Bread, Wine, and Silver

“Bread is for pleasure, wine makes life merry, and silver replies to everything.”

(Ecclesiastes 10:19)

At first glance, this seems that Solomon is advocating a sort of pragmatic hedonism — eat, drink, and be merry and when you get into trouble, you can buy yourself out of your problems. Yet, to teach such a thing would be inconsistent with the content and purpose of this book. One might be tempted, then, to connect this verse with the verses around this — perhaps these are the words of the fool in his midst, yet this passage seems to be a series of individual proverbs listed together — a kind of “Pensees” of Solomon. These problems, then, warrant a closer look at the text.

To begin with, in Hebrew, “bread” is often idiomatic for a meal and sometimes for a feast. That still doesn’t help with the interpretation much, though. It is not until you begin to think through the nature and role of wine in the ancient world. Not only was wine considered a mark of blessing in the Jewish world (and hence, was a staple at the Passover Feast, for instance), it was also a sign of eschatological  (end times) blessing (see Joel 3:18 or Amos 9:14 for example). 

In the American culture, we have become so concerned about the abuse of wine and other alcoholic beverages that we often forget that God has given it to us as a gift and as a boon. Drinking wine with a meal is a good thing — drunkenness is sin (Ephesians 5:18, et al.). If you then ask yourself the question about how Solomon uses silver in his writings, you will realize that he always uses it in a positive way. Even when he is saying that it is better to have wisdom than silver or gold, the silver and gold are lifted up as examples of good worldly things against which wisdom can be compared. And again, like wine and good food, silver is something that men enjoy and celebrate, but (if you have learned anything from Solomon’s words in this book) all these good things come from the hand of God. 

So, what is this proverb telling us? Certainly, Solomon has said repeatedly that we should work hard and enjoy the fruit of our labors…here too is the same notion with the reminder that all of these good things — food, wine, and wealth — come from the hand of God, so honor Him with it. Celebrate God’s providence in your feast days and use the silver you have earned to “reply to everything” — give generously and abundantly where there are needs. Wealth is not bad when it is used rightly and to the glory of God — it is only the love of wealth and its hoarding that is the root of all kinds of evil things.

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