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The Rich Man's Poverty
by Wayne Blank
"I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself; I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees. I made myself pools from which to water the forest of growing trees. I bought male and female slaves, and had slaves who were born in my house; I had also great possessions of herds and flocks, more than any who had been before me in Jerusalem. I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and provinces; I got singers, both men and women, and many concubines, man's delight. So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem; also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them; I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had spent in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun." (Ecclesiastes 2:4-11 RSV)
Without God, all is "a striving after wind"
It took Solomon a while to re-realize it, since he did seem to understand much better when he was younger (e.g. 1 Kings 3:7-10), but without always and forever putting obedience and service to God first, absolutely always first, with everything else a very, very distant second, having "a lot" becomes just having a lot of nothing. Solomon was rich beyond measure; he had everything that he thought that he wanted, but, as he discovered, as he himself described above, "all was vanity and a striving after wind." Amidst his great wealth, Solomon had become spiritually empty and miserable because he had forsaken God. He became selfish and egotistical - note how many times he uses the words "I" and "myself" and "my" in the paragraph above.
Wealth is not of itself evil. Solomon's great wealth was God-given (1 Kings 3:13), and it should be kept in mind that, for example, in the parable of Lazarus And The Rich Man, there were actually two very rich men - the wicked one, and righteous Abraham who "was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold" (Genesis 13:2 RSV) and had many hundreds of servants (Genesis 14:14). The only real difference between them was their attitude and behavior toward God, and their fellow man.
A few other lessons that Solomon, despite all of his earlier great wisdom, learned the hard way:
"There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God; for apart from Him who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the man who pleases Him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner He gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God." (Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 RSV)
Fact Finder: What did Solomon finally discover was the whole duty of humans?