The wisdom literature of the Old Testament has a great deal to say about the poor and afflicted. The source of poverty is variously attributed in its passages. For instance in some proverbs it is represented as a state one brings on themselves through laziness, haste, lack of discipline or excessive and undisciplined consumption of various things. In other texts in Proverbs and in Job, scarcity is attributed to injustice at the hands of greedy and corrupt people. Poverty can cause sorrow, abandonment, or vulnerability and it can lead to crime. Those who are in a privileged position of affluence are continually encouraged to support the poor along with the widows and orphans. If this happens then there will be much less affliction by oppression. Oppressors of the needy in effect taunt God their Maker, while those who are gracious to the less fortunate honor Him. One of the marks of the righteous is their concern for the underprivileged. Rulers in particular are exhorted to demonstrate compassion toward the needy. As we look at what was written in scripture, mostly by persons of power and influence, it is interesting to note that these writers did not present the poor as immoral or second class citizens but instead as neighbors in need of mercy. It is also true that there is never an indication that the poor and afflicted are necessarily more pious. Poverty was never shown as an ideal of Israelite society.
We also see that the poor are not the only victims of oppression. Even the king of Israel suffered affliction at the hands of his enemies. In the face of this kind of adversity, whether you are privileged or pauper, scripture is clear that the proper response is faith in the Lord. He is the righteous judge over all injustice. And above everything else, a righteous person is to be dedicated to the Lord, knowing that it is better to be a penniless person of integrity that a prosperous person of proud and or oppressive ways. The Book of Proverbs readily acknowledges that some wicked fools are wealthy, but it also reminds us that this kind of wealth won’t last long (11:18). Sometimes the godly will be rewarded with material blessings AND the opportunity to be generous. Not everything is equal and sometimes wealth does not go to the deserving (Ecclesiastes 9:11). It doesn’t always produce satisfaction either (Ecclesiastes 2:17-23, 5:10-17). Sometimes riches are detrimental to faith (James 2:1-13). When a choice needs to be made between godliness and money, the wise will choose godliness.
Another issue that is addressed in Proverbs is anger. The writer tells us that wise people do not fly off the handle (14:29). People with understanding control their anger but a hot temper shows great foolishness. Because anger can cloud judgement it is important for the wise to reflect on their actions before responding (14:16). Although Proverbs comments on anger only in a negative light, scripture does not portray all anger as bad. Many of the Psalms express anger (77 for example). Jesus became angry as He tossed the money changers out of the temple. The key is learning to distinguish righteous anger from unrighteousness anger. Sometimes it is hard to tell the two apart. Unrighteous anger is typically only concerned with protecting and promoting oneself, while righteous anger reflects God’s hatred of evil and love of justice. The wise person reads the circumstances and discerns whether and to what degree to express anger.
Relationships are also a significant topic of discussion in Proverbs. Chapter 17 gives us a nugget here in verse 17, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” This proverb touts faithfulness. A true friend is constant and a real brother helps in times of stress. That is the ideal. English philosopher and theologian G. K. Chesterton once said that God commanded us to love both our enemies and our neighbors because they were usually the same people. This isn’t always the case, but sometimes. Proverbs makes it clear that true friendship is based on love because only love will endure the tests that friends experience as they go through life together. It is possible to have many companions but no real friends. Proverbs 18:42 reminds us that “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Friendship is one of those things that must be cultivated so that it’s roots go deep. The writer of Proverbs reminds us to choose our friends carefully, “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray.” Proverbs 12:26. The writer warns about the differences between choosing a friend between the wise and the foolish (13:20). Friendships that are based on money, or sin are destined to be disappointing. So are friendships with those with bad tempers (22:24-25), those who speak foolishly (14:7), those who rebel against authority (24:21-22), or those who are dishonest (29:27). Believers are called to listen to the wisdom of Psalm 1:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 6:14-18.
The writer of Proverbs tells us that true friends know how to keep a confidence (25:9-10). If you have a disagreement with someone he cautions us to not bring someone else into the discussion by betraying a confidence because it may well cost our reputations and the friend who trusted us with the confidence. (11:13, 20:19). If we are not careful gossip might end a friendship (16:28). The next quality for true friends and neighbors is to control our tongues (11:9). Many times we hear things and sometimes they are too good to not share…right? When that happens we need to ask ourselves three questions. Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Proverbs tells us not to believe the first thing we hear because it just might be wrong (18:17). And beware of people who stir up trouble and then say, i was only joking (26:18-19). We are called to be both loving and honest with people and to not take our friends for granted. We also cannot assume that when we offend a friend they will automatically forgive our offenses (18:19). It is strange but true that some of God’s people will forgive offenses from an unbeliever that they would not forgive a Christian friend for. When things go awry Matthew 18:5-35 gives us the steps to take to make things right and mend friendships. Jesus has warned us that an unforgiving spirit will only imprison us, not those who have offended us.
Faithful friends and neighbors can both counsel and encourage us (27:9). These are images of oil and fine perfume which may seem odd here. These things may have originally been used for ceremonial purposes, religious and then secular. They moved to using them for honored guests in the home and eventually they became a habit with the growing sophistication of society and the need for deodorants in hot lands. So universal was the practice that when oils and fine perfume were not used it was taken as a sign of mourning. Oil and perfume are signs of the sweetness of a friendly discussion. Friends and neighbors are called to be sensitive to one another’s feelings and to exercise tact. If we spend too much time together we may wear out our welcome (25:17). And the writer of Proverbs cautions us to beware of the friend who loudly and frequently praises us and tells us what a good friend we are. True friendship does not need such antics, especially if they wake you up early to tell you (27:14). Brotherly and sisterly love is sensitive to other people’s feelings and needs, and true friends try to say the right things at the right time in the right way. The writer of Proverbs also addresses other relationships but we will look at them another time.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W