He that loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loves abundance with increase: this is also vanity.…
This passage describes the vanity of riches. With the enjoyments Of frugal industry it contrasts the woes of wealth. Looking up from that condition on which Solomon looked down, it may help to reconcile us to our lot, if we remember how the most opulent of princes envied it.
1. In all grades of society human subsistence is very much the same. Even princes are not fed with ambrosia, nor do poets subsist on asphodel. Bread and water, the produce of the flocks and the herds, and a few homely vegetables, form the staple of his food who can lay the globe under tribute; and these essentials of healthful existence are within the attainment of ordinary industry.
2. When a man begins to amass money, he begins to feed an appetite which nothing can appease, and which its proper food will only render fiercer. "He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver." To greed there may be "increase," but no increase can ever be "abundance." Therefore, happy they who have never got enough to awaken the accumulating passion, and who, feeling that food and raiment are the utmost to which they can aspire, are therewith content.
3. It should reconcile us to the want of wealth, that, as abundance grows, so grow the consumers, and of riches less perishable, the proprietor enjoys no more than the mere spectator. A rich man buys a picture or a statue, and he is proud to think that his mansion is adorned with such a famous masterpiece. But a poor man comes and looks at it, and, because he has the aesthetic insight, in a few minutes he is conscious of more astonishment and pleasure than the dull proprietor has experienced in half a century. Or, a rich man lays out a park or a garden, and, except the diversion of planning and remodelling, he has derived from it little enjoyment; but some bright morning a holiday student or a town-pent tourist comes, and when he leaves he carries with him a freight of life-long recollections.
4. Amongst the pleasures of obscurity, or rather of occupation, the next noticed is sound slumber. Sometimes the wealthy would be the better for a taste of poverty; it would reveal to them their privileges. But if the poor could get a taste of opulence, it would reveal to them strange luxuries in lowliness. Fevered with late hours and false excitement, or scared by visions the righteous recompense of gluttonous excess, or with breath suppressed and palpitating heart listing the fancied footsteps of the robber, grandeur often pays a nightly penance for the triumph of the day.
5. Wealth is often the ruin of its possessor. It is "kept for the owner to his hurt." Like that King of Cyprus who made himself so rich that he became a tempting spoil, and who, rather than lose his treasures, embarked them in perforated ships; but, wanting courage to draw the plugs, ventured back to land and lost both his money and his life: so a fortune is a great perplexity to its owner, and is no defence in times of danger. And very often, by enabling him to procure all that heart can wish, it pierces him through with many sorrows. Ministering to.the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, misdirected opulence has ruined many both in soul and body.
6. Nor is it a small vexation to have accumulated a fortune, and when expecting to transmit it to some favourite child, to find it suddenly swept away (vers. 14-16). There is now the son, but where is the sumptuous mansion? Here is the heir, but where is the vaunted heritage?
7. Last of all, are the infirmity and fretfulness which are the frequent companions of wealth. You pass a stately mansion, and as the powdered menials are closing the shutters of the brilliant room, and you see the sumptuous table spread and the fire-light flashing on vessels of gold and vessels of silver, perhaps no pang of envy pricks your bosom, but a glow of gratulation for a moment fills it: Happy people who tread carpets so soft, and who swim through halls so splendid! But, some future day, when the candles are lighted and the curtains drawn in that selfsame apartment, it is your lot to be within; and as the invalid owner is wheeled to his place at the table, and as dainties are handed round of which he dare not taste, and as the guests interchange cold courtesy, and all is so stiff and so commonplace, and so heartlessly grand, your fancy cannot help flying of[ to some humbler spot with which you are mere familiar, and "where quiet with contentment makes her home."
(J. Hamilton, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.