Seek Neither Prosperity Nor Poverty, But the Glory of God

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. (Prov. 30:7-9)

Two things motivate Agur—positively, the glory of God and negatively, the deceit of his heart. First, he is concerned for the glory of God in his life. He does not want riches or poverty to rob God of His glory in his life. He seeks only the supremacy and lordship of God in his life.

Second, he is concerned with the deceitfulness of his heart. He knows that when he gets rich, he may forget God. He knows that when he becomes poor, he may profane God. He knows that the heart is deceitful above all things.

Nobody can fathom the sinful human heart. If you have money, you might deny the Lord. If you have no money, you might steal and bring dishonor to the Lord.

Thus, Agur was wise to ask neither prosperity nor poverty. Rather, he asks only enough to meet his needs. The reason is that he seeks the glory of God in his life. Seeking God’s glory, he will not ask for prosperity, lest he will deny God. He will not ask for poverty, lest he will dishonor God. Seeing that his heart is deceitful, he asks neither poverty nor riches.

That is how we should ask God concerning money. Ask not riches, lest you will deny God. Ask not poverty, lest you will profane God.

But ask how you can glorify God. Ask how you can be faithful to God. Ask how you can overcome the deceit of your heart. Ask not for more or less, but only your daily bread. Rest content in whatever God shall give you.

Seek the glory of God in your life. Then you will live a blessed life!

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Ask Neither Poverty or Prosperity, But Only What You Need

“Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me” (Prov. 30:7-8).

Agur’s prayer for the removal of falsehood is merely introductory. The main point of his prayer concerns only two things—(1) do not give me poverty or riches; (2) give me only food that I need.

Agur does not ask for more or less, but only enough. That is what we should ask God concerning material things. Do not ask for more or less than you need, but just enough of the things you need.

Isn’t that what Jesus taught us to pray for? He said, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We need not more or less, but only our daily bread.

If you have one cell phone that meets your need, why crave for the latest android on the market? If you have one car that meets your need, why buy one more? If you do not need an iPod, why buy one? Isn’t our craving for things a way to show it off to others? Remember that worldliness is the pride of possessions; and God hates worldliness (1 John 2:15-17).

The Lie of Poverty

“Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me” (Prov. 30:7-8).

In this context, “falsehood” refers also to the lie of poverty. The lie of poverty is that God is uncaring and unhelpful. For example, some people think that God is uncaring and unhelpful. So they take matters into their own hands. They steal, cheat, and do many things contrary to God’s will. Poverty and a false notion of the distance of God becomes an excuse for disobedience of God’s law.

The Lie of Prosperity

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me (Prov. 30:7-8). 

The words, “before I die,” means, “my remaining lifetime.” Agur is talking about prosperity and poverty here. Hence, the words, “falsehood and lying,” refer to the falsehood and lying of both prosperity and poverty.

What is the falsehood and lying of prosperity? The falsehood of prosperity is that God is unnecessary.

An atheist was walking through the woods. He heard a rustling in the bushes, turned, and saw a large lion. He ran away as fast as he could. He looked over his shoulder and saw that the lion was closing in on him. He tripped and fell on the ground. He rolled over but the lion was already on top of him, raising its paw to strike him. At that moment, the atheist cried, “Oh, my God!”

Time stopped. The lion froze. The forest was silent.

As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky. “You deny my existence for all these years, teach others I don’t exist and even credit creation to cosmic accident. Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?”

The atheist looked directly into the light, “It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps you could make the BEAR a Christian?”

“Very well,” said the voice.

The light went out. The sounds of the forest resumed. And the lion dropped his right paw, brought both paws together, bowed his head & spoke:

“Lord bless this food for the nourishment of my body, in Jesus’ Name. Amen!” [1]

The lie of prosperity is that you no longer need God. Since you have everything, God is unneeded in your life. Such is the deception of prosperity.


[1] “An Atheist in the Woods.” Cited March 31, 2012. Online:  “http://www.sermonideas.net/view/An-Atheiest-in-the-Woods/.

 

Neither Prosperity Nor Poverty, But the Glory of God

Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God. (Prov. 30:7-9)

This prayer of a man named, Agur, is fascinating. In our prayers, we usually ask God for more blessings (translated, money and material things). We ask God for anything that will make our life comfortable. Conversely, we ask God to take away anything that makes our lives uncomfortable. Seldom do we seek the glory of God, whether in pain or pleasure.

But Agur asks neither prosperity nor poverty. Rather, he asks just enough to meet his needs, so that he can glorify God in his life. Hence, his main motivation in his prayer is neither the comforts of life or the lack of it, but the glory of God.

God will surely answer the prayer that seeks His glory. We have long asked God for prosperity. Let us go to the next level of spiritual living. Let us align our desires with God’s desires for our lives. His desire for us is neither prosperity or poverty. Rather, His desire is His glory in our lives. Let us therefore pray, not for prosperity nor poverty, but for the glory of God in our lives.

Poverty is Prevented by Generosity to the Poor

Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse (Prov. 28:27).

This verse contrasts between giving and not giving to the poor. We note two principles here. First, give to the poor and you will not become poor. Second, however, hide your eyes from the poor, and you will receive many curses.

Hiding your eyes is the opposite of giving to the poor. Hence, hiding your eyes means not giving to the poor. To give to the poor is to be generous. To hide your eyes to the poor is to be greedy. To give to the poor is to be self-less. To hide your eyes to the poor is to be selfish.

The following is a report on charitable giving or giving to the poor by U.S. News and World Report in December, 1991. Age group that gives the highest percent of income to charity: Ages 65 to 74 is 4.4%. The lowest: Ages 18 to 24 is 1.2%. Personal income Americans gave to charity last year: Poorest households: 5.5%. Wealthiest households: 2.9%.[1] 

I wonder why young people do not give as much of their income to the poor. Perhaps because they are poor themselves, jobless, or relying on their parents’ support. Or perhaps, they are consumed with their own selfishness.

Why do the poor give more to the poor than the rich? Perhaps, because they know what it means to be poor. Or perhaps, they face the poor at ground zero, relating with them more often than the rich.

Mother Teresa, the missionary to the poorest of the poor, was traveling to New Guinea. A friar asked Mother Teresa. “If I pay my own fare to New Guinea, can I sit next to you on the plane so I can talk to you and learn from you?” Mother Teresa looked at him. “You have enough money to pay airfare to New Guinea?” she asked. “Oh, yes,” he replied eagerly. “Then give that money to the poor,” she said. “You’ll learn more from that than anything I can tell you.” [2]

Close your eyes to the poor and people will curse you. People will call on God to punish you for your selfishness. Worse—God Himself will curse you for your selfishness. “The Lord’s curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the dwelling of the righteous” (Prov. 3:33).

Thus, we see an ironic contrast in Prov. 28:27. Whoever gives to the poor shall not become poor. But whoever does not give to the poor shall become rich—rich with many curses.


[1] Statistics and Research. Cited March 31, 2012. Online: http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/g/giving.htm.

Poverty Comes to Those Who Sell Their Integrity

To show partiality is not good, but for a piece of bread a man will do wrong. A stingy man hastens after wealth and does not know that poverty will come upon him (Prov. 28:21-22).

The background of v. 22 is v. 21. The setting is a court of law. The man wants to make quick money by taking a bribe. That is the picture here in v. 21. The bribe is compared to a piece of bread. For a piece of bread, the bribe-taker will do wrong. In other words, for a piece of bread, he will show partiality. For some quick and easy money, he will sell the truth. For money, he will sell his integrity. For money, he will give a false witness in court.

Now in v. 22, this bribe-taker is called, a “stingy man.” In the Hebrew, it literally reads, “a man with an evil eye.” The word, “evil” (Heb. ra’a), is used of the ungodly thoughts and actions of men (cf. Num 14:27, 35; Jer 8:3; Ezek 38:10). In the OT, the eye measures the inner thoughts of men. (TWOT) An “evil eye” refers to evil intentions resulting to evil actions.

Thus, a man with an evil eye is one doing evil acts out of evil intents. The evil intent is greed (cf. Prov. 28:20, 25). The evil act is to get rich quick by selling one’s integrity. But the greedy one who takes a bribe, the stingy man, the man with an evil eye, the man who wants to get rich by selling his integrity—will only become poor.

There is an irony here. The one who sells his honesty to get rich will become poor. Anyone who sells his integrity for prosperity ends up in poverty.

Are you tempted to sell your honesty for money? Are you tempted to give up doing right to make money? If you will sell your uprightness for a piece of bread, then you will lose that bread. You will become poor.

Avoid poverty by maintaining your integrity. Do what is right. Do not sell your integrity for a piece of bread.

Poverty Can Be Caused by Worthless Pursuits

Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.

A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished (Prov. 28:19-20)

In this text, hard work is better than following worthless pursuits. The word, “worthless” (Heb. req), means, “empty, vain,” or “worthless goals.” (TWOT) In v. 20, these worthless pursuits are get-rich-quick pursuits. “Whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished” (v. 20).

Why would one hasten to be rich? The answer is greed. In v. 19, because he is greedy, he pursues worthless goals. In v. 21, because he is greedy, he accepts bribes. In v. 23, because he is greedy, he flatters rich people. In v. 24, because he is greedy, he robs his parents. In v. 25, because he is greedy, he causes trouble.

Thus, Proverbs condemns the greedy desire to get-rich-quick. Instead, it urges hard work, financial wisdom, and generosity.

That is why we are against gambling. Filipinos are known for gambling. Gambling is embedded in our culture. We have cock-fight gambling even in poor towns. We have the lotto and the casino. I grew up with gambling parents. I remember going to a cock-fight with my dad when I was small. There were four mahjong tables every Saturday in our home.

But gambling of any kind feeds the desire to get rich quick–the desire for easy money. It contradicts the divine will to work hard. It is an empty, worthless pursuit. It is also a waste of money. You might win some, but you will lose more.

However, if you work hard, you will become productive. “Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread” (v. 19). If you produce something, you will become prosperous.

We find the same emphasis in v. 20—“A faithful man will abound with blessings.” To be faithful is to be devoted to your duty. To be devoted to your duty is to receive blessings. You will become prosperous.

But if you don’t work and produce, you will become poor. If you pursue worthless goals, poverty will knock at your door. If you are not faithful in your duty, poverty will call on you.

Thus, hard work is the answer to prosperity. But the pursuit of empty goals is the key to poverty.

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.

God Will Judge Oppressors of the Poor

A poor man who oppresses the poor is a beating rain that leaves no food (Prov. 28:3).

The Masoretic Text uses the word, rush, “poor.” Four factors go against the use of the word however. First, the poor are nowhere said to oppress the poor in the OT.[1] Second, the context of Prov. 28 points to someone else rather than the poor. Third, the LXX translates it as, andreios, “manly,” or in a “bad sense, stubborn; or [of] things, strong, vigorous.” Fourth, there is the question of the choice of vowels. Remember that the original Hebrew has no vowels. The Masoretes added the vowels later, by their best judgment. What if, in a better judgment, the vowel, o, is used? The word then becomes, rosh, “ruler,” “chief,” or “head.”

Thus, the OT context, the literary context of Prov. 28, the LXX, and the change of vowel, may point to one kind of oppressor in v. 3—a stubborn, abusive ruler. Look at v. 8, which speaks of a powerful person who makes money by oppressing the poor with high interest loans. Look at v. 15—about a “wicked ruler over a poor people.” Thus, the NRSV and the NIV translate it, “ruler.”

Now what is this “ruler” like? An oppressive ruler is like a beating rain that leaves no food. Rain is supposed to nourish the crops in the fields. But a cruel ruler is not the soft rain that nourishes the fields. A harsh ruler is a beating rain that destroys the crops.

How does a powerful person oppress the poor like a beating rain? In v. 8, he charges them a high interest or higher taxes.

But what is the result of his actions? In v. 8, he will lose his money to people who give to the poor. God will make him lose his money. We see here an act of divine judgment.[2]

Do you owe a loan to a loan shark? They are like a beating rain that leaves no food. They charge a very high interest to the poor. Their actions oppress the poor. However, they will only oppress you if you borrow from them. Therefore, do not borrow from the loan sharks.

But higher fees or higher taxes put a burden to the poor. If powerful people now oppress you with high interest loans or higher fees, remember—God will judge them. God will take their money away and give it to generous people.


[1] Toy, A Critical, 495.

[2] Garrett, Proverbs, 222.