What can money buy?
Solomon is an insightful teacher of God’s commandments. In Proverbs, he has much to say about living wisely in every area that is addressed by God’s law: worship and prayer, family living, marriage and sexuality, neighbor relations, and more.
This holds true when we consider the eighth commandment to seek God’s wise will for money and material things. For Solomon says wise things like Proverbs 11:28,
Whoever trusts in his riches will fall.
But is Solomon really the best teacher for this subject? This was a man famous for his riches, with no end to his gold, silver and ivory. You could argue that it was his wealth, together with his women, that ruined Solomon’s fear of the LORD. Isn’t anything that he says about money and possessions best taken with a pinch of salt?
Regardless of whom God employed to write the Scriptures, what these human authors wrote is still God’s infallible Word, breathed out by his Spirit.
What’s more, we have in Ecclesiastes 2 what is possibly an older Solomon’s reflection on wealth. It’s written near the end of his life when he realized that he’d been wrong about a few things. He first recounts the material goods he once treasured,
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. (Ecclesiastes 2:4–8)
It’s a picture of immense wealth. But then Solomon says this: “I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (v. 11). He came to the awareness that wealth is insecure and money doesn’t buy happiness.
It’s a needed lesson: while money is necessary, it’s fundamentally unreliable and no guarantee of our happiness.
Solomon illustrates this in Proverbs 17:1, “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.” That doesn’t mean the LORD is opposed to riches, or that stale bread is a good diet. God recognizes that being poor can bring real struggles, but he says that in some cases it is better.
A situation of contentment with your earthly lot—humble as it is—is better than a situation of wealth accompanied by misery. Real blessings aren’t found in the quantity of your food or the quality of your fine table settings. Genuine blessings have different values entirely: in faith, fellowship, and thanksgiving.
Think of humble homes where the income might be lower than average, and the meals simple, but where genuine prayers are sent up to thank God for the food, and it’s all enjoyed in an atmosphere of love. That contentment is very different from the stately home where there’s great luxury, but unbelief and envy and squabbles.
The essential point is how we receive God’s good gifts, whatever their quality and number.
Do we receive them in full awareness that they’re from God, and in the desire that they be used for God?
That’s the conclusion Solomon arrives at in Ecclesiastes 2 when he reflects on his life of luxury and acquisition. Turns out he didn’t need all that creature comfort, but to cherish the simple gifts: “There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God” (v. 24). That is receiving material blessings wisely: in humble gratitude, and in the fear of God.
For us, it remains hard not to depend on the things we own. We might feel a warm glow inside when we gaze on our possessions, and feel more self-assured our accounts are full. But when we depend on our riches, we’re not living anymore in the fear of God. Riches won’t preserve us, and sooner or later, a reliance on wealth will be disappointed: “Whoever trusts in his riches will fall.”
Wealth is no security, and money can do nothing for us if we haven’t served God. Instead, we hold Christ as our greatest treasure—and we resolve to serve him with our possessions and with all that we are.
That’s the kind of flourishing that money cannot buy.