Neither Poverty Nor Riches (Proverbs 30:8-9)


“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” (ESV). This prayer was written by a man named Agur and is found in Proverbs 30:8-9. The entire prayer is fascinating, but especially these words from verses 8 and 9. 

It is not surprising for someone to ask that they not fall into poverty, but it is somewhat shocking that someone asks not to become rich. Many people dream of being rich and wealth is often asked for (particularly by those in the Prosperity Gospel movement I discussed in the last post). Agur’s overarching rationale for this request is that both poverty and riches can lead one to be tempted to turn his or her back upon God and that both scarcity and abundance can stand as dangers for our souls. Let’s explore why this is true and then what to do in light of it.

The Danger of Poverty
Agur’s words remind us that when in poverty, one might be led to do immoral things in hopes of providing for their basic worldly needs. I believe it is not simply the act of stealing that Agur is seeking to avoid, but the lack of trust in God that such actions ultimately stem from. When we are in the midst of a trial or hardship, we are tempted to stop trusting in God and start trusting in ourselves, to take the matter into our own hands because we no longer believe that God will take care of us. We see this happen in different ways in the Bible, such as when Abram and Sarai seek a child through Hagar rather than waiting on God’s promised provision. When we lack things in life, we sometimes question God’s goodness towards us, just as the Israelities grumbled about God throughout their wandering in the wilderness. Poverty is thus not just a danger to people physically, but also  spiritually.   

The Danger of Wealth
If “in want” can move us to a lack of trust in God, then “in plenty” can lead us into a lack of gratitude for what God has done. Agur’s prayer notes that wealth can cause people to forget about God and how He provided for them. Perhaps because we are more prone to think about the dangers of poverty than the danger of wealth, warnings against the dangers of wealth stand as a recurring theme throughout the Bible. Israel is warned not to forget God before it goes into the land God had promised them (Deuteronomy 8:11-20). Jesus says it is difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23-24). His parable of the sower and the seed notes that the “deceitfulness of riches” can choke out the Word of God so that it does not become fruitful (Matthew 13:22). Paul tells us that many have walked away from the faith because of their craving of money (1 Timothy 6:10). Ultimately, we are either going to serve God or serve money (Matthew 6:24); while we certainly can serve and love money (1 Timothy 6:9) when we don’t have it, it is really easy to begin to serve it when we do have it. Examples of this can be seen in the Book of Luke where the Rich Fool builds bigger barns and is no longer rich towards God (Luke 12:12-21) or the Rich Man who ignores Lazarus because he was in love with fine dining and fancy threads to see the needs of Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Therefore, we should view financial and material wealth as a danger rather than as our dream. While we are taught by the world (and sadly, all too often in the church) to want more, perhaps that is not God’s desire for  us, but rather what the devil wants us to covet.

Dealing with These Twin Dangers
So how do we deal with these dangers? I think we certainly can and should pray this prayer, both in hopes of God answering it (and thus sparing us from both dangers) and also creating in us a heart that is focused upon Him instead of upon the things of this world (as prayer also works to change our hearts). We should also probably recognize that there might be times in which we are dealt with these lots in life – at times we may end up with less than we need,  or we may end up with abundance – we need to consider how to deal with these situations. 

If we are in the trial of want, we should still have joy and view this trial as an opportunity to grow our faith (James 1:2-4). While we do not want to suffer and shouldn’t be happy about any suffering we face, a trial of want does not need to be a place in which we profane God’s name. Rather, we can praise God in new and deeper ways as we cry out to Him and develop a renewed trust in His promises (as we have been exploring in our recent series on suffering). Not only should we continue to cry out to God, but also potentially reach out to people who may be the means through which God is going to provide for us. We must continue to trust and remember that our hope in God goes beyond life in this world  – to a life that is greater and even more real than the world we see.

We should also recognize that times of plenty also stand as a trial that tests our faith. Instead of seeing material abundance in terms of wealth and possessions as a sign of blessing, we may see it as a season of testing that will reveal to us our heart’s ultimate allegiance. We need to develop contentment so we don’t crave the things the world promises will bring us happiness, but instead must remain focused on where we find true life. We also need to divest ourselves of the things that prove to allure us and tempt us; we are “to be generous and ready to share” (1 Timothy 6:17). Rather than indulging our desires today or building bigger barns that we can enjoy (or be prepared for tomorrow), we should be careful about accumulation and aggressive in generosity. Our abundance might be to help others and bring God glory (2 Corinthians 8:14-15, 9:11-13), and we must remember that God calls for us not simply to give what we can spare, but rather to give sacrificially like the widow (Mark 12:41-44). As the Macedonians gave out of their poverty and affliction (2 Corinthians 8:1-7), we are called all the more to give from our prosperity and abundance to help others but also to resist the temptation of riches.

Therefore, instead of asking God for more, let’s ask God for enough – to give us our daily bread. Ask Him to help us see that we might be receiving someone else’s daily bread so that we have the opportunity to give it back to them. This will result in trusting and praising God each day – from those in want, and from those in plenty.

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