View Money Properly

| Proverbs 23:4-5; 30:5-9

The Point:  Contentment and security rest in God, not in money.

Wealth and Poverty:  Proverbs 23:4-5.

[4]  Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. [5]  When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven.  [ESV]

“The topic of wealth and poverty is a good example of the dangers of isolating any single proverbial saying and taking it as representative of the teaching of the book as a whole. Indeed, on the basis of a text like 3:9-10, the book has been taken to promote the idea that godliness automatically leads to wealth: Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. However, other proverbs acknowledge that the fool may have wealth, albeit temporarily. In addition, other proverbs make it clear that the wise person will sometimes have to decide between wealth and wisdom. A survey of Proverbs concerning wealth and poverty suggests that it is best to describe the book’s teaching as providing seven snapshots, none of which are complete in themselves. They are as follows:  1. God blesses the righteous with wealth.  Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver [8:18-19]. The paradigmatic example of this is Solomon in 1 Kings 3. Given a choice of any gift from God, he chose wisdom. God was so pleased with this choice that He also gave him wealth and power. 2. Foolish behavior leads to poverty.  As one might expect, Proverbs also teaches that foolish behavior results in poverty, often using antithesis to reinforce this point. The purpose of these observations and warnings is to keep people from acting in these self-destructive ways. Preeminent among foolish behaviors that lead to destitution is laziness, as 10:4-5 states quite directly: A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a prudent son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who brings shame. Sometimes this snapshot is taught more generally and in direct contrast to snapshot 1, as in 14:24: The crown of the wise is their wealth, but the folly of fools brings folly. 3. The wealth of fools will not last.  Proverbs recognizes that fools may amass material advantage, but if so, it will be only temporary and in any case will provide no real advantage: The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness get a sure reward [11:18]. Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it [13:11]. Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers form death [11:4]. 4. Poverty is the result of injustice and oppression.  Proverbs is often accused of a rather callous view of poverty. As we have seen the book does make a connection between poverty and laziness, but it would be wrong to conclude that the sages thought that all struggle was the result of some foolish behavior. Though it is a comparatively minor theme, a proverb like 13:23 indicates awareness that poverty is sometimes the result of factors beyond a person’s control and may be caused by the evil intentions of another: The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice. 5. Those with money must be generous.  As a further example of a nuanced view of wealth and poverty, we observe proverbs that urge generosity toward the poor. If poverty were thought to be always connected to foolish behavior, it is unlikely that the sages would encourage the king or others to be as helpful as the following proverbs suggest: Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse [28:27]. A righteous man knows the rights of the poor, a wicked man does not understand such knowledge [29:7]. If a king faithfully judges the poor, his throne will be established forever [29:14]. 6. Wisdom is better than wealth.  In a series of better-than proverbs, we learn that wisdom and its associated qualities are more important than wealth. Such a statement of relative values implies that people will sometimes have to make a choice between wisdom and wealth; they do not always accompany each other, as a naïve reading of snapshot 1 might indicate: How much better to get wisdom than gold! To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver [16:16]. Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways [28:6]. 7. Wealth has limited value.  Finally, though Proverbs never denigrates wealth as such, it does recognize that it has its limits: Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death [11:4]. Indeed, riches may bring more trouble than they prevent. It is much more likely that a rich person will be kidnapped, according to 13:8: The ransom of a man’s life is his wealth, but a poor man hears no threat. Again, no single proverb can be taken as representing the teaching of Proverbs on wealth and poverty. While wealth is seen as positive, it is not always associated with wisdom. Indeed, though hard work is encouraged, at a certain point it is no longer worth it: Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist. When your eyes light on it, it is gone, for suddenly it sprouts wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven [23:4-5]. And in the final analysis, wealth and poverty have their pitfalls, and this realization leads to a statement that prefers the halfway point between the two: Two things I ask of you, deny them not to me before I die: remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God [30:7-9].”  [Longman, pp. 573-576]. 

Sufficiency of God’s Word:  Proverbs 30:5-9.

[5]  Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. [6]  Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar. [7]  Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: [8]  Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, [9]  lest I be full and deny you and say, "Who is the LORD?" or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

[5]  Into Agur’s dark despair of ever finding and knowing God [2-4] now breaks the brilliant rays of divine revelation. There is no finding and knowing God on man’s terms [2-4], but God has revealed Himself to man. No knowledge of God is possible apart from His condescension to reveal Himself. Gladly, God has done this through the word of God. Whoever Agur was, he was apparently acquainted with the Scriptures, for this is a virtual quotation of David’s words in Psalm 18:30 and 2 Samuel 22:31,. We have transitioned from the words of Agur [1] to the word of God [5]. The emphasis of the first line is upon every word of God [cf. 2 Tim. 3:16]. Each and every word in each and every line is tested and found true (proves true). The Hebrew word describes the process of testing and purifying metal through the smelting process. Being found thus purified and proven, God’s word is trustworthy in its revelation of Himself and His truth. The words of the Lord are pure words [Ps. 12:6; 19:8; 119:140]. To one desperate to know God, how precious His word is! God’s word is marvelous, not simply for the knowledge it imparts, but for the One it reveals! This God-who-speaks is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Our trust must be seen in active obedience. When God is thus trusted and obeyed, He is a refuge that not even death can overcome [Prov. 2:7; 14:32; Ps. 3:3; 84:11]. [6]  God’s word is not only without error [5], it is sufficient in its revelation of God and His ways [6]. In view of this sufficiency,  Agur warns Do not add to his words. This is an echo of Moses’ warning in Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32, except that Moses added the warning of not taking away from what God has said. A similar warning serves to seal the canon of Scripture in Revelation 22:18: I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. People have added to God’s word in many ways. The false prophets added their own interpretations and passed them off as of divine authority [Jer. 28:15-17; 29:21-22,31-32; Ezek. 13:7-9]. The Jews added their meticulous rules and regulations [Matt. 15:9]. The pre-Gnostics of Paul’s day added their observations [Col. 2:21-22]. Some, even after the apostles, have laid their tradition alongside the Scriptures. Cults lay their leader’s books alongside the Scriptures and hold them to be of similar authority. Many today continue the trend in less formal ways, building their lives on a series of hunches, speculations and feelings, rather than upon the clear commands, prohibitions and principles of Scripture. The warning here is that God will rebuke you for supplementing His words. To be laid bare before the Lord is enough, but His reproof will also expose you as a liar to all creation. Here, too, there are echoes of Job: Will you speak falsely for God and speak deceitfully for him? Will you show partiality toward him? Will you plead the case for God? Will it be well with you when he searches you out? Or can you deceive him, as one deceives a man? [Job 13:7-9]. The Bible does not tell us everything there is to know. The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law [Deut. 29:29]. Scripture does give us more than we deserve to know and sufficient light to be brought to a saving relationship with God and enabled to walk with God in joyful and fruitful obedience. The Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus [2 Tim. 3:15]. They are sufficient to render us equipped for every good work [2 Tim. 3:17]. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature [2 Pet. 1:3-4]. [7]  This verse introduces the first of six numeric proverbs [15-17; 18-20; 21-23; 24-28; 29-31]. Proverbs 6:16-19 provides the only other such numeric proverbs in this book. The form is that of prayer, even though there is no mention of the divine name. The plea is found in this verse, the content of the request in verse 8 and the motive for the petition in verse 9. Agur says that he has only two requests that he would like to be proved true in the rest of his earthly experience. Some commentators insist that there are actually three requests given (kept from lying, kept in neither wealth nor poverty, and kept with daily provision). In actual fact, the last two probably form one petition, seen from two sides. To be kept from extremes of wealth and poverty is to be given just what one needs each day. The expression deny them not to me before I die does not necessarily mean that Agur felt his end was near. These are not the pleas of a dying man. He asks that these two things be true of his experience for the rest of his life, however long that may be., Agur’s request reflect a good deal of humility (for he knew his areas of greatest weakness) and self-control (for he could have asked for many things). [8]  Following the introduction to his prayer [7], Agur now lays out the specifics of his requests. As mentioned under the previous verse, some have concluded that there are three, not two requests, as advertised [7]. There are three lines to this verse, yet the final two form one request. Agur begins his petitions: Remove far from me falsehood and lying. The word behind falsehood or ‘deception’ is the one used in the third commandment: You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain [Ex. 20:7]. The word basically describes that which is empty, hollow, unreal, unsubstantial and, therefore, worthless. In this connection it is, then, used often to describe idols. Thus, idols are considered a falsehood or a deception. Perhaps the point is that Agur wishes to be saved from spiritual deception, whether that means his being deceived or his deceiving others. After all, being deceived and becoming a deceiver are never far removed from one another [1 John 1:6-8]. The second word (lying) is a more standard word for lying, deception and falsehood. The second request consists of two lines. Agur first asks that God keep him from the extremes of financial life: poverty nor riches. God is the One who makes both the rich and the poor [1 Sam. 2:7]. The request is somewhat surprising, given that Proverbs generally speaks of riches as a reward for wise living [e.g. Prov., 3:16; 8:18; 10:22]. At the same time, the lack of riches is at times preferred [Prov. 15:16-17; 16:8; 17:1]. The second part of this request is that God would feed me with the food that is needful for me. By needful is not meant simply what I need to sustain life for that day, but the allotment which God, in His wise sovereignty, deems to be correct for me. The Apostle Paul found this restful place of contentment: for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content [Phil. 4:11-12]. He knew where His portion came from: And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus [Phil. 4:19]. The motive behind these petitions awaits us in the next verse. [9]  The motivation behind Agur’s passionate pleas [7-8] is now revealed. Standing behind his petitions are the twin temptations of the spiritual sloth that ease can bring and the moral decay that want can lead to. That one might be full and, thus, deny God seems an odd thing. How can the multiplication of divine blessings compound our independence from Him? Yet, that is precisely the human condition. Too soon, we forget the source of the provisions that flood our lives. Abundance tends toward arrogance and independence. Moses warned of such [Deut. 8:12-17; 31:20], the Prophets saw it as reality [Isa. 1:4; 59:13; Hosea 13:6], and the postexilic community confessed it was true [Neh. 9:25-26]. The question Who is the Lord implies the height of hubris and self-reliance [Deut. 6:12; 32:15; Joshua 24:27; Job 21:14-16; 31:28]. How can this be? Should not the mercies of God lead to denial of self and submission to God [Rom. 12:1-2]? Yet, like the rich man who built bigger barns, we are blinded to the Giver by the very gifts He gives [Luke 12:16-21]. Dangerous as prosperity is, the opposite pole proves no safer. A severe lack (poverty [8] and be poor [9]) may not guide one into reliance upon God, but rather impetuous self-preservation (steal). While some might try to understand [Prov. 6:30], the overall result could be that I would profane the name of my God. The word translated profane means to grasp, seize or lay hold of. It can describe both a literal, physical action as well as a mental one. In this case, it pictures the name of God being handled roughly, treated commonly or, as it is translated here, profaned. Because of the dangers of living at the economic extremes, Agur wisely prayed give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me [8].” [Kitchen, pp. 681-685]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         List Longman’s seven snapshots concerning the teaching that Proverbs gives on wealth and poverty. Note none of these verses are meant to be absolute statements. Taking the seven snapshots together, what do you learn that you can apply to your life?

2.         What does 30:5-6 teach us concerning God’s Word? What warning does it give us? How do people add to God’s word today? Pray that God will protect you from false teaching and give you the spiritual discernment to know the truth found in God’s Word.

3.         Proverbs 30:7-9 is in the form of prayer. What is the plea [7], the content [8], and the motive [9] for this prayer? Note the priority given to being faithful to God in this prayer. Can you sincerely pray this prayer?

References:

Proverbs, Charles Bridges, Crossway.

Proverbs, John Kitchen, Mentor.

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III, Baker.

Exploring Proverbs, vol. 2, John Phillips, Loizeaux.