Bible Money Wisdom, Part 1

The Bible contains admonitions about going after “filthy lucre.” The Bible places restrictions upon the aspiring capitalist and lays extra duties on the successful capitalist. The Bible also provides a great deal of economic and financial wisdom. This need not be a contradiction nor a change in dispensation. For followers of the Bible to prosper, they need extra wisdom to offset the restrictions and duties.

Apply the Bible’s money “secrets” and you will likely prosper. Just look at the Jews. Despite repeated persecutions they keep ending up wealthier than the average citizens of nations they live among. And no, it is not because Jews are greedier than other people, or that the Elders of Zion have been running some sort of evil conspiracy. The Jews as a people have simply paid more heed to the money secrets found in the Old Testament. When the Christians of Northern Europe switched from priest-based worship to reading their Bibles, they too prospered – immensely.

So, if you are looking for the “Bible Money Code” you have come to a pretty good place. In the next few chapters I’ll point out a bunch of it, and I won’t charge you a nickel or try to sell you anything on these particular pages. (I will point you to some optional further reading, but I won’t use affiliate links, and you can probably find much of it for free in a library or cheap in a used bookstore.) I won’t claim to have found it all, but there will be enough to get you started and then some.

That said, there is a price. The Bible’s money lessons are not fun. The core lessons are disguised as stern preaching and bombast. Reading the wisdom lecture is like receiving a lecture from a stern parent, only less pleasant. The lessons are uninteresting for the hyperintelligent. There are plenty of poor geniuses in the world because they haven’t the patience to follow through on true wisdom and instead waste their brainpower on circular philosophies or convoluted conspiracy theories.

Let us start with the book of the Bible that is billed as a book of wisdom, a book compiled by the richest man in the Bible. Let us start with the book of Proverbs. Or as Solomon wrote:

Proverbs 3:

13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,

and the one who obtains understanding.

14 For her benefit is more profitable than silver,

and her gain is better than gold.

15 She is more precious than rubies,

and none of the things you desire can compare with her.

16 Long life is in her right hand;

in her left hand are riches and honor.

17 Her ways are very pleasant,

and all her paths are peaceful.

(NET Bible® [highlighting mine])

Wisdom is better than money, but wisdom also provides it. This is not a contradiction. Think of the lottery winners who wind up broke. Peek into the supermarket tabloids to find many a story of millionaire celebrities with messed up lives. Far better to earn less and spend it well than to be clueless and have wealth fall into your lap. But yes, wisdom can lead to that earning more part, given time.

That was the positive promise. Here comes the pain:

Proverbs 1:

7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

(King James Version)

Fear?! Whatever happened to faith, hope, and positive thinking? This is the exact opposite of the Law of Attraction. No quantum cartoon waves for you. And no “Jesus is my buddy” Christianity Lite either. Wisdom starts with fear. And it gets worse:

Proverbs 6:

6 Go to the ant, you sluggard;

observe its ways and be wise!

7 It has no commander,

overseer, or ruler,

8 yet it prepares its food in the summer;

it gathers at the harvest what it will eat.

9 How long, you sluggard, will you lie there?

When will you rise from your sleep?

10 A little sleep, a little slumber,

a little folding of the hands to relax,

11 and your poverty will come like a robber,

and your need like an armed man..

(NET Bible®)

Work! Hard work! Ew! Why bother reading this financial wisdom book when airport bookstores are chock full of get rich quick books?

I’ll tell you why: all, or nearly all, success authors went through a significant period of hard work before making their breakthroughs. The rags part of their rags-to-riches stories are usually the result of their trying something hard before becoming successful vs. following a more mundane career path. The narratives in these books often follow this pattern:

“I failed ten times at ___. My last boss said I’d never amount to much. My credit cards were maxed out. My wife was angry. And then I discovered Formula X, and became a gazillionaire!”

A guilty admission: I enjoy such books. I find them far more thrilling than much of what passes for entertainment on TV. And sometimes Formula X is actually useful information. But so are the thousands of pieces of information these authors acquired while failing that aren’t included in their books. So don’t expect their Formula X to automatically work for you. You need mundane experience, and that requires actual work.

This, Dear Reader, is a point echoed repeatedly in Proverbs: the mundane stuff adds up. Or as Solomon wrote:

Proverbs 1:

20 Wisdom calls out in the street,

she shouts loudly in the plazas;

21 at the head of the noisy streets she calls,

in the entrances of the gates in the city she utters her words:

22 "How long will you simpletons love naiveté?

How long will mockers delight in mockery

and fools hate knowledge?

23 If only you will respond to my rebuke,

then I will pour out my thoughts to you

and I will make my words known to you.

24 However, because I called but you refused to listen,

because I stretched out my hand but no one paid attention,

25 because you neglected all my advice,

and did not comply with my rebuke,

26 so I myself will laugh when disaster strikes you,

I will mock when what you dread comes,

27 when what you dread comes like a whirlwind,

and disaster strikes you like a devastating storm,

when distressing trouble comes on you.

(NET Bible®)

Wisdom is shouting at you!

Proverbs 8:

22 The LORD created me [Wisdom] as the beginning of his works,

before his deeds of long ago.

23 From eternity I was appointed,

from the beginning, from before the world existed.

24 When there were no deep oceans I was born,

when there were no springs overflowing with water;

25 before the mountains were set in place —

before the hills — I was born,

26 before he made the earth and its fields,

or the beginning of the dust of the world.

27 When he established the heavens, I was there;

when he marked out the horizon over the face of the deep,

28 when he established the clouds above,

when the fountains of the deep grew strong,

29 when he gave the sea his decree

that the waters should not pass over his command,

when he marked out the foundations of the earth,

30 then I was beside him as a master craftsman,

and I was his delight day by day,

rejoicing before him at all times,

31 rejoicing in the habitable part of his earth,

and delighting in its people.

(NET Bible® [highlighting mine])

Wisdom was there at the Creation. She had a hand in the Creation.

OK, this is mere bombast, the preacher warming up for the real message. Let’s get to the point please. Right?

WRONG! Even if Solomon meant these passages as mere bombast, he actually makes a profound point here. His way of looking for wisdom differed profoundly from other famous traditions. Note what he did not say. He did not say:

  • Wisdom comes from within.
  • Reality is an illusion to be transcended.
  • Wisdom is known only to members of the Occult Inner Sanctum.
  • Wisdom can only be found spending years at the feet of an enlightened guru.

With this apparent bombast, Solomon dispenses with a great deal of both Western and Eastern philosophies. By declaring Wisdom to be outside, he dispenses with the derive-the-universe philosophy of Plato and his successors. By declaring Wisdom to be mixed in with the Creation, he dispenses with Buddhism and Gnosticism. By saying that Wisdom is shouting, he declares that it is not hidden away by some conspiracy or by a small cadre of gurus.

When the West woke up from rationalism and deferring to ancient Greek philosophers to actually studying reality directly by experiment, the West gained enormous wisdom and subsequent wealth. However, you can still waste lots of time in college studying the rationalist traditions which continue to this day, mastering the state worship of Hegel, the communism of Marx or the meaninglessness of Sartre. And yes, I got caught up in a rationalist tradition as well: the irresponsible anarchism of Murray Rothbard, a student of the anti-science economist Ludwig von Mises.

This is not to say that reasoning is a worthless activity. The Austrian School of economics does have some good ideas. But the attempt to derive a complete science of human action based on a tiny set of axioms leads one from sensible to silly results as the logical steps accumulate. Adam Smith’s ideas hold up well after two centuries because Smith was extremely data driven.

On the third hand, Euclidean geometry and higher mathematics are kind of cool – useful, even.

The Fear of the Lord

Note how much wisdom I extracted from Solomon’s introductory bombast. The Proverbs yield fruit when you stop and really think about what is being said and compare it to conflicting schools of thought. Now, let’s go back to the beginning of wisdom; i.e., the fear of the Lord.

This sounds like mere preaching and stuff, the sort of thing you hear from pulpits on a regular basis, not a key to personal success.

But let’s look at the personal success elements of fearing the Lord. What happens to those who obey the Law of Moses because they are scared to do otherwise? Let’s look at the Ten Commandments from this perspective, ignoring any possible supernatural benefits:

  1. Only one god. Worshipping the one god is work enough. Worshipping dozens or hundreds can take up considerable time and treasure. (The Puritans saved even more by eliminating many of the leftover pagan rituals and holidays which the Christian world had absorbed over the centuries. They outlawed Christmas! Think of the money you could save emulating the Puritans.)
  2. No graven images. Once again, significant money saved on unnecessary artwork, not to mention time wasted bowing down to inert objects.
  3. Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain. The precise meaning of this commandment is unclear. Not sure if there are any non-supernatural implications to avoiding casual oaths of the OMG variety. There is great potential for being know to abide by your more serious oaths before God. Being known as trustworthy can be very profitable. (And having trustworthy associates more profitable yet.)
  4. Keep the Sabbath. In the short run this can be a burden. Working seven days a week can get one ahead. In the longer run taking a day off once a week is reduces the chance of burnout. Giving workers time off reduces labor unrest.
  5. Honor your parents. If you set an example of taking care of your parents in your old age, your children are more likely to do so for you.
  6. Don’t murder. Living in a violent society is dangerous. Committing murder in a nonviolent society is likely to land you in prison. A few gangsters manage to profit by murder, but on average it’s a bad occupation.
  7. Don’t commit adultery. Sex is fun. Divorce is not. It is expensive as well and lessens the probability of your children taking care of you when you are old. Disease is also an issue.
  8. Don’t steal. Stealing can be profitable – until you are caught. Being scrupulous about not stealing, can make you trusted, which can be very profitable.
  9. Don’t bear false witness. Perjury can get you in jail. Gossip can make you enemies. Sustaining a lie takes a great deal of mental effort.
  10. Don’t covet. Ah! Here we have an intersection between New Age money advice and the Bible! If you dislike others because of their success, how can you succeed and like yourself? (There are entire college departments devoted to helping the children of the successful hate themselves.)

That’s just a warmup. There is considerably more wisdom buried in the Law of Moses for those who take it seriously. There is a blueprint for small to zero government without descending into feudalism or perpetual blood feuds. There is a welfare system that doesn’t encourage poverty-perpetuating behavior. There is public health knowledge which we only rediscovered in the 1800s. The connection between sanitation and stopping the spread of disease is implicit in the many commandments regarding cleanness. Handling a dead body makes one unclean. Human blood and certain other bodily fluids are to be treated like toxic waste. Moses relayed to us the cure for the AIDS epidemic thousands of years ago.

But he didn’t tell us precisely why. That is left as an exercise to the reader of the Law. Or, you could just obey what it says and benefit. That’s where the fear part comes in very handy.

I will admit that I do not follow the Law of Moses to the degree of an Orthodox Jew. Some of the laws were particular to a people and a place. But which? It pays to study it all. Let me leave you with a very obscure example. Back when I was in high school, I recall having a conversation with a friend who was giggling about a passage in the Bible regarding the “leprosy of the house” [Leviticus 14:34-57]. I may have giggled too; I don’t remember. I definitely thought the passage weird. But here’s the deal. One of the leading gurus in the modern biohacking community is shouting from the virtual rooftops about the dangers of mold in the home and elsewhere.

Back to the Big Letdown Proverb

Now, let’s go back to that real bummer of a proverb: the one about work. Look at it more carefully, it’s not simply about working hard, it’s about working “without commander, overseer, or ruler.”

This is an incredibly important key to success in almost any field. High pay generally falls to the following:

  • Business owners
  • Business executives
  • High skill/talent workers (top athletes, artists, scientists, lawyers, etc.)

All three generally require self motivation. If you are the boss – either business owner or top executive, there is no one in authority to make you work when you don’t feel like it. It may be possible to be a top boss and do little work, if you can effectively delegate the work, but unless you are inheriting the family business, the odds of getting such a position are next to none unless you show initiative at a lower level first.

As for talent positions, what we call talent today is a mix of inborn abilities (talent proper) and willingness to put in many hours of practice. Unless you have ultra high pressure parents, the only way you are going to get in the practice to be world class is to motivate yourself in between coaching sessions. Bill Gates became a very successful programmer because he loved programming so much as a child that he stole computer time (a rare example of crime paying). This is a common trait in top programmers (though computer time is now so cheap you don’t have to steal it). Ditto for writers.

Here are a few examples from my life. As a child I was fascinated by the space program, and so I read all the library books about outer space in elementary school, and as I got older read a great deal of science fiction. By the time I got to high school, I was reading popular science books from the community college library and attempting to read some of the physics and astronomy textbooks. I managed to work my way through the equivalent of first semester calculus during my last weeks of high school (it wasn’t offered in the school) though I didn’t really understand the limit theorems. This self-study made many of my classes a breeze, even when I didn’t like the teacher.

During high school I got the bug to try being a science fiction writer. I have a folder filled with rejection slips to this day. I never got into a real magazine, but many of the writing skills carried over, and typing class was a breeze.

On the other hand, I never put in sufficient practice time when I took piano lessons. I liked music theory, and the first level Hanon finger exercises, so I learned to site read pretty well, and could manage some dramatic runs up the keyboard. But I never had the patience to do scale drills or serious deliberate practice. I just played through the assigned pieces instead of focusing on the passages where I stumbled. It took a music teacher present to make me to do deliberate practice. So I never reached pro level musicianship.

Self-motivation through passion was powerful. But there were times when self-motivation just to get it done is required for true excellence.

I can think of some other examples from my life, but this chapter is long enough. Think about some from your own life.

More to Come, Eventually

Wow! I’m pushing 2500 words and I have only covered a few passages from Proverbs. I feel like I’m turning into one of those blowhard preachers who stretch a couple of verses into an hour long sermon – and I’m not a preacher.

I suggest you bookmark this spot and take a break before moving on to the next chapter. Meditate on this ideas and how they could apply to your life.

Think. Do. Prosper.

Further Reading

James Burke did some wonderful PBS series on the progress of science in technology: Connections and The Day the Universe Changed. In them he quick-cuts between times and places to follow various threads of thought. One pattern that stands out in much of this is the fact that humble tradesmen often had knowledge years or centuries before academia – which was still wedded to ancient Greek texts vs. directly observing reality.

For a takedown of philosophy, see Paul Graham’s excellent essay.

For modern examples of applying some of the principles described in this chapter (and others from the book of Proverbs), read The Millionaire Next Door.