5 November 2013

Proverbs 14:31 – 15:8

“Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who are kind to the needy honour him.” (v. 31)


Today's proverbs can be broken down into two parts. Verses 31-35 are linked by the theme of righteousness and its rewards contrasted with sin and its penalties, which is a common theme throughout Proverbs. And verses 1-8 is are linked by themes of speaking and hearing.

The end of chapter 14 brings in a common theme in Wisdom literature and in Scripture, one not simply of God's care for the poor but of God's intimate connection with the poor. To fail to care for the poor is not simply to fail in a religious duty, it is to insult God who is their maker. The point seems to be stronger than just that care for the poor and weak is a good thing: it is that God created us all and therefore is related to us all. This sense of an intimate connection between God and the poor reminds us of Jesus challenge that to fail to care for the poor and weak is to fail to care for him (Matthew 25:31-46).

The second part addresses the theme of both speaking and listening wisely. In verse 4 the NRSV Bible does not quite translate the Hebrew, which actually reads, 'a healing tongue is a tree of life'. The Jewish tradition knows perfectly well that good speech is not automatically gentle - notice how often Proverbs commends a rebuke. In talking about the "tree of life" this verse is pointing us back to the story of Eden in Genesis 2 (one of the very few times that the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) does this) perhaps as a reminder that God used speech to create and the serpent used it to lead astray. As so often with Proverbs, the advice here might feel a little obvious at times, but it is easier to say than to live by. It reminds us of James' comments about the power of the tongue and how difficult it is to tame it (James 3:1-12).

Verse 8 reminds us of the constant challenge to ensure that we do not live out our faith only in prayer and worship, but also in generosity, kind speech and wise listening described in earlier verses.

To Ponder

  • Is there a particular proverb from today's passage which you can take with you to ponder during the rest of the day? What is it? And why do you think it jumps out at you?
  • What is there in this passage that you know to be true but find hard to live by? You might wish to pray about this.
  • What (specifically) can you do to honour God by being kind to the needy?

Bible notes author

The Revd Judith Rossall

Judith Rossall is a Methodist tutor at Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. Before moving to Queen's, she was a circuit minister and taught at STETS in Salisbury.