Proverbs says a great deal about wealth. Woven in and out of the book are teachings about how to obtain wealth. There are instructions about using wealth and not misusing it.
Yet Proverbs 19:1 holds up a giant warning sign about wealth. Take a look: better to be a poor man with integrity than to pervert your speech. This bears deeper consideration.
First, recognize that Solomon is not saying it is better to be poor. This verse does not exalt poverty as a positive value—there is nothing inherently morally better about poverty over not-poverty. Excessive wealth is certainly a problem, but that’s not in view.
Solomon’s statement is that the poor man (or woman, read “person”) with integrity it better than a fool. He is saying you cannot judge a person solely on their wealth. Poor men are better than fools—yet we keep listening to fools.
Second, recognize that Solomon is encouraging behavior, not just words. Look at the contrast: walking in integrity compared to perverse in speech. Integrity is not just a factor of words. If someone has integrity, you must see it in life. Perversion shows in words without a problem.
Third, recognize that Solomon is posting a warning to the poor man who would trade integrity for wealth. Do not lose your integrity in pursuit of wealth. You’re better off without the wealth—and certainly do not become a fool!