The odds of winning a big lottery are somewhere in the ballpark of one in 292.2 million and one in 302.5 million. You have better odds of being struck by lightning multiple times than of winning the lottery. So, what are the odds that you’d win a big jackpot twice?
Yet, that is exactly what happened to Evelyn Adams. In 1985, she won the New Jersey lottery at $3.9 million. Then in February of 1986, she struck gold again, winning another $1.4 million. By 2012, she’d lost all of her money on bad business deals and gambling at slot machines in Atlantic City.
Michael Larson came at his winnings a little differently. Rather than playing the lottery, Larson studied the popular game show, Press Your Luck. Larson noticed a pattern that he could manipulate and keep winning. He ended up winning $110,237, which was an unprecedented amount at the time for a game show.
But he kept attempting get-rich-quick schemes. At one point, he lost $50,000 in a burglary after attempting to game a local radio show promotion offering money to anyone who matched a serial number to a one-dollar bill.
He eventually defrauded people in an internet scheme that saw him raise $1.8 million dollars. Charges were filed against Larson, but he died of throat cancer before he could be prosecuted.
There are many more stories of people who have had treasure in their hands but only within a few short years, let it slip through their hands. They devour their treasure rather than investing it wisely in the future. The Proverbs speaks of such a one.
“Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it” (21:20).
What does this proverb mean, and how can it benefit us today?
What Does it Mean That a Foolish Man Devours Treasure?
Typically, when studying Scripture, we can glean a better understanding by looking at the surrounding context. That is a bit more difficult in the Book of Proverbs.
Here, as through much of Proverbs, the difference between wisdom and the way of the fool is outlined. We can understand more about a foolish man devouring treasure by also considering the first part of the verse:
“Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling…”
There is nothing in the text that tells us how the wise man received the precious treasure or the oil. And we can assume that this is not the unbiblical hoarding of which both the Proverbs (11:24,26) and the Lord Jesus (6:19-21) spoke against. This is wisely saving and not foolishly devouring everything.
One of Aesop’s classic fables, The Ant and the Grasshopper, speaks to this proverb. In the fable, the ant works diligently and stores up food for the winter, but the grasshopper spends all of his days joyously making music. When winter comes, the ant has food stored up, but the grasshopper has nothing.
“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; we have got plenty of food at present.”
That is the thinking of a fool. And this is what Proverbs 21:20 is speaking about. It is foolish to devour your treasure rather than saving some. The fool thinks as the grasshopper does. He foolishly consumes that which he ought to be saving at least a portion of.
There is likely something in this about giving as well. If you consume everything for yourself, you not only have nothing to save for the future, but you also have nothing to give away. The wise will have treasure and oil, and the fool will have nothing for himself or others.
Charles Bridges says it well:
“For prudence is not worldliness; an indifference to coming trial, is not faith, but foolish simplicity” (An Exposition of Proverbs).
What Makes a Foolish Man Devour Treasure?
If we consider all that the Proverbs say about the fool, we begin to see that the Proverbs agree with the Psalms: “A fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”
The beginning of wisdom, according to Proverbs 9:10, is “the fear of the LORD.” When we do not fear the LORD, we walk in the steps of the foolish.
The foolish heart lives only for the present. He lives only for himself and refuses to be corrected by others.
It’s not surprising, then, that a fool would be apt to spend everything on the here and now. The fool only lives for the moment. This is why he devours treasure. He devours treasure because he doesn’t know what is truly valuable.
In his book, Sex and Money, Paul Tripp gives four descriptions of what happens when the love of money, instead of the love of God rules our hearts.
- “I deserve,” unquestioned
- “I want,” unrestrained
- “Me first,” undebated
- “I will,” unchallenged
This is why the fool isn’t going to save for himself or others. This is why every bit of treasure and wealth will flow through his fingers and amount to nothing. He’ll devour treasure because the kind of treasure he is living for will never satisfy.
How Do We Apply This Verse Today?
I don’t believe this verse is saying that if you don’t have money in a saving account, then it’s an indication that you aren’t serving Jesus. There are many different scenarios whereby someone might have a saving account drained — some of them noble, others are circumstances outside of our control.
But the way we handle money and resources does say something about us. We live in a culture that is defined by consumption.
As Tripp noted, we assume that if we have the resources, we’ve earned it, we deserve it, and so we ought to get whatever we want and consume it to the last drop. But this is not the mindset of a child of God.
Rather than asking how we might consume, we ought to be thinking about how we can build into the future. We should be wise stewards of our money — so that we are able to bless the next generation.
We also ought to be good stewards of our money so that we can bless the present generation. If all of our resources are consumed by us, then it’s a reflection of a heart that doesn’t truly believe the gospel.
Is my treasure being used for the kingdom or for others? Am I foolishly storing up treasure? Am I misapplying that warning and being frivolous and consuming everything for myself?
What am I sowing into the next generation? Those are helpful questions to ask of our resources. The wise will sow into a generation that they may never see — because the wise fear God.