Question: "What does it mean that "money is the answer for everything" in Ecclesiastes 10:19?"
Answer: The statement “Money is the answer for everything” comes in the middle of a section of Ecclesiastes that relates a list of seemingly unrelated proverbs. Here is the whole proverb: “A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything” (Ecclesiastes 10:19). The Bible is not teaching here that we should focus on partying and making money; rather, it is making a broader point about wisdom vs. foolishness.
Before we tackle the intent of that specific proverb, let’s look at the theme of the book of Ecclesiastes as a whole. In this book, the human author is answering the question “How does one live his or her life apart from God?” The book is full of worldly wisdom, some of which is good common sense, and some of which is not good or godly at all. One might label the book “How the World Thinks.”
A key phrase in Ecclesiastes is under the sun, which is repeated throughout. It indicates that the author is sharing an earth-bound perspective. He is only considering life “under the sun”; that is, a human life lived to the exclusion of any consideration of God or eternity. From that godless perspective, everything is “meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 14).
Ecclesiastes 10:19 and the statement that “money is the answer for everything” is part of a group of observations about wisdom and folly. The behaviors and outcomes of the wise and foolish are being contrasted. For example, Ecclesiastes 10:5–7 presents the error of elevating the foolish to positions of leadership. Verse 10 relates the wisdom of preparation and training.
In regard to interpreting Ecclesiastes 10:19, different commentators take different views:
Some see 10:16–20 as the application of the “wisdom-folly” contrast to a nation’s leaders. Thus verse 19 says that, even for foolish kings and princes (verse 16), and even for the lazy (verse 18), money makes everyone hear and respond. If you have money, you have influence and resources: “Money answers to every demand, hears every wish, grants whatever one longs for, helps to all” (Keil and Delitzsch, Old Testament Commentary, 6:779). In this view, the statement that “money is the answer for everything” is an ancient version of our modern saying “Money talks.”
Others see Ecclesiastes 10:18–20 as a separate section and view verse 19 as taking a practical view of money: “At least some money is essential for enjoying life, and steps must therefore be taken to insure that the economy is sound” (Garrett, The New American Commentary, 14:337).
Most likely, “money is the answer for everything” is simply an expression of folly. The proverb mentions feasting, wine, and merry-making as well as money. To the foolish, “it is money that is the answer to everything” (Eaton, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, 16:138). In modern terms, the life of the foolish is circumscribed by partying, alcohol, and money. We see this foolishness play itself out in the world daily. There’s nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9).
It is unfortunately true that “money talks” and seems to be the answer to everything in our world. But wisdom decrees, to the king on down, that the pursuit of riches leads to trouble (see 1 Timothy 6:9–10). Not all problems can be fixed with money. In the end, Mammon is a hard taskmaster, and only a fool would say, “Money is the answer for everything.”