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The Dangers of Wealth and of Poverty
Proverbs 10:15 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
15 A rich man’s wealth is his strong city;
the poverty of the poor is their ruin.
A rich man’s wealth is his strong city: In ancient times a strong city (קִרְיַת עֻזּוֹ uzzo qiryat) was one with a wall. The greater the wall the greater the protection and the more secure those inside would feel. The same is true of wealth (Heb. hon) in that it offers the owner a measure of protection. It is not explicitly explained how wealth offers protection, but it can be inferred that it is those things that threaten the life of the poor, such as not enough food, medical care, and safe living conditions.
the poverty of the poor is their ruin: Those who are in poverty (רֵישׁ resh or רֵאשׁ resh or רִישׁ rish) are those who have very little or no money and few if any material possessions. However, throughout ancient and modern history, if people had work and enough money for the basic necessities of life, they did not view themselves as poor people and would offer a helping hand to those who had nothing. Ruin (מְחִתָּה mechittah) is a state of devastation and destruction to one’s health and peace that is heading toward or in and out of a life of hardship in despair and disgrace, that seems to always be present.
Wealth ensures its owners against many dangers in this life, and poverty endangers men to harsher evils than being impoverishment itself. Examples of this would be callousness, nastiness, cruelty, servility, and cowardice. Proverbs 10:15 attests that wealth has advantages, while poverty has disadvantages. There is little doubt that money can offer a person some protection from some uncertainties of life. In many cases, it can be a vicious circle in which the poor person creates some of his own burdens because of being financially destitute and unable or incapable of coping with such developments. Ecclesiastes 7:12 says, “For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money, and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it.”
However, we can look at verse 15 in another way as well because a person living in a strong city may have a false sense of security or feel overly secure when it is not really the case. The people within the city have complete trust in their wall to protect them, just as many rich men put their complete trust in their money, seeing it as the only protection he needs. A rich man may tend to put his complete trust in his wealth, believing that his money is “like a high wall in his imagination.” (Prov. 18:11) However, his riches will not buy him a good name or a righteous standing before God or even guarantee his lasting happiness. Then, again, those who are poor tend to mistakenly believe that their life is hopeless in their state of poverty.
In this, we are not going to be blind to the fact that the wealthy have things that the poor do not, which brings them a measure of comfort. The poor live month-to-month in fear of homelessness, in fear of their utilities being shut off, in fear of not having enough food for their children, in fear of a medical emergency for which they have no coverage. Imagine not having enough money for these basics of life: food, shelter, clothes, and healthcare. On the other hand, the wealthy can afford all of these, but they also tend to live an extravagant life many times beyond their wealth. The poor can draw comfort in that they have eternal life to look forward to and these things will be no more, while the rich need to heed a word of caution that their wealth may become a stumbling block in their receiving eternal life. The poor should always look for ways to improve their lives now but also keep their eyes on the prize of eternal life as well.