Proverbs 1:32 "For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them."
As she nears the end of her speech, Wisdom does not shy away from that which has puzzled the righteous since the days of Job. Wisdom declares the destruction of the simple and the foolish as well as identifies the cause of their demise. For the simple, it is their “turning away” or their intentional ignorance of wisdom. For the fools, it is their prosperity. Wisdom does not avoid acknowledging the reality that fools can and do prosper in this life.
The fact that fools experience prosperity often confounds the righteous. The righteous Job asked the question, “Wherefore do the wicked live, become old, yea, are mighty in power?” (21:9). The prophet Jeremiah asked, “Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?” (12:1). Asaph struggled with the prosperity of the foolish as evidenced by his words in Psalm 73 when he said, “my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. Behold, these are the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase in riches” (2-3,12). From the beginning of time, the righteous have pondered these thoughts and shared these sentiments. With these statements in mind, let the hearer realize that righteousness doesn’t make one wise; wisdom does. Unlike with righteousness, wisdom doesn’t struggle with the fact that fools prosper because she understands the destructive nature of their prosperity. Wisdom isn’t tempted with envy towards the fool nor is she tempted with anger toward God when she sees the prosperity of fools. She understands what the righteous have wrestled with for ages.
Wisdom answers our questions regarding the prosperity of the foolish. She doesn’t make the mistake of seeing prosperity as an automatic sign of blessing. She doesn’t erroneously assume that prosperity is evidence of the pleasure of God. Wisdom teaches us that prosperity can be as much a blessing of God as a curse of God. Wisdom teaches us that prosperity can be used of God to help a person as much as it can be used of God to hurt a person. God rarely grants people prosperity because few can handle the moral risks that come with it. For most, prosperity is more of a curse than a blessing. For most, it does more harm than good. For most, it leads to moral, ethical and spiritual decline.
Evangelist D.L. Moody said, “We can stand affliction better than we can prosperity, for in prosperity we forget God.”
Jeremy Taylor, known as the “Shakespeare of Divines” said, “Many are not able to suffer and endure prosperity; it is like the light of the sun to a weak eye, glorious, indeed, in itself, but not proportioned to such an instrument.”
Reformer Martin Luther stated simply, “It is prosperity that we cannot endure.”
Missionary Kevin Turner wrote, “Calamity clarifies and comfort confuses; persecution purifies and prosperity pollutes!”
Hymn-writer Horatius Bonar is credited with saying, “In the day of prosperity, we have many refuges to resort to; in the day of adversity, only one.”
Thomas Watson said, “People are usually better in adversity, than prosperity. A prosperous condition is not always so safe. True, it is more pleasing to the flesh – but it is not always best. In a prosperous state, there is more burden. Many look at the shining and glittering prosperity – but not at the burdens of prosperity.”
Social Reformer Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “Watch lest prosperity destroy generosity.”
Theologian John Calvin once said, “Nothing is more dangerous than to be blinded by prosperity.”
For many, dare I say most, prosperity blinds the eye – it hardens the heart – it distorts reality – it weakens the soul – it feeds pride – it starves humility – it steals gratitude – it destroys lives. Even though everyone seems to crave prosperity, few are ready for its powerful side effects. Professional sports may provide the greatest example of the hardship of prosperity. Nearly 80% of NFL players end up filing for bankruptcy or are insolvent within just 5 years of retirement. 60% of NBA players file for bankruptcy within 5 years of retirement. MLB players file for bankruptcy at a rate 4x the national average. The person who thinks winning solves all problems is a fool. The person who thinks scoring big contracts is the measure of success lacks wisdom.
While the average person in today’s world sees prosperity as the ultimate gage of success, the wise person sees prosperity as risky business. Wisdom teaches us that it is God’s blessings when given to a wise person and God’s curse when given to a foolish person.
A prosperous fool concludes that the poor have nothing to offer.
A prosperous fool concludes that morality means nothing.
A prosperous fool concludes that God is not needed.
A prosperous fool sees no value in eternity.
A prosperous fool welcomes pride and self-sufficiency with open arms.
Such a person is on his way to a place the Bible calls, “Destruction.” These are essentially the words of Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goeth before destruction.” Wisdom is not afraid to admit the prosperity of fools. There is no insecurity in her when she acknowledges the prosperity of those who resist and reject her. In fact, she boldly celebrates the prosperity of fools because she knows that their prosperity is their demise.
The righteous who receive wisdom will no longer wrestle with why the foolish prosper. The earlier referenced righteous Job became a wise Job when he concluded of the prosperous fool, “they spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave” (21:13). The previously mentioned righteous Asaph became a wise Asaph after entering the sanctuary of God for it was there that he said of the prosperous wicked, “then understood I their END” (Ps. 73:17). He describes that end in the following verses, “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors” (18-19).
Prosperity isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be…especially for the foolish.