“Give Me Neither Poverty Nor Riches” — 7 Things the Book of Proverbs Teaches Us About Money

If money cannot buy happiness, far less can it buy salvation and life. It is God’s righteousness, not wealth, that turns the key of heaven’s gates. “Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death … Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf” (Prov. 11:4, 28).

When my grandmother sold her 1976 Toyota Corona in 1996, the sun visors and doors were still covered with the protective plastic from the factory. The car’s original green paint was brilliant and immaculate, and it had been serviced within an inch of its life. In fact, when it rained Grandma had to go out with raincoat and umbrella because Grandad didn’t want to risk rusting their beautiful car.

It wasn’t just the car. Grandma only ever owned one electric toaster, a 1948 wedding present. It had flip down doors on either side, and you had to manually turn the bread. She only ever used one carving knife the one her blacksmith grandfather had repurposed, using forge and hammer from a worn-out steel file in the early 1900s.

In her last years, in the blazing Perth summers, she still cooled herself using a damp towel and electric fan, reluctant to waste electricity on her perfectly good split-system air conditioner.

Grandma was born in 1926, and so she lived her girlhood through the Great Depression. Her family had no car or cart, and they traveled by foot or bus. Her father, a school master, supplemented the family table by hunting rabbits. Her mother had to sell her beloved piano to buy food: “We ate the piano,” Grandma would sometimes say. Butter was scarce, and drippings on bread with salt and pepper made a frequent meal. (Dripping was the fat from a cooked roast, collected into used tins.) Grandma, like just about every other Australian in the 1930s, had to live frugally, and she never lost those childhood habits. She treasured and looked after every possession.

How different my life has been. I have had many cars, and I haven’t looked after any of them especially well. Cheap electric appliances come and go. My worn-out clothes are discarded instead of repaired. Every now and then we have to clear uneaten leftovers out of the fridge. If it’s cold, we put on the heater without much thought.

By any standard of history and place, the Australian middle class enjoys spectacular wealth. And with wealth comes wastage, greed, forgetfulness of the poor, pride, a sense of entitlement, and spiritual apathy.

These are not small dangers. And so we turn urgently to God’s word for help and guidance. Here are seven things the book of Proverbs teaches us about poverty and wealth, riches and want.

1.  Wealth comes from the Lord.

“The blessing of the LORD brings wealth” (Prov. 10:22). If God is sovereign, if he governs all creation, then both riches and poverty come ultimately from him. Poor and barren Hannah recognized this: “The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts” (1 Sam. 2:7; Scripture quotes from NIV version unless otherwise noted). And Moses warned rich Israelites never to forget this:

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth. (Deut. 8:17)

Godliness and riches are linked: “Humility is the fear of the LORD; its wages are riches and honor and life” (Prov. 22:4). Psalm 112 concurs:

Praise the Lord.

Blessed are those who fear the Lord,

    who find great delight in his commands.

Their children will be mighty in the land;

    the generation of the upright will be blessed.

Wealth and riches are in their houses,

    and their righteousness endures forever. (Ps. 112:1-3)

In a fallen world, however, the correlation is far from robust. The godly can be destitute (like Hannah, Job in his trials, Elijah, and Mary), and the godless can be rich (like Pharaoh, Nabal, Darius, and the glutton who pretended Lazarus didn’t exist). The rich should not presume that God smiles on them, nor should the poor assume that he frowns on them.

2. The Lord normally bestows wealth by hard work, frugality, and saving.

“Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow” (Prov. 13:11). “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” (Prov. 14:23). “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty” (Prov. 21:5).

And so indolent epicureans tend to impoverish themselves: “He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich” (Prov. 21:17). “He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty” (Prov. 28:19).

Some will inherit the benefits of the hard work, frugality, and saving of others. “Houses and wealth are inherited from parents” (Prov. 19:14a). The godly will want this for their children: “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous” (Prov. 13:22). A patrimony does not however come without its dangers: “An inheritance quickly gained at the beginning will not be blessed at the end” (Prov. 20:21).

3. Greed is evil.

Gordon Gecko, the fictional Wall Street swindler, urged that “greed is good.” Scripture urges instead that greed is godless.

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