1 A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favor is better than silver or gold.
2 The rich and the poor meet together;
the Lord is the Maker of them all.
3 The prudent sees danger and hides himself,
but the simple go on and suffer for it.
4 The reward for humility and fear of the Lord
is riches and honor and life.
5 Thorns and snares are in the way of the crooked;
whoever guards his soul will keep far from them.
6 Train up a child in the way he should go;
even when he is old he will not depart from it.
7 The rich rules over the poor,
and the borrower is the slave of the lender.
8 Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
and the rod of his fury will fail.
9 Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed,
for he shares his bread with the poor.
10 Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out,
and quarreling and abuse will cease.
11 He who loves purity of heart,
and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.
12 The eyes of the Lord keep watch over knowledge,
but he overthrows the words of the traitor.
13 The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!
I shall be killed in the streets!”
14 The mouth of forbidden women is a deep pit;
he with whom the Lord is angry will fall into it.
15 Folly is bound up in the heart of a child,
but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.
16 Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth,
or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty. – Proverbs 22:1-16 ESV
We live in a heterogeneous world that is filled with all kinds of people from a diverse range of economic, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. And while technology and transportation advances have made the world smaller to some degree, there are still dramatic differences between the cultures and communities that populate this planet. Yet, despite those differences, Solomon would have us remember that we all share a common bond. We have all been created by God.
The rich and poor have this in common:
The Lord made them both. – Proverbs 22:2 NLT
Regardless of our financial status, country of origin, religious affiliation, or ethnic makeup, we are all the handiwork of the same Creator-God, whether we recognize and honor him as such. Denying His existence does not alter the fact that He is the one who has given life to all humanity. And while the wisdom sayings collected by Solomon have stressed the stark differences between the foolish and the wise, there is an underlying theme that highlights our similarities.
All men long to live their lives in relative peace and security. They desire to get the most out of life during their relatively short time on this earth. But along with a common source of origin, we also share the mark of our sinful natures.
As the Scriptures say,
“No one is righteous—
not even one.
No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.” – Romans 3:10-12 NLT
For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… – Romans 3:22-23 ESV
So, if Paul is right and no one is righteous or wise, how does anyone achieve a “good name” (verse 1)? If no one is seeking God, how can they ever expect to receive a “reward for humility and fear of the Lord” (verse 4)? What hope does anyone have to exhibit “a pure heart and gracious speech” if no one has the capacity to do good (verse 11)?
The answer to these perplexing questions is found in the One who made mankind in the first place. The Creator-God is also the Redeemer-God. He alone has the capacity to make the unrighteous righteous. The all-powerful God who formed the universe out of nothing can transform a sinful man into “a vessel for honor: sanctified, useful to the Master, and prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21 BSB).
God made mankind in His image and He deemed His creation as being very good. But sin marred what God had made and created an inseparable barrier between the Creator and His creation. Because of their decision to disobey God, Adam and Eve were cast from the garden He had made for them, and their progeny continued the pattern of transgressing His laws and distancing themselves from His presence. And the downward nature of their moral trajectory is recorded in the book of Genesis.
The LORD observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. – Genesis 6:5 NLT
God made the decision to destroy all mankind and begin again. He brought a devastating flood upon the earth, but spared one man and his family because “Noah found favor with the LORD” (Genesis 6:8 NLT). And Noah found favor with God because he “was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God” (Genesis 6:9 NLT).
God started over with Noah and his family. But by the time we get to the days of Solomon, the spiritual state of humanity was no better than before. Not much had changed. Even among the Israelites, the chosen people of God, sin and unrighteousness remained a serious problem. Man, when left to his own devices, had an insatiable appetite for disobeying God and living according to his own sinful desires.
Throughout the book of Proverbs, Solomon points his readers back to the source of their existence: God Almighty. He wanted them to understand that any hope they had of experiencing God’s covenant blessings would have to begin with dependence upon Him. The wisdom necessary for living a full and meaningful life was only available from God. And that wisdom was only accessible to those who showed reverence and respect for God. Unlike oxygen, which exists in the atmosphere and is freely available to all, godly wisdom is impossible to access without God’s help.
And without godly wisdom, any desire for a good name, riches, honor, and wealth will all remain out of reach. Of course, there are those who seem to experience these “blessings” without maintaining a fear of the Lord. This world is filled with excessively wealthy people who have no regard for God. There are plenty of people who enjoy good reputations and are honored for their achievements, yet they fail to give God the time of day. And despite what Solomon says, not all “Corrupt people walk a thorny, treacherous road” (Proverbs 22:5 NLT). Some of them seem to have found the fast lane to fame and fortune.
So, what does Solomon mean when he states that “True humility and fear of the Lord lead to riches, honor, and long life” (Proverbs 22:4 NLT)? Does this verse contain the secret to success? Yes, it does, but we tend to put the focus on the wrong end of the verse.
We focus on the promise of “riches, honor, and long life.” We assume that because we believe in God, we have the first part of the verse down and automatically receive the “promises” it offers. As God’s people, we somehow believe that we are guaranteed the good life. And we even define what riches, honor, and long life should look like – all according to our perspective.
But the real point of this verse is contained in the description, “true humility and the fear of the Lord.” Those two things are critical and non-negotiable to receiving any blessings from God. They describe the life of the person who has a right relationship with God. They reveal the heart of the individual who loves God and shows Him the proper awe, reverence, and fear He deserves as the Almighty God of the Universe.
The humility spoken of in this verse is based on an understanding of who God is. In the face of God’s power, majesty, magnitude, intelligence, holiness, and complete righteousness, a humble person responds with an awareness of their own sinfulness, weakness, unfaithfulness, powerlessness, need, and unrighteousness. That awareness produces dependence. It results in a growing reliance upon God for ALL things, including not only salvation but our daily sanctification. It drives out self-righteousness and any thought that we somehow deserve the blessings of God. Humility is our response to God’s majesty and glory. It is “true” humility, not some kind of false self-abasement designed to impress others. It is real and the result of a growing awareness of just how great God really is.
Humility goes hand-in-hand with the fear of God. In Proverbs 9:10, Solomon reminds us that “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom.” When we learn to fear God, we grow in wisdom. We begin to realize just how much we need Him and all that He offers. We need His help in order to live the life He has called us to live on this fallen planet. We need His wisdom to navigate all the issues that face us each and every day. We need discernment, knowledge, discretion, and good old common sense – all of which come directly from God.
What Solomon is telling us is that any degree of riches, honor, and long life will come only as we learn to humble ourselves before the mighty hand of God. They will only come about if we learn to fear Him, honor Him, worship Him, and show Him the awe He so rightly deserves. But if we begin to worship riches, honor, and long life, we will miss the point altogether. We can easily make idols out of the blessings and miss the One who alone can provide them. That is NOT the fear of God.
We can find ourselves expecting God to give us happy homes, great jobs, good incomes, solid marriages, successful careers, obedient kids, and a host of other blessings. The problem is that many of us know nothing of true humility and the fear of God. We almost demand that He bless us, like the prodigal son who demanded that his father give him his inheritance. We display no love, no respect, no honor, and no fear.
In Proverbs 9, Solomon stated that the fear of God is the foundation of wisdom. In other words, it is the starting point, the very beginning of our quest for wisdom. It all begins with the fear of God. So, not until we fear God will we receive the wisdom we need that can help us succeed in life, marriage, parenting, work, and every other area of our lives. Proverbs 22:4 is not some kind of magic mantra that guarantees success. It is a reminder that the fear of the Lord is what should be the singular focus of our lives. Don’t obsess over the gifts, focus on the Giver. Make Him your highest priority. Make getting to know Him more important than getting things from Him. Then You will have true success.