Proverbs 30:8-9 “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.”
If you keep reading the book of Proverbs over and over, you will become rich. I have that on good authority, namely the woman who shared a table with me on the commuter rail yesterday. She was reading the Bible and so I asked her (without revealing my own relation to the faith) if she found that reading it was a help to her. She promptly told me in no uncertain terms that reading the Psalms helped her see that her boyfriend was a cheat and that repeated reading of Proverbs guaranteed wealth. Who knew?
As much as I disagree with proponents of the “prosperity gospel” and other approaches to Scripture that seem to only serve our own self-interest, as I thought about the conversation throughout the day, I had to admit that there was a kernel of truth in what she said. There is honest-to-goodness wisdom in the book of Proverbs. Written, it is thought, by King Solomon who was known throughout the ancient world for his wisdom, there are very helpful things there for personal relations, for knowing when to keep your mouth shut, and for a balanced approach to material resources. The above passage is just one example of that. How many of us have the capacity for such honest self-reflection to realize that it is possible to have too much wealth as well as too little and that either extreme can lead us down a slippery slope.
Since the book of Proverbs is just a collection of wise sayings and not a story or history, it can be harder to remember the truth it contains. But my rail companion had a point. If we read the wisdom over and over and over again, some of it just might begin to sink in. And if we began to actually control our tongues, our anger, our lusts, and to “speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute” (Prov. 31:8) we might find that we are more of an asset to society. That could help us toward more successful jobs, and the prudence of self-control could keep more of what we earn in our wallets.
But for those who have the book of Proverbs on a loop that will play continuously until the money starts pouring in, stop and listen again to King Solomon’s warning in Proverbs 30. None of Solomon’s contemporaries knew such wealth as he had. It was all a gift from God, poured out because when Solomon was young and could have asked God for anything, he asked for wisdom instead of wealth. God gave him both. But the wealth did him in, making him forget the Giver of the gifts, and God tells Solomon that he will break apart Solomon’s kingdom as punishment for his idolatry. And so, in his wisdom, he tries to keep us from the dangerous lure of wealth: “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” The book itself undoes those who turn to it as a get-rich-quick scheme. Maybe on repeated readings, that will sink in.
God of all wealth and abundance, give us enough to slake our thirst but not enough to awaken our greed. Amen.
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