“All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast. Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith” (Proverbs 15:15-17)
It is the merry heart that has the continual feast, so says Proverbs 15:15. This statement is made as a contrast to the opening words of the passage: “All the days of the afflicted are evil.”
At times, an afflicted one just cannot bring himself to see the good when it comes. This is a description written by the prophet in Jeremiah 17:6. A disposition of busy-ness and over-occupation may become something of a plague to the afflicted. Spent and dried out, these ones then miss out on the joy God has for them.
This is really a question of perspective. Twice in Psalm 119, the writer praises the value of his afflicted times. What got him to see these difficult moments in the right way? He purposed to allow the Law of the Lord to become his delight (see Psalm 119:71, 75, 92).
What is the secret of a merry heart? It is the fear of the Lord. The book of Proverbs at several points magnifies this manner of “fear.” This fear is the awe of God and the reverence for God that moves us to honor Him. Such a fear as this is what brings us into delight.
It is like the love of a lover who remains sensitive and attuned to the delicacy of intimacy. The mindful lover takes care to preserve the atmosphere between himself and his beloved. He does not want to say or do anything that disturbs the relationship. He gives himself to seeking the good of his beloved and not his own good. And we can live this way before God.
These thoughts build upon one another in Proverbs 15. When the fear of the Lord is what we are about, then even just a little can be seen as much by us.
The Snare of Wealth
“Great treasure” – the wealth as viewed by the world’s standards — can become a real snare, Proverbs 15:16 tells us. Trouble very often follows after wealth – in particular wealth that comes suddenly and not by the way of diligence and industriousness.
Countless stories can be found that relate the disasters that befell winners of massive jackpots via lotteries. The money changed their lives, but not for the best. At once, people come from out of nowhere seeking to attach themselves to the new millionaires.A cheerful heart can sit down at a table and rejoice in what it sees set before it. Click To Tweet
The anxiety and sleeplessness that comes to those who possess so much crushes them. Trying to hold onto to things of this world tends to become a never-ending battle of attrition. It seems that the more one has, the more one needs. As a result, they become bankrupt, spiritually, emotionally, and very often physically.
A dinner of herbs where love is, however, is better. In other words, a cheerful heart can sit down at a table and rejoice in what it sees set before it. The difference comes because of the people who are around them. Love is there and the food is not so important. The relationships are cherished and there is no need for the stalled ox.
Love at the Table
Think about herbs and spices. In Baltimore, we enjoy a fine feast that features steamed blue crabs seasoned with Old Bay. It’s certainly an acquired taste and a cultural phenomenon, but the nature of the experience is one of talk, laughter, and time together. The eating of steamed blue crabs is never a fast food endeavor.
Herbs bring flavor to life. They are also resilient plants that grow in tough environments. They complement and add. And by seed herbs reproduce.
Take a stalled ox and prepare it for a feast. Yes, a fine steak can make for a wonderful meal. But when the meat’s gone, it’s gone.
This is the point this group of sayings is making. The way of love is the way of spice and variety and continuity.
When love is at the table, we get up from the dinner with more than just a full belly. We rise and shine because the glory of God has been celebrated for God is love.
I want to be real with you here. I understand that life by nature brings struggles and troubles, fits and starts. But these afflictions, even persecutions if troubles rise to that level, are fashioned together in us according to His design, so says Romans 8:28: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
God by His Holy Spirit can fill our hearts with joy, even in trials. He can help us to fear Him and to be of good cheer. And that cheer comes from the reality declared by Jesus, which we read in John 16:33: “…be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”
For more about the dinner of herbs and the love that goes with it, check out this message “Love, Herbs, Songs and Frogs,” preached by Thomas Schaller, Pastor of Greater Grace Church in Baltimore.