Do not wear yourself out by attempting to get rich;
cease from relying upon your own understanding. Bible other translations

“Do not wear yourself out by attempting to get rich.” This is a general principle that occurs throughout the Word of God. Although there is nothing wrong in trying to better one’s circumstances in life, making being wealthy the focus of one’s life is a mistake. There are so many uncontrollable factors that can prevent a person from getting wealthy, and so much chance that one’s best efforts will not result in wealth, that wealth is not a good target for a person’s efforts. Even at best, it only lasts the few short years of this life. God says not to make wealth our goal (Prov. 23:4; Luke 12:15; 1 Tim. 6:8-10; Heb. 13:5). Jesus tells us not to build up treasure on earth, but to build it up for the future life (Matt. 6:18-21).

Also, the context of Proverbs 23:4 is being with wealthy people and stingy people, who therefore are likely wealthy (Prov. 23:1, 6). Often when one is with wealthy people there is a temptation to compromise one’s principles and get into ungodly situations that will result in everlasting consequences. That is why Proverbs 23:2, 3, and 23:6 warn against what the wealthy are serving—it often comes with a cost. But in the end, there is nothing more valuable than living in obedience to God.

“cease from relying upon your own understanding.” There are two major ways that Proverbs 23:4 has been understood. The most common way is that people should not trust their own understanding about material wealth, i.e., people should not think that if they work tirelessly they will become rich and being rich brings safety, freedom, friends, and fun. However, wealth gained by constant toil has many hidden costs, often including one’s health and alienation from friends and family. Furthermore, as the proverb says, many people who have big plans for being wealthy never see those plans materialize. Understanding Proverbs 23:4 this way also fits with Proverbs 3:5-6, which says not to lean on one’s own understanding.

The other way to understand Proverbs 23:4 is less common but is the translation in some Bibles. For example, the ESV reads, “Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist.” According to this translation, a person should rely on their understanding of life—that working tirelessly to acquire wealth is a vain pursuit—and so they should know better and stop focusing on trying to get rich. However, although the Hebrew text could be understood that way, it seems the less likely meaning of the verse because if a person had enough wisdom to know that money does not fix everything and will not last (as depicted in v. 5), he or she would not strive to become wealthy to begin with. This second way to view Proverbs 23:4 requires dissociating the idea presented in Proverbs 3:5 about refraining from trusting in one's own understanding and viewing it in a more positive light where one's own understanding possesses a degree of wisdom. The emphasis in Proverbs is that we must acquire knowledge and understanding from Yahweh because we do not have it in ourselves. Therefore, this second way to understand the verse assumes that the person has somehow acquired some degree of wisdom already. And that interpretation seems less probable given the overall premise in Proverbs that our own understanding is deficient and faulty.

Commentary for: Proverbs 23:4