Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 16:19
"It is better to be humble in spirit with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud"
This is another comparison proverb in which Solomon is trying to cause a particular value or action to glow with importance. Usually in these types of proverbs he uses hyperbole to put the value in exaggerated situations and thereby show its value or lack of significance. In this particular instance he is more direct and pointed – just declaring one is better and than the other.
This is the Hebrew word sepal, which means lowliness. Its physical derivative is to be low, but it is regularly used for humility or humble or a position in which one claims no stature or significance in the presence of others. In this and other instances it is tied to the word ruahwhich is the word for spirit or internal part of man. Therefore, this is a person's spirit that is not claiming some great importance or significance because of who they are or what they have done.
Usually we elevate ourselves in importance because of our position, our actions, our accomplishments, our possessions, our education, our skills, our innate possessions, etc. It is these collectively that tell us how significant and important we are. Solomon is telling us that we should shed this self-importance and just do what needs to be done, achieve what needs to be achieved, and say what needs to be said.
It is almost like what we have done and said and achieved generates a field of significance or pride around us just like an electrical field is generated by the working of an electrical device. This field of importance needs to be turned down or off, or it will get in the way of accomplishing our goals or God's designs for us and the relationships that we will need to fully enjoy life.
Our desire to have others recognize our importance causes us to make the field strong and glow as much as possible; but this usually only causes people to move away from us, thinking us pompous people. People want us to make a contribution to their life without having to bow or contribute to our self-importance. Some people are all about having others see and recognize the field. In fact, they become so much about the glow of pride that they stop actually accomplishing anything. They are all about whether you know about how important they are.
How do we turn this pride-field off or down? By doing what we are supposed to do; by not taking ourselves too seriously; by focusing on what needs to be done rather than who does it; by making our contribution; by refusing to trumpet our achievements or qualifications; by embracing the truth that God will not let a person with real skill not use it; by worrying more about whether the thing gets done than who does it; by letting others suggest or rank our significance, not ourselves.
This is the Hebrew word salal, which means plunder or spoil or that which is taken from another. It carries with it the idea of taking what is not or was not yours, war, someone losing in order to collect. The idea of war spoils was common in the Old Testament. When a people were defeated, then the conquering army actually got to go through the conquered villages and take what they wanted including money, art, gold, people, etc.
This is one of the key words in this passage because it helps define the context and meaning of the admonition. Solomon says that when you are presented with a choice as whether to remain poor or be with people who don't have much versus take actions that will put you in a group of people that gains by others’ loss, you should choose to stay poor.
There have been, down through history, places and opportunities for people to treat others with injustice and seize their goods for their own gain. One has to believe that you are superior to those whose goods you seize. Your gaining is coming at great expense to your soul. There will be – in every community – groups of people who "make a living" by cheating, stealing, conning, taking, and intimidating people. It will look very appealing to have what these people have because it seems like they have all the perks of a good life, but they have a lousy life with some toys. Solomon is screaming: Don't go down that path!
Solomon was a king of peace who did not expand his kingdom or secure peace for his people through war. So he would not have had first-hand experience of the spoils of war as his father David did. He, however, was very acquainted with the spoils of pride: the bitter in-fighting within every community for who will be most important; whose business will be number one; and who will take the prime seats in the community. He saw people of pride taking the goods, services, and possessions of others just because they could. His comments on this form of being rich or growing your wealth or business is that it would be better to be with those who don't have any excess than to gain through taking from others.
In one sense this is a way of applying Thou Shalt Not Steal. Do not gain at another’s expense. If others must lose for you to gain, then it is a problem. Do not be with people who think they have the right to make others lose because they are superior in some way to those people.
In other words, if you have gained through swindling or cheating or deceiving or conning or taking without adequate compensation or agreement from both sides, you will be messing up your life.
Solomon's point is: Sure the proud may have lots of stuff but you really don't want to be with them because there is no air to breathe; they are using it all. It is all about them.
What is interesting here is that it is only your pride that would allow you to be involved in taking spoil. You have to believe that the people or person that you are taking this from are somehow less worthy of these possessions than you and you are more worthy.
This is the Hebrew word gaaawa, which means pride. These are the people who begin to believe that they are superior to others. This is where the "er" factor comes into play in a person's soul. They are not just smart but smarter; they are not just rich but richer; they are not just clever, they are cleverer. All of these ideas bring an idea of “I am better than you.” This is the pride-field being generated around you. You have to turn it off and just keep making your positive and righteous contribution.