and passive income generation takes time. We often compare our journey to a marathon and not a sprint.

 

Of course, in Ecclesiastes I have found some references about how to live your life and enjoy your time while you are still young. Among the various financial blogs I read, many discuss the goal of achieving financial independence early in life, for who wants to retire with an old, less functional physical body? We’d like to enjoy our freedom with a capable body rather than incapacitated. The following should ring true to many who are new to the FI game.

 

“You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see.”

 

We are also reminded not to love money.

 

“Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.” Financial independence is never about accumulating money and assets, rather it’s about being satisfied with what you have and finding happiness with the intangible attributes that money can offer such as time spent the way you see fit rather than on a new car or newest phone. For it is, “Better one handful with tranquillity than two handfuls with toil.” Indeed.

 

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a very self-explanatory quote from Ecclesiastes, “Fools are put in many high positions.” Be careful who you listen to. ‘Nuff said.

 

It’s fascinating that a written word from thousands of years ago can be so incredibly relevant today. What do you think about the financial advice offered from the Old Testament? Please let me know below.

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27 thoughts on “Financial Advice From the Old Testament

  1. Keith,
    I love it! It is nice being retired, you get to sit back and enjoy life while also helping others. You’ve heard the expression “time is of the essence”? Time IS the essence. May you reach financial independence as young as possible, but enjoy the journey as you strive to get there.

    BTW, I started the morning in Leviticus. That is one of the best parts of retirement, being able to start the day off in quiet mode instead of rushing to get to work.

    Be blessed, and be a blessing,
    KeithX

    • Hi KeithX,

      You said it, “Time is the essence.” I think that’s what we all are really looking for on this FI journey. The ability to use the time we have on Earth to do what we want. I have read many parts of the Old Testament several years ago but never beyond the first five books. When I came upon Ecclesiastes I was pleasantly surprised at all the wisdom that was there as well as how relative it was to my own life. It was a fast and engaging read and I gained a lot. I think I’ll have to review some more of the Old Testament and find other timeless gems of wisdom. Enjoy your retirement and reading. Quiet mode, certainly sounds nice. Thank you for commenting.

  2. DivHut,

    Nice perspective. Though I have not read the bible through end to end, I have read some. Even took a bible lit class. There are definitely some time honored lessons that we can all apply to life, whether we’re religious or not. I especially like that quote about loving money and wealth. I find that is quite a fine line to walk since we all want our investments to do well, but we also want to be happy regardless. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

    – HMB
    HMB recently posted…Stuffing Moneybags August ’15My Profile

    • Hi HMB,

      Glad you enjoyed this post. As you stated, you don’t have to be religious to gain some great insight about life from the Old Testament. A valuable lesson is a valuable lesson no matter your beliefs. I really believe that true happiness is being content with what you have. Once you achieve that state of mind you are no longer burdened by seeking/chasing money, capital appreciation, yield or any other material object. Who is the happy man? The one who is satisfied with what he has. As always, I appreciate your comment.

  3. Hi DivHut,

    Very interesting post drawing financial advice from verses in Ecclesiastes. Being a Christian, I love the book of Ecclesiastes as it is wisdom from King Solomon in the latter years of his life. Not sure if you have the verse references readily available, but could you let me know which chapters and verses you used for the quotes? I found them to be very interesting.
    A Christian Investor recently posted…The Point At Which I Can RetireMy Profile

    • Hi ACI,

      I have to say that the book of Ecclesiastes has been my favorite, by far, of all the Old Testament readings I have done. What I liked most about the book was how relevant it was to my modern life and that it has a lot of value and wisdom for anyone despite religious affiliation. I’m sorry, but I do not have the verses nor chapters handy for the quotes I used. I just read it online and when I found a gem I liked I simply expanded on it. The beauty of Ecclesiastes is that it’s relatively short and a very fast and easy read. I’m sure you will find those quotes quite easily. I wish I could be more help. I guess this gives you reason to review this book on your own 🙂 Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  4. I agree with a lot of the advice given. Funny how ancient text can still be relevant. Outside the Bible you can find this in other ancient texts, words of wisdom long lost. My favorite advice you offer is that many fools are put in high positions. It always seems that way to me.

    Fun side note, I used Ecclesiastes when I was doing my confirmation as my reading. Specifically the part where there is a time for everything. I sincerely believe that and the need to be flexible in life and investing is paramount.

    My march towards FI is for my freedom of time and away from worry,
    – Gremlin
    Dividend Gremlin recently posted…Sector ScopingMy Profile

    • Hi DG,

      I was very impressed with Ecclesiastes. I never read it till a few days ago but it really struck a chord with me. Yes, it’s amazing that an ancient text can be relevant today in our seemingly modern world but I guess good advice and wisdom can survive indefinitely. Another reason I enjoyed reading this text was that I found I could relate to it quite easily. I’m not really religious but the words really spoke to me. From the comments it seems that Ecclesiastes is quite popular. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  5. What a coincidence, tomorrow my blog post on how to divide your salary is scheduled to post. In it, I discussed tithing and Terumah (first fruits).

    Really like this post, I was waiting for that “invest in 7, even 8” part to pop up!

    I’d just like to balance this with a word from one of the minor prophets:

    Amos 3:7
    For the Lord God does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets.

    So maybe we can time the market after all? Just gotta find me a prophet…

    Cheers
    M from theresvalue recently posted…How to Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half – Week Four ReportMy Profile

    • Hi M,

      Glad you enjoyed this post. The truth is that there is a lot we can learn from the Bible no matter our religious beliefs. Many of our laws in modern Western civilization is based on Judeo-Christian concepts. I always say be careful who you listen to, especially when the wisdom comes from the talking heads we see on TV. Lots of false prophets there 🙂 Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

    • Hi ARB,

      This quote is so true. How often do we see people breaking their heads and backs toiling for more and more wealth. Sometimes they aren’t even toiling for more wealth, rather just trying to keep up with their own lifestyle inflation they have created for themselves. What is the price of tranquility? For me, it’s priceless. Thank you for commenting.

  6. “whoever love money would never have enough,” is very true. There is a study shows you don’t feel any happier when you income/spending is above $75k. Warrent Buffett is going to give majority of his wealth away instead of passing it to his descendents. His descendent seems to be at peace with the decision, the rich people figured it out too.

    • Hi Vivianne,

      I saw that study a while back about money and happiness and that your happiness doesn’t increase over $75k. Kind of makes you think about all the people who work endlessly amassing a great fortune and how stressful their lives must be. This quote comes to mind from the post, “Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil.” Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

  7. Thanks for the article Keith. Wise words. No doubt. Wisdom and knowledge. Time’s never change huh. What works back then still works today. The formula for happiness and success still remains unchange. It’s up to us to find it and I hope we do.
    Thanks for sharing bud.
    Let’s keep it up and conquer all of our dreams and aspirations while enjoying this wonderful journey of ours. Cheers.
    Dividend Hustler recently posted…A New Goal. Hustler Townhouse.My Profile

    • Hi DH,

      I aim to cover all attributes of finances from my own real world portfolio to timeless knowledge and advice from texts that are thousands of years old. As you stated, “The formula for happiness and success still remains unchanged,” which is so true. Somewhere in our modern consumer driven society we seem to have forgotten basic common sense about life and money. Glad you enjoyed the post. Thank you for commenting.

  8. Great thoughts all. As a former pastor who has done teaching series on this type of theme I resonate well with what you say and was surprised to note a few things you reference I hadn’t considered in the light you share.

    Thanx for posting!

    • Hi Ashley,

      As a former pastor you must be well versed in many great verses and biblical themes that are relevant today. Of course, there are many great lessons one can learn from these texts not just related to finances but also to life in general and how one must behave and interact with their fellow man. I appreciate your comment.

  9. Thank you for writing this article. The steady strain approach. The best advice is the timeless advice that has been proven to work. The plan just has to be worked. I need to read Ecclesiastes.

    • Hi JT,

      I think you will enjoy Ecclesiastes a lot. I have read many other texts from the Old Testament but none have hit home, for me at least, as Ecclesiastes did. It’s full of great quotes and life lessons not just financial lessons. You really realize that in the end we really all end up in the same place and that after a few generations you are not even remembered. Happy to have shared this classic text with you. Thank you for commenting.

    • Hi EL,

      It’s amazing how relevant a lot of these verses are in our modern world. The truth is that wisdom is eternal and can remain relevant forever. We are all humans and behave a certain way whether living in biblical times or the modern world. As always, I appreciate you stopping by and commenting.

    • Hi R2R,

      You can never discount inner peace and a general feeling of contentment. I think most of us already know this on our own personal FI quests. I really enjoyed reading Ecclesiastes and it really helped remind me of what dividend investing and FI is really all about. As you stated, it’s more than just accumulating assets and Ecclesiastes gives you that perspective of what’s really important in life and what is simply pointless and futile. Thank you for commenting.

  10. Isn’t it funny how these pieces of above are still relevant today and have withstood the test of time? Good advice does not have an expiration date. Glad you were able to find some important lessons from an unlikely source and thanks for sharing them.
    Have a great weekend.

    Bert

    • Hi DD,

      Always happy to share some interesting insights that can enhance our investing styles and choices we make in life. I think if more people heeded the seemingly common sense bits of advice from Ecclesiastes, we’d have more people in better financial and life situations. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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