Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12

Ecclesiastes 5:8-6:12

Satisfaction Sold Separately

I’m not guilty of divulging any state secrets when I suggest that many Americans live as though their life verse were Ecclesiastes 10:19, where we read these rather startling words, “Money is the answer for everything.”  That attitude is not only common in our culture; it is even common among Christians.  Now it’s not my purpose this morning to wrestle with the interpretation of Eccl. 10:19, because 

Solomon’s actual view of riches, as revealed here in chapters 5 & 6, is far different.  And that is what we wish to examine this morning.  

We opened our study of Ecclesiastes with the notion that . . . Ecclesiastes as a whole records the struggles of a thinking man to square his faith with the facts of life.  In spite of all the difficulties, all the unanswered questions, all the intellectual potholes, and all the apparent futility, he fights his way through to a reverent trust in God.  

The author goes from one area of human life to another trying to help us cope with an existence that is heavy with futility and apparent meaninglessness.  He has wrestled with physical nature, human nature, pleasure, projects, work, time, relationships, and now in chapter 5 he focuses his attention on wealth.  Money is another one of the loose threads that creates tension and a sense of futility in this life we live under the sun, on the bottom side of the rug.  One might think that the harder you work the more money you will have and the more money you have the happier you will be.  But it doesn’t work out that way, does it?  In fact, more often than not the opposite is the case.

Before we tackle Solomon’s viewpoint on the rat race for riches, let me remind you that he had some fairly substantial credentials for speaking on finances.  He was possibly the richest man who ever lived, certainly the richest in his own day.  His annual cash income was enormous, which doesn’t even take into consideration the enormous resources he owned and managed.  G. Frederick Owen describes some of the amenities of life this man enjoyed:

 All Solomon’s drinking vessels were of gold, and those of his house were of pure gold. The shields of his mighty men were made of beaten gold, and his great throne was made of ivory and overlaid with the finest gold.  Silver in Jerusalem became as common as stones.  Solomon literally built himself a paradise of pleasure.  One of his chief resorts was Etham where, when the mornings were beautiful, he often went in stately progress, “dressed in snow white raiment, riding in his chariot of state which was made of the finest cedar, decked with gold and silver and purple, and carpeted with the costliest tapestry worked by the daughters of Jerusalem; and attended by a body guard of 60 valiant men of the tallest and handsomest of the young men of Israel, arrayed in Tyrian purple, with their long black hair, freshly sprinkled with gold dust every day, glittering in the sun.

This guy was loaded.  So when he speaks about riches we ought to sit up and listen.  Having established Solomon’s credentials, however, the greatest danger we must fight this morning is the tendency to say to ourselves, “He’s talking about the rich, so he’s not talking to me.”  Solomon istalking to us, for most of what he has to say is not addressed to the rich but rather to those who want to be rich.  Besides, even if he were talking just to the rich, that would still include most of us in this room if judged by the standard of the average income of people world-wide.

The first topic he addresses is . . .

The hoarding of riches (5:8-17)

We’re going to read from Ecclesiastes 5:8-20.  And I will ask you to stand, if you are able, for the reading of God’s Word.

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. But this is gain for a land in every way: a king committed to cultivated fields.

He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? 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.

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.

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. 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. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.

Solomon opens his discussion with an observation, namely that the love of money leaves oppression and corruption in its path.  Some of you may not like to hear this, but Communists and Socialists were absolutely correct in their evaluation of capitalism as a system which produces terrible inequities and oppression of the poor.  But to paraphrase a famous statement once made about democracy, “Capitalism is the worst possible economic system there is, except for all the others that have been tried.”  Now even the Communists are using it–in Russia, in China, even in Cuba.  

Unfortunately, the corruption of government officials mentioned in verse 8 is found in every system because the heart of man is evil.  Without doubt, however, oppression and corruption is greatest where the love of money is greatest.  As our society gives more and more allegiance to the Green God, oppression and corruption will only get worse.

By the way, verse 9 is very difficult to translate.  It can be understood in two different ways; unfortunately. they yield opposite meanings.  One way to translate it is as in the ESV, “But this is gain for a land in every way; a king committed to cultivated fields.”  That seems to say that the best defense against government corruption is a godly ruler.  In other words, when a good ruler encourages his people to prosper by cultivating their own fields (or manufacturing their own goods), that land will prosper and be able to withstand the tendency toward corruption.  True enough.

But many scholars translate this more negatively, like the NIV: “The increase from the land is taken by all; the king himself profits from the fields.”  In this reading the king is not part of the solution but rather part of the problem.  He’s in on the take, which was certainly true of most ancient rulers.  I’m inclined toward this reading, because our experience with injustice in this fallen world leads us to expect corruption at every level of government, right up to the top.   

Up to this point the Teacher has been talking about greed on the national level, but beginning in verse 10 he brings things down to the personal level.  Greed is a temptation for all of us, so he warns us all about the vanity of riches.  He offers us seven principles about the hoarding of wealth that are almost impossible to argue with.  I am going to use the formulation of these principles that Randy Alcorn presents in his marvelous little book called The Treasure Principle.  They all come right out of Ecclesiastes 5.

Let’s read them, and then we’ll comment briefly on each one:

         1.  The more you have, the more you want and the less you’re satisfied. (10)

         2.  The more you have, the more people will come after it.  (11a) 

         3.  The more you have, the more you realize it does you little good.  (11b) 

         4.  The more you have, the more you have to worry about.  (12)  

5.  The more you have, the more you can hurt yourself by holding on to it.  (13) 

         6.  The more you have, the more you have to lose.  (14) 

         7.  The more you have, the more you’ll leave behind.  (15-17)[i]

         1.  The more you have, the more you want and the less you’re satisfied. (10) “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.”  The Romans had a proverb which expressed the same idea: “Money is like sea-water.  The more a man drinks, the thirstier he becomes.”  Why is it so rare for those who are financially secure to quit the rat race and spend their years enjoying the things they have earned?  The answer is simple–the lover of money never feels financially secure.

         2.  The more you have, the more people will come after it.  (11a) “When goods increase, they increase who eat them.”  In other words, the more money a person makes, the more people he has on his payroll, the more parasites surround him, the more watchful he must become to make sure that those around him aren’t ripping him off, the more the taxman takes, not just in amount but in percentage, the more he is hounded even by charities.  It’s a vicious cycle.  Being rich isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Just ask the rich.  

Believe me, Solomon knew what he was talking about here.  Listen to 1 Kings 4:22-28:

“Solomon’s provision for one day was thirty cors (6 bushels each, so 180 bushels) of fine flour and sixty cors (360 bushels) of meal, ten fat oxen, and twenty pasture-fed cattle, a hundred sheep, besides deer, gazelles, roebucks, and fattened fowl ….  Solomon also had 40,000 stalls of horses for his chariots, and 12,000 horsemen. And those officers supplied provisions for King Solomon, and for all who came to King Solomon’s table, each one in his month. They let nothing be lacking. Barley also and straw for the horses and swift steeds they brought to the place where it was required, each according to his duty.”

         3.  The more you have, the more you realize it does you little good.  (11b) “When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes?”  The NIV expresses it this way: “What benefit are they to the owners except to feast their eyes on them?”  Stop and think about it for a moment: what is the real benefit of a Rolls Royce (I’m picking a car that I hope no one in this church drives).  Does it get you where you’re going any faster than a Ford?  What benefit is there to a mansion over a nice house?  Does it keep you any warmer, any drier?  No, mostly the things people work themselves to death for are to feast their eyes on, or, more likely, to hope other people are feasting their eyes on them in envy.  

And not only does it do little good, but have you ever thought about how much money we spend just undoing the damage that spending money has caused?  We eat like pigs, drive everywhere in our fancy cars, and then have to buy a membership at the health club to get rid of the results of our unhealthy lifestyles.  We buy a house with a large lot, then have to hire someone to take care of the lawn so we can go to the tennis club to get the exercise we wouldn’t need if we mowed our own lawn.  Friends, the love of money sets in motion a lot of vicious cycles.                                             

Randy Acorn, who doesn’t own a TV, talks about freebies:

Let’s say I get a television for free.  Now what?  I . . . subscribe to a cable service.  I buy a new VCR or DVD player.  I rent movies.  I get surround-sound speakers.  I buy a recliner so I can watch my programs in comfort.  This all costs money. But it also takes large amounts of time, energy, and attention.  

The time I devote to my TV and its accessories means less time for communicating with my family, reading the Word, praying, opening our home, or ministering to the needy.  

So what’s the true cost of my “free’ television?[ii]  

         4.  The more you have, the more you have to worry about.  (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.”  Hard labor, especially physical labor (done, of course, more often by the poor) produces a tiredness that almost inevitably leads to deep sleep.  But the rich man can’t sleep.  On the one hand, he is worried about his riches, worried about inflation, worried about recession, worried about security for his stuff.  On the other hand, his gluttonous diet of fatty foods gives him indigestion.  

         5.  The more you have, the more you can hurt yourself by holding on to it.  (13)  “There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt.”  Isn’t it ironic that the reason people hoard wealth is for their own benefit, but the actual result of their hoarding is their own harm?  You don’t believe that?  Listen to a few who ought to know:

         W. H. Vanderbilt: “The care of $200 million is enough to kill anyone.  

                  There is no pleasure in it.” 

         John Jacob Astor: “I am the most miserable man on earth.” 

John D. Rockefeller: “I have made many millions, but they brought me no happiness.” 

         Andrew Carnegie: “Millionaires seldom smile.” 

         Henry Ford: “I was happier when doing a mechanic’s job.” 

         6.  The more you have, the more you have to lose.  (14)  “. . . riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture.”  This is worse yet–the lover of money who loses it all through a bad investment or some misfortune.  Maybe he gambled it away or lost it in the stock market.  To make it still worse, this man has children but nothing to leave them.  He has now spoiled his life twice over, first in the hoarding and then in the losing.  “Rags to riches” is a beautiful success story, but its opposite is a trauma of great magnitude.

In the church I attended as a kid in Webster Groves, MO, there was a self-made man who built a small fortune through hard work and thrift.  By his mid-50’s he was worth a million dollars (equal probably to $10 million or more in today’s dollars).  He came across an exporting concept that he felt could put him on Easy Street for the rest of his life (I’m not sure what street he thought he was living on already!).  So he scraped together all his liquid assets, plus mortgages on home and business and delivered it to his overseas partner, who promptly vanished with the loot.  The man died in his mid-eighties, never fully recovered from the pain of losing his entire hoard.  He reminds me of this man Solomon describes.

         7.  The more you have, the more you’ll leave behind.  (15-17)  We Americans need to come to grips with the truth taught here in verse 15-17–that when we leave this life we will take none of our monetary wealth with us.  Exactly as we are born, so we will die–naked and penniless.  You’ve heard it many times–one thing you will never see is a hearse pulling a U-Haul trailer.  Solomon refers to this as “a grievous evil.”  I think he’s looking at it from the standpoint of the rich hoarder.  Think of the likes of Bernie Madoff and consider whether verse 17 doesn’t describe him: “Moreover, all his days he (this formerly rich man) eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.”  

Well, when we read about the angry old man of Ecclesiastes 5, we cannot help but think that there must be a better way to live, and there is. 

The proper use of riches (5:18-20)

Allow me to re-read verses 18-20, for this is the heart of Solomon’s message to us today:

         “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. 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. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.”

It is here that I want to take a stab at putting my sermon in a sentence: Prosperity is not always what it seems, so instead of pursuing wealth, enjoy God’s daily gifts. 

The first proper use of riches is to . . . 

         Enjoy them.  (18-20)  Notice, please, that the possession of wealth and the enjoyment of it are two entirely different things.  If there is a message in this section it is this: Satisfaction sold separately.  Verse 19 speaks of those to whom “God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them,” but later in chapter 6 he will speak of those “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.”  Satisfaction or enjoyment is not automatic with wealth.  Therefore we should give much more thought to the enjoyment of God’s gifts than to the accumulation of them.  

The little things of life–eating, drinking and a satisfying job–are once again high on Solomon’s priority list.  These are the things that bring true enjoyment, not a huge bank account, not power, not prestige.  I think Walt Kaiser, former professor at Trinity, hit the nail on the head when he said, “How sad that men can spend all their days working and sweating to receive the enjoyment that God offers as a gift if men will seek it in the manner that He, in His excellent and beautiful plan, has chosen to give it.”[iii]  

Some of you are probably saying right now, “But I don’t have time to enjoy God’s gifts.”  I’m going to be honest and admit that I have often said the same thing deep inside.  There have been weeks and even months where my schedule has been bizarre–meetings, emergencies, difficult counseling, long working hours, finishing sermons on my day off, weddings, funerals, etc.  But friends, what we’ve got to admit together is that when we’re too busy to enjoy the gifts of God, we’re just too busy!

Second, a prime pre-requisite to the enjoyment of riches is to . . .

         Recognize them as a gift from God.  (19-20)  That is clearly stated at the end of verse 19.  Have you noticed how many times the name of God is brought up in these last 3 verses of chapter 5?  The implication is that we must recognize that every gift comes from Him, plus the ability to enjoy it.  It is not our cleverness, our competence or our perseverance that has made us rich–it is God.  By the way, notice what God does for the thankful person–He occupies him with gladness of heart so he doesn’t brood over the troubled days of his life.  Verse 20 says, “For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.”  

The point I think is that the thankful person doesn’t waste all kinds of valuable mental and emotional energy on regrets–

         regret that he didn’t finish his education, 

         regret that he didn’t marry so-and-so, 

         regret that he didn’t take a certain job offer, 

         regret about this and regret about that.  

He doesn’t have time for such useless exercise, for focusing on what God has given is far more important.  

Finally this morning, just a brief word on one more proper use of riches:

         Be generous with them.  (11:1-2) This isn’t found in today’s text, but it is borrowed from chapter 11:  “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.  Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.”  A slang word for money today is “bread.”  That’s not as modern as we might think–Solomon called it that 3,000 years ago.  Actually, giving is only one possible application of this proverb, but it is certainly a legitimate one.  Two motivations for giving are offered:  

         (1) spread your riches around and you are more likely to keep them, perhaps in other forms, than if you hoard them, and

         (2), “you might as well give it before you lose it,” for disaster can strike at any time.

Green threads, we have discovered today, are very prominent on the bottom side of the rug.  The temptation to allow riches or even the love of riches to dominate our lives is immense.  To help us Solomon has urged us to refuse to be a hoarder of riches, and to properly use riches.  But he has one more angle he wants to pursue:

The tragedy of riches that are not enjoyed  (6:1-9) 

Let’s read verses 1-9 of chapter 6:

There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: 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. 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. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place?

All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. 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? Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.

Solomon gives us two case studies to explain the tragedy of failing to find enjoyment in wealth. 

         1.  The man who has everything except the ability to enjoy his wealth, and his wealth ultimately goes to a stranger (1-2) Prosperity without the gift of enjoyment is worthless.  In fact, it is worse than that–it is a major tragedy.  Worse yet is the situation where the man dies prematurely, and a stranger gets control of his estate from which the man himself never found any real joy.  

But then Solomon gives us a second case study.  

         2.  The man who has everything except the power to enjoy his wealth, but who, in addition, has many children and a long life (3-6).  Instead of having no heirs Solomon postulates 100 children; and instead of dying prematurely, the man lives 2000 years.  Still, if he has no ability to enjoy the good gifts of God, he is worse off than a miscarriage.  After all, the stillborn child comes and goes before it experiences the harsh realities of life; it does not see the light of day or know anything about the pain that life can produce.  But a long life without enjoyment is worse than no life at all.[iv]  At least the stillborn finds rest, which is more than this man has found.  

A person can live twice as long as Methuselah, but he will eventually end up in the same place as the child who dies at birth, namely the grave.  Others may have looked upon him, his wealth, his children, and his age with envy, but in fact his life is pathetic if he doesn’t know how to enjoy life. 

         A summary warning (7-9).  If people have trouble enjoying life no matter how many children they have or how long they live, then maybe they could avoid disappointment by expecting less out of life.  But the problem is that we always have an appetite for more.  In verse 7 Solomon speaks generally of mankind: “All his toil is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.”  What happens when we feed that appetite?  We get hungry all over again; the same cravings return day after day.  Nor does it seem to matter how wise we are or how much we have–we all have unfulfilled longings.[v]  That seems to be his point in verse 8.  It’s just human nature to be focused on buying, eating, wearing, storing up, etc.  John D. Rockefeller is famous for his answer to the question, “How much is enough?”  “Just a little bit more.”  

So what is the answer?  Verse 9: “Better is the sight of the eyes than the wandering of the appetite: this also is vanity and a striving after wind.”  He means that we should be satisfied with what we have (“the sight of the eyes”) rather than always striving for what we do not have (“the wandering of the appetite”).  

Now let me ask you an important question: Is this a Christian way of looking at life, or is this just an OT point of view, 3000 years out of date?   Oh, I think it is definitely a Christian way.  

The New Testament agrees with Solomon.  (1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19) 

In 1 Timothy 6:6ff the Apostle Paul speaks right out of Solomon’s playbook:

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

That’s Paul position on those who desire to be rich.  He seems to agree entirely with Solomon.  But then he turns his attention to those who are rich–not because they have made that their goal in life or because they have focused all their efforts on riches.  Maybe they inherited their wealth; perhaps God simply blessed them.  His attitude toward them is very different in verses 17-19:  

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Friends, the uniform message of Scripture seems to be that there is nothing wrong with wealth per se.  It is the attitude we have toward it that makes all the difference.  If we love it, if we hoard it, if we stress out about it, if we are never content with it, then wealth can be an unspeakable tragedy.  On the other hand, if we enjoy it, are thankful for it, and are generous with it, it can be a hugeblessing.                   

Jesus, too, warns us against spending our lives in the pursuit of wealth.  “Take care!  Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15).  He also asked, “What does it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?  For what can a man give in return for his soul?”  (Mark 8:36).  That’s a question we all must ponder.  

Jesus also offers an alternative to greed: “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27).  That food, of course, is the truth Jesus is sharing with them, but they can think only in terms of doing something.  They ask,“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  And Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  We don’t normally think of believing as a work, but Jesus says putting our faith in Him is the only work that will ultimately pay off .

Conclusion:  Let me return to my sermon in a sentence:  Prosperity is not always what it seems, so instead of pursuing wealth, enjoy God’s daily gifts. We have a choice between two ways of life.  We can spend our life pursuing wealth, but this never satisfies and, in the end, leads to disaster.  Or we can focus on enjoying God’s gifts every day, especially the ultimate gift of His Son.  It’s a no-brainer.

[i] Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle, 55-56.  

[ii] Alcorn, 54.

[iii] Walter Kaiser, Ecclesiastes: Total Life, 77.

[iv] Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes, 154.  

[v] Philip Ryken, Ecclesiastes: Why Everything Matters, 143.