Governmental Corruption

8If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. 9The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.

Earlier in the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon noted: "So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot" (Eccl. 3:22). Solomon concluded that a man could be happy in life if he was able to "enjoy his work." Then Solomon proceeded to look at some obstacles preventing a man from enjoying his work. Here he points out another one: "If you see the poor oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at such things; for one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields" (vss. 8–9). An obstacle to man enjoying his work is when he sees the fruits of his labor stolen by corrupt officials: it is the "king" and "all" the corrupt officials under him that "profit from the fields."

In noting this, Solomon, who understands the nature of man, tells us: "Do not be surprised at such things" (vs. 8). Solomon spent his life observing life, and so Solomon knew that man is sinful. Thus, he knew that the sinful nature of those in positions of power would lead, in many cases, to abuse of that power. It has been well said that "Power tends to corrupts; and absolute power corrupts absolutely" [Lord Acton]. We have seen this borne out many times in history, and we continue to see it borne out in our day and age, and so, we should "not be surprised at such things."

Such corruption occurs despite administrative efforts to curb the corruption: "For one official is eyed by a higher one, and over them both are others higher still. The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields" (vss. 8–9). One would think that governmental corruption would be limited when "one official is eyed by a higher one." They should be watching over each other, stopping corruption. Instead they are covering up for each other, even outdoing each other in corruption. This corruption goes right up the ladder to the top, for "the king himself profits from the fields." The corruption would certainly be an obstacle for us in enjoying our work, for we see the fruits of our work taken by those who don’t deserve it.

The Love of Money

10Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless. 11As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them? 12The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep.

Solomon notes another obstacle to us enjoying our work: "Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless" (vs. 10). Solomon here is dispelling a popular myth concerning money: the myth that wealth brings satisfaction in life. This is simply not true. Rather, wealth is often accompanied by the love of money, and the love of money invariably leads to dissatisfaction, no matter how much money one has: "Whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income." This should come as no surprise. Look at your life. Are you ever "satisfied with your income"? Don’t you always want more and more? You think that you will be satisfied if you could just get that raise. You get that raise. Are you satisfied? No. You start looking ahead to the next raise. "Human desire outruns acquisitions, no matter how large the acquisitions may be" [Kaiser, 76]. Think of the many times you have heard of famous, "rich" celebrities going bankrupt because they owe millions more than they can pay. You think, "How could he have gone bankrupt? He had so much money!" The celebrity thought that the next million he spent would bring happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction. Instead, it brought the desire to acquire more possessions, and in the end, brought ruin. "The tempter may paint a brilliant prospect of happiness. But fact and experience prove, that he that loveth silver or any worldly abundance will be satisfied neither with the possession, nor with the increase. The appetite is created—not satisfied. The vanity of this disease is coveting what does not satisfy when we have it" [Bridges, 113].

Now, having said this, let me point out that money and wealth in themselves are not evil. It is the love of money that is evil, that brings ruin and misery. Abraham was very rich, but his wealth did not bring misery. David was also rich, but his wealth did not cause him to stumble, for he found satisfaction in God, not wealth. David wrote: "You are my portion, Lord" (Ps. 119:57). David did not desire more money, more possessions. Rather, he wrote: "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple" (Psalms 27:4). Paul did not write, "Money is the root of all evil," though many erroneously cite the verse that way. Rather, he wrote: "People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs" (I Tim. 6:9–10). For those who love money, money becomes their god. "Long after their basic needs are met, they crave for more. Long after they have the permanent security they seek, they strive for more. Long after they have all the luxuries they covet, they itch for more." [Hubbard, 139]. "If anything is worse than the addiction money brings, it is the emptiness it leaves. Man, with eternity in his heart, needs better nourishment than this" [Kidner, 56].

Solomon goes on to point out that wealth, rather than solving all problems, brings its own set of problems. First, "As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owner except to feast his eyes on them?" (vs. 11). The wealthy have no shortage of those who are willing to spend their money for them. Wealth is a people magnet, attracting human parasites. It saddens me to see a variation of this principal at work even within the church. It seems that those in the church who have money get invited to more gatherings, have more people in the church who seek their friendship, have no shortage of those willing to pray for their needs, etc., while those with humble means are slighted in these areas. This should not be. All should feel welcome in church, not just the wealthy. All should be able find friendship, fellowship, not just those who have lots of money. All should be able to find brothers and sisters who will pray for them, bear their burdens, not just those who have worldly riches.

Solomon enumerates yet another problem that wealth brings: "The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether he eats little or much, but the abundance of a rich man permits him no sleep" (vs. 12). There is no better sleeping pill than a hard, honest day’s work. Wealth brings with it baggage that tends to get in the way of a good night’s sleep: anxiety concerning keeping the riches, worries about being robbed, constant ruminating on how to get more riches, etc. "Grandeur often pays a nightly penance for the triumph of the day" [Cecil, cited in Bridges, 116]. A sure sign of the love of money is sleeplessness due to concerns that wealth brings.

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