‘We believe in a better way’
‘I’ve simply copied the title from the side of a van belonging to the company Better Kitchens. And I had been thinking of the comedian’s fictitious school report that itemized his failure in subject after subject:-
 Geography – has no idea where he’s at;
 History – behind the times;
 Maths – mistakes keep adding up;
 Music – hopelessly off key; and especially
 Chemistry – stinks!
But one comment many of us will recall from our school years is: Could do better. However, parents were never advised how they could improve their offspring’s learning, whether by extra lessons after school, or more sleep or, perhaps, a brain transplant.
Solomon, in his wisdom, offered us in Ecclesiastes and Proverbs around forty clues to a ‘better’ life. Let’s try to assemble them in manageable groupings.
Back to school with ‘Prof. Sol.’
Ecclesiastes contains ‘the words of the Teacher’ (Ecclesiastes 1:1, all quotations from the New Living Translation). What would it be like to return to school with Professor Solomon? Over and over again we can see that his emphasis is on character traits, although occasionally he does, of course, mention material blessings – after all, he was no pauper, was he?
By wisdom Solomon always meant godliness rather than academic achievement.
He reminds us that ‘Wisdom is better than foolishness’ (2:13), although he later asks, ‘are wise people really better off than fools’ (6:8). In 7:5 he assures us: ‘Better to be criticized by a wise person than to be praised by a fool.’ We all like to be praised, but we must take care not to let any mere materialist polish our halo! But in 7:11 he does admit, being loaded with riches himself, that ‘Wisdom is even better when you have money. Both are a benefit as you go through life.’
Solomon’s kingdom superseded the war-ridden reign of his father David; he did credit to his name, meaning ‘Peaceable’. In 9:17-18 he advises: ‘Better to hear the quiet words of a wise person than shouts of a foolish king. Better to have wisdom than weapons of war.’ You don’t need to throw your weight around if you are God-fearing; ‘One wise person is stronger than ten leading citizens of a town!’ (7:19).
The Teacher was no kill-joy. In 3:12 he ‘concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can.’ ‘So,’ he offered this counsel in 8:15, ‘I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.’ Indeed ‘. . . there is nothing better for people than to be happy in their work’ (3:22). And: ‘Better to have one handful with quietness than two handfuls with hard work and chasing the wind’ (4:6). ‘We all come to the end of our lives as naked and empty-handed as on the day we were born. People leave this world no better off than when they came’ (5:15-16). As we used to say, there are no pockets in a shroud! ‘A man might have a hundred children and live to be very old. But if he finds no satisfaction in life . . . , it would have been better for him to be born dead’ – stillborn (compare 4:2, ‘the dead are better off than the living’).
See the paragraph 4:9-12, ‘Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed . . . Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.’
This theme surfaces mainly in chapter 7. ‘Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us’ (7:3). ‘Patience is better than pride’ and, in the spiritual race, ‘Finishing is better than starting (7:8).
All these matters are taught again in Proverbs.
In 3:14 ‘wisdom is more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold‘ (see also 8:19). In 16:16 he takes that a degree further: ‘How much better to get wisdom than gold and good judgment than silver.’ In 8:11 ‘wisdom is far more valuable than rubies.’ And in 15:16-17 he returns to the theme: ‘Better to have little with fear for the Lord, than to have great treasure and inner turmoil.’ And as for sharing a meal: ‘A bowl of vegetables with someone you love is better than steak with someone you hate.’ And in 16:8 he sums this up: ‘Better to have little, with godliness, than to be rich and dishonest.’
This can require self-control: ‘Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city’ (16:32). In 28:6 wealthy Solomon reckons that it’s ‘Better to be poor and honest than to be dishonest and rich.’ In 17:1 ‘Better a dry crust eaten in peace than a house filled with feasting – and conflict.’ And in 19:22 it requires loyalty: ‘Loyalty makes a person attractive. It is better to be poor than dishonest.’ Then, ‘It is better to live alone in the desert than with a quarrelsome, complaining wife – and he had more than a few wives! (21:19; in fact he insists this to be so four times; see 19:13, 21:9 and 25:24)! So premarital counselling would be a sensible preparation for both bride and groom, surely?
‘Never abandon a friend’, he teaches us in 27:10. ‘When disaster strikes, you won’t have to ask your brother for assistance. It’s better to go to a neighbour than to a brother far away.’
It’s an aspect of humility: ‘Better to be an ordinary person … than to be self-important but have no food’ (12:9). And ‘An open rebuke is better than hidden love’ (27:5). In 16:19 he repeats that it’s ‘Better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud.’ And 19:1 he points out, ‘Better to be poor and honest than to be dishonest and a fool.’ Also ‘It’s better to wait for an invitation to the head table than to be sent away in public disgrace’ (25:7); that’s probably a mistake that few of us are likely to make, for Solomon’s dining room would be out of our reach! But this matter could get us more marks in our exams in his academy perhaps!
Now let’s try these things out in daily life. But let’s do so in the spirit of Song of Songs 4:10 where the young man appreciates the village lass’s heartfelt motivation: ‘your love is better than wine.’ Full marks to her!