Proverbs 13:23

Much food is in the tillage of the poor: but there is that is destroyed for want of judgment.


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Hard work brings profit, but it can be lost by foolish decisions. The poor may labor hard at farming, with much increase from their Creator. Their focused labor on a small plot of land bears good reward for their table. But other poor men, even with some advantages, may squander greater gain by following harebrained schemes that take it away.

Tillage is the tilling and cultivating of ground for raising crops. Farming was the first profession in the world, and it is a good work. It is the most basic business or investment, providing a clear view of capital, labor, and profit. Depending directly on God’s blessing, seeds are placed in the ground to wait for His increase. And He does give increase!

The average return for wheat is 200. One wheat seed planted results in 200 new ones. One bushel planted results in 200 new bushels. That is a return of 20,000%! The average return for field corn is 800 times, or 80,000%! The average return for rice is 2000 times, or 200,000%! There is much food in the tillage of the poor. You have never seen this kind of return in any investment portfolio of the rich and famous, for the world’s best hedge fund managers or investors can only sustain about 30% per year over time.

Want of judgment is the lack of good sense. It is foolish vulnerability to ideas that will not work. It is listening to vain persons and their schemes. It is a lack of discretion and prudent management. It is the rejection of critical thinking and cautious pessimism. It is wishful thinking instead, trusting more in hopes and dreams than careful analysis.

Want of judgment is hasty decisions, poor choices, lack of foresight, and risky presumption. It believes everything it hears. It is frustration with the old way of doing things and impatience to experiment with something new. It is the desire for a free lunch, no matter how many times it has heard there is no such thing. It is the dream that there are shortcuts that can lead to wealth, though the wealthiest, Solomon, denies the idea.

The proverb deals with poor farmers. They have plenty of food, for they labor at a godly trade day after day, year after year. But there are other men who may not even have enough to eat. What happened? They gave away their increase by foolish decisions. The lesson here is the value of hard work and the importance of wise financial management.

Hard work is an easy lesson. Diligent labor at a useful service will bring results, especially in a needed industry like farming. It may be a boring job when compared to others, but it works, and it has worked for 6000 years, since Cain and Abel ran the first farm. Many proverbs teach hard work and its reward (Pr 6:6-11; 10:4-5,26; 12:24; 13:4; 14:4; 15:19; 18:9; 19:15,24; 20:4; 20:13; 21:25; 22:13,29; 24:30-34; 26:13-16; 27:18).

Judgment is discretion, prudence, wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. And a man must have much of it to avoid the vain ideas that will steal his productive labor and leave him financially poor. Only strong men, those with good judgment, retain riches. Solomon also gave many proverbs to warn against foolish financial management (Pr 11:16; 12:11; 13:11; 13:16; 14:15,23; 18:9; 21:17,20; 23:21; 27:23-27; 28:19). See the comments on Proverbs 1:32; 11:16; 12:11; 13:11, and 13:16. You will not be disappointed.

Many men want to be rich, so they are vulnerable to get-rich-quick schemes. If someone offers them “financial independence” and their own “business,” they gladly pay the promoter and sign up. When you check with them ten years later, they have done this several times, without any profit, and the loss of much time they could have been tilling!

Such men like to read success magazines looking for a “better way to make a living.” Anything is better than a boring job like farming, they reason. Of course, the magazine producers are already in their better job! They chose to leave farming to prey on gullible suckers that will buy a subscription for their collection of vain ideas every month.

When the government approves a lottery, who lines up first for tickets? The man tired of farming! He dreams of how he will spend his millions. He can list how he will use his riches. He eagerly takes the “much food” from his tillage and gives it to the state in a no-win deal designed for the foolish and naïve. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.

When hunting or fishing season interferes with harvest, guess which one is chosen by the sluggard? Recreation, of course! After all, he needs to enjoy himself. All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Such men cannot think ahead and plan recreation after harvest; they want the pleasure right now. There goes some more food from their tillage.

When foolish men have a bumper crop, they borrow against next year’s presumed bumper crop and build bigger barns and buy more acres. They envision owning the whole county. With weather just a little less favorable, they lose their whole farm, for they cannot afford the debt service. They overbuilt due to lack of judgment and discretion.

Other men have a bumper crop and quickly increase their spending on entertainment and other luxuries. The propensity to consume is more than a mere economic theory. When yields for the next two years are less than normal, they are severely pinched, for they spent the excess, instead of putting it in the bank at interest. Their tillage is destroyed.

Other men are slothful in harvest and do not get the whole crop in the barn. They are procrastinators and wasters. Or they over-borrow for things they do not need and saddle their estate with crushing debt. They invest in fly-by-night schemes that devour their precious capital. Or they become surety for others and must pay off their obligations.

Even though God gave agricultural wisdom right after Eden (Gen 1:29; Is 28:23-29), and men have perfected it for the last 6000 years, the foolish still listen eagerly to any “new idea.” They cannot grasp that 99% of all new ideas are really old ideas that failed. They are not content with returns of 20,000%, 80,000%, and 200,000%! Neither can they accept that only those gifted by God are truly creative and inventive. They resent hearing the old warning repeated to apply diligent and persistent labor to tried and true methods.

Dear reader, there is no free lunch! To even listen to people hinting at free lunches, or cheap lunches, is foolishly dangerous. Their vain words will cause you discontentment, which will blind your business sense. You are showing a want of judgment, and following their speculative or fraudulent ideas of financial success will soon steal the much food from your tillage. Run from them, and energetically till another acre instead!

Skepticism is an important part of wisdom. Only the simple believe everything they hear (Pr 14:15). Only the simple look optimistically at the future (Pr 22:3; 27:12). Optimism is not a virtue when applied to business; pessimism is much safer and financially prudent.

Christian reader, how much food is in the tillage of your pastor? Does he give much bread and meat for your soul? How much have you lost by want of judgment in reviewing and applying it? Have you squandered much of it by letting it slip away? If you have destroyed his hard work by lazy listening or neglectful application, you will starve.

Has the good Lord blessed you with His grace any less than the farmer with his very high returns? Or has He blessed you much more? What have you done with His grace? It is your duty to exercise diligence and judgment in putting His grace into fruitful use and increasing your spiritual estate with fruit, 30-fold, 60-fold, or 100-fold.