Better to be lowly and have a servant
than to play the great man and lack bread.
The RSV rendering of this verse reads differently from the AV, and should be followed here: 'Better is a man of humble standing who works for himself, than one who plays the great man but lacks bread.' Read thus, the verse is a tilt at a false, hypocritical snobbery, the pretense of being other than one is. This is a basically dishonest attitude, revealing a discontent with oneself which, if true and real, should be dealt with in another way than this. The real answer is not to pretend we are better than we are, or other than we are, but to establish a true dignity of personality. It is so wonderfully refreshing to meet real people; but people who put on airs are very see-through-able. They themselves do not realise this, of course, but everyone else does. And they are both laughable, and a source of great irritation. To give oneself airs - this is the kind of metaphor that suggests blowing air into a balloon. And it needs only one pinprick to burst a balloon. So uncertain and precarious is the position of those who 'play the great man'. It is so much better - and safer - to be real, even if 'being real' means being quite small and of humble station, than to be an inflated, but unreal creature. A real person may be quite ordinary (how unwilling we are to be just that, but at least he is solid reality and cannot be made smaller than he is (even when people try to pull him down a peg or two) but a man with exaggerated ideas of his own importance or standing in society is living in a dream world of unreality from which he is liable to be rudely awakened at any moment.