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.
Normally people would choose luxury over privation, but what is more important is love. Many people have found that a home where material possessions are few but love for each other is present is far better than a house of great opulence where people hate each other (17:1). Love makes one’s difficult circumstances endurable, whereas hatred undoes all the enjoyments that good food might otherwise bring. [Walvoord & Zuck, Vol. 1. p. 938.]
In Proverbs chapter 16, are several better than statements. Proverbs 16:8 also teaches us what is better that wealth. "Better is a little with righteousness than great income with injustice." 16:8 is similar to 15:16 except that here righteousness is substituted for "the fear of the Lord, " much gain replaces "great wealth, " and injustice is used instead of "turmoil." One who amasses revenue (the meaning of the word for "gain, " which is also used in 10:16, "income"; and in 15:16, "great wealth") dishonestly (10:2, 16; 13:11; 15:27) eventually will be punished. So righteous living-even if it means having little-is certainly better. [Walvoord & Zuck, Vol. 1. p. 940.]
"All I want is a little peace and quiet," says the weary worker at the end of the day, perhaps envisioning a carefree week or two lying on the sand in Tahiti. But our collective experience tells us that even the most expensive and best-planned vacation we can afford often results in other kinds of stress and tension. Where, then, do peace and quiet come from? They don’t come from a change of scenery or a change of income but rather from a change of heart…