Proverbs 28:20-21

Proverbs 28:20-21 February 19, 2010


This proverb, like many, is structured in parallel:

The man of faithfulnesses is great with blessings

But the one haste to be rich shall not be pure.

The contrasts are revealing.  Faithfulness is contrasted not with obvious terms like “disobedient” or “rebellious” or “unfaithful,” but with “hastiness.”  The verb ( ‘utz ) can refer to pressure coming from another, as when the Egyptian taskmasters “hasted” the Hebrews to get their work done (Exodus 5:13).  Here, it refers instead to self-pressure, the self-imposed urging to pursue wealth and to get it quick.  This is a particularly telling emphasis in our culture, which celebrates quick riches and encourages, through media and advertising, a longing to imitate the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  It is particularly convicting in a 24/7 culture that urges us to drive, drive, drive, to run on all cylinders all the time.

Proverbs warns against hastiness in several places.  Hastiness leads to error (Proverbs 19:2) and to poverty (21:5).  Hasty words make a man worse than a fool (29:20).  Here, the warning is more somber.  The hasty will not only come to poverty, but will be guilty.  The one who is driven to get rich will cut corners, ignore the needs of others, trample on the weak who stand in his way, and cannot remain pure.  The verb translated as “be pure” is frequently translated as “go unpunished” (eg, Exodus 20:7).  That implies a Punisher: The proverb is not talking about a “natural” cause-and-effect, but rather the fact that the Lord will intervene to discipline those who are hasty and unthinking in their pursuit of wealth.

What are we to say about the first part of the verse?  “Faithfulness” (the word is related to the word “Amen”) is a covenantal term that describes someone who keeps the obligations of a relationship.  Yahweh is a faithful God because He keeps His promises, and He calls His people to faithfulness to their obligations as His bride.  But is it true that the faithful man abounds with blessings?  What about Jesus, the one Faithful Man, the one whose very name is Faithful and True, and who ended up rejected by His people and condemned to a Roman cross?  Did He abound with blessings?  Once we ask about Jesus, we must also ask about the sufferings of many of the saints of the Old Testament, who, Hebrews 11 reminds us, were often opposed and persecuted and abused and killed.  Were they filled with blessings?

The answer is Yes, but to see how that works it’s essential for us to recognize that the blessings we enjoy don’t always look like blessings to us or the world.  Is suffering a blessing?  Paul says Yes, because of the effects is has in forming our character and perseverance (Romans 5).  Our sufferings can also be participations in Christ’s own suffering, and thus can lead to blessing for others.  Is death a blessing?  Paul says Yes because death is gain.  Plus, we have to look at this question in a temporal framework, rather than thinking about it in static terms.  Was Jesus blessed on the cross?  Not in any obvious way, but the cross didn’t last forever, and when Jesus was raised He was given all authority in heaven and on earth.  Just so, while our sufferings are painful, they are not forever.  Even if we are disciplined for our own sins, we know that His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor for a lifetime.


“To show partiality” translates a Hebrew idiom that means, literally, to have regard for or to recognize one’s face.  Face is associated with presence and person, and so with reputation.  Finding favor in another’s presence is finding favor in their eyes or before their face, having access to their presence because they are favorably disposed to you.  To recognize a face is to defer to someone’s reputation.

The Bible condemns partiality, particularly in judicial situations (Deuteronomy 1:17; 16:19) but also in daily life.  Life is full of judgments, small decisions that are potentially influenced by the reputation or presence of the people we have to deal with.  Scripture teaches us to judge and act on the basis of truth and right, not on the basis of face or reputation.  The Proverb tells us that such partiality is not good.

Little things can influence our judgments.  Scripture condemns receiving bribes (Exodus 23:9; Deuteronomy 10:17; Psalm 15:5; 26:10; Proverbs 15:27; 17:23), but this proverb reminds us that the bride doesn’t have to be very precious to influence us.  Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, the price of a dead slave under the law.  We are often influenced by the smallest promises and threats, and our judgments are distorted by a small crust of bread.  Promises of wealth or favor can blind us, make our vision distorted, and make it impossible for us to judge situations rightly.  Idolatry blinds, and here particularly it is the idolatry of mammon.

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