This devotional is about about Jeremiah 22.
How much is enough?
That’s a relatively easy question to answer when you are eating a meal. Eat enough and you will feel full. Push past that point, and your body will make you vomit.
It is not an easy question to answer when you are thinking about wealth and possessions. No matter how much money you make, you could spend it all. There is always a better car, a more beautiful home, a boat, a jet, a better jet, an island, an NFL team, or something more or better than what you currently have.
But isn’t there a point when you have enough? Isn’t there some point of diminishing returns?
That’s one of the questions Jeremiah asks here in Jeremiah 22. As he addressed the sins of Judah’s king, Shallum (aka Jehoahaz), he asked, “Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar?” (v. 15a-b). In other words, he was a greedy man who was driven to acquire a bigger and nicer home. He was even willing to finance his possessions with “oppression and extortion” (v. 17d). And, according to verses 13 he made “his own people work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.”
I can’t read those words without thinking about some of the wealthiest people in our world. Jeff Bezos built an incredible business in Amazon.com and was rewarded for it. As of 2020, Bezos was worth $133 billion. I’m a capitalist and the Bible teaches capitalism, so I don’t begrudge Bezos for what he is worth. His wealth is due to growth in the price of Amazon’s stock, but if Amazon had failed as a company, his stock would be worthless.
But there is a vast disparity in how Amazon pays its employees The CEO of Amazon earns $212 million per year for doing his job. Meanwhile, the median income of Amazon’s workers was $32,855. That is quite a difference between what the best paid employee of Amazon makes and what the workers in the middle of their wage scale make.
Again, I’m a capitalist and I don’t think salaries should be regulated. There is nobody in Washington D.C. who can decide what your work is worth better than the market can.
But God cares about the poor. It matters to him if the wealthy use the labor of others to enrich themselves without also rewarding the labor of those who work for the wealthy. God also calls out the futility of seeking more money and more stuff. He compared king Shallum to his father, a godly man, Josiah, who also ruled over Judah. I quoted the first part of verse 15 earlier but look at the whole verse: “Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar?Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him.” In other words, Josiah was a good and fair king. He was content with having enough and his life was blessed. Shallum would be held accountable by God for his endless greed and for exploiting others to try to satisfy that greed.
While none of us is a king, or a billionaire, the principle in this passage is still worthy of our consideration. If you own a business, do you pay market wages to your employees when you could pay better because your company is doing well?
If you don’t own a business, are you focused on “more and more cedar” (v. 15b) as a metric for how successful your life is? Have you noticed yet that no matter how much you earn or how much stuff you acquire, it doesn’t translate into greater and greater happiness?
Materialism and greed are so pervasive in our culture that we sometimes don’t notice how much they drive what we think about and what we do. God calls us to contentment and generosity. Are you content with what you have? Are you generous with others, using what you have to provide for and enrich their lives?