Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Proverbs 10:15 --- The Economy of our Lord

Proverbs 10:15
A rich man's wealth is his strong city;
    the poverty of the poor is their ruin.

This is a remarkable proverb.  On the surface, it is just an observational proverb that tells us the way life is, not the way it ought to be.  The rich are insulated from many of the difficulties of life because of their wealth, while the poor are not.  Tremper Longman gives some helpful modern examples of the security wealth gives, and the helplessness of poverty.  He writes, "We might begin with a plumbing emergency.  If a pipe bursts, no problem.  Just pay a plumber to fix it.  If a lawsuit threatens, no problem.  Just hire a better lawyer than the plaintiff, and if one loses, there is more money to pay the person anyway!  On the other hand, if a pipe bursts in the home of the poor, what are they to do?  Wealth means having shelter and plenty of food, but not so for the poor; they could starve to death."[1]

The first lesson of this proverb, then, is compassion.  A life of poverty makes life extremely difficult.  Our hearts should go out to the literal poor.

But our proverb hints at something more going on.  Our proverb begs for a spiritual interpretation.  The first line of the proverb is contradicted again and again in the Old Testament, not to mention the New!  The rich are invariably condemned for making their wealth their "strong city."  Proverbs 10:2, for example, has already told us that righteousness, not money, is the great treasure of life.  Earthly wealth is of no value in making us right with God, as Proverbs 11:4 says: "Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death."  Thus, the first line of the proverb, while true in an observational sense, hints at the idolatry of the rich in making wealth their trust, rather than the name of the Lord, which Proverb condemns while pointing to the One we should trust:
The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
    the righteous man runs into it and is safe.
A rich man's wealth is his strong city,
    and like a high wall in his imagination. (Proverbs 18:10-11)

Once we see that the first line of our proverb, in a spiritual sense, points to the idolatry of the rich, the proverb gains a whole new meaning.  As Jesus taught us, "How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" (Luke 18:24).  The rich face a number of roadblocks to entering the kingdom.  Among these roadblocks are to put their trust in wealth, rather than the Lord; to imagine wrongly that wealth provides lasting security; to put their trust in their own understanding, rather than the Word of God; to become indifferent to the plight of the literal poor; and, most importantly, to fail to become rich toward God (Luke 12:13-21).

If the first line of our proverb has a twist, in its spiritual sense, then we should expect the second line to have a reversal as well.  The second line, "the poverty of the poor is their ruin," takes a surprising turn.  Now, in a spiritual sense, stunningly, the second line applies to the rich themselves!  The rich, who do not trust in the Lord, will find they are actually spiritual paupers on the day of judgement.  They will not have enough wealth to enter the kingdom of heaven, for the ransom of a man's soul is costly, and requires the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ.  With his shed blood, Jesus Christ gives forgiveness, and with his perfect righteousness he covers our sinful nakedness, which was ours from the time of our conception and birth.

In Jesus' economy, the literal poor are not automatically in his kingdom apart from faith.  But the poverty of the literal poor is a picture of our true state before the Lord.  We are dependent creatures, who depend upon the grace and goodwill of our heavenly Father for all the blessings of body and soul.  And, we are sinful creatures, who are spiritually bankrupt, and have nothing to offer for our salvation, except our sin.  Therefore, Jesus reverses the "ruin" of poverty, and he speaks of this reversal when he says, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!"  The kingdom of heaven, now that is true wealth in the economy of our Lord!

[1] Longman, Proverbs, 235-236.

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