“What is desired in a man is steadfast love, and a poor man is better than a liar.”
This proverb is strangely worded, but the message is clear: Be a person of steadfast love, and don’t be a liar. The Hebrew word for “steadfast love” is hesed, and it is one of the most important words in the bible.
Hesed is difficult to translate because it represents a cluster of characteristics—love, mercy, grace, kindness. In just one word it expresses many of the attributes of God, and it describes who and how God wants us to be. Hesed is a quality that moves someone to act for the benefit of someone else without considering "what's in it for me? It may be translated "loyal love." Sometimes the emphasis is on loyalty and other times the emphasis is on love.
I think the idea in this proverb is that of loyalty and acting in someone else’s best interest. It is then contrasted with lying, which is obviously an action that is quite the opposite of loyalty or love. Solomon punctuates the importance of being loyal and truthful by emphasizing that it’s better to be in poverty than to be someone who lies.
“The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.”
This is one of several verses in Proverbs that emphasizes “the fear of the Lord.” If you recall, Solomon first spoke to this in the opening chapter: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1.7)
The mindset you bring to life and to the pursuit of wisdom is a critical factor. It is arguably the critical factor. By “mindset” I mean your belief system. Your worldview. The lens through which you look at the world and yourself in the world. In Proverbs we are told repeatedly that the starting point for the right mindset is “the fear of the Lord.”
The message is profound: There is no lasting knowledge and wisdom apart from a right relationship with the God who created us, redeems us, and calls us into relationship with him. The Lord is the Author of all truth, both physical and spiritual, and he seeks to be our Teacher about how the world works, and how he wants us to work in the world.
Step one in gaining wisdom is submission to the authority of God the Creator. The key to a wise and skillful life is acknowledging that God has created moral and physical laws that govern the world in which we live. This is what it means to “fear the Lord.” The Hebrew word for “fear” in Proverbs has a wide semantic range that goes from “deep respect” and “awe” to “utter terror.” It’s meaning here is recognition of and humble response to God’s character, commands, and physical laws. It means deep respect for God’s standards as the reference point for what is true and how to live.
Proverbs says that it is foolish to reject the Lord as the Author of moral and functional truth. Fools reject God’s standards and replace them with their own personal preferences. As a result, they live by distorted reference points, which then produces distorted decisions. They despise God’s principles, and they do not submit to the process of instruction and training (musar).
The statement that the person who lives by the fear of the Lord “will not be visited by harm” is the general principle that if you respect God’s standards and live in alignment with his truth, good things will happen. You will be productive and healthy … most of the time. It does not mean you are exempt from bad things; it simply means fearing God is the best path to a productive life.
Those who do not fear God are living a life that is at risk. They are living an off-path life that is setting them up for trouble. Sooner or later they will experience the negative consequences of their foolish behavior.
Be wise. Fear God and stay on path.