Ecclesiastes, pt. 12 | the futility of chasing wealth

Ecclesiastes, pt. 12 | the futility of chasing wealth November 22, 2021

“Increased wealth will only produce increased people to consume it. The owner of the wealth will derive no advantage other than looking at his big balance sheet.” James L. Kugel

As we delve further into the wisdom of the sage, we see another way he weaves truth into the fabric of his teaching. He often shows the strength of an ideal by contradicting it with its opposite, as we see in this article with riches and poverty.

Koheleth not only lays out our choices before us, but also the consequences of those choices. In Wisdom Literature, we often find a call to consider the wisdom of our actions.

“Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.” Proverbs 4.26-27, KJV

We begin to realize wrong choices have consequences, so we learn to make wise decisions.

This article relies on a reading from Ecclesiastes 5.10-17 CLICK HERE

For more in this series, visit the Archives / Category / The Writings

i. chasing riches is meaningless

Not every translation recognizes Koheleth’s form of Hebrew poetry. The New International Version captures Ecclesiastes 5.10 in the intended form.

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

The authors of Wisdom Literature and the Psalms often use a form a poetry called parallelism. For instance, line by line they can mirror the lines above, or perhaps state an opposite truth. They amplify the meaning in this way, among other ways.

Here Koheleth says chasing riches is meaningless. He does not say riches are meaningless in and of themselves.

Vita Vilcina | Spain | 11.18.14 | unsplash

Riches are often considered a blessing of the Lord in the Hebrew Bible. However, it is meaningless to pursue riches at all costs. The pursuit of money only stirs up an insatiable appetite, or lust, for more. This is “vanity,” “meaningless,” futile, a vanishing vapor.

ii. New Testament parallel

How does Koheleth’s proverb compare to 1 Timothy 6.10?

What are some ways wealth can be accumulated and distributed in order to please to God?

How can we be better stewards of the resources God has entrusted to us?

iii. more riches, more worries

James L. Kugel translates Eccl 5.11 simply, and then succinctly relays its meaning.

“The more there is, the more that eats it –
so what use is it to its owner, other than just to look with the eyes?”

“Increased wealth will only produce increased people to consume it. The owner of the wealth will derive no advantage other than looking at his big balance sheet” (The Great Poems of the Bible: A Reader’s Companion with New Translations, Free Press, p. 319).

When there are more riches, there are more mouths to feed (i.e. a growing family, more hired labor, etc.).

The simple economic principle of supply and demand postulates the amount of a product (supply) must be considered in relation to how much it is wanted, or how many want it (demand). This determines the value or price of the product. Koheleth declares with the increase of wealth, one often has to provide more supplies for the ever growing demand. Becoming rich is a costly endeavor.

iv. Koholeth contradicts a common notion, riches make life easier

The opposite is often true. He illustrates the point by showing how anxiety robs the rich of rest.

“The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
whether he eats little or much,
but the abundance of a rich man
permits him no sleep.” Eccl 5.12, NIV

Sleep is considered a blessing for the one who serves, regardless of how much he has. An “abundance” produces another set of problems.

First of all, there are more goods to give an account for.

Secondly, abundance is often used in reference to a person attempting to satisfy carnal desires.

Why does one chase riches or the luxuries wealth affords?

The rich man may be constantly adding up what he has, and yet scheming to get more. This mindset produces restlessness. With more riches, there are more worries.

v. unfortunate events

“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.” Eccl 5.13-14

Koheleth states this is a “grievous” or “sore evil” (KJV). He is referring to unfortunate events robbing one of accumulated wealth. There is no indication here he is referring to the just reward of an evil rich man. Rather, he seems to be pointing to a travesty, something similar to what the righteous man Job faces. A good inheritance is swept away so the heir becomes a pauper.

vi. there is no solution offered for these problems

Two lifestyles are portrayed along with their consequences. Koheleth is pointing out the vanity of placing too much stock in temporal riches, contrasted with the rest from a life of simplicity, otherwise known as the virtue of simplicity.

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