So I’ve done a little exploring about potential reasons for the wisdom writer’s redundancy in Proverbs 31:20. About why he might have thought it important to say that the wife of noble character extends a helping hand and opens her arms.
But did you notice? That’s not the only time it happens.
He also describes her taking these actions both with the needy and the poor, which begs the question yet again: Why? Why would he repeat himself not once, but twice?
Maybe it’s just me, but when I visualize the types of people I feel “called” to be generous towards, I only see a few folks. Maybe an acquaintance who is out of a job (through no fault of his own, of course); or a someone who’s been on the receiving end of unkindness (as long as she did nothing to deserve it); or people who are sick (with a disease they didn’t contract through unwise choices).
Okay, so I’m exaggerating. But not as much as I wish I were.
Sadly, my prejudice—something I cleverly refer to as “discernment”—is nothing new to God. I like reaching out to a select group of poor people. The ones that don’t threaten me. Or my reputation. In fact, I strongly prefer service opportunities that make me look better.
I’m guessing He doesn’t much appreciate that about me.
Because when I imagine what the wisdom writer had in mind when he penned the words “poor” and “needy,” the vision isn’t so palatable.
Let’s see: synonyms for “needy” include afflicted, humble, lowly, and weak. And the word “poor” includes anyone who is in want, subject to oppression and abuse, needing help and deliverance from his or her troubles, and/or in a lower socioeconomic class. These may not be folks who are going to pull themselves up by the bootstraps any time soon. Which means I may need to be generous on more than one occasion. Maybe I’ll teach them to fish, or maybe not. But I’ll probably be sharing bait for quite awhile. It’s not going to look so good on the resume.
The generosity God calls us to isn’t just for the poor people who are pretty.
In fact, the folks our friend in Proverbs serves are just the opposite. The word “wretched” might come to mind. It does in the Hebrew lexicon. Worthless. Base. Despicable. Inadequate. Inferior. Shameful. Vile.
Most of the time, I’d prefer to serve only those who meet my snobby little list of criterion. But God’s brand of generosity doesn’t operate in response to such qualifications.
When it comes to my own needs, I’m thankful He doesn’t discriminate.
Will I extend the same generosity when I encounter poverty in those around me?
He certainly hopes so.