Money talks         

I found this humorous couplet in my recently acquired Dictionary of Proverbs and their Origins:

That money talks I’ll not deny. I heard it once – it said ‘Goodbye’.

I just happened to be reading through the Bible book of Proverbs in my daily devotions; there I counted almost 50 verses referring to money, grouped in some 36 clusters. I discovered four major lessons in those texts that could be labelled as promoting: integrity, industry, piety and generosity. Let me unpack these practical teachings from the English Standard Version.

  1. Integrity – using money righteously

[] Proverbs 15:6 observes that: ‘In the house of the righteous there is much treasure.’ But what exactly is this treasure – is it financial or spiritual? According to the New Living Translation [NLT] the Hebrew word used here means ‘earnings’, in contrast to the ‘trouble’ paid to ungodly workers.

[] Proverbs 16:8 tones down the treasure’s quantity which must not be thought of as a millionaire’s fortune, for: ‘Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice [or dishonesty, NLT].

[] Proverbs 17:8 and 23 emphasize that bribery is not characteristic of rightous people. ‘A bribe is like a magic stone [or lucky charm, NLT] in the eyes of the one who gives it‘; so that ‘wherever he turns he prospers’ (financially, but not spiritually). It is ‘the wicked [person who] accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the ways of justice’, meaning that both the donor and the recipient of a bribe have unrighteous motives.

[] Now, why does the idea that ‘a rich man’s wealth is his strong city‘ get a second mention (Proverbs 10:15 and 18:11)? Could it be because a person with a healthy bank balance can very readily find security in his wealth? The earlier verse occurs in the context of honest trading: ‘The wage of the righteous leads to life, the gain of the wicked to sin’ (Proverbs 10:16). And the later mention is sandwiched between two essential qualifications – godly behaviour and godly motives: ‘The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe’ (Proverbs 18:10). But by contrast: ‘A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination (Proverbs 18:11). And: Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honour’ (Proverbs 18:12; see also 16:19).

In brief: Don’t flaunt your possessions or brag about your ability to acquire wealth.

  1. Industry – earning money as the fruit of one’s labour

[] Proverbs 6:6-11 carries a lesson that’s repeated in 10:4-5 and 21:25-26; 20:13 and 24:30-34. The sluggard is exhorted to visit a colony of ants to observe their diligent efforts to prepare for the months of winter and autumn, instead of being a lazy lie-abed who will harvest no crops from his weed-choked field with its broken walls that openly invites wild beasts and human robbers to help themselves!

  1. Piety – handling money wisely in the fear of the Lord

Another one-liner in my paperback book of proverbs reads: ‘The wages of gin is debt’, echoing the rhythm of a Bible verse that was a stock-in-trade of mine in my youthful years as an evangelist: ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23).

[] Proverbs 21:17 clearly agrees totally with this parody in the English language: ‘Whoever loves wine . . . will not be rich.’

[] Proverbs 31:4-5 especially warns kings to avoid the drunken effects of wine and strong drink. And in case we commoners assume that we are permitted to get drunk, we should remind ourselves of Revelation 1:5-6 and 5:8-10. Jesus, who was slain, has ‘by [his] blood . . . ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation and . . . made them a kingdom and priests to God, and they shall reign on the earth.’

[] The reader of Proverbs is regularly urged to conquer laziness and to work hard. Perhaps Proverbs 14:4 inspired godly Yorkshire miners who always arrived home covered in coal dust to conclude that: ‘Where there’s muck, there’s brass’ (or money):

‘Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.’

However, farmers knew how dung that was merely shovelled onto a pile would not enrich their sown seed. Francis Bacon wrote in 1624: ‘. . . riches [are] like muck; when it lay in a heap it gave but a stench . . .; but when it was spread upon the ground, then it was cause of much fruit.’

[] And Proverbs 23:4-5 (NLT) reminds us of the adage: ‘We should work to live, not live to work.’ ‘Don’t wear yourself our trying to get rich. Be wise enough to know when to quit. In the blink of an eye wealth disappears, for it will sprout wings and fly away like an eagle.’ This is captured well in:

[] Proverbs 15:27 (TPT): ‘The one who puts earning money above his family will have trouble at home, but those who refuse to exploit others will live in peace.’

  1. Generosity – blessing the Lord and others financially

[] Proverbs 3:9-10 and 14:20-21 remind us to render to the Lord the tenth of our earnings and the firstfruits of our harvest: ‘Honour the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of your produce, then your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will be bursting with wine.’

[] Proverbs 14:21 says: ‘. . . blessed is he who is generous to the poor.’  In contrast:

[] Proverbs 28:22 informs us that ‘A stingy man hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him.’ See also Proverbs 11:24-25 and 28.

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