“Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble with it. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it” (Proverbs 15:16-17).
“Better is.” What a phrase. It strikes me as final, bold. There is no waffling, no room for error. It firmly states the fact. “There is a better life,” the author declares, “And this is it.” Black and white, clear.
Nineteen times the Proverbs uses this “better is” phrase. Two of them are found here. Bold, stark, honest. There is no mixing of words, no hesitation, no “maybe” or “possibly.” This is the firm position of the Proverbs. There is a life that is “better” than others.
Two elements are mentioned in these two verses. The better life has the fear of the Lord and love. The lesser life has trouble and hatred. These lives are contrasted.
It is far better to have God and loving relationships, than a life of conflict with God and hatred in relationships. (Tweet it now!)
Obvious, perhaps, especially since these lives are contrasted inside the Bible itself, God’s Word.
But the writer takes everything a bit further when he tells us “little” and “a dinner of herbs” would be worth having if you still got to have “the fear of the LORD” and “love.” In fact, you could have “great treasure” and “a fattened ox,” and it wouldn’t make trouble and hatred any easier to digest.
He isn’t rebuking wealth or good food. But he is saying neither are worth trouble and hatred. Being right with God and in a loving relationship with others is so beautiful, so valuable, that if a meager life has to be chosen to get it, it is worth it.
This is where many err. Many believe a life of luxury, a life of stuff, of possessions and experiences, will dull all pains. Many believe a neglect of God and man will be fine just as long as they can have their homes or vacations or dinners or fashion.
“I can endure all things if I’ve got a good internet connection and my Netflix account,” one might believe. But these experiences are nothing in comparison with a right relationship with God and loving relationships with others.
There is something beautiful and nostalgic about these proverbs.
A simpler life might beckon from within them. Contentment might call for us. The basics of life might need to be enough. But no worry. As long as we have God and love, we are fine. These are the real necessities, and they are the most excellent realities. They are what we are made for.
Don’t get caught up in the treasure and experience chase that so many get into. There is a good life, but it often isn’t the one advertised. It is a life with God and man: simple, loving and devoted.
In fact, it is often in the chase for treasure and experiences we become bound. The bigger house, the nicer clothing, the exotic vacation, they easily become the noose around the neck, the unaffordable lifestyle that now suffocates all the space and joy and simplicity.
God and man evaporate, leaving trouble and hatred behind.
Better is a “present-less Christmas” where love is, than a ton of gifts and hatred with it. Better is a “janky,” old minivan where love is, than a fresh Land Rover and hatred with it. Better is a date night at In-N-Out where love is, than a fancy restaurant and hatred with it. Better is a quiet evening where love is, than a massive party and hatred with it. Better is an outdated wardrobe where love is, than the most current fashions and hatred with it. Better is a simple career where love is, than high-powered success and hatred with it.
We often talk about what is important in life, yet often we live contrary to the values we state. We know with certainty that love, relationships and people are more important than possessions, attainments and accumulation; but we struggle to live it out. Innately, we battle for more.
Solomon knew of the power of a simple life.
He had much. He saw how beautiful a simple life with little, yet full of love, was. He knew love made a man more wealthy than any possession. His contrast is simple. The dinner of herbs is less desired than the fattened ox. But what you eat has nothing on who you love. When love is present, food doesn’t matter as much. Solomon saw (and likely experienced) this.
Obviously, the possibility of love and some of these nicer elements running concurrently exists, but the Proverbs serves us by warning us at times. Here, we are warned.