There’s a fable about an eagle that could fly faster than another eagle. That infuriated the slower eagle. One day, the troubled eagle met an archer. He said, “I want you to shoot that eagle down!”
The man replied that he would, if he had some eagle feathers to put into his arrows. The jealous eagle immediately produced a wing feather. The arrow was released, but the rival eagle was just out of range.
The envious eagle pulled out more feathers for the archer, but he kept missing. When he’d removed so many feathers that he could no longer fly, the hunter turned on him and killed him. The eagle’s jealousy not only divested him of his mobility, but it ultimately led to his demise.
The legend reminds me of 1 Kings 21, which contains the distressing account of King Ahab and his inappropriate acquisition of a vineyard owned by Naboth. Ahab’s attitudes and actions in this passage provide a prime example of the unholy trinity of envy, greed and jealousy.
These words are often used interchangeably, but while they are similar and occasionally overlap, they’re not really synonyms. Generally speaking, envy is wanting what someone else has, greed is wanting more and more and jealousy is possessiveness coupled with fear that what has been gained might be lost or taken.
All three (independently or together) are capable of narrowing the mind, enslaving the thoughts and shrinking the soul.
But back to Ahab. I would encourage you to locate the passage and read it, as space does not permit its inclusion here. However, the following is a condensed version of what transpired.
As king, Ahab had all that any man could desire. But he coveted Naboth’s land, so he offered to buy or trade another property for it. Naboth had deep family roots in the land and he didn’t want to sell. Ahab, following a season of sulking, allowed for his evil wife Jezebel to contrive and employ a plan that led to Naboth’s execution … and Ahab got his vineyard.
However, God takes note of such events. God’s prophet Elijah appeared in the kings court and boldly condemned their evil deeds. Allegorically speaking, he told them that they were both out of feathers and that the Heavenly Archer had them in His sights.
Envy, greed and jealousy (exactly opposite of faith, hope and contentment) are indicative of a belief that this life is all that we get … so we must grab all that we can, while we can and grasp it tightly.
To conclude, Proverbs 28:25 begins by saying, “A greedy man stirs up strife,” but then in happy contrast states, “The one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.”
Pastor Ross Helgeton is senior pastor at Erskine Evangelical Free Church.