Friday, May 17, 2013

A Perspective on Wealth

(Note:  Most of the numbers on this post were done a few years back for a Sunday School class I was teaching. I simply updated the  prices, and marveled within myself as to how much  the price of things had gone up.  If anyone has better numbers I would love to see them.)

There is a lot of talk about wealth, and money, and people appear to be as obsessed with  it as they always have been. Forbes magazine prints a compendium of wealth  every year in which  it names the  most wealthiest people on earth, and their net worth.  I personally think their list is incomplete, but that's a  topic for another day.  Empires rise and fall and  today's hot name will be tomorrow's old news.The wealth  most people on the Forbes list enjoy is  ,in the grand scheme of history, small potatoes.
  In the book of Exodus, commands and instructions were given in regards to the construction of the Tabernacle.  It was to  be  a portable, or at least a de-constructable, structure that would be assembled, broken down and reassembled as the children of Israel moved from  place to place.  It would be the  centerpiece and focal point of the  Jewish  religion until the construction of Solomon's Temple several centuries later.
  The materials assembled for the Tabernacle are described in detail in Exodus 35-38 and summarized in Exodus 38:21-30.  The total  quantity of gold collected was approximately  one ton; of silver 3/4 tons, and of bronze 2 1/2 tons. At todays prices gold is  approximately $1376.50 an ounce (compared to $500 in the original version of this).  Silver is currently priced at $22.46 an ounce ($12 originally) and brass is trading at  33 cents an ounce.
  The gold used in the Tabernacle winds up costing a little over $22,000 a pound or $44,000,000  a ton.  The silver  comes in at a paltry $459 a pound or $918,000 a ton. The brass is so cheap is almost seems like a waste to do the math, but I really like math ( no calculator, and I show all my work), so here we go; 33 cents an ounce  is 10, 560 bucks for a ton.  Now there's only a ton of gold in the Tabernacle,  3/4 of a ton of silver, and 2 1/2 tons of brass. The cost, just in raw metals, laying aside the historical or spiritual  significance of the  items themselves, looks something like this:

$ 44,000,000 in gold
$      688,000 in silver
       26,400 in brass
$ 44, 714,400 in materials

   It's hard to find some basis of comparison, since  there is nothing like it in our modern world. Anything you might hope to compare it to turns out to be a permanent structure, but that just makes the  comparison more remarkable. For example, thee Tabernacle cost more in  raw materials alone than the total  cost of  the Empire State building in the 1920's, including the labor and the property it sits on ( just over 40 million). That wealth was  held by a group of  former slaves on the way to their  homeland, and had apparently been gathered up as they were leaving Egypt when the Egyptians 'loaned' them some jewelry.  It does make one wonder how much wealth was sitting in Egypt at the time, if they could  loan a bunch of slaves the equivalent of  $44 million.

  Several centuries later, a king arose in Jerusalem named Solomon.  His accomplishments really are  almost inconceivable, and  could be delved into in great detail, but I'm going to zero in on one aspect of his accomplishments; his income. The Forbes list tends to focus on the net worth of the individuals listed, which is a  perfectly reasonable standard to go by, but for the purposes of this article, I'm going to discuss income.  Solomon had an  unspeakable net worth , with  houses and cities and servants and 40 thousand horse stalls and  12,000 horsemen.  He had a house  built decked with precious  jewels and  gold ornaments on the walls.Solomon gave  gifts to allies of his in other kingdoms consisting of thousands of measures of wheat and oil a year,but aside from all that, how much money did the man bring in every year? And how does it compare to  the  economic titans of today?
  He received a one-time gift from the king of Tyre  that was 120 talents of gold. He received a one-time contribution from Ophir that was 420 talents of gold. He was regularly showered with  gifts of ivory and peacocks and apes and servants from other kingdoms, but I'm not going to count any of that.  I really don't want to try  and figure out the going rate of ivory and peacocks; you'll simply have to forgive me. I am simply  going to look at the scriptural account of his annual income, which is listed as 666 talents of gold.
  Now a talent  differs depending on who you read, and what country, and what  time period.  the  numbers  run as high as 130 lbs to a talent I'm gong to use the  lowest number I  could find which  is  57 lbs of gold for one talent. so 666 talents of gold winds up being 37,982 POUNDS of gold, with a modern value of $835,604,000 a year.
  Bill Gates of Microsoft , although no longer possessing the  title of 'world's richest man' (a title  probably not worth the hassle and scrutiny) is still the  icon of American wealth, so we will  use his listed annual income of roughly $30,000,000.  Now it beats digging ditches for a living, but honestly?  Old King Solomon makes Bill Gates look like somebody living under a bridge.  I had read somewhere once ( and I can't find it now) that  1/4 of the wealth in the world at the time  flowed through Israel when Solomon was on the throne. Yet according to Jesus Christ, the lilies of the field are better clothed than he was.Just a  bit of perspective. Do with it what you will.
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