“There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spendeth it up.” (Proverbs 21:20 KJV)
The Bible has teachings that we can apply to every aspect of our lives. Proverbs 21:20 tells us how both a wise person and a foolish person handle finances. It inspired a popular proverb that says: “a fool and his money are soon parted.” Let’s take a look at the valuable lessons we can learn from this verse.
#1 Wisdom and Foolishness in the Book of Proverbs
This proverb compares the acts of a wise person and a foolish one. This kind of comparison is quite common in the book of Proverbs. That’s why we need to understand what the biblical writer meant when he talked about wisdom.
Solomon, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10 KJV). Biblical wisdom begins with knowing and obeying the Lord. So, “wise” is the person who serves the Lord and lives according to what Scripture teaches. On the other hand, “fools” are the ones who live apart from God and don’t care about following His commands (Proverbs 1:7). With those concepts in mind, let’s now take a deeper look at the verse.
#2 How the Wise Deal with Wealth
The first part of Proverbs 21:20 says: “There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise” (KJV). The word “treasure” in the original Hebrew text can also be translated as “store, supplies of food or drink” (according to the Brown-Driver-Briggs dictionary). The NIV translates the first part of that verse as “The wise store up choice food and olive oil” (Proverbs 21:20 NIV). So, the expression “treasure to be desired” refers to valuable products that are stored in that person’s house (in this context, possibly good quality food and drink).
The word “oil” refers to a product, usually made from olives, that was used to make perfume, used as medicine, fuel for lamps, and as a condiment for cooking. Olive oil was also a sign of abundance (Deuteronomy 8:8). In this short sentence, the writer is stating that a wise person uses their wealth to purchase and store useful products, like food, drink, and medicine in their house. They are valuable (treasure), and they are to be desired because everyone needs them. This storage is not only for the present, but also for the future (Proverbs 6:6-8).
This proverb teaches us the importance of using our financial resources to acquire and store products that will meet our basic needs, like food (Isaiah 55:2). The biblical writer teaches us that we can provide for our family’s needs, save for the future, and share with those in need (Proverbs 21:26). It is about being generous, not stingy.
#3 How Fools Deal with Wealth
The second part of the proverb says, “but a foolish man spendeth it up.” Instead of purchasing what they need (food, drink, medicine, etc.) and storing some for the future, fools waste their wealth. They spend everything to indulge their desires.
A good example of this kind of fool is the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-31). He claimed his inheritance before his father died. That alone shows us how foolish he was by disobeying God’s commandment (Exodus 20:12). Then, he went to a foreign land and “wasted his substance with riotous living” (Luke 15:13 KJV). When the famine came, he had nothing left.
So, the second part of the verse teaches us what not to do. We need to pay attention because a major reason behind most financial problems nowadays is that we waste money on products that are not essential for us. The proverb teaches us that if we want to be wise, we need to take good care of the wealth God has entrusted us with.
#4 What is your treasure?
Note that this proverb shows that the problem is not an abundance or the lack of wealth. The problem is what each person does with it. That is what distinguishes the wise from the foolish. Paul said that “the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10 KJV). The problem is not money, but the love of money.
Jesus told his disciples to “lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth” (Matthew 6:19 KJV). He didn’t mean that we shouldn’t store needful items or prepare for the future. He meant that we cannot put our trust in our wealth or possessions. He concludes by saying that “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21 KJV). If we put our trust in our earthly possessions, they will drive us away from God. They are not our true treasures. God is.
Jesus also teaches us that we should not worry about food, clothes, and other needs because the Father will provide them for us (Matthew 6:25-33). We need to keep in mind that God is our provider, even if we plan and save for the upcoming seasons. Remember Joseph in Egypt? He stored lots of grain during the years of abundance to prepare for the upcoming famine (Genesis 41). But his trust was not in his huge amount of food in storage, but rather, it was in the Lord (Genesis 45:5-8).
This verse teaches us that the wise person uses their wealth with foresight and restraint, also being generous to those in need. The fool uses it in self-indulgence. We, as children of God, need to trust that the Lord will provide for our needs. When He does, we need to be wise in making decisions with the resources He has given us, especially with money. The way we use our wealth is a testimony of our love for God and for those around us.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.