Poverty In Proverbs

Poverty In Proverbs

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Jesus commented at one time, “For you always have the poor with you” (Mark 14:7a). Today as in other ages what to do with and for the poor is a matter of debate. Does our welfare system really help the poor? Does it encourage rather than fight poverty? Are the poor to blame for their condition, or is society? What is the believer’s obligation to the needy, and how is that obligation to be met? Questions like these are difficult to answer, because the issues involved are complex. Yet Proverbs like the rest of the Bible has much to say about the poor and oppressed in society.

First, Proverbs makes it clear that some poverty is a matter of bad choices. There are constant warnings against laziness, sleep, and love of pleasure. Diligence leads to wealth, and hard work brings a profit. A person’s financial condition is something for which he or she is largely responsible.

But poverty isn’t always the fault of those who’re suffering. At times poverty may be the result of others’ choices. “The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice” (Proverbs 13:23). Even hard work is no guarantee one will not become poor. At times the poor are exploited by others, and rulers (laws, social structures) can be oppressive. So, poverty is a complex phenomenon. It is linked with an individual’s personal choices, but all are also vulnerable to society and to the criminal behavior of others.

Proverbs seems especially concerned with relational impact of poverty. It creates individuals and a class of people who are outcasts, ascribed little or no value by others. This depersonalizing impact of poverty is seen in the way the poor are shunned by their neighbors, plead uselessly for mercy, and are avoided even by their friends. The Bible universally teaches that each human is precious to God, of great personal worth and value. How tragic that we tend to measure our own value and the value of others by what they possess.

Still, there are compensations for the poor. For instance, it is better to be poor and honest, than to be a rich exploiter of others. The poor, like the rich, have eyes with which to see and at least the poor man’s children aren’t likely to be kidnapped. “The ransom of a man’s life is his wealth, but the poor man hears no threat” (Proverbs 13:8). But there is more. The Lord has a special concern for the poor, and will take up their case against the oppressor. God intervenes to frustrate the desires of the person who misuses the poor.

What then is our attitude to be toward the poor? For one thing, “A righteous man knows the rights of the poor” (Proverbs 29:7a). The righteous are willing to be involved in issues that touch on the lives of the needy. In addition, the good man is willing to use his own resources to supply the poor with food, or lend to the needy. This is done as an act of piety, knowing that “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his deed” (Proverbs 19:17). Each believer as an individual and as a citizen has a responsibility to God to love other human beings. Proverbs makes it clear this includes the poor.

God Bless You!