Summary: In today’s lesson we are warned against a greedy pursuit of wealth and encouraged instead to enjoy God’s daily gifts.
In his quest to find out how to live a meaningful life the writer of Ecclesiastes addresses the issue of the vanity of wealth.
Let us read Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:9:
8 If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. 9 But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.
10 He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 11 When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 12 Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep.
13 There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, 14 and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 15 As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. 16 This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? 17 Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.
18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot. 19 Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. 20 For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.
1 There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: 2 a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil. 3 If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life’s good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. 4 For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. 5 Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. 6 Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?
7 All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. 8 For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living? 9 Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind. (Ecclesiastes 5:1-6:9)
In Oliver Stone’s 1987 movie Wall Street, ruthless investor Gordon Gekko (played by Michael Douglas), delivers a speech on greed before the Teldar Paper shareholders at their annual meeting. Gekko is there to launch his takeover.
“America has become a second-rate power,” he tells his fellow investors, pointing to greed as the answer. “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right,” adding that greed in its raw and in its full essence marks the upward evolutionary climb.
Then he crescendos, “Greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”
The Gordon Gekko “Greed is good” speech has become famous in broader reaches of our culture as an American icon. The speech is, however, a classic case of art imitating life.
The Preacher, who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, noticed that there was a similar “Greed is good” mindset in his day. International trade was booming, and his country was well situated to make the best of it. People were doing whatever they could to become wealthy.
It is against this background that the Preacher warns God’s people against a greedy pursuit of wealth and to encourage them to enjoy God’s daily gifts.