Poverty with Integrity Makes One Smarter Than the Rich

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).

Again, verses 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 preacher got on a bus and discovered he had been given 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.”[1]

It is possible to have integrity or to be honest and still be poor. It is also possible to have no integrity and still be rich. You see, the writer of wisdom does not think that righteousness means riches. He does not suggest that unrighteousness means poverty. He does not think that God rewards righteousness with riches.[2] He does not suggest that God rewards corruption with poverty.

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. But divine wisdom says that the honest poor are wiser than the crooked rich.

In v. 11, the word, “find” (Heb. hakar), means, “of examining thoroughly, so as to expose weakness in a case.” (BDB) God says that the righteous poor can see through them. God says that the upright poor can see them as they are—unwise, crooked, and corrupt.

Qoheleth, the writer of Ecclesiastes, 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 (Eccl. 9:14-17)

Now what makes the righteous poor wise? Is it because they are more educated? No, more rich people are far more educated than the poor.

The answer is spiritual. Poor people who seek the Lord receive wisdom from the Lord. “Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely” (Prov. 28:5). You may be poor, but if you seek God, you will become wise. If you seek the Lord, you will understand justice. If you seek the Lord, you will know how to live in this world. If you seek the Lord, you will be rich with the wisdom of God.


[2] Garrett, Proverbs, 223.

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