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.
“The poor use entreaties, but the rich answer roughly” (Prov. 18:23). The plural word, “entreaties” (Heb. tahanun), means, “supplications for favor” (BDB), or “appeals for help or mercy.” The picture is about a poor person who appears in court. He is in court probably because he cannot pay his creditor. He uses entreaties. He asks for mercy. He seeks favor and forgiveness.
But his pleas are unanswered. The rough or “fierce” (BDB) answer of the rich indicates that the poor man’s pleas are not granted. This is the disadvantage of the poor man. Since he is not in a position to ask for favor, he does not get it.
Another disadvantage of the poor is abandonment by friends. Prov. 19:4, “Wealth brings many new friends, but a poor man is deserted by his friend.” Prov. 19:7, “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.” Why would his family and friends abandon him? Perhaps they do not want to offend the rich and powerful.
But 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? Sometimes, our friends are more faithful to us than family, esp. in times of trouble. Hence, the poor man is strong with his faithful friends.
But he also stands strong 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” (19:1). The word, “integrity” (Heb. 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, though your money is “incomplete.”
Thus, better is a poor person who lives in moral integrity, than a rich person who is a fool.