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Summary: Part 8 of the Sermon Series, "Rich Man Poor Man in Proverbs"

"Whoever keeps the commandment keeps his life" (Prov. 19:16a).

"Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord and he will repay him for his deed" (Prov. 19:17).

"A poor man is better than a liar" (Prov. 19:22b).

"The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm" (Prov. 19:23).

The theme in this section is the fear of the Lord. The fear of God produces generosity to the poor. Further, a poor man who fears God is better than a liar.

The chiastic arrangement is informative.

A Whoever keeps the commandment keeps his life (v. 16a).

B Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord and he will repay him for his deed (v. 17).

B1 A poor man is better than a liar (vv. 22b).

A1 The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm (v. 23).

In Line A, the “commandment” may refer to “knowledge” that guides one in the right path (Prov. 19:2). It points to “sense” and “understanding” that brings good to his soul (Prov. 19:8). It indicates “good sense” that makes one slow to anger and overlook an offense (Prov. 19:11). The commandment then that keeps one’s life is the commandment that guides and gives the knowledge of God’s will.33

Both Lines A and A1 show “synonymous parallelism.” In synonymous parallelism, the second clause or sentence repeats in different words the same meaning of the first clause. Hence, the “commandment” in Line A parallels the “fear of the Lord” in Line A1. The commandment of the Lord keeps one’s life. The fear of the Lord leads to life. The fear of the Lord is the starting point of wisdom. Wisdom begins with reverential awe of God. The fear of the Lord that is the source of wisdom then is the same fear that is the source of life.

Lines B and B1 are thematically synonymous statements concerning poverty. It highlights the advantage of generosity and integrity. Line B cites the advantage of one’s generosity to the poor. It puts God in your debt. Line B1 states the advantage of poverty with integrity over the lack of integrity. The most probably background of Line B is Deuteronomy 15:1-11. Yahweh stresses His preference, protection, and provision for the poor.

There is a strong link between one’s action toward the poor and toward the Lord in Proverbs—what is rightly called, “creation theology.”34 Hence, to despise the poor is to despise the Lord (Prov. 17:5). Yet to be generous to the poor is to lend to the Lord (Prov. 19:17). To oppress the poor is to insult his Creator. But to help the poor is to honor the Lord (Prov. 14:31).

Again, if you are generous to the poor, you lend to the Lord. The adjective “generous” (hanan) in Proverbs 19:17 is the same word used in Proverbs 14:21. It does not mean merely generous giving to the poor. Rather, it means to incline, bend, or direct your favor to the poor.35 If you are gracious to the poor, you make God your debtor. If you show favor to the poor, God will repay you. This is the reward of the right treatment of the poor. The motivation to do it then is not the rightness of the action, but the reward of right action.36

Are you gracious to the poor? Do you show favor to them? If you do, God will repay you for your deed.

Grace is giving the other person what he needs, not what he deserves. Do not blame the poor for their poverty. Do not give them what they deserve. Rather, give them what they need—kindness and favor.

"What is desired in a man is steadfast love. A poor man is better than a liar" (Prov. 19:22). The context of v. 22b is v. 22a, "What is desired in a man is steadfast love." Previously, the writer tells of wealth that brings many new friends. Conversely, poverty makes an old friend desert a poor man (Prov. 19:4). Due to poverty, his brothers hate him. His friends go away from him (Prov. 19:7).

Then the sage points out the need for steadfast love (fidelity, faithfulness, and support) or “loyalty” (NRSV) in a man. He goes on to say that, a poor man is better than a liar. In chiastic fashion, the verse reads like the following:

A Desired

B man

C steadfast love

C1 liar

B1 poor man

A1 Better

The verb “desired” is synthetically parallel to the word “better.” The thought of “better” in Line A is extended as “better” in Line A1. What is desired in a man is the better alternative. The noun “man” corresponds to “poor man.” Finally, the word “liar” is parallel, though “antithetical” (contrasting) in meaning to the phrase “steadfast love.” Against this literary structure and the context, the statement, “A poor man is better than a liar,” therefore indicates the need for “loyalty to others.”37 The poor but loyal man is better than a lying man. The poor but faithful friend is better than a lying friend.

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