Ostrich and White Elephants

“Wherefore do you spend money for that which is not bread? And your labor for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.” Isaiah 55:2.


Though it is a colloquialism, the term “white elephant” is rather expressive. According to Webster’s dictionary, it is something requiring much care and expense, but yielding little profit. An elephant would surely require such care and expense—while at the same time, its whiteness suggests its uselessness; it has no place among that which is profitable. Often the term is applied to purchases made of items which appear to be inexpensive—yet utterly useless. Or, the term has been used in connection with large possessions which are costly to maintain—but which could hardly be given away.

I would suggest that the term could well apply to so very many things in relation to the spiritual life. The child of God, living in this sinful world, finds himself often with spiritual “white elephants.” These represent such things as do not benefit him spiritually—but nevertheless require of him much of his wealth and time to maintain. We do well as young people too, to examine ourselves and our lives to see how many white elephants we have in our possession. Needless to say, the possession of “white elephants” is exactly the characteristic of the flesh. It is natural man, the depraved sinner, who puts all his trust and reliance upon such things which have no spiritual value whatever. All that he possesses, all that he does, all that he uses—can be said to be “white elephants”. Nor does he desire anything else.

The second animal to which I would call your attention is the ostrich. Concerning this bird there is the story that he will hide his head in the sand in order to evade reality. If an enemy threatens, he can place his head in the sand and pretend that no enemy exists. I suppose this theory concerning the ostrich is not true; yet it is very really the picture of man who has his “white elephants.” Why does not wicked man see that all he possesses is but a “white elephant”? The fact is that he blinds himself to reality. He refuses to see that all things must be done to the glory of God. He will not acknowledge that it is wrong that he exalt himself and seek his own pleasures of the flesh. He will not confess that the just wrath of God rests upon the transgressor. As the ostrich, he hides his head in the sand of his own depravity and refuses to see his own abominable foolishness.

Isaiah was speaking of such in his own time in the second verse of chapter 55. He spoke prophetically of the captivity and the return again to the promised land. But there were many of the Jews who would not be interested any more in the promised land—and in the fulfillment of God’s promise concerning redemption. They would be content in the land of captivity. They would have established themselves; they would have a measure of earthly prosperity; they would have a measure of respect and honor from their neighbors. They would be spending their money for that which is not bread and their labor for that which satisfied not. They would care no more for Jerusalem and the temple and all that these included. They had set their hearts on “white elephants,” and, as the ostrich, they had buried their heads to the revelation of God’s Word which condemned them for all their lustfulness.

Especially as young people, we must beware of the setting of our hearts on spiritual “white elephants.” We confess that we are pilgrims and strangers in a foreign land. We do not have our citizenship papers on the earth. On the contrary, we seek that better and heavenly kingdom prepared for us in Jesus Christ. Our gaze must be fixed on that. But, is it?

We often fall into the very sin that the prophet condemns: we spend money for that which is not bread and labor for that which does not satisfy. Just examine yourself. What do we do with our wages? What type of books and magazines do we buy? Do we earn wages simply in order that we may wear the latest fashions, or drive around in the “hottest” car available? Do we use our possessions so as to enjoy all of the sports and other entertainment which is so readily available? Do we so use our possessions in such a way that when it comes time to support the cause of God’s kingdom—there is but little left? Are we spending money for “white elephants” and then complain that the church budget is too high, or Christian schools cost too much?

The same can be said concerning the time given to us. Often young people, though not exclusively they, believe that their time is given them simply for a good time. If they are not going to school or working, they believe that they can simply be having a good time with their friends—doing nothing profitable. Night after night is spent—yielding no spiritual profit whatsoever. Duties toward the family are simply ignored as though they did not exist. One’s calling to work and study in the church, are not considered at all. The time is not used to help one another in our spiritual burdens—but simply for self. If that is true with us, then we surely have another evidence of seeking “white elephants”—spending much time and effort upon that which yields no spiritual benefit.

And if you are not an “ostrich” and hide your head to reality, you will have to confess with me that very often we become guilty of spending money for that which is not “bread”.

What is wrong with all this? If we seek “white elephants,” we are in reality following the philosophy of this world. There is the oft-repeated philosophy, “Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.” We see about us the urge to attain to earthly, materialistic comfort. Striving has as its end to obtain a place here below. Politically, across this earth, there is the argument whether capitalism or communism can best supply the citizens of the world with earthly goods. Far too often, this philosophy, which we deny in principle, is nevertheless the philosophy which affects our own lives. It is high time that we realize that we are not, after all, a part of this earth—except that we live here now as pilgrims and strangers.

The influence of the world’s philosophy can be seen also in our seeking of entertainment. We have reached the point where there seems to be nothing “off limits” for the Christian except the most gross corruptions which many of the world are also ready to condemn. We can watch its drama and movies over television (a censurable sin before the advent of T.V.)—except that usually we restrain ourselves on Sunday. We can enjoy all of its sports with the same zeal and enthusiasm as the world itself shows. Our flesh too seeks worldly pleasures—and most likely because the world itself has convinced us that all this is “innocent” pleasure to which a working person is surely entitled.

If not “white elephants”, then what? The prophet says, “Eat what is good: let your soul delight itself in fatness.” This is the “water” and “wine and milk” which Isaiah mentions in the first verse. Though I cannot enter into the riches of these ideas, we must see that this refers to Jesus Christ and all His benefits. He Himself called Himself the Water of life and the Bread of life. And again, in Matthew 6:33, Jesus says, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness….” That must be the guide for you as young people. First of all, in all you have and all you do, you seek the honor and glory of God. And out of this central principle must follow also your relationship to the church and to one another. If we seek what is truly “bread”, then we cannot simply use our possessions and our time for self. Young people, by grace behold your calling. From youth up there must be evident the fear of the Lord which is the beginning of wisdom. Then you cannot seek “white elephants”—nor will you be an “ostrich” and hide your head to the reality of our own sinful nature and the true calling of the Christian in the world. You will seek the Kingdom of heaven.