This theme is found all over Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Like many others, it is so common that it is easy to overlook. We need to teach ourselves to slowly and with meditation read the Word of God. The Holy Spirit may point out something new with a blessing hiding in it.
I’ll let the Lord determine if this will be a blessing, but I was hit with something new in this verse. As I say, the Bible often speaks of “poor rich men” and “rich poor men.” I could pull examples and scriptures from throughout the Bible, but here are two from Revelation. Chapter 2, verse 9 – “I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou are rich)….” Chapter 3, verse 17 – “Thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” There are obvious and subtle lessons in scriptures like these. One of which is that “richness” and “poverty” are relative terms. Many people of are wealthy by our standards, think to themselves that they aren’t rich enough. And many people with little of this world’s goods, realize that they could be a lot poorer. And yet, the world looks at both these people and says, “He is poor, and he is rich.”
There are many scriptures dealing with the CONDITION of wealth and poverty. But it occurred to me yesterday that Proverbs 13:7 does not speak of the condition of one’s finances. This clearly speaks of the road towards wealth or poverty. “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.” In our English Bibles, there are 19 words, but in the Hebrew there are only 8. “That maketh himself rich” is one word as is “that maketh himself poor.” This verse is not talking about the condition of wealth and poverty, but the process of becoming one or the other.
And this brings the verse closer to where we live, making the application more pertinent and personal. None of us are either rich or poor in the things of this world – we are some where in-between. And if we could find the right measuring device, we could determine whether we were becoming more wealthy or more poor. NOW the words of our text take on a different meaning. “There is that MAKETH himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that MAKETH himself poor, yet hath great riches.”
What are some of the general ways in which people make themselvs rich in the things of the world?
There is a television show on the Home and Garden channel (HGTV) which documents people who have recently won a lottery. How will this newly rich person spend his/her money when it comes to buying an expensive house? Gambling is one way in which a few become rich – casinos, charitable lotteries, state-run lotteries, etc. I know that lotteries are often purported to be means of raising money for good causes. But runs on the principle of taking money from many foolish people in order to enrich one “lucky” person. There have been dozens of studies which have shown that those winners have more often than not come out losers after a few years. “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing.” – quite literally – nothing.
We might redefine this means of wealth as “foolishness” – or we might go beyond that and call it “sinfulness.” How many times has Solomon tied together the words “foolishness” and “vanity”? Verse 11 in this chapter begins with, “Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished.”
The complete opposite of gambling and foolish vanity is hard work. There have been multitudes who have become wealthy through the employment of their minds and strong backs. They come from among both the lost and true children of God. And believe me, I am not criticizing sweat and hard work or the blessings which might come from it. But it is still possible for even the Christian to – “maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing.”
Perhaps attitude and intent should be considered in the light of this verse. These words indicate that from the beginning this rich man did all that he could to become wealthy. He might stand in contrast to another millionaire who simply worked hard and God blessed him with wealth. It was not his intent to become rich – he only created a product which met a need and money was created. Job and Abraham were apparently far more well-to-do than others, but it was not their intent. Neither one tried to “maketh himself rich.” It might be that when your final will is read, your children will be surprised that you are leaving them far more than any of you ever really knew you possessed. That is not of what this scripture speaks – I think this is talking about striving to become wealthy.
Letting my imagination run, I asked myself about other ways to “maketh himself rich.” Probably because of some recent reading my mind stumbled over PROSPECTING. There have been some people who have become rich searching for gold or other metals and minerals. But for every family whose father “struck-it-rich,” there have been hundreds of families who rolled in wealth for a little while but died out in poverty – or they never had it in the first place. It would be fun to providentially find a big nugget of gold or one of the gems for which Idaho has been called the “Gem State.” If I stumbled across a big nugget or gem, I might just set it out on the coffee table enjoying its beauty – rather than cashing it in as wealth. As a general statement it would be foolish to try to become rich prospecting for gold.
Another avenue of wealth might be INVESTMENTS – the act of enabling others to make wealth on your behalf. There may be nothing wrong with investing in the work of others. But it CAN boil down to little more than gambling depending again on a person’s attitude. And for Christians, they must beware that their investments are not placed into sinful areas. And while investing may not be sinful, Solomon’s proverb still applies – “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing.” One day the investor has lots of money in his account, but on the next there may be nothing.
No matter what the road to wealth someone might take, “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing.” I am constantly invited to help distraught Africans to bring their money to America, and in the process I would be enriched. Do you remember the chain-letters we used to get, promising great wealth if we contributed a little? Get-rich-quick schemes have been around for centuries. 98% of the time, the quicker or more outlandish the idea, the quicker the participant ends up with “nothing.”
But on the other hand, “there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.” Now we come to the strange idea of becoming poor. Is Solomon talking about accidentally becoming poor or making it deliberate?
How can someone make himself poor in the things of the world?
To me, the most obvious is laziness or complete inactivity – physical, mental or some other variety. “He also that is slothful in his work is brother to him that is a great waster.” “Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and an idle soul shall suffer hunger.” “By much slothfulness the building decayeth; and through idleness of the hands the house droppeth though.” This, from my observation is a serious problem in our world – but perhaps it has always been here. In contrast to the degraded mind-set of today’s welfare society, Paul exhorted, “this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”
While this is a problem and one road toward poverty, is Solomon speaking of a lack of industry and initiative? What about poverty caused by bad investments? Once again, I don’t think that is the theme – at least if we are talking about the New York Stock Exchange or the Chicago Board of Trade, but there are other kinds of investments.
Brother Justin Fulton’s message at the recent Men’s Retreat was on the subject of finding a good mate. It was really quite good and should have been a blessing to everyone there – married or single. One direction to which the message pointed and could have traveled was marriage as an investment. When a young man marries, he should realize that he is making a long-term, life-time investment. If he marries the woman of Proverbs 31 his stock in the community will grow, and his children will call both their parents “blessed.” But if he invests in a waster, a complainer, a woman ambitious for worldly things, he will likely end up with nothing. But again, this is not Solomon’s intent.
This proverb contains two general principles which are true and often seen. “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.” Even the Prodigal was wealthy as long as he was becoming poor by giving his wealth away. But his giving was not with the glory or God or even the blessing of the recipient in mind. He became poor striving to be rich in fun and friends, and thus he ended up with neither.
Solomon is speaking about making oneself poor through generosity. This is not poverty through SIN; it is relative poverty through LIBERALITY. This is not talking about an attempt to buy friends, position or influence. This is relative poverty through selflessness acts of generosity and hospitality. Yes, his kindness has left his wallet empty, but he has earned himself the friendship and love of others.
Solomon says nothing about the hand of Lord in either side of his proverb, but I will add Him into the mix. “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing:” because there is a God who judges every deed and action committed on earth. And He judges the nature of the heart, not necessarily the extent of the deed. Furthermore, that divine poverty may not fall immediately, but it can and often does. And “there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches,” because God knows the heart of the person who displays generosity and self-sacrifice, and He will reward as He sovereignly chooses.