Summary: Part 6 of the Sermon Series, "Rich Man Poor Man in Proverbs"
"The poor use entreaties, but the rich answer roughly" (Prov. 18:23).
Proverbs tells about the unfair disadvantages of the poor and the advantages of the rich (Prov. 18:23-19:7). Let us study the plight of the poor first, and then the rich in the following antithetical saying.
"The poor use entreaties, but the rich answer roughly" (Prov. 18:23). The plural word “entreaties” (tahanun) means “supplications for favor”26 or “appeals for help or mercy.”27 The picture is about poor people who appear in court. They are in court probably because they cannot pay their creditor. They use entreaties. They ask for mercy. They seek favor and forgiveness.
Yet their pleas are unanswered. The rich give a rough or “fierce” answer.28 They do not grant the poor’s pleas. This is the disadvantage of the poor. Since they are not in a position to ask for favor, they do not get it.
This reminds me of the many “poor” borrowers of credit card companies. Overdue borrowers are automatically charged with all kinds of penalties like a hard slap on your face—“finance charges,” “late payment charges,” etc. There is no mercy in their computer system. It comes to you automatically. No amount of asking for forgiveness can reverse the charges. The only way to reverse it is to pay it. If you do not pay it, you receive no favor. The system is one of penalty for sin (not paying your debt) and reward for works (paying your debt). You are not “saved” by “grace” (undeserved reversal), but by “works” (payment).
Another disadvantage of the poor is abandonment by friends. "Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend" (Prov. 19:4). "All a poor man’s brothers hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but does not have them" (Prov. 19:7). Why would his family and friends abandon him? Perhaps they do not want to offend the rich and powerful.29
However, the poor man is not hopeless. Two things give him hope and strength—his faithful friends and his personal integrity. He may receive the support of faithful friends. "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24)
Do you have friends who are more faithful than family? Some friends are more steadfast than family, esp. in times of trouble. Hence, the poor man stands strong with faithful friends.
More, he stands taller with his personal integrity. "Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool" (Prov. 19:1). The word “integrity” (tom) means “completeness” or “wholeness.” You are a man of integrity, a man of completeness, if you are honest, hard working, and trustworthy. You are a man of integrity if you fear God, you seek the good of your neighbor, and you do what is right. If you have integrity, you are complete, even if you are financially incomplete. Thus, better is a poor person who has moral integrity, than a rich person who is a fool.
"Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool" (Prov. 19:1). Who is the fool in Proverbs? The word “fool” (kesil) refers to “the dull or obstinate one, referring not to mental deficiency, but to a propensity to make wrong choices.”30 The fool is the opposite of the wise in Proverbs. He dislikes divine instruction (Prov. 1:2). He wants to do what he wants, without listening to sound judgment (Prov. 18:1). His crooked speech comes from a crooked heart (Prov. 19:1). He makes hasty decisions (Prov. 19:2). His foolishness leads him to destruction. Worse, he blames the Lord for it (Prov. 19:3).
Thus, it is all right to be poor, so long as you live in integrity. Conversely, it is bad to be rich, if you live like a fool.
26 Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “?????????,” BDB, 3268:337.
27 Garrett, Proverbs, 170n 357.
28 Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “???,” BDB, 6947:738.
29 Garrett, Proverbs, 170.
30 Harris, Archer, and Waltke, “???????,” TWOT 1:1011.