Do not overwork to be rich; because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away like an eagle toward heaven. (Proverbs 23:4, 5. NKJV)
How often does the Book of Proverbs warn, rebuke and mock the man that is lazy? It almost seems here that Proverbs is arguing against its own wisdom. We are now being told to not overwork so let us look more closely at the wisdom that Solomon has bound-up is this advice.
Clearly being lazy will destine us to miss out because we do not get to see the fruit of that labour. It may be lack of food, lack of clothing, an inability to afford entertainment, or it may mean that we live in a home that is deteriorating for lack of maintenance or have a car that is always broken down.
What happens if we overwork? Perhaps we need first look at the question of why we are overworking and this scripture does mention the reason, “to be rich.” What is wrong with being rich? Possibly nothing. We could for instance be driven by a desire to be able to give to those that have unmet needs. But we may see wealth as an idol, or maybe it is an issue of pride – we want people to see the outward expressions of our wealth. The primary warning appears to be to do with attitude, “If riches increase, do not set your heart on them.” Psalm 62:10. NKJV).God may see fit to bless us with wealth but we must have the right attitude towards it.
Solomon warns us to cease from overwork, “because of your own understanding.” Surely this is telling us to have wisdom and to look at the issues. We need to earn so that we can support our families and prepare for the future, but not for the reason of becoming wealthy. Covetous men, in their wisdom, believe that wealth brings happiness. But how many are happy because of wealth? Other factors underlie happiness. Commonly the wealthy are troubled by worries over loss or damage, insurance, and security. One quote I found sums it up very well; “Those that aim at great things fill their hands with business more than they can grasp, so that their life is both a perfect drudgery and a perpetual hurry; but be not thou such a fool; labour not to be rich.” (Matthew Henry)
It is a mistake to focus on wealth. A man’s life is not about the possessions. Jesus considers it important enough to advise us himself as we read in Luke. “And He said to them, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15. NKJV).
Greed for wealth, rather than wealth itself, can lead to sin, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. (1Timothy 6:9, 10. NKJV).
We need to place our trust in God’s wisdom, not our own. We shouldn’t need reminding but Solomon does so anyway, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6. NKJV).
The Proverb finishes with a warning that riches certainly make themselves wings. Riches cannot be trusted to stay with us. Even though they may come from honest, hard work they are too vulnerable and temporary to be a worthy focus of our life. They can depart quicker than we can react and outstrip any effort to recover them. Once gone they are gone forever, “like an eagle toward heaven.” Why squander our lifelong efforts on making wealth that we cannot take with us.
A penultimate word from Job’s friend Zophar who warns about the wicked man who will lose what he has gained for the wrong reason, “The increase of his house will depart, and his goods will flow away in the day of His wrath.” (Job 20:28, NKJV)
And for the ultimate word we look again to Jesus and He places no restrictions when guiding our work focus, if we look to the riches He offers, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”(Matthew 6:19, NKJV).