King Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 1, says, “All is vanity”. I find this very interesting when it comes from such a man who had very high qualifications, which included being the wisest man who ever lived, according to the Scripture, he was stinking wealthy, he was very knowledgeable, and he was a family man, with 300 wives and 700 concubines.
And yet King Solomon in his wisdom looked at all he had and concluded that they were just, vanity. They were useless; a “striving after the wind”.
I see this as a lesson to us who are living in today’s world and who are hell bent on accumulating wealth by hook or crook, saying that ‘it is the end that justifies the means’.
Nobody explains the uselessness of accumulated wealth better than King Alexander the Great, who on his deathbed realized that all he had accumulated was vanity.
Alexander III of Macedonia, commonly known as Alexander the Great, was born in 356 BC and his father, Philip II who led a strong kingdom of Macedonia (northern Greece) and a powerful army, ensured that Alexander received the finest education through the private tutelage by celebrated tutors who included the Greek philosopher Aristotle. Alexander rose to the throne at the age of twenty after the assassination of his father in 338 BC and immediately embarked on an expansionist policy. He conquered much of the known world, including Phoenicia, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, and extended the boundaries of his empire to Punjab, India. He created one of the largest empires of the ancient world by the age of thirty and even sought to reach the “ends of the world and the Great Outer Seas”.
Alexander is today considered one of history’s most successful military commanders. He became the measure against which military leaders compared themselves and is often ranked amongst the most influential people around the world. During his extraordinary conquests, he founded more than twenty cities which bore his name, most notably Alexandria in Egypt.
While returning home after conquering many kingdoms, Alexander caught a fever and died on June 10, 323 BC, at the age of thirty three.
While lying on his deathbed in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon, which had become the cultural capital of Alexander’s empire, he realized the worthlessness of his vast riches accumulated through his conquests. He realized that at that moment, his captured territories, powerful army, his weapons and his wealth all had no meaning to him. He realized that death would soon arrive and he would not be able to return to his homeland to bid his mother goodbye.
So he called his generals and told them to carry out his three ultimate wishes without fail.
With tears flowing down their cheeks, the generals agreed to abide by their king’s last wishes which were as follows. “My first desire is that my physicians alone must carry my coffin,” said Alexander.
“Secondly I wish that when my body is being carried to the grave, the path leading to my grave to be strewn with the gold, silver and precious stones which are in my treasury”, he continued
“My third and last wish is that both my hands be kept dangling out of my coffin”, he continued.
His favorite general asked him the reason for these three wishes and this is what he said. “I would want the world to know of these three lessons that I have just learnt: I want my physicians to carry my coffin because people should realize that no doctor on this earth can really cure anybody. They are powerless and cannot save a person from the clutches of death. So let people not take life for granted.
My second wish of strewing gold, silver and other riches on the path to the graveyard is to let people know that though I spent all my life accumulating riches, not even a grain of gold will come with me when I leave this world. I want people to understand it is a sheer waste of time, energy, and peace of mind when one chases wealth.
With my third wish of having my hands dangling out of the coffin, I want people to know that I came empty handed into this world and empty handed I go out of this world.”
The final days of Alexander the Great offer a moral lesson for each one of us. And that lesson is that what you do for yourself dies with you when the most precious treasure of all becomes exhausted, and that is “time”. Time is our most precious wealth because it is limited. Accumulating genuine wealth is good, but it is only meaningful if you can share with others and also enjoy while you are still alive. What you do for others will live forever.