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Proverbs 22:1-29

June 15, 2015

The following proverbs stood out for me in this chapter:

A good name is to be chosen rather than riches, and favor is better than silver and gold (v.1).  Our reputation is perhaps the most valuable thing we possess.  It is the basis upon which our friends and acquaintances relate to us.  It determines whether we are confided in, whether we are sought out for advise or help, whether we are included in social gatherings, whether we are employable, and whether we are treated with warmth and joy or with suspicion and coolness.  Our reputation, to a significant extent, shapes the quality of our lives.

Generally, our friends and the people we work with know us almost as well as we know ourselves–and they know some aspects of us better than we know ourselves.  So for the most part we get the reputation we deserve.  But on some rare occasions our reputations can be damaged by a false accusation.  On those occasions we need to remember that what God thinks of us is all that matters.

The rich and the poor have this in common:  the Lord is the maker of them all (v.2).  At first this may seem like an overly-obvious proverb.  Of course God is the maker of us all!  But what the proverb is getting at is that we act as if this were not true.  We fawn after the rich and famous.  We want to be near them and become like them.  We believe they have special powers and abilities.  We think their opinions matter more than anyone else’s.  We congratulate them on their success.  We truly treat them as superior beings.  The poor, on the other hand, we treat as ignorant losers.  We don’t want to be around them or become anything like them.  We don’t care much about their opinions–because we’re sure they’re wrong.  We think they have limited abilities and we blame them for their lack of financial success.

But the reality is that our fortunes are heavily influenced by where we were born and to whom we were born.  Millions lack education and medicine simply because of the neighborhood or country where they were born.  Millions become millionaires, or famous political leaders, or famous actors because of what they inherited or the doors their parents were able to open for them.  The fact is, we’re all simply human beings.  Yes, our in-born personalities and abilities somewhat differ; but what we have in common far outweighs what makes us different.  We all have the same inherent dignity and value, and we all ought to be treated that way.

Oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself, and giving to the rich, will lead only to loss (v.16).  We never think we are oppressing the poor.  We call it free enterprise, opportunity, or following the dictates of a free market.  But if we are paying wages that do not allow workers to pay for their necessities, we are oppressing the poor (particularly if we are making a profit and a good salary ourselves).  We are taking advantage of them by taking advantage of limited work opportunities and desperation.  Also, we never think we give to the rich; we think we give to the poor.  But in reality we pour our resources into companies and banks that make a huge profit off of us and enrich those at the top, while far fewer resources ever get to those in desperate need.

This proverb was not written in the context of a capitalist system; nevertheless, it is quite relevant for the system we live under today.  Our economic activity and policies favor the rich over the poor.  Most companies have at least some employees working at minimum wage–which is usually not enough to live on, and some companies keep workers at half-time so they don’t have to pay health insurance–which keeps those employees impoverished and without the medical care they need; at the same time the CEO makes hundreds of times as much as the average full-time employee and has full benefits.  The biblical authors are aware that the prevailing economic order, left to itself, results in poverty and destitution for some.  Therefore, our economic systems must be at least tempered by a special concern and protection for the poor.

Make no friends with those given to anger, and do not associate with hotheads, or you may learn their ways and entangle yourself in a snare (vv.24-25).  This proverb follows a proverb about not robbing the poor or crushing the afflicted.  The author seems to see a sort of moral equivalence or importance between not harming the poor and not associating with hotheads.  That’s alarming to me since I have sometimes been a hothead!

The Bible warns us about venting anger–not only in this proverb but also in Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount.  Paul wisely says “do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  In other words, get your problems with others worked out as soon as possible.  The longer anger festers, the harder it is to resolve a conflict, and the worse the ultimate result is likely to be.

The problem with all this biblical advice, though, is that we often respond then by burying our anger and pretending we are not angry.  But that’s the same as letting anger fester; it’s simply smoldering unseen.  The result then is likely to be passive-aggressive behavior.  We say we are not angry; we say we have forgiven the offense; but in reality we undermine the other person behind their back.  This is no more healthy than venting one’s anger.  At least venting anger has the advantage of being fully honest with one’s feelings!

The better way is to be honest about our feelings, confront the offender without venting, and work cooperatively toward a solution as soon as practical.

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From → Proverbs

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