I’ve already cautioned you on drawing blanket applications from individual Proverbs, and a few samples from today’s reading reinforce that advice. Here’s one: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” One interpretation of this could be prescriptive: this is the way things should be… or this is the way God has ordered things. But it doesn’t have to be prescriptive; it could be descriptive: this is the way things are.
Compare this with what you hear just a few verses on, where the oppressor is warned that: “Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.” Put aside the implications for a second: in terms of their tenor and structure, is there any difference between these two? Is one a warning while the other is an observation? Are they both simply descriptive? Or are they both instructive? How do you know?
I call attention to this not to confuse, but rather to draw your attention to the very nature of wisdom. It is meant to be chewed on, mulled over, contemplated, and held in the full context of the Bible. Given what we’ve seen in the law and the prophets, it’s hard to believe that God would condone a system where the rich rule over the poor, simply because they are rich. But there is nothing in the style of the individual proverb that directs this application. This – and all proverbs – must be held in the full context of the book of Proverbs, and indeed all of Scripture, to be faithfully applied.
There is a break in the middle of chapter 22 that reminds us of one of the most reaffirmed ideas in Proverbs: Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge, for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, if all of them are ready on your lips. That your trust may be in the LORD, I have made them known to you today, even to you. Remember the thesis statement from chapters 1 and 9: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Often in these chapters the author reminds us that it is not simply healthy living that they are advising, but to fear the LORD, and to “not join with those who do otherwise.”
Our verse for this week is Psalm 119:105: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Proverbs 22 through 25. Now let’s read it!
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.