A STUDY OF POVERTY AND PROSPERITY
IN THE BOOK OF PROVERBS
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
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
IV. CONCLUSION 49
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
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
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,
THE DEFINITION OF POVERTY AND PROSPERITY
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.
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
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-
--it is used to refer to a need
Deuteronomy 15:8--poor man's need has to be suffi-
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
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"
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
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.
AN ANALYSIS OF POVERTY AND PROSPERITY
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
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
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
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
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
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.
32Payne, p. 340.
33Walter Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament,
2 vols., 2:351.
34Von Rad, Wisdom of Israel, p. 79.
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
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.
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).
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