Proverbs 12:9
He that is despised, and hath a servant, is better than he that honoureth himself, and lacketh bread.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(9) He that is despised.—That is, lowly in his eyes and those of others, as David (1Samuel 18:23); if “he hath a servant,” that is, if he be in easy circumstances. It has been remarked that “the first necessity of an Oriental in only moderate circumstances is a slave.”

He that honoureth himself.—Boasts of his pedigree, it may be, and is all the while starving.

Proverbs 12:9. He that is despised — That lives in an obscure and mean condition in the world, such being commonly despised by persons of a higher rank; and hath a servant — Hath but one servant: or, as the LXX. render it, δουλευων εαυτω, serveth, or is servant to himself; that is, hath none to wait upon him, or work for him but himself; that supports himself by his own labours; is better than he that honoureth himself — Is happier, and in a better condition, than he that glories in his high birth and gay attire; and lacketh bread — Wants necessaries for his own sustenance.

12:1 Those who have grace, will delight in the instructions given them. Those that stifle their convictions, are like brutes. 2. The man who covers selfish and vicious designs under a profession of religion or friendship, will be condemned. 3. Though men may advance themselves by sinful arts, they cannot settle and secure themselves. But those who by faith are rooted in Christ, are firmly fixed. 4. A wife who is pious, prudent, and looks well to the ways of her household, who makes conscience of her duty, and can bear crosses; such a one is an honour and comfort to her husband. She that is the reverse of this, preys upon him, and consumes him. 5. Thoughts are not free; they are under the Divine knowledge, therefore under the Divine command. It is a man's shame to act with deceit, with trick and design. 6. Wicked people speak mischief to their neighbours. A man may sometimes do a good work with one good word. 7. God's blessing is often continued to the families of godly men, while the wicked are overthrown. 8. The apostles showed wisdom by glorying in shame for the name of Christ. 9. He that lives in a humble state, who has no one to wait upon him, but gets bread by his own labour, is happier than he that glories in high birth or gay attire, and wants necessaries.Two interpretations are equally tenable;

(1) as in the King James Version, He whom men despise, or who is "lowly" in his own eyes (compare 1 Samuel 18:23), if he has a slave, i. e., if he is one step above absolute poverty, and has some one to supply his wants, is better off than the man who boasts of rank or descent and has nothing to eat. Respectable mediocrity is better than boastful poverty.

(2) he who, though despised, is a servant to himself, i. e., supplies his own wants, is better than the arrogant and helpless.

9. despised—held in little repute, obscure (1Sa 18:23; Isa 3:5).

hath a servant—implying some means of honest living.

honoureth himself—is self-conceited.

That is despised; that liveth in a mean and obscure condition in the world, for such are commonly despised by men of a higher rank.

Hath a servant; hath but one servant. Or rather, is servant to himself; hath none to wait upon him or work for him but himself, that getteth bread by his own labours.

Is better, is happier, than he that honoureth himself, that glorieth in his high birth or gay attire, and lacketh bread, wants necessaries for his own sustenance.

He that is despised, and hath a servant,.... Meaning not the same person as before, but one in mean circumstances of life; and because he has not that substance as others have, at least does not make that show and figure in the world as some; and mean in his own eyes, as Jarchi; and does not affect grandeur, and to look greater than he is; has just sufficiency to keep a servant to wait upon him; or, as some render it, is "a servant to himself" (p); to this purpose the Septuagint; and so Jarchi and Gersom interpret it, who does his own work at home and abroad, in the house and in the field, and so gets himself a competent living. He

is better than he that honoureth himself, and lacketh bread; that boasts of his pedigree, and brags of his wealth; dresses out in fine clothes, keeps a fine equipage, makes a great figure abroad, and has scarce bread to eat at home, and would have none if his debts were paid; the former is much the better man on all accounts, and more to be commended; see Proverbs 13:7. And so, as Cocceius observes, the least shepherd (under Christ) that has ever so few sheep, one or two under his care, whom he brings to righteousness, and by whom he is loved, is preferable to the pope of Rome, who is adored by all; and yet neither has nor gives the bread of souls; and without the offerings of others has not anything to eat.

(p) "servus sibiipsi", Montanus; "suiipius", Vatablus; "sibimet", Schultens.

He that is despised, {c} and hath a servant, is better than he that honoureth himself, and is destitute of bread.

(c) The poor man that is contemned and yet lives of his own travail.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
9. despised] Rather, lightly esteemed, R.V.; a person of no consequence, in the eyes of others, and perhaps (as in 1 Samuel 18:23, the word is used by David of himself) in his own eyes also, in contrast to him who honoureth himself.

hath a servant] Notwithstanding his lowly position he is well enough off to keep a slave. Zebedee, though only a fisherman, had hired servants (Mark 1:20).

Another rendering (with a change of Heb. vowel points), is a servant to himself, works for his own living, is adopted by the LXX. ἐν ἀτιμίᾳ δουλεύων ἑαυτῷ, and by the Vulg., pauper et subjiciens sibi. Comp. for the sentiment, Sir 10:27 :

“Better is he that laboureth and aboundeth in all things,

Than he that glorifieth himself and lacketh bread.”

Verse 9. - This verse may be translated, Better is a man who is lightly esteemed and hath a slave, than he that boasts himself and lacketh bread; i.e. the man who is thought little of by his fellows, and is lowly in his own eyes, if he have a slave to minister to his wants (which all Orientals of even moderate wealth possess), is better off than one who boasts of his rank and family, and is all the while on the verge of starvation. "Respectful mediocrity is better than boastful poverty." Ecclus. 10:27, "Better is he that laboreth and aboundeth in all things, than he that boasteth himself, and wanteth bread." But the words rendered, hath a slave, are literally, a servant to himself. So the Vulgate has, sufficiens sibi, "sufficing himself," and the Septuagint, δουλεύων ἑαυτῷ, "serving himself." And the expression implies attending to his own concerns, supplying his own wants. Hence the gnome means, "It is wiser to look after one's own business and provide for one's own necessities, even if thereby he meets with contempt and detraction, than to be in real want, and all the time assuming the airs of a rich and prosperous man." This latter explanation seems most suitable, as it is not at all clear that, at the time the book was written, the Israelites of moderate fortune kept slaves, and the proverb would lose its force if they did not do so. Says a mediaeval jingle -

"Nobilitas morum plus ornat quam genitorum." Proverbs 12:99 Better is he who is lowly and has a servant,

   Than he that makes himself mighty and is without bread.

This proverb, like Proverbs 15:17, commends the middle rank of life with its quiet excellences. נקלה (like 1 Samuel 18:23), from קלה, cognate with קלל, Syr. 'kly, to despise, properly levi pendere, levem habere (whence קלון, scorn, disgrace), here of a man who lives in a humble position and does not seek to raise himself up. Many of the ancients (lxx, Symmachus, Jerome, Syr., Rashi, Luther, Schultens) explain ועבד לו by, and is a servant to himself, serves himself; but in that case the words would have been עבד לנפשׁו (Syr. דּמשׁמּשׁ נפשׁהּ), or rather ועבדּו הוּא. ועבד לו would be more appropriate, as thus pointed by Ziegler, Ewald, and Hitzig. But if one adheres to the traditional reading, and interprets this, as it must be interpreted: et cui servus (Targ., Graec. Venet.), then that supplies a better contrast to וחסר־לחם, for "the first necessity of an oriental in only moderate circumstances is a slave, just as was the case with the Greeks and Romans" (Fl.). A man of lowly rank, who is, however, not so poor that he cannot support a slave, is better than one who boasts himself and is yet a beggar (2 Samuel 3:29). The Hithpa. often expresses a striving to be, or to wish to appear to be, what the adj. corresponding to the verb states, e.g., התגּדּל, התעשּׁר; like the Greek middles, εζεσθαι, αζεσθαι, cf. התחכּם and σοφίζεσθαι. So here, where with Fleischer we have translated: who makes himself mighty, for כבד, gravem esse, is etymologically also the contrast of קלה. The proverb, Sirach 10:26: κρείσσων ἐργαζόμενος καὶ περισσεύων ἐν πᾶσιν, ἢ δοξαζόμενος καὶ ἀπορῶν ἄρτων (according to the text of Fritzsche), is a half remodelling, half translation of this before us.

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