A Study of Proverbs 12:9
“He that is despised, and hath a servant, is better than he that honoureth himself, and lacketh bread.” (Proverbs 12:9)
In the above text we find two characters who take on various forms throughout the Bible, and yet they always remain the same. The first of these is one who is despised. The other is that self-righteous person who honoureth himself. In many ways we might say that all the human race is divided into these two classes of people – the despised, and the self-righteous. Needless to say, the Scripture clearly confirms that those despised ones are far outnumbered by those that honour themselves.
Who are these ones that are despised? They are those who find themselves with many enemies, many antagonists, many that for no seeming cause hate them. As our Lord clearly stated, however, in Matthew 5, they are a blessed people for He told them, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs are the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake.” It is to be observed that it is for righteousness sake, and for Jesus’ sake that they are so persecuted, and reviled and spoken against falsely. We feel certain that a diligent perusal of the Bible will reveal that all of these who are described as the despised are those who have been blessed to take up the cross and follow Jesus. They are the little flock. They are God’s kingdom. They are those of which the Saviour said in John 15:18, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you.” How plain to see that it is not us, or our own character for which we are despised and hated, but because of our union and affinity with the dear and holy Son of God. “If you were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19). Here we find, and come to the very heart of the matter. One, we are not of the world. Two, we were chosen out of the world. The world loves those who are like themselves. But, if there is any one thing the world, especially the religious world, despises, it is the doctrine of choice, or election, and Jesus clearly states that He has chosen His little remnant, or His despised ones, out of the world, therefore the world hates them. Or, as in our text, “They are despised.” That they are despised is without question, for in Matthew 5:44 we find these words, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” See here the various forms this animosity takes. You are enemies, you are cursed, you are hated, and you are despitefully used as well as being persecuted. We would not at this time comment on the various forms of persecution and despiteful use which the little flock receives, but sufficient to know that it does come, and will come, and our Lord gave us sufficient warning concerning it.
As well might we look in Matthew 18:6, where He warned the little flock of the offences that would come. “But whose shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him were a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Marvel of marvels, that Jesus considers in love His little ones who are offended so much that a millstone would be preferable to the offence committed against one of His. But to go on, in Verse 7, “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” And then in Verse 10, “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones: for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.” It is clear enough for those who have eyes to see that the little ones that Jesus loves are protected, and a warning has been sent forth that they be not despised, and yet we know that they are despised, and that with the deepest hue of despite, or despising that the world can conjure up.
Who are these individuals who despise the little remnant of Jesus? You may find a partial answer in Acts 13:41, where it is recorded, “Behold, ye despisers, and wonder, and perish: for I work a work in your days, a work which ye shall in no wise believe, though a man declare it unto you.” Whoever these people are, they are despisers, and they will wonder and perish, for they cannot believe the truth even when it is declared to them. Another clear illustration of these characters, and more to the point, is found in Luke 18:9, “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.” We might well say then without hesitation that those who despise others are the Pharisees; both of the day in which Jesus spoke and of today. There are no people on this earth who despise the little flock of God more than the religionists who consider themselves superior to those who bow their heads under the weight of their sins and cry out, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” There is nothing grates in the ears worse to the Pharisee than to hear one confess before God that they are sinners, for verily those Pharisees are they who honor themselves.
Before going on, it would be well to look in the book of Isaiah and connect what our Saviour told His disciples in John 15, that He was despised before they were. It is recorded in Isaiah 53:3, that great prophecy concerning the coming of the Great Messiah, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Left to ourselves, and without the interceding of the Holy Spirit, every sinful worm of the dust would despise, and continue to despise Jesus the Messiah. But thanks be to God that by His grace He has opened the eyes of some, and blessed us to see that He is a Man not to be despised but to be worshiped as the God Man who came to take away our sins.
Now in returning to our text we find that not only is there one in this text who is despised, but there is one also that “honoureth himself”. It is not difficult to see in the contrast the one who honoureth himself is akin to the one we described in the parable of the two men going up to the temple to pray. They are Pharisees. They are self-righteous. They honor and flatter themselves that they have obtained the mark; that they have risen to a religious plateau that would satisfy God; that they are bound for Heaven; that they have their ticket in their hand; that eternal happiness is their home because they have worked, obeyed, accepted Jesus, and done all these duties that their preachers and false prophets have told them to do. And they verily feel within themselves that all is well, all is peace; there is no harm or danger on the horizon, and no need of dread or fear. How awful to see the horrible doom that will come upon these that honor themselves. This passage of scripture says little about them other than they honoureth themselves.
It would be worthwhile to examine throughout the Scriptures several who have followed this characteristic, and see what their end was. We think first of that wicked one named Haman, who in the days of Queen Esther, and her uncle Mordecai, thought within himself that he was the most favored in the kingdom, even to the point that when the king asked the question, “What shall be done unto the man whom the king delighted to honour?” (Esther 6:6). He named himself rather than another. But what was his fate; what was his end? Was it not to be hanged upon his own gallows? Many there are like Haman, that think, “To whom would the king delight to do honour more than to myself?” “Who could be more honored than I am?” What a pitiful and sad thing it is to see an individual so filled with pomp, pride and self esteem that they know not how wretched, miserable, wicked, and blind they really are. We think also of that individual who, though no evil was said of him, the Lord said that his grounds brought forth plenty so that he had to build bigger barns and finally at the last he said, “Soul, thou hast much good laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry” (Luke 12:19). He never realized what a desperate and awful condition he was in because his end was so very, very near. All of his riches caused him to honor himself with bigger barns, with the comforts and temporal joys of life, and yet at the last it was said, “Thou fool, this night thy soul will be required of thee: then whose shall those things be?” (Luke 12:20) And so it is with that one who would honor himself. Where will that honor be when he stands before the righteous bar of God and finds himself to be not righteous, nor honorable, but naked and wretched, and miserable, and without a wedding garment?
We think as well in the parable of the prodigal son, when that young man had wasted his substance with riotous living and returned to his father’s house, there was another there who the Scriptures described as the “elder brother”. What a sad case he made when the time came that the father would confer honor upon his younger son. He had returned home repentant and the Father had compassion on him; he fell upon his neck and kissed him, called for the best robe, and the ring that he put on his finger. He provided shoes for his feet, and commanded that the fatted calf be killed so they might eat and be merry. As he said, “This my son was dead, and is alive again. He was lost and is found, and they began to be merry.” But what of the elder son? The Scriptures says in Luke 15:27, “And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends.” You see what a wretched condition the elder brother was in. He truly believed that all of these years of his service would satisfy his father. He truly believed that never at one time had he ever transgressed the commandments. Is he not a fitting picture of those in this world who honor themselves in believing that they have kept the commandments of God, and that they have served God, and that it is not right for such a doctrine as election and predestination to take the forefront to save sinners, for they cannot conceive how that in all of the honor that they have heaped to themselves that others could be brought in without an ounce of works; without a single bit of effort, or nothing on the part of the poor sinner but the grace of God conferred upon him, and it makes them angry. The elder brother was angry then, and they are angry today; and if any thinks not that one shall become angered when this doctrine is propounded, let them go forth and discover for themselves.
Many other texts might be used to illustrate the grievousness of those who honor themselves, but we will suffice with one or two more. You will recall that the Lord said in the closing verses of the Sermon on the Mount, “Not every one that sayeth unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name cast out devils and in thy name done many works.” Look carefully at what they have said. They honored themselves. They could go to the Lord and say that in “Your name” we have prophesied, in “your name” devils have been cast out, in “your name” we have done many wonderful works. They boasted in what they had done. They boasted in their position, and yet what was the answer to those who had thus honored themselves? “And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you. Depart from me ye that work iniquity.” All that they had done was iniquity, for they did it to honor themselves, and not to honor him who is the King of Kings. What a sad ending for those that honored themselves there. So it was with that rich young ruler who came to Jesus saying, Good Master, what might I do that I might inherit eternal life? And when Jesus told him to keep the commandments, he said, “All these have I kept from my youth up.” The Lord instructed him further, and the Scriptures says that he went away sorrowful, for he had many riches. He had honored, and flattered, and pampered himself all these years, and must now go away sorrowful because he was not among those whom Jesus had been pleased to open their eyes, and all of his honor then meant nothing.
We must now look a little closer at the text, for we find that not only are there two individuals here – one despised, and one honoring himself – but this despised one, it says, has a servant, and is better than he that honoureth himself. What can it mean that the despised hath a servant, and how can that make him better? If there is any one thing the poor sinner saved by grace knows, it is that he is the worst of the lot, and as Paul says, “He is the chief of sinners.” He cannot see anyone as bad as himself, and he considers that all are better than him. And yet you see even here that the Holy Ghost, by the Wise Man, informs us that the despised are better than those that honoureth themselves. The reason being is that they have a servant. And who, we ask, might that servant be? All of those who know and love the truth probably know the answer without us stating it, but we shall begin by reading from Isaiah 52:13, “Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high.” This is God’s servant, and he has dealt prudently, and in a specific manner. It is discovered when we read in the next chapter, Isaiah 53:10, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many: for he shall bear their iniquities.” Should we go no further, this should satisfy the minds of all who believe God’s Word. Jesus is the Righteous Servant of all those who are despised. He is not only God’s Servant, but He came to serve His people and not to be served by them. As He told His disciples, “I came not to be ministered unto but to minister.” He came not to be served but to serve His people, and to serve the will of His Father, and it was that He might justify His chosen and despised ones, and that He might bear their iniquities. Thus they find themselves in this respect, if in none other, better than those that honor themselves, for in honoring themselves all of those Pharisees and self-righteous ones still find that they come far short of the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus, because the only righteousness any poor sinner shall ever have is that imputed righteousness which Jesus gives to His despised ones, for He has taken upon Him their iniquities, and conferred upon them His righteousness. That is what is meant by imputed righteousness. Such a Servant He is as none could ever know except those who have been served by Him. To make the matter somewhat clearer, we would also read from Philippians 2:5, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” We see there that Jesus, though equal with God, divested Himself of His reputation, and became a Servant. Why? That He might die the death of the Cross! For what reason? That at the Name of Jesus that every knee should bow, that every tongue should confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. While those that honor themselves are confessing their good works, and alms, and deeds, and the many things they have done to serve and pacify their god, those who are despised are confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God. They know no other. They desire no other. They are happy to have a Servant and they are happy to have Him serve them. It is His pleasure to serve them, and it is their pleasure to be served. Some may consider that vain in itself, but those who have been born of the Spirit of God know better. Jesus came that He might lift up His fallen bride, and He serves and loves her as her Head and Master, Lord, God, and Guide. And so it is that, “He that is despised and hath a servant is better than he that honoureth himself.” We, if so be that we may call ourselves that, the despised little remnant of God, are so much better by having a Servant, rather than honoring ourselves.
But one other statement must be considered in this text, and that is of that one who honoureth himself, it says, “He lacketh bread.” Of all the honors that he has conferred upon himself, there was one thing yet needful, and he had it not. He lacked bread! We know that the world over, since the dawn of time, has been populated with multitudes that lacked natural bread, but what is that compared to the bread considered here? We hesitate not to say that the expression here refers to the Bread of Life. Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life.” Those who are despised and hath a servant, are better for they have been given manna from Heaven, the Bread of Life. For He is that Bread, and they eat and are full, and they drink and are satisfied. But those that honor themselves do lack, and will lack, that bread. They have never tasted that the Lord is righteous, that He is gracious. They have never tasted of His holiness, they have never tasted of His honor and purity, and thus whatever they might say or do for themselves, they yet lack that one thing needful – the Bread of Life. May we praise God from whom all these blessings flow that we could be counted among those who are despised, and if so be that it pleases Him that we might ever be honored in the grace of God to eat that Bread which came down from heaven.
J.F. Poole – 1988