Every once in a while the Bible presents us with a hypothetical. With “such and such” as a hypothesis, we are presented with various options. These hypotheticals are not always in the form of a question. We have one here in verse 1. “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.” If you COULD choose between great riches in silver and gold or a good name, which would you select? The fact is, we may never have the opportunity for lots of silver and gold, so this is hypothetical. But the situation does raise interesting possibilities, and it may expose weaknesses in a person’s heart.
“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.”
Consider the great riches.
Solomon was quite specific – silver and gold riches. He’s not talking about the wealth of wisdom, or the riches of a happy healthy family. This is not about the blessing of a peaceful life or the wealth of a good friendship. The choice is between money and a good name – a good reputation.
Okay then, how do some people gather great riches? One answer is – Hard work. The Bible praises the man who has a good idea and works hard to develop that idea into something which blesses his neighbors. Hard work is highly praised by Solomon and others. But, of course, it has no place in the realm of salvation. Salvation is by the grace of God without the input of any human effort or works. Another source of physical riches is to be found in that grace of God. Some hard working people never attain wealth, because it is not the will of the sovereign God. And we must learn to be satisfied with God’s wisdom. But sometimes the Lord blesses with wealth which has nothing to do with our efforts – with perhaps something like an inheritance or a gift. Then, of course, there are those who gather silver and gold through crime and sin. Obviously, a good name is infinitely better than gold and silver that has been stolen. But in reality a good name and loving favor is better than wealth no matter how it has been received.
Potentially, anyone can have great riches. After all, this is the United States of America, and we have the American dream – “Life, liberty and the pursuit of wealth” – I mean “happiness.” How many of our ancestors came to this country with plans of working hard to give their families a comfortable life? On the other hand, how many have come with plans to use crime to become rich? Let’s say that either way, some people have become rich. Great riches aren’t confined to the color of one’s skin, his religion, or the extent of his education. Anyone might gather silver and gold – a complete nincompoop might accidentally dig it out of the ground. Anyone might become wealthy, BUT not everyone can enjoy a good name and loving favour. Some people don’t have the character necessary to have a good name.
“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.” Here is something to keep in mind no matter how those great riches come our way. That wealth could keep going and become the riches of someone else. In the next chapter Solomon says, “Riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.” Later he says, “Riches are not forever.” One of the most poetical things Jeremiah ever wrote was along this line – “As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not; so he that getteth riches, and not by right, shall leave them in the midst of his days, and at his end shall be a fool” – Jeremiah 17:11. And Paul added, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”
Why is it imprudent to put great riches at the top of our to get list? First, because we have no guarantee of ever amassing them. And then, if we are successful, we may worry ourselves to death over trying to keep them. Despite all our efforts, one day we wake up, and they are gone. But a good name, well-deserved, will belong to that person, no matter how many centuries pass. Solomon puts it into its proper context in Ecclesiastes 7:1 – “A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.” If the good name is there at the time of one’s death it becomes permanent – engraved upon one’s tombstone. “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.”
What else might we say about that good name and loving favor?
With total transparency, it has to be admitted that during a person’s lifetime, a good name can be as fleeting as wealth. A person may live with the respect of many on one day, and then everyone turns against him the next. David could certainly testify to that point, and so could the Lord Jesus. And still, even if may be fleeting, that good name is preferable.
Why is it rather to be chosen? For one thing it is more useful. There is only so much that money can buy. But the effect of a good relationship with others can be more than physical or temporal. With a good name comes respect and with respect follows the possibility of a positive influence. Wealth doesn’t give your witness for Christ credibility, but a good name can turn people’s ears towards you whether or not you have lots of cash.
Joseph, the son of Jacob, is a case in point. Joseph was falsely accused by the wife of Egypt’s Captain of the Guard, Potiphar. He was unjustly thrown into prison – a place where most innocent people pine away into nothing. “But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” Soon the prisoner was overseeing the maintenance of the jail, and catching the eye of Pharaoh himself. As Stephen said, “The Lord was with him. And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he made him governor over Egypt and his house.” It’s safe to assume that Potiphar was a powerful and wealthy man, but it was Joseph who had favour. And at the end of their lives, who ended up with the better deal?
“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.” Thinking about “loving favour” – we might ask: is this favour coming or going? Was Solomon thinking about a good name because someone was known for his loving favor of others? Or is he saying that to receive the loving favor of others is better than silver and gold? It’s probably the second – to receive loving favour is better than great riches. And yet, how dependent is our good name on our loving behavior toward others? Rather than working hard, trying to earn people’s friendship, we should be seeking ways to be a blessing. If we show loving favour, we will reap loving favour and a good name. Solomon and his proverbs are usually very practical – down to the earth where we live. But there is a well-hidden pearl in this verse which makes buying the whole field worth the price. It raises the level of this verse from the earth to heaven. The Hebrew word translated “loving favour” is 50% more often translated “grace” than “favour.” How does the nature of this verse change with that substitution? A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and GRACE is rather to be desired than silver and gold.”
It is very important to know who thinks we have the good name. And who gets the privilege of defining the word “good.” By the way, you’ll notice that the word is in italics, meaning it isn’t translated from any particular word. It is certainly implied by the context, and no thinking person will have a problem with it. And it conforms with Ecclesiastes 7:1 – “A good name is better than precious ointment; and the day of death than the day of one’s birth.” But again, who gets to define the word?
To be popular at the local pub is not the same thing as having a good name at church. To receive the love of wicked people, is not the same as to bask under the love and favor of the Lord. For years, Joseph’s name was not highly honored among his brethren, but he had a good name before the Lord, and that made all the difference. I know that we can speak of “human grace” coming from people like ourselves, but don’t we usually tie the word the Lord? Only divine grace is true grace; only sovereign grace is completely free from sin. If we have a good name before God, or if the Lord gives us a good name, then there can be no comparison with the wealth of the world. “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” What is the only way for a man to save his soul? He can’t. It comes from the loving favour and grace of God.
Luke 10 tells us that “the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name. And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven. Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” Any name written in Heaven is a very good name. Paul wrote: “my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved. I intreat thee … true yokefellow, help those women which laboured with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other my fellowlabourers, whose names are in the book of life.” The Lord Jesus told the church in Sardis, “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” Is this the good name to which Solomon refers?
“A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.”
I said at the outset that this was a hypothetical choice. I implied that we aren’t given the opportunity to choose between a good name and great riches. Neither may be in our power, or within the reach of our outstretched arms. But that doesn’t mean we can’t reach out to the Lord for that good name which is recorded in Heaven.
Grace is given graciously, and therefore we can’t earn it by bestowing our loving favor on people. But we can kiss the feet of the Saviour and plead, “LORD, be merciful unto me a sinner.” The Book of Revelation speaks about people saved by God’s grace and who are given a new name – a name inextricably linked to that of the Saviour. That is the name which is greater than the wealth of the world.