What Did the Wise Man Mean?
The Vanity of Pursuing Riches
Wise King Solomon noted that the piling up of material possessions brings no real satisfaction. He wrote: “A mere lover of silver will not be satisfied with silver, neither any lover of wealth with income. This too is vanity. When good things become many, those eating them certainly become many. And what advantage is there to the grand owner of them, except looking at them with his eyes?”—Eccl. 5:10, 11.
The person who has much is not satisfied but wants still more. As his “good things” or riches increase, more hired men and servants are needed to care for everything, and these receive compensation for their services. Because his wealth is great, the owner, however, cannot benefit from all his wealth personally. For example, he can wear only one outfit of clothing at a time and enjoy only a certain amount of food and drink. So, in the final analysis, the reward the owner has is to look upon his amassed wealth and boast that it is his. If he is a greedy person, he may even feel displeasure at having to part with some of his riches in providing for servants and hirelings.
Furthermore, the rich person may become very anxious about what he owns. Unlike the ordinary workman who has no extensive holdings to worry about, the rich man’s concern about his possessions may prevent him from lying down for a peaceful night’s rest. Solomon observed: “Sweet is the sleep of the one serving, regardless of whether it is little or much that he eats; but the plenty belonging to the rich one is not permitting him to sleep.”—Eccl. 5:12.
Because of life’s uncertainties, the person who continues to amass riches may experience the shock of plunging into poverty at a time when he is least likely to be able to cope with it. Solomon pointed to this when he wrote: “There exists a grave calamity that I have seen under the sun: riches being kept for their grand owner to his calamity. And those riches have perished because of a calamitous occupation, and he has become father to a son when there is nothing at all in his hand.”—Eccl. 5:13, 14.
Just think about the great tragedy here described. A man works hard and becomes wealthy. But, instead of getting some enjoyment from his labor, he just hoards his riches. This he does to his hurt, for he deprives himself of normal comforts that he could afford. Additionally, he worries and frets about maintaining and increasing his fortune. Then, through some adversity, a “calamitous occupation,” perhaps a disastrous business venture, all is lost. So, while he had his wealth, he had no enjoyment from it and, then, when he finally becomes father to an heir, there is not even an inheritance for his son to enjoy.
Next Solomon calls attention to yet another aspect that makes the accumulating of great wealth vain, empty. We read: “Just as one has come forth from his mother’s belly, naked will one go away again, just as one came; and nothing at all can one carry away for his hard work, which he can take along with his hand. And this too is a grave calamity: exactly as one has come, so one will go away; and what profit is there to the one who keeps working hard for the wind?” (Eccl. 5:15, 16) Yes, at death all the toil involved in piling up riches will mean absolutely nothing. When on his deathbed, the hoarder of riches does not even have the satisfaction of knowing that he has contributed toward others’ happiness.
What a price the miserly person pays for his insatiable greed for money! Solomon continues: “All his days he eats in darkness itself, with a great deal of vexation, with sickness on his part and cause for indignation.” (Eccl. 5:17) Such a man has no happiness. All his days are gloomy. He acts as if he begrudges the fact that he has to eat and thereby put a small dent into his wealth. His mental outlook is sick, and this may contribute to a loss of physical health. When he is ill, he is anxious over the fact that he has to rest and cannot devote himself to his labors. He is worried and disturbed about anything that might interfere with his becoming still wealthier.
Truly, such a materialistic way of life is unrewarding and empty. That is why Solomon recommends getting enjoyment from one’s labor, saying: “Look! The best thing that I myself have seen, which is pretty, is that one should eat and drink and see good for all his hard work with which he works hard under the sun for the number of the days of his life that the true God has given him, for that is his portion.”—Eccl. 5:18.
Commenting on the good effect this has upon the individual, Solomon states: “Also every man to whom the true God has given riches and material possessions, he has even empowered him to eat from it and to carry off his portion and to rejoice in his hard work. This is the gift of God. For not often will he remember the days of his life, because the true God is preoccupying him with the rejoicing of his heart.”—Eccl. 5:19, 20.
The man who recognizes his prosperity as a gift from God will not hoard riches but will use them to bring joy to others. Such a man has a balanced view of his possessions because of allowing himself to be guided by godly wisdom. Therefore, he gets personal enjoyment from what he has. Jehovah God has empowered him to find pleasure in food and drink in the sense that he grants the individual the wisdom to use material things properly. At the same time such an individual is not unduly concerning himself with the brevity of life and its problems and uncertainties. No, he is getting so much enjoyment from doing good in his life that the negative aspects do not dominate his thinking. He is joyful at heart.
Surely one’s striving to get wholesome enjoyment in life is the wise course. It shields one from the disappointment experienced by those whose life is fully occupied by materialistic pursuits.