A former prof of mine challenged his class to read a chapter of Proverbs each day, beginning the month with chapter one, so that by the end of the month one should have finished the book. I have strived to continue this tradition in my personal studies. Today I noticed in chapter 22 much wisdom in the area of wealth. Consider:
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor meet together;
the LORD is the maker of them all.
The reward for humility and fear of the LORD
is riches and honor and life (vv.1-2, 4).
The rich rules over the poor,
and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of his fury will fail.
Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed,
for he shares his bread with the poor.
Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth,
or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty (vv.7-9, 16).
If I understand the first cluster of proverbs (1-2,4) correctly, it is saying that one’s choice toward humility and a good name before God instead of wealth, in light of the providence of God over one’s financial status, will be rewarded with riches, honor and life. God is the One who dispenses wealth and poverty as He wishes. I must not therefore seek to be wealthy, but instead I must seek to be humble before the One who gives wealth. This way of living receives the blessing of God (of course, understanding the limitations and qualifications of wisdom literature). There is a bit of irony here in that most people understand “a good name” as synonymous with “wealth and riches”. Proverbs disagrees. A good name is finding favor in humility before God. Also ironic is the teaching of the proverbs: those who seek humility before God rather than wealth are honored by God with wealth. Do I fear the LORD to the point that I seek humility before Him more than I seek early retirement, a nice cushy job, and a big house (aka, the American dream)? How can my life be more characterized by humility before God?
The second cluster (7-9, 16) teaches that one’s choice concerning the fair and generous treatment of the poor will result in either blessing or calamity. Interestingly, these verses use terms of harsh dominion: “rules”, “slave” “rod of his fury”, “oppresses the poor”. This is contrasted with the generosity of verse 9: “bountiful eye” (lit. “good eye” or “goodness of eye”), “shares his bread”. Forcing the poor to pay interest (note: “borrower is the slave to the lender”, v.7) is considered “injustice” which will result in calamity. “The rod of his fury” seems to connote a power-hungry arrogance or pride, instead of a generosity and grace that God requires. Tying in with the first cluster, God is angered when those who have more money do not acknowledge Him humbly with an understanding that God is the provider of wealth, and their wealth does not make them better than the poor. These provoke Him because they forget that He is the One who gives wealth to whom He wishes, and they instead take advantage of those who are less priviledged. Do I fear the LORD to the point that I seek to treat those in need of financial help with grace and generosity instead of disdain and injustice (i.e., “You WILL pay me back or else I’m charging interest!” “You just need to get a job!”)