Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 15:1-10; 2 Timothy 4:9-22; Proverbs 12:1-14; Isaiah 6-7
Proverbs 12:8-12 contrasts satisfying work and well-earned wealth with unethical approaches to work and wealth. Praise is given for prudence, a term that describes someone with common sense who proceeds carefully. Today, aggressive innovation and risk-taking are the name of the game. In verse 11, those who chase fantasies would include people looking to get-rich-quick schemes and high-risk ventures to make fast millions. Such people are contrasted with those who work their land steadily, being content with providing the necessities of life. Better that than pretending to be a somebody, with nothing real lying beneath the claim (v. 9).
In the middle of this section, verse 10 raises a core ethical issue in these two approaches to work and wealth. Those with the right approach care for the needs of their animals. A particular form of argument is used here. The idea is that if taking care of lesser animals is right, how much more should be done for those of greater value? Jesus uses this same type of argument in Luke 15. Since a good person would search for a lost sheep, or a lost coin, how much more would he look for a lost human soul? Since he rejoices when lost things are found, how much more would he rejoice when lost souls are found by God? The underlying assumption is that animals have value and should be treated ethically.
Although the environment, animals and even humans have been treated badly in the name of some divinely ordained human dominion over Creation, Scripture does not endorse this view. This verse, and others, show that God cares for animals (Psalm 36:6), does not want them overworked (Deuteronomy 25:4), and wants them to share in the Sabbath rest (Exodus 20:10; Leviticus 25:7; Deuteronomy 5:14). They can be used in ways that people cannot use other humans, but they should still be treated respectfully (Deuteronomy 22:1-4). Caring for them means knowing their needs and empathising with them. The righteous worker has the same approach when dealing with the land, animals and servants.
In contrast, the wicked view wealth as the important goal. Gaining riches matters more than how they are gained, so they will take even ill-gotten plunder. These people are willing to cut corners, break a few rules, step on people, or turn a blind eye, because that will lead to more money. The righteous look to at root of things. The Hebrew here makes a contrast that is not obvious in English. The wicked look for their security in externals, while the righteous look to inner strengths. Bruce Waltke’s commentary views this as the ability to stand firm on one’s character. Wise workers know it is better to go home with a good conscience, knowing they have worked hard and honestly, than to make lots of money cutting corners in shady deals or high-risk ventures. Our homes and economies would be more secure if we worked on that basis.