Better is the poor that walks in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich.
Nothing we can touch, no relation we can enter into or observe, but has its moral bearing. This, indeed, is the great lesson, in hundredfold iteration, of this book.
I. POVERTY WITH INNOCENCE, WEALTH WITH PERVERSITY. (Ver. 6.) Whatever be the compensations of poverty in a lower point of view, most men would vote for riches if they had the opportunity at the price of all its inconveniences, and we need to be reminded that he who would sell his peace of conscience for wealth does but "gain a loss." Better go to heaven in rags than to hell in embroidery. Better God than gold; better be poor and live, than rich and perish.
II. A MAN IS KNOWN BY THE COMPANY HE KEEPS. (Ver. 7.) The first example is that of the man whose delight is in the Law, who is in fellowship with the truth, and who is therefore a companion "of all them that fear God and keep his precepts." The second is that of one who keeps company with the dissipated, stains his name, and brings dishonour on his family. In society lie the greatest perils and the greatest safeguards. The Christian Church is the Divine society which aims at the true and holy ideal of living. As with books, so with men; the rule is - keep company only with the best.
III. ILL-GOTTEN WEALTH DWINDLES. (Ver. 8.) Wealth is not his who gets it, but his who enjoys it. And if gotten by ill means, it cannot be enjoyed; and "Ill got, ill spent," says the proverb. Wealth, diverted by force or fraud from its natural channels flows back by a law of economic gravitation. A man labours for himself with selfishness and wickedness, and the harvest falls into better hands; "not intending it of himself; but it is so done through God's secret providence."
IV. PRAYERS ARE VITIATED BY INJUSTICE. (Ver. 9.) They are tainted by a horrible lie. In prayer the goodness, the moral perfection, of God is assumed; and prayer implies that the holy will ought to be done. Yet how great the contradiction between such prayers on the lips and the heart bent upon defeating that will! "Just reason that God shall refuse to hear him who refuses to hear God." Without the "ceasing to do evil, and the learning to do well," sacrifices are vain oblations, and incense is an abomination to God (Isaiah 1:11-15).
V. THE SEDUCER IS SELF-SEDUCED. (Ver. 10.) So the snare of Balaam, laid for Israel, became the cause of his own ruin. If the retribution is not visible, it is a fact in the soul. Among the ingredients of remorse, none is more bitter than the recollection of having led youth and innocence astray. It is a sin most difficult of self-forgiveness. But the righteous inherit salvation. There is a real sense in which men should seek to realize the character of "just men that need no repentance." There is no salvation in selfishness - none which does not imply a regeneration of the social consciousness.
VI. POVERTY AND RICHES HAVE THEIR COMPENSATION. (Ver. 11.) Confidence in riches begins in illusory self-confidence; and there is much to abet and foster it in the opinion of the multitude; for, as the old saying runs, "Rich men have no faults." But the poor man, endued with sense and with religion, sees through these false estimates; knows that the rich feel misfortunes which pass over his own head; that they pay a tax of constant care and anxiety; and that it is ever better to fare hard with good men than to feast with bad.
VII. "THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE THE VOICE OF GOD." (Ver. 12.) Whatever be the love of greatness and splendour, of rank and position, in the common mind, the people cannot but rejoice in good rulers, and be depressed under evil. A generous acclamation breaks from the popular heart when good men are raised to honour. "When Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in the king's royal apparel,...the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad. The Jews had light, and gladness, and joy, and honour; in every province...a feast and a good day" (Esther 8:15-17). - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich.