Labor and the Accumulation
The Lord gave us hands to work with, and
he expects us to use them productively.
Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do
it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor
wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest (Ecclesiastes 9:10; KJV).
Solomon mentioned two things that motivate people
to work: earning a living and competition. Both are intended to be honorable
motives energizing our collective progress in the world. When they fail,
stagnation tends to occur.
A worker's appetite works for him; his
mouth urges him on (Proverbs 16:26; RSV).
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens
another (Proverbs 27:17; RSV).
Again, I considered all labor and all
excelling in work, that it is a man's rivalry with his neighbor (Ecclesiastes
All the labour of man is for his mouth,
and yet the appetite is not filled (Ecclesiastes 6:7; KJV).
As every man knows, work is hard. Work and labor
are synonymous with arduous effort, be it mental or physical. But it is
through arduous effort, guided by wisdom, that we can survive and improve
our world. Sin brought the curse that makes work arduous. Obedience makes
[I, wisdom,] cause those that love me
to inherit substance; and I will fill their treasures (Proverbs 8:21;
the dwelling of the upright shall prosper
(Proverbs 14:11; ABPS).
The crown of the wise is their riches
In the house of the righteous is much
treasure (Proverbs 15:6; KJV).
There is precious treasure and oil in
the dwelling of the wise (Proverbs 21:20; ASV).
The reward of humility and the fear of
the Lord is riches, and honor, and life (Proverbs 22:4; RV).
And obedience involves diligent effort.
the hand of the diligent maketh rich
(Proverbs 10:4; KJV).
diligent men win riches (Proverbs
He who tills his land will have plenty
of bread (Proverbs 12:11; RSV).
The hand of the diligent will rule (Proverbs
the diligent man will get precious wealth
(Proverbs 12:27; RSV).
the soul of the diligent is richly supplied
Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished:
but he that gathereth by labour shall increase (Proverbs 13:11; KJV).
In all toil there is profit, but mere
talk tends only to want (Proverbs 14:23; RSV).
open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied
with bread (Proverbs 20:13; KJV).
The plans of the diligent lead surely
to abundance (Proverbs 21:5; RSV).
Have you seen a man who is expert in his
business? He will take his place before kings: his place will not be among
low persons (Proverbs 22:29; BAS).
He that tilleth his land shall have plenty
of bread (Proverbs 28:19; KJV).
Fools work only destruction, and they reap poverty.
Poverty and disgrace come to him who
ignores instruction (Proverbs 13:18; RSV).
Luxury is not seemly for a fool (Proverbs
a foolish man swalloweth it [precious
treasure] up (Proverbs 21:20; ASV).
The wicked labor in vain. No matter how much
they may prosper, there is no lasting profit in sin; their gains merely
Treasures of wickedness profit nothing
The wicked achieve a deceitful recompense
the wealth of the sinner is laid up for
the just (Proverbs 13:22; KJV).
The house of the wicked shall be overthrown
in the revenues of the wicked is trouble
A man of crooked mind does not prosper
He who getteth treasures by a lying tongue,
pursueth vanity to the snares of death (Proverbs 21:6; LXX).
The righteous observes the house of the
wicked; the wicked are cast down to ruin (Proverbs 21:12; RSV).
In sum: Wealth and prosperity come through
diligent effort guided by wisdom.
Rest is pleasant, and sleep is a blessing.
Both are a reward for our labor, and the more we labor, the more we enjoy
The sleep of a labouring man is sweet,
whether he eat little or much (Ecclesiastes 5:12; KJV).
But a common temptation is to overdo sleep and
rest. It is called laziness. It is the vice of the sluggard or slothful
man. He loves his sleep, and he wallows in it.
Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep
As the door turneth upon his hinges, so
doth the slothful upon his bed (Proverbs 26:14; KJV).
The sluggard is also a fool deceiving himself.
His warped reasoning defends him. Work, he argues, is bad for his health-besides
countless other explanations and far-fetched excuses.
The sluggard will not plow by reason
of the cold (Proverbs 20:4; KJV).
The slothful man saith, There is a lion
without, I shall be slain in the streets (Proverbs 22:13; KJV).
The slothful man saith, There is a lion
in the way; a lion is in the streets (Proverbs 26:13; KJV).
The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes
than seven men who can answer discreetly (Proverbs 26:16; RSV).
As the condition worsens, the sluggard's possessions
degenerate, and poverty begins to descend upon him.
Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider
her ways, and be wise: Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she
prepares her food in summer, and gathers her sustenance in harvest. How
long will you lie there, O sluggard? When will you arise from your sleep?
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a vagabond, and want like an armed
man (Proverbs 6:6-11; RSV).
A slack hand causes poverty (Proverbs
The slothful man roasteth not that which
he took in hunting (Proverbs 12:27; KJV).
The way of a sluggard is overgrown with
thorns (Proverbs 15:19; RSV).
an idle soul shall suffer hunger (Proverbs
therefore shall he [the sluggard] beg
in harvest, and have nothing (Proverbs 20:4; KJV).
Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty
the drunkard and the glutton shall come
to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags (Proverbs 23:21;
I went by the field of the slothful, and
by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; and, lo, it was all grown
over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone
wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked
upon it, and received instruction. Yet a little sleep (KJV), and
poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man (RSV)
Through sloth the roof sinks in, and through
indolence the house leaks (Ecclesiastes 10:18; RSV).
The lazy man reaps an even more severe penalty
in himself. His overindulgence becomes addictive, making him a victim of
his own body. He desires the good things of life like everyone else, but
his lack of self-control keeps him from earning wages. Even the simple
effort involved in self-care exhausts him, and his body and appearance
The soul of the sluggard desireth, and
hath nothing (Proverbsl3:4; KJV).
The sluggard burieth his hand in the dish,
and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again (Proverbs 19:24;
The desire of the slothful killeth him;
for his hands refuse to labour. He coveteth greedily all the day long (Proverbs
21:25, 26; KJV).
The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth (Proverbs 26:15; RSV).
The lazy man deserves no sympathy because he
only contributes to the world's problems.
He that gathereth in summer is a wise
son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame (Proverbs
As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke
to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send him (Proverbs 10:26;
He also that is slack in his work is brother
to him that is a destroyer (Proverbs 18:9; RV).
Like the other common vices of the world, laziness
is a moral disease caused by a failure of the will, a failure to resist
temptation, a failure to exercise self-control. Like the other common vices,
it can enslave a man so that he is no longer able to overcome it by self-control.
And in its final stage he must be managed like a child.
...the slothful will be put to forced
labour (Proverbs 12:24; RSV).
In sum: Indolence (or laziness) involves
overindulging in sleep and rest. It is a vice that will bring poverty and
ruin to a man.
Business and Possessions
Solomon gave various kinds of advice about
business and endeavor. Make careful preparation before being committed
to a project, he said. Moreover, do not wait until disaster strikes before
seeking protection for your goods and your job.
First put all in order out of doors
and make everything ready on the land. Then establish your house and home
(Proverbs 24:27; NEB).
If the serpent bite before it is charmed,
then is there no advantage in the charmer (Ecclesiastes 10:11; ASV).
Solomon also advised using care in maintaining
all possessions. In this imperfect world everything tends to continual
degeneration, and neglect will ruin as much as active destruction.
Know well the condition of your flocks,
and give attention to your herd; for riches do not last for ever; and does
a crown endure to all generations? When the grass is gone, and the new
growth appears, and the herbage of the mountains is gathered, the lambs
will provide your clothing, and the goats the price of a field; there will
be enough goats' milk for your food, for the food of your household and
maintenance for your maidens (Proverbs 27:23-27; RSV).
One brings up his servant tenderly from
childhood, and in the end he will be as a son (Proverbs 29:21; ABPS).
Good tools and a good head make our efforts
If for want of sharpening the axe is
blunt, you have to strike very hard, but the reward given by wisdom is
success (Ecclesiastes 10:10; JB).
No one needs to be told that money is good to
have. It not only protects, but, as a universal medium of exchange, it
can purchase almost anything.
For the protection of wisdom is like
the protection of money (Ecclesiastes 7:12; RSV).
A feast is made for laughter, and wine
maketh merry: but money answereth all things (Ecclesiastes 10:19; KJV).
Nevertheless, the protection of money is limited,
Solomon said. Whoever puts all his trust in money will eventually be betrayed.
Moreover, money is useless when disaster strikes although it may be able
to help some of the survivors.
Riches profit not in the day of wrath
He that trusteth in his riches shall fall
Both Solomon and Agur advised against even trying
to become rich. Money is an unreliable, slippery commodity.
Do not toil to acquire wealth; be wise
enough to desist. When your eyes light upon it, it is gone; for suddenly
it takes to itself wings, flying like an eagle toward heaven (Proverbs
23:4, 5; RSV).
give me neither poverty nor riches; feed
me with the food that is needful for me. Lest I be full, and deny thee,
and say, "Who is the Lord?" or lest I be poor, and steal, and profane the
name of my God (Proverbs 30:8, 9; RSV).
Moreover, accumulating wealth will not bring
satisfaction. A man may own twenty cars, but he can only drive one at a
time (besides, it usually takes time and effort to learn to enjoy any one
thing). He will also need many employees to care of them; and they likely
will enjoy them all as much, perhaps even more than he does.
He who loves money will not be satisfied
with money; nor he who loves wealth with gain: this also is vanity. When
goods increase, they increase who eat them; and what gain has their owner
but to see them with his eyes (Ecclesiastes 5:10, 11; RSV).
Remember Solomon's description of certain kinds
of rich men.
There is an evil which I have seen under
the sun, and it lies heavy upon men: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions,
and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does
not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them; this is vanity;
it is a sore affliction. If a man begets a hundred children, and lives
many years, so that the days of his years are many, but he does not enjoy
life's good things, and also has no burial, I say that an untimely birth
is better off than he. For it comes into vanity and goes into darkness,
and in darkness its name is covered; moreover it has not seen the sun or
known anything; yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should
live a thousand years twice told, yet enjoy no good do not all go to the
one place? (Ecclesiastes 6:1-6; RSV).
A man may inherit some wealth, but there are
serious risks in the sudden acquisition of money, unless he is well prepared
for how to use it.
House and riches are the inheritance
of fathers (Proverbs 19:14; KJV).
An inheritance may be gotten hastily at
the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed (Proverbs 20:21;
Every occupation in life carries some hazards
with it. We should be prepared to suffer injury from time to time.
Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein:
and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him (Proverbs 26:27;
He who digs a pit will fall into it; and
a serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall. He who quarries stones
is hurt by them; and he who splits logs is endangered by them (Ecclesiastes
10:8, 9; RSV).
Adversity tests our strength.
If thou faint in the day of adversity,
thy strength is small (Proverbs 24:10; KJV).
Solomon advised against being afraid to take
some risks; that is an excuse of the lazy. However, he also advised against
committing everything on a single venture. A cardinal rule of good finance
is to diversify.
He that observeth the wind shall not
sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap (Ecclesiastes
In the morning sow your seed betimes,
and do not stop work until evening, for you do not know whether this or
that sowing will be successful, or whether both alike will do well
(Ecclesiastes 11:6; NEB).
In trade dealings with others, remember that
frankness and objectivity are rare. We should not naively trust all that
a trader says.
It is bad, it is bad, saith the buyer;
but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth (Proverbs 20:14; ASV).
Solomon advised against being hasty to borrow.
Debt puts a man in a kind of bind. And when we do become indebted to another,
whether from borrowing or wages, it is prudent to pay promptly.
Withhold not good from them to whom
it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto
thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and tomorrow I will give; when thou
hast it by thee (Proverbs 3:27, 28; KJV).
the borrower is servant to the lender
Solomon strongly warned against becoming surety
making a financial commitment for another. It is highly risky, and usually
leads to loss. He said that only fools practice it.
My son, if you have become surety for
your neighbor, have given your pledge for a stranger; if you are snared
in the utterance of your lips, caught in the words of your mouth. Then
do this, my son, and save yourself, for you have come into your neighbor's
power: go, hasten and importune your neighbor. Give your eyes no sleep,
and your eyelids no slumber; save yourself like a gazelle from the hunter,
like a bird from the hand of the fowler (Proverbs 6:1-5; RSV).
A man void of understanding striketh hands,
and becometh surety in the presence of his friend (Proverbs 17:18;
Be not one of those who give pledges,
who become surety for debts. If you have nothing with which to pay, why
should your bed be taken from under you (Proverbs 22:26, 27; RSV).
It is especially wise to shun financial dealings
with recent acquaintances. Police files bulge with pathetic cases of people
taken in by confidence men and bunco artists who prey on the gullible.
The swindler's deal looks like a sure thing. That is because he has worked
hard to make it appear that way. He relies on people's naiveté and/or
greed to entice them; and whoever goes along with him deserves to lose
He who makes himself responsible for
a strange man will undergo much loss; but the hater of such undertakings
will be safe (Proverbs 11:15; BAS).
Take his garment that is surety for a
stranger; and hold him in pledge that is surety for foreigners (Proverbs
20:16; 27:13; ASV).
In sum: Careful preparation, and maintenance
help us succeed. Money, too, can be helpful, but it is a mistake to trust
money alone. Human endeavor involves taking some risks. However, some risks,
like the debt of suretyship, are too dangerous to take.
Copyright 1997 by Walter
L. Porter may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to