Plenty vs. Poverty
1. This proverb makes a clear statement as to what constitutes the real difference between having plenty and being impoverished: hard work!
2. This proverb is just as true and practical today as the day it was written 3000 years ago.
1. “Tilling the land”
a. This is an agricultural expression referring to plowing the land for the purpose of planting crops.
b. The word “till” simply means to work, to serve, to labor.
c. It was used of Jacob’s service to Laban. (Gen. 29:15)
d. It was used of the Israelites’ “service” to Egypt. (Ex. 1:14)
e. It was often used of “serving” God. (used 4 times in Josh. 24:15 – translated “serve” – “And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”
f. The word simply means to serve or to labor for something or someone.
g. When combined with “the land” it speaks of “serving the land” which meant working the land… plowing and seeding and watering and weeding… taking care of the land so that it produces an abundant crop.
h. In fact, the term was used of Adam “dressing” the Garden of Eden. (Gen. 2:15)
i. Tilling the land implies taking care of the land. The last thing a farmer wants to do is harm his land. His land provides food and income for him. Thus, he wants to serve the land and take good care of it.
2. It is an interesting concept of farming: serving the land.
a. I would normally think of the land serving the farmer – but this passage speaks of the farmer serving the land.
b. Just as all service to God is rewarded; so too, all service to the land is rewarded.
c. Farmers are to “serve” their land. Solomon uses farming here as an illustration of all labor.
d. Regardless of what we do for a living, we ought to see our work, our labor as service to our company… service to our customers… a service to our employer—regardless of what the occupation is.
e. This goes way beyond farming.
f. We easily see that the ministry is a service. Those in full time ministry are serving the Lord… and serving God’s people.
g. Those who work for the government are considered public “servants.”
h. But this ought to be applied to your career as well.
i. As Adam took good care of the garden, we should take good care of the company we work for. We should serve for the good of the company.
j. The farmer serves his land and cares for his land because the land takes care of him. It’s like the mythical golden goose. If you have a goose that lays golden eggs, you take good care of that goose because it takes good care of you!
k. So too, the worker should serve and take good care of his company because his company takes good care of him.
l. It is good for the company—and it is good for you too.
m. It is a wise way to view your relationship to your job.
3. “Shall have plenty of bread.”
a. Here Paul states that the one who labors hard in serving the land will be rewarded for his service.
b. The one who takes extra good care of his land will discover that his land will take good care of him.
c. He will have PLENTY of bread.
d. The one who takes good care of his soil and keeps it enriched, weed free, and moist will have a good harvest.
e. From that good harvest he will have plenty of bread. He will have enough bread to eat and feed his family. He may have enough grains and bread to sell in the market and make some extra money.
f. PLENTY: Satisfied; filled; full; enough or too much.
• The one who works his land will be satisfied with bread.
• He won’t go hungry—he and his family will be full.
g. This passage teaches what other proverbs have stated before: hard work pays off! There is good reward in labor.
h. But this proverb adds an extra twist:
• If you work the land hard, you will be rewarded.
• But it also implies that if you take good care of the land and “serve” the land, you will be rewarded.
• It is possible to work the land and use the land solely for self-interest.
• It is possible to work the land to the point of depleting the land of all of its nutrients, leaving the land worthless in the end. That may be working the land, but it is not serving the land.
• Serving the land implies “having plenty of bread” and benefiting from the labor… but it also implies taking CARE of the land so that it continues to be productive.
i. In the early part of the 20th century in this country (called the dirty thirties), farmers in the mid-west worked the land hard and benefited from it for a while.
• But they worked it so hard they ruined it and it resulted in the dust bowl.
• They worked the land but they didn’t serve it.
• They didn’t serve the land by rotating the crops. They didn’t serve the land by protecting it with cover crops to protect it from wind erosion.
• When a drought came, the land was destroyed. It affected 100,000,000 acres of land.
• They didn’t have plenty of bread any more.
• There is a difference between working the land and serving the land.
j. Prov. 27:18 – He that KEEPETH the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof.” (Keep = guard; protect; care for)
• The fig tree provides valuable figs for food.
• But the fig tree requires some tender loving care. If you “keep” (protect; care for) your tree, it will continue to provide for you.
• If you simply pick the figs without caring for the tree, and cultivating it, it may die… and everyone loses.
• The business man who takes good care of his shop will do well. If he lets it get run down, he will lose customers.
k. There is a good application for our jobs too.
• Our relationship to our company/employer ought not to be like a parasite to his host—to suck out of it as much as you can and then move on to something else.
• Solomon’s proverb teaches us that we ought to view our relationship to our company as being mutually beneficial.
• Ask not what your company can do for you; ask what you can do for your company!
• By serving your company and doing what you can for the good of the company, you are also taking care of that which provides a bountiful harvest for yourself and your family.
l. We could apply this principle to the local church too.
• We could attend church for selfish reasons—to get out of it whatever we can for ourselves.
• But we ought to do so with a servant’s heart. We are here to serve, not just to BE served.
• We should care for the spiritual health of the Body. We should use our gifts for the good of the Body.
• In doing so, WE benefit from being attached to a healthy body.
• Don’t just milk the church for what you can get out of it; serve the Body for the common good of the Body and members in particular.
• If we serve the local body, we will have “plenty of bread.” We will be nourished… and the Body will be strong.
1. Note that the word “persons” is italicized. It was added by the translators.
2. The text reads, “He that followeth after vanity.” It is not limited to vain persons… but vain pursuits… a vain lifestyle… vain philosophies… vain values… vain standards… etc.
3. In this proverb, the opposite of serving the land and taking care of the land (dressing the garden) is “following after vanity.”
a. It requires a lot of work and many hours of labor to take care of the land (tilling; planting; seeding; weeding; watering; enriching; rotating crops; planting cover crops; etc.)
b. It is much easier to follow VANITY – empty, pointless, pursuits… like chasing after bubbles or sleeping in the warm sun… or pursuing fantasies and idle dreams.
c. Proverbs 14:23 – “In all labour there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.” (penury = need; lack)
• Talk can be just an empty and worthless waste of time.
• Talking doesn’t get the job done.
• You probably know people at work who do more talking and loafing than working.
• That tends not towards plenty and abundance but to a lack… poverty.
d. Following vanity may take many different forms:
• Instead of putting in hard work and taking care of business, just seek to have fun, fun, fun.
• Pursue a life of leisure, cross your fingers, and hope that your business turns out ok.
• Take as much money out of your business as you can and spend it on yourself. That too is following vanity. Spending more than you take in is a form of vanity.
• Pursuing get rich quick schemes is another form of vanity.
4. “Shall have poverty enough.”
a. The end of that road is poverty.
b. The earth is under a curse. The land (without tilling) will bring forth “thorns and thistles.” “Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee.” (Gen. 3:18)
c. Serving the land results in prosperity – plenty.
d. Serving your own vain pursuits results in penury – poverty.
e. The entrepreneur who puts all his blood, sweat, and tears into building up his company and taking care of it will prosper.
f. The one who puts all his energy in pursuing vanity will be impoverished.
g. Prov. 12:11 – “He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread: but he that followeth vain persons is void of understanding.”
• It is not only fruitless; it is foolish!
• This proverb is identical to 28:19 except the last phrase: “”is void of understanding.”
• 12:11 emphasizes the root: folly; 28:19 emphasizes the fruit: poverty.
h. Luke 15:17 – The prodigal son is a perfect example of this truth.
• In his father’s house there was “bread enough and to spare” because his father served the land.
• But the prodigal son pursued vanity with vain persons seeking riotous living—and ended up in poverty.
• He said, “I perish with hunger.”
5. The one who tills his land shall have plenty of bread. The one who follows vanity shall have plenty of poverty.
a. Solomon lays out the options.
b. Then he leaves it to his readers to take their pick.