Summary: Part 3 of the Sermon Series, "Rich Man Poor Man in Proverbs"
"One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth. The ransom of a man’s life is his wealth, but a poor man hears no threat" (Prov. 13:7-8).
"Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it" (Prov. 13:11).
We have heard the old adage—“You cannot take it with you when you die.” Let me suggest a new one—“You may lose it while you live.” That is the lesson of Proverbs 13:7-11.
One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth (Prov. 13:7). The phrase, “pretends to be rich,” is not exactly in the Hebrew. Only one Hebrew verb is used—ashar—which means “gain riches.”13 The phrase “pretends to be rich,” is a hithpael participle, masculine, and singular. The hithpael participle expresses continuing action in the reflexive voice.14 Hence, it can be translated “making himself rich” or “one who makes himself rich” (NKJV).
Similarly, the phrase “pretends to be poor” is translated from the Hebrew verb, rish, “to be in want, poor.”15 The verb “pretends” is a hithpolel participle, masculine, and singular, which produces an action similar to the hithpael. It can be translated “making himself poor” or “one who makes himself poor” (NKJV). Thus, one, enriching himself, has nothing. The other, impoverishing himself, has everything.
It does not say that it is better to be rich or poor. It merely says that you may be rich, but have nothing. You may be poor but have everything.
The writer illustrates this point in v. 8. When the rich is kidnapped, his wealth will pay for their ransom. His wealth may have given him some protection. But when he is taken as a hostage, and a ransom is demanded, his protection—his money—is taken away.
The poor has no money, and thus, has no protection. Yet nobody will threaten him because he has nothing to pay for ransom.
So then, the rich have riches but have nothing to protect themselves from the threat of kidnapping and ransom. The poor have nothing, but everything to protect themselves from the threat of ransom payment—their poverty. Thus, the rich have really nothing; but the poor, everything.
Yes, you cannot bring your wealth with you when you die (cf. Ps. 49:16-17). However, you may also lose your wealth while you live. You may lose it as payment for ransom. You may lose it through bad business decisions. You may lose it through other people.
We see another way you will lose your money in the form of an antithetical saying in v. 11. You will lose your money if you gain it “hastily.” The adjective “hastily” (hebel) means “vapour, breath.” It refers to wealth gained “out of vanity” or “not by solid toil.”16 One gains money hastily through an inheritance or wrongdoing (Prov. 20:21; 28:20). Yet since it is gained instantly, it can be lost easily. The reason is that money gained hastily will be lost through extravagant spending, lack of self-control, and unwise investments. Yet those who have gained money slowly and steadily will be more careful and frugal.17 They will know how to use it and keep it.18 Thus, you will lose your money fast if you got it fast without slow, hard work.