Summary: Part 11 of the Sermon Series, "Rich Man Poor Man in Proverbs"
"The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender" (Prov. 22:7).
"Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty" (Prov. 22:16).
The sage says that prosperity is the reward of the righteous for his humility and fear of God. However, poverty is the reward of the wicked for his oppression of the poor.
Proverbs 22:7 and 16 give parallel meanings about riches and poverty. It is about the lender-borrower relationship. In v. 7, the rich are the lenders and the poor are the borrowers. The poor borrowers become the slaves of the rich. In v. 16, the more they borrow, the more the rich get richer. The more the poor pay the rich, the poorer they become.
The verb “oppresses” is from the Hebrew, ashaq, which refers to “acts of abuse of power or authority, the burdening, trampling, and crushing of those lower in station.”49 Slavery can be a form of oppression of the slave-owner to the slave. Likewise, debt can be a kind of oppression of the lender to the borrower. High interests on debt can be a crushing burden to the poor. Yet in v. 16, the concept is more on increasing interests on the debt of the poor to increase the wealth of the lender.
In 2 Kings, we read about the story of a prophet’s wife, who comes to Elisha asking for his help (2 Ki. 4:1). She says that her husband is dead. Now, the creditor comes to take her two sons as slaves. Their slavery is payment for the debt they owed to the creditor.
In the ancient Near East, debt is a form of slavery. If you do not pay your debt, you pay it by becoming a slave to your lender.50 It is possible that the rich has exploited the system (Amos 2:6; 8:6; Mic. 2:9). Thus, the rich lenders rule over the poor borrowers. If they cannot pay up, they become slaves of the rich. In those days, poverty can lead to slavery.
Is it not true today? Borrow from a lender, and the lender will rule over you. You become a slave to the terms and conditions of the lender. Charge an item to your credit card. Automatically, you become a slave to the terms of the company. If you do not pay the minimum amount on due date, they block your card. If you do not pay the total amount due, they charge you a finance charge of 3.5%. If you pay one day after the due date, they charge you a late-payment fee of Php 600.00. If you will not pay any amount for two months, their collection officer will call you. If you do not pay in four months, their lawyer will send you a threatening letter.
God’s Word is true. The borrower is a slave of the lender. The longer the creditor-debtor relationship continues, the more the lender increases his wealth. The poor borrower will keep paying back the rich lender. However, the more he pays, the deeper he falls into poverty.
Yet God is the avenger of the indebted poor. The lender-oppressor is bound to become poor (v. 16). He who increases his prosperity by oppressing the poor shall only come to poverty. The kind of poverty is unspecified. The time of poverty is unclear, probably on the last day of divine judgment. Nevertheless, poverty is a certainty for the lender-oppressor.
How then shall we get out of the bondage of debt? Stop borrowing or stop lending. Earn more income and cut down on your expenses. Get out of debt as fast as possible. Or else, you will become a slave of your lenders.
49 Harris, Archer, and Waltke, “????,” TWOT 1:1713.
50 However, in the year of Jubilee in Israel, the lender shall release the debtor (Lev. 25:39-41; Ex. 21:7).