Such is the case with Proverbs 10:2 and the condemnation of ill-gotten gains. If you do not know someone who has profited from ill-gotten gains, you have not watched the news. We all tend to be aware of that individual who has gotten something that they have no business having.
The reality is that short-term gains can be realized from ill-gotten gains. That’s why they are called “gains” here: there is a gain. It is not, however, a long-term winning situation. Instead, like a Ponzi scheme, ill-gotten gains are doomed to fail in the long run.
We need not limit our understanding of this verse to financial impropriety. I would suggest that Solomon did not think of this only in relation to cash—power, authority, and general wealth would have been in view as well.
Let us consider, for example, if one were to lie or deceive to attain fame and power. This makes the influence an ill-gotten gain, and the long-term is that any good is providential, not intentional. This applies to pastors with inflated resumes and egos, politicians with sacks of wind for brains, and men who cannot see the truth for their libidos.
There can be short-term gains from any of these, but is there profit? No. Because profit benefits the long-term, and it benefits others. Profit is the excess good available from one’s life. Sometimes it is a profit of time, which allows us to serve others. A profit of wealth that allows us to assist others—through meaningful work opportunities; need-meeting giving; provision of durable resources.
There is profit in strong, positive relationships. I would suggest that very little good comes from secret relationships—though there are exceptions to that idea. The burden of proof is on you to show that the exception is appropriate. Ill-gotten relationships? Ones that took lies and scheming to get is going to harm you and others in the long run.
The contrast is the righteousness that delivers from death. First, for certain, is that Jesus’ righteousness delivers His own from eternal death. That is not really what I think Solomon had in view, but is worth noting.
The second fact here is that righteousness often aids in bringing life to others. Consider, in light of this verse, the life of Oskar Schindler. While I make no final claim on his religious beliefs, note how he refused the ill-gotten gain of the Nazi Party while showing a righteousness that led to life for others. In the long run, likely for himself as well—for rather than being rounded up and shot like other Nazis in the Eastern Theatre, his escape was aided by those he had helped.
Just another example of God’s ways working, even in madness.
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