“A rich man’s wealth is his strong city; the poverty of the poor is their ruin.
The first order teaching here is that wealth is not a bad thing. Don’t despise money; there is nothing wrong with being wealthy. Indeed, wealth that is acquired through a strong work ethic and then managed wisely provides a wide range of benefits for a community of people, thus the reference not just to one person or even a family, but to a “strong city.”
Wealth that is managed wisely makes everyone better. By contrast, those in poverty do not have access to the benefits and resources of a strong city.
The second order teaching refers to society and culture, and I think this is the primary message of the verse. The picture being painted is the difference between cultural wealth versus cultural poverty.
Those who are rich in wisdom, discipline, and trust in God produce a “strong city.” That is, they produce a strong community and culture that honors God’s standards and operates effectively. It’s a city where people think before they speak; where people act from love; where people are committed to disciplined work; where people collaborate; where people walk in integrity.
In contrast to the culturally wealthy are those who have allowed their society and culture to decay and deteriorate. By their own choice they have become spiritually impoverished. God’s standards were available, but they rejected those standards. They were encouraged to adopt a strong work ethic, but they didn’t want to do the work. They were admonished to stop their reckless talking, but they wouldn’t listen.
As a result, their city is weak and in ruin. And they hate the strong city because of it.
“The wage of the righteous leads to life, the gain of the wicked to sin.”
Quality of life is not determined by wealth, poverty, or social conditions. Quality of life is determined by quality of choices. Circumstances don’t make or break you, they reveal you. Money in the hand of a righteous person is a positive thing, but money in the hand of a wicked person is a negative thing.
This is a cause-and-effect proverb. It’s E+R=O. The outcomes you get in life are not determined by events you experience; rather, outcomes are determined by how you choose to Respond.
Wise people ask themselves three questions:
- What outcome do I want?
- What work do I need to do to achieve the outcome?
- What events and situations will I need to navigate along the way?
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Proverbs 1.7)