IN THE BOOK OF PROVERBS







                                                   A Thesis

                                                 Presented to

                           the Faculty of the Department of Semitics

                                       and Old Testament Studies

                                     Dallas Theological Seminary







                                          In Partial Fulfillment

                              of the Requirements for the Degree

                                          Master of Theology









                                       C. Frederick Tempies

                                             August 1980


                                        TABLE OF CONTENTS


I. INTRODUCTION                                                                                                  1

            Need for the Study

            Purpose of the Study

            Procedure of the Study

II. THE DEFINITION OF POVERTY AND PROSPERITY                                   6

            Terms for poverty

            Terms for prosperity

            Synonyms for prosperity

III. AN ANALYSIS OF POVERTY AND PROSPERITY                                      21

            The Causes of Poverty

            The Condition of Poverty

            The Cure of Poverty

            The Value of Prosperity

            The Acquisition of Prosperity

            The Use of Prosperity

            Theological Implications of Poverty

                        and Prosperity

IV. CONCLUSION                                                                                                    49

BIBLIOGRAPHY                                                                                                      52



                                        CHAPTER I




            The concepts of material poverty and material pros-

perity provide insight into human behavior. Moral and eth-

ical issues surface in the discussion of these concepts,

since man has an instinctive desire to get through life

successfully. In presenting the functional sense of wisdom,

the writers of Proverbs alert the readers to the whole range

of morals and ethics. Fox identifies this emphasis of

Proverbs as a presentation of "Ethical-religious wisdom"

which is antithetical to folly and evil behavior.1  Thus when

the writers of Proverbs discuss poverty and prosperity they

remember that the character and the conduct of people are

inextricably woven into these concepts. Poverty is not

glamorized neither are the dangers of material prosperity

glossed over.


                             The Need for the Study

            Theologies of liberation and demands to actualize

the social implications of the gospel challenge evangelicals

to discover and to present a biblical perspective on the con-

cepts of poverty and prosperity. Assman, a liberation theo-

logian, advocates "the construction of a different social

order" that can remedy the poverty of the poor to the



exclusion of generous relief efforts.2  Cone, another liber-

ation theologian, prescribes a political solution when he

states, "The doing of theology . . . must involve the poli-

tics which takes its stand with the poor and against the

rich."3 However, most of the books and articles which this

writer has scanned seem to treat these concepts without a

sound exegetical and theological basis. The normal treatment

of these concepts consists of a moralizing of a few isolated

Old Testament passages while the authors formulate their

ethics on the basis of today's social activistic climate.

            The serious student of the Bible will immediately

recognize that there is a need for a balanced treatment of

these concrete concepts of material poverty and material

prosperity. It is strange that the Book of Proverbs in

spite of its frank discussion of ethical living, has been so

sorely neglected by the spokesmen on these concepts. Payne

is absolutely correct when he views the Book of Proverbs as

"The greatest block of Biblical material on moral living

[personal, economic and social ethics], second only to the

Pentateuchal codes . . . ."4 One's ethics of these concepts

must be based upon a solid exegetical and theological foun-



                         The Purpose of the Study

            The purpose of this study is threefold. The first

purpose is to clear up some of the misconceptions about the



economic extremes by presenting a fairly comprehensive treat-

ment of these concepts as set forth in the Book of Proverbs.

This purpose will involve the definition of these concepts

and the analysis of the data supplied in Proverbs. The

second purpose is to discuss and to present an exegetical

and theological basis for the implementation of the ethics

of these concepts.


                        The Procedure of the Study

            The second chapter will be devoted to the definition

of poverty and prosperity. Word studies will be conducted

on the major Hebrew words for each concept with the intention

of spelling out the relationship between these concepts. The

third chapter will comprise the topical analysis of these

concepts and some exegesis of the key passages. Beginning

with poverty, the causes, condition and cure of poverty will

be presented (6:11; 10:4; 11:24b; 13:18; 21:17; 11:15; 13:23;

14:31; 30:8-9; 28:3, 6; 11:24-28). A discussion on the advan-

tages and disadvantages of prosperity, the acquisition and

use of wealth coupled with one's attitude toward prosperity

will also be discussed in the third chapter (10:2; 11:4, 18,

24-28; 18:11, 23; 23:4-5). The theological implications of

poverty and prosperity as taught in Proverbs will conclude

this chapter.

            The final chapter will comprise the summary of the

content of the entire study. Some applicational principles



on these concepts will also be presented in this chapter.




            1Michael V. Fox, "Aspects of the Religion of the

Book of Proverbs," HUCA 39 (1968):55.

            2Hugo Assman, Practical Theology of Liberation, p. 7.

            3James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed, p. 65.

            4J. Barton Payne, Theology of the Older Testament,

p. 338.








                                    CHAPTER II




            The writers of the Book of Proverbs have utilized a

variety of terms relative to the concepts of poverty and

prosperity. The definition of the major terms--lDA, wyre,

rOsH;ma for poverty and NOh, rw,fo, rcAOx for prosperity will be

the focus of this chapter.


                                     Major Terms

Terms for poverty

            rOsH;ma.  This term for poverty occurs eight times in

Proverbs (6:11; 11:24; 14:23; 21:5,17; 22:16; 24:34; 28:27).

It is one of the nominal forms of the verb rseHA,. Hence BDB

appropriately cite the dictionary meanings of this term as

"need," "thing needed," "poverty."1  KB prefer the words

"want," "lack" for the term.2 Both these lexicons endorse

the underlying verbal concept of to be lacking or deficient

in something. The root meaning of this term can be deter-

mined from the verb rse,HA.

            The verb rseHA is used mostly in the Qal stem. In the

Qal stem the verb sustains the threefold meaning of "to

lack," "be lacking" and "decrease." A decrease or lack in

one's physical or material condition to the extent of being

in want (Ps. 23:1; Prov. 13:25; Neh. 9:21) seems to surface


as the controlling idea of this verb. The causative stems

Piel and Hiphil embrace the concept of "cause to be lacking

or fail."

            The derivatives seem to strengthen the concept of

being in a state of want or deprivation. rseHA,, a masculine

noun means "want," "lack." This same noun is used to

describe the famine of Amos 4:6 which will be characterized

by a lack of bread. The envious individual of Proverbs 28:22

shall come to want. The adjective rseHA further describes one

or something that is "needy," "lacking," "in want of." Its

main usage in Proverbs refers to one who is "lacking in

sense," while a single usage of this adjective (Prov. 12:9)

describes one who is in want of physical sustenance. These

derivatives thus reinforce the verbal idea that a state of

want is entered into when one experiences a decrease or lack

within the mental or material realm.

            The usage of rOsH;ma in the Masoretic Text has a three-

fold classification:

            --it is used to refer to a need

                        Deuteronomy 15:8--poor man's need has to be suffi-

                        ciently met.

                        Judges 19:20--an offer is made to meet a traveler's


            --it is used to refer to lack, want.

                        Judges 18:10--the land of Laish was well supplied

                        with no lack of anything.

                        Judges 14:19--the well-supplied/stocked traveller

                        has no lack of anything.



                        Psalm 34:10--the state of those seeking the Lord is

                        one of not being in want of any good thing.

            --it used to refer in general to need, poverty.

                        Proverbs 6:11; 24:34--the fruit of sleepiness is


                        Proverbs 11:24 - -miserliness produces want.

                        Proverbs 14:23; 21:5 - -talkativeness, indiscipline

                        produce poverty.

                        Proverbs 21:7--the pleasure loving individual will

                        become a man of poverty.

                        Proverbs 22:16--the judgement of the oppressor is a

                        state of poverty.

                        Proverbs 28:27--an absence of poverty is promised to

                        the generous helper of the poor.

There seems to be no abstract concept denoted by the MT's

usage of the term, because concrete ways have been suggested

of how to alleviate the state of poverty. Concretely, the

individual's actions have also been listed as causes of this

state of want.

            The usage of rOsH;ma in the A.V. (Young's) is also in

general agreement with the MT and the LXX since almost the

same verses and words are assigned to this term--lack (1)

Proverbs 28:27, need (1) Deuteronomy 15:8, penury (1) Prov-

erbs 14:23, poverty (1) Proverbs 11:24, want (8) Proverbs

6:11; 21:5; 22:16; 24:34, poor (1).

            The term rOsH;ma thus denotes a state of deprivation

or impoverishment within the experience of an individual.

            wyre.  This masculine noun, a derivative of wUr,

appears only in Proverbs. In its sevenfold appearance it



parallels dal, yāraš, mahisōr.  Its dictionary meaning is

"poverty." The verb form of this term (wUr, wyri) has no

cognates since it is related to wrayA.  The accepted meaning of

wUr is "be in want," "be poor."3 The participial use of wUr

in 1 Samuel 18:23 portrays the inferiority one is subjected

to because of his social status as a poverty-stricken indi-

vidual. The state of poverty can also be self-imposed (Prov.

13:7). The Hithpolel stem of wUr conveys this latter fact.

            The basic meaning of wyre can be discovered when one

accepts the etymology of wrayA.  The dictionary meaning of wrayA

is "to take possession," "to inherit," "to dispossess."4 The

cognates contribute to this dictionary meaning since the

Aramaic and Ethiopic terms sustain the same meaning. The Qal

stem portrays the act of taking possession (probably by

force) of a land or a people, the act of inheriting because

of heirship or dispossessing/supplanting someone else (Gen.

15:3, 4; Prov. 30:23), and finally impoverishment (Judg.

14:15). The Niphal stem conveys the normal nuance of the

term as used in Proverbs, i.e. the act of being dispossessed

or impoverished. Genesis 45:11 presents a concrete illustra-

tion of this concept when Joseph promises to provide for his

family in order to avert his famine stricken family from

being impoverished. The writers of Proverbs capitalize on

this nuance of wrayA in Proverbs 20:13; 23:21; 30:9 as they

discuss the prospect of becoming impoverished when one allows

pleasure loving and sleepiness to control his life, when God


afflicts one with poverty.

            The Masoretic Text's use of wyri, wyre and wxrA is

limited to Proverbs. Although there is no fundamental dif-

ference in the meaning of these words, the writers of Prov-

erbs have reserved 10:15; 13:18; 24:34 for wyre 28:19; 31:7

for wyri and 6:11; 30:8 for wxre. Conceivably, these words

sustain the same meaning since the LXX uses the word penia 

to translate all these words. In Proverbs 10:15, the term is

associated with a life of ruin and bitterness. Concretely,

Proverbs 30:8 portrays poverty as the absence of material

wealth. The Wisdom writers in 6:11; 13:18; 24:34; 28:19

regard poverty as a merited evil while it also affirms pov-

erty as an unpleasant experience (10:15; 30:8; 31:7).

            The translation of the term wyre by the LXX reinforces

the Hebrew meaning of the concept. The Greek term penia is

used in nine passages in Proverbs. The attendant meaning is

"poverty," "need." The LXX translation of Job 36:8 uses

"poverty" instead of "affliction"--". . . they shall be

holden in cords of poverty."

            The LXX use of ptōchos (Prov. 13:8; 14:20; 17:5;

19:1, 7, 22; 22:2, 7; 28:6, 27) greatly assists one in establish-

ing the concreteness of the concept of poverty. Ptōchos--

refers to "one who is a beggar," "one who cringes or crouch-

es," generally referring to "one who is poor in a thing."5

The term ptōchos is synonymous to resigning oneself to a

life of having nothing. A beggarly lifestyle is characterized



by this term and its cognates ptōcheuō--"to be a beggar"

(Prov. 23:21).6

            lDa.  This term for poverty occurs fourteen times in

Proverbs as an adjective. It commonly occurs in the Wisdom

literature and poetry. BDB defines lDa as "low," "weak,"

"poor," "thin." The root meaning of this term is derived

from the verb llaDA which has the dictionary meaning of "hang,"

"be low," "languish."7 The cognates of this verb further

clarifies the meaning of the term--the Akkadian dalâlu means

"to be weak," "be humble;" the Arabic meaning of "to dangle"

also supplies some insight to the meaning of llaDA.  The con-

cept of an individual being reduced and downcast to the point

of distress is the metaphorical representation of the verb in

the Qal stem. Judges 6:6 classically illustrates this con-

cept when Israel is humiliated and reduced by their oppres-

sors--the Midianites. Non-theologically,   means weakness

in physical strength or leanness in physical appearance

(2 Sam. 13:4).

            The Masoretic text mainly uses the adjective form of

llaDA (10:15; 14:31; 19:4,17; 21:13; 22:9,16,22; 28:3,8,11,15;

29:7,14). The adjective lDa denotes the helplessness that

accompanies poverty. This concept is paralleled in Leviticus

14:21, Psalm 82:3, Zephaniah 3:12. In Leviticus 14:21 the

indigent is described as a man of insufficient means whose

worship responsibilities are adjusted according to his mate-

rial ability. Psalm 82:3's appeal for the vindication of the



weak (MyliDa) is prescribed in the practise of justice to the

afflicted (ynifA) and destitute (wrA).  Zephaniah 3:12 high-

lights the concept of dependence that the poor and afflicted

remnant will display in taking their refuge in the Lord. The

opposite of richness, greatness, independence characterizes

the state of the victims of poverty.

            The LXX terms graphically present the true state of a

person who has been overwhelmed by poverty. The terms penēs,

penichros, and ptōchos are utilized to explain the meaning of

lDa.  Penēs means "poor in money."8  Hauck conceives of penēs

as denoting one who works for his daily bread in order to

support himself. Thus penēs is distinguished from a beggar.9

The rich person has a tendency of exploiting and oppressing

a person who is characterized by penēs.

            Penichros refers to things and persons which are

"very poor," "needy," and "wretched."10 Exodus 22:25 cap-

tures this concept when the Israelite is discouraged from

exacting any interest rate from his already wretched and poor

brother. The victim of penichros in Proverbs 28:15 faces

insurmountable hardship under an inconsiderate ruler while

conversely he can enjoy the loving concern of his righteous

brother (29:7).

            Strangely enough, the LXX seems to have a preference

for ptōchos when translating lDa in the Proverbs (19:4,17;

22:9, 22; 28:3, 8, 15; 29:14). The concept of being destitute,

mendicant is conveyed in this term. In the cited passages in


Proverbs the context of generosity to the poor surfaces in

four of the passages (19:17, 22:9, 28:8, 29:14), while

exploitation of the already mendicant person is frowned upon

(28:3, 15; 19:4). The LXX's preference for translating

as ptōchos corresponds to the Hebrew concept of being "low,

wasted and weak in substance or natural strength."11

            As a whole the LXX does not see the victim of poverty

as one whose life can be glamorized since leanness and help-

lessness is the lot of such a person.

            The terms rOsH;ma, wyre, and lDa comprehensively define

poverty as a state that exists when a person is destitute of

wealth and of material good to the extent of lacking even the

necessities of life. Therefore, poverty according to Prov-

erbs can be defined as a want of earthly goods that is

related to one's reduced circumstances.


Terms for prosperity

            The most helpful words utilized by the Masoretic

text to denote prosperity are NOh, rw,fo and rcAOx.

            rcAOx.  This masculine noun denotes the idea of supply.

BDB assigns to this term the dictionary meaning--"treasure,"

"store," "treasury," "storehouse." This term is a derivative

of the verb rcx.  The latter means to "lay up," "store up.”12

From this concept of storing up the usual association of

treasure accompanies this term. Tangible, material merchan-

dize needs storing up and management by a treasurer (Isa.




23:18, Neh. 13:13). The writers of Proverbs clearly sus-

tained the concept of tangible material goods in their utili-

zation of rcAOx (8:21; 10:2; 15:16; 21:6,20). KB suggests

that Proverbs 27:24 could also be taken as acquired sup-

plies,13 while the LXX prefers the idea of strength and


            In Isaiah 30:6 the material wealth of the inhabitants

of Negev was used for commercial purposes. In Isaiah 2:7 the

Israelites are castigated for being as avaricious as their

foreign neighbours after silver and gold. The silver and the

gold in Joshua 6:19, 24 is designated as rcAOx.  The Hebrew's

concept of this term in Proverbs mainly pointed to tangible

goods that is storeable and transferable from place to place.

            In general the LXX usage consistently translates the

term rcAOx as thēsauros. The meaning of "store," "treasure"

is couched in this word.14  The concept of material wealth is

clearly transmitted in the LXX's translation of the Proverbs

passages. The origin of material wealth is attributed to

wisdom in Proverbs 8:21. In Proverbs 21:6 the acquisition

of treasures is evaluated negatively as death is presented as

the punishment for accumulating wealth by deceit. Further-

more, in Proverbs 10:2, 15:16 one is warned about how trea-

sures are not to be taken as an end in themselves--the char-

acter of the possessor of material wealth is evaluated. The

LXX understanding of Proverbs' meaning of thēsauros coincides

with the Hebrew concept that rcAOx means material treasures


which individuals could acquire and store up.

            rw,fo.  This term for prosperity appears as a masculine

noun nine times in Proverbs (3:16; 8:18; 11:16, 28; 13:8;

14:24; 22:1; 30:8). BDB reserves "riches" as the dictionary

meaning of rw,fo, although only two references from Proverbs

are cited in the paragraph treating the term.15 The verb

rwafA, from which this noun is derived is discussed under two

major categories. BDB and KB both agree in discussing this

verb in its Hiphil stem so that "make rich" and "gain riches"

emanate as the natural subject headings. The idea of abound-

ing in riches or goods is stressed in the Arabic. The Qal

stem of this verb brings out the fact of a person becoming

wealthy or rich. An individual can become aware of and

arrogant about his becoming rich--Hosea 12:9 (M.T.). Job

15:29 affirms that riches can be denied to a wicked person

while its endurance cannot be guaranteed to such a person.

            The removal of wealth from an unjust person is

credited to God's retributive action. Leah and Rachel

recognized the principle when they said "Surely all the

wealth which God has taken away from our father belongs to

us and our children . . ." (Gen. 31:16). Thus they accepted

Jacob's possession of the best sheep as a just reward from

God for their father's deceitful treatment of Jacob.

            In 1 Samuel 17:25, Saul's offer of great riches to

the slayers of Israel's Philistine enemy is presented as an

opportunity of enriching the would-be slayer of Goliath. In


Jeremiah 9:22 (M.T.) one's boasting in material wealth is

discouraged. Riches are associated with a life of moral

rectitude--maintaining a good reputation by following God's

moral order for the universe (22:1; 14:24; 8:18; 3:16). The

possibility of rw,fo making reference to riches in an abstract

sense is further removed because the LXX translates rw,fo as

ploutos. This Greek term is associated with the word-group

(ploutizo, ploutēo and plousios) which "means initially

abundance of earthly possessions of every kind."16 The mate-

rial sense of riches surfaces in term's thirty-six fold usage

in the Old Testament. Thus ploutos is rightly translated as

"wealth" or "riches." The LXX also employs the infinitival

form of ploutizo to refer to the act of "making wealthy,"

"enriching," or "gaining wealth." Abram's riches consisted

in the abundance of livestock, precious stones and servants

(Gen. 13:2; 30:43). Saul promised to enrich Goliath's slayer

with great riches (1 Sam. 17:25). Solomon's material wealth

as a gift from God (1 Kings 3:11,13; 10:23) cannot be readily

considered as spiritual wealth. The writers of Proverbs

(3:16; 8:18; 11:16, 28; 13:8; 22:1, 4; 30:8) consistently spoke

of riches in concrete terms as they reminded their readers of

the relative value of riches and the ability of riches to

mislead them. Even in everyday life, materially wealthy

people are called plutocrats. These plutocrats actually own

material possessions which give them recognition and comfort

in life. The translators of the LXX maintained the concept


of material wealth wherever they translated rw,fo.  This ten-

dency of the LXX cannot be pushed aside easily in order to

present riches as an abstract concept.

            NOh.  This term for prosperity is the most used in

the Book of Proverbs. It occurs eighteen times in Proverbs

(1:13; 6:31; 8:18; 10:15; 18:11; 3:9; 11:4; 12:27; 13:7,11;

19:4, 14; 24:4; 28:8:22; 29:3--wealth; 30:15, 16--sufficiency).

The dictionary definition of NOh is "wealth," "suffi-

ciency."17 The concept of power is also inherent in this

term.18  BDB suggests that this term as a masculine noun is

almost wholly found in Wisdom Literature, specifically the

Book of Proverbs.19

            The verb form of this term (NUh) connotes the concept

of "being easy or light."  Delitzsch suggests that this mean-

ing could have developed from the idea of convenience which

is a byproduct of money or material possessions.20  A strong

desire for a life of convenience could have motivated the

exploits of the professional criminals in Proverbs 1:12-13.

These criminals expressed their confidence in being able to

acquire (xcAm;ni) valuables and subsequently being able to fill

(xl.eman;) their homes with plunder. Fittingly, in Proverbs 1:13

the LXX used the word which has "the general meaning of pos-

sessions" (ktēsis) to translate NOh. In Proverbs 6:31 the

substance of the thief is identified as what he has in riches

and possessions (Ta hyparchonta).21

            Outside of Proverbs, Ezekiel 27 supplies a concrete


picture of NOh referring to material wealth.  In Ezekiel

27:12, 18, 27, 33 reference is made to the abundance of Tyre's

,/ wealth which trafficked the commercial world. Tarshish and

Damascus are singled out as specific customers of Tyre's

wares and wealth (Ezek. 27:12, 18).  Tyre's wealth is singled

out as not being immune to loss (27:27) while it normally was

the subject of enriching its customers (27:33).

            Wealth is considered as an instrument of honoring God

(Prov. 3:9). The duration of wealth depends on the way it is

acquired (13:11; 28:8,22).  Wealth is thought of as something

that can be wasted (29:3), as something that attracts robbers

(1:13) as well as tenuous friends (19:4). The sages treat

wealth as actual material possessions which can be owned,

used wisely or unwisely or benefited from by discerning



Synonyms for prosperity

            Ns,Ho.  One of the dictionary meanings of this mascu-

line noun is "wealth," "treasure."22  In Proverbs it is used

of the wealth and treasure of individuals (15:6; 27:24).

Jeremiah 20:5 uses the same term to denote the material

wealth of the city and then proceeds to itemize the city's


            lyiHa.  One of the meanings of this term is "wealth."23

It is used of material goods that can be confiscated and

utilized by the new owner (Num. 31:9; Job 5:5; Isa. 8:4).


This thought is intimated in Proverbs 13:22.

            It has been seen without question, that rcAOx, rw,fo

and NOh primarily refer to tangible material possessions

which could be in the form of money, livestock, precious

stones. These terms define wealth as the state of abundance

in material goods. Their usage in Proverbs consistently

sustain this concept.



            This chapter has endeavored to define the major

terms for the concepts of poverty and prosperity. It was

found that these concepts spoke of the material state or

circumstance of anything or anybody. The terms for poverty

comprehensively described the reduced state of anything or

anybody whose natural strength or substance has decreased.

Conversely, it was found that the terms for prosperity

denoted the useable, storeable and tangible nature of goods

which were in abundant supply and thus in turn were used to

satisfy the basic needs of life. Both these concepts

involved the concrete experience of the individual within the

mental, social and physical realm of his life.



1BDB, s.v. "rvsHm," p. 341.

2Ibid., s.v. "rsH," p. 341.

3Ibid., s.v. "wvr," p. 930.

4Ibid., s.v. "wry," p. 439.

5LSJGL, s.v. "ptochos," p. 709.

6Ibid., s.v. "ptocheuo," p. 709.

7BDB, s.v. "lld," p. 195.

8LSJGL, s.v. "penes," p. 619.

9TDNT, 6 (1960): 37-40.

10LSJGL, s.v. "penichros," p. 619.

11OTWS, p. 317.

12BDB, s.v. "rcvx," pp. 69-70.

13KB, s.v. “rcvx,” p. 21.

14LSJGL, s.v. "thesauros," p. 366.

15BDB., s.v. "rwf," p. 799.

16NIDNTT, 2 (1975): 840.

17BDB., s.v. "Nvh," p. 223.

18KB, s.v. "Nvh," p. 228.

19BDB, S.V. "Nvh," p. 223.

20Delitzsch, 1: 63.

21NIDNTT, 2 (1975): 845.

22BDB, s.v. "NsH," p. 340.

23Ibid., s.v. "lyH," p. 298.



                                      CHAPTER III




            Now that these concepts have been defined, it is

fitting to discuss the principal passages in Proverbs which

analyze these concepts. The first part of this chapter will

deal with the causes, condition and cure of poverty. The

latter part of this chapter will focus on the value, acquisi-

tion and use of prosperity.



            It may seem paradoxical that an extravagantly wealthy

monarch like Solomon would have much to say about poverty.

Solomon's extensive building programs, which resulted in the

overtaxation of oppressed people, would normally disqualify

him from speaking on the concept of poverty. However, the

man who is inclined towards following God's rules for daily

living needs this information about the reality of poverty.

Solomon and the other writers in the Book of Proverbs aptly

discuss the causes, the condition, and the cure of poverty.


Causes of poverty

            Approximately seven identifiable causes of poverty

surface in the Book of Proverbs. Four of these causes refer

to factors within the individual which can create this



problem. The remaining three causes deal with factors out-

side of the individual's volition. The internal factors

which contribute to poverty are somnolence, indolence, indis-

cipline and miserliness. The external factors responsible

for a state of poverty are injustice, oppression and surety.

            Somnolence. Although the writers of Proverbs do not

distinguish between somnolence and indolence, somnolence

the symptom of indolence is still a cause of poverty. Three

passages identify too much sleep as a cause of poverty (Prov.

6:9-11; 20:13; 24:34). A graphic description is given of one

who has become the victim of somnolence. The synthetic par-

allelism of 6:9-10 reinforces the trapped position of the

sluggard.  BDB observes that the feminine noun tnAw; which

means "sleep" speaks about the sluggardly man.1  The kind of

sleep referred to in this passage has a desensitizing effect

on the individual's intelligence. McKane confirms this

effect when he states, "Because he is so sleepy-headed he has

no defences against the onset of poverty and privation . . .

(to the extent of having) his intelligence drugged by somno-

lence."2  The synonymous noun hmAUn (slumber), is also figura-

tively used for indolence. This noun has the verb MUn as its

derivative with the lexical meaning of "be drowsy, slumber."3

The verb also has the figurative connotation of inactivity

and indolence. This connotation is illustrated by the inac-

tivity which characterized the sleepy leadership of Assyria


(Nah. 3:18).  The overall topic of 6:9-11 is the warning

against indolence.  The obvious symptom of indolence is som-

nolence.  One is strongly discouraged from falling in love

with drowsiness (20:13). McKane considers drowsiness as “the

natural ally of sloth.”4


            Indolence.  Proverbial wisdom acknowledges the insep-

arable relationship of somnolence to indolence by stating

that “Slothfulness does cast me into a deep sleep” (19:15).

Furthermore Proverbial wisdom recognizes that failure to work

is grounded in these two causes of poverty.  Nothing con-

structive can come out of a lifestyle that is characterized

by hlAc;fa (sluggishness) or hyA.mir; (slackness).  Ecclesiastes

10:18 concretely presents the fruit of laziness that is “sag-

ging rafters and a leaking roof.”  BDB suggests that a negli-

gent and idle person is characterized by a laxness and slack-

ness as taught in Proverbs 10:4.5  Listlessness inevitably

produces poverty, because “a negligent hand” (listlessness)

guarantees poverty (Prov. 10:4).

            The sages recognized this self-defeating behavior,

and thus they resorted to the description of a personal expe-

rience in order to jolt the sluggard out of his laziness

(24:30-34).  The owner of the unkempt vineyard is identified

as one “who lacks sense” (24:30).  This identification of the

sluggard is encouraged to wise up and learn from the ant.


The self-discipline and systematic industry of the ant ought

to encourage the sluggard to rise above the industry of the

ant (6:6-11). Wolff identifies the other characteristics of

laziness by affirming that goading is unnecessary for the

wise man when "feeble evasions and excuses 26:13, excessive

sleep 26:14, indolence, even in eating 26:15 and an unduly

high opinion of oneself 26:16" are recognized as character-

istics of laziness.6  No matter which way one looks at this

problem, it is a human reality which inevitably leads to a

life of beggary and want (20:4).


            Indiscipline. Closely related to laziness is the

concept of indiscipline. McKane in commenting upon 24:34

recognizes this relationship by stating, ". . . indiscipline

in the form of laziness is disastrous."7  Laziness seems to

eat away at a person's restraint to the extent that the vic-

tim of indiscipline refuses to heed (fareOP) the moral instruc-

tion and the verbal corrections (rsAUm) that are given by the

sages (Prov. 13:18). Shame and poverty are the guaranteed

results of such a lifestyle. Indiscipline further manifests

itself in a lifestyle of indulgence and drunkenness (21:17;

23:21). The ultimate consequence of disinheritance and des-

titution seem so distant to this individual. The pleasure of

the moment seems to control this individual to the extent

that he ignores the destitute end of his behavior. The goal

of a successful and harmonious life is absent in the


individual who indulges in the "typical manifestations of

unwisdom as found in gluttony and drunkenness."8

            The Niphal of wrayA in 23:21 affirms the certainty of

one's poverty when drunkenness and gluttony control one's

life. Even the pleasure-seeker in 21:17 has a guaranteed end

of poverty. Kidner comments "that more than pleasure is at

stake."9  Conceivably, moral wanderlust has gained an upper-

hand in the life of the undisciplined person (21:16). This

victim wanders off into a life of greed which produces in him

an excessive indulgent approach towards material things "as

he hastens after riches" (28:22).

            Miserliness. In 23:6 this person comes across as a

niggardly and miserly being. Indiscipline capitalizes on

motivating a person "who is actuated by ill-will toward

others" to becoming an avaricious and grasping individual.

McKane rightly concludes that "The NyifA fra is unfit for the

responsibility of wealth and want will overtake him."10

Although Kidner captions Proverbs 28:22 as the miser's mis-

calculation, he unfortunately concludes that the miser will

only experience inner poverty.11  Humanly speaking, this

might be an attractive view, but the plain sense of guaran-

teed material want appeals to this writer. An avaricious and

greedy disposition contributes to this lifestyle. The Qal

Participle jwH depicts this disposition because this indivi-

dual "witholds for himself" more than what is necessary


(11:24b). This lifestyle has a "distorted sense of thrift,"

which further is identified as "a myopic selfishness."

McKane boldly classifies miserliness as a manifestation of

anti-social behavior.12  In Proverbs 11:24-26, the miser is

cast in stark contrast with the philanthropist who does not

inhumanly retain wealth and thus involve himself in excessive

hoarding of his wealth. The contrastive adverb j`xa in 11:24b

highlights the ironic end of the miser, namely an end of


            These internal factors which cause poverty weaken the

argument of the liberation theologians that all poverty is

caused by factors which are beyond the individual's control

or personal responsibility. The second person suffix to the

nouns of action (sleep, gluttony, drunkenness) also strength-

ens the case for one's personal responsibility towards


            In a general sense one's own unrighteousness or fool-

ishness produce poverty. The sages graphically illustrate

this fact in employing the Piel Imperfect of flaBA (to swallow

up), because this verb figuratively denotes how the extrava-

gance and squandering of the foolish man literally destroys

his possessions--"a foolish man swallows it up" 21:20.13  It

is also stated that "the wicked earns deceitful wages" in

contrast to the abiding value of the reward that accrues to

the righteous person (11:18). At best according to 11:18,

the wicked can count on the worthlessness and temporary value


of his earnings. Proverbs 13:21 intimates that calamity or

misfortune is the deserved end of unrighteousness, while good

fortune shall reward the righteous.14  The writers of Prov-

erbs present a balanced view of the issue. They do recognize

that there are external factors which bring about the state

of poverty. It is up to the individual to remedy the pre-

ceding internal factors after he has accepted full and per-

sonal responsibility for these abortive and self-defeating

attitudes and actions.


            Injustice. Several commentators have tried to play

down or even deny the fact that the poor are the victims of

injustice in 13:23. Kidner plays down the obvious point of

this verse by stating that, "The point of this very terse

proverb seems to be that the size of your resources matters

less than the judgment with which you handle them."15 McKane

denies that the poor's tillage is referred to in 13:23 by

suggesting that the term MywixrA; refers to the "grandees." He

supports this view by remarking that "Plenty which is raised

on a foundation of injustice will not be consolidated into

enduring wealth."16  The LXX translation of this verse--"The

righteous shall spend many years in wealth, but the unrigh-

teous shall perish suddenly," is another example of confusing

the identity of the victims of injustice. Conceivably, the

context of 13:21 where the righteous are being rewarded with

prosperity while the sinners are being pursued by adversity



could have influenced the translators of the LXX. The poor

were also automatically equated with the righteous. Richard-

son traces this concept to the Psalms where "the expression

'the poor' has acquired a sort of religious significance,

and may often almost be equated with 'the godly'."17

            It is not necessary to change the normal meanings of

the terms brA, lk,xo, MywixrA; and FpAw;mi in order to clarify Prov-

erbs 13:23. The phrase lk,xo-br (much food) has been changed

into a statement form to read "litigation consumes." The

adjectival use of brA and its relationship to lk,xo (food) has

been replaced by a somewhat novel translation which trans-

lates ryni (tillage) as "produce" in order to read "Litigation

consumes the produce of the poor." The identity of MywixrA, a

Qal active plural participle of wxro (to be poor) has also

been mistaken to be the plural masculine of wxro (head,

chief). Extremists have proposed the term (wicked--fwr) in

order to justify the snatching away of the individual's

resources. It is not correct to capriciously change the

participial form of wUr for the preference of "grandees,

rulers or chiefs." FPAw;mi (judgement) is assigned a twofold

meaning--"righteousness" and agricultural "regulation." The

concept of "execution of judgement between individuals"18 has

been removed from this term. The fact that syntactically

belongs to Fpaw;mi (through injustice) has been completely

ignored by those who propose to translate 13:23 "The tillage

of the poor will yield abundantly if properly tilled." There


is no end to these fanciful translations. The proverb states

emphatically that the snatching away of the poor man's

resources is due to the lack of justice. An oppressive and

unjust landowner (Jer. 22:13-14) is capable of afflicting a

poor man with injustice.


            Oppression. God denounces ambivalence in one's rela-

tionship to Him and in one's relationship with fellow-

creatures. Thus God denounced His covenant people for trying

to worship Him and at the same time oppress the weak (Isa.

1:10-17). The oppressive treatment of the already poor per-

son is identified as an insult to God's honour because such

treatment "reproaches His Maker" (14:31, 17:5). The verb

JrH in its intensive form suggests how God is intensely

angered by the oppressive treatment of the poor. God as the

common Creator of the oppressor and the oppressed is despised

or reproached when the poor person is unkindly treated by the

oppressor. Those who are poor in material things or desti-

tute (NOyb;x,), need gracious and sympathetic help. God's

honour is involved in the gracious helping of the destitute.

This kind of help is diametrically opposite to the oppressive

treatment of the poor. The antithetic parallelism of 14:31

encourages gracious help in contrast to "the act of oppres-

sion which is an insult to God who created the poor man."19

            The double sense that is proposed for the phrase lDA

qwefo does not soften the reality of the poor man's plight.


Whether one assigns the meaning of "he that slanders" (refer-

ring to the oppressor) instead of "he that oppresses" to qwefo,

it will not alter the dishonor that is brought on God. The

victim of poverty is mocked or held in derision when the

oppressor maliciously rejoices at the calamity of the already

helpless person (17:5). The exploitation of the poor does

not guarantee the enduring enrichment of the oppressor (hWf - -

he who oppresses) in that the exploited and the oppressor

will "both come to poverty" (22:16 N.I.V.). The "man of

poverty" will be impoverished by the means of oppression,

because the oppressor's oppressive measures are aimed at

making much for himself- -Ol tOBr;hal;.


            Surety. One is encouraged not to become entrapped in

financial entanglements by avoiding being drawn into a surety

when "there are not adequate financial resources to cope com-

fortably with any contingency which might arise from the

bond."20  The taking on of a pledge or giving of a pledge for

the debts (11:15) of another is one of the dangers a person

is advised to avoid (6:1-5).  Moneylending transactions seem

to have been the order of the day during Solomon's reign.

These practices came "to be among the grave dangers that

beset the path of youth."21  It was becoming a risky trans-

action for those who were generous in their friendships even

to the extent of allowing the wealthy greedy speculator to

manipulate them to risk their lives as a convenient sureties.


Delitzsch aptly observes that "improvident suretyships are

wont to be punished."22

            When the individual is aware of the internal and

external factors that cause poverty, he will be in a better

position to deal with this human reality.


The condition of poverty

            Appropriately, the writers of Proverbs discuss the

condition of poverty. This condition is discussed from the

Godward aspect, manward aspect and the selfward aspect. This

presents a balanced approach to such a misunderstood and

sensitive issue.


            Godward. The individual's relationship to God is

unaffected by his destitute state, rather he is reminded of

having a mutual Creator with the rich (22:2). Thus God puts

no special premium on being poor since His endowment of life

to all humans equalizes the dignity of human life irrespec-

tive of one's economic station in life (29:13). Thus it

seems that God encouraged the poor to graciously accept their

condition. One has the responsibility of recognizing that

both poverty and riches are permitted by God. Agur's prayer

in 30:8-9, recognizes this fact when he prays "Give me

neither poverty nor riches . . ." In this tension to live a

contented life, Agur possibly did not believe that God could

bring something good out of one's poverty. Wisely enough, he

recognized these two economic extremes and thus presented a


middle course. When Agur objectively considered these eco-

nomic extremes, he realized that both could turn one away

from God. Specifically, one's poverty could lead to stealing

with an ultimate denial of God. One's prosperity could make

him indifferent to God. God cannot be charged with the moral

dangers of denial and forgetfulness about the poor.

            Manward. The victims of poverty happen to have

social contacts with other human beings. The sages fittingly

discuss the actions of others towards the victims of poverty

(14:20; 19:4, 7; 18:23; 22:7). The social contacts of the

impoverished are tenuous. He is the victim of friendlessness 

(xneWAyi) and hateful treatment. Estrangement is his normal

lot, because "his neighbour spurns him" (14:20), and his

"closest friend deserts him" (19:4). Delitzsch identifies

this treatment of the poor as:

            . . . apart of the dark side of human nature, and one

            should take notice of it, so that when it goes well with

            him, he may not regard his many friends as all genuine,

            and when he becomes poor, he may not be surprised by the

            dissolution of earlier friendship . . .23

The possessions of an individual are only a means of gaining

friends (19:7b). There is a lack of constancy in this

friendship to the extent that "the poor man's only friend

cools toward him."24  The poor man's repeated requests for

help have brought on the strained relationship with his

family (19:7a).

            The plight of the poor is further evident when he is

subjected to harsh treatment by a fellow poor man. This


oppressor takes advantage of the weak and poorer state of his

fellowman (22:22; 28:3). Delitzsch's translation of 28:3

permits him to identify the wrA rb,g, as a prince or potentate

since he links wrA with wxro (ruler). The comparison of the

sweeping rain in its devastating force, according to

Delitzsch, is what fits his identification of wrA rg,g, as an

oppressive master.25  McKane seems to follow the same reason-

ing as that of Delitzsch when he concludes that "Such an

administrator or executive is like the hard, driving rain

. . . the harbinger of famine . . ."26  These options do not

take into account the strong temptation of a poor man becom-

ing exploitive of one that is poorer than himself. This kind

of oppressor has a strong drive for self-enrichment and thus

he can masterfully manipulate the MylidA which are character-

ized by helplessness, meagerliness and frugality.

            Not only does the victim of poverty have to contend

with the harsh treatment of his fellowman, he is also to

adopt a dependent attitude towards others because he is

dependent upon them for help (18:23). Even his speech has a

continuous tone of entreaty, while his wealthy counterpart

gets away with rough speech. The rich normally adopt a

heartless, unsympathetic attitude towards the poor. Since

poverty means dependence the victim of poverty is brought

into a subservient role to the one who has acquired power

because of his wealth (22:7). Money's leverage over the poor

seems to indicate that the poor man completely loses his


independence because of his experience of looking to someone

else for help. In this instance poverty is rightly regarded

as an evil from which the poor man needs deliverance since

"All the days of the oppressed are wretched . . . " (15:15).

Deuteronomy 15 echoes the rights of the poor.


            Selfward. Fittingly, the writers of Proverbs have

not glossed over the selfward aspect of poverty. They do

not minimize the destructive power of one's poverty when

they identify poverty as "the ruin of the poor" (10:15).

The one drawback of poverty is that many disabilities are

placed upon the back of poverty. Prolonged poverty can ruin

the strongest person when it eventuates into a life of theft

and denial of God. Within himself the individual ought to

consider integrity and discernment as non-negotiable qual-

ities of life (19:1,22). The formal parallelism of 28:6

reinforces the fact that honesty is a preferable value rather

than allowing one's poverty to rob him of his integrity. In

fact, the poor man that walks in his integrity possesses the

ability of "seeing through" the conceit of the wealthy person

(28:11). Hence the victim of poverty is not given any reason

to demean himself by adopting a low self-image or resorting

to a dishonest lifestyle in order to cope with his problem.


Cure for poverty

            Appropriately, the sages do not treat the condition

of poverty as an incurable state, rather in their typical


pragmatic fashion they propose a cure for poverty. This cure

for poverty involves the victim's personal responsibility and

the social concern of others. This approach to the problem

is in keeping with God's sovereign plan of using human beings

to make life profitable for themselves or for others.


            Personal responsibility. Since God does not arbi-

trarily ordain man's economic status, He expects the individ-

ual to be personally responsible for his economic state.

Personal diligence and personal discipline comprise this

aspect of the cure of poverty. It almost seems redundant for

the sages to remind one about the importance and fruit of

personal diligence ("the hand of the diligent maketh rich"

10:4, "in all labor there is profit" 14:23). These verses

are antithetical to the plight of laziness. Human nature

being what it is needs to be reminded that God has not

changed and does not intend to change His way of giving man

the dignified place of working to provide for one's needs.

Diligent work is one of the proven ways of curing poverty.

Planned, active involvement in work guarantees the allevia-

tion of a state of poverty. There is no way of getting

around the principles enunciated in these verses.

            The basis for personal diligence is personal disci-

pline. This is an attitude which the sages consider as tan-

tamount to an active and diligent lifestyle. Greed (28:22),

indiscipline, gluttony (20:13; 23:21), and somnolence (20:13;


6:11; 24:34) sap away one's desire to engage in diligent

work. One is thus encouraged to be done with these self-

defeating attitudes and actions.


            Social concern of others. Others also feature into

God's way of curing poverty. God has so structured a per-

son's relationship with Him that the practical outworkings of

such a relationship involves a social concern for others--

"To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the

Lord than sacrifice" (21:3). The righteousness and just 

treatment of others is an important issue to God. Hence the

exploitation of the poor is absolutely prohibited by God

(22:22; 23:10, 11). God promises to champion the rights of

the poor--"the Lord will plead their cause" (23:11; 22:23).

He considers that a wrong done to a lowly person is the same

as though it were done to Himself.

            Positively, God encourages us to give gracious and

generous help to the needy (19:17; 22:9). God considers Him-

self as no man's debtor thus He promises to repay, to bless

the beneficent person--"He that giveth to the poor shall not

lack . . ." (28:27), ". . . his good deed will He repay unto

him" (19:17). Constantly one is reminded to defend the

rights of the poor (31:9). This reminder makes sense to the

righteous who is already involved in defending the rights of

the poor because it is his disposition to be sensitive and

concerned about every living thing--even his beast of burden



            In concluding the discussion on poverty, one cannot

say that God has a special favoritism for the poor. Poverty

itself is an amoral issue. God has a special interest in the

victims of poverty because they do cry to Him as their hope,

deliverer and protector. More importantly God is interested

in the spiritual response that comes out of this crisis.

Thus it makes sense for God to sovereignly espouse the cause

of the poor and to identify Himself with their plight--their

ill-treatment, willful neglect by others and disregard of

their interests.



            The writers of Proverbs intimate that prosperity as

the counterpart of poverty is not a neutral matter to God.

Their discourses on prosperity (3:1-2), health (3:7-8),

abundance relative to physical and material wealth (3:9-10),

life, riches, honor and peace (3:13-18), and blessing, grace

and honor (3:33-35) represent their attitude towards this

human reality. In this essay we are going to explore the

wisdom writers' concern about the material well-being of the

reader. Anyone at any time (1:20, 21; 8:1-5) can benefit from

the Book of Proverbs when he aligns himself with the princi-

ples for moral conduct which form the basis of one's material

well-being. It is not fully proven or taught in Proverbs

that financial prosperity always indicates spirituality.


Those who live skillful lives in accordance with God's order

for the universe can expect "to flourish" (14:11; 11:28),

"to be made fat" (11:25; 28:25), "to enjoy a happy and peace-

ful existence" (13:2, 21; 16:20; 19:8; 28:10; 16:20; 28:14).

Although riches are listed as one of the consequences of

righteous and wise living, this is not invariably the case.

There are a great many righteous people who are not neces-

sarily wealthy: What is always true is that "The attainment

of true wisdom (ethical wisdom) is commended . . . as supe-

rior to . . . riches (4:13)."27


The value of prosperity

            Payne aptly observes that "The private ownership of

property (wealth) is encouraged throughout the book of Prov-

erbs."28 Wealth is thus assumed as a good thing. Wealth is

advantageous because it (1) serves a source of help which

provides for one's needs (27:26, 27), (2) safeguards one from

disaster and temptation (10:15; 30:9), (3) serves as a means

of gaining honor and friends (14:24; 19:4; 14:20). All of

these advantages have to do with making one's sojourn here on

earth an enjoyable one. Amidst these advantages, the sages

inform the public that wealth has its limitations: A false

sense of security can be derived from wealth--"He who trusts

in his riches will fall" (11:28). Wealth evaporates--"for

riches certainly make themselves wings" (23:5). One needs to

realize that wealth never delivers from death (11:4). Hence





one is properly cautioned about the comparative value of

wealth, because wealth does not effectively serve as a sub-

stitute for righteousness and integrity (28:6; 16:8), for a

good reputation (22:1).

            Riches are not superior to spiritual and moral trea-

sures because the "Lord blesses with riches" (10:22) to the

extent that "In the house of the righteous is much treasure"

(15:6). Syntactically the phrase "The blessing of the Lord"

is placed at the beginning for emphasis sake. God's blessing

is the source of one's riches, hence there is no mental

anguish (bc,f,--anxiety Prov. 15:1) with it (h.mA.fi). The source

of blessing hvhy is the subject of JsiOy, so that the idea of

Proverbs 10:22 is there is no anxiety when the Lord Himself

blesses with riches. God's protection and blessing allows

the righteous to enjoy good things (15:6).


            The acquisition of prosperity.  Righteousness and the

fear of the Lord (13:11), are used synonymously as the pri-

mary foundation for acquiring wealth. McKane emphasizes that

"It matters how a man acquires his wealth and wealth by

itself is not a title to dignity and influence."29  Prover-

bial wisdom endorses McKane's observation by teaching us that

wealth at the price of righteousness is worthless (15:16;

16:8). The major negative concepts associated with wealth

are the ulterior motives for acquiring wealth and the nega-

tive methods of acquiring wealth. Vanity can motivate one in


his acquisition of wealth. This motivation produces dimin-

ishing returns when one allows bribery, dishonesty or cruelty

to replace hard honest and consistent toil for one's wealth

(13:11). Wealth steadily accumulated grows in amount. Greed

is also listed as another negative motivation (11:29; 15:27).

Hastily gained wealth (20:21), greedy acquisition of wealth

(15:27), wearisome ambition for wealth (23:4) and disregard

for honesty; integrity and fidelity (28:20,22) are evidences

of a covetous lifestyle.

            An inordinate love of money can drive one to ignore

God's standards of acquiring possessions. "Great revenues

with injustice" (16:8b) and dishonest business deals (20:23)

are some of the principles employed by a greedy person in his

acquisition of wealth. This greedy man "troubles his own

house" (15:27a) when God sovereignly diverts the greedy man's

gains into the possession of a nobler person ("wealth of a

sinner is laid up for the righteous" Prov. 13:22) who will

eventually help the needy with his gain (28:8).

            Righteous living heads the list of the positive

principles for acquiring wealth (10:2, 3, 6; 15:16). The

writers of Proverbs presume that the reader is in agreement

with their thesis that wisdom, humility and the fear of the

Lord produce material prosperity--"The reward of humility is

the fear of the Lord, even riches, and honour, and life"


            Diligent work should follow righteous living because


the former should build on the latter (10:4-5; 14:23; 27:23-

27; 28:19). These verses do not encourage one to engage in

rash speculation or to hope for easy money. Rather one is

explicitly told to buckle down to hard work. The diligent

man is engaged in steady toil and then diligently invests his

resources with no bent toward hasty accumulation (21:5;



            The use of wealth. God is vitally interested in how

one uses his wealth. The wise man is encouraged to use his

wealth discretely by refusing to live indulgently and extra-

vagantly (21:17-18; 23:20-21; 12:11). He is further encour-

aged to use his wealth liberally in meeting the needs of

others. The wise man believes that liberality is the essence

of honoring God with one's wealth (3:5). He is fully aware

of the fact that God approves of using His bounty in helping

the poor (19:17; 22:9; 28:27). God Himself promises multi-

plied and abundant resources (3:10). The generous treatment

of one's enemy during his time of hunger or thirst can create

remorse within the enemy's heart can also result in one hav-

ing the opportunity of being rewarded by God (25:21-22).

Thus the wise man replaces a greedy and miserly lifestyle

with generosity that comes out of a compassionate and merci-

ful heart (11:24; 21:26; 22:9). The way one uses his wealth

is an indication of how he feels towards wealth. The righ-

teous man manages his wealth with an appreciation for the


value of money as well as with an understanding of wealth's

limitations. Smugness, false confidence in one's wealth and

pride which considers wealth as the ultimate, all these vain

feelings towards wealth have no place in the heart of one who

is endued with true wisdom. This individual humbly enjoys

God's blessings and he uses them for God's glory (10:22;



                   Theological Implications of Poverty

                                   and Prosperity

            Although the instruction in Proverbs mainly supplies

us with pragmatic knowledge, it does not mean that there is

no trace of God's attitude towards these concepts. The fact

that God desires His creatures to master life and overcome

life's numerous difficulties is enough evidence that these

concepts are grounded in a theological base. It is true that

the blessing of the Lord enhances one's life in whatsoever

state he finds himself (10:22; Phil. 4:11-12).


God's attitude towards 

poverty and prosperity

            In discussing God's attitude towards these concepts,

one must accept the fact that "Empirical and gnomic wisdom

starts from the unyielding presupposition that there is a

hidden order in things and events . . ."30 The wisdom

writers understood that God was vitally interested in life

with all of its departments. Von Rad further notes that:

"Wisdom thus consisted in knowing that at the bottom of




things an order is at work, silently and often in a scarcely

noticeable way, making for a balance of events."31  The fre-

quent mention of the poor and poverty in the Book of Proverbs

does not mean that God puts a stigma on this concept. It is

God's way of balancing out life by allowing the poor and

prosperous to perform a mutual service of respecting each

other as beings of dignity. Thus God has allowed poverty to

exist always and everywhere. Poverty is a fact of life

(17:5).  Human failure sometimes contributes to this state

(11:16; 12:11, 24; 13:4, 18, 25; 18:9; 19:15; 20:4, 13; 21:5, 17;

22:7; 24:34). The social life of the community may have

their consciences stung by the victims of poverty and yet God

does not treat these victims of poverty with anger and dis-

dain.  Realistically, God appeals to the heart of the indi-

vidual to have a concern for the poor (14:21, 31; 17:5; 19:17;

22:9, 16, 22) by treating the poor generously (11:24; 19:6).

He has encouraged mankind to share their prosperity. In

becoming prosperous the individual must continually strive to

integrate his faith in the true God into the way he reaches

his goal of prosperity.

            God also does not ignore the value of property

although He is aware that it gains friends (19:4), and power

(22:7), it pacifies (21:14), provides protection (10:15) and

outweighs social position (12:9).32  God also has an aware-

ness of the dangers of prosperity, and thus He counsels the

wealthy not to allow wealth to become the final object of


their trust (11:28).

            The concepts of poverty and prosperity are not neu-

tral to God. Eichrodt is aware of this fact when he remarks

that ". . . both in refusal and in unexpected bounty, this

God constantly points men to himself, and makes his gifts

the means whereby his own are led to . . . understand his

nature more profoundly."33  The copious references to poverty

and prosperity in Proverbs indicate that God desires mankind

to make their ethical commitment to concepts of poverty and

prosperity. Irrespective of whatever side of the fence one

may find himself, God has seen to it that these concepts have

been objectively discussed in the Book of Proverbs.


The presence of a religious 


            There is some uncertainty as to whether there is

always a religious concept involved in being poor or prosper-

ous. The closest that the wisdom writers come to resolving

this uncertainty is by listing riches and prosperity in gen-

eral as the personal consequences of one who lives out his

life according to God's order--"riches is the fount of

wisdom" (3:16, 8:18), "a faithful man shall abound with

blessings" (28:20). What is certain is that peace and piety

are preferable to these concepts (17:1; 15:16). Israel, as

the covenant people of God fully understood the relation

between moral (internal) goodness and outward prosperity.

Ethical righteousness was a desired quality for any individual


within the covenant community. The consequences of one's

actions determined one's success in life.

            Von Rad endorses this relationship of a religiously

practised faith with the resultant blessing of God in these


            But the wise men (particularly in the sentences in

            Prov. 10-15) never tire of expressing anew the idea

            that everything which emanates from such a righteous

            man also supports him and brings him--one is tempted

            to say--into a sphere of blessing.34

In tracing the relationship of moral conduct to material

goods Eichrodt seems to infer that one's moral conduct should

be directed towards the attainment of goods. He further

cautions one that the attainment of material goods should

not be an end in themselves. The goods according to Eichrodt

are evidence of God's favor on one's life.35 At this stage

of this study, it is a bit difficult to fully agree with this

conclusion. It is a fact of life that there are many non-

Godfearing people who are prosperous. This conclusion could

also present God as being capricious in His dealings with the

poor. Thus it is not always necessary to look for a reli-

gious connection between poverty and prosperity.



            An attempt has been made to analyze the sages'

teachings on the concepts of poverty and prosperity. The

analysis began with a discussion on the causes, condition

and cure of poverty. This discussion was then followed by


was then followed by a treatment of the value, acquisition

and use of wealth. The analysis concluded with the listing

of some of the theological implications of these economic


            It was seen that the state of poverty is traceable to

at least seven causes--sleepiness, laziness, indiscipline,

miserliness, injustice, oppression and surety. This state of

poverty was also seen from its divine, social and selfward

aspects. A cure for the state of poverty was proposed in

which the individual had a part to play as well as the

involvement (through social concern) by others. Wealth was

also discussed along the lines of its advantages and disad-

vantages. Some of the negative factors (vanity, greed) were

evaluated in the discussion on the acquisition of wealth.

Those in the wealthy state were encouraged to use their

wealth in a beneficent and God-honoring way. Finally, it was

seen that poverty and prosperity were not neutral concepts to

God in that God expects an individual to integrate his rela-

tionship to God into the way he feels about and acts toward

his economic state.



                1BDB, s.v. "tnw," p. 446.

                2William McKane, Proverbs, A New Approach, p. 324.

                3BDB, s.v. "svn," p. 630.

                4McKane, p. 324.

                5BDB, s.v. “hmr,”      p. 941.

                6Hans Walter Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testa-

ment, p. 131.

            7McKane, p. 577.

            8Ibid., p. 388.

            9Derek Kidner, The Proverbs, an Introduction and 

Commentary, p. 144.

            10McKane, p. 627.

            11Kidner, p. 172.

            12McKane, p. 435.

            13BDB, s.v. "flb," p. 118.

            14A. Cohen, Proverbs, p. 85.

            15Kidner, p. 105.

            16McKane, p. 463.

            17Alan Richardson, A Theological Word Book of the 

Bible, p. 168.

            18BDB, s.v. “Fpwm," p. 1048.

            19J. A. Emerton, "Notes on Some Passages in the Book

of Proverbs," Journal of Theological Studies 20 (1969): 202-


            20McKane, p. 379.




                21T. T. Perowne, The Proverbs with Introduction and 

Notes, p. 65.

                22F. Delitzsch, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of 

Solomon, 6:102.

                23Ibid., p. 305.

                24Cohen, p. 124.

                25Delitzsch, p. 224.

                26McKane, p. 629.

                27J. Barton Payne, The Theology of the Older Testa-

ment, p. 345.

                28Ibid., p. 340.

                29McKane, p. 421.

                30Gerhard Von Rad, Old Testament Theology, 2 vols.


                31Ibid., 1:428.

                32Payne, p. 340.

                33Walter Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament,

2 vols., 2:351.

                34Von Rad, Wisdom of Israel, p. 79.

                35Eichrodt, 2:349-50.


                                CHAPTER IV




            The introduction of this thesis stated that there was

a need to present a balanced biblical perspective on the con-

cepts of poverty and prosperity. From this study, it becomes

obvious that the concepts of poverty and prosperity as

treated in the Book of Proverbs mainly refer to an economic

or material state. The definition of these concepts could

not possibly make room for reading an exclusively religious

or ethical content into these concepts by spiritualizing

them, because two economic extremes are referred to in these


            In discussing poverty's causes, condition and cure,

it was discovered that poverty as the ideal for any person

could not be glamorized. Wretchedness characterized the

state of poverty. Conversely, it was also discovered that

the possession of wealth cannot be considered as an end in

itself. Both these concepts have the limitation of not being

able to satisfy one's spiritual needs since only the material

realm of life is involved in these concepts. Indifference to

God and vulnerability to crime (Prov. 30:8-9) emanated as

real dangers for both these concepts. Only those skilled in

righteous living (Prov. 21:20) could overcome imbalance


within these concepts and thus enjoy in a sense enduring

material treasure.

            God's concern for the alleviating of the plight of

the poor is well emphasized in Proverbs. God emphasizes the

high level of human responsibility involved in the causes,

condition and cure of poverty. The sages have stated how the

individual himself can be a part in solving this physical

problem and how the social concern of others could subse-

quently remedy this state of ruin. Hence the prosperous and

the poor are also responsible for lessening the plight of the

poor by remembering the following principles:

            1.         There is no special premium on being poor or wealthy

                        in that both these realities have limitations cf.

                        Proverbs 30:7-9.

            2.         The desire to get through life successfully can be

                        realized when one's personal relationship with God is

                        maintained by following God's moral order which He

                        has built into the universe.

            3.         The absence of a personal relationship with God pre-

                        cludes the possibility of normalizing these economic


            4.         Human nature cannot guarantee the complete removal of

                        iniquity and corruption since it is natural to be

                        graspy and thus make riches an end in itself (cf.

                        1 Tim. 6:9-10).

            5.         God expects one to practise Biblical principles in


                        acquiring and using money. Honest and diligent work

                        (Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 6:2), generous

                        giving (Gal. 6:10), refraining from exploiting the

                        poor are some of the principles which must be prac-

                        tised by the believing community.

            6.         When justice and fairness is implemented by employ-

                        ers, the morale of the believing poor will be raised

                        to the extent that he will be a respectful and dili-

                        gent worker (1 Tim. 6:2).

            7.         Each believer has the responsibility of using his

                        resources as a means of honoring God. The highest

                        possible use of one's wealth is to invest it in the

                        work of the Lord (cf. Phil. 4:13-15).


                           SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY


Kittel, Rudolf, ed. Biblia Hebraica. Stuttgart: Wurttember-

            guehe  Bibelanstalt, 1937.   

New American Standard Bible. 1971 edition.

The Septuagint Version of the Old Testament. Ed. by Charles

            Lee Brenton. 1978 edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan

            Publishing House.



Assmann, Hugo. Practical Theology of Liberation. Translated

            by Paul Burns. London: Search Press, 1975.

Cone, James H. God of the Oppressed. New York: Seabury

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Eichrodt, Walther. Theology of the Old Testament. 2 vols.

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Payne, J. Barton. Theology of the Older Testament. Grand

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Von Rad, Gerhard. Old Testament Theology. 2 vols. Trans-

            lated by D. M. G. Stalkes. New York: Harper and Row

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_________. Wisdom in Israel. Translated by James D. Martin.

            London: SCM Press, 1972.

Wolff, Hans Walter. Anthropology of the Old Testament.

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Cohen, A., ed. Proverbs. Soncino Books of the Bible.

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Delitzsch, F. Proverbs, Eccesiastes, Song of Solomon.

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            in Ten Volumes. Edited by C. F. Keil and F.

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_________.  Biblical Commentary on the Proverbs of Solomon.

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Greenstone, Julius H. Proverbs. Philadelphia: Jewish

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Horton, Robert Forman. The Book of Proverbs. New York:

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Kidner, Derek. The Proverbs, an Introduction and Commentary

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McKane, William. Proverbs, A New Approach. Philadelphia:

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Perowne, T. T. The Proverbs with Introduction and Notes.

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Plaut, W. Gunther. Book of Proverbs. The Jewish Commentary

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Scott, R. B. Y. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes: A New Translation 

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Toy, Crawford H. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on 

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          Dictionaries, Encyclopedias, Periodicals

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Brown, Colin, ed. The New International Dictionary of New 

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Bullinger, E. W. Figures of Speech Used in the Bible.

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Emerton, J. A. "Notes on Some Passages in the Book of

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Fox, Michael V. "Aspects of the Religion of the Book of

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Hatch, Edwin, and Redpath, Henry A. A Concordance to the 

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Koehler, Ludwig, and Baumgartner, Walter, eds. Lexicon in 

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Strong, James. The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.

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