No Satisfaction in Wealth

13I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, 14or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him. 15Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand. 16This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind? 17All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger.

18Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. 19Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. 20He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.

In the previous section, Solomon wrote about the love of money and how those who love money are never satisfied. Here, Solomon points out that wealth is not only unsatisfying, but it is also temporary: certainly not lasting beyond the grave; often, disappearing long before the grave. Solomon shows this by relating some examples from real life that he has seen: "I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owner, or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when he has a son there is nothing left for him. Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand" (vss. 13–15). Solomon here gives us three examples from real life that touch on the fleeting nature of wealth. In the first, a man, who realizes that wealth is fleeting, ruins his own life by "hoarding" his wealth. In the second, the wealth is not hoarded, but the wealth is "lost through some misfortune." By juxtaposing these two examples, Solomon points out a dilemma: the realization that wealth is fleeting leads us to hoard wealth, but hoarding wealth is nearly always done to the harm of its owner; but, on the other hand, if we do not guard our wealth, we stand a chance of losing it through some misfortune. If money and wealth are the focus of your life, and the center of your happiness, you can’t win!

In the third example, Solomon points out that all this concern about money and wealth is kind of futile, because one’s worldly wealth never lasts beyond the grave: "Naked a man comes from his mother’s womb, and as he comes, so he departs. He takes nothing from his labor that he can carry in his hand" (vs. 15). Indeed, envying the wealthy of this world is shortsighted, as the Psalmist points out: "Do not be overawed when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases; for he will take nothing with him when he dies, his splendor will not descend with him" (Ps. 49:16–17). Solomon ponders this: "This too is a grievous evil: As a man comes, so he departs, and what does he gain, since he toils for the wind? All his days he eats in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger" (vss. 16–17). Indeed, if you are living for money, if to gain wealth is the central goal of your life, then certainly you are "toiling for the wind". You will certainly "eat in darkness", because you will not realize the harm your love of money is causing, you will be blind to the futility of striving after wealth. Thus, you will experience "great frustration, affliction and anger."

But there is another way, as Solomon points out: "Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart" (vss. 18–20). Instead of striving after more and more wealth, be satisfied with the lot God has given you, "find satisfaction in [your] toilsome labor". Solomon realizes here, and we also should realize this, that it is God who enables a man to "enjoy [his wealth and possessions], to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God." Though Solomon may seem grim in the book of Ecclesiastes (because he often points out what is futile in life), he does also touch on what is "good and proper" in life. And when he points out what is "good and proper", when he speaks of finding satisfaction in life, when he talks of finding happiness, God is named as the source. The world sees things differently. The prevailing view of the world is that possessions and wealth bring happiness, and God brings gloom and melancholy. "There is a school among us who are fond of describing religion by its sorrows, and who forget, or seem to forget, their overbalancing joys" [Bridges, 119]. The world is wrong. As Solomon has pointed out in this and the previous chapter, wealth and possessions can be a source of great misery. They become a source of misery when we look at them as the means to fulfillment in life. When we do this, they become our god. To focus on the gifts of God, rather than on God the Giver, is idolatry. God, of course, hates idolatry, and so it only makes sense that God will not enable a man to find happiness and fulfillment in his idolatry.

Now, do not misapply these teachings. The way to fulfillment is not necessarily to throw all of your possessions away and live in a state of poverty, for a poor man can revere possessions as an idol as easily as a rich man. No, the answer is to get your eyes off of your possessions and to direct them to God. The goal of your life should not be to make more money, to get more possessions. To do this is to follow an idol. Rather, the goal of your life should be to follow God’s will for you life, and be content with what He has given you. God may direct your life in a path that leads to wealth. Praise the Lord for this, and thank Him for the gifts He gives. God may direct your life so that you lead a humble life. Praise the Lord for this, too, for wealth and possessions are sources of great temptation, and catalysts for strife. "[Wealth and possessions] are always a temptation. So often a rise in the world is declension or apostasy from God. It is only when they are consecrated to God, and laid out in the service of our fellow-creatures—that they become a blessing" [Bridges, 118]. "If we focus more on the gifts than the Giver, we are guilty of idolatry. If we accept His gifts, but complain about them, we are guilty of ingratitude. If we hoard His gifts and will not share them with others, we are guilty of indulgence. But if we yield to His will and use what He gives us for His glory, then we can enjoy life and be satisfied." [Wiersbe, 71]. Oh, that we too could live like the content man Solomon describes: "He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart" (vs. 20).

 

 

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