For from the least of them even to the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness…
It is not so much of covetousness in itself that the prophet is here speaking, as of the universality of it. From the least even to the greatest the spirit of the spoiler is in the hearts of the people. The words, of course, are not to be taken literally as to individuals; but there is this universality about them, that they apply to every class. That a man is rich, and increased with goods, and that he has, indeed, a great deal more than he can ever enjoy in his own person, is far from being a general ground for supposing that he will be contented with his possessions. The more he has and the higher he stands, the more he may want to have and the higher he may want to get. And so all the way up the ladder from the lowest round, men are continually struggling with one another. It is a ladder, the lowest round of which will hold a great multitude, but it ever narrows as it ascends; and the covetous who happen to be also strong and consequently victorious over their feebler competitors, go clambering on as long as one's eye rests upon them. No one ever seems to reach the top of the ladder; and it may be said moreover that, though there seem many who are free from the spoiling spirit, it simply arises from this, that there has been nothing to bring the dormant germ into life and activity. No one can tell what possibilities of evil lie within him. And may not the essential element in covetousness be a strong motive force even when it is hidden away under the appearance of something else? One thing is very certain, that covetousness prevailed from the least even to the greatest in Jerusalem; it will also do so in every other human society. It is in human nature to have strong desires of the heart, strong and imperative even as hunger and thirst; and these desires will go out after things that can be seen and felt, enjoyed with the senses. To whom these things may of right belong is, alas! a secondary consideration with many men. They simply do not reflect upon it at all. Life resolves itself into a struggle between him who wants and him who has, and, if the truth must be spoken, the victor in such a struggle is practically a robber. There may be no physical violence, no shedding of blood; but if there is the enriching of one's self at the expense of another, then the essential wrong is present. Let us allow the covetous man whatever credit there may be in this, that he does not form his covetous designs for any pleasure that he has in rapacity, but rather that he is rapacious in order to carry out his covetous designs. He wants to be rich and strong, and the only way he can do it is by crushing others into poverty. Hence this is reckoned an unavoidable accompaniment. It never strikes men of this sort that there is a more excellent way to satisfy and exhilarate the heart. God's eye is upon this universal desire for large possessions, and he can make a Divine and truly wise use of the desire. He turns our thoughts to the heavenly, the unseen, the eternal. Man does well in having the largest views as to possessions; he does well in looking to an immense increase of goods. It is a grand thing when he can pull down his barns and build greater, if it is only spiritual wealth that he is heaping up. In this gathering of goods there is no spoiling of the brethren, leaving them hungry, naked, and unsheltered. The spiritual wealth of the godly man makes poverty to none. Nay, rather - beautiful contrast-the richer he becomes, the richer he makes all with whom he comes in living contact. - Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.