Proverbs 15:15-17

15 All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast. 

16 Better a little with fear of the Lord, than great wealth with turmoil. 

17 Better a meal of vegetables with love, than a fattened calf with hatred.

I love the message of this proverb, but I don’t like the sentence structure.

The first line speaks of the oppressed, and then speaks of the cheerful-of-heart.  At first glance, it looks like they’re talking about two separate groups of people (or two separate life situations) that don’t intersect.  But I think it’s talking about the same group of people.  It’s confusing, because the next two verses DO talk about separate situations that don’t intersect.

I think that verse 15 is the equivalent of the first situation listed in the two following verses.  So we’re given a picture of an oppressed person, whose days are wretched, but who can still have a continual feast if they keep a cheerful heart.  “Better a little with fear of the Lord”, “Better a meal of vegetables with love”.  Also, it’s interesting that it’s not the person who feasts, but rather the heart.  What does the heart feast on… love? Inspiration? Affirmation? Encouragement?  Better to be oppressed and have a continual feast of love, than to be free with a starving and withered heart.

I really don’t like the term God-fearing, or “fear of the Lord” in verse 16.  I think it’s poorly translated, and should be “standing in awe of the Lord” or “God-revering”.  Because if we’re contrasting “Fear of the Lord” with “turmoil”, neither seems great, they both have negative connotations.  But it’s interesting that the proverb suggests you can have one or the other.  Suggesting that you won’t have turmoil if you’re standing in awe of the Lord. 

In verse 17, it seems to me that the meal itself is created or cultivated by the situation of love or hatred.  The vegetables were planted and grown with love, and the love is increased by the meal (the preparation, the cooking, the sharing).  But the calf was fattened with hatred and perhaps cruelty, and maybe the person has no one to share it with (or refuses to share it with anyone) because their hatred is increased and their fears validated by the lonely and selfish meal.

Perhaps the oppressed people, out of their reverence for God, share their continual heart feasts with eachother to keep turmoil at bay… but the man with the fattened calf only feeds himself, feeding his hatred, and has only himself to cling to in turmoil.

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