Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.
I. CONTENTMENT AS AN ELEMENT OF HAPPINESS. (Ver. 1.) The dry morsel, with rest and quiet in the spirit, is better, says the preacher, than the most luxurious meal; the allusion being to slaughtered sacrificial animals as the chief constituents of a rich repast (Proverbs 9:2; Genesis 43:16). It suggests the picture of "holy love, found in a cottage" (Matthew Henry). The secret of happiness lies rather in limiting our desires than in increasing our substance.
II. PRUDENCE AND THRIFT. (Ver. 2.) The prudent servant may rise, and probably not seldom did rise in ancient times, to superiority over the idle and dissipated son of the house. In this light Abraham looked upon Eliezer - that he might probably step into the place of a son in his house. How much more depends, in reference to power and influence in this world, upon sense and prudence than upon birth and every external advantage!
III. THE TRUE HEART. (Ver. 3.) The heart which has been tried in the scales of Jehovah, assayed by the tests of an infallible truth. We need to remind ourselves how little we know of the depths of human character. Our inquiries and our teachings are inadequate and deceptive. The search of the human heart is a royal privilege of God. Without the true, the divinely approved heart, there is no real root of good or bliss.
IV. A SINCERE TEMPER. (Ver. 4.) This is suggested, as often, by the hideous contrast of the wicked, inwardly corrupt heart, which willingly takes note of and inclines to lying words, to the tempter and his wishes. It takes pleasure in the "naughty words" it dares not, perhaps, utter itself; is glad to borrow words from another to fit its own evil thoughts. In contrast to this, the spirit of the candid and sincerely good man is that expressed by Bishop Hall, "If I cannot stop other men's mouths from speaking ill, I will either open my mouth to reprove it, or else I will stop my ears from hearing it, and let him see in my face that he hath no room in my heart."
V. COMPASSION, PITY, AND SYMPATHY. (Ver. 5.) Contempt of the poor is contempt of the majesty of God. The greater part of poverty is not wilful; it is in the course of the providence of God. "To pour contempt on the current coin with the king's image on it is treason against the sovereign." There is something worse than even this, viz. to rejoice in the calamities of others. It is a peculiarly inhuman view, and is certain to be punished in the remorse of the conscience, in the closing up of the way to God's heart in the time of one's own need.
VI. FAMILY JOYS. (Ver. 6.) To leave out these would be to leave out that which gives to life its chief fragrance and charm. As children are the pride and ornament of the parents, so the sons, on the other hand, so long as they themselves are not fathers, can only fall back upon the father. The family tree, the higher it rises and the more widely it extends, increases the honour of the race.
VII. NOBLENESS Of SPEECH. (Ver. 7.) The first element of this is, as so often insisted upon, truthfulness in the inward parts. The second is appropriateness, regard to what is becoming. Thus a high assuming tone ill befits the fool; much less falsity, affectation, hypocrisy, a noble mind. To recollect what is becoming in us is a great safeguard to morality and guide to conduct. In the common affairs of life we should not seek to rise above our station, nor should we fall below it. In religion there is also a just mean - the recollection of what it is to be a Christian; and the effort not to rise above the humility of that position, as not to fall below its grandeur and nobility. "If truth be banished from all the rest of the world," said Louis IX. of France, "it ought to be found in the breast of princes." Let us substitute the word "Christians."
VIII. THE VALUE OF GIFTS. (Ver. 8.) There seems to be no reason for taking this only in the bad sense with reference to bribery. Lawful gifts and presents have their charm as well as unlawful. The power of gold to corrupt; the saying of Philip of Macedon, that there was no fortress so strong but that it might be stormed if an ass laden with gold were driven to the gate; - all this is well known. But equally true is it that honest gifts of kindness, having no impure purpose in view, are like jewels. They sparkle with the lustre of human love when turned in any light, and win friends and good will for the giver wherever he goes. It is the generous freedom to give, not necessarily of silver and gold, but of "such things as we have," which is here commended and noted as one of the secrets of happiness. The deepest joy is, in all true gifts, to be expressing the one great gift of the heart to God.
IX. CONCEALING AND FORGIVING LOVE. (Ver. 9.) Let us remind ourselves that in the Law the word for forgiving or atoning is "cover." And frequently we read of God covering the sins of the penitent. This relation is for the imitation of Christians, "followers of God as dear children." "Love covers a multitude of sins." Like the healing hand of Nature, which we see everywhere busy concealing unsightliness, veiling the old ruin with the beautiful ivy and other creeping plants. On the contrary, the talebearer has an eye forevery crack and seam in the structure of society; tears open and causes to bleed the wounds that might have been healed. Be true, be gentle, be generous, be God-like and Christ-like, - such are the main lessons of this section. - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.