Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil.
Better a small serving of vegetables with love than a fattened calf with hatred Proverbs 15:16-17 (NIV).
טוֹב־מְ֭עַט בְּיִרְאַ֣ת יְהוָ֑ה מֵאוֹצָ֥ר רָ֝֗ב וּמְה֥וּמָה בֽוֹ׃
ט֤וֹב אֲרֻחַ֣ת יָ֭רָק וְאַהֲבָה־שָׁ֑ם מִשּׁ֥וֹר אָ֝ב֗וּס וְשִׂנְאָה־בֽוֹ׃
Having lunch at Subway is an unusual experience. I am in awe of how much time it takes to order a sandwich. My sandwiches are the same: meat, lettuce, tomatoes and mustard . . . . wrap it up.
Hungry people study the choices before them behind the glass case like they are on an archeological dig. We’ll take all the time we need to pick out exactly what we we want to make our gourmet Subway sandwich despite the growing line of impatient people behind us.
We enjoy having choices to make. I think God understands that part of human nature, which is why He lays out many selections regarding the way we can choose to l
ive. However, despite the variety of choices the Lord offers, this does not indicate all options are equal.
In Proverbs 15:16-17 Solomon spreads out two lifestyle choices – wealth and simplicity – but one is better than the other. In other words, not all choices have the same results.
Between the options of prosperity and a scaled down life, you would think a person needs to have his head examined to not choose plenty. Yet, we know life is not that simplistic.
Therefore, God sets up these two verses like several combination platters on a Chinese menu. If you order one item, that option is accompanied by another food choice. Result? What you assumed what was a blessing on the menu could be attended by a burden you never expected.
You are given an opportunity to pick which meal you want from each proverb. But before you select, you need to ask the server, Solomon, what ingredients are used to make up these combination platters.
Choose a minimalist life with the fear of the Lord
Dr. Robertson McQuilkin of Columbia International University tells a story about visiting his son in India. His son was working and living in the slums of Calcutta.
McQuilkin was a seasoned world traveler, but here the squalor of poverty he witnessed on the drive from the airport simply overwhelmed him. The smells of humanity and sewer water combined with a million people living on the streets brought him to tears.
His driver said to him, “Don’t worry, Dr. McQuilkin. In a few days you’ll get used to it.” McQuilkin responded, “That’s exactly what I don’t want to happen. I don’t want to get used to it.”
The Bible does not teach us to settle for poverty as a desirable lifestyle to prove you are a spiritual person. You can be as close to God living in a 30 room mansion as you would living in a one bedroom studio apartment.
Solomon is asking us in Proverbs 15:16-17 to look into our hearts and ask, “What is most significant to me? Is it my relationship with God or certain material lifestyle I desire?
Both verses start off using the word “better” or “preferable” (טוֹב). The king of Israel is appealing to our desire for spiritual wisdom. “If you are committed to a life of spiritual wisdom . . . . “ it is preferable to place one order from God’s menu over another.
Combination #1: Better a little with the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 15:16). Solomon assumes the person he is addressing does not possess a lot of wealth – a “small amount” (מְ֭עַט). In contrast to today’s prosperity teachers, Solomon describes this person’s status as “preferable.” Though this person is financially deficient in the sight of the world, there is a better alternative than going for the gold.
•we are not told poverty is the better choice. The king of Israel is not telling us to curtail any ambition to improve our situation. For those of us who are currently living with little, this is not a dead end. Throughout Proverbs Solomon offers wisdom on how people get into poverty and how to rise out of it.
On the other hand, because a person has more possessions than others does not mean he is set for life.
•we are told having the fear of God is preferable. Though the person in this passage does not have “much”, what he does possess is “the fear of the Lord” (בְּיִרְאַ֣ת יְהוָ֑ה). To his credit, this individual answers to someone greater than himself in his choices especially how he handles his money.
God desires for us to never make peace with a situation where improvement can be made. However, wherever you are in life the most important choice you can make is to stay close to the Lord. Fear Him in your choices. Honor Him in the situation you are in.
If you have little without God, then you could be in worse shape. You may become vulnerable to seek ways to obtain more through avenues dishonorable to God. Lying. Stealing. Cheating. Taking advantage of others.
Combination #2: Wealth but with great turmoil. Here is a second dish on the menu of life. You can have great wealth (מֵאוֹצָ֥ר רָ֝֗ב). How appealing! No worries about money. Bills are paid. Food on the table. A tankful of gas. Who would resist this choice? How much of a difference can the “fear of the Lord” make, when a struggling person is looking at a steady pile of growing bills?
Well . . . . there are some negative ingredients in this menu choice. Along with the storehouse of wealth can come turmoil (מְהוּמָה).
When you have wealth, you get caught up on the responsibilities of time and care needed for your belongings. Possessions like luxury cars, home entertainment centers, swimming pools and amenities to your home come with obligations to pay for their upkeep, make repairs and spend time with technicians to keep your gadgets operational.
Another downside to great wealth is of a life of covetousness. You must keep making more money to keep up your lifestyle. It is not uncommon to lie awake at night to wonder how you are going to pay your rising bills. You assumed everything would simply even out, but you became greedy and found your fulfillment in getting more and more. You shut God out of your life and had no cap on your wants and needs. Your home and relationships are filled with discord and lack of peace.
No wonder Solomon offers us the choice to have little with the peace of knowing the Lord as opposed to the turmoil of having a storehouse of wealth and the unforeseen trouble that goes along with that. A minimalist life is preferable with the fear of the Lord in your life. His presence will provide you opportunities to make necessary changes, but within an atmosphere of peace.
Now in Proverbs 15:16 Solomon tells us what is missing in a life where the fear of the Lord is absent.
Choose a simpler life where there is love in the home
Life used to be much simpler. Consider the following choices at your typical American supermarket:
•Crest toothpaste: 27 varieties
•Campbell’s condensed soup: 53 varieties
•Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice: eight sizes, from 8 to 128 ounces
•Breyers ice cream or frozen dairy dessert: Natural, French, Half the Fat, No Sugar Added, Extra Creamy, Homemade, Lactose Free, CarbSmart (and that’s just for vanilla ice cream)
•Cheerios cereal: Original, Honey Nut, Honey Nut Medley Crunch, Apple Cinnamon, Banana Nut, Frosted, Chocolate, Multi Grain, Multi Grain Peanut Butter, Dulce de Leche, Cinnamon Burst
Little wonder, a 2014 Consumer’s Reports’ survey of nearly 3,000 shoppers found 36 percent “were overwhelmed by the information they had to process to make a buying decision.”
Proverbs 15:17 gives us two more combination platters to choose from.
Combination #1: Better is a plate of vegetables where there is love. The dish of vegetables refers to a common meal. There is no meat served as with a festive meal. But what does a dish of vegetables have to do with love?
I am reminded of Proverbs 17:1 which states, “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.” Where love presides, the simplest food is cheerfully received, and contentment and happiness abound.
Solomon portrays a home where people are made to feel welcome. Even though they serve a common meal of vegetables, the absence of a festive meal does not lessen the love present, but puts more focus on it. Where there is lack of a five course meal, instead, there is a one course meal with five courses of kindness.
There is nothing more unenjoyable than being invited to a house where there is tension and strife at the table. Even though you all sit down to enjoy a meal, there is little happiness with the people at the table. People are afraid to speak lest they be shushed for saying something “out of line.” Disagreements are swept under the rug. Resentments are served in hefty portions. No one is honest enough to resolve difference.
We’d rather be in a house where love is present. The people don’t care as much about the pretentious ambiance. They care about one another. The food is mere backdrop to the love and care for each other. God’s love is present in this home. A constant yearning for more is not on the menu.
Combination #2: Better to turn down the festive meal where there is hatred present. Beef implies a sumptuous and magnificent meal; but such a feast is worthless if accompanied with feelings of hatred, jealousy, and ill will.
Solomon sat at many meals where he could control the menu. But he could not manage the lack of peace in his home. How often do we substitute the sizzling filet mignon for the lack of peace in the home?
Normally people would choose luxury over privation, but what is more important is love. Many people have found a home where material possessions are few but love for each other is present is far better than a house of opulence where people hate each other. Love makes one’s difficult circumstances endurable, whereas hatred undoes all the enjoyments that good food might otherwise bring.
From Proverbs 15:16-17 we are given a menu with four choices on how to live out our lives. Some will pursue wealth and tolerate the negative backwash of negative tensions in a home where there is never enough. On the other hand, we are given a choice where the meals are common, but are eaten in an atmosphere where the Lord has brought peace to a family.
It all gets down what you consider to be of most value in your life.