What is it about wealth and wealthy men that makes them think they can talk down to other people? I've watched human behavior over the years and have been amazed to watch many rich people speak as if the world should bow at their feet. We've all heard the stories of celebrites and other rich individuals who treated store clerks, servants, and even the police with contempt. Now we read in Proverbs this very same thing - that the rich answers roughly while the poor of this world embrace humility when speaking.
First of all - we need to be careful not to over-generalize on this matter. I do know wealthy people who embrace humility and I also know plenty of the poor who are arrogant when they speak to others. But the truth is the truth. When you are poor you tend to offer supplications - the word means to make a request. The idea here is that the poor see their state and thus embrace humility more easily than the rich. The poor man has little to find pride in according to this world's standards, thus he knows that when he comes to ask something - it is best not to add manners to the list of things he has little of in life.
The wealthy, though, do have a lot. That is why they have a tendency to speak and answer roughly. Their thought is that their wealth should be respected. They have power - and often are willing to wield it if someone is not jumping through hoops to meet their needs. I remember watching a television show where a rich woman was marching through a store ordering the poor clerks around as if they were her personal slaves. Her actions and attitude were terrible. Granted the purpose of the salesperson is to serve the customer, but that does not give the customer the right to treat them with total contempt. But, this woman was extremely wealthy and with her wealth came worldly power.
The idea behind the way the rich answer is interesting. The word "roughly" means the following: "to be strong, powerful, insolent. When used of isolence it refers to a strong, forceful person - wonw who is determined and defiant - in some contexts it also has the idea of greed, covetousness and an insatiable appetite for such things as power and wealth. When referring to how one speaks, it almost always has the idea of answering arrogantly. When reading this list of adjectives one can only shake their head like they would when watching one of this ilk run rough-shod over whomever they think should be serving them at the time. Thinking that their money, power, and position are everything, they consider the world a collection of peons whose purpose is to serve them and show whoever else is watching they are a person of influence and power.
This will continue usually throughout their lives unless they receive the wonderful gift of God's humbling, saving grace. What a shock it will be for those who don this kind of attitude at the judgment. Suddenly they will find the tables turned - and a forced humility very bitter indeed to swallow. Yet that is what they face. It will only be in that moment that they will embrace humility and brokenness - which they should have embraced in life - only it will be too late.
What can we learn from this proverb? First, we can learn eternal values. What consitutes riches in God's sight is far different from what the world says they are. We read in the New Testament that God has made the poor in this world rich in faith! The currency of heaven does not bear the image of past presidents. That currency flows through faith believing the truth. Second, we can embrace humility toward others - no matter who they are. How have we treated those who serve us in what we would consider menial jobs? Do we answer those we consider "less wealthy" than us with rough arrogant attitudes? Are we gracious no matter what the socio-economic level of person with whom we deal? When looking at this proverb this way - there is much we can learn. The truth is that Jesus Christ was the wealthiest man ever to walk this earth - yet when we watch His interaction with men and women - what we see is Someone who showed precious humility no matter what the state of the man. Oh, that we would learn the same lessons - and manifest the same spirit. And may we grasp that true wealth has little of nothing to do with your wallet - and everything to do with the spirit in which you wield it!