Quite a few verses in this chapter on poverty and wealth. It is worth noting that the Bible never makes the material condition itself the point. It doesn’t declare the poor virtuous just because they are poor, nor the wealthy bad just because of their wealth. It always goes back to character, what one does or does not do with what one has. The tendency of the rich trust their wealth or treat the poor with disdain is what is evil. And throughout Proverbs, poverty is often the result of sin, like sloth or laziness or being a sluggard. The character of the person is everything. Which makes verse 26 so profound:
26 He who who trust in himself is a fool,
but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.
Life is one huge human dichotomy. On one side you have those who trust in themselves, on the other, those who trust God, i.e. walk in wisdom. If we go back to Proverbs one, we read that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Proverbs 3:5,6 expands this:
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Either we trust God, or we don’t. What exactly is trust anyway? The word is so common we often just take for granted that we know what it means. Here is a definition:
firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.
synonyms: confidence, belief, faith, certainty, assurance, conviction, credence;
We learn here and throughout Scripture, that we can rely on ourselves, our own insights, perceptions, talents, wealth, definition of things, etc., or we can trust in God. When the writer says, “walks in wisdom,” that means walks in the fear of the Lord, walks in the understanding that God is God, that he really is all powerful, yes, but also the God of the Covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to Moses, Joshua and David, and ultimately to Jesus Christ, the second person of the eternal Trinity. In other words, that God loves us and wants our best, period. The shalom Christ purchased on the cross is the only shalom that matters, and that is peace with God. Paul’s conclusion after eight chapters explicating God’s redemptive work in history is that we can know “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Notice it is not in some things, but all. That’s a lot of things!
This is why we know on this side of the cross what walking in wisdom keeping us safe really means. It obviously has temporal significance, but more importantly it has eternal significance. When we get obsessed with the temporal, we are not walking in wisdom, in trust. At that very moment of worry or consternation or fear or disappointment, whatever negative self-centered word one can thing of, we are fools. We are trusting in ourselves, on our own understanding, as if our perspective really did determine reality, as if God really hasn’t promised that all thing work together for our good, that he will keep us safe, and that ultimately the eternal perspective trumps the temporal. What we have in fact done is turn the latter into the former, treating things or circumstances in this life as if in the finite context of our own brains that is all that really matters. They of course matter, but only forever.
It’s also very important to say what trusting in God is not: it is not waiting on God to give us a “sign” before we act. Should I do this or that, God? Oh, look at the sign in the clouds. Then I’ll do that! Trusting is using all that God has given us at his disposal, including our own brains, and walking in confidence that, as Psalm 48 tells us in the context of God securing for us our salvation:
14 For this God is our God for ever and ever;
he will be our guide even to the end.