4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
do not trust your own cleverness.
5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone,
for they will surely sprout wings
and fly off to the sky like an eagle.
Two foolish ways to pursue wealth are given here, overworking and taking shortcuts. The person who overworks sacrifices much on the altar of success. Working too much takes a toll on his relationships, his health and his peace – even if he doesn’t achieve his goals he will still pay the price. The one who trusts his own cleverness is always looking for a shortcut, he may not overwork but he exposes himself to many risks. In his pride he is convinced he can beat the odds, though in the end he is likely to lose more than he gains. What will happen to his relationships then? His health and peace? Greed is a cruel master. Striving and haste have this in common: neither is sustainable over the long term.
Yet wealth comes to those who are diligent. They are ambitious in their work, but they are not consumed by it. They divide their goals into manageable pieces, and achieve them one small step at a time. They are diligent in all they do, they neglect neither relationships nor health. They are at peace with where they are and where they are going, and are able to be generous with their time and money. At the end of each week they are satisfied with what they’ve accomplished, and are able to rest from their work. They are not tempted to take shortcuts, their path may be long but it is also secure. They set limits for work and for risk and do not exceed them, leaving room for the joys of life.
“Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.” Wealth is a dangerous thing to worship, a precarious thing to live for. It makes promises it can’t keep, it demands sacrifices it can’t guarantee. Vulnerable to the circumstances of life, it may be here today and gone tomorrow. Surely it is better to pursue wisdom over wealth, virtue over riches! Peace and contentment are found on the path of wisdom, but the path of greed leads only to regret.