A Fool and His Money

Bible Book: Jeremiah  17 : 11
Subject: Money; Materialism; Riches; Honesty with Money

A fool and his money are soon parted. Gary Martin explains, “This is quite an early proverb in the English language and, as such, might be thought to contain the wisdom of the ancients. The notion was known by the late 16th century, when it was expressed in rhyme by Thomas Tusser [c. 1524-1580] in Five Hundreth Pointes of Good Husbandrie, 1573:

A foole & his money,
be soone at debate:
which after with sorow,
repents him to late.

The precise wording of the expression comes just a little later, in Dr. John Bridges’ Defence of the Government of the Church of England, 1587:

If they pay a penie or two pence more for the reddinesse of them..let them looke to that, a foole and his money is soone parted.[1]

This proverb is “Often shortened to a fool and his money.” Gregory Titelman also states it was “First cited in the United States in Boston in 1682 and 1699 (1699).” Titelman cites several more recent instances, for example, Joey Adams asked in “Strictly for Laughs” in the New York Post (1994): “How did a fool and his money get together in the first place?”[2]

Jeremiah 17:1-11 reads, “‘The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron; With the point of a diamond it is engraved On the tablet of their heart, And on the horns of your altars, While their children remember Their altars and their wooden images By the green trees on the high hills. O My mountain in the field, I will give as plunder your wealth, all your treasures, And your high places of sin within all your borders. And you, even yourself, Shall let go of your heritage which I gave you; And I will cause you to serve your enemies In the land which you do not know; For you have kindled a fire in My anger which shall burn forever.’ Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited. ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, And whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit. ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings. ‘As a partridge that broods but does not hatch, So is he who gets riches, but not by right; It will leave him in the midst of his days, And at his end he will be a fool.” The context reveals a contrast. Are you blessed or cursed? Is your trust in the Lord or in man?

Dr. Joseph C. Aldrich (1941-2009) calls Jeremiah 17:11, “The Parable of the Prodigal Partridge.”[3] Dr. John Thain Davidson (1833-1904) explains, “THE illustration is taken from natural history. The Bible is very copious in its ornithology. As you open the book, many are the birds that fly across your field of vision. Stork, and turtledove, and crane, and swallow, all teach us some lesson. From the little sparrow on the housetop, to the majestic eagle soaring in mid-heaven; from the barn-door hen cackling over its brood, to the rapacious vulture swooping down upon its prey; every variety of winged creature is here, to point some moral, or suggest some warning. ‘Ask now the beasts,’ says Job, ‘and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee!’ [Job 12:7]

Our text wafts us to the breezy uplands of northern Palestine. . . .

Some think that the prophet’s language in our text refers to an ancient practice still maintained amongst the Arabs, of driving the mother birds from place to place till they become exhausted, and are easily captured: in which case, of course, the poor partridge never has the joy of seeing her own progeny. Patiently she sat for weeks in her nest, over eggs which another than herself is to hatch.

Let me frankly say I do not think this is the intended idea at all. On looking into the Septuagint, I find the rendering of the verse somewhat different, but practically the same as many of you will find in the margin of your Bibles.

‘As the partridge gathered young which she has not herself brought forth.’ That is more plain and natural, and is a rendering supported by some of the highest authorities. The idea plainly is that the partridge is in the habit of stealing eggs from the nests of other birds of a different species, and of sitting upon them: and that shortly after these eggs are hatched, the young, forsaking their false parent, and associating with birds of their own order, make the old partridge look very foolish, as all her missing brood desert her.

I am told by a friend who has himself witnessed the performance, that, in point of fact, it is not an uncommon thing for a bird to carry off eggs from another nest. This sort of bird builds its nest on the ground: and the sly thief, by a skillful use of its bill, rolls the eggs along, and continues to place them in her own nest.”[4]

Jeremiah 17:11 reads, “As a partridge that broods but does not hatch, So is he who gets riches, but not by right; It will leave him in the midst of his days, And at his end he will be a fool.”

Note three movements in the remainder of our text.

I. First, note the wealthiness of the man in the proverb.

Jeremiah 17:11 b reads, “. . . he who gets riches. . .” The term “wealthiness” means, “having wealth; rich”, “marked by abundance” or “well supplied”.[5] Jesus warns, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15). While many think in terms of ownership material wealth is a stewardship. Remember Jesus’ words to his disciples in Luke 16:1-13, “‘There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ ‘Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ ‘So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light. ‘And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home. He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man’s, who will give you what is your own? ‘No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.’”

The late billionaire businessman, S. Truett Cathy (1921-2014), founder and chairman of Chick-fil-A, wrote a book a few years before his death, titled, Wealth, Is It Worth It? Mr. Cathy understood the stewardship element of material wealth. He proves that a man can be “super rich” without being “stupid rich” as mentioned in a recent television commercial.

Dr. Charles John Ellicott (1819-1905) writes, “As covetousness was the besetting sin of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:17), the prediction may have pointed specially to him.”[6]

Jeremiah 22:13-17 reads, “Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness And his chambers by injustice, Who uses his neighbor’s service without wages And gives him nothing for his work, Who says, ‘I will build myself a wide house with spacious chambers, And cut out windows for it, Paneling it with cedar And painting it with vermilion.’ ‘Shall you reign because you enclose yourself in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink, And do justice and righteousness? Then it was well with him. He judged the cause of the poor and needy; Then it was well. Was not this knowing Me?’ says the Lord. ‘Yet your eyes and your heart are for nothing but your covetousness, For shedding innocent blood, And practicing oppression and violence.” “[Dr. F. J. V. D. (Franz Joseph Valentin Dominik)] MAURER [1795-1874] thinks the reference is to Jehoiakim’s grasping cupidity (ch. 22. 13-17). Probably the sense is more general; as previously he condemned trust in man (v. 5), he now condemns another object of the deceitful hearts’ trust, unjustly-gotten riches (Psalm 39. 6; Psalms 49. 16-17; 55. 23). Fool—(Proverbs 23. 5; Luke 12. 20); ‘their folly,’ (Psalms 49. 13). Himself, and all, shall at last perceive he was not the wise man he thought he was.”[7]


II. Second, note the wickedness of the man in the proverb.

Jeremiah 17:11c reads, “. . . but not by right. . .” Rev. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) writes, “. . . whatever wickedness there is in the heart, God sees it. Men may be imposed upon, but God cannot be deceived. He that gets riches, and not by right, though he may make them his hope, never shall have joy of them. This shows what vexation it is to a worldly man at death, that he must leave his riches behind; but though the wealth will not follow to another world, guilt will, and everlasting torment. The rich man takes pains to get an estate, and sits brooding upon it, but never has any satisfaction in it; by sinful courses it comes to nothing. Let us be wise in time; what we get, let us get it honestly; and what we have, use it charitably, that we may be wise for eternity.”[8]

“In an answer to a question as to how a man can succeed in business and yet be thoroughly Christian, addressed to him by the Secretary of the Hackney branch of the Young Men’s Christian Association, at the instigation of the members, . . . [The Right Honourable John] Bright [(1811-1888), British Prime Minister]” replied as follows:—

November, 1884.

“DEAR SIR, —I do not think I am specially qualified or in any way entitled to give an opinion upon the question with regard to which you have written. My own experience does not carry me further than other men. There are men who profit by practices of meanness and dishonesty in business, and I have heard of trades in which an honest man is said to be at a serious disadvantage in the competition to which he is subjected. But, on the other hand, I know men who seem to me to prosper in part on account of their high character for honour and justice, in their dealings as shopkeepers, manufacturers, or merchants. If a man is able to be strictly honest in all his dealings, in the quality of his goods, as well as in every business transaction, his character undoubtedly serves him in some sort of capital, because he gains the respect of those from whom he buys and those to whom he sells; and I believe this will in many, perhaps in most cases, balance or even exceed whatever gains may be secured by means of dishonest practices to which some tradesmen have recourse. That honesty is the best policy I firmly believe, as it is also the most righteous, and it will leave no stain upon the conscience. There are trades offering more temptations to dishonest practices than others, and parents may wisely consider this when seeking employment for their sons; and sons may likewise consider it when looking out for the business of their lives, and seek that trade which offers the least possible temptation. In my judgment the value of a high character for strict honour and honesty in business can hardly be estimated too highly; and it will often stand for more in the conscience, and even in the ledger, than all that can be gained by shabby and dishonest transaction.”[9]

Proverbs 28:20-22 reads, “A faithful man will abound with blessings, But he who hastens to be rich will not go unpunished. To show partiality is not good, Because for a piece of bread a man will transgress. A man with an evil eye hastens after riches, And does not consider that poverty will come upon him.”

III. Third, note the wretchedness of the man in the proverb.

Jeremiah 17:11d reads, “It will leave him in the midst of his days, And at his end he will be a fool.” That is wretchedness, which is to be “deeply distressed or unhappy; miserable; unfortunate”.[10]

Dr. Daniel D. Wheldon (1874-1909) writes, “The saying is probably a proverbial one, and so is accounted for by the existence of the proverb. It is a fit illustration of the folly of the man who accumulates by fraud and treachery, to be finally dispossessed of his ill-gotten gains, and die a fool.”[11] Rev. John Trapp (1601-1669) writes, “[Shall leave them in the midst of his days.] Either they shall leave him, or he them, to his unmedicinable grief and heart break. A poor fool God will be sure to make of him. He that trusteth in his riches, as every mammonist doth, shall fall; [Proverbs 11:28] for although he bless himself, as well underlaid - and what should all such a one saith the world - yet the Lord abhorreth him, [Psalms 10:3] so that he many times cometh in the midst of his days to an untimely end, as did Judas, Ahab, Achan, Balaam, Ananias and Sapphira, &c. And thus many a rich wretch spinneth a fair thread to strangle himself, both temporally and eternally; he by his covetousness not only killeth others, [Proverbs 1:19] but himself too.”[12]

Proverbs 1:19 reads, “So are the ways of everyone who is greedy for gain; It takes away the life of its owners.” Proverbs 23:4-5 reads, “Do not overwork to be rich; Because of your own understanding, cease! Will you set your eyes on that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; They fly away like an eagle toward heaven.” 1 Timothy 6:3- 10, 17-19 reads, “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself. Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. . . . Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”

Dr. Robert Hawker (1753-1827) writes, “Some naturalists have given this account of the Partridge. And it forms a striking representation of the man of riches brooding over his riches, which after all bring forth nothing but disappointment. See our Lord’s account, Luke 12:16-21.”[13] Luke 12:16-21 reads, “Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ ‘So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.’” Oh Lord, heal us from covetousness and help us find contentment!


Dr. John Thain Davidson writes, “Those of you who have been brought up in the country have, no doubt, often been reminded of the prophet’s illustration in the text. For my own part, I know, I have laughed right out at the astonishment and dismay of a respectable-looking farmyard hen, standing by the edge of a large pond, when a whole brood of tiny ducklings she has hatched and tended with motherly care plunge into their natural element, the water, and seem to say to their foster-parent, ‘Follow us, if you can!’

Like that poor helpless and confounded biped is the man who gathers to himself riches he has not lawfully earned. When he is most in need of them, they take their departure, and, for all the worldly wisdom of which he had boasted, he stands out in the end an arrant ‘fool.’

Yes a fool; for, saith Jesus, ‘So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.’ [Luke 12:21]”[14]

Jeremiah 6:13 reads, “Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them, Everyone is given to covetousness; And from the prophet even to the priest, Everyone deals falsely.” Dr. Thomas Constable writes, “Dwelling on the sinfulness of people and the deceitfulness of the heart needs balancing with even greater attention to the glory of God Himself. Jeremiah changed his perspective and so avoided more discouragement.”[15]

Jeremiah 17:12-18 reads, “A glorious high throne from the beginning Is the place of our sanctuary. O Lord, the hope of Israel, All who forsake You shall be ashamed. ‘Those who depart from Me Shall be written in the earth, Because they have forsaken the Lord, The fountain of living waters.’ Heal me, O Lord, and I shall be healed; Save me, and I shall be saved, For You are my praise. Indeed they say to me, ‘Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come now!’ As for me, I have not hurried away from being a shepherd who follows You, Nor have I desired the woeful day; You know what came out of my lips; It was right there before You. Do not be a terror to me; You are my hope in the day of doom. Let them be ashamed who persecute me, But do not let me be put to shame; Let them be dismayed, But do not let me be dismayed. Bring on them the day of doom, And destroy them with double destruction!”

Remember this divinely inspired warning about a fool and his money.

[1]Gary Martin, The Phrase Finder, Accessed: 04/29/15 http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/a-fool-and-his-money-are-soon-parted.html .

[2]Gregory Titelman, Random House Dictionary of America’s Popular Proverbs and Sayings, Second Edition (New York, NY: Random House, Inc., 2000), 100.

[3]Joe Aldrich, “The Parable of the Prodigal Partridge” Sermon Notes (Jeremiah 17:11).

[4]John Thain Davidson, Forewarned—Forearmed, “Riches Gotten not by Right” (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1885), 61-63.

[5]American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2011), Accessed: 04/29/15 http://www.thefreedictionary.com/wealthiness .

[6]Charles John Ellicott, An Old Testament Commentary for English Readers (New York, NY: Cassell & Company, 1884), 5: 63.

[7]Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David, A Commentary Critical, Practical and Explanatory on the Old and New Testament, Vol. 2, Proverbs-Malachi (Toledo, OH: Jerome B. Names & Co., 1882), 339.

[8]Religious Tract Society, Short Comments on Every Chapter of the Holy Bible (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1838), 567.

[9]The Public Letters of the Right Hon. John Bright, col. and ed. H. J. Leech (London: Sampson, Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington, 1885), 308-309.

[10]Webster’s New World College Dictionary Copyright © 2010 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Cleveland, Ohio. http://www.yourdictionary.com/wretchedness .

[11]Daniel Whedon, Whedon's Commentary on the Bible, Accessed: 04/27/15 http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/view.cgi?bk=jer&ch=17 .

[12]John Trapp, Annotations Upon the Whole Bible, Volume 3 (London, 1660).

[13]Robert Hawker, The Poor Man's Commentary on the Old Testament, 6 vols. (London, 1822).

[14]Davidson, Forewarned, 63.

[15]Thomas Constable, Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable, Accessed: 04/27/15 http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/view.cgi?bk=jer&ch=17 . 2012.


Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527

Author of Don’t Miss the Revival! Messages for Revival and Spiritual Awakening from Isaiah and

Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice [Both available on Amazon.com in hardcover, paperback and eBook]

http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Miss-Revival-Spiritual-Awakening/dp/1462735428 & http://www.amazon.com/Sound-Biblical-Preaching-Giving-Bible/dp/1594577684 / fkirksey@bellsouth.net / (251) 626-6210

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