Give Money Generously

| Proverbs 11:23-31

The Point:  Use what you have to invest in the lives of others.

Desire of the Righteous:  Proverbs 11:23-31.

[23]  The desire of the righteous ends only in good; the expectation of the wicked in wrath. [24]  One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. [25]  Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. [26]  The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it. [27]  Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to him who searches for it. [28]  Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf. [29]  Whoever troubles his own household will inherit the wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise of heart. [30]  The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise. [31]  If the righteous is repaid on earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!  [ESV]

[23]  At first glance, the import of the first line is not abundantly clear. However, the second line explains what is meant by only in good. There is no verb in the Hebrew, so it, literally, reads: ‘The desire of the righteous only good.’ Is it that the righteous only finds his heart going after that which is morally upright? Not exactly. The second line reveals that desire is parallel to expectation. The anticipated outcome of one’s actions is in view. The end product of what the righteous pursue turns out to be, from God’s ultimate perspective, good. In contrast, the anticipated outcome of the pursuits of the wicked is wrath. What exactly is meant by that? The word translated wrath does indeed carry that connotation in the Old Testament when referring to God. It signifies the overflowing anger of God. When the divine wrath is kindled, it is abundant, unrestrainable and no one stands before it. However, in relation to man, it most often has the notion of ‘arrogance,’ or ‘pride.’ The verbal root means ‘to pass over’ or ‘to overflow.’ Compared with the first line, the idea is that this arrogance, mixed with anger, brings nothing in the end to the wicked. His arrogance leads him to desire that which he cannot have, even at the price of wrath and anger. In the end, it is ultimately self-defeating. The desire of the righteous ends eventually in what God pronounces as good [13:4]. The desire of the wicked ends in want and emptiness, no matter how hard he fights for it [10:24,28; 11:4,7]. We are reminded here that, ultimately, one’s desires, and the character with which he seeks their fulfillment, determine the outcome of his life. [24]  Solomon now takes up the theme of generosity [24-28]. In doing so, he uses a form that states simple, observable fact: one gives … another withholds. He does not necessarily commit to this as an unalterable, infallible pattern, but simply that, if one looks after these patterns of dealing with things, he will discover that this is generally true. What is true is that the one who gives, gets and the one who hangs on, loses that which he clutches. That the generous increase their store by giving is a theme that is taught often elsewhere in Scripture [Ps. 112:9; Prov. 3:9-10; Eccles. 11:1-2; John 12:24-25; Luke 6:38; 2 Cor. 9:6-9]. Similarly, the stingy, selfish man ends up, by his hoarding, with less than he started with [Prov. 21:13; 28:22]. Because the verb gives freely (‘scatters’) is found also in Psalm 112:9, in a context of philanthropy to the poor, this verse is often also understood this way. But, the context here does not make clear what it is that he should give (‘is justly due’)? Nor is it immediately clear to whom it is due or should be given. It could be that what is referred to here is a man withholding from himself that which is justly due to himself (i.e. what any normal human being would allow himself to spend his money on). Thus, what is spoken against in the second line is not a lack of generosity to others (though that would also, no doubt, be true), but rather a person who is so bent on hoarding his money that he won’t even spend a dime on himself. Such a person does not win by hoarding, but rather ends up with less than if he had not compulsively clutched to his wealth at all costs. Thus such a hoarding person suffers want because he is not even willing to spend money on his own needs. [25]  The theme of generosity continues. This proverb is built upon a synonymous parallelism in which the second line repeats and underscores the first. The basic thought has already been sounded in verses 17,24, and will be heard again in 22:9. The first line is, literally, ‘The soul of blessing will be made fat.’ The ‘soul’ represents the person, the inner drive and passion expressed in their actions. From their inward person, and out through their physical body, flows ‘blessing’ to others. Such a one will be ‘made fat.’ This is a metaphorical way of describing their prosperity and health. The expression was powerful in a part of the world prone to drought and inconsistent crops [Prov. 13:4; 28:25]. The picture in the second line may be from the agricultural world [Deut. 29:18; Ps. 65:10; Isa. 55:10; 58:11; Jer. 31:12], or it may simply picture the personal satisfaction of a drink of water [Ps. 36:9]. The one who pours out a cup of cool water in the name of the Lord will find that his Lord makes certain the action is reciprocated in some way [Jer. 31:25]. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward [Mark 9:41]. The same imagery continues in the New Testament in similar agricultural metaphors. The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully [2 Cor. 9:6]. Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you [Luke 6:38]. [26]  Solomon continues on the theme of generosity. Yet, this time, the proverb has a more definitive reference to commerce. The word holds back (withholds) is different from the word so translated in verse 24. The word there implies the power of the one who holds back what he has. Here the word describes what only God or His designated authority has the right to withhold. Thus, it appears that the idea here is of one who possesses a storehouse of grain in a time of famine or want. With neighbors in need and asking to buy from his store, he refuses, because he calculates that, if he waits, the price he may charge will skyrocket. Such a one will be cursed by the people. He is a profiteer, not a neighbor. Thus, he has become an unethical speculator in grain futures. It is not wrong for him not to sell the grain. Consider the example of Joseph in Egypt who purposefully stored up grain to relieve human hardship, rather than exploit it [Gen. 41]. It is, however, wrong for one in such a position to purposely not sell for the express purpose of exploiting his neighbors at a later time. Natural disaster or personal misfortune is a time for generosity and fairness, not profiteering. The blessing is on the head is probably more than good wishes, but probably also entail a more tangible reward. Thus, if one is generous and works to help cases of urgent need [Titus 3:14], God will see to it that, through those to whom he has been a blessing, a tangible blessing will return. [27]  The general theme of generosity continues, but with a twist. We meet here three different terms for seeking. The first, diligently seeks, has the notion of seeking something earnestly or early. It comes from a root related to the word for ‘dawn,’ thus the notion is of seeking something the first thing in the morning. It is a word that describes a person’s priorities. The second word translated seeks was used only one time in the prologue [Prov. 2:4], but will be used a great deal in the anthologies of proverbs [14:6; 15:14; 17:9,11,19; 18:1,15; 21:6; 23:35; 28:5; 29:10,26]. This, too, describes an earnest search. This, however, does not include a mental or cognitive searching. The third word is translated searches and is a rough synonym of the second term, though it differs in that it can describe a cognitive search that aims to end in knowing something. What does this tell us? The one who seeks good (here it probably refers not so much to a moral goodness of God, but the welfare of the community) does so as first priority. The one who puts others first is, ultimately, seeking his own good as well, though he is not cognitively setting out to arrive at that point. In other words, his motives are not bent on pleasing himself by pleasing others. That is, it is a heavenly by-product that they unwittingly discover themselves to have been pursuing by their good will. On the other side of the adversative, we find, however, one who is bent on seeking the evil (harm, downfall) of his neighbors. His intention form the beginning has been to use and abuse those around him. Such a one will discover that, what he seeks for others, he has acquired for himself [11:8,17]. [28]  The theme of generosity continues as this antithetical proverb highlights the way one relates to his worldly wealth. The possession of wealth is not evil; rather, it may actually put one in a position to help those in need [19:17; 22:9] and, in this way, it becomes a means to performing righteousness. Wealth is evil when it becomes the object of our trust. It is not only evil, but it is not worthy as an object of faith, for it will prove unreliable and bring one down [Ps. 9:6; 62:10; Prov. 11:4; 23:4,5; 1 Tim. 6:17]. Here, the righteous probably has in view not those without wealth, for there is no inherent righteousness in poverty. Rather, it pictures those who possess wealth and, yet, hold it with an open hand, freely giving to the needy [1 Tim. 6:17-19]. The promise comes in the form of a familiar image, that of a flourishing, healthy plant that brings forth fruit [Ps. 1:3; 92:12-15; Prov. 11:30; Jer. 17:7-8]. The contrasting images of fall and green leaf are not perfectly parallel, and, for this reason, some have tried to emend the Hebrew test and change fall to ‘wither.’ This is unnecessary, as fall in Hebrew was an oft-used way of describing one’s ruin, while the green leaf was a picture of prosperity and fruitfulness. [29]  This proverb uses synonymous parallelism to make its point. Precisely what that point is can be rather hard to say. The general intention is clear, but the specifics are more elusive. The one who troubles his own household may be the master of the house, or it could be a child who brings hardship and pain upon his parents. If it is the former, the notion may be that he is inept (thus foolish) at managing the assets that God has entrusted to him. If it is the latter, it could mean that the family’s inheritance might go to another or that his rebellion might beggar the family. In either case, he will inherit the wind. The wind is used elsewhere [Prov. 27:16; Eccles. 1:14,17; 2:11,17,26; 4:4,6,16; 6:9] to describe that which is without substance, elusive and impossible to control or keep. The verb troubles has been met already in verse 17 where it is translated as hurts and is the opposite of benefits. The main point of that proverb in verse 17 is that we often create our own rewards or punishments by our dealings with others. In verse 29, the harm or trouble caused by our foolish actions is brought upon our family and not just on ourselves. The second line reaffirms and extends the point made by the first. If the first line refers to the father of a home, then the idea here is that he will end up being an indentured slave to his creditors. If it refers to a son who brings the whole family down, he will, in his indigence, also be forced to submit himself to another to provide food and housing for himself. In Proverbs, the foolish inevitably end up serving the wise, regardless of how the assets are distributed at the start [14:19; 17:2]. [30]  In contrast to the foolish man who troubles his own family [29], we meet here the wise man whose life and influence become a boon to those who know him. The first line, admittedly, seems to mix its metaphors. How does fruit become a tree of life? But, this is to miss the point the author is seeking to make. By the fruit of the righteous is meant not simply, nor primarily, the results in one’s own life. Rather, it is the outcome of one’s relationships and the results born in others because of one’s presence and influence. These changed lives (one’s fruit), in turn, become a tree of life to others. Is that not, after all, what fruit does? It falls from the tree, deposits seeds in the earth, which then grow to become another tree? Does not this transference continue on in one tree giving life to another tree (or many trees!)? This thrust is affirmed by the second line, when it, too, is rightly understood. There has been much debate over the expression captures souls. The reading could be, literally rendered, ‘one taking lives.’ The verb is used in Psalm 31:13 in the sense of murder. Indeed, the word means to ‘lay hold or, seize, conquer.’ If the first line is understood correctly, then the second functions not in antithetical parallelism, but in synonymous parallelism. The second line takes up the thought of the first and recasts it in powerful terminology. One who is truly wise uses all his means of influence to draw others to wisdom, for herein is life [3:2,16,18,22]. While not exactly the same, the gist of the verse is very close to being an Old Testament version of the New Testament call to be fishers of men [Dan. 12:3; Luke 5:10, 1 Cor. 9:19-22; James 5:20]. That is especially so, when we note that the imagery of tree of life is first met in the garden [Gen. 2:9] and continues until the close of the Scriptures and of history in the new heavens and the new earth [Rev. 2:7; 22:2,14]. The image is frequent here in Proverbs [3:18; 13:12; 15:4]. [31]  We meet here the first of four how much more proverbs [15:11; 19:7; 21:27]. Many have protested that the blanket assurances made in the Proverbs are nearly too good to be true. They seem, in some people’s eyes, to be overly simplistic and the promises overstated. This proverb, however, tells us that the promises of Proverbs cannot be entirely spiritualized or cast only in some distant future. Indeed, the outcome is said to be on earth. What is the relationship of the two lines of this proverb? What is the nature of the reward promised in each line? It is possible that the first line might have in view the reward for righteous living and the second the repayment for a wicked lifestyle. The verb repaid (rewarded) can be used both in a positive and negative sense. On the other hand, it seems wiser, in view of the how much more argumentation, to view the two lines in the same way. Thus, the meaning appears to be ‘If the righteous find that even for their comparatively minor sinful actions God repays them in this life, then how much more should the wicked sinner be assured he will not escape this life without his sins coming to bear upon him?’ Elsewhere in the Wisdom Literature, we are reminded Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins [Eccles. 7:20]. One of Job’s friends reminded him, What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous? Behold, God puts no trust in his holy ones, and the heavens are not pure in his sight; how much less one who is abominable and corrupt, a man who drinks injustice like water! [Job. 15:14-16].”  [Kitchen, pp. 252-259].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Verse 23 is concerned with desire: both the desire of the righteous and of the wicked. What determines your desires? What is the relationship between desire and character? How is your behavior (the way you think and act) influenced by your desires? How can you change your desires?

2.         Verses 24-28 deal with the topic of generosity. Remember that the Book of Proverbs contains general statements of wisdom. They are not meant to be applied universally in every situation. What do these verses teach concerning generosity and hoarding?

3.         Verse 31 connects to verse 23 and shows us that the main concern of this passage is a comparison/contrast between the righteous and the wicked. List what these verses say about the righteous; about the wicked? Why do you think Solomon chooses to use generosity and hoarding as the key illustration of what he means by righteous and wicked? How does your use of material blessings reveal the condition of your heart?


Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Duane Garrett, NAC, Broadman.

Proverbs, John Kitchen, Mentor.

Proverbs, Tremper Longman III, Baker.

Exploring Proverbs, vol. 1, John Phillips, Loizeaux.