The Emptiness of Mere Riches (Ecclesiastes 5:8-17)

I am pretty sure I was never that child who whines and whines to get something he really desires. I remember even at a young age that I perceived myself to be blessed beyond most other children I knew in terms of all that I had.

I was also a child who did not have much of a sweet tooth. Hearing other children whine to get candy annoyed me, and I didn’t want to be like that. I even recall my mother getting angry that she bought candy and had it in a particular cupboard but I never ate any of it, so she wasn’t going to buy anymore.

So perhaps it is all that background that causes me to especially remember an occasion when I did whine to get something, wearing down my parents and older sister to the point where they finally just gave in. It was at the beach in Wildwood, NJ where we vacationed each summer for at least two weeks. A favorite treat that I saw being purchased for many children on the boardwalk was cotton candy. Though I never had it, I was sure that I would like it. My parents and sister told me that I would hate it. But I persisted in pestering, and they bought me some.

It took only one touch and one taste to know that I had made a terrible mistake. It was sickeningly sweet and annoyingly sticky. Beyond that, I kept accidentally bumping into people (including my family) and getting cotton candy stuck on their clothing. I tried in vain to just give it away to other kids, but none would receive it. Eventually, my sister just snatched it out of my hands in frustration and threw it into a trash can.

Desiring and attaining wealth through successful labor can be much like being disappointed with a stick of cotton candy. It is not as great as it appears, and it can create unanticipated problems. Solomon points out a list of those problems.

Problem #1 – Wealth can be taken by oppressive and unscrupulous rulers …

Ecclesiastes 5:8 – 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. 9 The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.

Wow. So who says the Bible does not talk about contemporary issues? It is inevitable that taxes will be a part of life in any civilized society. There are just roles of government that rightly require funding from the citizens who jointly benefit. But, we know it has also always been true that too often the taxation that happens is not in actuality for the benefit of the citizens, rather, it is to enrich those in power who can create and enforce such laws.

Problem #2 – Wealth creates more problems and complications than the blessings it bestows …

10 Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.

11 As goods increase, so do those who consume them. And what benefit are they to the owners     except to feast their eyes on them?

12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet, whether they eat little or much, but as for the rich, their abundance permits them no sleep.

Though it is generally perceived that money is the answer to address life’s problems, in actuality the acquisition of material resources can mark the beginning of newer and bigger problems.

First, loving money only leads to desiring more money. It never really satisfies. The most famous of the Rockefeller clan was asked at what amount did earning money finally satisfy. And his answer was, “After one more dollar.”

Secondly, having a lot of money and riches creates the problem of securing that wealth from those who might steal it. It becomes a consuming concern that never goes away. I was much struck by this during my several years of living amongst and working around the wealthiest people in Texas. Securing their wealth was a never-ending difficulty that involved every waking moment.

Problem #3 – Wealth can be lost in some misfortune.

13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun: wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners, 14 or wealth lost through some misfortune, so that when they have children there is nothing left for them to inherit.

Some unforeseen circumstance such as a severe natural disaster has caused more than one person in life to lose all of a substantial fortune achieved over a lifetime of labor and careful acquisition. Whereas both the passing generation and the rising generation had expectations of passing along that wealth for the benefit of family, now it is lost. This is worse than having never possessed it in the first place.

Problem #4 – You’re going to die and you can’t take your wealth with you.

15 Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands.

16 This too is a grievous evil: As everyone comes, so they depart, and what do they gain, since they toil for the wind? 17 All their days they eat in darkness, with great frustration, affliction and anger.

When a person dies, the question is sometimes asked, “What did he leave behind?”  And an answer to that which actually fits every person is “everything.”  Everyone leaves everything behind. This raises the question as to what good it is in the first place, since it does not survive the current world.

So in it all, watch out for what you desire and covet. When you get it, it may not satisfy as much as you expect. This world is filled with people – many of them famous and known worldwide – who have everything in life that they could ever desire, other than a relationship with God and contentment and joy through knowing Christ.

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