Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
The verses collected in this reading appear to come from two different sources. The first two selections (vv. 1-2, 8-9) are part of a section of this book usually attributed to Solomon (10:1 -22:16). This section deals at length with issues regarding rich and poor.
The style of writing changes with 22:17. Our last two verses are part of the wisdom sayings of 22:17 – 23:11.
These three selections have been grouped together in this reading because all three emphasize proper treatment of the poor. That might be less obvious with verses 1-2, which do not mention proper treatment of the poor, but those verses lay the foundation by reminding us that God has made both rich and poor—that rich and poor are equal in God’s sight. That is of special interest, because verses 1-2 are usually attributed to Solomon, a man of great wealth. Such men are not always considerate of the poor.
PROVERBS 22:1-2. YAHWEH IS THE MAKER OF THEM ALL
1 A good name is more desirable than great riches,
and loving favor is better than silver and gold.
2 The rich and the poor have this in common:
Yahweh is the maker of them all.
“A good name is more desirable than great riches” (v. 1a). Keep in mind that this is written by a man (Solomon) who possesses great riches. However, we should also keep in mind that, when the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, saying, “Ask what I shall give you,” Solomon did not ask for riches or fame, but instead replied, “Give your servant therefore an understanding heart to judge your people, that I may discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:5, 9). So “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and very great understanding, even as the sand that is on the seashore. Solomon’s wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt” (1 Kings 4:29-30).
However, this verse is not about the desirability of wisdom, but of a good name. In that culture, people considered a person’s name to be more than a simple label to identify that person. They believed that something of the person’s identity was tied up in the name—that the name expressed something of the person’s identity.
While that might sound foreign to us today, it is not. When we talk about a person’s reputation, we are talking about something that expresses the essence of that person. A person’s reputation also conveys a certain power or lack of it.
We should also note that a person can have a good name on earth without having a good name in heaven. There was a time when Adolph Hitler was considered a good name in Germany. Many people ascribed God-like qualities to him, and it would not be stretching the facts to say that many people worshiped him. However, Hitler did not have a good name in heaven—and his good name on earth turned out to be quite transient. Today, in most circles, his name is synonymous with evil.
“and loving favor is better than silver and gold” (v. 1b). This is an example of parallelism—a poetic expression common in Hebrew writings. This portion of this verse restates, in slightly different words, the thought expressed in the first part of the verse.
The word “favor” here means a favorable opinion. It is important that people have a favorable opinion of us. It is also important that God has a favorable opinion of us.
We know from our experience that reputation is important. If we have a good financial reputation (are self-supporting, pay our debts, etc.), we will find it easy to borrow money and to enter into contracts. If we do not have a good financial reputation, we will find life much harder. A person with a reputation for criminality will find it difficult to get a job. The list of examples is nearly endless to show that “favor is better than silver or gold.”
“The rich and the poor have this in common: Yahweh is the maker of them all” (v. 2). It is remarkable that a wealthy man (Solomon) should write such a verse, because wealthy people often believe that they have won their riches through merit. The phrase “self-made man” comes to mind, because it contradicts the thought of this verse. The “self-made man” thinks that he is rich because he has earned his place among the wealthy. There is no sense of having received anything from God. There is, rather, a sense of entitlement, based on the perception that he worked hard, took risks, made good decisions, and earned everything that he has. Not every rich person feels this way, but many do.
But this verse reminds us that God has created both rich and poor alike. It implies that God regards rich and poor equally and loves them alike. It implies that rich people can enjoy wealth because God chose to give it to them—and that poor people are poor, not because they are substandard, but because God chose not to give them wealth. It also implies that, should God withdraw his favor, all are vulnerable—rich and poor alike.
PROVERBS 22:8-9.HE WHO HAS A GENEROUS EYE WILL BE BLESSED
8 He who sows wickedness reaps trouble,
and the rod of his fury will be destroyed.
9 He who has a generous eye will be blessed;
for he shares his food with the poor.
Verses 8 and 9 convey the idea that we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7; see also Job 4:8; Hosea 8:7; 10:12).
“He who sows wickedness reaps trouble” (v. 8a). We often (but not always) see this principle acted out—a business with a reputation for poor service loses customers—a tyrant is overthrown—a bully meets his comeuppance.
We are more likely to see that in the long rather than the short run. In the short run, those who sow injustice might seem to prosper. In the long run, they are likely to meet the justice that they denied to others. However, we must also admit that some tyrants live long and pampered lives and die of old age. In their case, true justice can be meted out only in the very long run—by God—in eternity.
“and the rod of his fury will be destroyed” (v. 8b). A wise counselor once said, “Anger hooks anger”—meaning, “If you strike out in anger at another person, that person will likely respond with anger. There will be no possibility of agreement, but only conflict.” The idea behind that counsel is that an angry person who is also wise will act with restraint—the benefit of that restraint being that he or she will more likely have positive outcomes in relationships by curbing their anger.
It is appropriate to be angry with injustice, but it pays to express that anger with restraint. That was Martin Luther King’s genius. He accomplished much more than could have been expected, and he did it by counseling non-violence, which involves the restraint of violent impulses to make positive gains.
“He who has a generous eye will be blessed; for he shares his food with the poor” (v. 9). Once again, this verse conveys the idea that we reap what we sow. If we are generous to the poor, we will receive a blessing.
There are two senses in which this is true. First, when we are generous, we are blessed by seeing the fruits of our generosity. Few things are more enjoyable than removing the cause of another person’s suffering. We derive great satisfaction from knowing that we have done something to help someone else. Second, the God who inspired these proverbs will insure that our generosity is rewarded.
PROVERBS 22:22-23. DON’T EXPLOIT THE POOR
22 Don’t exploit the poor, because he is poor;
and don’t crush the needy in court;
23 for Yahweh will plead their case,
and plunder the life of those who plunder them.
“Don’t exploit the poor, because he is poor” (v. 22a). The poor are easily robbed, because they are vulnerable. They don’t have resources to defend themselves. They lack sophistication. Their desperate circumstances make them want to believe anyone who promises to help. Con artists often target children, the elderly, the ill, and others whose circumstances make them easy prey.
Concern for widows, orphans, and other vulnerable people is a hallmark both of Jewish law and prophets (Exodus 23:1-2, 6; Leviticus 19:13-15; Deuteronomy 16:18-20; Isaiah 1:17; Jeremiah 22:3; Amos 5:11-12; Micah 7:3).
“and don’t crush the needy in court” (v. 22b). In Jewish towns, the elders would gather at the city gate to administer justice—hearing cases and rendering verdicts. This verse warns well-to-do people not to take advantage of the afflicted (widows, orphans, and other vulnerable people) by using unfair advantage in a legal setting.
“for Yahweh will plead their case, and plunder the life of those who plunder them” (v. 23). This is the reason to avoid taking advantage of the disadvantaged. The Lord Yahweh is both counsel for the defense (of the vulnerable person) and judge (of the oppressor). The Lord promises to punish the one who oppresses vulnerable people.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Copyright 2009, 2010, Richard Niell Donovan