Summary: Wisdom can be presented by comparing one person or situation to another. A contrast is presented by the words better & than instead of “but.” There are 19 verses in Proverbs that use the “better . . . than” formula. These comparision statements challenge
BETTER . . . THAN PROVERBS
People all over the world are constantly looking for a better item, whether buying fruit in a market or choosing a place to live. We examine, ponder, compare, and finally make a choice based on what we believe is better. I can’t imagine anyone saying, "I’m convinced this one is worse, so I’ll take it."
The book of Proverbs is filled comparisons that point us toward the right pathway in life. Because the book’s purpose is to give the reader knowledge and wisdom based on the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:2, 7), it’s not surprising to find that these better than [comparative] statements challenge and modify the wisdom of the world.
Wisdom can be presented by comparing one person or situation to another. A contrast is presented by the words better (Heb. towb) and than instead of "but." There are 19 verses in Proverbs that use the "better . . . than" formula [12:9; 15:16-17; 16:8, 16, 19, 32; 17:1, 12; 19:1, 22; 21:9, 19; 22:1; 25:7, 24; 27:5, 10; 28:6].
Since there are so many, we will not look at them all but reserve some of these verses for another study(ies).
So let’s study these distinguishing comparisons and become wiser still.
The first better ... than proverb is Proverbs 12:9. Proverbs 12:9 contrasts a modest social status with a pretentious person who is living beyond his means. "Better is he who is lightly esteemed and has a servant than he who honors himself and lacks bread "(NASB).
[The first phrase of verse 9 could be translated, "He that is despised and is a servant.…" In other words, the one who’s willing to take on hard work is better than the one who refuses to stoop down to do such work.]
It is preferable to be unknown (be or pretend to be a nobody) and yet be self-supporting (able to hire or be a servant) than it is to boast that you are somebody and yet be not making ends meet. What good is such a claim if one cannot put food on the table?
Proverbs 15:16 & 17 modifies the wisdom that says that riches are always better than poverty. "Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and turmoil with it."
Generally a person would choose wealth (abundance) over poverty, but not at any price. If a person has poverty (a little; 16:8) and the fear of the Lord (1:7) that combination (1 Tim. 6:6) is certainly preferable to wealth if the money brings with it turmoil (mehûmâh; Isa. 22:5, "tumult"; Deut. 7:23, "confusion"; 1 Sam. 14:20; Ezek. 7:7, "panic"; Zech. 14:13). The statement in Proverbs 15:16 suggests that the wealth mentioned here is not possessed by one who fears the Lord and that fearing God gives peace, not confusion. [Walvoord, John & Zuck, Roy; The Bible Knowledge Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983, S. 938.]
Like Proverbs 15:16, verse 17 contrasts poverty with prosperity. "Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox served with hatred" (NASB).
It’s better to have a few vegetables in an atmosphere of love than to have prime rib (a fattened calf) where there’s hatred and tension.