Give me neither poverty nor riches

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Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say,“Who is the Lord?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:8 – 9

There is great danger in extremes. Intense heat as well as bitter cold kills; driving to fast as well as to slow can be hazardous. The same holds true with material wealth, too much or too little can be dangerous. I choose the word danger for a reason. Heat waves do not have to kill you; likewise, riches and poverty do not necessarily mean harm–but there is danger. In Proverbs 30:8-9 Agur the son of Jakeh makes a simple request of God that illustrates this danger.

Not Riches

The danger of riches is captured in verse 9. The request is for enough food to manage, a rationing of daily bread. Now that may seem like a foolish request. Why not enough food for leftovers? The reason is the danger of self-reliance. Agur’s reason for just enough was to guard him from asking, “Who is the Lord?” That’s not a question of inquiry, but a question of accusation. Who is the Lord in this context can be read as, “Who is this Lord that I should need him?” To much food tends to self-reliance and the denial, passive or active, of God’s provision. Most of the people I know do not have to pray, “Give me this day my daily bread.” They simply go to the pantry and get their own daily bread. Of course their ample provision was given by God as a gift for needs and generosity. But the danger of having plenty is forgetting that what you have is a gift. If you are constantly asking God for necessities you are less prone to forget where they come from.

Not Poverty

Poverty is not the solution either, for it also is an extreme. “Just enough,” says Agur, “for if I do not have food I may steal and dishonor the name of the Lord.” A lack of food may easily press a man into thievery. As a result God’s majestic name may be profaned amongst unbelievers. After all, Christians are called to keep their “conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter2:12). Poverty provides at least a temptation to steal, and stealing violates the very meaning and nature of our life. The solution is, “God, give me enough food for my family, that I might not be tempted and succumb to theft.” Not too much, not too little.

I must make one important note here. Neither poverty nor riches are necessarily sin. There is no need for guilt if you are rich. There is no need for guilt if you are poor. (There may be guilt in either situation if sin is what led you to that point.) The need is for you to realize your temptation. Our desire should be that our provision, however great or little, would not lead us into temptation.  In that vein there is wisdom in Agur’s request. It is a proverbial echo of Christ’s model prayer, “and lead us not into temptation” (Mat. 6:13). Enough to keep me from stealing, but not so much that I should stop asking for necessities. Your happiness does not lie in an extreme, but in the simple, joyous provision of the Lord.

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