The Curse of Covetousness
In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon1, king of Israel, explored the various avenues that men pursue in their quest for happiness. One area of particular interest was that of material wealth. Surely, it is frequently believed, if a man accumulates wealth he can be contented. The richest man of the antique world repudiated that assumption!
The wise man declared that a “grievous evil” which he had observed “under the sun” was “riches kept by the owner thereof to his hurt” (5:13). He concludes his discussion by suggesting that the covetous man spends his days in “darkness” (i.e., in gloom, misery).
For one thing, he is always suspicious that those who befriend him do so for base motives. Again, he constantly frets as to what will be the disposition of his fortune after he is dead. Solomon concluded by asserting that the covetous man is sore vexed, and is consumed with sickness and anger (v. 17).
Of special interest in this connection is the fact that this inspired passage suggests that those who hoard money, rather than wisely using it as stewards of Heaven’s kingdom, are said to be afflicted with sorrow and sickness. There is real truth in this.
Some years ago, Dr. Irene Hickman, an associate professor of psychology at California State University, prepared a report based upon hundreds of case studies reported in various medical journals. Dr. Hickman declared that nine out of ten illnesses in this country are money related. She stated that “economic insecurity and preoccupation with making more and more money is a national illness within itself.” Professor Hickman asserted that the average income in America is adequate to house, clothe, and feed our families, but our citizenry is obsessed with wanting more and more luxuries.
In his fascinating book, None Of These Diseases, Dr. S. I. McMillen tells the story of John D. Rockefeller. As a youngster, Rockefeller was a strong and husky farm lad. But he drove himself to make money. At thirty-three he was a millionaire; at forty-three he controlled the largest business in the world; at fifty-three he was the world’s richest person. By then, though, he was but a shell of a man. He developed a condition called alopecia, where the hair falls out. It was said that he looked like a mummy. His income was $1 million a week but his digestion was so bad that he could eat only milk and crackers. He was despised by many, upon whom he had trampled in his climb to success. He was immersed in anxiety; he could not sleep; he was a wreck. Here was a man whose life seemed over at fifty-three. It was generally agreed that he could scarcely live more than a year or so. Many newspapers already had his obituary on file, ready for his imminent demise.
But something dramatic happened. One night it suddenly dawned upon Mr. Rockefeller that he could take none of his treasures with him to the grave. Shrouds have no pockets. He made the decision to start helping others with his great fortune. He poured millions of dollars into hospitals, universities, and missions. He became interested in the underprivileged. He provided vast sums for medical research. His contributions aided in the discovery of penicillin. His focus of interest turned from inward to outward.
As a result of his marvelous change of disposition, something began to occur in the physical life of John D. Rockefeller. He could sleep again. His digestion improved. Rockefeller actually began to enjoy living. And mark this—he did not die at fifty-four, nor even at sixty-four. Rather, he lived to the ripe old age of ninety-eight years!
One cannot reflect upon these truths without thinking of a case chronicled in one of the Lord’s parables (Lk. 12:16ff). It had to do with a certain rich man whose land produced such a bountiful harvest that his barns could not contain it. He had utterly no concern for others; instead he conceived grand plans for hoarding it all.
His philosophy was “get all you can, and can all you get.” His daily consolation seemed to be, “Soul, take it easy. You have vast possessions laid up for many years. Eat, drink, and be merry.” He omitted the final phrase, “for tomorrow you die,” in that well-known saying. He had no plans for dying tomorrow! But where men propose, God can dispose. Hence his Creator said: “You fool, this night your soul is required of you” (v. 20).
There is an interesting turn to this rebuke in the Greek text, reflected in the footnote of the American Standard Version. A possible rendition is: “This night they shall require your soul.” The impersonal form may suggest that the very possessions that the rich man treasured were his undoing! Paul affirmed that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil: which some reaching after have been led astray from the faith, and have pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:10).
Material prosperity can be a great blessing if employed in the service of God. But covetousness is a curse. Avoid this disposition (cf. Lk. 12:15).
1 Though many modem critics deny that Solomon wrote this book, this writer believes that a strong case can be made for the Solomonic authorship.