Sometimes you are able to read one verse in the Book of Proverbs and it stands alone. It’s a self-contained nugget of wisdom. However, there are times when you read an organized paragraph with the collection. It helps to understand the meaning of a particular verse within that organized structure by considering the entire context. Here is an understanding then of Proverbs 14.18-24:
The simple and the prudent reap what they sow (vv. 18-19).
The poor and the rich treat are treated differently (v. 20).
Those who despise and those who are merciful toward neighbors (v. 21)
Those who devise and those who are merciful reap what they sow (v. 22)
The poor and the rich are rewarded differently (23).
The fools and the wise reap what they sow (v. 24).
Hopefully, you see that this whole unit of thought is bracketed by the concept of reaping and sowing by the way one treats others. So, this is why we ought to be concerned for the poor. It is also why we must work hard to keep ourselves from poverty. Also, we must have integrity when we deal with people in our lives. Anyone in our lives throughout the course of a day is deemed a ‘neighbor’.
The LORD is providing a good general principle for us to live by in these verses: He will reward good behavior by lifting us up in the eyes of others and prospering our lives financially. Of course, this is generally true in life. This is the nature of Proverbs. There are exceptions to the general principles we garner in this book. For instance, we don’t always see the evil bowing before the good or the wicked bowing to the righteous in places of authority (v. 19). But Joseph’s brothers did bow before Joseph. Pharaoh did bow before Moses. The saints of the Lord Jesus will judge the world (see 1 Corinthians 6.2).
Charles Bridges wrote:
Wealth is the crown … of the wise, but it cannot hide fools. It only makes their folly more apparent. Since it is wasted on their selfish gratification, it is not their crown but their folly. So whatever our talents are, let us use them for eternity; then they will be our everlasting crown.
Charles Bridges, Proverbs, Crossway Classic Commentaries (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 111.