“The Richest Man in Babylon”

A few months back, my dad gave me a huge crate of books that he had cleaned out of the house in preparation for reitrement. Sitting on top of that crate was the book “The Richest Man in Babylon” by George S. Clason. He said, “I want you to read this book. I read it when I was your age and it changed my life.” I’d heard about the book from various places and it sounded interesting – now was my chance to check it out.

I didn’t realize that the book was a compilation of stories/parables that G. S. Clason had made up. Initially, the cheesy old english dialogue was distracting, now I find it endearing. Anyhow, the book the amazing. I read through it quickly when I first got it and am now rereading it more slowly, trying to digest its truths. While the book is primarily about personal finance (it was the original ‘Dave Ramsey’ course), there are a lot of life lessons too.

As I was reading last night, there was a passage that struck me. I want to recount it here.

The story is about a man named Dabasir who bought too much on credit and found himself with debts he was unable to pay. His wife left him and he was forced to flee the city of Babylon in shame. He tried to make a living as a bandit, but eventually found himself captured and sold into slavery.

Dabasir ends up telling his story to one of his master’s wives, Sira. Dabasir protests his life as a slave, proclaiming that he was born a free man. Sira’s response is amazing. “How can you call yourself a free man when your weakness has brought you to this? If a man has in himself the soul of a slave, will he not become one no matter what his birth, even as water seeks its level? If a man has within him the soul of a free man, will he not become respected and honored in his own city in spite of his misfortune?”

I don’t know George Clason’s religious beliefs, but that is truth right there.

I find myself wondering ‘Do I have the soul, the interior bent, of a slave or a free man?’ If I evaluate my actions fairly, what do they reveal about my character? Do I find myself enslaved to my circumstances, feeling powerless to change them and raging against the world or do I embrace my lot, realizing I have the power to shape my inner (and therefore outer) world? Will I press on through hardship and misfortune to pursue freedom and virtue? Or will I cave to the sensuality and pressures of the moment?

Those were questions I wasn’t expecting to wrestle with while doing some light reading before bed, but they are questions I need to ask and answer. If you’ve never read “The Richest Man in Babylon,” I highly recommend it – especially if you are someone who learns through stories.

“The Richest Man in Babylon” is primarily a book about personal finance and building wealth. For the record, I think those are noble pursuits. I want to be someone who helps to finance the expansion of the Kingdom of God and that requires money. Money is helpful as a tool and a means to an end, but a terrible tyrant if it is made an end in and of itself. Be wise, keep the first things first, and start building that fat purse!


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