************ Sermon on Proverbs 15:16-17; 16:8; 17:1 ************


By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman


This sermon was preached on January 22, 2017


Proverbs 15:16-17; 16:8; 17:1
"Better"

Introduction
"Better." This is the first word of the wisdom of Proverbs today. This is the first word Jesus has for us today. You may have already noticed that all four of this week's proverbs are comparative couplets, proverbs in which one thing is declared better or superior to another.

We all want what is better. I remember going out with the youth when we played "Bigger & Better." Every group was given a pencil or something cheap. They had to go into the neighborhood around the church, knock on a door, and ask for something bigger and better in exchange for the pencil. Let's say you got a toaster. And then you knock on another door and ask for something bigger and better in exchange for the toaster. After one hour you came back to church with whatever was bigger and better. One group showed up in the youth room with a huge Plasma TV. I don't think it ever really worked and yet there it sat in a corner of the youth room for over 10 years. A few weeks ago we finally got something bigger and better.

We all have our own definition of what is better. For some people it is old cars with lots of chrome; for others, it is new cars with blue-tooth and backup cameras and curb and bumper sensors. Some people prefer homes that look like the 50s and 60s with wallpaper and laminate counters; others prefer the granite and textured paint and wood flooring of today.

That word "better" is found 21 times in Proverbs. The Hebrew word covers a whole range of positive meanings: good, merry, pleasant, desirable, usable, agreeable, generous, festive, beautiful. Speaking of beautiful, in one of my first sermons on Proverbs I mentioned that if we live according to the wisdom of this book, we are beautiful. God's goal is to make us attractive to the world. God's goal is to make us desirable in the eyes of the world. So today we are told what is better; today, we are told what makes us beautiful.

What is your definition of better? What is it that makes you beautiful?

I Proverbs 15:17
A Here is the first couplet I want to look at this morning as we look at the theme of better:
(Prov 15:17) Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.

The couplet starts off with a "meal of vegetables." Especially for the poor and during famines, this was cheap, easy, and filling. Vegetables that were commonly eaten included squash, leeks, garlic, onions, black radishes, muskmelons, watermelons, wild lettuce, wild herbs, and mushrooms.

The poor man's "meal of vegetables" is compared to the "fattened calf." Most other translations say "fattened ox."

Some people today are opposed to eating meat because they believe it exploits animals. Others avoid meat for health reasons or because their digestive system cannot handle it. In the Ancient World, however, meat of any kind was a delight and a privilege; usually what they ate was lamb or goat. Very, very rarely was beef on the menu. And when it was, what a treat that would be; imagine people eating T-bone steaks, rump roasts, tri-tip, beef stew.

B Our proverb imagines a meal that is over the top. Imagine someone killing and cooking a fattened ox. You need to realize this just was not done in the Ancient World because these animals were far more valuable alive than dead. When plowing a field, for instance, a single ox could accomplish in one day the same work as three men laboring for a week. Consequently, the owner of an ox typically hired out the services of his animal once his own plowing or harvesting was done. It was not uncommon for an entire village to use the same team of oxen for farm labor. Therefore, I can tell you that killing an ox for food in the Ancient World was a lavish extravagance, much like a farmer today selling off a tractor so he can serve shrimp and lobster and caviar and other gourmet foods at a party. It just was not done.

C But now try to imagine that someone does go over the top in this manner. He kills his ox. He cooks his ox. He invites the entire village to come and eat with him. Out of jealousy, one of the neighbors yells at the host and punches him in the face.

"Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred" (Prov 15:17). Who needs a T-bone steak if there is no love? Who needs shrimp and lobster and caviar if there is only hatred? To extend the image, who needs diamonds if you can't stand the person to whom you are married? Who needs a mansion of a house if your kids want nothing to do with you? What good is it to have bigger and better if love and harmony are not part of the picture?

Think about meal time in your home. Is there lots of shouting and anger? Or, is it a time of pleasant conversation and laughter and love and harmony and Bible reading and prayer? Is the emphasis on external things like the food, the service, the surroundings or is the emphasis on the fellowship and conversation? I remember a meal where the father lost it and completely blew his top at his child. None of us who were there remember the cause but we all remember the result.

What is bigger and better? Not steak with hate but vegetables with love. That's the first thing the wisdom of proverbs tells us.

II Proverbs 17:1
A The second couplet we are looking at also uses the image of food as it speaks to us of what is bigger and better:
(Prov 17:1) Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.

The image of a "dry crust" is a word picture any ancient traveler could appreciate. Without the benefit of preservatives and McDonalds, travelers lived on dry bread. And, in ancient times, dry crusts were also one of the staples of the poor.

The "dry crust" is compared to a "house full of feasting." A literal translation is "house of sacrifice." "House of sacrifice" is another term for the Temple and Tabernacle. It refers, more specifically, to the sacrificial killing and eating of an animal by the priests as well as the people. So, over time, "house of sacrifice" came to represent a sumptuous table covered with tasty meats, vegetables, bread, and wine.

B In the second couplet, Solomon contrasts "peace and quiet" with "strife":
(Prov 17:1) Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.
"Peace and quiet" doesn't refer to silence -- as in no barking dogs and no crying babies and no noisy neighbors. "Peace and quiet" refers to shalom. "Peace and quiet" describes a peaceful, harmonious household where family members are loved and accepted and encouraged instead of criticized and rejected and despised.

Do you hear what this proverb is telling us? The quality of the meal takes second place to the emotional environment of the home. "Give me dry crusts," says the author, "if a sumptuous feast means strife and contention and hatred and conflict."

Throughout the years I have seen many Christians living this out. I have seen rich and poor alike concentrate on family relations rather than possessions. I have seen rich and poor alike focus not on wealth but on love. They have taken to heart the words of wisdom before us today.

So what is bigger and better? Not the sumptuous feast of the wealthy but the peace and quiet of wholesome relationships. That's what the wisdom of proverbs tells us.

III Proverbs 16:8
A This bring us to the third couplet of what is bigger and better. Listen to what proverbs says:
(Prov 16:8) Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice.

Do you recognize the name Lance Armstrong? It still hurts me to think about how he lied and cheated his way to victory in the Tour de France. What about Rosie Ruiz. She stunned the running world by completing the Boston Marathon in the fastest woman's time in the race's history. However, race officials discovered she didn't run the entire course. She ran the first few miles, hopped a subway, waited a couple of hours, and then rejoined the race half a mile from the finish. What about the Russian Olympic team? A recent report indicates that a thousand participants used advanced doping techniques to gain an edge on their opponents.

What do you gain by cheating? How can anyone possibly enjoy the wreath of victory knowing they might be exposed at any time? How do you sleep at night? How do you deal with your conscience? How do you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning? The crowds might say you are the champion but you know better. Even if you don't get caught, you have to go to the grave knowing your victory is a lie.

B Proverbs tells us that nothing obtained by injustice will bring satisfaction:
(Prov 16:8) Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice.
If you lied, stole, and cheated to increase your bank account what have you gained? This does not make you more successful, more intelligent, more diligent, more hardworking, more worthy of respect. In fact, if people find out the truth about you, the opposite happens.

"Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice" (Prov 16:8). This is wisdom for the rich and the poor, for those who have much and for those who want much.

So what is bigger and better? Living rightly. Living righteously. Living honestly. Living for Jesus. Seeking first the kingdom and its righteousness.

IV Proverbs 15:16
A This brings us to our fourth and final couplet on what is better according to the wisdom of Proverbs:
(Prov 15:16) Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil.

Too often the news is filled with the turmoil brought by great wealth. Just watch what happens when the will of a wealthy parent needs to be executed. The kids show up with their lawyer. They stop talking and start fighting. Companies and families get torn apart and professional sporting teams get sold.

Proverbs is NOT saying the rich cannot serve and fear God. Nowhere does the Bible condemn money as evil or even suggest that all rich people should get rid of their wealth. Money isn't the problem, and wealth isn't evil.

B We live in a world where more is thought of as better. Where the man with the most toys wins. Where the woman with the biggest jewels is envied. Where the family with the most elaborate home and yard is celebrated.

WRONG, says Proverbs. What is bigger and better? We return here to the theme of Proverbs: the fear of the LORD. Reverence for the Lord. Awe for the Lord. The worship of God. Love for God. A relationship with Jesus Christ. Prizing above all else the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of the LORD. That is better!

The most important thing in life is the fear of the LORD.

Conclusion
(Prov 15:17) Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.

(Prov 17:1) Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.

(Prov 16:8) Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice.

(Prov 15:16) Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil.

Better. Better. Better. Better.

If you agree with Proverbs, if you agree with Jesus, this comes to expression in at least two different ways. First, Proverbs is teaching us contentment. Contentment with what the Lord has given you. You don't need to strive, as the world strives, for bigger and better and more and richer. You don't need to be unhappy with life and with what you have. You don't need to envy what others have. Instead, if you have picked what is better, you are content. You are at peace.

If you agree with Proverbs, if you agree with Jesus, this also comes to expression in how you raise your children and grandchildren. What do you lay before your sons and daughters? Are you teaching your boys that the most important thing in life is a good job with a high income? Are you teaching your daughters that the most important thing in life is a cute figure and face that attracts the guys? Are you teaching your children that a big bank account is the most important thing in life?

You can only prepare your child to live for Jesus if they see you picking what is better. You can only prepare your child to live for Jesus if they see you loving others, living righteously, and fearing the Lord. You can only prepare your child to live for Jesus if they see you giving away your money, opening your home, and doing ministry. Simply coming to church once a week will not cut it.

Better. Better. Better. Better. Is this what you are living for? Is this what you are seeking? Is this what you are teaching your children?
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