Solomon’s proverb was “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred” (Proverbs 15: 17, NIV-SB, 2002). In today’s language, the proverb would be something like “better a meal of vegetables with love than filet mignon with hatred or resentment.” In Bible times killing and serving a fatted calf was a luxury reserved for special occasions (Matthew 22:5; Luke 15:23). Unlike today where a plate of vegetables makes an excellent meal, ancient people were not serve vegetable as the main course of the meal unless they were very poor. Vegetables were held in low esteem. When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they ate vegetable, i.e., cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic (Numbers 4:5).
In Solomon’s proverb love and hate are contrasted. Where love is present, it matters little what is served at the dinner table. The warmth, caring, and affection around the table makes meager fare seem like a banquet. For the poor of Egypt and Palestine, cucumbers and barley bread were often a meal. In contrast, the most delicious meal is as dust when those eating it have hard hearts and there is hatred around the table. At times eaters are so resentful that it is difficult to swallow. The most luxurious food tastes like saw dust. If present, conversation is coldly polite or bursts forth from angry lips.
The vegetable that will be described is the Cucumis sativus L, the common cucumber. The cucumber has been cultivated in warm countries of the world from pre-historic times. Its country of origin could have been India or Thailand. Wandering in the desert (circa 1400 B.C.), the Israelites longed for Egypt where they had cucumbers to eat. Isaiah (circa 740 B.C.) wrote that fields of cucumbers grew in Israel, but possibly he was referring to muskmelons. No remains of cucumbers plants, fruit, or seeds remain from ancient Israel. Flowers are yellow and are shaped like a bell. The fruit is a cucumber. Cucumbers hang freely from stems and the green skin is hair free. The cylindrical cucumber can grow over 1 foot long. It is often slightly curved and beset with small knobby prominences when young. Inside the skin is pale green flesh with many seeds in the inner 2/3 of the cucumber.
Symbolism: Hard, hardened
The Hebrew word for cucumber is qishshû which comes from an unused root word meaning to be hard, possibly because the cucumber is often considered hard to digest (Strong, 2007). Solomon’s proverb was “better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred” (Proverb 15:17, NIV-SB, 2002). In the first clause the hard to digest cucumber was softened by love. In contrast, hatred toughened or hardened the succulent flesh of the fatted calf.
The Bible tells us that nothing is too hard for God (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17). Although it is not always easy for us to understand, the Bible also tells us that God has mercy on those he wants to have mercy and hardens those he wants hardened (Romans 9:18). For example, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that both the Egyptians and the Israelites would realize that it was God not Pharaoh that saved them from slavery in Egypt (Exodus 10:20). Although God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, there is no Biblical evidence that he hardened the hearts of the Israelites the many times they turned against their leaders and against him (Psalm 95:8; Zechariah 7:12; Mark 10:5). The Israelites’ hard hearts were their own doing.
When Christ was teaching in the Synagogue in Capernaum, he told the Jewish leaders and his disciples that he was the bread of life which came down from heaven (John 6:43-65). If individuals wanted eternal life, they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Only those who ate his flesh and drank his blood could be raised up on the last day. Jesus’ disciples told him that his words were a “hard teaching.” They asked Christ, “How can we accept it?” Jesus did not back down but tried to explain his teaching. He told the questioning disciples that his words were about spiritual aspects of life. Still, many disciples could not grasp Christ’s words and turned back and stopped following Christ.
Jesus loved the disciples who turned away from him and his teachings as much as he loved those disciples who remained. Christ grieved over the hard hearts that produced lack of insight into his teachings. We see how much the departed disciples hurt Christ by the way he questioned those who remained, “You do not want to leave too, do you” (John 6:67, NIV-SB, 2003). Imagine how much you would have to hurt to ask your spouse, children, or best friend the same question in the same way.
Reflection. “He who hardens his heart falls into trouble” (Proverbs 28:14, NIV-SB, 2002). She who hardens her heart falls into trouble. Pray for a soft heart.
Copyright March 2, 2013; carolyn a. roth
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