Better is a little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and turmoil with it.
Most of us have at least a little, but is it enough?
When we have a little our first goal is usually to get more. The text recommends a different strategy.
It speaks of a tangible and intangible mix, and reveals the dual aspect of humanity—body and spirit. There is a vital, intangible component to satisfaction. We need to recognize the ultimate source of whatever blessings we currently possess.
Most economic measurements focus only on quantity of wealth. A good life is more than having plenty of assets. We are not just highly intelligent animals as some believe, but have a spiritual dimension that also needs attention. But the fear of the LORD does not sound good. What is it?
The text does not say that little is better than much. It doesn’t suggest that poverty is better than wealth. Clearly “a little” is better than “nothing.” We are physical beings and need at least “a little” in order to live. The author recognizes this, and does not imply that we are pure spirits and can get by with merely “the fear of the LORD.” Thus, contrary to some pagan philosophies, material assets, in and of themselves, are not to be shunned as evil.
To understand the fear of the Lord, we need to investigate its use in the Scriptures. See how it’s described:
- The beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10).
- The instruction for wisdom (Proverbs 15:33).
- Wisdom (Job 28:28).
- Clean, unchanging (Psalm 19:9).
- The beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7).
- The hatred of evil (Proverbs 8:13).
- A fountain of life (Proverbs 14:27).
- The Messiah’s delight (Isaiah 11:3).
- Optional (Proverbs 1:29).
- Prolongs life (Proverbs 10:27).
- Good for us and our children (Jeremiah 32:38-41)
- Brings strong confidence (Proverbs 14:26).
- Leads to life (Proverbs 19:23).
- Produces a triple reward (Proverbs 22:4).
The fear of the LORD means taking the LORD seriously. Since the LORD is “the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords,” then all human authority is under his authority. Thus we should respect and obey human government in all its forms.
A Healthy Fear
Based on the above, the fear of the LORD is much different than typical anxiety or terror. It’s a great deal like “an awesome respect for the LORD.” If a loose tiger were in the room, the fear of the tiger would put us into a state of extreme stress and terror. The fear of the LORD is not like this. It’s highly beneficial. It brings life, confidence, and good sense. It limits our pursuit of wealth. Whereas other fear is typically an undesirable emotion, the fear of the Lord is healthy! It motivates us to make appropriate choices. For example the fear of a radioactive site is not natural, but must be learned. But if God is good why should he be feared? Isn’t fear an emotion to be avoided? Why is Solomon implying that the fear of the LORD is good?
The very next text, Proverbs 15:17, is parallel in structure and sheds some light on this puzzle. “Better is a dish of vegetables where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” It equates the fear of the LORD with the presence of “love.” Read more about it here: How much should you spend on food?
A Love-Based Fear
Can fear and love co-exist? No! It’s human nature to be suspicious, and even fearful, of whatever we don’t understand—especially if it’s more powerful than us. We read in the New Testament, 1 John 4:16-19 that “God is love... and there is no fear in love... the one who fears is not perfected in love.” It appears that if we fear the LORD we need to be afraid of nothing else. Furthermore fearing the LORD is not equated with terror and tension, but with their antitheses, peace, and serenity. This is possible only if God is good and not “out to get us.” In one sense God does not want us to be afraid of Him, yet in another sense, God certainy wants us to be afraid of Him so that we do not sin. God hates and will always punish sin/rebellion.
But this fear is a highly benefical fear. We read in Jeremiah 32:40-41 that God will put the fear of Him into His children's hearts so that "they will not turn from Me" God then says "I will rejoice in doing them good." Imagine! It is VERY GOOD to fear someone who rejoices in blessing us! To understand better the fear of the LORD, study Exodus 20:20 in its context since the concept of fear is used twice in the same sentence.
Is Ignorance Bliss or Turmoil?
Capitalism, as espoused by Adam Smith in his book, “The Wealth of Nations,” does not consider intangibles such as the fear of the LORD. Adam Smith, and the classic capitalist model, naively support wealth maximization. Many economic conservatives believe the illusion that “more” equals “better.” As a result, a capitalistic consumer-driven society seeks to improve its standard of living by focusing on production and economic statistics while ignoring the spiritual aspects of human nature. Wealth without wisdom brings turmoil.
The Hebrew word for turmoil, מהומה (mehȗ•māh, pronounced “me-hoo-mah”), is used 12 times in the scriptures, and is also translated as: Confusion, trouble, and panic. The basic meaning of the root seems to be “a severe disturbance.” In 10 out of the 12 occurrences, it depicts the actions of the LORD to those whom he wants to discipline or destroy. It’s used first in Deuteronomy 7:23, when the LORD says that he will send great “confusion” against the enemies of God’s people until they are destroyed.
Ignoring the Warning
What if I just don’t believe this? I’d rather just concentrate on increasing my asset base, instead of taking my chances with this invisible, inaudible God. For me profit maximization is the goal! Many people seem to get along just fine without any thought about God. The text warns that those who ignore the LORD and focus only on accumulating more wealth end up being “disturbed” by the LORD Himself. He uses various kinds of inescapable turmoil to get their attention.
Our Maker, Saviour, and Friend
The LORD is the “Prince of peace,” (Isaiah 9:6).
He never wants his followers to be in a state of terror. For example, when Jesus walked on water during a night storm toward the disciples’ boat, they were terrified thinking a ghost - a supernatual being was approaching them while they had no means of escape. Jesus did not sadistically prolong their panic. He said, “Take courage; it is I, do not be afraid,” (Mark 6:50).
Six times in the gospels Jesus tells his followers to “take courage.”
- Memorize the text in your favourite Bible translation and think about it often.
- Thank God right now for whatever you have, even if it seems insignificant.
- If you prefer to keep God out of your financial world, then you will have major sorrows. Ask God to guide you in your financial decisions. Do not ignore Him.
- Have you confused more with better? Simply having more things does not result in a better life.
- Ask the LORD to help you truly enjoy what you have now.
Which of these steps, if any, does Jesus want you to take now? Ask Him.