Gambling Away an Inheritance

“There is an evil that I have seen that makes me sick under the sun: wealth that is kept by its owner to his own evil. And the wealth was lost in an evil venture; he begat a son but had nothing in his hand. Just as he came from his mother’s womb, naked he will return — going as he came — not anything to take for his toil to go in his hand. This too is an evil that sickens. It all is like the way they came — thus they go. What gain does he have who exasperates the spirit.”

(Ecclesiastes 5:12-15 {5:13-16 in English Bibles})

“A good man leaves an inheritance for his son’s sons and hidden up for the righteous is the wealth of the sinner.”

(Proverbs 13:22)

Solomon shifts his tone from one of general observation to one of personal disgust as we move into these verses. He has lamented the dangers that come along with an obsession for money (one is never satisfied), now he speaks of those who have earned wealth, but who have wasted it away. Whether a man makes poor investments or decisions or whether he gambles away his earnings, the family he is called to support suffers and this very literally sickens Solomon. The term that he uses here is חלה (chalah), which means to make one sick to their stomach, ill, or otherwise nauseated and here is the only time in the book of Ecclesiastes where Solomon employs the term. Arguably it is a reminder that in this case, you not only harm yourself, but the family for whom you are to care as well.

My parents used to say to me, growing up, “Don’t bet anything you cannot afford to lose.” I cannot honestly say that I have always followed their counsel, but overall, it has been a good rule of thumb for me to follow. In particular, when I moved from being single to being married with a family, this charge took on new life. People over the last two decades have often heard me say, “I’ll wager you a nickel….” And indeed, that is all I will wager because that is all I can afford to throw away. 

One of the things that concerns me the most about gambling is not the higher end gambling that some do as entertainment so much as the gambling aimed at the poor and the elderly…things like state-run Lotto programs and lottery tickets. Folks that purchase these tend to be those who can least afford to throw away their money on such things…yet, the promise of great wealth seduces them to do so. While gambling is not condemned as a sin in scripture, Solomon is stating very clearly that when the righteous man throws away his wealth, it is indeed an evil thing. It is one thing for a man to be naked when he came into the world and return to the grave naked, but it is entirely a different matter for a man to enter into this world naked, work hard and earn his keep, but leave nothing for his children or for his children’s children because he foolishly threw it away on evil schemes. Therein it becomes sin.

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