Proverbs 23:5

Temporal Riches


1. Verses 4-5 constitute the seventh of thirty wise sayings in this section.

2. Last week we considered the first half of this proverbial thought in verse 4 where the author commanded his readers not to labor for the purpose of becoming rich.

a. His point was not that laboring is bad, or that riches are bad. The proverb spoke of MOTIVES. “Don’t wear yourself trying to become rich.” This occurs only when greedy ambition and covetousness reigns in the heart.

b. Solomon was dealing with the workaholic in this passage.

c. He then commanded the workaholic to cease from his own wisdom. Man’s natural, earthly wisdom tells him to forsake all else (even one’s spiritual life) in pursuit of earthly riches. The wisdom that is from above teaches us that pursuing riches in heaven is far more valuable.

3. In verse five, Solomon states one reason why we should not labor to be rich: because of the transitory nature of riches.

5a Wilt thou set thine eyes on that which is not?

1. The author presents a rhetorical question to drive home a point.

2. “Set your eyes”

a. This expression is literally to cause to fly; to cause to dart about by flying.

b. In our proverb it means “to cause your eyes to fly upon…”

c. It may imply the quick motion of the eyes; for example, eyes that fly from one thing to the next, like birds that fly and flutter from one branch to the next.

d. It speaks of eyes that quickly dart from one thing to the next.

3. Why would a person set his eyes upon something? Because his HEART is set on that object!

a. Eyes rotate and focus only on that which they are directed to focus.

b. The eye doesn’t choose the object on which to focus—the heart does… the person does.

c. This the expression speaks of a person whose heart quickly darts from one thing to the next—whatever catches the eye.

d. In verse 4, Solomon spoke of “working oneself to the bone” in order to obtain riches. He was speaking of priorities and motives. He spoke of a man who was greedy for earthly gain.

e. Thus, in this context, “setting one’s eyes” upon riches speaks of a covetous, materialistic heart, manifested by wandering eyes that set themselves on one earthly treasure after another.

f. He speaks of a man (or woman or child) who sets his eyes on one toy after another… “I want one of these… I want one of those…”

g. His eyes are constantly looking at all the THINGS of the world and his heart is constantly desiring them.

h. His eyes LOOK at these things because his heart directed them to; his heart directed them to because his heart secretly covets them.

i. Setting one’s eyes on something can be very dangerous. Remember that first Eve LOOKED at the fruit and saw that it was good and pleasant; it was very appealing. The next step was eating the forbidden fruit… and we all know how that turned out!

4. “That which is not”

a. In light of the second part of this proverb, it is clear that Solomon meant the transitory nature of earthly riches.

b. Earthly riches “are not.”
• This doesn’t mean that they do not exist in the natural realm.
• This is not a denial of reality.
• They do have a real existence and in fact are often gifts of Divine Providence.
• But in the spiritual realm, they “are not.” They are nothing; they have no value from eternity’s perspective.
• What we DO with earthly riches and how we USE earthly riches does have eternal, spiritual value, but that’s not the point here.
• All by themselves, earthly riches are (in a sense) nothing… they are an illusion…
• They are not what we expect them to be; they don’t bring the happiness we hoped they would bring; when it comes to satisfying the soul, they are nothing.

c. Prov. 27:24 – The author of these proverbs understood well the transitory and temporal nature of earthly riches—and he had a lot of earthly riches!

d. I Tim. 6:17 – They are called “uncertain” riches because one never knows if they will be around tomorrow or not. (Uncertain = untrustworthy, unreliable.)

e. Matt. 13:22 – The Lord called riches “deceitful” because they deceive people into believing that with riches they have all they need. They deceive people into thinking that riches will last forever, when they do not. They deceive people into believing that they will make them happy—and they do not.

f. Psalm 49:10 – And even if they last your entire earthly life, you can’t take them with you. You have to leave them behind to others…

g. Ecc. 1:2 – Solomon learned the hard way that earthly riches are “vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” (emptiness; nothing)

5. The point of the rhetorical question is this: “How foolish for a believer to constantly cause his eyes to focus on and fly towards one air bubble after another!

a. Will you do something so foolish?

b. Will you cast your eyes upon air bubbles that disappear as soon as you touch them?

c. The folly is not so much LOOKING at the things of the world. The real point is the covetous heart that causes the eyes to focus on those things.

d. The folly lies in setting ones HEART on something that isn’t going last…

e. Will you be so foolish as to admire the passing fashions of the world as if they were better than true treasures which endure forever?

f. Or as Matthew Henry wrote, “Wilt thou dote upon shadows?”

g. The folly lies in LABORING (working oneself to exhaustion) to obtain something which when grasped, disappears like an air bubble.

h. Will you set your eyes on such lowly, earthly things?

i. Or, as the hymn writer wrote, “Things that higher, things that are nobler, these have allured my eyes!”

j. For the apostle Paul, getting a glimpse of the glory of the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus was all he needed to have his eyes refocused: from the things of the earth, to the glory of the Lord! Once focused on Christ. All the other “things” that had previously allured his eyes were now like dung.

5b For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.

1. Not only are earthly riches “nothing,” but now we are told that riches make themselves wings and fly away like an eagle soaring into the skies.

2. It is likely that the author intended a play on words that is missed in the translation.

a. The first part of the proverb questions, “will your eyes FLY to things that are nothing?”

b. Now he states that the “nothings” themselves FLY away.

c. The figurative meaning is roughly that of a man whose eyes fly from one thing to the next. Why? Because as soon as his eyes fly towards one treasure, it flies away. Then his eyes fly towards another treasure, and it too flies away.

d. The idea is that riches are elusive… they are uncertain… they are unreliable… they are unstable.

e. “The more we cause our eyes to fly upon them the more likely they are to fly away from us.” (Matthew Henry)

3. Note that the riches “make themselves wings.”

a. Riches of this world have in themselves the seed of corruption.

b. They all begin to corrupt, fade, to lose value, to be eaten by moths, to rust, to corrode, to decay, or to crumble as soon as they are purchased or obtained.

c. They don’t last forever. And even those that last for centuries, will ultimately be melted with a fervent heat before the New Heavens and the New Earth.

d. Riches often fly away without notice… suddenly and unexpectedly… like an eagle that just takes off and soars into heaven—completely out of reach.

e. When riches fly away, they often leave those they left behind grieved, disillusioned, distraught, and even depressed.

f. Some have been driven to suicide after losing their wealth, for they felt they have nothing left to live for.

g. Rev. 18:17 – “In one hour so great riches are come to naught!” They set their hearts on these riches and in one hour they are all gone. No wonder they are weeping.

h. Our proverb also implies the weeping and grieving that belongs to those who set their eyes (heart) on riches only to see them fly away.
• When your life revolves around accumulating wealth, and it disappears, your life is diminished.
• When you set your affections on things of the earth, it is a sad life… because the things of earth are continually corrupting, rusting, fading away, and losing value… or perhaps thieves break through and steal them… or moths eat them.
• If our affection is on things that are transitory, then our joy and happiness will also be transitory… uncertain… unstable.

4. The believer is warned here not to labor to be rich; not to set one eyes (and thus one’s heart) upon riches.

a. I John 2:15 – This is tantamount to what John wrote in his first epistle: “LOVE not the world, neither the things in the world.”

b. I John 2:17 – The world (and thus all of its “things”) is passing away. It isn’t going to last forever.

c. If we LOVE the things of the world and set our eyes (and thus affections) upon them, God may have to deal with us.

d. He may have to take them away from us… or take us away from them.

e. God KNOWS our heart attitudes. He knows where our true affections lie.

5. Col. 3:1-2 – We are to set our affections on things above, not on the things of the earth. We can do that because we are DEAD.

a. The only successful way to separate the believer from the THINGS of the world is death.

b. We must “reckon ourselves to be dead” with Christ.

c. We have been crucified to the world and the world to us. That includes the things in the world.

d. Death is the only thing that will separate us.

e. One way or the other, God will use death to separate us from the earthly riches. He wants us to LIVE a separated life now.