Proverbs 23:4-5 – Do not toil to acquire wealth... - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Biblical Wisdom
May 1, 2019

Proverbs 23:4-5 – Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist.

by Dr. Bill Edgar, former chair of the Geneva College Board of Trustees, former Geneva College President and longtime pastor in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPNCA)

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. (Proverbs 23:4-5)

Solomon mocks lazy people and warns them to expect poverty and family shame. But there is a contrary error, working too much to get rich. Work drudges make three errors: overwork itself, their goal of wealth, and ignoring the reality that riches can disappear with a snap of God’s fingers.

Overwork! Rest is one of God’s blessings. “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep (Psalm 127:2).” Sleep is wonderful, a gift of God. Tired bodies revive, dreams integrate the day’s events into our minds, and sleep puts us in the hands of God, Who never sleeps. What do those who toil to acquire wealth get in the way of sleep? Not enough! They become strangers to their families, sorely tempted to work even on God’s day of rest, turning themselves into slaves. (See Deuteronomy 5:15, where God reminds Israel that they were once slaves in Egypt, so now they should give their servants rest on the Sabbath.)

Getting rich is a stupid life goal! Sometimes, of course, circumstances require people to work without rest, as when caring for a sick family member, or at harvest time, but to choose to do so year round in order to get rich? Stupid! Why? Riches are not what life is about: “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15).” The love of riches is a snare, tempting people to all sorts of sin (I Timothy 6:9). You can’t take it with you. We came naked into the world, and so we will leave (Job 1:21, Ecclesiastes 5:15, I Timothy 6:7). And we can’t even be confident about how our wealth will be handled after we die (Ecclesiastes 2:19). Getting rich may be the American Dream, but it is not the Christian hope.

Remember how many people lost their savings in the Great Depression? Only the naïve think it cannot happen again. So Solomon advises us to have the sense to say, “Enough already.” Wealth disappears, often suddenly! Riches can fly away, like an eagle to the sky. As Jesus put it, “Do not lay up treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19).” Do your work, and if you have food, clothes, and a place to live, be contented (I Timothy 6:8). The slave to a 24/7 job, first to arrive and last to leave, may get promoted, but he is more foolish than wise. Just when he thinks he is set, he may lose his job, get cancer, or watch the stock market and housing prices crash. Then again, war may take it all. So “be discerning enough to desist” and just go to bed.

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Photo by Rachel Pfuetzner on Unsplash