Physical Wealth is Vanity
Solomon, from the middle of Ecclesiastes 5 through the end of chapter 6, focuses on the vanity of physical wealth. In spite of the fact that earthly treasures are futile, most still pursue them vigorously (even resorting to fraud in business practices and corruption in government).

Solomon supplies seven reasons why wealth is vain in 5:10-17. A study of these verses will reveal that:

  1. Wealth cannot satisfy; true contentment is not found therein. One who loves money will always want more!
  2. Wealth attracts a crowd of dependents; those who know you are rich will do what they can to get some of it.
  3. Wealth disturbs one's peace of mind and often leads to sleeping difficulties (caused by guilt or worry).
  4. Wealth is easily misused; it is often hoarded to one's own detriment.
  5. Wealth is easily lost through misfortune or bad business. Easy come, easy go--or so they say.
  6. Wealth cannot be taken beyond the grave; one can work and work and work, and he still won't be able to take any physical treasures with him when he dies (Matt. 6:19,20). Man will leave life physically with exactly as much wealth as he was born with--nothing (I Tim. 6:7)! Thus, accumulation is pointless.
  7. Wealth brings great suffering. One who has a taste of wealth and then loses it will typically be miserable. It is easy to become accustomed to a pampered life and exceedingly difficult to lose it and not become frustrated or bitter.

Solomon offers more advice in 5:18-20. One should learn to enjoy what he has and what he does. Be content with what God has given you. Man should find satisfaction not in laziness but in labor. One who heeds this advice will not be discontented or depressed thinking about life for he will be too busy living it joyfully!

As chapter 6 begins, the wise king notes a problem that is both evil and prevalent; that is, a wealthy person who does not enjoy life though he is pampering himself. The problem is that because the rich man has given no thought to thanking God or using his wealth to fulfill God's will, there is a feeling of emptiness he cannot fill. In such a case, God might allow the wealth to be consumed by someone else.

In 6:3-6, we find another example of one who fails to recognize blessings from God. This man has a large family, a long life, and yet he is dissatisfied. Solomon declares that a "stillborn child is better than he" because it does not learn of the vanity of this planet (cf. 4:3). If man doesn't appreciate that which God gives, he will be miserable. Such a one is worse off than a miscarried child who never has the experiences of life. Both will end up in the grave, so what is the purpose of living a long, miserable life? The preacher is emphasizing the foolishness and worthlessness of a life lived without God.

In 6:7, we find that one who only works to survive will not be satisfied. Food alone will not fulfill man's deepest needs. It was true then as it is today - "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4). You see, without God, there is no advantage to being wise or rich!

Solomon then teaches in 6:9 that contentment is an attitude that is not found in "wandering" desires; it must be found in that which is ours (i.e., those things in "the sight of the eyes").

The chapter closes with some general thoughts on man's relationship with God. Man cannot properly dispute with the Lord. He must learn to accept things; moaning will not change anything (at least not for the better). Life passes like a shadow, ever so quickly. We must learn to get the most out of each hour. Such is impossible from a purely secular view. One must have God in his life if he hopes to overcome the futility of this realm.

This series of lessons on Ecclesiastes 1-6 has focused on the many vanities of a physical life without God. In the future, we hope to present a series on the theme of true wisdom from the latter half of this great book.