Wealth, Poverty, and

Economics in Proverbs

Job and Proverbs

April 3/00

Box #260

Wealth, poverty and economics has been one of the main areas of human interest and investigation over the last three hundred years. Beginning in earnest during the enlightenment period of Europe, economics and wealth has been studied thoroughly and aggressively. Often times, this debate has produced great ideological and polemical debates, even wars and revolutions.[1] Indeed, man has been increasingly described and analyzed though the lens of production and economic social stratas (homo economis). Christianity has no less been a contributor to this debate. Most scholarship on the question of wealth in Christianity has been from the perspective of the synoptic gospels (especially in the Sermon on the Mount) or the Pauline epistles, which at times seem to contain contrasting ideals and values.

Of all the books in the Bible, Proverbs remains one of the least studied and written upon. This is explained because of the simplicity and straight forwardness of the text. There is little that confounds people in Proverbs. It is not overly philosophical or even theological, rather it focuses on practical wisdom and life, displaying many timeless truths and advice for all peoples. Proverbs does have much to say about wealth, poverty, and economics in general. Along with sexual ethics and the topic of adultery, it is one of the main topics of Proverbs. Proverbs contains much wisdom that at times may seem contradictory, but upon closer examination, it is revealed that cultural context and the situational nature of ethical Proverbs display these contradictions not to be. To develop a holistic picture of wealth in Proverbs, wealth will be analyzed in relation to proverbial wisdom literature in general, the direct statements on wealth production, poverty, the ethics of wealth, the foundation of wealth being justice, and an eternal perspective of wealth and poverty.

To thoroughly develop a coherent view of wealth and poverty in Proverbs, attention must be given to the Hebrew mind in relation to wealth. Wealth in the OT was seen typically, as a blessing of God and its antithesis, poverty, as a curse. While this rule has its challenge in the book of Job, the OT consistently shows that the primitive mind associated wealth with blessing and the good life of God. Proverbs 10:22 displays as much, “The blessing of the Lord brings wealth, and he adds not trouble to it.” The primitive mind associated most blessings in the present and earthly reality. The exodus event, the fixation on many children, the conquering of Israel, and fixation on wealth, prove that the Israelite mind did not conceive of blessings in an eternal perspective like early Christians. While there is developed to some extent the idea of spiritual or eternal blessings, the physical and temporal blessings in the OT are given much more credence and stress than the eternal. Proverbs, as much as other OT books, shows this to be true, if not more because of its practical and materialistic nature.

Proverbs is an interesting OT book, in that it does not make many direct references to the law of Moses or the exodus. Proverbs, however, cannot be divorced from its broader Hebrew context. Wisdom literature is built upon the foundation of the Hebrew God, Yahweh. He is the giver of wisdom and its author. As Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.” Wisdom finds its origins in Yahweh. Despite much of the atheological nature of Proverbs, Solomon at the beginning of the book (1:7), recognizes that all truth comes from the creator himself. He is the author of such things, and therefore must be given credit. All philosophy is based upon certain axioms and premises. Proverbs premise, as described by Solomon, is the God Yahweh. Solomon in his own philosophical system, relates the notion that philosophies and wisdom not founded on God are foolish and end up denying true wisdom and end in anarchy. Proverbs 29:18 says this with poignant accuracy, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.” Therefore, Proverbs must be set in the context of Hebraic monotheism and to some extent the law of Moses,