“The crown of the wise is their riches.” (Prov. 14:24)
The Bible clearly speaks of a correlation between riches and wisdom. This connection has a lot more to do with the practical application of wise principles than mere intelligence or IQ. The Bible simply makes the case that wise decisions tend to lead to financial gain. We must progress through this chapter not thinking of wisdom as some vague, mystical, and undeterminable attribute, but as practical application of sound principles.
First, it must be established that the Bible does connect wisdom and riches. Solomon often spoke of this relationship:
“[Wisdom] In her left hand are riches and honor.” (Prov. 3:16)
“[Wisdom] Riches and honor are with me, enduring wealth and righteousness.” (Prov. 8:18)
“[Wisdom in righteousness and justice] endow those who love me with wealth, that I may fill their treasuries” (Prov. 8:21)
“There is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man swallows it up.” (Prov. 21:20)
“By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.” (Prov. 24:3-4)
The scripture describes a direct correlation between riches and wisdom. The basic concept related in this relationship is actually quite logical. It makes sense that wisdom (discernment, morality, perspective, intelligence, and clear-thinking) will likely lead to success and financial gain. By definition, wise people make good decisions. Good decisions will most likely have positive results: “Wisdom has the advantage of giving success.” (Eccl. 10:10) Generally speaking, it should sound quite reasonable that people who consistently make wise decisions will find themselves surrounded by success and prosperity. Conversely, people who are continually making unwise decisions will likely find themselves facing failure and poverty. To go much further beyond this begins to twist the teachings of scripture.
Let us not forget that Solomon also said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding,” (Prov. 9:10) and “The Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:6) A Christian is to find wisdom in the Lord and in His word.
We must not take this notion too far. Then we begin to say things like: “So if I follow the Lord’s instruction He will make me rich,” or “Everyone who is poor has gotten into that position because they have acted foolishly.” These types of statements make the Bible say what we want it to say rather than what it actually says. We must understand the basic correlation between riches and wisdom found in these verses without elevating this concept to some sort of life-governing principle or universal axiom. In order to see an accurate Biblical balance of riches and wisdom, we will look to the life of Solomon.
A Case Study: Balancing Riches and Wisdom
Solomon was the richest and wisest man that ever lived (1 King 10:23). As every one of us remembers from our felt board Sunday school lessons, he was given a gift of his choosing from the Lord. He requested wisdom:
“Now, O LORD my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child…So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Kings 3:7,9)
In this request, we see that humility preceded any blessing (which is a lesson in itself), but the answer he receives back from the Lord is even more enlightening. God’s response reveals His infinite wisdom. In this account, the words of the Lord clearly communicate that Solomon’s wisdom and wealth were given to him by God:
“It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing. God said to him, ‘Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for…riches for yourself…but have asked for yourself discernment to understand justice…I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days.” (1 King 3:10-13, See Also 2 Chron. 1:7-12)
Solomon did not become wealthy as his wisdom came to fruition. Instead, he received his riches from God: “I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor.” It is not an accident that the scripture denotes Solomon’s wealth to be a gift from the Lord rather than a result of his wisdom. The wisest and wealthiest man to have ever lived was not exempt from the simple statement of John the Baptist: “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.” (John 3:27)
Since we have taken such a close look at the life and teachings of Solomon, it is worth taking a moment to glance at his management of such gifts. Amidst unparalleled levels of wisdom and prosperity, how did he handle his money? Observe the following passages:
“And King Solomon and all the congregation of Israel, who were assembled to him, were with him before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and oxen they could not be counted or numbered. On the same day the king consecrated the middle of the court that was before the house of the LORD, because there he offered the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat of the peace offerings; for the bronze altar that was before the LORD was too small to hold the burnt offering and the grain offering and the fat of the peace offerings.” (1 King 8:5,64, See Also 2 Chron. 5:6)
“For he [Solomon] will deliver the needy when he cries for help, the afflicted also, and him who has no helper. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save.” (Ps. 72:12-13)
In Solomon we see a matchless combination of riches and wisdom. What results does such a situation create? The scriptures above indicate that he was overwhelmingly generous to God, the needy, the afflicted, and the poor. This should be a lesson to us all.
So what should a believer take away from this chapter? Seek wisdom while it may still be found:
“Make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; for if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the LORD and discover the knowledge of God.” (Prov. 2:2-5)
“How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding. For her profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold. She is more precious than jewels; and nothing you desire compares with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her, and happy are all who hold her fast…keep sound wisdom and discretion, so they will be life to your soul and adornment to your neck. Then you will walk in your way securely and your foot will not stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. (Prov. 3:13-18,21-24)
“Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will guard you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is: acquire wisdom; and with all your acquiring, get understanding. Prize her, and she will exalt you; she will honor you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a garland of grace; she will present you with a crown of beauty.” (Prov. 4:5-9)
The Lord gives wisdom to those who seek it in the fear and knowledge of Him. Do not seek wisdom to get rich, for wisdom’s “profit is better than the profit of silver and her gain better than fine gold.” There is much more to wisdom than money. She is a source of life, peace, happiness, security, and grace. “How blessed is the man who finds wisdom and the man who gains understanding.”
We are to seek wisdom for wisdom’s sake, not for the possibility of financial gain. It might help to consider the following metaphor: One who exercises and eats right in order to be healthy frequently accomplishes his goal and most likely loses a few pounds in the process. However, those who drag themselves to the gym to lose fifteen pounds rarely achieve their goal. The same is true of wisdom. Those who seek “wisdom” to get rich seldom achieve this end. The entire notion is counter-productive.