Why are some people wealthy and others poor? The Book of Proverbs outlines the causes of both. Let us consider the causes of wealthy today and of poverty tomorrow.
An obvious cause of wealth is inheritance. Some people enter life with a head start.
Houses and wealth are inherited from parents,
but a prudent wife is from the Lord (19:14).
Inheritance in and of itself is neither moral nor immoral. What a person does with his inheritance is important. According to this proverb, a good wife is more important than a lot of money.
A second cause of wealth is work. Some people rise out of poverty by working hard and smart. As an example of hard work, consider Proverbs 14:23:
All hard work brings a profit,
but mere talk leads only to poverty.
As an example of smart work, consider Proverbs 27:23-27:
Be sure you know the condition of your flocks.
give careful attention to your herds;
for riches do not endure forever,
and a crown is not secure for all generations.
When the hay is removed and new growth appears
and the grass from the hills is gathered in,
the lambs will provide you with clothing,
and the goats with the price of a field.
You will have plenty of goats’ milk
to feed you and your family
and to nourish your servant girls.
Of course, some bad people work hard and smart and are successful. That’s why Proverbs differentiates between the eternal outcomes of good and bad behavior:
The wages of the righteous bring them life,
but the income of the wicked brings them punishment (10:15-16).
A third cause of wealth is what you might call financial intelligence. Some people know how to stretch a dollar a long way. They are frugal, more concerned with being cash rich than being considered rich by others.
One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing;
another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth (13:7).
Good investments are another example of financial intelligence. Proverbs 27:13 is somewhat comical, in this regard, telling us to make sure to get collateral from people who ask us for risky loans.
Take the garment of one who puts up security for a stranger;
hold it in pledge if he does it for a wayward woman.
A fourth cause of wealth is wisdom and virtue. Good people, generally speaking, do well.
The righteous eat to their hearts’ content,
but the stomach of the wicked goes hungry (13:25).
The wealth of the wise is their crown,
but the folly of fools yields folly (14:24).
Humility and the fear of the Lord
bring wealth and honor and life (22:4).
A final cause of wealth is spiritual devotion, specifically financial generosity to the Lord’s work.
Honor the Lord with your wealth,
with the firstfruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine (3:9-10).
A faithful man will be richly blessed,
but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished (28:20).
Of course, we all know people who inherit money, work hard, spend smart, live well, and tithe to the church who aren’t rich. Proverbs are not mathematical laws that guarantee wealth. Rather, they are laws of average telling us which behaviors are most likely to lead to prosperity.