Summary: Part 5 of the Sermon Series, "Rich Man Poor Man in Proverbs"
"The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends. Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor. Do they not go astray who devise evil? Those who devise good meet steadfast love and faithfulness. In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty" (Prov.14:20-23).
The chiastic structure of Proverbs 14:20-23 is instructive.
A The poor is disliked even by his neighbor, but the rich has many friends (v. 20).
B Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor (v. 21).
B1 Do they not go astray who devise evil? Those who devise good meet steadfast love and faithfulness (v. 22).
A1 In all toil there is profit, but mere talk tends only to poverty (v. 23).
Lines A and A1 tell of poverty and prosperity. Both are parallelisms. Yet both are antithetical or contrasting parallelisms. Line A1 gives a contrasting meaning to A. I will explain how Line A1 contrasts with A shortly.
Lines B and B1 tell of the reward for the right treatment of the poor. Both appear to indicate “synthetic parallelism.” In synthetic parallelism, the second clause or sentence, adds to the first, expanding its meaning. Thus, Line B1 extends the thought of “blessedness” of Line B in terms of “steadfast love and faithfulness.”
Now Line A is an antithetical statement contrasting the varying treatments of the poor and the rich. It tells us that even the poor man’s neighbor dislikes him. The verb, “dislikes,” is a word of “rejection.”23 It is a testament to our sinful nature that we naturally reject the poor. This means that the poor man has few friends. To be poor means having few friends. Yet to be rich means having many friends—including “plastic” (unreal) friends.
That is why making rich friends is not a priority for me. They already have many friends. I like to make many poor friends. Few people make friends with them. But God is the friend of the poor. When Jesus came to earth, He loved both rich and poor. Yet He spent more time with the poor than with the rich.
Line A1 is also an antithetical statement comparing the profit out of toil and the poverty out of mere talk. It talks of the reward for personal diligence and the lack of it. Work hard and there will be profit or abundance. However, all talk without diligence leads to poverty.
In Line A, the poor man’s neighbor dislikes him. Yet in Line B, if you dislike the poor, you sin. "Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished" (Prov. 17:5). If you mock the poor, God will judge you. Yet if you are generous to the poor, God shall bless you.
The one who despises his poor neighbor in Line B corresponds to the one who devises evil in B1. The object of his evil plans is the same—his poor neighbor. But the one who is generous to the poor shall enjoy steadfast love and faithfulness.
This then is the right treatment of the poor. Do not dislike the poor. Be generous to them.
"Blessed is he who is generous to the poor" (Prov. 14:21). In this light, to be generous (hanan) to the poor is to “direct favor to” them in the poel verb form. In Aramaic (hanna), the word means “yearn towards, long for, be merciful, compassionate, favourable, inclined towards.”24 It does not mean merely to be gracious to them, but to incline, bend, or turn your favor to them. The verb form is piel participle, expressing continued action to render a result.25 Thus, the right treatment of the poor is your continuing generosity, kindness, graciousness, mercy, compassion, and favor towards them.
Is not this behavior the opposite of human nature? When the rich comes, we tend to favor them, to be inclined to them, or to bend over backward for them. I observed one pastor who served the rich more than the poor in his church. He would do things to the rich that he would not do to the poor.
In contrast, Jesus served the poor more than the rich. He fed, healed, and taught more poor people. Luke wrote his Gospel for the poor. James attacked partiality for the rich and hypocrisy to the poor. Both the OT and NT resonate with themes of blessing the poor.
Yet we do not like to serve the poor. We complain about the poor. We dislike going with the poor. If this is “Christianity” in our churches, then we do not know true Christianity. I cannot even call it “Christian.” The church is reduced to an elitist club of people who like the rich. God will not certainly bless us. But God promises blessing to him who directs his favor to the poor.