What is wealth and what are we to do with it? Proverbs tells us wealth is more than having ‘cash on hand’ or the ability to ‘pay the bills.’ It is about one’s legacy. And exactly how does one go about building a legacy?
For the writer of Proverbs, wealth makes the bad worse (28:22; 29:3) and the good better (13:11; 14:23-24). Legacy is about the rich having lived humble lives of wisdom, being close to God, using their money for good; the legacy of leaving a life built on cultivating relationships — defending the poor, the widow, and the orphan–all with one’s wealth having been given direction by wisdom (11:25; 21:25-26; 22:9). Tithing and making provision, not being wasteful: a legacy that begins on this side of heaven, with avoiding drunk gluttonous fools and the women who hang with them. Wealth is seen as an aid in defining who you are–with wealth and wisdom working together, the righteous living in company with God.
Does the central message of Proverbs seem to you that God gave you common sense, so use it? This is not a book where the theology shines forth, being hard to miss, as we find in Genesis and the continuation of the covenant. Proverbs is what one does with the covenant from childhood, young adulthood, marriage, within community. It asks the reader, “Who are you going to be in the Lord?” We find in this book of teaching: the foolish, the wise, women, those who trust God, and also the wicked. The wicked are a sudden terror (3:25); worthless (6:12); the Lord curses them (3:33) because their way is a ‘deep darkness’ (4:19). Unusual for ancient literature, we also find children in Proverbs — they are a delight (8:31); teachable (22:6), yet capable of folly (22:15); also capable of recognizing the blessings of their mothers (31:8).
From knowing the wicked will perish to the hope that a child will observe the teachings of the parents, particularly compelling are the verses addressing money and wealth and one’s attachment to them. Wealth is referred to 18 times in this book of 31 chapters, making wealth a topic or subtopic of nearly every other chapter. We find wealth is not itself bad (3:9), capable of being used to honor the Lord. We also discover that stinginess, selfishness, and injustice are apt to arise if one does not use wealth wisely (14:24; 18:11). The idea that wisdom and the good use of money go hand-in-hand is significant in Proverbs. However, wealth has its disadvantages. Proverbs 13 describes how the wealthy can live in such a way that their wealth can turn on them, becoming useful only for a ransom (13:8). Wealth can dwindle easily (13:11), especially if it hasn’t been worked for — implying that receiving instruction (13:18) and wisdom is needed to obtain a good understanding of wealth.
Rebecca Terhune, ’15