Wealth and Money - Proverbs Commentary

It is no shame to be poor, but it can be very inconvenient. And most of us run short of money at least once in our lifetime. What then do the proverbs have to say about our wealth and money? We will divide the relevant proverbs into the three areas of earning, spending, and giving.

Earning - Under the topic of work and laziness we saw Solomon recommending we learn from a tiny insect. "Go to the ant, you lazybones, consider its ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, or officer, or ruler, it prepares its food in summer, and gathers its sustenance in harvest" (6:6-8). Obviously some are wealthy from old money that they have inherited, but most people who are comfortable in their retirement have built up their capital by steady hard work.

Similarly "A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich" (10:4). We can observe in farming that "Those who till their land will have plenty of food, but those who follow worthless pursuits have no sense" (12:11). But Solomon warns us against the quick buck. People who make money quickly are those who lose it just as fast. "Wealth hastily gotten will dwindle, but those who gather little by little will increase it" (13:11, 20:21, 21:5).

Hard work is more likely to make us prosper than talking interminably. "In all toil there is profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty" (14:23). And work should be honest and aboveboard. "Bread gained by deceit is sweet, but afterward the mouth will be full of gravel" (20:17). An ancient way of being dishonest was by "differing weights" when selling flour, and this is "an abomination to the Lord" (20:23). "The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death" (21:6).

Solomon also condemns the ruthless making of money at the cost of others. "Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself, and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss (22:16). Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate" (22:22).

In the New Testament we get a strong reminder of this emphasis on honest work. Paul gives a threefold command. "Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness . . . We gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus the Messiah to do their work quietly and to earn their own living" (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12).

Jesus said "Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26). But the context of this is the importance of not worrying. It is not a reason for birds and other animals, or humans, to stop their daily work of finding food. The words of Agur son of Jakeh give a right balance "Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need" (30:1, 8).

Spending - Although Solomon was immensely rich, he recognized the value of simplicity among his citizens. "The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked" (10:3). The result is that when people become rich without becoming righteous the result is an empty valueless life. "The wicked earn no real gain, but those who sow righteousness get a true reward" (11:18).

An essential part of righteousness is a simple lifestyle. "Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it" (15:16-17). "Better is little with righteousness than large income with injustice" (16:8). And righteousness includes enjoying the company of simple people. "It is better to be of a lowly spirit among the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud" (16:19).

Simple living avoids the jealousy and quarrels that attend lavish entertainment. "Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife" (17:1). There was a proper use of olive oil and wine for a family's normal meal. But a love of fancy wines and gourmet foods does not help our budget. "Whoever loves pleasure will suffer want; whoever loves wine and oil will not be rich" (21:17). "Do not be among winebibbers, or among gluttonous eaters of meat; for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe them with rags" (23:20). Solomon also gives a powerful description of going into a drunken stupor (probably from personal experience). "Those who linger late over wine, those who keep trying mixed wines" and the result is "your eyes will see strange things, and your mind utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on top of a mast " (23:30, 33-34).

Giving - Having prospered, and lived simply within our income, we find we have a surplus to use as we choose. So we begin with giving to God. "Honor the LORD with your substance and with the firstfruits of your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine" (3:9-10). And the plain fact is that no one ever became poor by giving a proportion of their income to God. "Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. A generous person will be enriched (11:24-25).

The last of the Old Testament prophets said "Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing" (Malachi 3:10). The suggestion here is that one tenth of our income to be set aside. In a country with heavy taxation to take care of the needy, as here in Canada, one tenth of our after-tax income might be a good rule to consider. But as Jesus pointed out, it is not a case of meticulous calculation and forgetting the object in mind. "Woe to you,, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others" (Matthew 23:23)

Of course God does not need the money, but when we set aside our giving for him he then directs us to use it in ways that express his love and concern. As in the text from Malachi, some of what we give should go to support those who care for and teach in our place of worship (in their case the temple, in our case the work of our church congregation).

Solomon also has a string of proverbs reminding us that God has a heart for the poor and needy, and certainly expects us to care as he does. The word "kind" again and again expresses this. "Happy are those who are kind to the poor" (14:21). "Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honor him" (14:31). "Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and will be repaid in full" (19:17). And there are serious consequences for neglecting this. "If you close your ear to the cry of the poor, you will cry out and not be heard (21:13). "Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor" (22:9). "Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but one who turns a blind eye will get many a curse" (28:27).

Perhaps we should add that it is not kind to give to the panhandlers or aid organizations that shout loudest for our attention. We should invest our giving where we know those who are involved, and we can make sure the money is wisely invested as stewards of the Lord's treasury. Paul gives a beautiful picture of a converted pickpocket in the city of Ephesus. "Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy" (Ephesians 4:28). Here the word "share" is very important. It suggests that giving is most effective when we know and share with the needy.

Perhaps this is what Jesus had in mind when he said "When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you" (Luke 14:13-14). How we do this may not be easy to picture, but at least we can begin with our communion banquet when we invite all and sundry to come and eat with us. Paul points out how quickly the aspect of sharing had gone badly wrong in Corinth. "When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord's supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk" (1 Corinthians 11:20-21).

Finally we note how the New Testament goes far beyond what the proverbs tell us. Our giving should be both discreet and cheerful. "Whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:2-4). And Paul explains "God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work" (2 Corinthians 9:7-8).

Chapter 7 ..... Wholeness and Joy