The Misery of a Miser

Bible Book: Proverbs  23 : 6-8
Subject: Money; Possessions; Giving; Stewardship

The misery of a miser is proverbial. One proverb reads, “To be a miser is to be unhappy.”[1] An Italian proverb reads, “He is miserable indeed that must lock up his miseries.” A miser is the focus of our text found in Proverbs 23:6-8.

Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe writes, “The Spanish novelist Cervantes defined a proverb as ‘a short sentence based on long experience.’ From a literary point of view, that isn’t a bad definition.”[2] Dr. John Phillips (1927-2010) explains, “The great object in each of the Proverbs. . . is to enforce a moral principle in words so few that they may be easily learned. . . .”[3] Jim George shares in The Bare Bones Bible Handbook, “A proverb can be described as a brief statement that offers a pithy but powerful observation.”

A proverb is a statement that is generally true. While misers are not always miserable, they are generally marked by misery. Someone said, “The only good a miser does is to prove the little happiness there is to be found in wealth.” Publilius Syrus, Roman author of the 1st Century B.C., writes, “The coward regards himself as cautious, the miser as thrifty.” H. W. Shaw writes, “The miser is a riddle, what he possesses he has not, and what he leaves behind him, he never had.”[4] Someone quipped, “Misers aren’t fun to live with, but they make wonderful ancestors.” Another said, “The miser and the pig are of no use till death.”

Hetty Green (1834-1916) had the ability to make money. She shrewdly invested her inherited wealth and at the time of her death, her estate was worth over 100 million dollars. Some refer to her as “the richest woman in America”, but she was a miser. She lived like a pauper and stories abound related to her extreme frugality and parsimony. [Bydon Sparkes and Samuel Taylor Moore recount her life in Hetty Green: The Woman Who Loved Money, (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1930)]. Oh, the misery of a miser!

In the New York Times, Frank Bruni writes: “The man who lavished his time and energy on many a Renaissance masterpiece did not lavish his money on many people, including himself. Michelangelo, beneath it all, was a miser.

That is one conclusion of a recently published book, The Wealth of Michelangelo, by a professor of art history who found in Renaissance archives a surprising financial profile of unacknowledged wealth and unwarranted thrift.

Although Michelangelo bellyached aplenty about deprivation and has often been cast as somewhat poor, he died in 1564 with the modern equivalent of tens of millions of dollars, according to the professor, Rab Hatfield, an American who teaches at the Syracuse University program in Florence.

That money was not some late-in-life windfall. Professor Hatfield’s research shows that for most of Michelangelo's nearly 89 years, he was marginally, moderately, or massively rich. But he often refused to show it, and often declined to share it.

‘He was the richest artist of all time,’ at least until that time, Professor Hatfield said in an interview.

‘He took in huge amounts,’ he said. ‘It was phenomenal.’

And yet, Professor Hatfield said, Michelangelo would complain to family members about how short of money he was, melodramatically bemoaning his lot while warding off their requests for help.

On the road with a pair of assistants, Michelangelo would get just one bed for all of them, and the reason, Professor Hatfield said, was not erotic but economic. The artist was hoarding his lucre.”[5]

A notorious miser was called on by the chairman of the community charity. ‘Sir,’ said the fund-raiser, ‘our records show that despite your wealth, you’ve never once given to our drive.’

‘Do your records show that I have an elderly mother who was left penniless when my father died?’ fumed the tightwad. ‘Do your records show that I have a disabled brother who is unable to work? Do your records show I have a widowed sister with small children who can barely make ends meet?’

‘No, sir,’ replied the embarrassed volunteer. ‘Our records don’t show those things.’

‘Well, I don’t give to any of them, so why should I give anything to you?’”[6] Maybe you have heard this bit of bitter advice, “Get all you can, can all you get, sit on the lid, and poison the rest.”

Esther Pauline “Eppie” Lederer (1918-2002) better known as Ann Landers shared an interesting letter in her column. A young lady wrote, “My uncle was the tightest man I’ve ever known. All his life, every time he got paid he took $20 out of his paycheck and put it under his mattress. Then he got sick and was about to die. As he was dying, he said to his wife, ‘I want you to promise me one thing.’ ‘Promise what?’ she asked. ‘I want you to promise me that when I’m dead you’ll take my money from under the mattress and put it in my casket so that I can take it all with me.’ The girl’s letter went on with the story. ‘He died, and his wife kept her promise. She went in and got all that money the day he died and went to the bank and deposited it, and wrote out a check and put it in his casket.’”[7]

Ecclesiastes 5:10 reads, “He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver;
Nor he who loves abundance, with increase. This also is vanity.” Matthew 6:24 reads, “No one 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.” Luke 12:13-21 reads, “Then one from the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ But He said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?’ And He said to them, ‘Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.’ 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.’”

Proverbs 23:6-8 reads, “‘Do not eat the bread of a miser, Nor desire his delicacies; For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. ‘Eat and drink!’ he says to you, But his heart is not with you. The morsel you have eaten, you will vomit up, And waste your pleasant words.” This proverb reminds us of the one recorded in Proverbs 23:1-3. The earlier proverb refers to a monarch and the latter one refers to a miser. A “miser” is “one who has an evil eye.”

Allow me to point out three things from our text.

I. First, there is the unwise association with a miser.

Proverbs 23:6 reads, “Do not eat the bread of a miser, Nor desire his delicacies. . .” When you get an opportunity look at the word “misery” and the word “miserable” and note the word “miser” is in both. In fact, one dictionary defines the term “miser” as “wretched, miserable, pitiable.” Robert Burton states, “A mere madness, to live like a wretch, and die rich.”

The word translated, “miser” or “stingy” is “evil eye”. Proverbs 22:9 refers to one with a “good eye”, who is generous.

Dr. Kenneth N. Taylor (1917-2005) offers this paraphrase of Proverbs 23:6: “Don’t associate with evil men; don’t long for their favors and gifts.” Paul the apostle warns, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

II. Second, there is the unwilling accommodation of a miser.

Proverbs 23:7 reads, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. ‘Eat and drink!’ he says to you, But his heart is not with you.”

William MacDonald (1917-2007), former president of Emmaus Bible College, comments, “It’s what he thinks, not what he says, that counts. For while he says, ‘Help yourself. . . Have some more, Eat and drink!’ he is actually counting every spoonful you take.”[8][1] The miser practices a begrudging generosity. Amy Carmichael (1861-1951), missionary to India, reportedly said, “Thank God, He does not measure grace out in teaspoons.”

Dr. Kenneth Taylor also offers the following paraphrase of verse 7, “Their kindness is a trick; they want to use you as a pawn.”

III. Third, there is the unwished appreciation toward a miser.

Proverbs 23:8 reads, “The morsel you have eaten, you will vomit up, And waste your pleasant words.” Dr. Kenneth Taylor paraphrases verse 8 in this way, “The delicious food they serve will turn sour in your stomach and you will vomit it, and have to take back your words of appreciation for their ‘kindness.’”

The term “unwish” means “to retract or revoke (a wish)”; “to desire (something) not to be or take place.”[9]

Dr. Kenneth T. Aitken comments on Proverbs 23:6-8, “Here is a sketch of one of the miser’s rare dinner-parties. He gives all the appearances of being a generous host. ‘Eat and drink,’ says he heartily; and his guests tuck in to warm dishes and warm conversation. But his heart is not in it. He is like a child watching how big a bite you take of his chocolate bar and wondering what he will have left. He is doing his sums (‘reckoning,’ v. 7) to see how much it is going to cost him. But the miser’s meanness and deceit poisons his dishes; and when his guests see through him, as they surely will, they will ‘vomit’ with disgust and rue every friendly word they wasted on him. A mean man spends his whole life doing his sums and works out the cost to himself of everything. The words of [T. S.] Eliot [, spoken through his character, J. Alfred] Prufrock would make a splendid epitaph for him: ‘I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.’ His every gesture of generosity or friendship is therefore, hollow, and crumbles in the ashes of his calculations.”[10]

Horatio Edward Norfolk (1842-?) shares the following “Epitaph on a Miser” in his Gleanings in Graveyards: A Collection of Curious Epitaphs:

“Here lies one who lived unloved, and died unlamented; who denied plenty to himself and assistance to his friends, and relief to the poor; who starved his family, oppressed his neighbours, and plagued himself to gain what he could not enjoy; at last Death, more merciful to him than he was to himself, released him from care, and his family from want; and here he lies with the grovelling worm, and with the dirt he loved in fear of resurrection, lest his heirs should have spent the money he left behind, having laid up to treasure where moth and rust do not corrupt, nor thieves break through and steal.”[11]

Dr. Robert Elliot Speer (1867-1947) shares the following inscription found in the courtyard of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, “To Major-General Charles George Gordon . . . who at all times and everywhere gave his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, his heart to God.”[12]


In The Student’s Commentary on The Holy Scriptures, George Williams (1850-1928) explains, “Cunning men conceal their wicked plans under a covering of kind words and profuse hospitality (vs.6 and 7); but in the end their generosity sickens and their words impoverish (v. 8).”[13]

Thinkst thou the man whose mansions hold

The worldling’s pomp and miser’s gold

Obtains a richer prize

Than he who, in his cot at rest,

Finds heavenly peace a willing guest,

And bears the promise in his breast

Of treasure in the skies?

Evangelist W. A. “Billy” Sunday (1862-1935) stated, “The fellow that has no money is poor. The fellow that has nothing but money is poorer still.”

Have you heard of “The Miser and His Gold”?

He buried his Gold in a hole.

One saw, and the treasure he stole.

Said another, ‘What matter?

Don’t raise such a clatter,

You can still go & sit by the hole.’

What is the moral? USE ALONE GIVES VALUE

Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) said, “I have had many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”

Paul the apostle warns in 1 Timothy 6:3-10, 17-19, “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.”
John Robertson shares, “I remember hearing about the ‘miser of Marseilles.’ About twenty-three years ago he was a figure on the streets of that town. He lived for nothing but money. He gripped, and he grabbed, and he kept. A miser, a money grub, and very wealthy he was known to be. He was the object of derision throughout Marseilles, and the south of France.

When he appeared in the streets the boys hooted at him, when he was mentioned among his business associates they jeered at him, the old skin-flint, the miserable old wretch, heaping up money, storing it up. Ah, he was content thus to live, and thus to die; and his body was carried to the grave without a single attendant. There was not a soul in Marseilles but gave a kind of sneer, and a kind of curse, as he passed the body of the miser on the way to his grave.

Ah, yes, but when his will was read, what is this that brings mourning and lamentation to the whole city? It is this: ‘From my infancy, I noticed that the poor of Marseilles had great difficulty in getting water. I noticed that water, the gift of God, was very dear, and very difficult to obtain in this city, pure and sweet: and I vowed before God that I would live but for one purpose, for one end. I would save money, money, money; and now I give it to the city, on one condition, that an aqueduct be made from yonder lake on the hills of Marseilles.’

As they drink the sweet, luscious, fresh water of that city, I believe the poor say, ‘Ah, when he lived we misunderstood him, but he did it for us.’ The bubbling fountain in Marseilles was the gift of the man who was misunderstood and jeered at.”[14]

The story of a man named Jacques Guyot, known as the “miser of Marseilles”[15], reveals we can misjudge a man or a woman as a miser. While we may misjudge, Jesus never will (Genesis 18:25, John 5:22).

Dr. Calvin Miller (1936-2012) shares in Preaching: The Art of Exposition, “In the novel that bears his name, Silas Marner offers us a tale of a miser who changed his value system.”[16] Someone confessed, “I used to be a ‘miser’, but now I am becoming wiser.” Proverbs 23:6-8 reads, “‘Do not eat the bread of a miser, Nor desire his delicacies; For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. ‘Eat and drink!’ he says to you, But his heart is not with you. The morsel you have eaten, you will vomit up, And waste your pleasant words.”

Remember the misery of a miser.

[1]A Dictionary of American Proverbs, eds. Wolfgang Mieder, Stewart A. Kingsbury, Kelsie B. Harder, (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1992), 703.

[2]Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary: The Old Testament: Wisdom and Poetry, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2004), 389, Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

[3]John Phillips, Bible Explorer’s Guide, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1987), 273, Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.

[4]A. N. Coleman, Proverbial Wisdom, (New York, NY: Peter Eckler Publisher, 1903), 146.

[5]Frank Bruni, "The Warts on Michelangelo: The Man Was a Miser,” New York Times, 01/21/03, Accessed: 08/08/14,

[6]Landon Parvin in Leaders, quoted in Readers Digest, May 1996, (Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association Inc., 1996), 67-68.

[7]Skip Heitzig, “Promises, Promises!” Sermon Notes, (John 14:19-26).

[8]William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, ed. Art Farstad (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), 850.

[9]Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition 2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009.

[10]The Daily Study Bible, Old Testament, gen. ed. John C. L. Gibson, Proverbs, Kenneth T. Aitken, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1986), 127-128.

[11]Horatio Edward Norfolk, Gleanings in Graveyards: A Collection of Curious Epitaphs, (London: John Russell Smith, 1861), 155.

[12]Robert Elliot Speer, A Memorial of Horace Tracy Pitkin, (New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1903), 154.

[13]George Williams, The Student’s Commentary on The Holy Scriptures: Analytical, Synoptical, and Synthetic, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1960), 431.

[14]Aquilla Webb, One Thousand Evangelistic Illustrations, (New York, NY: George H. Dorman Company, 1921), 196-197.

[15]Old and New, Vol. 9, No. 1, January 1874-July 1874, “The Miser of Marseilles,” J. H. Temple, (Boston, MA: Roberts Brothers, 1874), 741-745.

[16]Calvin Miller, Preaching: The Art of Exposition, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010), 162.

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

Author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice Available on and / / (251) 626-6210

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