Better Is a Dry Morsel with Quiet... - Geneva College, a Christian College in Pennsylvania (PA)

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Biblical Wisdom
January 3, 2017

Better Is a Dry Morsel with Quiet...

Proverbs 17:1 – “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.”

Experiments happen not only in the lab but also in our minds. Philosophers or scientists imagine a situation and think through how it will play out, like the big brother on a Sesame Street routine who begins with, “If I pop the balloon, my little sister will cry,” and then plays the experiment out to its conclusion in an angry mother. Jesus’ parable of the foolish rich man is a thought experiment. Imagine a rich farmer, he says, whose fields produce such abundant crops that he must build bigger barns, congratulating himself on his comfortable retirement. Imagine he ends up owning the whole world! Then he suddenly dies. How will things turn out when he faces God in judgment?

Solomon in this proverb conducts a thought experiment. Imagine a family with only stale bread to eat and another family with a Thanksgiving feast every day. To sharpen the contrast, assume Solomon’s pre-modern world where general food scarcity was only one bad harvest away. Next imagine a peaceful house where everyone loves each other, and compare it with a family full of schemers, shouting and fighting. Now combine these families: make the hungry family peaceful and the well-fed family angrily quarreling. Which house is better? Where would you be happier? Which better honors God? Solomon’s answer: the poor family with peace is better than the rich family with strife.

Solomon grew up in a well-fed family rich in strife. When he was very young, his older half-brother Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar. Two years later, Tamar’s full brother Absalom murdered Amnon and fled into exile. After three years, Absalom’s great uncle Joab persuaded David to let Absalom return. Two years later, Absalom sent servants to burn Joab’s field, so that Joab would help him be fully reconciled with King David. Joab did that. Absalom began scheming in earnest and soon carried out a successful coup d’etat against his father David. Now David fled into exile. In the civil war that followed, Joab killed Absalom, David replaced General Joab with Absalom’s General Amasa, but Uncle Joab killed cousin Amasa. Just before Solomon became king, Adonijah, another half brother, tried his own coup d’etat, but failed when David suddenly made Solomon king. So maybe this proverb isn’t all thought experiment! Solomon grew up in a family “full of feasting with strife.”

If a peaceful poor family is better than a feasting fighting family, how then should we live? The English Puritan Matthew Henry writes about this proverb that family members should “study to make themselves easy and obliging to one another.” Overlook mistakes, awkwardness, and faults, instead of seizing on them to exalt your superiority. Learn how to “bite your tongue.” Accept God’s Providence with thanksgiving and faithfulness, so that in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, the family remains at peace. A wise person values the peace of his family above its wealth.

- Dr. Bill Edgar, Geneva College Board of Trustee Member and former President