Saturday, December 15, 2018

How Not to Crash and Burn (37)

The rich and the poor, the faithful and the faithless. There’s something for everybody in Proverbs.

Assorted Proverbs (Proverbs 22:1-16)

Where Rich and Poor Meet

“The rich and the poor meet together;
  the Lord is the Maker of them all.”

Many translations read “The rich and poor have this in common”. I think this is the correct sense. The wealthy and the impoverished certainly pass one another by in society (it would be hard for the rich to enjoy their riches without servants, for instance), but you can hardly call what they are doing “meeting together”. There are few points of agreement or association between them, and the poor have a scarcity of remedies available to do anything about it. There is no negotiation to be had, and the occasional revolution provides the only possible relief. Ask the French.

This has been the situation since time immemorial. Lazarus desired to eat what fell from the rich man’s table, and so he lay at his gate hoping to benefit from the occasional charitable gesture. Sadly, the story which follows leads us to conclude that Lazarus’ hope was not realized.

Our society elevates the poor by sanctifying victimhood and pretending any misbehavior on the part of those at the bottom of the societal pecking order is a product of historical injustice. Equally, it vilifies the rich by tarring them all with the same brush, pretending they do nothing but evil. Neither trope is consistently true. Sometimes people are rich because of diligence, patience and common sense. Sometimes people are poor because they are lazy, hasty or foolish. For this reason, equal opportunity does not always produce equal outcomes. Progressives know this, and therefore reject any offer of equal opportunity as a remedy for society’s ills.

The word of God elevates the poor and diminishes the rich not on the basis of their actual or perceived value to their peers, but rather on their relationship to God. We are all equally his creations, all equally dependent on his ongoing providential care, all equally able to petition him for relief or for the ability to cope with our lot, and all equally subject to his scrutiny and ultimate assessment of our lives. The scriptural view humbles those of us who stand on the shoulders of giants through no virtue of our own, and raises from the dust those of us who have been relentlessly beaten down by circumstances beyond our control.

As for circumstances within our control, that’s another story …

Where Rich and Poor Part Ways
“The rich rules over the poor,
   and the borrower is the slave of the lender.”
The binary thinker asks “Is it a sin to borrow money?” His only concern is whether God or society will condemn him for living beyond his means. A more useful question is “Is it prudent to borrow money?” An act may be more or less morally neutral, but still not the wisest course. It may have negative consequences built into it that are unrelated to sin and judgment.

The negative consequence of borrowing is that one loses control over one’s destiny. Options disappear that would otherwise have existed, because you now have to consider your obligations to a third party. The average needy Israelite in Solomon’s day was basically a free agent able to weigh the pros and cons of the obligation he was taking on and decide if the limitations of his temporary servitude outweighed the prospective value of what he could do with his loan. Still, Solomon cautions the man in that position to take care: he is putting his fate in the hands of another.

The Christian is in a slightly different position than the Israelite. He is no free agent. He has been “bought with a price”. He already has a Master with a prior claim to everything he is and owns, including his time, his energy, his thought life, his finances and his property. He is merely a steward of the resources to which he has daily access, not the one with title to them. For the Christian to put himself under obligation to a third party is to take on a second master, and we all know how well that works out.

When a Christian takes on debt, he is limiting the way God can use him during the period in which that debt is being repaid. He is making his God a party to his personal obligations. That’s worth thinking about.

Boldly Going Where All Kinds of Men Have Gone Before
“The mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit;
  he with whom the Lord is angry will fall into it.”
“Forbidden” here is zuwr, or “strange”. It means to turn aside, or to cross a line. The “women” part is inferred. It is not present in the Hebrew, though the vast majority of translators have concluded “forbidden women”, “adulteresses” or “immoral women” is the intended meaning.

This being the case, one might expect to read “The embraces of forbidden women are a deep pit” or even “The bed of forbidden women ...” Rather, it is the mouth of the woman for whom a man crosses the line. The trap is in what she has to say. As with all illegitimate relationships, the actual experience rarely measures up to the initial promise. Elsewhere in Proverbs, we get a glimpse of the sort of enticement that it is view:
“I have spread my couch with coverings, colored linens from Egyptian linen; I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love.”
Now, I have yet to meet a normal, heterosexual male who pays much attention to the color or thread count of a woman’s bed sheets or gives a fig about how her room smells, so this is pretty much all feminine projection. All the same, it shows quite effectively how the spell is cast. The would-be adulteress paints a picture of forbidden intimacy, exotic and unexpected to the invitee, but anticipated and carefully choreographed by the straying wife. It’s a scene far removed from the ordinary back-and-forth of day-to-day married life with a young family, with its rare conjugal interludes snatched between crying children, long workdays and frequent disruptions. The illusion is that what is on offer is an exciting little diversion from the dull routine of normal living in which a man can indulge himself from time to time without wreaking havoc on the rest of his world. We know that’s nonsense.

Once again, it’s almost always the mouth of the forbidden woman that brings your life crashing down. Fail to give her what she wants, and she turns all Potiphar’s wife on you: “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me.” Give her what she wants, and she’ll betray you to the Philistines when she’s done.

A deep pit indeed.


  1. Proverb or no proverb here is an early Happy Christmas from one of my favorite female artists. Enjoy Hallelujah by the German superstar Helene Fischer.

  2. Hmm, that link worked on my Windows tablet but not on my Android phone. Here is the more specific link that works there too.