22 September 2010

Proverbs 30:5-9

"Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, 'Who is the Lord?' or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God." (v.8-9)


The collection of sayings from which today's reading comes is ascribed to Agur, a non-Israelite teacher of northern Arabia. Although hard to date, commentators suggest that this collection of sayings (along with others attributed in the Proverbs to particular people) dates from before the exile to Babylon in 586 BC. The book of Proverbs was probably not collected in the way we have it now until the 3rd or 4th centuries before Christ, at which time editors included these much older texts.

The collection may have been used in schools for educating the youth of the higher echelons of society, but the material contains much teaching about the daily necessities and problems of community life: family, work, money, laziness, ambition, and dealing with conflict. The Proverbs as a whole are associated with King Solomon and his God-given wisdom (see 1 Kings 3:9), and the book is intended as instruction for godly living.

Although the particular request - 'Give me enough, but not too much' - of God is unique to this passage, this pragmatic approach to holy living is recognisable in many places from the Proverbs. The teacher here is very sophisticated in his understanding of his own psychology. He might hope that he would have the moral fibre to resist the temptations of unlimited wealth, but he does not especially want to find out. Nor does he want to put his faith in God to the test of starvation either.

In Matthew 6:11 Jesus teaches that Christians should pray, "Give us this day our daily bread", that is, enough to eat. Jesus does not teach against wealth or money in itself, but he does instruct people not to hoard more than enough when others are in poverty. As with today's passage, holy living is not about disregarding material needs, but giving them appropriate attention so that they do not become a spiritual stumbling block.

To Ponder

Is inequality of wealth a problem for Christians, as long as everyone's needs for survival are met? Why?

What would you ask God for, in relation to your wealth?

Would you make the same request to God in today's passage, or ask for something different?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jennifer Smith

Revd Dr Jennifer Smith is a Methodist minister, and superintendent of the Ealing Trinity Circuit in the London District. Though resident in the UK since 1993, she is a US citizen and continues to observe US political and religious culture with interest.