In the 1735 edition of Poor Richard’s Almanac, Benjamin Franklin wrote:
Early to bed and early to rise
makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
I don’t know whether I like the first line of that proverb, but I love the second line. It’s a great description of the lives most of us want to live: healthy, wealthy, and wise. Who, after all, wants to be sickly, poor, and stupid?
I don’t know why Franklin put healthy, wealthy, and wise in that order. My guess is that putting wise last made for the best rhyme. Whatever Franklin’s reasons, the Book of Proverbs prioritizes wisdom over health and wealth. And by wisdom, Proverbs doesn’t mean book smarts. The world is full of over-educated fools. In Proverbs, wisdom is practical knowledge or know-how. More specifically, wisdom is knowing how to live a life of spirituality and virtue.
The Book of Proverbs demonstrates that priority of wisdom over health and especially wealth in several “better than” proverbs.
Let’s start with Proverbs 12:9:
Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant
than pretend to be somebody and have no food.
Here, wealth is prioritized over celebrity, and wisdom isn’t mentioned explicitly. But since it takes a wise person to recognize that financial independence is more valuable that social status, wisdom still plays an implicit role.
Several proverbs drive home the point that wisdom is more important than dishonestly gained wealth. For example:
Better a little with righteousness
than much gain with injustice (16:8).
Better to be lowly in spirit and among the oppressed
than to share plunder with the proud (16:19).
Better a poor man whose walk is blameless
than a rich man whose ways are perverse (28:6).
We might say that it is better to be right than to be rich, and the only way to be right is to be wise.
It is also better to be wealthy in friends than wealthy in funds, and this too requires wisdom.
Better a dry crust with peace and quiet
than a house full of feasting, with strife (17:1).
What a man desires is unfailing love;
better to be poor than a liar (19:22).
Better a little with the fear of the Lord
than great wealth with turmoil (15:6).
Better a meal of vegetables where there is love
than a fattened calf with hatred (15:17).
The Beatles had a great song, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” which goes to the heart of the issue. Money is good for a lot of things, but there’s no substitute for the wisdom that alone produces love and harmony in relationships.
Unfortunately, many rich people don’t know how foolish they are. They have been successful in business, so they think they know what they’re doing in every aspect of their lives. But Proverbs 28:11 gives this warning to the rich (and to all of us by extension):
A rich man may be wise in his own eyes,
but a poor man who has discernment sees through him.
You may be thinking that since you’re not rich, these proverbs must apply to others. But you are rich! Nearly half of the world lives on less than two dollars a day. If you have a job, a house, a car, clothes, and even a few dollars in the bank, you’re loaded by global standards. So, be wise and prioritize. It’s good to be healthy and wealthy, but it’s best to be wise.