The ransom of a man’s life are his riches: but the poor heareth not rebuke.
What will you do for money? How badly do you want to be rich? Will you hear a warning about the desire to be wealthy? Test your character and wisdom. Read on.
Here is one of the more difficult proverbs of Solomon. But you can find a wise lesson and warning, if you look carefully and diligently. Do you desire wisdom enough to take the time to read this proverb, consider it soberly, and grasp the following comments? The love of money is the root of all evil, and it destroys men’s lives, but the poor still crave it!
Commentators see two options. Either, a rich man can buy himself out of trouble, but the poor avoid most dangers by having nothing to attract enemies. Or, the wealth of a rich man attracts thefts and threats, while poverty protects the poor from such violence. In the first option, both riches and poverty are good; in the second option, riches are bad, and poverty is good. These interpretations are obscure; there is a clearer and simpler lesson.
A ransom is the price paid for freedom from captivity, to remove a penalty, or restore a previous condition (Pr 6:35; Ex 21:30; 30:12; Job 33:24; 36:18). Many men lose their souls by not giving up the pursuit of riches. Ambition and wealth become the ransom price of their lives. The desire to be rich and successful is the price, or cost, of their lives. When dying on their beds, men who have chased riches all their lives have an empty life.
They will not redeem their souls by choosing contentment over covetousness and greed. They sacrifice their lives for money, and then they go to the grave with nothing (Eccl 5:10-17). A rich man could enjoy life, naturally and spiritually, if he did not love money. He could be peaceful and quiet, but he chooses the obsession of acquiring yet more. This foolish and destructive fascination with riches is a common disease (Eccl 6:1-6).
Paul warned, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (I Tim 6:6-10).
The danger is clear – riches can destroy you. If a man loves money, he will sacrifice his soul and anything else to get it (Pr 15:27; 11:17,29; Hab 2:9-11). Riches are the ransom price of his life. He could buy his freedom and peace, but he will not pay the price, which is giving up his pursuit of riches and being content with what he has. He remains a slave.
Jesus loved a rich, young ruler, who would not give up his riches to follow the Son of God. He would not ransom, or buy back, his life (Matt 19:16-22). Jesus knew the choice was as hard as a camel going through the eye of a needle (Matt 19:23-26), but He also taught that men should be willing to pay any price to save their own souls (Matt 16:26).
What about the poor? How does the second clause of the proverb relate to the first one? You know that it relates, or it would be a separate proverb. But you also see the disjunctive “but” connecting it. Therefore, there is a related contrast in the second phrase.
The poor live without many of the fears, worries, and burdens the rich endure – they even sleep better (Eccl 5:12). They watch the rich in their vain and troublesome pursuit of wealth (Ps 39:6), and they see the rich man die just like a poor fool (Ps 49:6-13). But they will not learn from the object lesson, and they will not hear the wise testify that riches are vanity. They complain about their poverty and wish for the wealth of the rich.
How can you trust the interpretation given above, rather than the two popularized by commentators? The two clauses are related; the two clauses are contrasted; rebuke is not the same as danger or trouble; and the poor refuse rebuke rather than never hearing any. And you can find related or similar instruction in other proverbs (Pr 10:15,22; 11:4,28; 13:7; 14:20; 15:27; 18:11; 19:1,4,7; 22:1,2; 23:4-5; 28:3,6,11,20,22; 30:7-9).
If you are rich, you are in great danger of missing the kingdom of God (Matt 19:23-26). The rich have generally been persecutors, rather than patrons, of Christians (Jas 2:6-7). It is your duty before God to resist trusting your riches, and it is your privilege before God to be willing to give your money away in order to lay hold on eternal life (I Tim 6:17-19).
If you are poor, be content with it (Jas 1:9-11; Jas 2:5; I Cor 1:26-29). Realize that godliness with contentment is truly great gain (I Tim 6:6; Heb 13:5). Remember and believe Solomon’s many rebukes of riches in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (Pr 10:22; 15:16; 16:8; 28:6; Ps 37:16; Eccl 1:16 – 2:11). If you need more, pray wisely for a moderate increase, and make any godly changes the Bible approves (Pr 30:7-9; I Thess 4:11-12).
Riches are usually a curse. You arrived with nothing; you will leave with nothing; and God does not care how much you gathered during your life. Redeem your soul from this world’s mad worship of materialism and success, and hear the rebuke of wisdom instead. Seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness first, serve only one master, and lay up treasure in heaven (Matt 6:19-21,24,33). You will soon be glad you did.