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Living Within Our Means
Proverbs 12:9 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
9 Better to be lowly and have a servant
than to play the great man and lack bread.
Better to be lowly and have a servant: This is literally “Better despised and a servant to him.” When translated, we have “Better to be despised and have a servant.” The Hebrew word (קָלָה qalah) that is rendered lowly means to be lightly esteemed, to be despised, to be a nobody, to be degraded, that is, referring to a person who is considered to be of very low status in life. When we are thinking of one having little means being of a low station in life, and at the same time having a servant, we should not impose our modern-day Western thinking on the historical setting of 2,800 years ago. Even today, a working-class person in South America can afford to have a maid because of the extreme poverty of others within their country. For example, in Chile, no social services will care for the poor, so the destitute will have to seek work to serve others of the working class. In Bible times, a nation may be conquered and devastated so that those people will sell themselves into servitude of other persons of modest means, only seeking food and shelter.
than to play the great man and lack bread: Here, to play the great man literally means “one who makes himself heavy,” which refers to one who honors himself. This is a person who thinks more of himself than he ought to, which moves him to spend all of his financial resources on this false façade, trying to live a high social status. He does this to the point where he cannot even afford bread, the bare necessities of life. He is literally destitute. Lacks bread is a way of saying one is living in poverty, lacking the basics of life’s necessities, penniless.
Yes, a man of good sense is praised. However, here we are being taught that we should value humility and that simplicity is better than having a false display of feelings, attitudes, or intentions. It seems that Solomon is telling us that it is better to be a humble person of little means, having merely one servant, as opposed to spending all that you have, which would care for your life’s necessities (lacking bread), in your effort to try and maintain some false pretense, trying to maintain a high social status. This is sound advice for us, as we need to live within our means. It is better to be a person who lives a moderately comfortable life, having one servant, than to be one who lives beyond his means, really having nothing.