Proverbs 19:1 – Better is the poor man who walks in his integrity... - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Biblical Wisdom Faith
March 1, 2017

Proverbs 19:1 – Better is the poor man who walks in his integrity...

Proverbs 19:1 – Better is the poor man who walks in his integrity than one who is perverse in his lips, and is a fool.

Wise people know the relative value of things. The Pharisees failed here. When Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath, they ignored the astonishing healing to complain about Jesus’ working. Not knowing the heart of God, they evaluated relative worth wrongly. “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others (Luke 12:42).”

Wealth is God’s blessing and is easier than poverty, but it is less important in a family than peace (17:1). Therefore, people err when they think wealth is the measure of a man. The question, “How much is he worth (meaning money)?” is way off the mark. A far better measure of a man is integrity: “better is the poor who walks in his integrity.” A poor man who lives honestly, keeps his word, and stands for what is right regardless of the cost, is better than -- what? We expect “better than a rich man who…” but Solomon draws a surprising contrast: better “than one who is perverse in his lips, and is a fool.”

The English “fool” translates four Hebrew words with meanings of empty head, evil, slow-witted, and self-confident. The word in 19:1 means the self-confident fool, in this case the slick talker who can trick people with his words, make anyone like him in two minutes, sell anything to anyone: in short with his smooth words get what he wants. Such a fool is not deceived about the power of his words. He has a rich gift, but the gift by itself does not make him worthy of anything. Absalom had the gift, and with it he stole the hearts of Israel from their God-anointed king. The woman on the prowl with flattering words in Proverbs 2:16-19 is such a person.

The glib talker thinks himself superior to the plodding poor man who lives with integrity, but who can’t bend people to his will with words, and never seems to get ahead. The children’s author Dr. Seuss depicts the opposite of the glib fool with the elephant Horton in Horton Hatches the Egg and Horton Hears a Who. He is a big-hearted plodder who sticks unflaggingly to his word no matter what. In the end his integrity vindicates him: he saves the town of Whoville (“A person’s a person no matter how small.”), and he hatches the egg. In God’s eyes, the glib talker is inferior to the Hortons of this world. The smooth talker in the end is merely an arrogant windbag, a fool.

- Dr. Bill Edgar, Geneva College Board Member, Trustee, and former President