This is the first of almost twenty “better/than” direct comparison wise sayings in Proverbs. When I first started making Proverbs a regular habit, I struggled with the connection between the poetic parallelism of some verses – often I couldn’t quite see the connection between the verse’s first and second statements.
But I could understand these direct “better/than” comparisons and they resonated with me. This first one says it’s “better to be a nobody” with something (in this case “a servant”) than to “pretend to be somebody but have no food.” This verse suggests two fundamental truths about human existence.
First, public perception is not all it’s cracked up to be…just to be perceived as “somebody” won’t necessarily get me fed today. I’ll need to actually have something and do something in order to eat like normal people on a regular basis, day after day.
But the sad truth is that sometimes, both individually and corporately, we get so caught up in appearances that we don’t actually get around to producing anything of substance. Consequently we have nothing to show for our lives (see 13:7).
Second, this verse teaches us to be comfortable with who and where we are in life. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter how impressed others are with me or my stuff.
If I have all I really need and can make it through another day (along with my servant!), life’s pretty good – regardless of what anyone else may think about me!