Today’s reading: Proverbs 10-12.
Who wrote the proverbs? The introduction of Chapter 10 tells us it was Solomon. The first nine chapters were all preparation for the meat of the book, the proverbs of Solomon which make up Chapters 10-22. Each of the proverbs contains two lines. The second line compares, contrasts, or completes the first line. In most of the proverbs the lines contrast each other. “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” This proverb is a good introduction to today’s study of giving and getting, generosity and hard work.
One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. People curse the man who hoards grain, but blessing crowns him who is willing to sell. He who seeks good finds goodwill, but evil comes to him who searches for it. Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf. Proverbs 11:24-28
Remember that the words of Proverbs are principles, not promises. Solomon wants us to know that generosity will usually lead to blessings for the person who gives. The generous person gains more, prospers, finds refreshment, is praised by others, receives goodwill from others, and thrives. Increase is the principle. In God’s economy the one who lets go of his goods finds even more coming back to him. In the original Hebrew he grows fat, he is watered, he is favored. “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days” (Ecclesiastes 11:1). “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9:6). “Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38).
Increase is the principle, but I’m left to wonder how it works. Some of it comes from the grateful response of those who benefit from the giver. That doesn’t explain it all, but there is a hint in the line, “whoever trusts in his riches will fall.” The generous person doesn’t trust his wealth. If he did he would be slow to part with it. No, he’s trusting God whom he credits as the provider of his wealth. God, in return, rewards his faith by continually replenishing his supply so that he can continue to be a blessing to others.
He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment… From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him…Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor… The lazy man does not roast his game, but the diligent man prizes his possessions. Proverbs 12:11, 14, 24, 27
This section on diligence or work gives us an example of a comparative proverb. The man who bears fruit by speaking well is compared to the man who gains by his hard work. Diligence here derives from words for sharp or sharpen, as you would sharpen your tools. This word also meant a moat dug with those tools, reminding us how diligent work provides security. The word was also used to describe gold. You can connect the dots. The person who works wisely with sharp tools will find security and wealth. And what will this wise person do with his wealth? He or she will use it to bless others.
“Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind?” John Wesley
Image by Sheila Sund on Flickr, CC by 2.0