By Justin Borger with assistance from Generous Giving staff
Proverbs’ stated purpose is to provide practical instruction for living a wise and well-ordered life (1:1-7). However, the book contains much more than practical advice. Its theological tone is set from the start when the teacher says to his son, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge” (1:7). As the book proceeds, we find that Proverbs is surprisingly positive and even enthusiastic about the goodness of wealth. Even in her appeal before all humanity to come to her, Lady Wisdom calls out, “With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity” (8:18). Yet the book reminds us of wealth’s limited value again and again (e.g. 11:4). We learn that one of the primary characteristics of the wise is their ability to choose that which is better than wealth and riches in the present (e.g. 15:16). Proverbs has more to say about issues of wealth and poverty than almost any other topic. On the one hand, we are taught about the wisdom of generosity, stewardship, hard work and diligence. On the other hand, we are warned against the impoverishing powers of greed, presumptuous planning, and the foolishness of laziness and risky lending. As a whole, the wisdom of Proverbs is nicely summarized in a description of the “Wife of Noble Character” at the book’s end (31:10-31). Stewardship and generosity are this woman’s crowning characteristics. She blends business savvy and domestic skills even as “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy” (31:20). This wise woman’s love for the Lord is expressed in the way she goes about the essential details of life as a generous steward of her many talents and gifts, willingly involving herself in daily tasks while exuding competence in all that she does. Her stewardship and skill for living is an expression of her fear of God and her belief that he himself is intimately involved in every facet of life.
Our study of Proverbs consists of two parts. In the first section, readers will find our stewardship study notes. These notes analyze, in a passage-by-passage fashion, the implications of the book’s teaching for Christian generosity and related issues. The second section consists of short essays describing the book’s major stewardship themes. These notes and essays are not intended to be comprehensive explanations of the author’s goals in writing this book, nor do they exhaust the book’s possible applications in matters related to stewardship and generosity.
While Generous Giving’s Bible study material will aid anyone who is searching the Scriptures for guidance, they may prove especially useful as sermon helps for pastors and as a resource for teachers, advisors and lay leaders interested in obeying and teaching the message of Scripture in matters of generosity and stewardship. We readily acknowledge our fallibility in writing these study notes, for they are the work of humans, not God. Please search the Scriptures (Acts 17:11) as you read this material critically, carefully and prayerfully. May God bless you in your studies.
Passage-by-Passage Study NotesClick here for notes on Proverbs 1-16.
Proverbs 17:8 — This saying is difficult because it appears to encourage bribery, which both Scripture and Proverbs—even in this chapter—condemn (e.g., Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19; 27:25; Isaiah 1:23; 5:23; Ezekiel 22:12; Psalm 15:5; Proverbs 15:27;17:23; 28:21; Ecclesiastes 7:7). To properly understand this verse, it is necessary to recognize that the perspective comes from the person making the bribe, i.e., “A bribe is a charm to the one who gives it” (emphasis added). Thus, it is not God’s perspective but a simple observation of the fact that bribes often make things easy for those who sin by using them —at least for a little while (Romans 14:10, 12). Taking a positive approach to various ways we can use wealth in this world to our own advantage, Luke 16:1-9 reminds us that we as Christians should be as even more worldly wise than people in this world. We should use our treasure to win friends in eternity and invest in the kingdom. This entails (among other things) generosity, mercy, and kindness to others in the present. Proverbs has much more to say about wisdom and morality in the marketplace as well: 6:1-5; 10:2; 11:1, 15, 18, 24-26; 13:11; 14:23; 15:27; 16:18, 11, 13, 26; 17:18; 20:10, 14, 16, 23; 21:5; 22:7, 26-27; 26:10; 27:13, 18; 28:8, 16. See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom of Generosity and Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes theme essay Wisdom for Wealth.
Proverbs 17:17 — Today we are rather loose with the way we use the word “friend”. One way to take stock of our relationships is to ask which “friends” we would be willing to help with our time and resources when they had a need.
Proverbs 18:16 — To understand this verse, various cultural considerations must be taken into account. Commentator Raymond Van Leeuwen notes that gift-giving played a key role in the general exchange of goods and services in ancient Near Eastern societies. “Gifts were used in social interactions of almost every sort, from legal transactions (Proverbs 15:27), to prophetic consultation (1 Samuel 9:7), to marriage arrangements (Genesis 34:12; Exodus 22:16-17; 1 Samuel 18:20-27) ... A person who did not give the appropriate promised gift would be condemned (25:14). A gift could also mean access to persons of power (v. 16). This use of the ‘gift’ was especially prone to corruption. Hence, Israel’s prophets and sages had to warn against the danger of corrupt gift giving” (Raymond Van Leeuwen, “Proverbs,” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 5, 174). Note other passages on bribery in Proverbs: 17:8, 23; 18:16; 19:6; 21:14; 25:14; 28:21. Also note other Old Testament passages condemning bribery: Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19; 27:25; Isaiah 1:23; 5:23; Ezekiel 22:12; Psalm 15:5; Ecclesiastes 7:7. Proverbs has much more to say about wisdom and morality in the marketplace as well: 6:1-5; 10:2; 11:1, 15, 18, 24-26; 13:11; 14:23; 15:27; 16:18, 11, 13, 26; 17:18; 20:10, 14, 16, 23; 21:5; 22:7, 26-27; 26:10; 27:13, 18; 28:8, 16.
Proverbs 18:23 — Our financial situations are often indicative of our attitudes and self-perception. In particular, wealth often represents a strong temptation to grow proud and self-reliant (Proverbs 18:11), which in turn can express itself through harsh words as we see here in Proverbs 18:23. It is easy for us to assume that our financial and spiritual situations are one and the same. After all, when we have plenty of money in the bank and food in our stomachs it is easy to assume that all is well with our souls, and that we have lived as we should. However, when we are confronted by our own poverty we tend to recognize our neediness in other areas as well. We are forced to recognize that all is not well, and we are more likely to seek God’s mercy. This provides a real opportunity to grow in faith and dependence upon God (cf. James 2:5).
Proverbs 19:6 — This verse makes a simple observation—gifts and bribes can makes things easy for those who give them. The verse does not appear to make a moral judgment upon such action although elsewhere both Scripture and Proverbs clearly condemn bribery (e.g., Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19; 27:25; Isaiah 1:23; 5:23; Ezekiel 22:12; Psalm 15:5; Proverbs 15:27;17:23; 28:21; Ecclesiastes 7:7). For more on Proverbs’ view of bribery and gift-giving see notes on 15:27; 17:8 18:16.
Proverbs 19:7 — See note on Proverbs 19:4.
Proverbs 19:10a — This verse reminds us that there are often exceptions to the general principle that foolishness leads to poverty (Proverbs 6:11; 10:4; 14:23; 20:13; 24:33-34; 28:19). Such exceptions are, however, “not fitting”. Proverbs 30:21-23 also notes a number of things that are not fitting. Verse 21 actually says that these things make the earth tremble. That is, they come into collision with the wisdom with which God created the world (Proverbs 3:19) and are liable to produce an ever-growing chain reaction of disasters. Among the things listed as causes of this cosmic upheaval is “a fool who is full of food” (Proverbs 30:22). This is intolerable because the people ought to reap what they sow, and the proper reward of foolishness is poverty (e.g., Proverbs 6:11; 10:4; 14:23; 20:13; 24:33-34; 28:19). Knowledge of what is “fitting” in the biblical sense is crucial for those of us who are in need of financial discretion. For example, it is unfitting for parents to provide non-God-fearing children with an extravagant inheritance when they die. A fool is someone who does not fear the Lord, and children who will not use their inheritance for the sake of God’s kingdom should not be given resources to waste in self-absorption (compare this with other remarks about foolish children in Proverbs 19:13-15). See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom for the Future.
Proverbs 19:14 — This verse highlights the limitations and relative value of wealth. The previous verse observes the torment of a quarrelsome wife; this verse calls us to recognize that some gifts are more clearly given by God alone.
Proverbs 19:15 — See note on Proverbs 6:6-11.
Proverbs 19:17 (Key Passage) — Lending to the Lord: The rock-bottom duty of showing generosity to the poor was firmly established in Israel’s Law; it permeated the Prophets, and here we see it in Proverbs. We should observe the fact that this verse speaks of generosity not as obligation but as opportunity. Generosity is profitable, for the God who owns everything (Psalm 24:1) says that he considers himself a debtor to all who give to the poor. Indeed, God so identifies with those who are needy that he sees giving to the poor and giving to himself as identical acts of generosity. Jesus said it this way, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40). The whole of Scripture has much to say about the benefits of generosity: Psalm 12:5; Proverbs 11:24; Ecclesiastes 11:1; Luke 6:38; 12:33; 2 Corinthians 9:8-9; 1 Timothy 6:18-19. See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom of Generosity and Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes theme essay Wisdom for Wealth.
Proverbs 20:14 — Once again we see Proverbs’ interest in the marketplace. Money matters, and God insists that our business practices reflect his standards of righteousness and justice (cf. Leviticus 19:35; Deuteronomy 25:13-16; Proverbs 20:10, 23; Ezekiel 45:10; Hosea 12:7-8; Amos 8:5; Micah 6:10-11; Luke 6:35-38). In particular, God hates double-dealing business practices (e.g., Proverbs 11:1). Here, with a note of humor, we see dishonest business negotiations being exposed as hypocritical and two-faced. We often engage in dishonest activities like this, things which are not technically “illegal” but are nevertheless wrong. For example, charging high prices for goods and services without telling people how expensive they would be beforehand, lying in business negotiations because “that’s just how it goes.” How many of us have ever sold a car without telling the person all the problems it had before he bought it? We are called to be forthcoming, even if truthfulness comes with a financial price tag. Proverbs has much more to say about wisdom and morality in business and personal finance: 6:1-5; 10:2; 11:1, 15, 18, 24-26; 13:11; 14:23; 15:27; 16:18, 11, 13, 26; 17:18; 20:10, 14, 16, 23; 21:5; 22:7, 26-27; 26:10; 27:13, 18; 28:8, 16. See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom of Work.
Proverbs 20:15 — Again we are called to recognize the relative value of worldly wealth in comparison with gifts of knowledge and wisdom. Proverbs affirms the value of wealth and riches, but the book also takes every opportunity to point out the limitations of their worth. This passage is closely connected to the teachings we find in the “better than” proverbs: 15:17; 16:8, 16, 19, 32; 17:1; 19:1, 22; 22:1; 28:6. These passages highlight the relative value of wealth. See Proverbs theme essay Love and Money.
Proverbs 20:16 — Proverbs repeatedly warns against the danger of becoming entangled in foolish business ventures, particularly where putting up collateral for a stranger is involved (6:1-5; 11:15; 17:18; 22:26; 27:13). Such warnings are in keeping with the premium Proverbs places upon a financially unencumbered life. Conversely, Proverbs also warns against the dangers associated with borrowing (see note on Proverbs 22:7). Proverbs has much more to say about wisdom and morality in the marketplace: 6:1-5; 10:2; 11:1, 15, 18, 24-26; 13:11; 14:23; 15:27; 16:18, 11, 13, 26; 17:18; 20:10, 14, 16, 23; 21:5; 22:7, 26-27; 26:10; 27:13, 18; 28:8, 16.
Proverbs 20:17 — Commentator Tremper Longman notes that food or “bread” stands for any kind of material possessions. This proverb reminds us that while ill-gotten gain may seem enjoyable for the time being, it inevitably leads to undesirable consequences. Also note Proverbs 9:17-18, where Lady Folly’s water is described as being “sweet” in spite of the fact that it leads to “the depths of the grave”. See Proverbs theme essay Love and Money.
Proverbs 20:18 — See note on Proverbs 15:22.
Proverbs 20:21 — Easy come, easy go. Proverbs endorses the idea of gaining wealth incrementally through renewable sources of income such as daily work and diligence. We could illustrate this idea by saying that it is better to have a trickling spring (i.e., a sustainable source of water) than large reservoir that once used is gone.
Proverbs 20:24 — While Proverbs affirms the value and importance of planning, it also insists that the future belongs to God (16:1; 3, 9, 33). Nothing we do exists outside of God’s direction providential control. For related commentary see Proverbs 6:1-3. See other passages on planning in Proverbs: 6:18; 11:14; 12:5, 20; 14:12, 22; 15:22, 26; 16:1, 2, 3, 25, 33; 19:21; 20:18, 24; 21:5; 24:6, 27; 27:1; 29:18; 31:25, 27. See James theme essay Presumptuous Plans and Proverbs theme essay Wisdom for the Future.
Proverbs 21:6 — As the biblical commentator Tremper Longman notes, “Proverbs is not against the acquisition of wealth, but it must be done with honesty and industry. Fraudulent pursuit of wealth is consistently condemned (22:16) along with any from of lying (6:16-19; 25:18). Here the proverb cuts to the reality of the situation. These people think they are going after material possessions, but what they will gain is a meaningless life and ultimately death.” (Tremper Longman, Proverbs, 391). The story of Ananias and Sapphira provides a clear illustration of this proverb’s point. This couple pretended to give the proceeds from a sale of a piece of property to God but secretly withheld some of the money. However, the money they gained (or in this case retained) by a “lying tongue” turned out to be a “fleeting vapor and a deadly snare” when they were both struck dead (see Acts 5:1-11). Although it would not necessarily have been wrong to keep what was theirs, Ananias and Sapphira sinned by lying about their generosity and attempting to conceal their greed with a lie. The severity of their punishment should serve as a warning to us when we are tempted by dishonest gain or the desire to appear generous when we give grudgingly. See Proverbs theme essay Neither Poverty nor Riches.
Proverbs 21:13 (Key Passage) — Reap What You Sow: The Old and the New Testaments teach that God will treat us according to the way we treat those who are poor and powerless. For example: “Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and I will kill you with the sword; your wives will become widows and your children fatherless” (Exodus 22:22-23). Similarly, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45-46). Compare also with the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18:32-35). See also Matthew 5:7. See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom for the Future.
Proverbs 21:14 — Since the word translated “bribe” here can mean more than just a corrupt business transaction, one commentator compares this practice to modern-day out-of-court settlements. Our natural tendency is to close our hands and wallets when we suspect others have a claim to our resources. But if we have shamed someone publicly or caused them material, financial or bodily harm, trying to make things better with a gift or settlement is not only wise, but in some instances it is in keeping with direct biblical commandments (Exodus 21:26-22:14). And as every husband knows, thoughtful gifts can go a long way toward repairing a relationship. See also Proverbs 18:16; 19:6.
Proverbs 21:17 — People who like to go on extravagant vacations, indulge in gourmet foods, wear designer cloths, and indulge in expensive lifestyles will find that it is very easy to slip into poverty. Of course there are exceptions; some people are wealthy enough to live in luxury and extravagance and get away with it. Still, the principle holds true. We should note that this verse does not condemn those who enjoy material blessings in moderation (e.g., Proverbs 21:17 says that the house of the wise are filled with “choice food and oil”), but those who overindulge or live beyond their means because they are possessed by a desire for the next great thing. See Proverbs theme essay Neither Poverty nor Riches.
Proverbs 21:20 — See note on Proverbs 21:17.
Proverbs 21:25 — God has equipped human beings with life-promoting desires that are meant to motivate us to seek earnestly the things that we need. Those who are lonely should seek friends. Those who are hungry should seek food. Ultimately, those who are unsatisfied must seek God. The sluggard dies because he remains unmoved by the desire God gives. See note on Proverbs 6:6-11.
Proverbs 21:26 — This verse repudiates our so-called “prudence” which leads us to satisfy our personal desires before we meet the needs of others. Because human desire never ends, i.e., “All day long he craves for more ...,” we will never give if we try to satisfy ourselves first. However, those who are righteous (and therefore truly wise) give with generous self-abandon. And while such reckless generosity may seem foolish to the world, God calls unsparing generosity “righteous” which means it is supremely wise. Psalm 112:9 also indicates the close connection between generosity and righteousness when it says, “he has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever.” Commentator David Hubbard notes that when Proverbs speaks of giving freely or “scattering,” it is talking about generosity of the most radical sort. He points out that this kind of giving does not suggest “tidiness, care, or caution. ‘Scatters’ here means distributing widely, generously, perhaps brashly, and paying little attention to where the beneficence goes” (David Hubbard, Proverbs, 166). Radical giving is prudent and wise. See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom of Generosity and Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes theme essay Wisdom for Wealth.
Proverbs 22:7 (Key Passage) — Slave to the Lender: The book of Proverbs discourages both lending (Proverbs 6:1-5; 11:15) and borrowing (Proverbs 22:7). In particular, this verse warns against the unwanted consequences of debt—when we borrow, we become slaves to the lender. We are never really free so long as we owe other people money. Debt keeps us under someone else’s thumb and undercuts our ability to show generosity. The New Testament also warns against debt. Romans 13:8 says, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.” Theologian John Murray notes in regard to this warning that this cannot be taken to mean that we may never borrow from others in case of need (cf. Exodus 22:25; Psalm 37:26; Matthew 5:43; Luke 6:35). However, it clearly condemns the careless way in which we often spend ourselves ragged and fail to take repayment seriously. One of the darkest marks on the witness of the Christian church is the uniformity we have with the world in matters of financial indebtedness. For example, pollster George Barna reports that 33 percent of born-again American Christians say it is impossible for them to get ahead in life because of the financial debt they have incurred (to say nothing of lack of giving). For a country that values “freedom” so dearly, it is a curious thing that so many of us are in financial bondage. Proverbs has much more to say about wisdom and morality in business and personal finance: 6:1-5; 10:2; 11:1, 15, 18, 24-26; 13:11; 14:23; 15:27; 16:18, 11, 13, 26; 17:18; 20:10, 14, 16, 23; 21:5; 22:7, 26-27; 26:10; 27:13, 18; 28:8, 16. See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom for the Future.
Proverbs 22:9 (Key Passage) — Wisdom of Generosity #2: Often we think of generosity in terms of obligation, but we see here and in similar passages that Proverbs presents generosity toward the poor as an opportunity (see also Proverbs 11:24, 25, 26; 19:17; 28:27; 29:7). And while this may seem paradoxical to those of us who believe a tight-fist rather than an open-hand will lead to gain, the Bible goes to considerable lengths to show this to be a lie (Psalms 112:9; Ecclesiastes 11:1; Matthew 6; Luke 6:38; 12:33; 16:9; 2 Corinthians 9:6-9; 1 Timothy 6:18-19). See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom of Generosity and Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes theme essay Wisdom for Wealth.
Proverbs 22:13 — To motivate hard work and discipline, Proverbs highlights the absurd behavior of the lazy. See note on Proverbs 6:6-11. See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom of Work.
Proverbs 22:16 — Proverbs is intolerant of oppression (Proverbs 14:31) and bribery (Proverbs 15:27; 17:23; 28:21). Here the two are condemned side by side, probably because corrupt gift giving in legal transactions naturally leads to oppression. Even though the purpose of a bribe is to skew the judgment of an influential person so as to result in preferential treatment for the gift-giver, here we are told that such schemes are bound to fail. Once one has entered into the world of dishonest business practices there is no easy way out. Someone else can always bribe more or produce a better scheme. Rather than trying to get ahead through manipulative calculations, it would be far wiser to trust in God’s providence and to bank on the eternal benefits of generosity. We must remember this: “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously ...” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Other passages on bribery in Proverbs: 17:8, 23; 18:16; 19:6; 21:14; 22:16; 25:14; 28:21. Also note other Old Testament passages condemning bribery: Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19; 27:25; Isaiah 1:23; 5:23; Ezekiel 22:12; Psalm 15:5; Ecclesiastes 7:7. Proverbs has much more to say about wisdom and morality in business and personal finance: 6:1-5; 10:2; 11:1, 15, 18, 24-26; 13:11; 14:23; 15:27; 16:18, 11, 13, 26; 17:18; 20:10, 14, 16, 23; 21:5; 22:7, 26-27; 26:10; 27:13, 18; 28:8, 16.
Proverbs 22:22-23 — God’s special concern for the poor and the powerless always has been the same. In the Law God had codified his concern for the orphan, widow, and alien (Exodus 22:22-24; cf. Leviticus 19:13; Deuteronomy 24:14-15). In the prophetic books God had expressed his fierce anger against those who trampled on the needy (Amos 8:4). Likewise, here in the wisdom of Proverbs we see that God is the self-appointed defender of those who suffer from socioeconomic exploitation. God’s concern for the poor entails an inherent responsibility for us as those who fear God. Indeed, for Christians living today, the importance of caring for the poor and powerless has been amplified. As James says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27). While the Old Testament law commanded that the powerful should not oppress the powerless, the New Testament raises the bar. It is not enough for us to refrain from oppression and exploitation. We must be proactive, following Christ’s sacrificial example and meeting the needs of the poor with our own resources, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9; cf. 1 John 3:16-19). Just as this proverb depicts God as the legal representative who stands in court on behalf of the poor, the New Testament shows Jesus radically identifying with the poor as their divine representative so that what we do for our poor brothers and sisters is treated as something we do directly for Jesus himself (Matthew 25:31-46). Proverbs has much more to say on the matter of protecting the poor and the powerless: 14:21, 31; 15:25; 19:17; 21:13; 28:3; 28:27; 29:14; 30:14b; 31:19-20. See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom of Generosity.
Proverbs 22:28 — Here we are warned against encroaching on other people’s property—a form of robbery. Like the Law and the Prophets, Proverbs insists upon righteousness and justice in every spectrum of life—both private and public (cf. Proverbs 18:5, 17). The boundary stone was a marker to denote the right of inheritance a family had to a piece of land, land which was God’s provision for them in the land so that they could work and provide for themselves. Even if such land was lost through laziness or corruption, the ancient boundary stone had to remain in place so that the family could have the land returned in the Year of Jubilee, every 50 years. Today, opportunities such as education and job training are effectively off-limits to those in poorer communities. Christians should be active in providing such opportunities in their communities, enabling the poorest and most vulnerable to become part of the community as a whole as they receive good educational opportunities. We must resist the overwhelming tendency to build Christian schools and organizations which only benefit the wealthy and the middle class. Commentator Raymond Van Leeuwen notes that righteousness and justice in Proverbs are seen as “integral expressions of the ‘fear of the LORD’ (Proverbs 1:3b, 7; Jeremiah 22:13-17). For America, with its millions of Christians, this means that claims of biblical piety and godliness are empty unless they bear fruit in collective Christian action for equity between rich and poor, and among races and ethnic groups in our criminal justice system.” (Raymond Van Leeuwen, “Proverbs” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 5, 174).
Proverbs 22:29 — One of the benefits of diligence is that is leads to meaningful work and worldly success. Generally speaking, those who work hard get promoted. And while success of this kind can tempt us to be proud or self-satisfied, Proverbs acknowledges the propriety of recognizing hard work and skillful labor in the public square. See note on Proverbs 6:6-11. See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom of Work.
Proverbs 23:1-3 (Key Passage) — Culinary Stewardship: Eating in social settings—such as on holidays or at buffets—affords the opportunity to exercise self-control and stewardship over one of the greatest gifts God has entrusted to each human—the body. This is especially true when we eat as other people’s guests at dinner or business parties. Just as wise stewards are careful to watch their spending habits, wise stewards also use measure and restraint when it comes to eating. Particularly as American Christians and members of an affluent society where consumerism and obesity have become pandemic, this command has a heightened significance for our gospel witness. Christian stewards literally have an opportunity to look different from the world by exercising self-control and refusing to eat more than we need (cf. Matthew 5:29-30). The story of Daniel provides a good example. Daniel refused to eat the king’s royal food (Daniel 1:8) and chose instead to live on a modest diet that allowed him to obey Israel’s food laws. After a testing time of 10 days, Daniel and his companions “looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who at the royal food” (Daniel 1:15). Finally, we should make note of the fact that in ancient Near Eastern cultures, banquets often were given for the sake of reciprocity or compensation. Recipients of hospitality and other forms of social gift-giving were expected to return the favor. Gifts, therefore, functioned as a socioeconomic investment, earning honor as the gift brought the giver into the upper-echelons of society and increased one’s opportunity to receive more lucrative forms of compensation. In light of all this, it was a natural temptation to show hospitality to the rich and powerful because affluent people typically have the greatest ability to return favors. It was in response to this social system that Jesus said, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your bothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14). See Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes theme essay Wisdom for Wealth.
Proverbs 23:4 (Key Passage) — Ragged for Riches: Too often we run ourselves ragged for riches. Of course, we seldom admit to what we are doing, as author Richard Foster points out: We call covetousness ambition; hoarding we call prudence; and greed we call industry. We tremble to think of missing out on what money can buy, but while we run headlong after such things, we lose hold of that which is priceless (Isaiah 55:1-3). Even large portions of the evangelical church have swallowed the lie that says we must live our best life now. All of this makes us frantic. We are consumed with the itching desire to get and experience more, to increase our comfort level, our influence or fame, and all that we mistakenly assume will bring satisfaction. In response to this panic born of greed, Proverbs admonishes us to “have the wisdom to show restraint.” Godliness with contentment is great gain, Paul told Timothy and the churches on his care. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction” (1 Timothy 6:7-9). The Lord Jesus explained the wisdom of restraint in a similar fashion when he said, “And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well ... Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and not moth destroys. For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:29-33). See Proverbs theme essay Neither Poverty nor Riches.
Proverbs 23:5 (Key Passage) — Wealth Won’t Last: This is wise counsel for our commercialized culture. Everywhere we look, we are bombarded by unending ads. But according to Proverbs 23:5, the wise won’t desire such things because they know they won’t last. Wealth is transient. Cars rust. Houses fall apart. Bank accounts dwindle. Things fall apart, and sooner or later it all disappears. Author Randy Alcorn points out that Jesus—the foremost financial advisor—also warns us not to store up treasures on earth (Matthew 6:19-20); “it’s not just because wealth might be lost; it’s because wealth will always be lost. Either it leaves us while we live, or we leave it when we die. No exceptions.” (Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle, 13). See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom for the Future.
Proverbs 23:6-8 — In Proverbs 23:1-3 we were warned against over indulging in the extravagant delicacies of a ruler. Here we are warned against accepting the food of a stingy man. On the surface, this man seems generous enough, but underneath he gives grudgingly and calculates the cost of each bite. How different Jesus is when he invites us to the supper that he has prepared! Scripture provides a wealth of imagery when it comes to our Lord’s hospitality. “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost” (Isaiah 55:1).
Proverbs 23:10-11 — See notes on Proverbs 15:25 and 22:22-23. Also see Micah 2:2; 22:28.
Proverbs 23:20-21 — Overindulgence has many bad consequences. Drinking poses a particular problem for those who want to be wise. However, in these verses, overindulgence is specifically warned against as a cause of poverty. Those who squander the resources of time and money in indulgent behavior, whether through over-drinking, gluttony, channel-surfing, sports obsessions, or hours of Internet browsing, will find themselves in dire straights when it comes to money. Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son offers a good illustration of this reality. Luke 15:13-14 tells us that this young man “squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in the whole country, and he began to be in need.” He fell into such poverty as a result of his foolish living that eventually “He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating” (Luke 15:16).
Proverbs 24:27 — This proverb speaks to the preparations that should be made before starting a family (cf. note on Proverbs 24:3-4). One should establish a well-ordered life—financially and otherwise— before taking on the responsibilities that come with marriage and the like. See other passages on planning in Proverbs: 6:18; 11:14; 12:5, 20; 14:12, 22; 15:22, 26; 16:1, 2, 3, 25, 33; 19:21; 20:18, 24; 21:5; 24:6, 27; 27:1; 29:18; 31:25, 27. See James theme essay Presumptuous Plans. and Proverbs theme essay Wisdom for the Future.
Proverbs 24:30-34 — See note on Proverbs 6:6-11.
Proverbs 25:14 (Key Passage) — Gift-Faking: This proverb speaks of windbags who promise gifts but fail to follow through. As humorous as it may sound to our contemporary ears, the original hearers would have associated these with death and destruction. In an agricultural economy, lack of rain was tantamount to a curse that could mean famine and potentially death. The New Testament bears witness to the fatal effects of false-giving. In Acts 5:1-11 we are told of Ananias and Sapphira, who boastfully pretended to give the proceeds from the sale of their property to God, but secretly withheld some of the money. As a result, both were struck dead. Although it would not have been wrong to keep what was theirs, the pair sinned by boasting over gifts they did not give and attempting to conceal their greed. The severity of their punishment should serve as a warning for us when we hesitate to give what we have promised or when we wish to appear generous but give grudgingly. See Proverbs theme essay Love and Money.
Proverbs 25:16-17 — See note on Proverbs 23:1-3.
Proverbs 25:21 (Key Passage) — Generosity to Enemies: Such commands set Christianity apart from the natural mindset of man. Rather than seeking vengeance on our enemies, we are to kill them with kindness and pursue their good. Indeed, the command to give food and drink means that we are to show kindness to our enemies in every way, not only for those who are hungry or thirsty (cf. Matthew 5:38-48). However, the reason for our kindness is a bit confusing—“In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” There is a number of different views as to what this motive means. Some scholars suggest that “burning coals” represents the red face of shame for the embarrassment sin brings, but it is difficult to know for sure. We should note that this passage is quoted by Paul in Romans 12:20, and there the command in verse 21 is closely connected with this command. We can safely say that the ultimate reason to “heap burning coals” is so that evil will be overcome by good (not more evil) and that justice will be applied by God. Our motivation is not revenge but devotion to God’s ultimate purpose and the obliteration of sin through the redemption brought by God’s love and justice. See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom of Generosity.
Proverbs 27:1 (Key Passage) — Boasting about Tomorrow: History supplies us with many examples of people who achieved “great things” and made even greater plans but never lived to enjoy them. Alexander the Great is a classic example. After conquering the entire known world at the age of 29, the young Macedonian king developed pneumonia and died shortly after. Truly, no one knows what a day may bring. Like history itself, Proverbs insists that the future belongs to God (Proverbs 16:1; 3, 9, 33). Still, it is important to note that Proverbs does not criticize strategic planning in general. Making prudent plans for the future, such as putting money away for a child’s education, can be a form of good stewardship. Rather, Proverbs criticizes the attitude that “boasts about tomorrow” in self-reliance. Wise people won’t assume the ability to determine their own destiny or chart their own course in the world. In the New Testament, the apostle James used a financial illustration to get this point across (James 4:13-17). James knew that our attitude toward money is indicative of our attitude toward trust in God. Accordingly, James addressed the spirit of the “rich fool” that Jesus warned against in his parable, the attitude that says, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry” (Luke 12:19). This attitude which drives so many to make extravagant provisions for vacations and retirements that we may never enjoy is diametrically opposed to the attitude we are called to have as Christians. We are to submit ourselves and our financial plans in humble kingdom service, depending on God himself for our own provision. After all, if Jesus, who is God, submitted himself to the will of the Father in Gethsemane, how much more should we as creatures submit our financial futures to him? Of course, what is important is not that we say with our lips, “Lord willing,” whenever we make a plan. Rather than merely paying lip service to God’s sovereignty, we ought to pray for a mindset of humble reliance that directs our consciousness in every action. We must not do anything without recognizing that our “life is but a breath” (Job 7:7), “a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14). See other passages on planning in Proverbs: 6:18; 11:14; 12:5, 20; 14:12, 22; 15:22, 26; 16:1, 2, 3, 25, 33; 19:21; 20:18, 24; 21:5; 24:6, 27; 27:1; 29:18; 31:25, 27. See James theme essay Presumptuous Plans and Proverbs theme essay Wisdom for the Future.
Proverbs 27:7 (Key Passage) — More Is Less: This is particularly true when it comes to the enjoyment and accumulation of possessions. A boy with one toy can find more joy than a child who gets everything he wants. As commentator Derek Kidner insightfully notes, “This is not a truism about food, but a parable about possessions. It bears on (among other things) the disposition we acquire by the level of comfort we choose.” (Derek Kidner, Proverbs, 165). In economic jargon, the principle of this proverb can be likened to the law of diminishing returns—more is less. Proverbs 27:8-9 goes with this verse as well. Verse 8 speaks of the importance of being satisfied and not straying from what God has given us (i.e., our “home”). Likewise, verse 9 speaks about enjoying the good gifts that God gives in various forms. See Proverbs theme essay Neither Poverty nor Riches.
Proverbs 27:13 — See note on Proverbs 22:16.
Proverbs 27:19 — What reflects a man’s heart? Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there you heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). See Proverbs theme essay Love and Money.
Proverbs 27:20 — See note on Proverbs 30:15-16.
Proverbs 27:21 — What brings us praise? What are we known for? In Matthew 25:34-36, Jesus explained what he will approve when he comes to judge all the earth. We should seek praise for things like this.
Proverbs 27:23-27 (Key Passage) — Daily Diligence: This proverb calls us to daily diligence. We must pay careful attention to the essential details of everyday life so that our households will be provided for. Even if we have a fortune saved up in the bank, “riches do not endure forever.” We should take careful note of the fact that this proverb identifies sustainable provision for our livelihood and that of others as the reason for our daily labors (Proverbs 27:27), not the accumulation of wealth. The purpose for working diligently, then, is to provide for what we need and for the needs of those who are under our care, e.g., “You will have plenty of goats’ milk to feed you and your family and to nourish your servant girls.” See note on Proverbs 6:6-11. See Proverbs theme essays Neither Poverty nor Riches and Wisdom of Work.
Proverbs 28:11 (Key Passage) — Wealth Is Not Wisdom: Many people confuse wealth for wisdom. Even in the church, it is often the case that leaders are chosen, or at least preferred, because they are wealthy. This proverb reminds us that poverty can help us to be realistic. Optimism falsely grounded in wealth is sure to disappoint those who have it, and a desire to hold onto wealth can lead us into foolish decisions while poor people are less easily deluded because they have less to lose. For example, compare the stories of the rich young ruler, who came to Jesus but went away sad because he had much (Mark 10:22), and poor Bartimaeus, who could see his need for Jesus because he was blind (Mark 10:47). Scripture as a whole shows the need for wealthy people to continually reevaluate their way of thinking, lest their narrow and often padded perspective mislead them. As the teacher explains in the book of Ecclesiastes, sorrow often expresses the reality of life “under the sun” more accurately than joy. Riches can pad our perspective on other peoples’ pain and prevent us from recognizing problems of suffering and injustice. Today, many wealthy Christians lack the same thing the rich young ruler needed so badly—sacrificial generosity. Too often we fail to believe Jesus when he tells us that the affections we have for our possessions indicate the terrible poverty of our hearts and minds, which have been stretched thin by materialism. We have much to learn from blind Bartimaeus, who was able to follow Jesus wholeheartedly because he was free from the distraction of great wealth. Of course, the poor also need perspectives shaped by Scripture and our Lord’s example. This proverb assumes that discernment is required for all. Even though poverty helps to bring our deep need before us, it doesn’t automatically make us wise. See Proverbs theme essay Neither Poverty nor Riches.
Proverbs 28:13 — For those who struggle with materialism, abandoning sin requires us to abandon some (and potentially even all) of our possessions. In the New Testament we see that John the Baptist followed Old Testament prophets such as Malachi and foreshadowed Jesus and the apostles in his insistence that repentance must have an impact on our wallets, not just our words, particularly in light of the needs of the poor (Luke 3:3-14). Repentance is not just “feeling sorry for your sins” or saying that you are sorry for your sins. Repentance is turning and changing your direction, handing in your old, bankrupt agenda for a new one; giving up the path that got you lost and taking the new path that leads to obedience and glory. We learn from John the Baptist’s answer to the crowds’ question, “What should we do?” that the things we do with our money, possessions and vocations form a powerful “compass” for verifying whether we’ve really repented (turned around). We can compare James 2:14-24, Matthew 25:31-46, and 1 John 3:16-19 with John’s insistence on the necessity of fruit prompts the crowds to ask how they might illustrate their repentance and their commitment to the coming kingdom of God. Just like John, James, and Jesus in Matthew in addition to many other New Testament passages, John responds by commanding them to be generous with the needy; he also calls them to economic righteousness in their vocations. Interestingly, John does not tell them to give up their secular or government jobs. He tells them to continue their work, but with a commitment to righteousness and justice. Stewardship and a proper approach to money, possessions and vocation are inseparable parts of kingdom life. What would John (and Jesus) have us do for the many poor and destitute in today’s world (Luke 12:33; 16:19-31)? Can we claim that we have truly repented and turned from our greedy ways if such concerns are not near the top of our agendas (James 2:14-23; 1 John 3:16-18)? This is perhaps especially important for believers today since greed is one of those sins that is easy for us to commit yet difficult to diagnose. After all, that’s why Jesus was always saying to watch out for all forms of greed and covetousness. See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom of Generosity.
Proverbs 28:19 — See notes on Proverbs 6:6-11 and 12:11.
Proverbs 28:20 — See note on Proverbs 13:11 for the first half of the verse and note on Proverbs 23:4 for the second half.
Proverbs 28:22 — Proverbs corrects much of our mistaken human logic. Typically, we assume that greed and stinginess (while offensive and unbecoming) ultimately lead to wealth. The opposite is true. In the Proverbs, generosity—rather than greed—is seen as an attitude and an activity that promotes wealth and well-being in general (Proverbs 11:24, 25, 26; 28:27) whereas greed leads to poverty and eventually destruction. As we read in 1 Timothy 6:9, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” See also Luke 16:19-31. See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom of Generosity and Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes theme essay Wisdom for Wealth.
Proverbs 28:24 — Children often have a sense of entitlement when it comes to their parents’ possessions. Here this attitude is repudiated. Rather than encouraging a sense of ownership, Scripture teaches that children have a unique responsibility to honor (Exodus 20:12) and even provide for their parents if necessary. For example, 1 Timothy 5:4 says, “if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.” Here we see that an attitude of entitlement to our parents’ possessions is diametrically opposed to the teaching of Scripture. In fact, we are actually called to take the opportunity to “repay” our parents if they are ever in need.
Proverbs 28:25 — See note on Proverbs 11:24-27. Cf. also James 4:1-2.
Proverbs 28:27 (Key Passage) — Wisdom of Generosity #3: Once again, we see the wisdom of generosity compared with the foolishness of greed and indifference to the plight of the poor (see also Proverbs 11:24, 25, 26; 19:17; 28:27; 29:7). Often we think of generosity as an obligation, but here it is presented as an opportunity because “[he] who gives to the poor will lack nothing.” And while this may seem paradoxical to those of us who believe a tight fist rather than an open hand will lead to gain, the Bible goes to considerable lengths to show this to be a lie (Psalm 112, esp. verse 9; Ecclesiastes 11:1; Matthew 6; Luke 6:38; 12:33; 16:9; 2 Corinthians 9:6; 1 Timothy 6:18-19). See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom of Generosity and Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes theme essay Wisdom for Wealth.
Proverbs 29:4 — Once again, Proverbs highlights the destruction that greed brings—even on the national scale (cf. James 4:1-2). We also could compare the negative warning presented here with the positive example of King Josiah, who “did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and the needy, and so all went well with him. Is that not what it means to know me?’ declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 22:15-16). The entire chapter of Jeremiah 22 is particularly relevant to the truth of this proverb. Compare with the note on Proverbs 29:14. See Proverbs theme essays Neither Poverty nor Riches and Wisdom of Generosity.
Proverbs 29:7 (Key Passage) — Justice and Righteousness: Biblical righteousness and care for the poor are utterly inseparable. While they are distinct biblical concepts, Scripture nevertheless presents them as being fundamentally united. For example, Jeremiah 22:16 teaches that care for the poor is what it means to know God. Matthew 25:31-46 teaches that the wicked and the righteous can be distinguished according to the way they care for needy people. James 1:27 says that religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress. Finally, 1 John 3:16-18 says we demonstrate whether we have the love of God in our hearts by whether we use material possessions for the sake of our brother’s need. See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom of Generosity.
Proverbs 29:13 — See note on Proverbs 14:31.
Proverbs 29:14 — Once again, Proverbs propounds the benefits of justice and generosity. Compare this proverb with what God said to Shallum son of Josiah, who was king of Judah, in Jeremiah 22:15-17. All went well for King Josiah because he maintained justice and defended the poor. However, his son Shallum died in exile and never saw his homeland again because of greed, injustice and a failure to treat the poor with fairness (Jeremiah 22:12). Cf. Psalm 72:1-5. See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom of Generosity and Job, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes theme essay Wisdom for Wealth.
Proverbs 29:18 — There is great need for vision in our Christian circles today in money matters. Such vision requires pastors to take and apply God’s word to the idols of materialism and greed that infest our churches. This must begin with the leadership if there is going to be any change at all.
Proverbs 29:24 — This verse calls to mind Proverbs 1:10-19, where the teacher warns his son not to associate with evil men who steal for a living. However, the judicial setting and the threat of perjury raised in the second half of the verse is difficult to understand apart from the Mosaic Law found in Leviticus 5:1: “If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible.” There was no Fifth Amendment in the Law of Moses. If a witness in a crime failed to testify to what he saw, he himself would be held accountable for the crime. Thus, an accomplice who happens to be called as a witness is in a real pickle.
Proverbs 30:7-9 (Key Passage) — Neither Poverty nor Riches: In his prayer Agur asks for a simple life, unencumbered by financial extremes. Or, as commentator Tremper Longman explains in modern socioeconomic jargon, “[T]he sage asks for middles-class status rather than affluence or poverty” (Tremper Longman, Proverbs, 525). The wisdom of simplicity appears in the New Testament as well. For example, Jesus taught us to pray for simple sustenance—“Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Accordingly, some scholars have even gone on to note that Agur’s prayer is structurally similar to the Lord’s prayer. Both request salvation from temptation (cf. Proverbs 30:9 with Matthew 6:12), both request provision for daily needs and no more (cf. Proverbs 30:8 with Matthew 6:11), and both are fundamentally motivated by concern for the honor of God’s name (cf. Proverbs 30:9 with Matthew 6:9). The apostle Paul echoes this theme of simplicity and moderation when he warns against the desire to get rich, saying, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:8; cf. Hebrews 13:5). A danger of acquiring wealth is that we may come to trust in it rather than in God, and that amounts to idolatry (Ephesians 5:5; Colossians 3:5). See Proverbs theme essay Neither Poverty nor Riches, Deuteronomy theme essay Prosperity Idols, Daniel theme essay Idolatry of Wealth and Colossians theme essay Idolatry Is Worthless.
Proverbs 30:14b — See note on Proverbs 14:31.
Proverbs 30:15-16 (Key Passage) — Never Enough: The description of greedy men in the preceding verses is followed by illustrations of insatiable craving that can be observed in nature. Like today, the ancient world viewed the leech as a symbol of discontent—even as he steals the life-sustaining resources of another, the leech is never satisfied. The symbolic cravings of the leech are extended to four other examples of insatiable desire: (1) The Grave: Yawning wide and always consuming but never full, the grave is a longstanding example of craving. Proverbs 27:20a says, “Death and Destruction are never satisfied.” Similarly, when the prophet Habakkuk describes the covetous man of unbelief, he calls him “greedy as the grave and like death is never satisfied” (Habakkuk 2:5). (2) The Barren Womb: The relationship between greed and childbearing in Hebrew culture is vividly illustrated in the story of Rachel and Leah: “When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, ‘Give me children, or I’ll die!’ ” (Genesis 30:1; cf. Genesis 16:2 and 1 Samuel 1:10). (3) Arid Land: It never stops soaking up water. Especially in agricultural economies in the ancient Near East, the parched farmland demanded an unending supply of water. (4) Fire: Like the dry dessert land that would consume as much water as it was given, fire consumes combustibles continually. How do we apply this proverb? Most likely, this the purpose of this proverb is to provide the wise with visceral examples of greed that can be applied principially to any number of situations where humans are discontent and want more. As commentator Tremper Longman concludes, “When a person confronted a situation when there seems to be insatiable desire, this proverb could be cited to make the point that no matter how much is given, it will never be enough.” In light of this reality, we ought to follow our Lord’s teaching in simply praying for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11) and heed Paul’s words to Timothy, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Timothy 6:6-8). By sharing, persevering and practicing contentment in the present, we take hold of something better when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Timothy 6:19). See Proverbs theme essay Neither Poverty nor Riches.
Proverbs 30:21-23 — This proverb notes a number of things that are “unfitting.” Verse 21 actually says that these things make the earth tremble. That is, they come into collision with the wisdom with which God created the world (Proverbs 3:19). Among the things listed as causes of this cosmic upheaval is “a fool who is full of food” (Proverbs 30:22). This is intolerable because the proper reward of foolishness is poverty (e.g., Proverbs 6:11; 10:4; 14:23; 20:13; 24:33-34; 28:19) rather than abundance. The foolishness of not pursuing the cross and living like Jesus died will lead to ultimate poverty in an eternity apart from Christ (Romans 8:17).
Proverbs 30:24-28 — Commentator Bruce Waltke calls this a proverb about “four wee but wise beasties.” The wisdom of these little animals can be seen especially in their well-ordered lives. Each beast utilizes the unique gift with which God has equipped it and exploits it to its fullest potential. See Proverbs theme essay Wisdom of Generosity.
Proverbs 31:1-9 (Key Passage) — Sayings of King Lemuel: This passage begins with a warning from King Lemuel’s mother against the dangers of indulging in illicit sexual relations and overdrinking. First she admonishes Lemuel, “do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings,” which refers either to relations outside of marriage or the temptation of polygamy (cf. 1 Kings 11:1-13). Ultimately, the problem which Lemuel’s mother highlights with regard to indulging in these kinds of behavior is that they are a waste of the king’s strength and energy, which should be spent protecting the poor and preserving justice (vs. 8-9). Sexual promiscuity certainly distracted David from his responsibilities as king. It often is pointed out that David’s affair with Bathsheba took place “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war ...” (2 Samuel 11:1). That is, David fell into sin at a point in time when he was shirking his kingly duties. However, Nathan’s description of David’s sin with Bathsheba provides a far more striking illustration of the connection between sexual sins and the need to protect the poor and preserve justice (2 Samuel 12:1-10). Here, rather than describing David’s sin in terms of sexual immorality, Nathan’s described David’s sin in terms of economic oppression and exploitation. Lemuel’s mother also warns her son about overdrinking. Such habits are inappropriate for kings, who need to keep their minds clear and unencumbered for making difficult decisions. The king—like anyone who is in power—is primarily responsible for protecting the poor and powerless and preserving justice. Lemuel’s speech must not be slurred by too much drinking because he is to “Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and the needy.” Today, there are many other ways we limit our ability to care for those in our trust. What about the way so many fathers in our culture intoxicate themselves with sports and other various forms of entertainment to the neglect of their children? Why not use our strength build up our families, the kingdom and the Christian community here on earth? We often spend our “vigor” and become consumed with entertaining ourselves and lose sight of what really matters—protecting the weak, promoting the gospel and providing for the needy. See Proverbs theme essay Love and Money.
Proverbs 31:10-31 (Key Passage) — Wife of Noble Character: Stewardship and generosity are the defining characteristics of this virtuous woman. Enormous emphasis is placed on her ability to care for her household, invest resources, and turn a profit through business savvy and hard work. She is supremely competent in management and decision making (Proverbs 31:11, 13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 24, 26), practical and skilled labor (31:13, 15, 16, 17, 19, 22, 24), as well as care-giving and household management (31:11, 12, 15, 21, 28, 29). Even beyond her lucrative business ventures and domestic skills, this woman is marked particularly by mercy and generosity for the poor and powerless (Proverbs 31:20). This woman’s love for the Lord is expressed in the way she goes about the essential details of life as a generous steward of her gifts and talents. She willingly involves herself in menial tasks but is also competent and trusted by her husband as a partner in management and decision making. Her stewardship and skill for living is an expression of her fear of God and her belief in his intimate involvement in every facet of life. See Proverbs theme essays Wisdom for the Future and Wisdom of Generosity.