First Things First
Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field;
and afterwards build thine house.
1. This proverb speaks about priorities.
2. It makes a simple statement about putting first things first.
3. There is a clear contrast between the basics and the finer things of life.
Prepare thy work without and make it fit for thyself in the field;
1. Solomon (or whoever the author of this section was) first speaks of a man’s work in the field.
a. Of course, this needs to be understood in light of the culture and customs of the day.
b. Israel was primarily an agricultural society.
c. Men worked in the fields and grew their own crops. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t eat.
2. Work in the field required preparation.
a. The farmer had to prepare the field for planting.
b. That meant he had to plow the field and break up the hard soil so that the seeds would germinate and grow.
c. Preparing the field was backbreaking work. They didn’t have a rototiller with a gas engine.
d. They had to do the work with a yoke of oxen and a plow… and some probably by hand.
e. This work was done “without” and “in the field”
• The preparation work had to be done outdoors in the elements.
• It was done in the blazing hot sun of the Middle East.
• It obviously could not be done “inside” in the comforts of home.
f. “Making it fit” is another expression with basically the same meaning – preparation work… making it “ready” for planting.
3. The first part of this proverb is a command to do your necessary work in the field.
a. If you didn’t take care of this work, then you wouldn’t have any crops to eat. You and your family would go hungry.
b. Thus, preparing the field for planting was perhaps the most basic necessity of life. No crops, no food!
c. There may be a thousand other important things that needed attention… but Solomon’s command was “do this first.”
d. There is a time for everything under heaven. And when it is time to prepare your field, don’t let anything else take you away from that.
e. It is MOST essential that the field be prepared and that it be prepared at the proper time.
And afterwards, build thine house.
1. Note the order here: First prepare the field; then build your house.
a. This is the main point of the proverb.
b. There is a proper order for taking care of business in life.
c. There ought to be a sense of priority in doing all of our work.
d. First things first: First the field, then the house.
e. The order of priority is this: First take care of the basic needs (like preparing so that you can eat!) and then attend to the “extras”… luxuries… building a house.
2. Again, a word about customs and culture is needed here. Otherwise, we might miss the point.
a. Today in America, especially here in the comfortable suburbs, we might not see the distinction as clearly as in Solomon’s day.
b. To us, food and shelter ARE the basics… the essentials.
c. But in Solomon’s day, a house was considered a luxury.
• Many people lived in tents until they could afford to build a house.
• Sometimes young couples lived in the house of their parents even after marriage until they could build their own house.
d. Solomon’s advice to the poor and perhaps to young couples just starting out in life is this: Prepare your field first!
• Make sure that you will have food enough to feed your family.
• Don’t assume that you NEED a house right away.
• If you have to pick one or the other – choose food. It is more basic and essential than a house.
• If you have to live in a tent for a few years until you get on your feet, then so be it.
• It’s better to live in a rustic tent and have food to eat, than to live in a nice house and go hungry!
3. Another possible implication in this passage would relate to the Jewish settlers in the land.
a. As the Jews conquered the land and began to spread out, caution would be needed before they started to build their house on the property.
b. As they took over a piece of property that appeared to be well suited for them, they should FIRST prepare the ground and make sure that the ground is suitable for farming.
c. Don’t just find a pleasant view, build a house, and ASSUME that the land is fertile and would be productive.
d. Do your homework first. Prepare the fields and test the soils before you start building.
e. You might discover that after you build your house, you may have to abandon it and move to more fertile soil.
4. Others see this proverb in a slightly different light.
a. The proverb is vague enough to support many applications.
b. Some understand Solomon to be speaking entirely about building a house.
c. The work does not concern providing food, but rather, in preparing a foundation in the field for building the house.
d. This would also be related to the principle of “counting the cost.”
e. Make sure you have prepared all the building materials before you begin to build.
f. Luke 14:28-30 – Count the cost first… then build.
g. I Kings 5:17-18 – The House of the Lord was built this way.
• All the building materials were prepared ahead of time.
• Then construction took place.
• 6:7 – In fact, each piece was precisely prepared to fit in place without any hammering on the work site.
h. The point: be prepared ahead of time.
5. Either way, the principle is the same: be prepared before you start building!
a. Plan ahead.
b. Put first things first. Prioritize.
c. Necessities first; then comforts and conveniences.
d. Make sure that you can put food on the table before you entangle yourself in an expensive, time consuming house building project.
e. Make sure you have enough to finish the job before you start.
Applications to today:
1. This is such good advice to young couples today—even if we don’t live in an agricultural society!
a. If the wisdom of Solomon was applied, many young couples could avoid financial disaster.
b. Young people are overly eager to have the house, without having laid the proper financial foundation.
c. Young people today assume that they NEED a big house with all amenities as soon as they get married.
d. Our present economic downturn in some measure can be traced to NOT following Solomon’s advice!
• Young (and old) couples wanted the big fancy house, without having “prepared their fields.”
• They didn’t build up a financial foundation that would safely allow them to buy the big house, but they bought it anyway.
• Even couples who could afford “a” house, chose to buy the McMansion instead.
• Before too long, they discovered (usually when the rates went up) that they could not afford their big house… and the bank foreclosed on it.
• This is happening all across the country.
• They got into a house without having done the “field work outside.” They were not financially prepared.
e. Young couples today might have to do what young couples have done for generations:
• If you cannot afford to buy a house right away, rent a cheap apartment and save money.
• You don’t need a house and a mortgage payment right away.
• You don’t need a house full of brand new furniture right away. Buy second hand… yard sales, etc.
• You don’t need a brand new car, a big screen TV, etc.
• Be financially responsible. What a novel idea!
• Do your prep work. Necessities come first; comforts and conveniences will come later.
f. The thinking behind buying beyond our means is wrong and contrary to Biblical principles.
• It is often done for outward show… to keep up with the Joneses. That is worldly and carnal.
• It is not worldly or carnal to OWN a big house and have nice things.
• But it IS worldly and carnal to “show off” a success that doesn’t really exist.
• On the outside, they look successful. They have a big house in an exclusive neighborhood and drive a Cadillac.
• But internally, their lives are a mess! They owe more than they can pay. Bills are piling up. Tensions flare. Stress rises.
• That is not a wise way to live. It is a poor testimony for a believer.
• Following Solomon’s advice IS a wise way to live.
• Prov. 17:1 – “Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.”
» Financial struggles are one of the biggest problems to married couples.
» It is better to live in a tent with food on the table, than to live beyond our means, show off before others, and come home to nothing but strife and arguing over the bills!
» How much better to be CONTENT with a tent or a cottage.
2. This principle is also applicable in building a business.
a. Don’t just walk into Boston, buy some expensive prime real estate, and build a large store expecting to make it rich.
b. Do your “field work” first.
c. If you haven’t done your preparation work, and you are expecting to sell cowboy hats, you might discover to your dismay that there isn’t’ the market for cowboys that you were anticipating!
d. Do your prep work first; then build!
3. This principle is applicable in planting churches too.
a. Some go by the theory that says, “If you build it they will come.”
b. That is not necessarily true.
c. Preparation work needs to be done.
d. A church planter needs to scout the area to see if there are already churches in that region…
e. Building on another man’s foundation is contrary to the Biblical principle. Building churches near other churches is usually harmful.
f. Planting churches in another country and another culture also requires preparation work. Expecting to build an American style church in India might not work. You need to do your field work before “building the House of the Lord.”
4. Application can also be made to getting married.
a. Some see the “building of a house” here as figurative language in which Solomon speaks of marriage… a family.
b. It is better to take his words literally here. However, it is certainly a good application.
c. Before you decide to settle down and build a family, it is essential to first be able to take care of basics.
d. If you can’t put food on the table, then you aren’t ready for marriage. Perhaps you ought to think about college or some other type of training.
e. If you build your “house” (family) first, you may struggle to put food on the table for the rest of your life.
f. Solomon’s advice here is: Get your priorities right. Take care of basics first. Getting married is a big endeavor. Be prepared!