Saturday, April 13, 2019

How Not to Crash and Burn (54)

The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

These are well-known biblical truths, and yet notwithstanding the accumulating evidence that possessions and happiness are quite unrelated, the stampede to acquire as much as possible as quickly as possible never abates.

Three of these next ten verses are about money: those who have it, those who don’t, and those who are trying to get it.

The “Men of Hezekiah” Proverbs (Proverbs 28:11-20)

Riches and Wisdom
“A rich man is wise in his own eyes,
but a poor man who has understanding will find him out.”
Riches do not automatically come with an upgrade in the wisdom department, as boatloads of lottery winners have discovered over the years. Unfortunately for the rich, limitless wealth often confers a bit of a superiority complex and a false sense of invulnerability. The ESV’s translation of the second line is a bit too literal and antiquated for me; the Berean Study Bible renders this as “a poor man with discernment sees through him,” which I believe is the sense of it.

Proverbs is full of these sorts of comparisons between rich and poor, and in nearly every case it is the situation of the poor man that is said to be preferable. I have a feeling more of us pay lip service to this concept than actually believe it.

As we have seen before in Proverbs, being wise in your own eyes is one of the worst possible fates. We have already established that “there is more hope for a fool” than for a man wise in his own eyes, and there is not much hope for fools. The man who believes he has all the answers is guaranteed to overlook almost everything really important in life.

The Land of Plenties
“Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.”
The Hebrew for “worthless pursuits” in this verse is often translated “vain”, and literally means “empty”. Modern translations speak of “chasing fantasies” and “wasting time”. I have known a couple of women over the years who could spend hours every day on the phone talking about nothing, then find themselves very frustrated when they realized how far behind they had fallen with things that needed to be done. Frequently, they would end up taking out their annoyance on everyone else in their lives. To the best of my knowledge neither has ever made the obvious connection between time management and productivity. Unless you have your own talk show, idle conversation doesn’t usually pay the bills.

I have worked with men who were equally adept at frittering away the workday, but none were self-employed. Men and women who work for themselves quickly realize that if they don’t produce a good or a service promptly, they won’t be in business long.

Parents used to teach their children a little rhyme, the first line of which went something like “We must do the things we must before the things we may.” I have always found it tooth-grindingly irritating. It is also precisely correct.

The Cost of Cutting Those Corners
“A faithful man will abound with blessings,
but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.”
To say that someone will “abound with blessings” is sometimes taken to mean that God will personally pour out upon them a reward for their diligence and consistency. That may be correct. It is certainly not without scriptural precedent. But since the word “blessings” is bÄ•rakah, or “benediction”, it seems likelier to me that what is being taught here is that people who deal with a faithful man will shower him with praise and goodwill, along with a great deal more work if he is able to handle it. If you have ever had to hire and supervise contractors, you know how incredibly rare it is to find a truly faithful man. They are an absolute prize, and you let them know it. You want them back.

In contrast, the word “unpunished” has the sense of “will not be blameless” or “will not be acquitted”. Again, this is probably in the court of human opinion rather than via a direct judgment of God. It is contrasted with a promise of being showered with benedictions, so it probably has to do with the consequences in this life of cutting corners rather than working diligently and letting the natural reward of competence come back to you in due course. Those who do shoddy work in order to speed up the process and take on more business than they can handle tend to reap the consequences as well. When the cheap pipes burst, the hastily poured concrete cracks, or the bridge falls into the river, there will definitely be fallout.

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