Summary: Part 15 of the Sermon Series, "Rich Man Poor Man in Proverbs"
"A poor man who oppresses the poor is a beating rain that leaves no food" (Prov. 28:3).
"Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit gathers it for him who is generous to the poor" (Prov. 28:8).
Having studied God’s principles on poverty and prosperity thus far in Proverbs, the question arises: Which is better—poverty or prosperity? We have learned that the answer is neither. Neither riches nor the lack of it is desirable. There are tribulations in poverty, as well as troubles with prosperity (Prov. 15:16). Proverbs teaches us how to avoid poverty. Yet it warns us against the desire to get rich quick and easy.
In Proverbs, a poor man with integrity is better than a rich man without it. It is not then a question of whether one is rich or poor. Rather, it is a question of whether he or she is rich or poor with integrity of heart and the fear of God.
A A poor man who oppresses the poor
B is a beating rain that leaves no food (Prov. 28:3).
A1 Whoever multiplies his wealth by interest and profit
B1 gathers it for him who is generous to the poor (Prov. 28:8).
Proverbs 28:3 and 8 are parallel verses, giving a matching meaning—the oppression of the poor. Lines A and A1 are synthetic statements. Line A extends the thought of the one oppressing the poor in Line A1, in terms of growing one’s wealth “by interest and profit.” Lines B and B1 are antithetical (opposite) statements. The writer draws a contrast between the one leaving no food for the poor and the one giving to the poor.
In v. 3, we see the effect of oppression—it leaves no food. In v. 8, the method of oppression—lending money with interest, which the Law strongly prohibited among Israelites—(Ex. 22:25; Deut. 23:19-20; Lev 25:35–37). But in v. 8, we learn the reversal of oppression by social justice. The societal authorities would turn over the oppressor’s money to more charitable persons.69 It can be a form of divine justice. God will re-channel one’s wealth gained by oppression. He will give to others who are generous to the poor.
It is an irony, really. He who takes interest-bearing money from the poor shall lose his money to those who give to the poor.
In a US News and World Report article in June 17, 2014, Tom Sightings writes about “What Rich People Worry About.” The top 10 percent of rich people in the USA worry about their children, health, and money. On money, they worry about “Having enough money for retirement,” “Being sued,” “Identity Theft,” and “Protecting Assets.” Rich people do not worry about their electric bill or the high cost of college education. But they worry about foreign currencies, interest rates, stock prices, and real estate.70 These are the factors which can make them lose their money.
Losing money is inevitable. Yet one will surely lose the money gained by oppression and injustice against others. The money lost shall be re-channeled to the poor.
The Masoretic Text uses the word, rush, “poor.” Four factors go against the use of the word however. First, the OT nowhere accuses the poor of oppressing the poor.71 Second, the background of Proverbs 28 points to someone else rather than the poor. Third, the LXX translates it as, andreios, “manly, masculine;” in a “bad sense, stubborn;” or [of] things, strong, vigorous.”72 Fourth, there is the question of the choice of vowels. Remember that the original Hebrew has no vowels. The Masoretes added the vowels later, by their judgment. What if, in an alternative judgment, the vowel, o, is used? The word then becomes rosh, “ruler,” “chief,” or “head.”
Thus, the OT context, the literary backdrop, the LXX, and the change of vowel, may point to one kind of oppressor in v. 3—a stubborn, abusive ruler. Look at v. 8, which speak of a powerful person who makes money by oppressing the poor with high interest loans. Look at v. 15—about a “wicked ruler over a poor people.” Thus, the NRSV and the NIV translate it, “ruler.”
Now what is this “ruler” like? An oppressive ruler is like a beating rain that leaves no food. Rain is supposed to nourish the crops in the fields. But a cruel ruler is not the soft rain that nourishes the fields. Rather, he is a beating rain that destroys the crops.
How does a powerful person oppress the poor like a beating rain? In v. 8, he charges them with interest or higher taxes.
What is the result of his actions? In v. 8, he will lose his money to people who give to the poor. God will make him lose his money. We see here an act of divine judgment.73
Do you owe a loan to a loan shark? They are like a beating rain that leaves no food. They charge a very high interest to the poor. Their actions oppress the poor. However, they will only oppress you if you borrow from them. Therefore, do not borrow from the loan sharks.