Summary: Exploring the purpose of wealth through reviewing Solomon's dark book.

“There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. 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. 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? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.” [1]

The burial of a west Texas rancher caused quite a stir. Wealthy beyond belief, he directed that his wealth was to be displayed in ostentatious fashion during his burial. He was seated in a new Cadillac convertible, the top down to display cowhide seats and steer horns prominently affixed to the hood of the new car. One hand was on the steering wheel as though he was prepared to drive away, and the right arm was draped over the back of the seat. Everyone present for the interment would be able to see him thus posed should the unusual sarcophagus ever be exhumed. The man’s instructions were that the car was to be lowered into a grave where the strange mausoleum was to be covered with dirt. As the car was being lowered into the ground, one of the workmen was heard to mutter, “Man, that is living!”

Character and the worth of an individual is not measured by the mausoleums erected in memorial nor even by the houses we occupy during the days of our pilgrimage. The number of people who recognise our names is not a realistic indicator of our stature in the light of eternity. The Qohóleth speaks of two men noted for their wealth. In a few short sentences he describes their lives, concluding in darkness.

It is important to keep in mind that Solomon is advocating neither poverty nor wealth; either situation presents its own challenge. You may recall that Solomon wrote elsewhere,

“Two things I ask of you;

deny them not to me before I die:

Remove far from me falsehood and lying;

give me neither poverty nor riches;

feed me with the food that is needful for me,

lest I be full and deny you

and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’

or lest I be poor and steal

and profane the name of my God.”

[PROVERBS 30:7-9]

Certainly, the Qohóleth was cautioning those who read these words against succumbing to the love of money and the delusions that wealth solves all our problems. Thus, he presents the case of two men—one of whom hoarded his riches only to become a miser unable to enjoy what he had, and the other of whom invested unwisely only to lose all that he had. Neither individual was able to enjoy what he had. The tragedy was that each of these men failed to enjoy life.

The brief account that Solomon presents reminds me of a parable that Jesus once told. Perhaps you are also reminded of Jesus’ parable? As Jesus was teaching and a crowd had gathered around to hear Him a man who felt his brother had cheated him out of an inheritance pleaded with Jesus to make the brother share the inheritance. Jesus demurred, asking sharply, “Man, who made Me a judge or arbitrator over you?” The Master then appended this cautionary note for all to hear, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” [LUKE 12:13-15].

Pause and let the words of the Master sink in. “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” The crux of the Master’s teaching is that one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions! This is a rebuke of all we hold true in this world. Almost unconsciously we assume that wealthy people are somehow divinely blessed. We don’t stop to think that it is possible that they have cheated and lied to acquire what they have, that they may have twisted the legal system to enrich themselves at the expense of others or that they may have been born into wealth. However one may have acquired wealth, we durst not depend on wealth as security. Neither must we determine our worth by what is held. Solomon warned of wealth,

“Do not toil to acquire wealth;

be discerning enough to desist.

When your eyes light on it, it is gone,

for suddenly it sprouts wings,

flying like an eagle toward heaven.”

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