If there’s one thing that scares a lot of people even more than an invisible virus which is killing thousands, it’s the economic recession – or even depression – which is already upon us, costing millions of jobs and sending world economies into a tailspin. Here in America, the land of opportunity where the Almighty Dollar rules, people are nervous. The president is fighting a war between the commonsense advice of the medical community and those lobbying for the economy with whom he has much more empathy, and who want to get the American money-making machine up and running again as soon as possible. I read the words of one state governor a few days ago who said losing more lives because of the virus was the lesser of two evils compared with letting the economy tank. Meanwhile protestors are on the rise, people want to get back to work, everyone needs money. It’s as if the lifeblood of society, money, is being starved of oxygen and the ventilator of trillion dollars of stimulus isn’t going to work. People are afraid that society will die.
All of which brings us to our reading for today in Proverbs 30. The wise man wants “neither poverty nor riches” (v.8). And it goes on to say those who are rich have no need of God (verse 9), and those who are poor “profane the name of my God” by stealing. The love of money really is the root of all kinds of evil and the coming months will provide another severe test for all of us. Will we retain our jobs and income and feel secure as a result? Or will we become poor and have other temptations to deal with? Either way the focus of world attention, which will continue for the foreseeable future, is on the power of money.
The next few verses describe four types of people: the rebellious in verse 11, hypocrites in verse 12, the proud in verse 13 and then in verse 14 the oppressors – “There are those whose teeth are swords, whose fangs are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mankind.” That’s the kind of world we live in where the rich get richer and take advantage of the poor. Is that problem going to become exacerbated in the following months? Will those who have never known before what poverty is like become desperate and at the mercy of those who have the money? Even in the Great Depression there were those who were still making money; it’s not as if money just disappears.
It looks like society is in for a bumpy ride where money and jobs will become a rarer and much more valuable commodity. That sort of thing doesn’t bring out the best in human nature. Those who are rich will jealously guard their wealth and those who are poor will crave after it, perhaps more than we’ve ever seen before, at least in our lifetimes in the western world. The next two verses then describe those who hanker after things like wealth – “The leech has two daughters: Give and Give. Three things are never satisfied; four never say, ‘Enough’: the grave, the barren womb, the land never satisfied with water, and the fire that never says, ‘Enough.’” The imagery here is very strong. The two “daughters” of the leech and the things listed in the rest of the verse are insatiable. So is the grave, which is never full, the barren womb that craves for a child, the earth which never has too much water to sustain it and the fire which never stops as long as there is fuel. All of those are metaphors for the voracious nature of man for what he thinks is the answer to his problems: money. We’ve seen something of that spirit with hoarding things like toilet paper and hand sanitizer. And then taking advantage of the situation by trying to sell those things at a premium on eBay. The leech is a good metaphor for such a spirit.
How much longer will God let society worship the idol of the Almighty Dollar? An answer might come from the fact that we’ve seen all this before. When Jesus cast out the money changers from the temple it was a demonstration of God’s distaste for turning his house of prayer into a den of robbers, and that same temple was destroyed forty years later bringing an end to the Jewish world. And it was those same four characteristics mentioned in verses 11-14 – rebellion, hypocrisy, pride and oppression – which were the hallmark of the world that put Jesus to death and was judged in AD 70. What was it that swallowed up the people in that day? The same four insatiable things mentioned in verse16. The grave, barren womb, land never satisfied with water and fire that never says enough. The grave swallowed up the dead. Women ate their young. The land suffered drought. And the Romans burned the city with fire. Look also at Proverbs 30:17 which speaks of those “eaten by the vultures” and remember what Jesus said in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem – “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather” (Matt. 24:28).
The world is in for many challenges in the coming months. Let’s not get caught up in it. Let’s remember who our Lord is and not be ruled over by the power of money. And for those of us who aren’t affected adversely by the coming economic storm let’s remember the proverb – “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” (Prov. 3:27). Finally let’s pray that God will give us neither poverty nor riches and instead that we have an insatiable appetite for what really matters – the righteousness of God and His coming kingdom.
Simi Hills, CA