Proverbs 13:23

Good Judgment and Wealth


1. This is one of those proverbs that has one of two possible meanings.

a. Of course Solomon only meant ONE thing when he wrote it.

b. The problem is that today there is a problem interpreting what Solomon meant.

c. There are some good reasons WHY some of the proverbs are hard to be understood:
• There is also the nature of a proverb—written to capture the mind with sometimes-tricky wording that makes you think. Sometimes the wording is purposely ambiguous. Sometimes it appears to say one thing at first glance, but after some thought, its real meaning shines through.
• On top of that, we are trying to interpret it several thousand years after it was written.
• In addition, there is the problem of translation… and sometimes the original nuances aren’t quite so apparent in the translation.

2. The two POSSIBLE meanings:

a. A hard working poor man often does better with his little than a lazy and foolish wealthy man with his much.

b. The lower classes could do much better were it not for the injustice of the wealthy who destroy their gain.

3. Both of these interpretations make good sense and are in harmony with other Scriptures… but the context seems to lend weight to the former interpretation… contrasting the hard working poor man to the lazy and foolish wealthy man.

a. The reason: this view follows the pattern in the chapter of making such contrasts.

b. Ex:
• vs.11 – wealth gotten by vanity vs. that which is gotten by labor
• vs. 12 – hope deferred vs. hopes fulfilled
• vs. 13 – despising vs. fearing the word
• vs. 14 – life vs. death
• vs. 15 – favor vs. hardship
• vs. 16 – prudent man vs. fool
• vs. 17 – wicked vs. faithful messenger
• vs. 18 – refusing vs. receiving instruction
• vs. 19 – desires accomplished vs. desires never accomplished
• vs. 20 – companions of fools vs. wise
• vs. 21 – evil or good pursuing men
• vs. 22 – inheritance of a good man vs. a sinner

c. It makes sense that in the next proverb there would be such a contrast too. The second meaning mentioned does not follow this pattern like the first one does. For that reason, the first makes more sense.

d. Like the rest of the context, we have a proverb with an antithetical parallelism—which simply means that he is contrasting opposites.

e. The contrast is not so obvious at first glance… but it is there:
• Much food which is kept is contrasted to that which is destroyed…
• The poor man is contrasted to the other man—the opposite of which would be a well to do man… a wealthy man.
• The sound judgment of the poor man contrasted to the lack of judgment on the part of the wealthy.
• The tillage of the poor is contrasted to the “tillage” of the wealthy.

23a Much food is in the tillage of the poor

1. Tillage: tillable ground; ground that is able to be tilled, plowed, and planted.

a. The term is only used 4 times.

b. Ex: Jer. 4:3 – “break up your fallow ground…” In other words, if you have land that is able to be tilled, then USE it! Plow it! Plant!

2. The tillage of the poor.

a. This refers to the relatively SMALL plots of land owned by the poor man.

b. The wealthy land owners owned perhaps thousands upon thousands of acres. The poor man did not. He owned but a small plot.

3. Much food.

a. Solomon’s point is that it is possible for a small plot of land to yield a large amount of food.

b. I read an article on “intensive gardening.” It was for people who live in the city and may only have a tiny patio area with only a few feet of growing space… techniques were given to make the most of that space… and to make it as productive as possible.

c. You would be surprised how much food can actually be grown in a small garden area. This seems to be Solomon’s point in the first part of the proverb.

4. What he doesn’t say, but is implied in the proverb is HOW that much food in a small plot is accomplished.

a. He implies it because it is contrasted to the wealthy man who “lacks judgment”… or a lack of good sense.

b. Somehow, the poor man gets a lot out of a little.

c. This good judgment… good sense… on the part of the poor man is manifested in several ways.

5. He has the good sense to make the best of what little he has.

a. He doesn’t sit around and bemoan the fact that he doesn’t own as much as his neighbor. His attention is not on what others have.

b. Rather, he gets busy concentrating on what he DOES have…

c. He thinks to himself, “This is my plot of land; this is my lot in life; I had better make the best of it… this is what I have to work with to feed my family…”

d. He determines that somehow this little piece of land is going to have be utilized to the very fullest… I am going to squeeze every last vegetable out of this land that I can!

e. This mindset (I’ve got to make the best of what I have) will take a person a lot farther than one might think… and we’re not talking about mind over matter.

f. Feisty woman in Florida who survived on gum and a half a candy bar!

g. People who survive in the wilderness in the winter for long periods of time on virtually nothing… but a will to make it. Others may have given up and died facing the same set of circumstances.

h. Sometimes when we are FORCED into an undesirable position, we are also FORCED to accomplish things we would otherwise never accomplish.

i. Families who never thought they could live on one income—when forced—discover they can!

j. You’d be surprised how much you do with a little… when it’s all you’ve got!

k. You are then forced into the kind of mindset Solomon describes here: this is all I’ve got; I’ve got to make it work!

l. That kind of mindset and drive will take you farther than you could imagine…

m. A farmer with just a little plot of land looks at his hungry kids and determines that he is going to do whatever it takes to MAKE that land feed his family!

6. He has the good sense to use some good old fashioned Yankee ingenuity. (Yiddish ingenuity!)

a. When forced into a corner, one becomes quite resourceful.

b. I know people who have fixed their cars with duct tape and coat hangers and garden hoses.

c. If you only have a small plot of land, you CAN make it productive:
• By planting at one week intervals—so the crops keep on coming.
• By planting early—and covering at night… extend the season.
• By growing crops in between other crops—to extend growing space… and not to waste one square inch.
• By planting up! Plant vines and make them climb up to use less space…
• By intensive labor you can keep the garden weed free—so as to maximize the harvest…
• By using every part of the plant you can get more food from each plant…

d. There are lots of ways to get a lot out of a little… if you put your mind to it.

e. That’s what Solomon is saying—the tillage of the poor—a small plot of land yields MUCH FOOD… because of the diligence, ingenuity, and determination of the poor farmer.

23b But there is that is destroyed for lack of judgment.

1. On the other hand, there is also another possible scenario…

a. The opposite of the poor man’s tillage (acreage) is the tillage of the wealthy man.

b. He has lots of land. He doesn’t need to use such labor intensive practices per square foot as the poor man.

c. In fact, the rich man may not see the need to be resourceful.

d. He may not see the need to be diligent.

e. He may not see the need to be so careful about breaking up the fallow ground, pulling out weeds, or frost.

f. He may waste a lot of space… seeds… fertilizer…

2. As a result, much of his crops will be destroyed… by frost, bugs, or weeds…

a. Because of his lack of judgment… good common sense… the poor man’s small plot may produce much more than his rolling plantation!

b. Due to neglect, slothfulness, and apathy, his fields may yield no fruit.

c. Prov. 24:30-34 – Poverty could come to a man who owns a large farm… if it is not take care of.

d. Good judgment with a little, is better than a lot—without good judgment. Egypt with all her riches would have been destroyed were it not for the good judgment of Joseph.

3. Application to the spiritual realm:

a. Often one believer (Tom) who has lots of time on his hands that COULD be used to study the Word, feed his own soul, and prepare Sunday school lessons to feed others… is not very diligent in spiritual things.

b. Yet there may be another brother (Joe), who works long, hard hours, and yet becomes resourceful with what little time he has… to feed his soul… and to be able to minister to others…
• He uses his commute time to listen to sermons on tape…
• He carries a pocket sized Bible to read at lunch time…
• He puts Scripture on post’em notes at work to memorize scripture… when he is put on hold on the phone…
• He gets up a half hour early each day to prepare for his Sunday school class—and pray for his students.
• He may not have as much time, talent, or education as Tom, but what little he has he puts to good use for the glory of God.
• He doesn’t have all the advantages Tom has, but he has the good judgment to utilize what he does have to the fullest.
• So there’s no point in grumbling because we don’t possess all the privileges and advantages of someone else. Use what little you have to its fullest—and you’ll be surprised how much FRUIT you will be able to bear for the glory of God!