Summary: Part 17 of the Sermon Series, "Rich Man Poor Man in Proverbs"
"Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty. A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished" (Prov. 28:19-20).
There are two antithetical sayings in the chiasm of Proverbs 28:19-20.
A Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty (Prov.
A1 A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished (Prov. 28:20).
Lines A and A1 give parallel meanings. The farmer who works his land in Line A corresponds to the faithful man in Line A1. In Line A, the diligent farmer will produce “plenty of bread.” In Line A1, the faithful man will “abound with blessings.” The “worthless pursuits” of a farmer matches with hasty acts to get rich quick. The result of “poverty” for the worthless pursuits corresponds with the result of “punishment” for the hasty drive for riches. The outcome is poverty for the farmer and punishment for the hasty schemer.
The word “worthless” (req) means “empty, vain,” or “worthless goals.”79 The tilling of the land produces bread; but worthless activities lead to poverty. In this light, “worthless pursuits” would mean activities that are useless and non-productive, leading to poverty.80
Viewed in parallelism, these worthless pursuits are get-rich-quick pursuits. "Whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished" (v. 20). It can be anything that distracts from diligent farming81 or hard-working pursuits.
Why would one hasten to be rich? The answer is greed. In v. 19, because he is greedy, he pursues worthless goals. In v. 21,
because he is greedy, he accepts bribes. In v. 23, because he is greedy, he flatters rich people. In v. 24, because he is greedy, he robs his parents. In v. 25, because he is greedy, he causes trouble. In sum, the one who is in a hurry to become rich will resort to dishonest, dishonoring, and disreputable practices.82
Thus, Proverbs condemns the greedy desire to get rich quick. Instead, it urges hard work, financial wisdom, and generosity.
That is why we encourage hard work, while discouraging gambling. Many poor Filipinos like to gamble. Gambling is embedded in our culture. We have cockfight gambling even in poor towns. Poor people buy lotto, while the rich go to the casino. I grew up with gambling parents. I remember going to a cockfight with my dad when I was little. There were four mahjong tables every Saturday in our home.
Gambling of any kind feeds the desire to get rich quickly–the desire for easy money. It contradicts the divine will to work hard. It is an empty, worthless pursuit. It is also a waste of money. You might win some, but you will lose more.
However, if you work hard, you will become productive. "Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread" (v. 19). If you produce something, you will become prosperous.
We find the same emphasis in the saying: "A faithful man will abound with blessings" (v. 20). We may construe the word “faithful” to mean the fear of the Lord. In the same subsection (vv. 10-28), the writer declares, "Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always" (v. 14). Thus, as blessing comes to the one who fears God, so blessing comes to the faithful man.83
Nonetheless, taken as a parallel message to the hard-working farmer in v. 19, the faithful man in v. 20 is one who is devoted to his duty. He works hard. He is diligent. He is committed to his obligations. Hence, he will receive blessings.
But if you are not working and productive, you will become poor. If you pursue worthless goals, poverty will knock at your door. If you are not faithful in your duty, poverty will call on you.
Thus, hard work is the passageway to prosperity. However, the pursuit of empty goals is the path to poverty.
79 Harris, Archer, and Waltke, “????,” TWOT 2:2161a.
80 Perdue, Proverbs, 236.
81 Murphy, Proverbs, 216.
82 Toy, A Critical, 503.
83 Cf. Perdue, Proverbs, 237.