Wisdom about Money, part 1 (Ecclesiastes 5:10-17)

Thank you for joining me again in our study of Ecclesiastes.  Today we are in Ecclesiastes 5.

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.

Solomon will spend much of his time in the next two chapters talking about money.  He had already experimented with everything life has to offer (2:1-8) and come up empty.  He found himself the richest, empty-hearted man in the world.  But he wants us to get this point loud and clear, so he hammers on it again.

The first thing Solomon says about money is that it ultimately does not satisfy.  Therefore, it is emptiness to accumulate it.

He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. 

When that question was posed to a 20th century billionaire and social recluse Howard Hughes (one of the wealthiest people at the time), his answer has become the stuff of legend: “Just a little bit more.”

No one ever reaches that certain amount and says, “I make 6 figures a year and don’t want a cent more” or goes to his boss and says, “Please, no more raises.  I’m making all I’ll ever need.”

Many of us would say the same thing.  We look at what we’ve got, and we’re dissatisfied, but we imagine that if we had a little more, we would be happy.

Thus, Derek Kidner states:

“If anything is worse than the addiction money brings, it is the emptiness it leaves.  Man, with eternity in his heart, needs better nourishment than this.”

The problem, however, is not money itself, or even possessing money.  The problem lies in the twice repeated word “loves”—“he who loves money…he who loves wealth.”  Money will not reciprocate our love.  It doesn’t love us back.  It won’t stay with us, but will quickly leave us. Also, there is never quite enough to satisfy our desires.

John Piper says “the heart that loves money is a heart that pins its hopes, and pursues its pleasures, and puts its trust in what human resources can offer.”  Instead of trusting God, it puts its hope in what man can accomplish.

C. S. Lewis said, “One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give and so fail to realize your need for God.  If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent upon God.”

Loving money is thinking that I have to hoard it, or have at least have enough at this moment, to meet my needs and make me happy.  It removes the need to trust God.

Many of us Americans have this love affair with money some call “affluenza.”  It is that pang of discontent when we realize that we cannot afford to buy something we really want.

Paul tells us also that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).  Our Lord Jesus Christ warns us saying, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:16).  Jesus pointed out that money steals our hearts away from God and says, “No one can serve two masters…” (Matt. 6:24).

Jesus is the only true satisfaction of our souls.  Unfortunately, we all too often really believe that having more money will satisfy our souls.  But every time we find that to be an illusion.

Paul talked about learning the secret of contentment.  We talked about it in our study of Philippians.  In Philippians 4, Paul writes:

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 

A second problem with riches and wealth, Solomon says, is that it simply does not stay.  They are constantly a diminishing resource.  As soon as we make a little money, bills come piling in.

In verse 11 Solomon records:

When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 

Anyone who has money will accumulate friends, possessions and responsibilities, all of which will require more money.  In Solomon’s case, he is talking all the servants needed to run the palace.  In our case, it might be all the upkeep needed to keep all our toys running.

The phrase “they increase who eat them” refers in some way to people who consume our wealth.  It might be the oppressive government described in verses 8– 9, which takes away our money through higher taxes.  It might be our children or other dependents — the hungry mouths around our table.  Or it might be the people who come begging for us to give them something — the spongers, the freeloaders, and the hangers-on.  Anyone who has won the lottery suddenly finds out they have lots of friends and family members they never knew!

Proverbs 14:20 says, “the rich has many friends.”

There are always vultures.  A person will hesitate to make a contribution to a worthy cause, knowing that he will get letters from them every week for the rest of his life.  Even a child is brokenhearted to learn that the child next door doesn’t really like her, she just enjoys playing with her toys.

“Being valued for what you have and not for what you are makes life in a vain world only worse,” says James Bollhagen.

But no matter who we are, the more we have, the more other people try to get in on it.

No one knew this better than King Solomon. He was the richest man in the world, but given the many thousands of people whom he had to feed on a daily basis (see 1 Kings 4:22–28), he almost needed to be!

Solomon is saying that the problem with money is that it is here today, gone tomorrow.  We can’t depend upon it.  We especially cannot base our happiness on it.

The second part of verse 11 tells us that the eyes covet things, but when we get them, they don’t really satisfy.  Once we possess them, we become bored with them.

A third problem with money is that the reality of having money often robs us of sleep.

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. 

This is a repetition of a similar statement back in 2:23…

23 For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation.  Even in the night his heart does not rest.  This also is vanity. 

As a general rule, people who work hard all day, especially if they work with their hands, are ready for a good night’s sleep.  Whether they have had a decent supper or else are so poor that they go to bed hungry, they will be tired enough to go right to sleep.

The worker is told what to do all day, they do it and go home.  Positions of power may be lusted after, but they turn into sleepless nights of worry and vexation.

The idle rich do not enjoy this luxury but are up all night.  This is not because they are worrying about all their possessions, like the rich fool in the parable that Jesus told (Luke 12:13–21), but because a gluttonous diet of fatty foods gives them a tummy-ache and heart-burn.  Their insomnia is caused by indigestion.

John Chrysostom, the “silver tongued” preacher of the 5th century, put it this way:

…servants are able to sleep. For since throughout the whole day, they are running about everywhere, ministering to their masters, being knocked about and hard pressed, and having but little time to take breath, they receive a sufficient recompense for their toils and labors in the pleasure of sleeping. And thus it has happened through the goodness of God toward humanity, that these pleasures are not to be purchased with gold and silver but with labor, with hard toil, with necessity, and every kind of discipline. Not so the rich. On the contrary, while lying on their beds, they are frequently without sleep through the whole night; and though they devise many schemes, they do not obtain such pleasure. But the poor person, when released from his daily labors, having his limbs completely tired, falls almost before he can lie down into a slumber that is sound, and sweet, and genuine, enjoying this reward, which is not a small one, of his fair day’s toils. Since therefore the poor person sleeps, and drinks, and eats with more pleasure than the rich person, what further value is left to riches, now deprived of the one advantage they seemed to have over poverty?

Again, Solomon says, this is emptiness.

In verses 13-14 Solomon preaches to us about another problem with wealth…

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. 

Two problems are revealed here—the detriment of hoarding riches, and the detriment of losing riches on a bad venture.

The Preacher calls this “a grievous evil,” which literally means that it makes him sick even to think about it.  To explain why, he gives us a case study, the point of which, said Martin Luther, is to show that “God permits the very riches in which people trust to bring about the ruin of those who own them.”

Riches can hurt us when we hang onto them, and when we lose them.  Amassing riches is again a sign of lack of trust in God.  We build up our coffers so that we will not have to worry in the future.  This was the problem of the rich man in Luke 16.

16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”

This man prepared for the future materially, when he should have been preparing for the future spiritually.  He was not rich towards God.  In fact, he seems to have had little relationship with God at all.  This is the problem with riches.  In the parable of the seed and sower we find that the Word of God can be choked out by ‘the cares and riches and pleasures of life” (Luke 8:14).  There is no trust of God.  When we focus on future provision, we do not trust God for either our present or our future provision.

Instead we are to pray to God each day for our “daily bread” and thank him that He provides it.

Thus, amassing possessions can be harmful to our souls.

Verse 14 is heartbreaking.  A son is crying out for bread, but the father can give him nothing.  Why?  Because he has gambled away his paycheck.

Proverbs 28:19-20 counsels us:

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.

Today people lose their money in places like the stock market or get-rich-quick shemes.  In those days their ships foundered at sea or their camel trains were attacked in the wilderness.  But whatever the reason, this man took a gamble and ended up destitute as a result.

“The riches were suddenly and catastrophically lost, whether in foolish gambling, in a misguided venture, or in a sudden reversal of circumstances.”  We cannot foresee every misfortune.

But the story assumes a basic principle.  Fathers, husbands, are responsible to take care of their families.  They are not to amass money for themselves, but they do need to take care of their families.

The story assumes what the Bible teaches in other places: parents should leave a legacy for their children (e.g., Proverbs 13:22).  In financial planning for the future, we should think not only of ourselves, but also about what we can give to our families, including our spiritual family in the church.  Fathers and mothers have a duty to save and sacrifice for their sons and daughters.  Yet this does not mean that getting and keeping more money should be our primary focus. 

This verse shows that whether we amass it or lose it all, in reality money can be a heartache.  While we need it, we need to actively trust God to provide.

Finally, the Preacher identifies another problem with money and possessions: we can’t take it with us.  When we die, we leave it all behind, every last penny.

Here is how the story of the man who lost his money continues: “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?” (Ecclesiastes 5:15–16).

By the way, the New Testament does give us some “above the sun” encouragement.  While we cannot take any money with us, we can “send it on ahead” by laying up treasures in heaven.

The language of these verses is familiar to anyone who knows the story of Job.  When that poor man lost everything that he had, he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.  The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).  The Apostle Paul took the same truth and applied it to all of us: “We brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world” (1 Timothy 6:7).

One day all our labors will be lost. This is the tragic reality that every one of us must face — the reality of our mortality.

Since we cannot take it with us when we die, it is important for us to learn the biblical principle that we can lay up treasures in heaven.

Solomon summarizes the many reasons not to live for money in verse 17: “Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.”  This verse gives us a pathetic picture of where greed will lead.  “If anything is worse than the addiction money brings,” writes Derek Kidner, “it is the emptiness it leaves.”

Don’t let your life end in anxiety, sickness and anger.  Put your trust in God and lay up treasures in heaven.

Published by

Lamar Austin

I've graduated from Citadel Bible College in Ozark, Arkansas, with a B. A. Then got my M. Div. and Th. M. at Capital Bible Seminary in Lanham, MD. I finished with a D. Min. degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, but keep on learning. I pastored at Chinese Christian Church of Greater Washington, D. C., was on staff at East Evangelical Free Church in Wichita, KS, tried to plant an EFC in Little Rock, before moving back home to Mena, where I now pastor my home church, Grace Bible Church

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