Summary: Part 16 of the Sermon Series, "Rich Man Poor Man in Proverbs"
"Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways" (Prov. 28:6).
"A rich man is wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has understanding will find him out" (Prov. 28:11).
Proverbs 28:6 and 11 give corresponding meanings. It talks about poor people with integrity. A poor man with integrity is wiser than a rich man. Now that is unconventional. A straight, poor man is better than a crooked, rich man. A straight, poor man is wiser than a crooked, rich man.
A man who walks in his integrity is not supposed to be poor. A man who is crooked in his ways is not supposed to be rich. Yet there are poor people of integrity. There are also rich people of corruption.
What then does the sage say about it? It is better to be a poor man of integrity, than to be a rich man of dishonesty.74 Similarly, "Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it" (Prov. 15:16).
A preacher got on a bus. He discovered that the bus driver had given him too much change. When he was getting off the bus, he told the bus driver who replied, “I know”. “Why did you give me too much?” asked the preacher. “I was in church yesterday and heard you preach,” replied the driver. “I wanted to see if you were worth listening to.”75
It is possible to have integrity and still be poor. It is also possible to have no integrity and still be rich. Wealth is the reward of humility and the fear of God (Prov. 22:4). Yet is this also applicable to a poor man of integrity? The literary background gives us the meaning of the word “integrity.” The “integrity” of the poor man corresponds to the “crookedness” of the rich man. Integrity means keeping the law, blamelessness, and gaining understanding (Prov. 28:7, 9-11).
It can be argued that the man of integrity is the man who keeps the law, indicating fear of God. Yet if Proverbs is a collection of sayings from various writers, there is therefore no common context throughout but different sub-contexts around a sub-topic.76 Wealth is mentioned with regard to humility in Proverbs 22:4; while poverty, to integrity in Proverbs 28:6. Proverbs 28:6 falls under the “better” sayings, which weighs the advantages of poverty and prosperity on certain conditions. Most probably, the writer in Proverbs 28:6 does not always assume that God rewards integrity with prosperity.77 A poor man of integrity can remain poor. Yet a rich man of perversity can remain rich.
Yet the word “better” is the game-changer. It speaks of the advantage of the poor man over the rich man. The advantage of the poor man of integrity is his integrity. The disadvantage of the rich but crooked man is his crookedness. The poor man of integrity is thus better than the rich man of perversity. He fears God. Because of his fear of God, he is wiser. He has understanding. He exercises discernment.
"A rich man is wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has understanding will find him out" (Prov. 28:11). Many rich people think that their money makes them wise. They can afford to pay for their education. They send their children to expensive private schools. They think that they are smarter than the poor. They believe that they live on a higher level than the poor. However, divine wisdom says that the honest poor are wiser than the crooked rich.
In v. 11, the word “find” (hakar) denotes a thorough examination, “so as to expose weakness in a case.”78 God says that the righteous poor can probe through them. God says that the upright poor can see them, as they are—unwise, crooked, and corrupt. In Ecclesiastes 9:14-17, Qoheleth tells the story of a poor man who saved a city from a powerful, rich king.
"There was a little city with few men in it, and a great king came against it and besieged it, building great siege works against it.But there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. But I say that wisdom is better than might, though the poor man’s wisdom is despised and his words are not heard. The words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools."
Nobody bothers to listen to a poor man. But everybody will listen to the rich and powerful. Yet Qoheleth says that the poor wise man is better than a rich fool.
Now what makes the righteous poor wise? Is it because they are more educated? The answer is No. More rich people are far more educated than the poor.