Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Proverbs 22:16: This Age and the Age to Come



Proverbs 22:16 --- This Age and the Age to Come
Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth,
    or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.

We've come to the end of Solomon's second collection.  This is proverb number 375.  There have been 375 proverbs, which is also the numerical value of Solomon's name.  The letters of the Hebrew alphabet have a numerical value.  It seems quite improbable this is a coincidence.  Solomon has put his name on this collection of Proverbs in a subtle and unique way.

I think he ends with an appropriate proverb, for this proverb is telling us this age is corrupt, but there is going to be a new age.  There is going to be a reversal.  In the age to come, the rich, who rule this world are going to come to poverty, and the poor in spirit are going to be rich. 

Undoubtedly, this truth is told cryptically and enigmatically in this proverb.  But Solomon also told us in his preface that this is the very nature of a proverb:

            to understand a proverb and a saying,
               the words of the wise and their riddles. (1:6)

The second line of our proverb moves us toward this conclusion, this reversal, when it tells us that those who oppress the poor or give to the rich to gain favors, "will only come to poverty."  Yet experience teaches us that while sometimes such reversals come in this world, it is far from the norm.  Thus, Proverbs itself forces us to look to the age to come and the Lord's judgment, when righteousness will rule and Christ's order will be established forever.

Our Lord's brother in the flesh, James, who became Jesus' devoted servant (James 1:1) after witnessing his resurrection, seems to share this perspective about the corruption of this age, and its reversal.  In James 5:1-6, does he not point to the ultimate judgment of the rich and powerful of this world?  Most certainly he does (I have put in italics and bold font the judgment and reversal he foresees):

"Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you."

But notice that James equates the poor, not with the literal poor who are actually not mentioned in these verses, but with the "righteous person," in verse 6.  And, notice the meekness of the righteous: "He does not resist you."  James has internalized well, his brother's, and now Lord's, teaching:  "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3).

The question for each of us, whether rich or poor, then, is this:  Whose side are we on?  Which age shall we live for?  With whom, and with what age, will we identify?  The believer is baptized into the name of Jesus Christ and the triune God.  He doesn't belong to this evil age that is passing away.  He belongs to his Lord and his life is to be characterized by the priorities and values of the age to come, for there lies his true home.  Ultimately, this is what Proverbs is all about.  It is about learning to live in this age as children of the age to come.





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