The poor is hated even of his own neighbour: but the rich hath many friends.
Money lies! Money corrupts! This proverb represents Solomon’s sad observation of human selfishness: men are friendly for what they can get from others. Even a poor man’s neighbors hate him, because he is of no use to them in getting ahead. But a rich man, no matter what his character or conduct, has many more friends than the poor man.
Money lies! The fine things of the rich, their many friends in high places, their dignified manners, and their ability to help are all dangerous illusions. Such things tell you nothing about the heart and soul behind the proud eyes and beneath the luxurious clothes. Many rich men are arrogant and not noble or virtuous at all (Pr 18:23; I Sam 25:10). As a woman’s beauty does not prove character, neither does a man’s wealth (Pr 11:22; 31:30).
Money corrupts! Men that ought to love their neighbors will hate them for the simple reason they are poor. Men that ought to hate proud oppressors will grovel before the rich, in hope they might eat crumbs that fall from his table. If the rich ask for a favor, these sycophants will leap at the opportunity and often shut their eyes to the compromise or evil involved (Pr 17:23). Solomon warned at length about this danger (Pr 23:1-8).
The measure of a person is his character and conduct, not his wealth. Nabal was rich, but he was a fool (I Sam 25:2-11). Ruth was a poor widow, but she was a virtuous woman (Ruth 3:11). Instead of valuing what a person earns or owns, wise men examine their worship of God and moral conduct. The real measure of a person is his independent fear of God, love of Christ and others, and pursuit of truth, wisdom, and righteousness.
What are the lessons? The proverb is not teaching what should be, but rather what is common. One lesson is that popularity proves nothing (Pr 19:4,6). Another is a warning against measuring by assets, rather than character (Pr 19:7). Another is to remember that true friends are not affected by a change in circumstances (Pr 17:17). And a further lesson is to guard against preferential treatment of the rich and respect of persons (Jas 2:1-10).
But there are other lessons. God chose His elect for salvation mainly from the poor of this world (I Cor 1:26-29; Jas 2:5). Therefore, though poverty may indicate a low standing in society, it says nothing of one’s standing with God. It was much better to be the beggar Lazarus being licked by dogs than to be the rich man living in luxury (Luke 16:19-31).
No matter how dear are the friends, or how many there are of them, that reject you, God will never desert you, no matter how poor (Ps 73:25-26; Heb 13:5-6). He set His love on you when you were his hateful enemy, and He will not remove His love for the minor turns of life’s events (Rom 5:6-11). He became poor to make you rich (II Cor 8:9).