Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.
It’s a common misperception that the Bible regards wealth and money-making as inherently evil. The proverb offers a more balanced view, recognizing that wealth is a blessing, and that there are right and wrong ways to acquire it.
The right way to make money is the old-fashioned way—honest work, done a day at a time. The wrong way is the hasty, vain rush for riches.
The word used here to describe wealth obtained the wrong way is hevel (הֶ֫בֶל). It describes the fleeting quality of vapor: evanescent; here one moment, gone the next. The same word also refers to idols: vain; without substance or lasting value; deceptive like a mist that quickly evaporates—now you see it, now you don’t. Wealth earned by deception, trickery, special favors, or unfair pricing is like that. The King James version calls it, “wealth gotten by vanity.” In economic terms, such wealth exceeds the reasonable, sustainable value of the work done to get it. And the proverb warns that wealth gained hastily will dwindle.
Sustainable wealth, on the other hand, is gathered little-by-little. Literally translated, the proverb says, "wealth by vanity diminishes, but for the one who gathers by hand, it increases." In other words, wealth is earned by an honest day’s labor; by the amount of work a person can do one day at a time. Nothing quick or flashy here. It's the ordinary and old-fashioned stuff.
In a modern economy like ours, fewer of us do physical labor. Even so, the concept of doing an honest day’s work remains the same. Wealth gained in this manner is a blessing, and it will increase. It is not fleeting like the vanity of quick riches.
The proverb directs us to “take the long view” with regard to profits and strategic goals. Sudden riches make headline news, and so do the collapses of deceptive, ill-gotten gains; both frequently end in ruin. Fewer headlines report the steady and hard work of honest businesspeople investing their labor to produce wealth that builds a solid foundation for society to flourish. That's a lasting legacy.
There is no shortcut to sustainable, moral business. It’s made the old-fashioned way.
© Bruce D. Baker, 2014