Proverbial Economics

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 19:1, 4, 7, 22
1 Better the poor whose walk is blameless
     than a fool whose lips are perverse.

4 Wealth attracts many friends,
     but even the closest friend of the poor person deserts them.

7 The poor are shunned by all their relatives—
     how much more do their friends avoid them!
 Though the poor pursue them with pleading,
     they are nowhere to be found.

22 What a person desires is unfailing love;
     better to be poor than a liar.

Reflection: Proverbial Economics
By Erin Newton

Proverbs seems to blame the poor for their situation—hunger is caused by one’s laziness or foolishness (Proverbs 19.15, 24). The statements read as harsh indictments to those struggling to survive.

The ancient Israelites were encouraged to avoid poverty or debt. The economic system did not have regulations on lending; a faulty decision could bring a family to ruin. Kinsmen redeemers were an opportunity to provide freedom from one’s situation (see Ruth), but other family members were typically in a similar scenario and unable to bring redemption to their brothers and sisters.

One skill we must learn when reading the Bible—especially the book of Proverbs—is to avoid reading it anachronistically. That means we must steer clear of forcing our modern systems into the ancient text. I find this most pertinent when reading about economics. Our social systems, finances, economies, and class structures are different from ancient Israel.

We must also learn to read the Bible as a whole, seeking to see the trajectory of a topic from Genesis to Revelation. We might read verses that blame the poor for their situation but that is not a prescriptive universal statement for all time.

There is also a unique feature when speaking of the poor in Proverbs. Alongside these blunt statements about the status of the poor are compassionate and honoring statements.

Twice in this chapter wisdom places the poor above others. One’s character is severed from his or her financial status. The blameless poor are better than perverted fools. The poor who seek God’s love are better than liars who seek power.

But the poor are often neglected and unnoticed by their peers. It is no surprise when we read, “Wealth attracts many friends.” People want to be friends with the wealthy in hopes of gaining wealth by proximity or receiving some benefit from the association.

In contrast, “the closest friend of the poor person deserts them.” No financial gain or personal benefit is assumed when befriending the poor. This can only be true if our priorities revolve around ourselves.

Proverbs are not the final words on wealth and poverty. Reading holistically, some proverbs move the conversation forward by highlighting the sharing of wealth: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord” (Proverbs 19.17), and “the righteous give without sparing” (Proverbs 21.26).Jesus said rightly that we would always have the poor among us. He calls us to give, come, and follow him (Luke 18.22).

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. — Psalm 31.23

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Proverbs 19 (Listen 3:09)

Read more about Would You Rather Proverbs?
No amount of wealth, power, or ease is worth abandoning the way of Jesus. These are the very things Satan tempted Jesus with.

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Facts and Harsh Realities

Scripture Focus: Proverbs 19.6-8
6 Many curry favor with a ruler, 
and everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts. 
7 The poor are shunned by all their relatives— 
how much more do their friends avoid them! 
Though the poor pursue them with pleading, 
they are nowhere to be found. h 
8 The one who gets wisdom loves life; 
the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper.

Psalm 83.1-4
1 O God, do not remain silent; 
do not turn a deaf ear, 
do not stand aloof, O God. 
2 See how your enemies growl, 
how your foes rear their heads. 
3 With cunning they conspire against your people; 
they plot against those you cherish. 
4 “Come,” they say, “let us destroy them as a nation, 
so that Israel’s name is remembered no more.”

Reflection: Facts and Harsh Realities
By John Tillman

When we say “scripture is true,” oftentimes we mean that it is the true word of God—that it is God’s chosen means of self-revelation—the message of the gospel. However, that is not all we mean when we say that scripture is true. Sometimes the scripture being “true” just means it is spitting straight, cold, hard facts. 

Harsh facts of life are inked in black and white in Proverbs. No punches are pulled. “The poor have no friends.” “Bribes work.” “Fools die.”

These kinds of statements aren’t endorsements of these conditions or events. They are merely factual observations that are meant to encourage students toward wisdom. When Proverbs tells us that the poor have few friends, the writers are not advising us to avoid their friendship. Rather than endorsing transactional relationships and practical concerns, the wisdom of the Bible encourages impractical friendships and helping those who cannot help us in return.

The wisdom of the Bible does not come from isolated religious hermits. The writers of Proverbs and the rest of scripture lived in the real world. They knew corruption. They were acquainted with grief. They bore the burden of oppression. They tasted the lash of abusive leaders. They knew more brutal horrors of war than we do. 

Among the harshest of realities are the realities of war. Writing this post on Friday, who knows how much further the war in Ukraine may spread by Monday. Uncertainty abounds.

I’m personally connected to some Baptist mission work in Ukraine through a seminary classmate. With non-Ukrainian workers now evacuated, the group’s posts are tense with concern and vibrant with faith. The pastors and churches they support in Eastern Ukraine are in real, tangible danger. As they share pictures of their children huddled in shelters…harsh realities surround them.

We don’t turn to scripture to avoid harsh realities but to face them. Pray continually this week over the harsh realities of war. Ukraine’s war has caught more headlines than most, but hardly a month goes by without some conflict that costs lives somewhere in the world.

The Bible acknowledges these harsh realities side-by-side with aspirational faith that justice will be done. Liars, lunatics, and war criminals will come to their end and be rewarded in kind for the evil that they do. God will not remain silent or stand aloof. He is with the suffering and the dying and those responsible will face justice.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Deliverance belongs to the Lord. Your blessing be upon your people! — Psalm 3.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Proverbs 19 (Listen – 3:09)
Psalm 83-84 (Listen – 3:20)

Read more about Worship and Politics
I have never heard anyone say that a politically tinged sermon which agreed with their politics was “too political.”

Read more about Are We Proud of the Prideful?
May we be and see better leaders in the mold of Christ rather than the world.