Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Yahweh's view of what is "better," or why poverty isn't necessarily evil

Proverbs 17:1 caught my attention this morning: “Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it Than a house full of feasting with strife.”

I wondered how many times Proverbs says X is better than Y, so I did a quick search on "better is" and "is better." Here's what I found:

Prov. 3:14 -- wisdom's profit is better than silver or gold
Prov. 8:11 -- wisdom is better than jewels
Prov. 8:19 -- wisdom's fruit is better than pure gold or choicest silver
Prov. 12:9  -- lowly with a servant is better than self-honoring without a servant
Prov. 15:16 -- little + fear of Yahweh is better than wealth with turmoil
Prov. 15:17 -- vegetables + love is better than fatted ox + hatred
Prov. 16:8 -- little + righteousness is better than great income with injustice
Prov. 16:19 -- lowly with the poor is better than dividing spoil with the proud
Prov. 16:32 -- slow to anger is better than the mighty
Prov. 17:1 -- a dry morsel + quiet is better than feasting with strife
Prov. 19:1 -- being poor + integrity is better than perverse in speech and a fool
Prov. 19:22 -- being poor is better than being a liar
Prov. 21:9 -- corner of a roof is better than a big house with quarrelsome wife
Prov. 21:19 -- live in a desert is better than with contentious and angry wife
Prov. 22:1 -- good name/favor is better than great riches/silver and gold
Prov. 25:7 -- humble > elevated is better than proud > demoted
Prov. 25:24 -- corner of a roof is better than house with quarrelsome wife
Prov. 27:5 -- open rebuke is better than secret love
Prov. 27:10 -- neighbor near is better than brother far away (in calamity)
Prov. 28:6 -- poor + integrity is better than rich + crooked

All the “better” sayings in Proverbs reflect a value system, Yahweh’s value system.Yahweh values wisdom and its fruit, fearing him, love, righteousness, humility, self-control, peace and quiet, integrity, honesty, and a good name. Yahweh values reality over appearance.

A key point is that having these things often comes at the cost of material wealth (Prov. 16:8, 19; 19:1, 22; 22:1; 28:6). Further, if one must make a choice between wealth, silver, gold, jewels, spoil, great income, or feasts without what Yahweh’s values and poverty with what Yahweh’s values, the better choice is poverty.

These passages argue that poverty is not an evil. It may be a good. It may be much better than wealth. Poverty is merely a financial circumstance. What truly matters is the character and choices of the one who is in that circumstance.

This is one good reason among others not to be a "war on poverty" advocate.


Rodney said...

Such a helpful way to look at Kingdom values!

In a way it's a worship war, isn't it? The fight to keep our hearts set on Kingdom priorities vs greed and other kinds of self-worship.

Philip Brown said...

I'm changing the post title to Yahweh's view of ... rather than Solomon's view of ... for two reasons:
1) I critiqued something my brother wrote today for not reflecting the balance we find in the NT's handling of human and divine authorship in Scripture--specifically, "which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning" (Acts 1:16 in reference to Psalm 109), or "David himself said in the Holy Spirit" (Mark 12:36 in reference to Psalm 110)--and here I did the same thing! Talk about the pot calling the kettle black!
2)Proverbs reflects Solomon's perspective only to the degree that Solomon shared Yahweh's perspective. A friend of mine has recently pointed out how unwisely the wisest man, Solomon, lived. It reminds me that cognitive apprehension of God's perspective may not be paired with volitional application. The result is tragedy, tragedy of Solomonic proportion!