By Mike Willis
The rich man’s wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty (Prov. 10:15).
This proverb states a truth that some religious people are unwilling to admit namely, that wealth has advantages over poverty. Sometimes preaching against the dangers of covetousness borders on making poverty commendable and wealth a sin. Covetousness is sinful, but wealth is not. We can think of several very wealthy men who served the Lord: Abraham, Solomon, David, Joseph of Arimathea, Barnabas, and others. Being prosperous is not sinful.
George Lawson’s commentary effectively undermines the truth this proverb teaches because of his predisposition against wealth. He writes that wealth “is not a strong city, but his strong city. He thinks it will prove a sufficient defence to him from that destruction which his mouth merited” (Proverbs 179). Derek Kidner responds to this concept, though not to Lawson, warning, “You may be called to forgo wealth; you must certainly rate it below honesty. But don’t affect to despise it; don’t embrace poverty out of laziness or romanticism” (Proverbs 87).
The wise man holds out before us a truth that needs to be considered. Wealth provides a defense against some of the things that befall men. Kell and Delitzsch correctly observed, “. . . the rich man stands thus independent, changes and adversities cannot so easily overthrow him, he is also raised above many hazards and temptations; on the contrary, the poor man is overthrown by little misfortunes, and his despairing endeavors to save himself, when they fail, ruin him completely, and perhaps make him at the same time a moral outlaw” (Proverbs 219). He concludes emphasizing that one of man’s goals is to “make the firm establishing of his external life position.”
This proverb was written before many of the social programs that have been established as “safety nets” for United States citizens were in place. This goes back before health insurance, life insurance, unemployment, social security, medical disability, and such like things. Think of some of the things that wealth provides a person a defense from: (a) the troubles that come from losing one’s job; (b) the problems that come from long-term illness and no income from work; (c) protection from the weather because he has a warm house in which to live; (d) protection of his family from starvation that might come from an unexpected death that leaves his wife widowed and his children fatherless; (e) a means of support in one’s old age when he is unable to work; (f) absence of fretting and worrying about food, clothing, and shelter; (g) bankruptcy. There are some things against which wealth provides no defense. Wealth cannot protect man from: (a) The eternal consequences of sin; (b) Ill health; (c) Death. There are limits to what wealth is able to provide a defense. If one recognizes that wealth is a defense in some of these temporal matters, he who is wise will build his defense as strong as he can (so long as he does not compromise his faith in God while doing so).
Wealth also enables a person to en-joy such things as. the purchase of some of life’s luxuries (nice houses, cars, clothes) and the ability to travel and enjoy life.
The poor man is more exposed to the problems of life. Because he can-not afford to lose his job, he may take more abuse from an employer than a richer man might take. When medical bills come, the amount not covered by his insurance may sink him so deeply in debt that he can never re-cover. The poor may not even be able to afford insurance. He may not carry life insurance because he needs every dime he makes to buy food, clothing, and shelter; therefore, his family is more exposed to the dangers of premature death. He probably lives “hand to mouth,” without any cash reserve set aside to provide for unforeseen circumstances. He can little afford luxuries of life such as travel, expensive cars, and nicer clothes.
The writer of proverbs therefore emphasizes to young men their need to be zealous in their work and industrious to make the best possible provisions for their family. Compare these following proverbs:
The poor is hated even of his own neighbour: but the rich hath many friends (Prov. 14:20).
The poor useth entreaties; but the rich answereth roughly (Prov. 18:23).
Wealth maketh many friends; but the poor is separated from his neighbour (Prov 19:4).
The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender (Prov. 22:7).
Young husbands and fathers need to pay attention to these proverbs. Recognizing the legitimate truth that wealth does provide a limited defense from some of the troubles of life, do the best that you can to provide for your family. Try to excel on your job, get job advances, make wise investments, save what you can, and otherwise make your family as financially stable as possible.
While you do this, also be aware of the danger of making the accumulation of wealth your main goal in life. This will lead to covetousness, dishonesty, and other forms of sinful conduct. While wealth is a goal, it is not a primary or more important goal than greater than honesty, integrity, one’s wife and children, or one’s loyalty to the Lord.
Most of us are industrious to do what this proverb teaches because of parental training, but some may be surprised to learn that the proverbs also teach young men this gem of wisdom.
Guardian of Truth XL: 12 p. 2
June 20, 1996