Proverbs on Wisdom, Wealth and Prosperity

God blesses the wise with wealth (3:9-10, 15-16; 10:22)

This is unavoidable as we read Proverbs, but we must remember that the genre of wisdom employs principles that are generally true, not explicit promises or formulas. Material gain will result from wisdom in life, for God rewards those who honour and obey him. In addition to this general, though not guaranteed, promise of wisdom, wealth makes life’s challenges easier to navigate (10:15-16). Because God orders our universe, our actions have consequences; this is positively seen in wisdom resulting in blessing.


Foolish behaviour leads to poverty (10:4-5; 6:6-11)

This is most clearly seen in the contrast between the hard worker and the lazy (26:13-15). While laziness is the primary reason given for poverty in Proverbs, other follies are given: over-indulgence (21:17); oppression of the poor (22:16); even being frugal or stingy (11:24). In Proverbs, God urges us to be productive not sluggardly. Contrast with the first point, God’s wisely ordered universe means that generally speaking: if you are foolish and lazy, you will suffer want.


The wealth of fools will not last (13:11; 21:6; 22:16; 23:4-5)

Proverbs raises the tension of the wealthy wicked, rich fools, and righteous suffering (see Psalm 73; also Job and Ecclesiastes). This is a question many have when they look at our world and their own lives. But 11:18 reads, “Evil people get rich for the moment, but the reward of the godly will last.” Money is not as precious as right living for it cannot avert judgment (11:4). Despite God blessing the wise with wealth, it cannot be your security, nor should you conclude from your wealth that you are righteous.


Poverty is the result of injustice and oppression

Wisdom involves knowing when laziness is the cause of poverty as opposed to circumstances or injustice (13:23). Since God’s world isn’t mechanical and the human condition is complex, the poor person might be more wise than the wealthy (16:8), as we saw in the previous point. “The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD made them both (22:2). Therefore, poverty is not necessarily the fruit of laziness or folly. The Bible knows many righteous and godly people with persevering faith and integrity.


Those with money must be generous (29:7; 3:27-28)

There are rewards and blessings for being generous (29:14; 28:27; 11:24). This idea is picked up by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8-9. In both Old and New Testaments we must recognise that being generous in order to get something in return is not actually generosity, it is selfishness. Again, because Proverbs presents us with generally true cases: generosity isn’t a formula to gaining wealth. That explains the book’s criticism uncritical generosity (6:1-5). We do not seek blessings from God through generosity, rather we should seek to bless others generously, and with wisdom.


Wisdom is better than wealth (3:14-16)

But not the ultimate good; we can say that because the book makes things relative using better-than forms (15:16, 17; 16:8, 16; 17:1; 22:1; 28:6). Furthermore, Proverbs provides numerous characteristics that are more important than having wealth: peace (15:16; 17:1), loving relationships (15:17); honesty (16:8; 28:6); and a good reputation (22:1). These, according to Proverbs, flow from wisdom (16:16), which is almost synonymous with the fear of the LORD (15:16) and godliness (16:8).


Wealth has limited value (11:4)

For wisdom enacted in right living keeps us from dangerous situations (6:34; 2:11). In fact, wealth can be troublesome (13:8):  exposing the rich to scorn (19:10) and bringing false friends (14:20). The points above, taken together with this final one, should warn us that it is foolish to: measure faith by wealth; to think that wisdom (and our relationship with God) is a means to wealth; and pursue wealth instead of godliness, virtue, and generosity.

These points are adapted from Tremper Longman’s excellent book, How to Read Proverbs (pp120-130).


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