He that loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loves abundance with increase: this is also vanity.…
The series of aphorisms which begins in ver. 10 is not unconnected with what precedes it. It is for wealth generally that the unjust judge and oppressive ruler barters his peace of mind, sells his very soul. As the means for procuring sensual gratification, for surrounding one's self with ostentatious luxury, and for carrying out ambitious schemes, riches have great fascination. The Preacher, however, records at length the drawbacks connected with them, which are calculated to diminish the envy with which the poor very often regard those who possess them. Probably the bulk of mankind would say that they are willing to put up with the drawbacks if only they could possess the riches. But surely those who read the Word of God reverently and with a docile spirit are disposed to profit by the wise counsels and warning it contains. The gross and presumptuous frame of mind, which would lead any to laugh at the drawbacks upon wealth as imaginary, when compared with the happiness they think it must secure, deserves severe censure. Both rich and poor may draw appropriate lessons from the Preacher's words: the rich may learn humility; the poor, contentment.
I. INSATIABLENESS OF AVARICE. (Ver. 10.) Those who begin to amass money cultivate an appetite which can never be satisfied, which only grows in fierceness as it is supplied with food. Those who love silver will never count themselves rich enough; they will always hunger for more, and the amount that would once have seemed abundance to them will be spurned as paltry, as their ideas and desires are enlarged. Dissatisfaction with what they have, and greed to acquire more, poison their pleasure in all that they have accumulated. Happy are those who have learned to be content with little, whose wants are few and moderate, who, having food and raiment, desire no more - they are really rich.
II. Another thought calculated to diminish envy of the rich is that, AS WEALTH INCREASES, THOSE THAT CONSUME IT INCREASE ALSO. (Ver. 11.) Along with the more abundant possessions, there is generally a larger retinue of servants and dependants. So that, with more to provide for, the wealthy man may be poorer than he was in earlier days when his means were smaller. Fresh demands are made upon him; the outward display he is forced to make becomes a daily increasing burden; he has to labor for the supply of others rather than for himself. A striking passage in Xenophon - quoted by Plumptre - expresses the same thought. "Do you think that I live with more pleasure the more I possess? By having this abundance I gain merely this, that I have to guard more, to distribute more to others, and to have the trouble of taking care of more; for a great many domestics now demand of me their food, their drink, and their clothes .... Whosoever, therefore, is greatly pleased with the possession of riches will, be assured, feel much annoyed at the expenditure of them" ('Cyrop.,' 8:3). The only compensation that the rich man may have is that of being able to look on his treasures and say, "These are mine." Is it, after all, a sufficient reward for his toils and cares?
III. Another boon which the poor may always enjoy, but which the rich may often sigh for in vain, is SWEET SLEEP. (Ver. 12.) The laborer enjoys refreshing sleep, whether his food be abundant or not; the toils of the day ensure sound slumber at night. While the very abundance of the rich will not suffer him to sleep; all kinds of cares, projects, and anxieties rise within his mind, and will not suffer him to be at rest. The dread of losing his riches may make him wakeful, feverish excitement may result from his luxurious mode of living, and rob him of the power to compose himself to slumber, and, like the ambitious king, he may envy the ship-boy rocked and lulled by the tossing of "the rude, imperious surge" (Shakespeare, 'Henry IV.,' Part II., act 3. sc. 1).
IV. RICHES MAY INJURE ITS POSSESSOR. (Ver. 13.) It may mark him out as a suitable victim for spoliation by a lawless tyrant or a revolutionary mob. Or it may furnish him with the means of indulging vicious appetites, and increase greatly the risks and temptations that make it difficult to live a sober, righteous, and godly life, and ruin him body and soul. As says the apostle, "They that desire to be rich fall into a temptation and a snare, and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition" (1 Timothy 6:9, 10).
V. Another evil attendant on wealth is THE DANGER OF SUDDEN AND IRRETRIEVABLE LOSS. (Ver. 14.) "Not only do riches fail to give any satisfying joy, but the man who reckoned on founding a family, and leaving his heaped-up treasures to his son, gains nothing but anxieties and cares, he may lose his wealth by some unfortunate chance, and leave his son a pauper." The case of Job would seem to be in the writer's mind as an example of this sudden downfall from prosperity and wealth. In any case, death robs the rich man of all his possessions; in the twinkling of an eye he is stripped of his wealth, as a traveler who has fallen in with a troop of banditti, and is forced to depart from life as poor in goals as when he entered it (vers. 15, 16).
VI. Lastly, come THE INFIRMITY AND PEEVISHNESS WHICH ARE OFTEN THE COMPANIONS OF WEALTH. (Ver: 17.) Riches cannot cure disease, or ward off the day of death, or compensate for the sorrows and disappointments of life, and may only tend to aggravate them; a deeper dissatisfaction with self, and with the providential government of the world, a more intense feeling of misanthropy and embitterment are likely to be the portion of the godless rich than of those who have had all through life to labor for their bread, and have never risen much above the position in which they first found themselves. As a practical conclusion, the Preacher reiterates for the fourth time his old advice (vers. 18-20): "It' you have little, be content with it. If you have much, enjoy it without excess, and without seeking more. God gives life and earthly blessings, and the power to enjoy them." And in words that are less clear than we could wish, he seems to intimate that in this pious disposition of mind and heart will be found the secret of a serene and happy life, which no changes or disappointments will be able wholly to overcast. "For he shall not much remember the days of his life; because God answereth him in the joy of his heart " - words which seem to imply, "The man who has learned the secret of enjoyment is not anxious about the days of his life; does not brood even over its transitoriness, but takes each day tranquilly as it comes, as God's gift to him; and God himself corresponds to his joy, is felt to approve it, as harmonizing, in its calm evenness, with his own blessedness. The tranquility of the wise man mirrors the tranquility of God" (Plumptre). - J.W.
Parallel VersesKJV: He that loveth silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he that loveth abundance with increase: this is also vanity.
WEB: He who loves silver shall not be satisfied with silver; nor he who loves abundance, with increase: this also is vanity.