The poor an the afflicted in ancient wisdom literature (Proverbs 14)

.Image result for ruth gleaning in the field

Illustration: Ruth gleaned in the fields after the reapers

The wisdom literature of the Old Testament has a great deal to say about the poor and afflicted. The source of poverty is variously attributed in its passages. In many proverbs, for instance, it is represented as a state one brings upon oneself through lazyness, haste, lack of discipline or excessive or undisciplined consumption. However, other texts in both Proverbs and Job assert that scarcity can be attributed to him unjustly at the hands of greedy or corrupt people (cf. Job 24). Poverty may cause sorrow (Proverbs 31:7), abandonment or vulnerability (18:23) and can lead to crime.

Those who are privileged to be in position of affluence are continually exhorted to support the poor and to avoid exacerbating their affliction by oppression. Oppressors of the needy in effect taunt God their Maker, while those who are gracious to the less fortunate honour Him (14:31). A mark of the righteous is their concern for the underprivileged (Job 29:12-17, Proverbs 29:7), and rulers in particular are exhorted to demonstrate compassion toward the needy (28:3). It is remarkable that the persons in positions of power who wrote most of Israel’s wisdom literature did not present the poor as immoral or second-class, but as neighbours in need of mercy. On the other hand, there is never an indication that the needy are necessarily more pious; after all, poverty was never presented as an ideal of Israelite society (Deuteronomy 15:4).

The poor are not the only victims of oppression – even the king of Israel suffered affliction at the hands of his enemies (Psalm 94:2, 16-17, cf. Ecclesiastes 10:7). In the face of such adversity, whether one is a privileged king or an impoverished beggar, Scripture indicates that the proper response is faith in the Lord, the righteous Judge over all iniquity and injustice. Above all else, a righteous individual is to be dedicated to the Lord, knowing that it is better to be a penniless person of integrity than a prosperous individual of proud or oppressive ways (Proverbs 28:6, 11).


 

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