Ecclesiastesby Philip E. Satterthwaite
Chapter 4 has drawn a link between injustice and greed. Today's passage makes the same link, with a brief sketch of corrupt officials. What is it that makes them corrupt (Ecclesiastes 5:8-9)? Simple: everyone wants their cut and looks after their own interests-all the way up to the king! There is not much fear of God here, not much respect for God's law (contrast v. 7). The following verses develop this point by focussing on the theme of greed, in a series of brief snapshots.
Here is a man who ″loves money″ (v. 10): his appetite is insatiable; he never seems to have enough. And now that he has become wealthy, he has a crowd of hangers-on who all want their cut (v. 11). His money has taken on a life of its own: the more he has, the more problems come with it.
Another snapshot (v. 12): the rich man eats well, but he lies awake at night. Does he have indigestion? Is he thinking about how to increase his wealth? A labourer does not have these problems: he sleeps soundly, tired out by his day's work.
A ″grievous evil″ (v. 13): wealth is hoarded, and then it is lost through some misfortune (v. 14), perhaps a bad speculation or a crop failure. Not even the rich are exempt from what 9:11 calls ″time and chance″. And so this man cannot leave his son anything: he has no more at his death than he had on the day he was born.
We finally see this man eating ″in darkness″ (v. 17): somehow surviving, but full of resentment and bitterness, cursing God for how his life has turned out. Yet whose fault was it that things ended up this way? And this was a man whom many would have called blessed, because of his wealth. But his wealth was an idol, and idols always deceive and corrupt their worshippers, before finally abandoning them (Psalm 115:4-8).
Behind these snapshots stands Ecclesiastes 5:8-9, which links injustice and corrupt government with human greed. The obsessive pursuit of wealth harms those who engage in it. Even those who acquire wealth, who in one sense ″succeed″ in this pursuit, derive no true blessing from their success. But more than that, others suffer as well: the labourers oppressed by greedy officials (v. 12 is true, but not everything about a labourer's life is lovely); the poor, who might have benefited if the rich had been more willing to share their wealth.
Here is a challenge, surely, to the consumerism so rampant across much of the world today. What are the hidden costs of modern living-personal, social, and, not least, environmental?
Do you know of situations in which a sudden increase of wealth has made the individual or community more unhappy than happy? What can you learn from such situations?
What practical steps can you take to counter an unhealthy love of money in yourself?
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