Proverbs 23:5

Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.


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Why stare at a soap bubble? It will quickly float away and disappear. You are not so foolish? If you desire, or plan, or work to be rich, you are foolishly trusting soap bubbles!

Solomon first condemned the folly of trying to be rich (Pr 23:4), then he gave a sober reason not to chase this foolish goal. Consider his loving lesson and be wise. Why will a man spend his life trying to capture something that is only an illusion? Human nature, the laws of economics, and God’s judgments will quickly and surely take riches away.

Consider the proverb’s details. Note the metaphorical language and proverbial speech. Does it suggest you pluck out your eyeballs and place them on nothing? No. Does it teach money grows feathers and flies fast and powerfully to where God dwells? No. It is a proverb. Solomon’s inspired figures of speech beautifully warn about the vanity of riches.

If you inspect the proverb, man’s foolish lust for financial independence is seen. Solomon warned about looking at women and wine (Pr 6:25; 23:31), and he warned here about the desire or lust for wealth. Most never acquire riches. Wealth is seen, desired, pursued, expected, and even counted; but as quickly as it appeared to view, it disappeared. The only sure thing in this financial discussion is Solomon’s lesson – riches are an illusion!

Working hard your whole life to be rich wastes your life, as the rich fool learned, when He heard the voice, not of Father Time, but of the great and dreadful God, Who said, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?” (Luke 12:16-21). Jesus taught, “Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him” (Luke 12:4-5).

You cannot take riches with you (Job 1:21; I Tim 6:7), and many things will take them from you, as you must learn. You arrived naked and helpless, and you will leave the same way. The Judge waiting for you is not moved by any amount of success or wealth gotten here. Only godliness with contentment is great gain, with great promise (I Tim 6:6; 4:8)!

The idea of living to get rich is so ridiculous that God simply called it a lie. He declared that low-class men are obviously worthless, but He also said that high-class, successful men are a lie (Ps 62:9). If both are weighed together, they are lighter than nothing!

Other than death leaving you totally naked and destitute, how else do riches fly away like an eagle and disappear? More inspired warnings are in Proverbs and the rest of the Bible, if you will consider them. The divine library of sixty-six books is a treasure of wisdom.

In so-called advanced nations, taxes are due. The more you make, a punitive, progressive income tax takes an even greater percentage. Is it foolish to so punish the successful? Of course! But that does not alter the fact. Caesar wants a larger portion of greater income.

In these nations, a second tax man cometh. Only a few see this thief, though they hear about him. Inflation, the increase of a nation’s money supply by a central bank, quietly and efficiently takes another large bite from your estate to fund their deficit spending.

What of economic laws? The propensity to consume says that spending increases at least as fast as income (Ec 5:11). You want to show and enjoy your wealth, so you copy the habits of the rich (Pr 21:17,20; 6:9-11; Luke 15:12-16). They cry about the high cost of living, but it is the cost of high living that hurts. When you make more, you spend more, so you have left what you had before. You count it coming and going, but what vanity!

What of human nature? Riches bring arrogance and pride that deceive men into foolish and hasty business decisions and investments that take back some of the increase (Pr 10:15; 18:11; 26:12; 28:11,19). A little success is dangerous, for it breeds over-confidence, which can lead to a painful fall (Pr 16:18; 18:12). Oh, for moderate success!

If anything is left after taxes, inflation, luxurious living, and vain ideas, the rich man commits his money to the investment bankers, hoping to earn back what he has lost. But they expose his declining funds to the vagaries of various cruel markets and churn and burn his assets by frequent trading until they have confiscated them by transaction fees!

Do not forget about the sons and nephews who will take your inheritance, legally or illegally, while you are living or after death, and squander it by folly at least as fast as you acquired it by wisdom (Eccl 2:18-21). Riches are foolish, are they not, rich man?

Competing with those greedy relatives are sycophant leeches who call themselves friends, but they will be gone the day before the cash runs out (Pr 14:20; 19:4-7). See Agur’s comments about the horseleech and his two daughters (Pr 30:15). Oh, to be alone!

Concluding this brief review of the vanity of riches, do not forget the Lord Jesus Christ’s warning that any treasure on earth, and this applies literally or figuratively to all worldly investments, will certainly be consumed by thieves, moths, and rust (Matt 6:19).

This proverb warns about the vanity of riches, but they are also dangerous to your soul and life, for they generally steal from man the contentment, godliness, mercy, and peace that are the basis for genuine happiness and true success (I Tim 6:6-10; Eccl 5:12).

The greatest riches and pleasures in life are the gospel and kingdom of Jesus Christ, which is free to those who will believe on Him and embrace the exceeding great and precious promises God has for His children (Is 55:1-2; Ps 19:10-11; I Cor 2:9). Men leave their wealth in this world when they die, but the elect children of God will inherit a new universe with Jesus Christ when He comes for them (Rom 8:17-23; I Pet 1:3-5).

It is not riches that are sin; it is the foolish desire for them. God condemned the love of money, not money itself (I Tim 6:9-10,17-19). If riches increase by God’s blessing, do not get caught up in them (Ps 62:10). Be thankful, and use them wisely (Ep 4:28). Learn to be content with what you have by modest efforts – contentment itself is great success.

If a poor man had given the advice and warning in this proverb, you could question the truthfulness and value of the lesson, for what do the poor know about riches? But Solomon, the richest king in Israel’s history, the son of rich David, was the writer of this lesson, by the inspiration of the only wise God. Stop thinking foolishly about wealth.

The wise man Agur also warned you, teaching you to pray against both poverty and riches (Pr 30:7-9). Both are dangerous. There have been godly rich men like Job, Abraham, and David, but not many. Jesus Christ taught that a camel can squeeze through the eye of a needle easier than a rich man can enter the kingdom of God (Matt 19:23-26).

Dear reader, set your eyes upon the riches of Christ (Col 2:1-3), the riches of the fullness of God (Ep 3:16-19), the riches of His grace (Eph 2:7), the riches of His word (Ps 19:10), and the riches of your eternal inheritance in heaven (Eph 1:18). Though Jesus Christ was rich, yet for the sake of His elect He became poor that through His poverty they might be made rich by the unspeakable gift of His life and death for them (II Cor 8:9; 9:15).

Make the wise and profitable exchange Moses made, and may the Lord honor your faith as highly – choose the riches of Christ over the treasures of Egypt (Heb 11:24-26). Such spiritual riches will never fly away, and they will bring great peace and pleasure now, rather than the vanity and vexation of spirit Solomon experienced, and they will provide a good foundation against the time to come, when you stand before God the Judge of all.