v7. “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing”.
This is a statement of God’s providence. Many aspire to be rich and to accumulate wealth, but do not succeed. Others do succeed for a while, but they effectively have nothing, because God can quickly take the wealth away. Our Lord told a parable of a rich farmer who decided to take early retirement. In one sense he had made himself rich, but in God’s providence, he was soon to have nothing.
“This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:18–21).
We might consider events such as the great stock market crash of 1929. Many businesses went under; personal fortunes were decimated, lifetime savings were lost, all trust in the banking system evaporated, and some individuals even committed suicide. Many had indeed made themselves rich, but the reality was that they eventually had nothing. That is why we must point men to the true riches which are to be found only in Jesus Christ. It is not wrong to invest sensibly on the stock market; it is not wrong to possess savings or run a successful business. Indeed, the Lord often gives material blessing to those who honour Him, but the key point is that our material well-being is totally in the hands of God.
“A man to whom God hath given riches, wealth, and honour, so that he wanteth nothing for his soul of all that he desireth, yet God giveth him not power to eat thereof, but a stranger eateth it: this is vanity, and it is an evil disease” (Ecclesiastes 6:2). A man may strive after riches and gain them, but in God’s providence lose the ability to enjoy them; so he effectively has nothing
v7. “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing”.
No amount of human endeavour can achieve lasting wealth, unless God so ordains it. The Canaanites loss of their land to Israel was in itself an expression of this principle. They lived in a prosperous and fertile country, but, because of all their wickedness and idolatry, others would enjoy the fruits of their labours.
“When the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; Then beware lest thou forget the LORD” (Deuteronomy 6:10–12). The Israelites must never forget that the prosperity which they came to enjoy was entirely God’s gift to them.
“Thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17–18).
v7. “… there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches”.
A man may give away much of his wealth, so as to impoverish himself, yet may still in God’s providence continue to possess riches, as God honours his liberality.
“There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself” (Proverbs 11:24–25). God will not forget the believer’s expenditure laid out in His service.
v7. “… there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches”.
A man might make himself poor by refusing to engage in immoral or unjust practices, even though in his society these might be profitable activities and generally accepted. A believer, for example, who refuses to do business on the Lord’s Day might in human terms be turning away lucrative opportunities. The Lord, however, will honour him, even in a material way. The widow who cast her two mites into the treasury was casting in all her living. She would have nothing, until she received her wages of the next day, but she made herself poor by giving what she had, and we can be sure that God honoured her liberality, and provided for her on that next day and subsequent days. So in that sense she became rich, although she had made herself poor. Honouring her faithfulness, the Lord would have given her what she needed, and possibly more, because she had made the service of God her priority. She had sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and so the other material things were then added unto her.
v8. “The ransom of a man’s life are his riches”.
The rich are often more exposed to trouble than more secure. In time of war, when the enemy prevails, or under a corrupt government the rich are targeted. Their resources attract. They are more likely to be exploited. They may have to pay a ransom to secure their life, whereas the poor will be overlooked. Even in peace time there is always crime, and the wealthy are obviously preferred targets for burglary and theft. At the time of the Babylonian invasion of Judah the poor of the land escaped being deported as prisoners.
“The rest of the people that were left in the city, and the fugitives that fell away to the king of Babylon, with the remnant of the multitude, did Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carry away. But the captain of the guard left of the poor of the land to be vinedressers and husbandmen” (2 Kings 25:11-12). This, then, is an example of the principle which Solomon is setting forth.
v8. “… but the poor heareth not rebuke”.
‘Rebuke’ here is in the sense of severe treatment. For example, the same word is used in Psalm 9:5 in the sentence, “Thou hast rebuked the heathen, thou hast destroyed the wicked”. The poor will tend not to suffer from the criminal’s severe treatment. He will not receive the attention of the ambitious ruler’s scheming. So it must not be thought that those without wealth are always at a disadvantage in life. Our Lord referred to the vulnerability of wealth like this :
“Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal” (Matthew 6:19)”.
Furthermore, when God desires to bring judgement on a society, wealth will be of no avail.
“Riches profit not in the day of wrath” (Proverbs 11:4).
In natural disasters, for example, the rich will suffer as much as the poor; indeed their actual loss and their sense of loss will be greater. Therefore we are being taught here that there is no real security in the things of this world.
v9. “The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out”.
We note first of all in this verse that believers are described as ‘the righteous’. It is assumed that those who love God are actually righteous in their conduct. If faith in Christ does not make a man more holy, then it cannot be called true faith. We also note that unbelievers are described as ‘the wicked’, for unbelief inevitably results in the ignoring of God’s commandments. Unbelief itself is wickedness.
Regarding the phrases ‘the light of the righteous’ and ‘the lamp of the wicked’, this is the metaphor of a candlestick holder lighting up a room. Is the house well lit? Is a man prosperous and faring well? So the words ‘light’ and ‘lamp’ describe a man’s true condition. A wicked man might indeed be outwardly prosperous and faring very well in this world; he may be comfortable materially and have many friends – that is his light. Yes, it seems to be very bright for a while, but, says God’s word, it will soon be put out. All that he puts his hopes and trust in are but transitory things. He never knows when they might be taken away in God’s providence – “the lamp of the wicked shall be put out”.
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:14–16).
The apostle John thus stresses the temporary nature of the things of this world.So the unbeliever’s lamp is a flickering, unreliable flame. His favourable circumstances are confined to this world. He never knows when he might be called to leave the world and to face His Maker, and after that, there is an awful darkness reserved to him. His lamp shall be put out. All that he formerly gloried in will immediately become vain and worthless. We have the same teaching in Job 18 :
“Yea, the light of the wicked shall be put out, and the spark of his fire shall not shine. The light shall be dark in his tabernacle, and his candle shall be put out with him”(Job 18:5–6).
The unbeliever will not be able to take his earthly glory with him. A lamp is man-made, but in contrast to such a lamp the believer is said here, not to have a lamp, but light, light which is God’s own light. This light is said to ‘rejoice’. Think of a bright surging flame shedding light across the whole room; it is as if the flame is joyful. It is strong and powerful and in no danger of going out. This aptly describes the Christian’s condition. So ‘the light of the righteous’ refers to the believer’s true condition as one under God’s special providential care. His outward circumstances may not always be good, but God is watching over him and meeting his needs. The very hairs of his head are numbered. The Spirit of Christ dwells within him, and he is a citizen of heaven. Even should his life come to an end, he will go to a place infinitely better. So, far from his light being extinguished, it will be fanned into an eternal flame.
v10. “Only by pride cometh contention”.
Pride will always be at the root of conflicts. Where a humble spirit would avert conflict, pride will foster and deepen conflict.
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3).
This is what Miriam and Aaron failed to do, in stark contrast to the humble Moses.
“And they said, Hath the LORD indeed spoken only by Moses? hath he not spoken also by us? And the LORD heard it. (Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth)” (Numbers 12:2–3).
That Aaron and Miriam had been used in prophetic roles seems to have created some resentment in them concerning Moses’s unique authority in Israel. Pride would certainly be involved in this resentment.
v10. “… but with the well advised is wisdom”.
Those who are willing to listen to the advice of others, and not just proudly trust to their own thinking, are much wiser.
“Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end” (Proverbs 19:20).
Pride will lead a man to ignore wise counsel. There is also a real connection between loving riches and pride in a man’s heart.
“They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches” (Psalms 49:6).
The ultimate act of pride in man is to reject God, and material riches can often reinforce the unbeliever’s false confidence.
“Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness” (Psalms 52:7).
v11. “Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished”.
Many are tempted to acquire wealth by cutting corners. Apart from outright fraud and theft, we might think of dubious business practices, making money out of immorality, trading unnecessarily on the Lord’s Day, or unlawfully avoiding tax. God, however, sees all, and wealth acquired in such a way will not be lasting. The Lord, in His providence, determines the material circumstances of all men.
v11. “… but he that gathereth by labour shall increase”.
God delights to bless honest and diligent labour. This is is the best foundation for real material security.
“He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich” (Proverbs 10:4).
The Christian must be a careful steward of his money and must make sensible provision to meet his commitments, but he always does so in the light of God’s providence, never setting his heart on riches, realising that they cannot give true security.
“Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy”(1 Timothy 6:17).
So the message of these verses is this : Make your security the God of providence and not the empty things of this world.
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