Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom. Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven. (Proverbs 23:4-5 KJV)
While reading in Proverbs today, I came across this interesting verse in Chapter 23. As I have been reading through Proverbs, the terms “wisdom,” “fear” and “knowledge” are mentioned quite often. Verses like “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7); For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD: (Proverbs 1:29); The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10); By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honour, and life.” (Proverbs 22:4 ); Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold. (Proverbs 8:10); For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it. (Proverbs 8:11) and many others.
So when I came across this verse and the Eagle was mentioned, I decided to see what I could find out about it and share it here. Plus, we were out birdwatching a little this week as I checked out my new Christmas gift of a camera. Captured the Bald Eagle sitting on the tower at South Lake Howard Nature Park. He was a long way away, but you can tell it is an Eagle. Also, it appears for this verse that is exactly what happens to riches when they are not received properly and with the right attitude. They end up like that Eagle, way out of reach. There is nothing wrong with being rich, if it is obtained in the proper manner. If the Lord chooses to let your wealth increase, Praise the Lord, if not, be content with the blessings He gives you.
Here are some of the comments from various commentaries:
Bible Knowledge Commentary – “The 7th saying. These verses warn against overwork for the sake of gaining riches. This speaks not against being industrious but against consuming oneself for money. Wise restraint in this area (as well as in what one eats at a banquet, Pro_23:1-2) is needed, especially in the present day when materialism drives many people to excessive work loads in order to accumulate more money. The reason for this advice is that riches are temporary and unstable (cf. Pro_27:24). The first part of Pro_23:5 is literally, “If you cause your eyes to fly after it” (i.e., wealth). Ironically, flying after wealth results in wealth flying away like an eagle.”
Matthew Poole’s Commentary – “They fly away as an eagle, swiftly, strongly, and irrevocably. We quickly lose the sight and possession of them. Their flying away from us is elegantly opposed to our eyes being set, or, as it is in the Hebrew, flying upon them, in the beginning of the verse.”
Believer’s Bible Commentary – “23:4, 5 The ceaseless struggle to be rich is a form of “wisdom” to be avoided. It means that you are spending your life pursuing false values and putting your trust in what doesn’t last. Riches have a way of sprouting wings and flying away like an eagle.”
John Gill’s Exposition– “for riches certainly make themselves wings; or, “it in making makes itself wings” (x); even that which is not, on which men cause their eyes to fly; no sooner are their eyes upon that, but that flies away from them like a bird with wings; see Hos_9:11. Either men are taken from that, or that from them, and sometimes very swiftly and suddenly;
they fly away as an eagle towards heaven; the eagle flies very swiftly, none more swiftly; it flies towards heaven, out of sight, and out of reach, and out of call; so riches flee away to God, the original giver of them, from whence they came, and who is the sole disposer of them; they own him as the proprietor and distributor of them; and they flee to heaven as it were for fresh orders where they should be, and into whose hands they should come next; they flee away, so as not to be seen any more, and be recovered by those who have formerly enjoyed them.”
Through the Bible with J Vernon McGee – Proverbs 23:4-5 – “You have probably noticed that the United States dollar has an eagle on it. Believe me, that eagle will fly away if you’re not careful with it. I find that the eagles on my dollars take off all the time. We cannot depend on riches.
The whole thought here is this: There is nothing wrong in being rich. There is nothing wrong in working to be rich. However, don’t make that the goal in life. Wealth should not be the very object of our hearts. Some men have a lust, a thirst, a covetousness to make the almighty dollar, and the dollar becomes their god. A child of God is not to do that.
A wealthy man told me, “I do not make money for the sake of money. I make money for what it can do. At first I made money for what it could do for me. Now I make money for what it can do for God.” There is nothing wrong in a man becoming wealthy. The wrong comes when there is the overweening desire of the heart for money. That is covetousness; actually it is modern idolatry.
In the United States we do not find people bowing down to worship idols. However, we do find people busily engaging their whole lives in the worship of the almighty dollar. When I pastored a church in the downtown financial district of Los Angeles, I found that men, even including some Christian men, were far more zealous in coming down early on a Monday morning to watch the stock market open than they were on Sunday morning to attend church service. I met such a man rushing to the stock market display at the brokerage on a Monday morning. He met me, greeted me cordially, and told me what he was going to do. I mentioned to him that we had been missing him at church. He said, “Well, you know, I haven’t been feeling very well.” That is interesting. He didn’t feel well enough to come to church, but he was well enough to worship his god very early on a Monday morning. That’s covetousness, and that is what the proverb is talking about. That is a false god, and that false god is an eagle that will fly away at any moment.”
P.S. I really like my new camera and the 24X zoom. I had no idea that Dan was getting me a camera for Christmas. Thanks, Dan! (He is still the photographer, I still use a point-and-shoot on program mode.) All photos can be clicked on to enlarge them. I kept zooming in so you could see how far away the Eagle really was.