Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 22:16
"He who oppresses the poor to make more for himself or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty"
Solomon says, through this proverb, that wisdom and foolishness and ethics and morality extend to business economics and how one treats their employees.
The basic principle of sin is selfishness. “I want what I want.” This is dominant thought in what the Bible calls sin. Instead of seeking to glorify God or to benefit others, the self is the dominant thought and orientation. When a person's selfishness reaches a wicked level, it does not care whether others lose or are harmed in obtaining what you want. When one reaches a higher level of wickedness, one initiates personal pleasure knowing that it will cause others to lose, be in pain, be afflicted, oppressed, destroyed, or damaged.
Solomon here wants to expose the wickedness of economic oppression and also point out the results of this form of selfishness.
This is the Hebrew word asaq, which means oppress, gain deceitfully, defraud, even extort. The idea is clearly forcing someone for your own gain. In this particular case it is using a person's socio-economic class as a weapon against them – forcing a person to perform a task others will not do or for a wage that will enrich you. Unfortunately, we are seeing the more humane economic model of the past be replaced by the typical rich and poor model of holding wages down to the bare minimum for the average worker so that the profits for the owners can be maximized.
There has been, in the West, a history of paying all that is possible to pay for good work rather than as low a wage as can be gotten away with. This paying-more model has brought economic stability, a thriving middle-class, and political stability. But we are now seeing much more squeezing of workers' wages in order to maximize profits. It is an economic model that will end, Solomon says, in poverty. Companies must make sure that they are not oppressing their employees just because they can. They must not look to maximize the gap between the owners and the workers but to narrow it.
Solomon has seen it all and is looking at this from a wisdom perspective. It is not wise, he says, to oppress someone else to benefit yourself. This is just not sound living – whether in personal life or business life. This is a form of wickedness; permanent selfishness which harms the other person.
This is the Hebrew word dal, which means low, weak, poor. The idea is one who has no surpluses, is right at the edge.
This is the Hebrew word rabah, which means much, plenty, abundance, greatly multiply. The idea here in this word and in the verse is the person who has enough to live on and is supplied, but they are seeking a huge abundance. They are seeking to multiply the level of their wealth beyond anything they can spend or need. Their method for gaining this abundance is through the oppression of the poor. They are not trying to meet their needs or their family's needs or even develop a little savings; they are seeking to heap up abundance to themselves on the backs of the poor.
This is the Hebrew word machsor, which means a need, being in need, poverty. It is not clear whether Solomon is saying that oppression of the poor will result in economic poverty or in some form of poverty. The irony of Solomon's observation is intense – that the person who oppresses the poor to build up economic abundance is creating a poverty of soul that cannot be quenched. Because they are treating those with legitimate needs in an unjust fashion, they will suffer a kind of poverty themselves. This kind of poverty is poverty of soul and spirit – an inability to be filled up by the relationships that one has.