This is the first of a number of proverbs dealing, broadly,
with justice and injustice, honesty and dishonesty: Pro 11:1; 13:16; 16:8,11;
17:15,26; 18:5; 20:10,23; 22:28; 23:10,11; 29:24. (Of these, Pro 22:28; 23:10;
20:10,23 are most similar to the proverb here.)
THE LORD ABHORS DISHONEST SCALES: More literally, "A
false balance is abomination to the LORD" (AV). Sins of deception are in the
book of Proverbs frequently called an "abomination", eg, the false balance
(here), lying lips (Pro 12:22), the unjust judge (Pro 17:15), divers weights --
very similarly to here (Pro 20:23), the sacrifice of the wicked (Pro 21:27), and
the prayer of the lawless or disobedient (Pro 28:9).
BUT ACCURATE WEIGHTS ARE HIS DELIGHT: "A perfect
stone", from the Heb "shalem" -- whole, complete, and thus honest.
THE LORD ABHORS DISHONEST SCALES, BUT ACCURATE WEIGHTS ARE
HIS DELIGHT: This refers to dishonesty in the marketplace, where merchandise
was weighed in the scales. The cheating merchant or clerk would,
surreptitiously, substitute a lighter weight for the customary or agreed-upon
one, and so give the impression that he was selling, let us say, a pound (or a
kilogram!) of goods when, in fact, he was selling only 13 ounces (or 800
grams!). The purchaser believes he is getting what he paid for when he is
actually getting something less.
God, in the Law of Moses, condemns such dishonest business
practices: "Do not have two differing weights in your bag -- one heavy, one
light" [referring to something like a "traveling salesman", weighing out his
goods for sale]... "Do not have two differing measures in your house" [referring
to personal dealings]... "one large, one small" [the trader might try to
substitute a "large measure" when buying, and a "small measure" when
selling!]... "You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that
you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you" [for this
business of honest business dealings is of tremendous importance and
consequences -- as the last phrase shows]... "For the LORD your God detests
anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly" (Deu 25:13-16). "Do
not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight or quantity. Use
honest scales and honest weights, an honest ephah [a dry measure] and an honest
hin [a liquid measure]"... and the reason is, once again, of supreme magnitude:
"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt" (Lev 19:35,36).
More generally, Amo 8:5,6 adds these to the list of dishonest
practices: "skimping the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest
scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling
even the sweepings with the wheat" (ie, mixing sawdust or chaff or other waste
products with the good grain). Cp also Eze 45:10; Hos 12:7; Mic 6:10,11.
Without a central bureau of weights and measures, and the
threat of government inspections, as is common in advanced countries today, it
was all too easy to cheat the poor. Exo 30:13,24; Lev 27:25; Num 3:47; and
(possibly) 1Ch 23:29 refer to the "sanctuary shekel"; this suggests that the
priests served to some extent as such a bureau of weights and measures. They
would maintain and guard the standard weights and measures -- so that there
might be a means, if there were a dispute, of testing every other weight and
measure. (A "royal standard" of weights and measures is also alluded to in 2Sa
"God is a God of justice. Truth, pure and unspotted, is the
very essence of the Divine character. Wherever there is deceit in the world,
wherever injury, wherever oppression, there is God's anger and loathing
accompanying it. The false balance, which is an abomination to the Lord, where
do we not see it around us? From the powerful guides of public opinion, each
assuming to be written in the interest of justice and truth, but each, almost
without exception, warping justice and truth by false statements, false
inferences, predetermined conclusions, down to the petty fraud, in measure and
weight, which you will find in any chance shop you enter, certain known and
avowed avoidances or disguises of truth, are every day practised, and acquiesced
in as inevitable. The evil is in every class" (Alford, BI).
"The proverbs of this book are often figurative, and of a very
strong and extensive meaning. The words of the text imply the odiousness, not
only of false weights or balances, but likewise of all things of the like nature
and consequence; of all unfair and unfaithful actions; of all unequal and
injurious proceedings. There are two kinds of injustice; the one open and
barefaced [ie, transparent], the other secret and disguised, so cunningly
clothed and adorned, that it appears like justice itself. The text manifests the
odiousness of this latter kind. A false balance is always made use of under the
plausible pretence of doing justice, though it has the contrary effect. This
latter kind of injustice is more abominable than the other" (Echard,
"This is no minor moral principle. The LORD counts economic
cheating and compromise to be an abomination! The omniscient God, seeing and
knowing all things, takes very close interest in the ounces and pounds, liters
and pints, dollars and cents, of our daily lives. Let every greedy and stingy
thief beware! He is not watching from a distance! He is watching you tip the
waitress and sell your used car!
"You will never get ahead cheating. And only blind fools would
think it for even a second. It is far better to pay and perform beyond
expectations, than to cut corners or shortchange anyone. Generosity is far
superior to frugality. It is a very small mind, motivated by a dead soul, which
thinks stinginess is how to get ahead (Pro 11:24-26; 28:8). The large mind,
directed by a loving and generous heart, is God's delight. He will bless the
"Godly men are perfectly honest. They never take advantage of
others. They go beyond bare duty; they pay more than their share; they keep
every term of a contract; they tip generously; they pay debts on time; they
despise purloining, or small thefts; they never lay out sick, when they are
well; they disclose all problems with things they sell; they do not barter down
a price, then call it a great deal ['It's no good, it's no good! says the buyer;
then off he goes and boasts about his purchase' (Pro 20:14)]; they communicate
promptly and openly.
"The Lord avenges any defrauding (1Th 4:6; 1Co 6:8). He
measures every relationship and transaction with His holy and divine scales of
perfect righteousness. Have you been found wanting? Your prayers will stop at
the ceiling (Pro 15:29; Psa 66:18)" (LGBT).
This principle is also enunciated in the NT, and here the
spiritual connection is made explicit. The Lord Jesus Christ says, "But love
your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get
anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most
High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your
Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn,
and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it
will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running
over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be
measured to you" (Luk 6:35-38). The willing heart, that will share without
counting the cost, that will freely forgive others (whether they "deserve" it or
not!), that will seek reasons NOT to condemn those who sin, can expect to
receive from Yahweh Himself in the same measure: heaped up, and pressed down,
and running over! "For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your
heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins,
your Father will not forgive your sins" (Mat 6:14,15). "Do not judge, or you too
will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and
with the MEASURE you use, it will be MEASURED to you" (Mat 7:1,2).
WHEN PRIDE COMES, THEN COMES DISGRACE, BUT WITH HUMILITY
COMES WISDOM: The two phrases are perfectly balanced: as pride leads to
disgrace or shame, so humility leads to wisdom. Cp Pro 15:33: "The fear of the
LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor." Pro 16:18: "Pride
goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." And Pro 18:12: "Before
his downfall a man's heart is proud, but humility comes before honor." In the
New Testament, Luk 14:11: "For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and
he who humbles himself will be exalted." And 1Co 10:12: "So, if you think you
are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall!"
WHEN PRIDE COMES, THEN COMES DISGRACE: This proverb is
closely matched with Pro 3:35: "The wise inherit honor, but fools he holds up to
PRIDE: The Heb "zadon" is from the root "zud", which
means "to boil; to seethe; to act proudly; to act presumptuously." The idea is
that of boiling over the edge of the pot (eg, Gen 25:29), signifying
overstepping the boundaries. It suggests having an exaggerated opinion of one's
own self-importance, or acting in an insubordinate manner. Interestingly for
modern users, the Greek equivalent of this term (as demonstrated in the LXX: cp
Pro 11:2; 13:10; Jer 50:32; Eze 7:10) is "hubris" -- which originally meant
"insolence" or "arrogance" -- for some, today, an attitude to be highly
DISGRACE: "Qalon": disgrace, shame, contempt -- from a
root "qalah" ("to be light"). While the wise will inherit honor, fools will be
made a public display of dishonor (Pro 3:35). God lets fools entangle themselves
in their folly in a way for all to see. And so it will be at the last judgment
especially, where some will awake "to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan
"A superior being that should look down upon the disorder and
corruption of our world, that should observe the shortness of our lives, the
weakness of our bodies, the continual accidents, or injuries, to which we are
subject; the violence of our passions, the irregularity of our conduct, and the
transitory state of everything about us, would hardly believe there could be
among us such vice as pride. Yet so it is, that however weak or wicked we may
be, we fix our eyes on some other that is represented by our self-love to be
weaker, or more wicked, than ourselves, and grow proud upon the comparison.
Another common motive to pride is knowledge, a motive equally weak, vain, and
idle, with the former. Learning indeed, imperfect as it is, may contribute to
many great and noble ends, and may be called in to the assistance of religion.
But how little reason have we to boast of our knowledge, when we only gaze and
wonder at the surface of things? When the wisest and most arrogant philosopher
knows not how a grain of corn is generated, or why a stone falls to the ground?
But were our knowledge far greater than it is, let us yet remember that
goodness, not knowledge, is the happiness of man! There is another more
dangerous species of pride, arising from a consciousness of virtue; so deceitful
are our own hearts, that too often a victory over one sinful inclination exposes
us to be conquered by another. This kind of pride is generally accompanied with
great uncharitableness, and severe censures of others, and may obstruct the
great duty of repentance" (Taylor, BI).
Due to pride, Pharaoh, the greatest king of that time,
destroyed himself, his family, his nation, and his army (Exo 5:2). Due to pride,
the Philistines fought against Israel, in spite of remembering what God had done
to Egypt 500 years earlier (1Sa 4:7-9). After capturing the ark of God, they put
it before their idol Dagon, which fell down and worshipped it (1Sa 5:1-5)! Due
to pride, Nebuchadnezzar, the greatest and most glorious king of all time, spent
seven years crawling around a field on his hands and knees! He ate grass like an
ox; his hair grew out like eagle feathers; and his nails grew out like bird
claws (Dan 4:33)! Due to pride, Herod Agrippa I, the King of Judea from 37-44
AD, who killed the apostle James and tried to kill Peter, was eaten of worms for
exulting in the excessive praise of men (Acts 12:1-4,20-23). Other terrible
examples of the folly of pride: the builders of the Tower of Babel (Gen 11:4),
Miriam (Num 12:2,10), Korah (Num 16), Balaam (Num 22), Uzziah (2Ch 26:16-21),
Haman (Est 5:11; 7:10), Absalom (2Sa 13-19), and Belshazzar (Dan 5).
BUT WITH HUMILITY COMES WISDOM: The root "tsana" ("to
be modest; to be humble") describes those who are reserved, retiring, modest.
The plural form -- as here -- is used for the abstract idea of humility, or
knowing one's place. The only other instance of this uncommon word is in the
more famous passage, Mic 6:8: "He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what
does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly
[sw] with your God." [A side note: It would appear that Micah had just been
reading Pro 11: for he not only alludes to v 2 in Mic 6:8, but also to deceitful
weights and measures (Pro 11:1, and Mic 6:10,11), to the imminent destruction of
the wicked and treacherous (Pro 11:3, and Mic 6:14), and to the uselessness of
riches (Pro 11:4, and Mic 6:10).]
WISDOM: "Chokmah", a familiar word in Proverbs (cp Pro
1:2,7; 2:2,6,10; etc). It refers to "skill" that produces something of value. It
is used in reference to the skill of seamen (Psa 107:27), abilities of weavers
(Exo 35:26), capabilities of administrators (1Ki 3:28), or skill of craftsmen
(Exo 31:6). In the realm of moral living, it refers to skill in living -- one
lives life with moral skill so that something of lasting value is produced from
The ultimate example of humility is, of course, the Lord Jesus
Christ. Paul's exhortation to humility, in Phi 2 -- "Do nothing out of selfish
ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than
yourselves" (v 3) -- is totally grounded in the example of Christ: "Your
attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus" (v 5). Here, he tells the
Philippian brethren, was a man who might have exalted himself above all men,
indeed over all of God's vast creation, but instead... "he humbled himself and
became obedient to death -- even death on a cross!" (v 8). And it was because of
this humility in practice, and in daily life, and especially in the manner of
his ignominious death, that... "Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every
knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue
confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phi
THE INTEGRITY OF THE UPRIGHT GUIDES THEM, BUT THE
UNFAITHFUL ARE DESTROYED BY THEIR DUPLICITY: The upright are guided safely
by their integrity, whereas the perversity of the treacherous destroys them. In
contrast to the upright, whose righteousness delivers them from perils, the
treacherous are ensnared by their own evil desires (v 6).
The happiness of the righteous, and the misery of the wicked:
Pro 10:6,9,16,24,25,27-30; 11:3,5-8,18-21,31; 12:2,3,7,13,14,21,26,28;
13:6,9,14,15,21,22,25; 14:11,14,19,32; 15:6,8,9,24,26,29; 20:7;
21:12,15,16,18,21; 22:12; 28:10,18; 29:6.
THE INTEGRITY OF THE UPRIGHT GUIDES THEM: "Integrity"
is "tummah"; it occurs here in Proverbs, and four times in the book of Job; the
word is derived from "tom" -- signifying "completeness, wholeness,
blamelessness, or innocence". "Upright" is "yesharim", in the plural. "In Job,
Psalms, and Proverbs 'yesharim' serves as a technical term for those who are
morally and practically right, who keep loyal to Yahweh and associate themselves
with the God-fearing, the righteous, the innocent, and the blameless (cf Job
1:1,8; 2:3; 4:7; Psa 64:10; 97:11; 140:13, but who refrain from the company of
their moral opponents, namely, the wicked, untrustworthy, and evil (cf Job 17:8;
23:7; Psa 33:1; 107:42; 111:1; 112:4; Pro 2:7,21; 3:32; 11:3,6,11; 12:6). It is
an inner attitude that involves heart and mind (cf Psa 7:11; 11:2; 32:11)"
(NIDOTTE). Integrity is surely what Jesus himself calls "singleness of eye" in
Mat 6:21,22; the man who has it, and practices it, will walk in the light. "The
integrity of an honest man will itself be his guide in the way of duty and the
way of safety. His principles are fixed, his rule is certain, and therefore his
way is plain; his sincerity keeps him steady, and he needs not tack about every
time the wind turns, having no other end to drive at than to keep a good
conscience" (Henry). "May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope
is in [the LORD]" (Psa 25:21; cp Psa 26:1). It is of no small significance that
the Book of Revelation describes the followers of the Lamb thusly: "No lie was
found in their mouths; they are blameless" (Rev 14:4,5).
"Integrity, enlightened by the truths, and fortified by the
promises of the gospel, admits of no hesitation on account of any temporary
inconvenience, to which an honest conduct may expose us. In public concerns, the
surest way to outwit cunning and artifice would be to fix only upon such objects
as reason can indicate and conscience may approve. Truth, in the hands of wisdom
and courage, has a commanding aspect, which would confound the subtle chicanery
and pitiful arts of a selfish and low-minded diplomacy. And in private
transactions between man and man it holds equally true that enlightened
integrity, acting with perseverance upon a settled plan, ultimately gains the
very end by upright means which in the cunning and dishonest fall a thousand
times for once that they succeed. Integrity makes a man rich in character, and
that ensures him the best chance of gaining earthly success and wealth"
(Lindsay, BI). Thus Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, more succinctly, "The greatest
homage we can pay to truth is to use it."
BUT THE UNFAITHFUL ARE DESTROYED BY THEIR DUPLICITY:
Those who use treachery ("seleph bogedim" -- literally, "the crookedness of the
unfaithful") are destroyed rather than guided by it. "Seleph" ("duplicity" here)
occurs only in this verse and Pro 15:4: "a deceitful [sw] tongue crushes the
spirit." "Integrity will guide the upright safely through all the stumbling
blocks and dangers of life whereas the compromise, the expedient time-serving
self-motivated policy of the transgressor, will lead him into the mine-field of
destruction" (Bowen). Those who turn truth and righteousness "upside down" will
themselves be turned "upside down" by God! "Righteousness guards the man of
integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner" (Pro 13:6).
DESTROYED: This is a terrible, or awe-inspiring, word.
"Shadad" seems, in certain instances, to be associated with "Shaddai" or "El
Shaddai" -- the "Almighty God" -- and thus it suggests a direct destruction from
God Himself. " 'Shadad' denotes a violent destruction such as a wolf brings
about (Jer 5:6) and thus aptly describes Yahweh's judgment on the Philistines
(Jer 47:4), the Egyptians (Eze 32:12), and other enemies (eg, Babylon, Psa
137:8)... The horrible judgment associated with 'shadad' is also related to that
on the Day of the Lord. This destruction is closely associated with God himself:
'It [the Day of the Lord] will come like destruction from the Almighty' (Joel
1:15; similarly Isa 13:6). It is striking that Joel uses this ominous language
against God's own, but unrepentant, people and not foreign nations. Thus the
name 'Shaddai', which would normally instill comfort for God's people, now
becomes associated with destruction and reason for dread" (NIDOTTE).
"Nehemiah was brave and upright; and his integrity guided him
to honour and renown, and his righteousness delivered his friends and their
enterprise from disaster (Neh 6:10-16). Haman was perverse and wicked; his ways
were crooked; he conspired to take away the lives of others; and on the gallows
which he had set up for Mordecai he himself was hung: and so 'the transgressor
was taken in his own naughtiness' (Est 7:10)" (BI) -- that is, entangled in his
own net (Psa 35:8), or fallen into his own pit (Psa 7:10, cp Pro 1:18; 5:22;
11:5). As scriptural examples of the one side of the contrast, may be cited
Joseph and Daniel; of the other, Saul, Absalom, Ahithophel, and Ahab.
WEALTH IS WORTHLESS IN THE DAY OF WRATH, BUT RIGHTEOUSNESS
DELIVERS FROM DEATH: This proverb is very similar to Pro 10:2 (see notes
there): "Ill-gotten treasures are of no value, but righteousness delivers from
death." The difference is that, here, apparently, ANY wealth (not just
"ill-gotten" wealth) will prove worthless, and that it will be so -- not just
generally -- but especially in "the day of wrath".
Here is surely something worth remembering all the time, while
living in a world that values wealth above all things, and makes its acquisition
the be-all and end-all of its existence!
Sennacherib, king of Assyria, blasphemed the name of Yahweh:
his sons killed him while he worshiped in the temple of his god (2Ki 19:37).
Belshazzar was killed the same night he celebrated his riches with the lords of
Babylon (Dan 5:1-30). A rich man dined sumptuously while Lazarus begged, but he
soon died and faced the judgment of God (Luk 16:19-23). Ananias and Sapphira
were landowners; they had money; but they fell down dead in the presence of the
believers at Jerusalem after lying (Acts 5:1-11). See also Job 36:18,19; Psa
49:6-8; Eze 7:19; Zep 1:18; Mat 6:19,20; 16:26; Luke 12:20.
WEALTH IS WORTHLESS IN THE DAY OF WRATH: "Wealth" is
"hown" -- literally, "a supply" or "plenty". The Proverbs clearly reveal the
dangers of wealth or riches gained for wrong motives or by dishonest means: they
tell us that wealth or money gained dishonestly will dwindle away (Pro 13:11);
that the rich trust blindly in their wealth (Pro 18:11); that the stingy man,
overeager to become rich, does not know that poverty lies in wait for him (Pro
28:22), and that the companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth (Pro 29:3).
The "day of wrath" refers to a special coming day, when the
LORD in His fierce anger will desolate the Land, making the earth to shake (Isa
13:9,13; Eze 38:19) -- when silver and gold will not be able to save men (Eze
7:19; Zep 1:18), when righteous men hide themselves and pray to be spared (Isa
26:19): "That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day
of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness,
a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the
corner towers" (Zep 1:15,16; cp Zep 2:2). Clearly, the "day of wrath" has a
"Last Days", or eschatological, connotation -- it has to do with the "time of
the end" (Dan 8:19; cp Rev 6:17), the "day of reckoning" (Isa 10:3), when the
LORD God Almighty, long silent and seemingly "absent", will make His presence,
and His anger, known for all the world to see and feel. In the NT, it is
referred to as "the last day" (Joh 6:39,40,44,54; 11:24; 12:14), the day of
resurrection, and the day of judgment.
BUT RIGHTEOUSNESS DELIVERS FROM DEATH: Following up on
the first phrase here, it may be thought that such righteousness will be of
special benefit, in delivering from death, on the coming "day of wrath". So Paul
writes that "godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the
present life AND the life to come" (1Ti 4:8).
God put Noah in the ark because he was righteous (Gen 7:1).
Abigail knew David was bound up in God's "bundle of life" (1Sa 25:29). God
preserved Job from death for his fear of God and hatred of evil (Job 1:1).
Hezekiah had 15 years added to his life for a perfect heart (Isa 38:1-8).
Foolish men and women invest fortunes in vitamins, doctors, and alternative
therapies to defer death; the more money they have, the more exotic the efforts
to stay alive! But the cure is righteousness! Jesus said, "Not everyone who says
to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the
will of my Father who is in heaven" (Mat 7:21). At the final judgment, Jesus
Christ will take no notice of a man's bank accounts, investments, or
possessions. Our choice, now, is whether to "store up things for ourselves" OR
to "be rich toward God" (Luk 12:21)!
"The present is not a day of wrath, but the day of long
suffering and patience, and men fail to know the opportunity it gives them. The
day of wrath is coming, though the common run of men remain as unbelieving and
scornful of the fact as the men of Noah's day. Paul speaks of it as 'the day of
wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God' [Rom 2:5]. The righteous
judgment exists: [it] is the fact of any moment; but it is not 'revealed'. It
will be revealed. A day is apportioned for the revelation, and that day is a day
of wrath as regards the vast majority of mankind. In that day, riches will
profit nothing. They profit something now: the universal mind is mercenary; and
wherever gold exists, heads bend to it, and in this fact, the possessor finds
pleasure and profit, and makes riches his strength and his refuge. But his
refuge will fail him when the day of wrath arrives. Riches will not hide a man
from the righteous judgment of God. The mercenary heads that meanwhile dip to
the rich man will be mown like grass before the scythe. Righteousness only (and
this consists alone in the doing of the commandments of God) will deliver a man
in that terrible day" (RR).
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE BLAMELESS MAKES A STRAIGHT WAY FOR
THEM, BUT THE WICKED ARE BROUGHT DOWN BY THEIR OWN WICKEDNESS; This verse
follows on from Pro 11:3: "The integrity of the upright guides them, but the
unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity." And is followed in turn by v 6:
"The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the unfaithful are trapped
by evil desires."
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE BLAMELESS MAKES A STRAIGHT WAY FOR
THEM: The term "derek" ("road, or way") is figurative, referring to a
person's course of life, actions and undertakings (Pro 2:8; 3:6,23; 11:5; 20:24;
The "straight way" or "straight road" may provide the basis
for Paul's exhortation in 2Ti 2:15: "Do your best to present yourself to God as
one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly
handles the word of truth." There, "correctly handles" paraphrases the literal
"cutting straight" (Greek "orthotomeo" -- which is the LXX rendering in Pro
11:5), also translated as "rightly dividing" in the AV. The intended figure of
speech might be that of a farmer plowing a straight furrow, a mason cutting a
straight edge on a stone, a workman cutting a straight road, or a priest's
proper dissection of a sacrificial animal.
The point here is that one
should use truth as a guide along a straight path (like a road that goes
straight to its goal), without being turned aside by pointless debates or
The same phrase occurs in Pro 3:6: "[God] will make your paths
straight", or "smooth your path" (NEB) -- where "straight" means more than "not
winding" -- it means "level" as well. The same idea is also found in Isa 40:3:
"Make straight in the desert a highway for our God" (cp Jer 10:23; Psa 23:1;
32:8; 37:5,23; 1Sa 2:9).
It is worth noting, however, that God's promise that one's
path will be "straight" or "smooth" through life does not mean there will be no
trials; only a few verses further on in Pro 3, in fact, we are told, "Do not
despise the LORD's discipline... because the LORD disciplines those he loves"
(vv 11,12). The promise to make our paths smooth means, surely, that our lives
will be "successful" in the sight of God, and will lead us ultimately to His
Kingdom and our eternal blessing -- not that there will be no difficulties along
the way! God promises to guide us THROUGH life's difficulties and hindrances,
NOT to remove them all, magically, from our path: "We must go THROUGH many
hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). "We must refer ourselves to
Him as one from whom our judgment proceeds, and patiently, and with a holy
indifference, wait His award. In all our ways that prove direct, and fair, and
pleasant, in which we gain our point to our satisfaction, we must acknowledge
God with thankfulness. In all our ways that prove cross and uncomfortable, and
that are hedged up with thorns, we must acknowledge God with submission"
BUT THE WICKED ARE BROUGHT DOWN BY THEIR OWN
WICKEDNESS: By contrast with the first part of this verse, the wicked will
find themselves walking along a crooked, and a rough, road -- full of potholes,
half-buried rocks, hidden tree roots and the like. And he will stumble and fall
into ruin when he is least expecting it.
In fact, he will stumble and fall BECAUSE OF his own wicked
plans! This warning also echoes earlier ones, by the father to his son: those
who turn their backs on good advice "will eat the fruit of their ways and be
filled with the fruit of their schemes" (Pro 1:31); "the evil deeds of a wicked
man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast" (Pro 5:22). Cp also Psa
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE UPRIGHT DELIVERS THEM, BUT THE
UNFAITHFUL ARE TRAPPED BY EVIL DESIRES: This verse follows up on the
preceding one. The contrast of this proverb is between being rescued or
delivered, and being captured. Righteousness is freeing; evil desires are
enslaving. This theme is developed by the apostle Paul in Rom 6, where the sin
in the world, and especially the sin -- or lust -- in the human soul, or mind,
is personified as a great ruler: "Let not sin ['King Sin'] therefore reign in
your mortal body, that ye should obey it [or 'him'!] in the lusts thereof" (v
12). "But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to 'Sin', you
wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted... But
now that you have been set free from 'Sin' and have become slaves to God" (vv
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE UPRIGHT DELIVERS THEM:
"Delivers" is Hebrew "natsal" -- to be rescued. Previously in Proverbs, the sw
has occurred several times: wisdom will "deliver" from the ways of wicked men
(Pro 2:12) and from the adulteress (Pro 2:16); prompt action will "deliver" the
young man from an imprudent promise (Pro 6:3,5); and -- as in this verse --
righteousness will "deliver" from death (Pro 10:2; 11:4).
BUT THE UNFAITHFUL ARE TRAPPED BY EVIL DESIRES: "The
unfaithful" ("transgressors": KJV) is more properly "the treacherous" (RSV), or
"renegades" (sw v 3: "bogedim"). "Trapped" ("taken": KJV) is the Hebrew
"lakhad"; it is used of animals being caught in a trap (Isa 8:15; 24:18; 28:13;
Jer 48:44) or a net (Psa 9:16; Jer 50:2,9), and of men being ensnared by their
own evil desires (Pro 5:22; 6:2). "Evil desires" ("naughtiness": KJV) is
"havvah" -- "desire" in the form of a craving for someone or something. The
connotation can be decidedly negative, as in references to Israel's desire for
food in the desert (Num 11:4; Psa 78:29,30; 106:14); the word becomes part of
the place name, Kibroth Hattaavah (Num 11:34,35; 33:16,17), the "Graves of
Craving (or Lust)", so named to commemorate the event. But in some cases the
"desire" is not evil at all: it may describe the desire of the righteous (Psa
38:9; Pro 10:24; 11:23) and of the afflicted (Psa 10:17), as well as that of the
slothful (Pro 21:25,26) and of the wicked (Psa 112:10); the context in each case
must determine the meaning.
"The book of Proverbs abounds with sayings which have the
sound of truisms, sayings which repeat, with innumerable variations and shades
of coloring, that wickedness is an evil, hateful to God and to men, and that
righteousness is a blessing not only to the righteous themselves, but to all
with whom they are connected. We are disposed to say, Surely no reasonable
person can question such an obvious truth; but on reflection we remember that
the truth was not perceived by the great religions of antiquity, is not
recognized now by the vast majority of the human race, and even where it is
theoretically admitted without question is too frequently forgotten in the hurry
and the pressure of practical life. There is good reason therefore why the
truism, as we are inclined to call it, should be thrown into the form of maxims
which will find a hold in the memory, and readily occur to the mind on occasions
of trial. And as we pass in review what Proverbial Religion has to say upon the
subject, we shall perhaps be surprised to find how imperfectly we have
apprehended the supreme importance of goodness... It will begin to dawn upon us
that the truth is a truism, not because it is carried out in practice, but only
because no one has the hardihood to question it; and perhaps we shall receive
some impulse towards transforming the conviction which we cannot dispute into a
mode of conduct which we cannot decline" (EB).
WHEN A WICKED MAN DIES, HIS HOPE PERISHES; ALL HE EXPECTED
FROM HIS POWER COMES TO NOTHING: This proverb is all about the hope, or
"expectation" (AV), of the wicked. As expressed in great detail in Psa 49, even
the expectations of the richest and most powerful -- if they know not God -- die
along with their bodies, and all they leave behind are stunning memorials,
memorials which in turn testify to future generations of the pointlessness of
the lives of those who built them! Any hope for long life and success arising
out of their wickedness will be disappointed. Cp also Psa 73:17-19.
"Men derive almost the whole of their happiness from hope. The
wicked man laughs at the righteous because he lives by hope; but the wicked man
himself does the same. The present situation of the wicked man never yields him
the pleasure which he wishes and expects, but there is ever something in view,
in which, could he but obtain it, he would find rest. If his hopes are deferred,
his heart is sick; if they are accomplished he is still unsatisfied; but he
comforts himself with some other hope, like a child, who thinks he sees a
rainbow on the top of a neighbouring hill, and runs to take hold of it, but sees
it as far removed from him as before. Thus the life of a wicked man is spent in
vain wishes and toils and hopes, till death kills at once his body, his hope,
and his happiness" (Lawson, BI).
WHEN A WICKED MAN DIES, HIS HOPE PERISHES: "Hope" is
the Heb "tiqvah" -- which may mean hope or expectation in general, or
specifically a hope of the future (and eternal life); the context is
determinative in each case. The word "perishes" (Heb "abad") is repeated at the
end of the second phrase -- though translated differently in the NIV ("comes to
ALL HE EXPECTED FROM HIS POWER COMES TO NOTHING:
"Power" is "ownim" -- vigor or strength, and (as suggested in Gen 49:3) may
refer to one's children: there Jacob refers to Reuben his firstborn as "my
might, the first sign of my strength [Heb 'own']". But the Hebrew of this verse
is difficult, and some Hebraists think that the Heb "ownim" may in fact be the
plural of "awen" (which signifies trouble, sorrow, or wickedness). Either way,
this phrase would mean, then, that even his children would not benefit from his
wickedness, or from the wealth derived out of his wickedness. Whatever
advantages the wicked may enjoy, in this life, are purely transitory.
Ultimately, power and/or wealth will be lost -- thus the virtuous man has no
need to envy the powerful, wealthy wicked.
Once again, Christ's parable of the rich man building bigger
barns is apt here; surely the best commentary on Pro 11:7 is to quote the
parable in full: " 'Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a
man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.' And he told
them this parable: 'The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He
thought to himself, "What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops." Then
he said, "This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones,
and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, 'You
have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink
and be merry.' " But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life will
be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"
This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not
rich toward God' " (Luk 12:15-21).
The LXX changes this proverb considerably: "At the death of a
just man his hope does not perish: but the boast of the ungodly perishes." Were
the LXX translators so eager to see the hope of the righteous fulfilled in the
world to come that they emended the text here? Or is there some other
explanation? Perhaps, though (as the last paragraph above actually implies), the
righteous person -- in contrast to the wicked -- DOES have hope beyond death,
both of a good name or enduring reputation and of a blessed immortality. (And
this is, of course, stated clearly a bit earlier, in Pro 10:28: "The prospect of
the righteous is joy." And, as well, a bit later, in Pro 11:8: "The righteous
man is rescued from trouble.") So, as a commentary if not a translation, the LXX
seems to have it right after all!
THE RIGHTEOUS MAN IS RESCUED FROM TROUBLE, AND IT COMES ON
THE WICKED INSTEAD: The happiness of the righteous, and the misery of the
wicked: Pro 10:6,9,16,24,25,27-30; 11:3,5-8,18-21,31; 12:2,3,7,13,14,21,26,28;
13:6,9,14,15,21,22,25; 14:11,14,19,32; 15:6,8,9,24,26,29; 20:7;
21:12,15,16,18,21; 22:12; 28:10,18; 29:6.
THE RIGHTEOUS MAN IS RESCUED FROM TROUBLE: The verb is
"khalats", meaning "to draw off, to take off, to withdraw" (as clothes, or
sandals). and hence "to be delivered". In this sense it is used in Psa 6:4;
18:19; 34:7; 50:15; 60:5; 81:17; 91:15; 108:6; 116:8; 119:153; 140:1; 2Sa 22:20;
Job 36:15; and Pro 11:8,9.
"Trouble" is "tzarar": literally, "to bind, tie up, wrap, or
shut up"; figuratively, "to be restricted, in straits, distress, tribulation --
with added connotations of anguish, anxiety, distress, affliction, calamity,
hardship, trouble, oppression, fear, fright, and terror" (NIDOTTE). Especially
in the Psalms the distress caused by personal foes is indicated. The distress of
the psalmist often prompts a cry to God for deliverance (Psa 18:6; 34:17;
102:1,2; 106:44). Personal circumstances of individuals also cause distress, eg,
the death of a beloved friend (2Sa 1:26), the suffering of the righteous and
God's incomprehensible treatment of them (Job 7:11), and the fear of death (Gen
42:21), etc. The distress expressed in these texts is commonly an indication of
God's judgment upon His unfaithful people (Jdg 2:15; Isa 5:30; Jer 10:18; Hos
5:15). God, however, is also the one who delivers the anguished and distressed
who do not renounce their faith in Him (Gen 35:3; Psa 37:39; 50:15; Isa 25:4).
Furthermore, in Pro 11:8; 12:13 it is stated that the righteous man, who follows
the ways of wisdom, is safeguarded against distress.
AND IT COMES ON THE WICKED INSTEAD: "And the wicked
cometh in his stead" (AV). In an ironic twist, that which might have fallen upon
the righteous -- or even, perhaps by implication, that which the wicked plotted
for the righteous -- falls, instead, on the wicked. As Haman built a tall
gallows for Mordecai, but was hanged upon it himself (Est 5:14; 6:4; 7:9,10).
And as the Jews' persecutors plotted their destruction, but were themselves
destroyed (Est 8:11; 9:2-16). The Israelites were delivered out of the trouble
of the Red Sea; the Egyptians came in their stead (Exo 14:21-28). Saul
persecuted David terribly, chasing him with large forces into wild places of
Israel, where David was in constant fear for his life. Yet the LORD brought war
with the Philistines on the nation to save His righteous servant David (1Sa
23:19-29). The faithful young men in Babylon were saved from the fire; their
executioners were destroyed by it (Dan 3:22-26). Daniel himself was preserved
from the lions; his accusers were devoured by them (Dan 6:22-24). Peter was
delivered out of prison; his jailors and persecutors were condemned (Acts
12:6,19,23). The righteous are so precious in God's affections and sight that He
will gladly sacrifice -- or "give for a ransom" -- the wicked in their place
(Isa 43:3,4). Cp also Pro 1:17,18; 21:18; 26:27; Psa 7:16; 9:15.
Our Lord was betrayed, persecuted, falsely accused, abused,
and finally crucified between common thieves. Yet he was delivered from death to
the right hand of God, and his wicked enemies were miserably destroyed (Mat
21:33-46; 22:1-7; Luk 19:27). And so the righteous have been persecuted and
sorely troubled for two thousand years by their enemies, but their Lord is
coming soon to rectify the whole situation, when there will be a final great
reversal of fortune lasting through all eternity (2Th 1:3-10; Rev 6:9-17;
WITH HIS MOUTH THE GODLESS DESTROYS HIS NEIGHBOR, BUT
THROUGH KNOWLEDGE THE RIGHTEOUS ESCAPE: Proverbs of mischievousness and
usefulness: Pro 10:10,23; 11:9-11,23,27; 12:5,6,12,18,20; 13:2; 14:22; 16:29,30;
17:11; 21:10; 24:8; 26:23,27.
WITH HIS MOUTH THE GODLESS DESTROYS HIS NEIGHBOR:
"Godless" is the Hebrew "kaneph" -- which originally meant "impious, godless,
polluted, profane." It was used often in the book of Job; later it developed the
idea (as expressed by the AV) of a "hypocrite" (Dan 11:32), one who conceals his
evil under the appearance of godliness or kindness. This godless one is,
evidently, a liar and a flatterer -- or a "pleasant, well-meaning" gossip -- or
a clever "salesman", of poor merchandise or bad ideas -- or all three! Cp a
similar idea in Pro 12:6: "The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood." "It
is not only the murderer with his sword, but the hypocrite with his mouth, that
destroys his neighbour, decoying him into sin, or into mischief, by the specious
pretences of kindness and good-will. Death and life are in the power of the
tongue, but no tongue more fatal than the flattering tongue" (Henry). This power
inherent in the tongue is examined to a great extent in the letter of James, and
particularly in Jam 3.
The verb "shakhat" means "to destroy; to ruin" (eg, the
destruction of Sodom in Gen 13:10).
"This verse may be understood with a reference to all
insincere professions of friendship and good intentions -- to all insinuating
and flattering pretensions, adopted for the purpose of affecting a particular
end. How many are there who, for objects of their own, deceive others; no matter
what the result may be to the deceived, provided the deceiver accomplish his
selfish aim. In religion, the hypocrite has a purpose. His religion is not real.
He assumes the cloak to cover some secret design. The verse itself suggests the
design -- the undermining of the principles of others. He insinuates himself
into confidence. The confidence increasing, he becomes by degrees more and more
bold, till, by slow steps, he unsettles the principles, shakes the faith,
dissipates the seriousness, and ruins the souls of others. Hypocrites are awful
stumbling blocks" (Wardlaw, BI). It was precisely such as these of whom Paul
wrote in Rom 16:18,19: "For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but
their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive
people..." -- and so Paul continues: "I want you to be wise about what is good,
and innocent about what is evil" -- so that, as this proverb puts it, "through
knowledge" you may "escape" the effect of their words and their ways. (Cp also
Paul's words in 1Ti 4:1,2 -- about "deceiving spirits", or teachings, and
"Haman under the pretence of loyalty would have destroyed a
whole nation (Est 3:8-13). Ziba under the same false cover would have destroyed
his neighbour (2Sa 16:1-4). The lying prophet from mere wilfulness ruined is
brother [1Ki 13]. Such is the hypocrite's mouth" (Bridges). But especially
consider, again, how the NT describes such hypocrites: "Watch out for false
prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious
wolves" (Mat 7:15). "But there were also false prophets among the people, just
as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce
destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them --
bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their shameful ways
and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers
will exploit you with stories they have made up" (2Pe 2:1-3). "But I am afraid
that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow
be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ... They will be
paid back with harm for the harm they have done. Their idea of pleasure is to
carouse in broad daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their
pleasures while they feast with you" (2Co 11:3,13). "For false Christs and false
prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the
elect -- if that were possible" (Mat 24:24; Mar 13:22,23).
BUT THROUGH KNOWLEDGE THE RIGHTEOUS ESCAPE: "Escape" is
the sw in Hebrew as "is rescued from" in v 8. A righteous person can escape
seductive flattery or devastating slander through knowledge. The righteous will
have sufficient knowledge and perception to see through the hypocrisy in either
case, to recognize the malevolent intent, and thus to avoid its intended
WHEN THE RIGHTEOUS PROSPER, THE CITY REJOICES; WHEN THE
WICKED PERISH, THERE ARE SHOUTS OF JOY: Several similar proverbs are to be
found elsewhere. Cp Pro 28:12: "When the righteous triumph, there is great
elation; but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding." And Pro 28:28:
"When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding; but when the wicked
perish, the righteous thrive." Also, Pro 29:2: "When the righteous thrive, the
people rejoice; when the wicked rule, the people groan." And finally Pro 29:16:
"When the wicked thrive, so does sin, but the righteous will see their
downfall." And Pro 11:11 plainly elaborates upon v 10 here: "Through the
blessing of the upright a city is exalted."
WHEN THE RIGHTEOUS PROSPER: "When it goeth well [Heb
'tob' -- sig 'to prosper'] with the righteous" (AV). Literally, and on a
day-to-day basis, the world is better off when men of righteous principles rule
over them. As Kidner puts it, "However drab the world makes out virtue to be, it
appreciates the boon of it in public life (cf Pro 14:34; 28:12)." But moreover,
and spiritually, the "city" that rejoices is the holy city, new Jerusalem (Rev
21:2) -- symbolizing the saints, the redeemed, ie the "righteous" themselves
(Rev 3:12; Gal 4:26; Psa 87:5). And when that day comes that these "righteous
ones" prosper eternally, there will INDEED be great rejoicing!
THE CITY REJOICES: "Rejoices" is "alats": "to jump for
joy; to exult". This is the jubilant gladness that accompanies triumph over
one's enemies. Hannah rejoices in the gift of a child as she "boasts over [her]
enemies" (1Sa 2:1). David likewise rejoices in God in connection with turning
back his enemies (Psa 9:2) and with the protection of the saints (Psa 5:11). The
righteous trust God to protect them from the gloating of their enemies (Psa
25:2). In 1Ch 16:32, the field rejoices in God's goodness toward His creation
and His people (// Psa 96:12). Cp also Pro 28:12.
WHEN THE WICKED PERISH, THERE ARE SHOUTS OF JOY:
Rejoicing at the deaths of the wicked: at the destruction of Pharaoh's army (Exo
15); at the death of Sisera (Jdg 5) and of Athaliah (2Ki 11:13-20); at the
deaths of Haman and the Jews' persecutors, accompanied by the elevation of the
righteous Mordecai (Est 8:15). It is said that the wicked Herod the Great so
feared that his subjects would rejoice upon his death, that he left orders that
when he died many prominent men were to be killed -- he supposed that this would
insure mourning at his passing rather than joy. But, thankfully, his hateful
orders were ignored after he died, and there was indeed rejoicing upon his
passing. Such also was the rejoicing of Rome at the death of Nero, and of Paris
at the execution of the tyrant Robespierre. And perhaps the greatest outpouring
of joy the world has ever seen was V-E Day (Victory in Europe), which followed
rapidly upon the suicide of Adolph Hitler. "The righteous will be glad when they
are avenged, when they bathe their feet in the blood of the wicked. Then men
will say, 'Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who
judges the earth' " (Psa 58:10,11). "After this I heard what sounded like the
roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: 'Hallelujah! Salvation and glory
and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments. He has
condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has
avenged on her the blood of his servants' " (Rev 19:1,2). Matthew Henry exhorts
rulers and leaders in general, when he writes, "Let a sense of honour therefore
keep us in the paths of virtue, that we may live desired and die lamented, and
not be hissed off the stage (Job 27:23; Psa 52:6)."
THERE ARE SHOUTS OF JOY: "Rinnah" often indicates a
loud, enthusiastic, and joyful shout. Most of the 53 times the word occurs are
found in Psalms (26 times) and Isaiah (14 times). By far the predominant object
of the shout of joy in all its OT occurrences is Yahweh:
(1) God's creation of the universe brings forth a shout of
joy. In Job 38:7 the morning stars respond to God's laying the foundation of the
earth with a shout of joy. In Psa 65:8 the one who "formed the mountains" (v 6)
is the recipient of shouts of joy. Other passages that call for a shout of joy
also describe God as Creator (eg Psa 95:1).
(2) More frequently God evokes shouts of joy in response to
His acts of redemption. God will rescue His people from their dispersion among
the nations, and they will respond with shouts of joy especially as they see the
tremendous bounty of grain, wine, and oil that God will provide for them. On a
more personal level, in Psa 51:14 the psalmist calls on God to save him from his
"bloodguilt", promising to respond with shouts of joy. The very heavens and
earth are called upon to shout and sing with joy because God redeemed Israel by
sweeping away their sins (Isa 44:23; 49:13).
(3) In a number of cases where "rinnah" occurs God's salvation
is linked with His appearance as a divine warrior. So much so, it is tempting to
think that in certain contexts the verb has the narrower meaning of to give a
victory shout. Zep 3:14 calls on Israel to give a shout since God has beaten off
their enemy. Zec 2:10 invites Zion to "shout and be glad" since God will avenge
Israel against those who plundered them. He will save them from their oppression
and live among them. Psa 20:5 clearly illustrates how the joyful shouting is a
response to the successful waging of warfare, "We will shout for joy when you
are victorious..." In the light of the connection between the shout for joy and
warfare, it is interesting to note that "rinnah" occurs in most of the OT
contexts where the phrase "new song" occurs. It has been suggested that "new
song" refers to a song sung in the light of a victory in warfare. Through
warfare God has created new situations to the advantage of His people as He
frees them from oppression. "Rinnah" is found in the context of "new song" in
Psa 33:1; 96:12; 98:4, 8; 149:15. This association heightens the connection
between warfare and the shout.
(4) The word also signifies the proper response of the people
to the appearance of God's glory, even in nonmilitary settings. After the
ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests in Israel, as they begin their
sacrificial ministry, God appeared in His glory and the people "shouted for joy"
(Lev 9:24). In Isa 35:2 the wilderness will burst into bloom at the appearance
of God's glory and will "shout for joy" (see also Psa 63:7).
(5) Not only do people shout for joy because God is Creator,
Savior, and victor, but also because he is the provider of material bounty.
According to Jer 31:12, those on the heights of Zion will rejoice because God
gives them grain, new wine, herds, and oil.
(6) A multitude of voices shout for joy to God in the Bible.
Most often the ones who shout are God's people. Indeed, according to Pro 29:6 it
is only the righteous who can shout for joy; the wicked are unable because of
their sin. In Isa 26:19, the dead rise out of their graves to "shout for joy"
before the LORD.
(7) Different parts of God's inanimate creation also take part
in the symphony of praise: the desert (Isa 35:2); the heavens (Isa 44:23;
49:13); the mountains (Psa 98:8); the trees (Psa 96:12); Tabor and Hermon (Psa
89:12); and Lady Wisdom (Pro 1:20; 8:3).
(8) Sometimes the shout of joy specifically describes God as
the divine warrior (Psa 118:15; Isa 14:7; 48:20; 51:11). Pro 11:10 associates
the shout of joy as the right response when evil people are destroyed. Most of
these are responses to winning a battle with God's aid. Thus, the shout of joy
is a kind of victory shout. However, in 2Ch 20:22 Jehoshaphat's army sings these
songs as they march into battle, perhaps anticipating victory, since they know
that God is fighting on their side (from NIDOTTE).
THROUGH THE BLESSING OF THE UPRIGHT A CITY IS EXALTED, BUT
BY THE MOUTH OF THE WICKED IT IS DESTROYED: Words may have a great power and
influence, for good or for ill (Pro 11:13; 14:3; 17:19,20; 18:6,7,21; Ecc 10:12;
etc). The wicked, the selfish, and the fools have a cursed existence, and a
cursed fate -- which the Proverbs contrast with the blessed status of the
righteous, the liberal, the kind, and the wise (Pro 10:6,7; 11:26; 22:9;
28:12,14; 29:8; etc). Also, see Ecc 9:15n.
THROUGH THE BLESSING OF THE UPRIGHT A CITY IS EXALTED:
"Hebrew 'the blessing OF the upright'. This expression features either an
objective or subjective genitive. It may refer to the blessing God gives the
upright (which will benefit society) or the blessing that the upright are to the
city. The latter fits the parallelism best: The blessings are the beneficent
words and deeds that the righteous perform" (NETn). Likewise, "righteousness
exalts a [whole] nation" (Pro 14:34).
CITY: Heb "kereth", a rather uncommon word (with only
five occurrences: Job 29:7; Pro 8:3; 9:3,14; and here). "It may be a contraction
of 'kiryath' [a quite common word] with the same meaning" (NIDOTTE), ie
BUT BY THE MOUTH OF THE WICKED IT IS DESTROYED: What
the wicked say has a disastrous effect on society, endangering, weakening,
demoralizing, and perverting with malicious and slanderous words. Wicked
leaders, in particular, can bring destruction on a city by their evil counsel.
How might the mouth, or words, of the wicked destroy a city?
There are various possibilities. When we think of how this chapter began ("The
LORD abhors dishonest scales..."), then it might be something like this: "The
image is of a city under siege. It is a city with a reputation for goodwill and
progress because the upright live there, and over a period of time the blessings
of their way become joyful benefits to all who live there. But then the story
gets around that visitors have been fleeced by the sharp dealers and within no
time at all the place has a name for double-dealing. No community can afford to
allow that sort of thing to happen because without trade [commerce, or business]
their standard of living is threatened. How quickly the community leaders
respond to any threat of this kind because they know the life of the city is at
"Every upright man, of what station soever, is a blessing to
the place where he lives, if he have so much of a public spirit and principle of
humanity in him as to desire his neighbour's prosperity as well as his own; and
if he be ready upon all reasonable occasions to do good offices to others, such
a man is a good member of any civilised community... [But] in the daily affairs
and transactions of common life, the mouth of the wicked does much towards
destroying the public good. If this be well demonstrated, it is a fair warning
to all cities which are concerned for their own preservation, that they be very
careful to increase the upright, and diminish the number of the wicked among
them. Let us then exert ourselves, upon all just occasions, in the cause of
truth, to the extermination of all that is contrary to it. So shall we both
entitle ourselves and those whom we shall reduce from error to the gracious
protection of God in this life present, and to His everlasting salvation in that
which is to come" (Reading, BI).
Good men whose presence blesses a city, or a nation: Joseph
(Gen 41:38-57), Elisha (2Ki 13:14), and Hezekiah (2Ch 32:22,30). Wicked men
whose conduct destroys a city, or a nation: the Babel builders (Gen 11:4-9), the
Ammonites (Eze 25:3,4), the men of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:25), Sheba the son
of Bichri (2Sa 20:1), and -- who can forget! -- Haman (Est 3:8-15;
In the classic movie "It's a Wonderful Life!" -- still aired
regularly 60 years after its initial release -- there is an extended parable
illustrating this proverb.
George Bailey is a young man with great ambitions: he's going
to go to college, become an engineer, and then travel the world building great
things -- bridges, skyscrapers, ocean liners, whatever strikes his fancy; he's
going to make his mark for all to see. He going to shake the dust of this
"crummy little" Bedford Falls off his feet for good! But fate intervenes: his
father falls ill, and George must take his place in the family business (but
"only for a little while!"); George's younger brother goes off to college in his
stead; then the great war comes, and all affairs are rearranged; George's father
dies; and -- George falls in love and gets married.
Finally, George wakes up one day, realizing that he is not the
young man he once was; that he is not going to college; that he has been left
behind, in the little "nowhere" place of Bedford Falls. What was a stop-gap --
and a necessity -- for a few years has become in fact his life's work: he has
become his father, the owner of Bailey Savings and Loan -- a little company that
will never provide him and his family more than a modest income. His
contemporaries -- who never had half the energy, the brains, the potential he
had -- are getting on wonderfully, in bigger and "better" places. And he is
At this point a terrible financial crisis arises, entirely by
"accident", to threaten even the little that George Bailey has built up for
himself and his family. And poor George stands on the town bridge, staring down
into the swirling waters of the river, and contemplates ending his "meaningless"
life. He wishes, he says, that he had never been born -- for he has not made a
bit of difference to the world. But a kindly angel, Clarence, helps George to
see what a difference he HAS made -- by first of all letting him see what
Bedford Falls, and those he loves, would have become had he never existed!
And so we learn, in a "flashback" of sorts, what Bedford Falls
(renamed "Pottersville" in George's nightmare) would have become without him:
the pleasant, friendly, little "postcard" town would have been filled with bars,
nightclubs, gambling dens, and worse. Why? George's savings and loan helped the
working class folks own their own modest homes, and find dignity and hope for
themselves and their families. It brought new businesses to the town; it helped
to create jobs; it carried the unemployed through their temporary losses until
they could get back on their feet again. All this, it seems, had kept Bedford
Falls out of the rapacious clutches of Mr. Potter -- for young (and then
not-so-young) George Bailey had been the only man to stand up to the
monopolistic, money-grubbing, hateful threat of this old miser.
And in the final outpouring of love and goodwill that crowns
the movie, George Bailey finds that his friends are all there to help him and
his family. "Where would we have been without you, Mr. Bailey?" He comes to see
that a life made up of little kindnesses and charities and good deeds has an
effect far beyond what he could ever have imagined, and finally he sees that "No
man is ever really poor who has friends!"
Or, in other words, "Through the blessing of the upright a
city is exalted."
A MAN WHO LACKS JUDGMENT DERIDES HIS NEIGHBOR, BUT A MAN OF
UNDERSTANDING HOLDS HIS TONGUE: The next four proverbs (vv 12-15) follow the
theme of talking, especially emphasizing the benefits of self-control (vv
A MAN WHO LACKS JUDGMENT DERIDES HIS NEIGHBOR:
"Judgment" is "leb", or "heart". Here the "heart" denotes the intellect, by
which one thinks, analyzes, compares, and understands a matter (1Ki 3:12; 2Ki
5:26; 2Ch 9:23; Pro 16:23).
The AV's "despiseth" is more accurate than "derides" (NIV) or
"belittles" (RSV), but the parallel line that follows ("holds his tongue")
suggests that "despising" another in this case means publicly denouncing him in
some manner. Cp esp Pro 14:21 -- where the parallel lines suggest that
"despising" means particularly to show contempt for the poor and weak. (A prime
example of this is in Joh 7:48-52, where the rulers of Israel sneered at Jesus,
for the simple reason that he came out of Galilee!)
Consideration of one's neighbor includes refraining from false
testimony or slander against him (Exo 20:16; Deu 5:20; Psa 101:5; Job 17:5; Pro
3:28; 11:9; 24:28; 26:19; Jer 9:8). "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in
your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can
you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the
time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out
of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your
brother's eye" (Mat 7:3-5). "Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca' [an
Aramaic term of contempt], is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says,
'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of Gehenna" (Mat 5:22).
To love one's neighbor is, according to the Law of Moses and
that of Christ, one of the two major tenets of conduct (Lev 19:18; Mat 22:39).
To act is a manner contrary to this strikes at the heart of God's expectations
of His children. Even a thief who steals for survival does not merit this
treatment (Pro 6:30). Furthermore, it is wrong to be confident in one's own
righteousness and to look down on everybody else: "God, I thank you that I am
not like other men..." (Luk 18:9,11). Far better to "watch yourself, or you also
may be tempted" to fall into a similar sin (Gal 6:1).
BUT A MAN OF UNDERSTANDING HOLDS HIS TONGUE: Cp Pro
10:19. "Understanding" is "tabuwn": intelligence, or intellect. "Holds his
tongue" is a single Hebrew word, "charash", which signifies to leave alone, or
to be at peace. "A man of understanding may see much in his neighbour to excite
his pity, and stir up his prayers, but nothing to despise" (Bridges). On the
other hand, "a fool's voice is known by a multitude of words" (Ecc 5:3, AV). One
of the simplest rules of wisdom is to cut your words in half. "A trustworthy man
keeps a secret" (Pro 11:13). "A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself" (Pro
Rather than publicly denouncing another person's mistake or
folly or weakness, a wise person will keep quiet about it (eg, 1Sa 10:27; 2Sa
16:7-10; 2Ki 18:36). He may keep silent because he is depending wholly on the
righteous judgment of Almighty God (1Pe 2:23; Mat 26:63). Or, on a more mundane
level, the discerning person may simply realize that the neighbor who is
ill-treated may become an opponent and someday have the means and opportunity to
A GOSSIP BETRAYS A CONFIDENCE, BUT A TRUSTWORTHY MAN KEEPS
A SECRET: The wise man keeps matters in confidence (Pro 25:9; 26:20),
whereas the foolish gossip betrays confidences (Pro 20:19). Words have such a
power for good or for ill (Pro 11:11; 14:3,5; 17:19,20; 18:6,7,21; Ecc 10:12),
that wisdom counsels the judicious use of silence and restraint as the path of
prudence (Pro 11:12; 21:23; Ecc 9:17).
The physician's rule applies
here: 'First, do no harm!'
A GOSSIP BETRAYS A CONFIDENCE: "A talebearer revealeth
secrets" (AV). The noun means "slander" and so "talebearer, informer". The
related verb "rakhal" means "to go about" from one person to another, either for
trade or for gossip. It may refer to a "junk man", a "rag man", or a "scavenger"
-- a peddler who collects little bits and trinkets for resale, and then goes
about trying to pass off his merchandise as the finest of wares. "Such are
always great newsmongers; and will tell even their own secrets, rather than have
nothing to say" (Clarke). For such a person, in the spiritual sense, gossip may
be his (or her) life's work -- a veritable trade or business: he (or she) cannot
wait to uncover and spread about secret matters that ought best be kept secret
(Lev 19:16; Jer 6:28; 9:3,4; Eze 22:9).
And so the talebearer is despised in society because he cannot
be trusted. "Every kind of wickedness... [includes] gossips, slanderers" (Rom
1:29,30; cp 2Th 3:10-12; 1Pe 4:15). The wives of church leaders must not be
"malicious talkers" (NIV), or "slanderers" (AV); the Greek here is "diabolos"
(often translated "devil"): slanders, lies, and gossip are -- literally -- the
devil's work! "They [young widows, with not enough to do] get into the habit of
being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become
idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to" (1Ti
"What God called talebearing [AV], we used to call tattling or
gossip [NIV]. Now it is investigative reporting. Now it is entertainment.
Newspapers, television, tabloids, and Internet sites feed on it. People read it
with glee; they tingle with curiosity hearing it; they beg for more details,
especially sexual ones; they cannot wait to repeat it to others.
"If the least rumor or event can be obtained about our
president's personal life or family, it is spread far and wide and discussed to
death. The same is true for business leaders, sports figures, and celebrities.
The more negative the facts, that much more exciting to spread! This fascination
with secrets is a sin and proves the perversity of our nation.
"Family members, neighbors, office workers, and even some
church members love to spread news of negative events in the lives of others.
They say, 'Did you know they are divorced? Have you heard the latest about him?
Can you believe she did that?' And off go wicked lips and ears to discuss the
private details of others that should be concealed. This sin is an abomination
to God, and He hates it. His holy heart knows that spreading damaging news about
others is to rape their reputations... Physical rape is a horrible crime, and it
should be punished severely. But talebearing may be worse, in that it can have
greater consequences. Instead of hurting a person's body for a few minutes or
emotional state for a while, it can leave permanent scars on a person's
reputation and character, the much more valuable parts of a person"
BUT A TRUSTWORTHY MAN KEEPS A SECRET: The Hebrew here
is "faithful ['aman'] of spirit ['ruach']." This phrase describes the inner
nature of the person as faithful and trustworthy. This individual will not rush
out to tell whatever information he has heard, but will prudently conceal it.
One of the marks of the righteous man, who will dwell in God's sanctuary
forever, is that he "has no slander on his tongue", and "does his neighbor no
wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman" (Psa 15:3).
"Faithful men will hide private information they happen to
learn. They will conceal such things; they will not repeat them to anyone. They
will do all they can to protect the reputations of others, no matter what their
personal feelings about the person might be.
"This sin used to be condemned in our nation. Many readers
will remember rules and punishment for tattling at home and school. But now it
is a forgotten sin in our perverse generation. Instead of punishment, rewards
are given for those who can obtain the most salacious reports or revealing
photographs of persons at all levels of society" (LGBT).
FOR LACK OF GUIDANCE A NATION FALLS, BUT MANY ADVISERS MAKE
VICTORY SURE: Proverbs of rashness and deliberation: Pro 11:14; 15:22;
18:13; 19:2; 20:5,18; 21:29; 22:3; 25:8-10. Cp esp Pro 15:22: "Plans fail for
lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed."
FOR LACK OF GUIDANCE A NATION FALLS: The word
"tachvulot" ("guidance; direction") is derived from the root "khaval" -- which
signifies "rope-pulling" and thus "steering" or "directing" a ship (BDB). So
spiritual guidance is like steering a ship, here the ship of state (see Pro
1:5n; the sw also occurs in Pro 12:5; 20:18; 24:6). Advice is necessary for the
success of a nation. "Kings and rulers stand in special need of counsel. When a
ruler is surrounded by good counsellors he and his people are safe. We can trace
this truth in the rise and fall of nations" (MacEwen, BI). But "when God would
destroy a nation, he takes away its wise counsellors, and gives it up to the
control of wicked and weak men" (FBN). For examples of such, see the advisers of
Rehoboam (1Ki 12:8-10) and Zedekiah (Jer 38).
The LXX translation of this word, "kubernesis", refers to a
shipmaster in secular Greek, and in its one occurrence in the NT indicates the
varieties of leading positions in the ecclesial body of Christ (1Co 12:28:
"administration" in NIV or "governments" in AV).
BUT MANY ADVISERS MAKE VICTORY SURE: "This term
'teshua' means 'salvation' or 'victory' (BDB 448). Here, it connotes 'success'
as the antithesis of the nation falling. The setting could be one of battle or
economics. Victory or success will be more likely with good advice. This assumes
that the counselors are wise" (NETn) -- ie, not as in Isa 3:3 but as in Isa
1:26. In Proverbs, the sw occurs in Pro 21:31; 24:6 -- both in the context of
military conflict. In a spiritual sense, the "many advisers" of the Jerusalem
Conference provides a good example (Acts 15:6-21).
"In the multitude of counsellors there is safety" (AV). "The
last half of this proverb is commonly quoted alone, and the idea is thus
obscured, if it be not lost altogether. It is often put as though the safety or
victory lay in the 'multitude' and not so much in the fact that they are
'counselors'. One 'counselor' is worth a multitude who cannot be thus defined,
and God's standard in Christ being taken, the 'multitude' of such has in any age
of the world's history been small indeed. In the glory of the age to come Christ
will be the 'counselor' for God over all the earth with a multitude like him,
subordinate to him, freed from the weaknesses of the flesh, and made gloriously
competent with him to advise, instruct and direct the world's affairs to the
glory of God the Father" (CCW).
HE WHO PUTS UP SECURITY FOR ANOTHER WILL SURELY SUFFER, BUT
WHOEVER REFUSES TO STRIKE HANDS IN PLEDGE IS SAFE: Other proverbs of
suretyship: Pro 17:18; 20:16; 22:26,27; 27:13 -- as well as the extended section
in Pro 6:1-5. "One may wonder why Solomon seems concerned to help us succeed in
business. Some feel he should be dealing with more spiritual things -- as if
[such things as] these are not worthy of much thought. Solomon knows what
happens to people who are trying to do the right thing, but who are constantly
harassed by the cheats and liars. They become so resentful that the baser
elements of their natures begin to surface, and they end up using methods that
are not honourable to survive in this evil world. That's not very spiritual, is
it? One has got to survive with his integrity intact, and there are measures one
can adopt to avoid the more disastrous effects of evil men. If a man fails to
adopt them then he has only himself to blame" (Bowen).
HE WHO PUTS UP SECURITY FOR ANOTHER WILL SURELY SUFFER:
"In this matter adults often reveal less capacity for learning than children.
They have the advantage of books containing all the accumulated wisdom of
mankind, and beyond all this and permeating a great deal of it, there is the
instruction that has come direct from God, yet the knowledge is very little
used. Life is full of avoidable evils through men ignoring principles or rules
of conduct which are perfectly well known, and which have had their wisdom
demonstrated in every generation.
"Sometimes the individual failure is so obvious that almost
all observers smile at it. I recall [an instance] of this kind in which the
facts were related by the victim when sufficient time had passed for him to join
in the amusement. [This] was of a capable business man who lightheartedly put
his name to paper and became surety for another without even knowing the full
extent of his commitment. As is usual in such cases, the one thus assisted
failed to pay his way, and the guarantor was for some weeks on the verge of
ruin, not knowing when the crushing blow would fall. While in this worried
condition he one day opened the Bible to find a little consolation, and almost
the very first passage he read was one in Proverbs warning men against the very
folly he had committed. 'What a foolish man I am,' he thought. 'I have
carelessly brought myself into this trouble, when all the while the whole matter
is explained in the Bible in the most up-to-date manner. If I had read it before
I might have been warned' " (PrPr).
ANOTHER: Heb "zur" -- sig "stranger" (sw Pro 2:16;
5:3,10,17,20; 6:1; 7:5). "The 'stranger' could refer to a person from another
country or culture, as it often does; but it could also refer to an unknown
Israelite, with the idea that the individual stands outside the known and
respectable community" (NETn).
BUT WHOEVER REFUSES TO STRIKE HANDS IN PLEDGE IS SAFE:
"To strike hands" is the Heb "taqa" (sw Pro 6:1). The guarantee of a pledge was
signaled by a handshake, or even more simply, by a striking of hands (cf Pro
11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26; 27:13). To strike, or join, hands was an ancient
form of entering into contracts in all countries and in all ages (cf Job 17:3,
AV; Psa 144:8,11). The Law of Moses also specifies a ritual sign of an opposing
nature: to disavow responsibility entirely for an act committed by another, or
to release oneself from a previous commitment or agreement, individuals might
publicly wash their hands (Deu 21:6; Psa 26:6; 73:13),
"It is interesting to note the expression 'strike hands' in
this connection. It suggests that without any signature, the offering and
acceptance of the hand would constitute a bond which no one would repudiate. We
may sometimes see in English cattle markets a custom which is probably a
survival of that to which the wise man refers. Two men will be haggling over the
price of a beast. Finally the vendor, having made a concession, declares that he
will take nothing less. He holds out his right hand, stating the price, and
perhaps with quite a dramatic indication of finality. The buyer, with no show of
enthusiasm, and without saying a word, strikes the outstretched hand with his
own palm and the sale is effected. Surely a survival from three thousand years
or more" (PrPr). See other comments, Pro 6:1.
A KINDHEARTED WOMAN GAINS RESPECT, BUT RUTHLESS MEN GAIN
ONLY WEALTH: The first of the proverbs about good and bad women, or wives:
Pro 11:16,22; 12:4; 14:1; 18:22; 19:13,14; 21:9,19; 25:24; 27:15,16.
"Two contrasts are here juxtaposed: [a] 'a kindhearted woman'
and 'ruthless men', and [b] 'honor' ('kabod'; NIV, 'respect') and 'wealth'. The
idea seems to be that one can seize wealth by any means, but 'honor' is the
natural reward for the gracious person" (EBC). Kidner writes, "Moffatt, by
inserting an explanatory 'only', brings out the concealed contrast: 'A charming
woman wins respect: high-handed men win ONLY wealth'." A gracious woman clings
to, cherishes, and values her honor, in the same way that strong men cling to
and cherish their riches. The most important thing to a gracious woman is her
honor -- as important as riches to a tyrant. A gracious woman cannot be induced,
even for the sake of great profit, to allow her reputation to suffer.
A KINDHEARTED WOMAN GAINS RESPECT: "Chen" is "gracious
or generous or kind". The word may also mean, simply, "attractive" or
"charming". Here "chen" is a desirable quality, whereas in Pro 31:30 "chen"
("favour" in the AV) seems to be disparaged as "deceptive" and of no real value.
On this KD comments: "It is true that Pro 31:30 states that 'grace ('chen') is
nothing,' and that all depends on the fear of God; but [in Pro 11:16] the poet
thinks on 'grace' along with the fear of God, or he thinks on them as not
separated from each other." On the other hand, in Pro 31:30 "chen" or "grace"
seems to be considered as apart from the fear of God, and in such a context it
truly is -- if taken all by itself -- meaningless and pointless.
How does a virtuous woman "gain respect", or "hold on to
honor"? The story of Abigail illustrates this most perfectly, even as the brief
(and tragic) story of her first husband Nabal illustrates how "ruthless men"
(try to) hold on to their wealth -- but fail at the point of death (1Sa 25).
What do we see in Abigail? A woman who quietly commands her servants, and then
brings gifts of food to those who are hungry. A woman who carefully chooses her
words so as to turn others away from angry actions. A woman who uses her wealth
for true good, and who brings honor and dignity as her dowry to her new husband
And Ruth the Moabitess is a wonderful example of this proverb
-- and quite likely the "working model" for Solomon's words. As Boaz her future
husband said to her, "All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble
character" (Rth 3:11). And how that noble character was demonstrated in her
actions: (1) her strength of faith in leaving her homeland and her gods and her
own family to become, like Abraham before her, a stranger and a pilgrim seeking
the true God in a new land; (2) her resolute standing by her destitute
mother-in-law: "Where you go I will go... your people will be my people, and
your God my God!"; (3) her loving care for Naomi, shown by her willingness to
glean in the fields -- to do hard physical labor to support those whom she
Ruth is genuinely surprised when she comes to the attention of
her wealthy near-kinsman Boaz: "At this, she bowed down with her face to the
ground. She exclaimed, 'Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice
me -- a foreigner?' " (Rth 2:10). Nowhere is Ruth described as physically
beautiful -- and she may or may not have been "beautiful" in the conventional
sense. But there is plainly a "beauty" of a spiritual order, which has nothing
to do with hair stylists and make-up kits and fashion catalogs, and Ruth has
that kind of "beauty" in abundance. And, whatever else she is, she is genuinely
modest. That is perhaps her greatest grace: she is unaffected -- she honestly
does not realize how attractive she is... how noble is her devotion to an older
woman... how exalted is her choice of an unseen God... how impressive is her
diligence in gleaning... how touching is her intelligent meekness and her
sincere thankfulness. There is no false pride in Ruth; she is the "real thing".
And so, as Bridges puts it, "the gracious woman retaineth
honour long after she has mingled with the dust" -- while, of course, no rich
man may retain his riches past the threshold of death!
Other examples of the gracious, and righteous and God-fearing,
woman: Sarah the obedient wife (1Pe 3:5,6); Deborah a "mother in Israel" (Jdg
4:4; 5:7); Hannah the consecrating mother (1Sa 1:28); Esther the brave queen;
Lois, and Eunice, and the "elect lady" (2Ti 1:5; 3:15; 2Jo 1:1-4); Phoebe and
her companions (Rom 16:2-6; Phi 4:3); the widow with her mites (Mar 12:42-44);
Mary in her quiet contemplation (Luk 10:39); and Dorcas in her active usefulness
BUT RUTHLESS MEN GAIN ONLY WEALTH: The Hebrew for
"ruthless" is "aritz"; this describes one who strikes terror into the hearts of
his victims. The term refers to a ruthless person who uses violence to overcome
his victims (BDB 792), and who seeks out his own rights and wishes without
regard to the rights of others, and even without empathy or mercy (cp Isa 13:11;
"Here the sexes are put in beautiful apposition: woman is
gracious, man is strong. Graciousness dissociated from strength has indeed an
influence all its own; strength dissociated from graciousness is mere strength,
and is wanting in all those attributes which excite and satisfy the deepest
confidences of the world. A woman can work miracles by her graciousness. She
knows how to enter the sick chamber noiselessly. She knows how to enter the room
without violence, ostentation, or impressiveness, which signifies vanity and
display. Woman can speak the gentle word, and look the gracious look, and use
the magical touch of friendship and trust, and, in short, can carry her own way
without appearing to do so by the very force of tenderness, sympathy, and
"Who would raise the foolish question whether grace or
strength is the more desirable attribute? Each is desirable in its own way; a
combination that is the very perfection of character. Strength and beauty are in
the house of the Lord. The great column looks all the better for the beautiful
capital which crowns and enriches it. Men should endeavour to cultivate grace,
tenderness, all that is charmful in spirit, disposition, and action. This cannot
be done by mere mimicry; it is to be done by living continually with Christ,
studying his spirit, entering into all his purposes, and reproducing, not
mechanically, but spiritually, as much as possible of all that was distinctive
of his infinite character. The Bible has ever given honour to woman. He is a
fool and an unjust man who wishes to keep women in silence, obscurity, and in a
state of unimportance; and she is a foolish woman who imagines that she cannot
be gracious without being strong, and who wishes to sacrifice her graciousness
to some empty reputation for worthless energy. It is not good for the man to be
alone, for he is without grace; it is not good for the woman to be alone, for
she is without strength; when men and women stand [with] one another in the
right Christian relation they will complete one another, and together constitute
the Divine idea of humanity" (Parker, BI).
RR grasps this same dichotomy, or division of influence and
spheres of activity, when he writes: "There is congruity in all the ways of God
when the relations established by His law are observed. Man is the head, but
only for nurture and protection and honour of the woman. Woman is man's equal
fellow-heir of the salvation that is offered in Christ, but not to usurp the
position that belongs to a man both by natural constitution and divine
appointment. Man is for STRENGTH, judgment, and achievement. Woman is for GRACE,
sympathy and ministration. Between them, they form a beautiful unit -- 'heirs
together of the grace of life' " (LM 220).
"Two additional lines are found in the LXX, but they do not
seem to provide the full sense... The LXX adds: 'She who hates virtue makes a
throne for dishonor, [but] the idle will be destitute of means.' The NEB follows
this and inserts the readings. CH Toy thinks that the MT records remnants but
that the LXX does not provide the full meaning" (EBC). Likewise, other students
of the text seem to think there is no solid reason for accepting the LXX reading
Proverbs of mercifulness and unmercifulness: Pro 11:17; 12:10;
14:21; 19:17; 21:13.
A KIND MAN BENEFITS HIMSELF, BUT A CRUEL MAN BRINGS TROUBLE
ON HIMSELF: Although the NIV translates both words by the same "himself",
they are two very different words in the Hebrew. The AV translates: "The
merciful man doeth good to his own soul [Heb 'nephesh']: but he that is cruel
troubleth his own flesh [Heb 'she'er']." "Whybray interprets the whole saying in
a social sense: 'The point of the proverb is that one's behaviour towards
others, whether good or bad, has unintended or unexpected consequences for
oneself.' He considers vv 18–21 as a development of this verse"
A KIND MAN BENEFITS HIMSELF: "A kind man" is,
literally, "a man of kindness ['khesed']." "Khesed", or "chesed" is a lovely
word -- it is often translated "lovingkindness", and sometimes "mercy", although
it is, strictly speaking, about much more than forgiveness of sins. A righteous
man will show "kindness" or "khesed" because God has shown "kindness" or
"khesed" to him first. And then... because he shows "khesed" to others, God will
CONTINUE to show "khesed" to him ("Blessed are the merciful, for they will be
shown mercy": Mat 5:7; cp Mat 18:23-35; Luk 6:38; Heb 6:10; Psa 41:1-4;
"Khesed" should also be seen as a kind of religious technical
term, with special reference to God's Covenants of Promise (Psa 6:4; 18:50;
115:1; 2Sa 7:15; 1Ki 8:23; etc). It is also translated "steadfast love" -- this
second alternative gives some sense of the sureness of God's commitment to His
Promises. In this sense, of "covenant love", the word is often associated with
another technical term -- "truth" (Gen 24:27; 32:9,10; Mic 7:20; Psa 40:10;
85:10; 89:14,24,28,49; etc). "Khesed" emphasized God's special gift of
deliverance from tribulations because of His promises. In the NT the function of
"khesed" is more or less taken over by "grace". Of course, forgiveness of sins
is involved in the term, because the Promises are outstanding in their
assurances of forgiveness: how can Abraham and his multitudinous "seed" inherit
any land for ever if they do not have eternal life? and how can any man have
eternal life without having his sins forgiven? (The associated word
"bless/blessing" has this idea also: Acts 3:25,26; Gal 3:8.)
Examples: Joseph in prison (Gen 40:6), Job praying for his
friends (Job 42:10), the Kenites (1Sa 15:6), David and the Egyptian slave (1Sa
30:11-20), David's conduct to Jonathan (2Sa 9:7; 21:7), the widow of Zarephath
(1Ki 17:9,10), the woman of Shunem (2Ki 4:8-16; 8:1-6), the centurion to the
Jews (Luk 7:2-10), and the people of Malta to Paul (Acts 28:1-10).
BUT A CRUEL MAN BRINGS TROUBLE ON HIMSELF: "Cruel" (Heb
"akzariy" -- sig "violent, or deadly") is the counterpart of (although not the
sw as) "ruthless" of v 16 -- establishing a kind of link between that verse and
this (just as the "gracious woman" of v 16 answers to the "kind man" of this
verse). "Trouble" is, interestingly, "achar" (to entangle, to throw into
disorder or confusion; to bring ruin); this word may be intended to recall (1)
the man Achan -- a "troubler" of Israel -- and the Valley of Achor (Jos
7:25,26); and (2) the charge that Elijah flung back at Ahab -- that he, Ahab,
was the true "troubler [sw 'achar'] of Israel" (1Ki 18:17,18; cp 1Ki 22:38; 2Ki
9:36,37). The man who is cruel to others -- who does not show mercy or kindness
to them (Isa 32:7) -- will bring like retribution on himself (and quite likely
on his own family as well: Pro 15:27): he will not be shown mercy or kindness by
other men when he is most in need of it, and he cannot expect mercy or kindness
from his God when he most surely needs it (Jam 2:13; 5:1-5)!
Examples: Cain in killing his brother Abel (Gen 4:13,14),
Joseph's brethren (Gen 37; 42:21), Adonibezek (Jdg 1:6,7), Agag (1Sa 15:33),
Joab (1Ki 2:5), and the ubiquitous Haman (Est 9:25).
"(a) The merciful man will obtain mercy from other men: We
never know in what straits the future may find us. Proud in our independence
today, we may be in abject need before long, or at least in circumstances which
make our welfare largely dependent on others. We are so much members one of
another that it is not for our own good that we should injure one another. He is
in the most precarious position who has provoked enemies by his cruelty. Let him
beware of the turn of the tide of fortune. The tyrant calls forth the assassin.
Employers who grind down their work people cause that very indifference to their
interests of which they complain. If generosity wins friendship, surely it is a
valuable grace. None love so much as they who have been forgiven much.
"(b) The merciful man will obtain mercy from God: This is an
absolute principle the importance of which is too little recognized. In the OT
God tells us that he desires 'mercy, and not sacrifice' (Hos 6:6); ie, that the
practice of the former, rather than the offering of the latter, is the ground of
acceptance by him. Christ signalizes mercy by giving it a place in the
Beatitudes, and saying that the blessing of the merciful is that they shall
obtain mercy (Mat 5:7); calls upon us to love our enemies (Mat 5:44); inserts in
his model prayer one sole condition -- that God 'forgives us our debts as we
have forgiven our debtors' (Mat 6:12); and tells us that our offerings to God
must be preceded by our forgiveness of men (Mat 5:23,24). Therefore the cruel
man troubleth his own flesh, for he excludes himself from the enjoyment of God's
mercy -- the one essential of his eternal welfare" (Pulpit).
THE WICKED MAN EARNS DECEPTIVE WAGES, BUT HE WHO SOWS
RIGHTEOUSNESS REAPS A SURE REWARD: "A wordplay occurs between 'deceptive'
('shaqer') and 'reward' ('sekher'), underscoring the contrast by the repetition
of sounds. The wages of the wicked are deceptive; the reward of the righteous is
Cp Pro 10:2: "Ill-gotten treasures are of no value, but
righteousness delivers from death." And Pro 10:16: "The wages of the righteous
bring them life, but the income of the wicked brings them punishment." And Pro
11:4: "The righteous will never be uprooted, but the wicked will not remain in
the land." This rather general idea of retribution finds more specific
expression in the assertions of numerous Psalms and Proverbs that the way of the
righteous will prosper while the way of the wicked will perish (cf, eg, Psa 1;
32; 37; 128; Pro 13:21). But this is not necessarily true, and certainly not
immediately true, in this life only -- as Job and his "miserable comforters"
learned. The "mills" of God grind slow, but they grind exceeding fine; and many
real rewards and punishments await the return of Christ and the great judgment.
THE WICKED MAN EARNS DECEPTIVE WAGES: "Wages of
deception" could be either (a) "wages earned by deceiving others" -- dishonesty,
deceptive practices, misrepresentations, false advertising, insincere promises,
etc, or (b) "wages which are deceptive to the one who earns them" -- ie, which
cannot last, and cannot provide the "security" he desires (Pro 10:2; 23:5; cp
the rich man and his bigger barns, in Luk 12:15-21). "It is not real, what a bad
man gains" (Moffatt).
Illustrations of the wicked whose "gains" were not truly gains
after all: (a) Pharaoh attempted to decimate Israel, but this resulted in their
increase and ultimately in his own destruction; (b) Abimelech expected peace as
a result of his murderous work, but was disappointed (Jdg 9:22-51); (c) Ahab
expected rest from getting rid of Naboth, but was also disappointed (1Ki 21:19);
(d) Gehazi planned to enrich himself, but received leprosy instead (2Ki 5:21);
(e) Caiaphas sought by expedient murder to save the nation, but instead brought
about its ruin (Joh 11:50-52); (f) the Jews persecuted the Church at Jerusalem,
but this led to the greater diffusion of the gospel (Acts 8).
BUT HE WHO SOWS RIGHTEOUSNESS REAPS A SURE REWARD: To
"sow" righteousness is not just to practice righteousness, but to do so in such
a way that others learn by one's example, and strive to practice the same
righteousness themselves. Thus what is "sown" will yield, in the time of
harvest, the fruit of righteousness (cp Hos 10:12; 1Co 9:11; 2Co 9:6; Jam 3:18;
Psa 126:5,6). Christ's parable of the sower (Mat 13:1-23) suggests the picture
of one who "sows" righteousness; by contrast, his following parable, about the
wheat and tares (Mat 13:24-30,36-43), is a picture of one who "sows"
unrighteousness (cp Pro 22:8; Hos 8:7; Gal 6:7,8).
Illustrations of righteous sowing yielding a reward: the
patient continuance in well-doing of Noah, Abraham, and Joseph; and Paul's
sowing in tears, eg, at Philippi (Acts 16), with his joyous reaping, as his
letter to the Philippians demonstrates. The reward is eternal -- "a crown of
righteousness that fadeth not away".
Good and righteous and faithful deeds will be rewarded -- that
is, will bring a "wage" or "recompense" (Isa 40:10; 62:11; Jer 31:16). This is a
true principle, but it must be tempered by the recognition that it is impossible
for anyone to "earn" eternal life; this contrast is made plain in Paul's
oft-quoted words: "For the WAGES of sin is death, but the GIFT [not wages!] of
God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 6:23).
Another of the many proverbs that speak of the happiness of
the righteous, and the misery of the wicked: Pro 10:6,9,16,24,25,27-30;
11:3,5-8,18-21,31; 12:2,3,7,13,14,21,26,28; 13:6,9,14,15,21,22,25;
14:11,14,19,32; 15:6,8,9,24,26,29; 20:7; 21:12,15,16,18,21; 22:12; 28:10,18;
THE TRULY RIGHTEOUS MAN ATTAINS LIFE, BUT HE WHO PURSUES
EVIL GOES TO HIS DEATH: Following on from v 18, Solomon describes the two
paths that lead through life, but in completely opposite directions. While the
final destinies of the righteous and of the wicked are certainly in view here,
the full quality of life may also be considered. A life lived toward God and
occupied in serving others is a full, satisfying, and rewarding life -- even
now. This is the import of Jesus' words in Joh 10:10: "I have come that they may
have life, and have it TO THE FULL." And Paul writes, "Godliness has value for
all things, holding promise for both THE PRESENT LIFE and the life to come" (1Ti
4:8). On the other hand, a life lived in the vain pursuit of some ever-receding
sinful "pleasure" is a life of frustration, disillusion, disappointment, and
terrible waste: she "who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives" (1Ti
5:6) -- for she (or he) is dead in sins and transgressions (Eph 2:1).
THE TRULY RIGHTEOUS MAN ATTAINS LIFE: There is some
generally recognized difficulty in translating this first phrase. For starters,
the AV takes the Hebrew "ken" as a comparison, signifying "as": thus, "AS
righteousness tendeth to life..." But other versions interpret the same word as
meaning "true, honest, right, or steadfast" (KD, EBC, and WBC agree with this):
thus the RSV (along with the ASV) has: "He has is STEADFAST in righteousness..."
and the NIV has "the TRULY righteous man..." Then again, the LXX has: "a
righteous SON is born for life." This reading was arrived at by taking the MT
"ken" as "ben" (son) instead -- a very simple change, one way or the other.
Another alternative, followed by some scholars, is to read "ken" as "kan" or
"kun" (to strive after, to pursue): ie, "the man who STRIVES after life attains
it" -- thus bringing the first phrase more in line with the second. Of course,
none of these possibilities changes the meaning appreciably.
Cp, generally, Pro 10:16: "The wages of the righteous bring
them life, but the income of the wicked brings them punishment." Pro 10:27: "The
fear of the LORD adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut
short." Pro 12:28: "In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path
is immortality." And Pro 21:21: "He who pursues righteousness and love finds
life, prosperity [or 'righteousness'] and honor."
BUT HE WHO PURSUES EVIL GOES TO HIS DEATH: "But the one
who pursues evil pursues it to his own death" (NET). And, furthermore, he WILL
BE PURSUED BY "misfortune" (Pro 13:21) -- the pursuer becomes the pursued!
"He who 'pursueth evil' may overtake it, and may boast himself
in the success of his pursuit. But the very evil that he overtakes shall slay
him. It is as if a man were to pursue a serpent, captivated by the beauty of its
appearance, in its shifting and glistening hues, but ignorant of the venom of
its sting, or its fang, and in the act of laying hold of it, were to receive the
deadly wound. Death treads on the very heels of the man who 'pursueth evil'; and
when he overtakes the evil, death overtakes him" (Wardlaw, BI). "After desire
has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives
birth to death" (Jam 1:15; cp Rom 2:8,9).
The practical illustration of this phrase is the story of the
young man seeking out the company of the adulterous woman. This occupies a good
portion of the early chapters of Proverbs (see esp Pro 7:22,23: "he followed her
like an ox going to the slaughter... little knowing it would cost him his
THE LORD DETESTS MEN OF PERVERSE HEART: "Detests", or
"abhors" (NET), is the Heb "towebah". In its related forms, it occurs 21 times
in Proverbs: "[it] describes what is abominable to humankind or Yahweh...
Several instances of 'towebah' simply express the loathing a person feels toward
something offensive. A righteous person detests falsehood (Pro 8:7), the scoffer
(Pro 24:9), and the unjust (Pro 29:27). Fools loathe the upright person (Pro
29:27) and the thought of departing from evil (Pro 13:19), and they treasure
'towebah' in their heart (Pro 26:25). The phrase 'towebath yhwh' (12 times)
delineates practices repugnant to Yahweh (Pro 3:32; 11:1,20; 12:22; 15:8,9,26;
16:5; 17:15; 20:10,23): perversity, misrepresentation (false weights and
measures), deceit, hypocrisy, wickedness, and pride" (NIDOTTE).
PERVERSE: Hebrew "iqqesh": crooked, distorted, twisted
(sw Pro 2:15; 8:8). "The adjective 'iqqesh' has the basic nuance 'twisted;
crooked', and by extension refers to someone or something that is morally
perverse. It appears frequently in Proverbs, where it is used of evil people
(Pro 22:5), speech (Pro 8:8; 19:1), thoughts (Pro 11:20; 17:20) and life styles
(Pro 2:15; 28:6). A righteous king opposes such people (Psa 101:4). 2Sa 22:26,27
affirm God's justice. He responds to people in accordance with their moral
character. His response mirrors their actions. The faithful and blameless find
God to be loyal and reliable in His dealings with them. But deceivers discover
He is able and willing to use deceit to destroy them" (NETn).
BUT HE DELIGHTS IN THOSE WHOSE WAYS ARE BLAMELESS:
Notice that this verse does not say that God delights in the WAYS of the
blameless, but rather in THOSE whose ways are blameless! "It is not their way,
but themselves, that are His delight... What a word of encouragement this ought
to be to those who are honestly seeking Him!" (Evans, BI). "He is not said to
delight in their way (though this is an undoubted truth). They themselves are
His delight (Pro 12:22; Psa 84:11). He singles them out from the ungodly world
(Gen 7:1; Num 14:24)... Such is the condescension of His sovereign love"
DELIGHTS: "The noun ['delight' = Heb 'ratsown'] means
'goodwill, favor, acceptance, will'; it is related to the verb 'ratsah' which
means 'to be pleased with; to accept favorably'. These words are used frequently
in scripture to describe what pleases the LORD, meaning, what He accepts. In
particular, sacrifices offered properly find acceptance with God (Psa 51:19).
[Further, cp Lev 1:3; 19:5; 22:19–21; Isa 56:7; 58:5; Jer 6:20; Lev 1:4;
7:18; Isa 60:7; Jer 14:12; Hos 8:13; Amos 5:22; Mic 6:7.] Here the lifestyle
that is blameless pleases Him" (NETn). God is pleased with His servant (Isa
42:1), with David (1Ch 28:4), with those who trust God rather than other sources
of power (Psa 147:10,11), with uprightness (1Ch 29:17; Pro 11:20; 12:22), with
justice (Pro 11:1), with a joyful life (Ecc 9:7), with the prayer of the upright
(Pro 15:8), and with the rebuilding of the temple (Hag 1:8).
BLAMELESS: Hebrew "tamim" -- entire, complete, ie,
characterized by integrity and truth (sw Pro 1:12; 2:21; 11:5).
BE SURE OF THIS: THE WICKED WILL NOT GO UNPUNISHED: The
first part of this phrase is, literally, "hand in hand" -- in the sense of
making or confirming an agreement. And the NIV takes this as simply the writer's
confirmation to the reader: "Be sure of this..." -- ie, 'You have my word for
it...' (Cp also RSV: "Be assured..." and NET: "Be assured that...")
But the AV renders "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall
not be unpunished." The same phrase occurs in Pro 16:5. Striking hands, or
joining hands, signifies making or confirming an agreement, as in Pro 6:1,3;
11:15 (cp also 2Sa 14:19, where David asks, "Isn't the hand of Joab with you in
all this?"). So the LXX -- confirming the general usage -- has: "He that
UNJUSTLY strikes hands [making, presumably, a wicked agreement] shall not be
unpunished." In other words, 'Even if you have accomplices in your wicked plans,
they will not necessarily be successful.'
"Though [the wicked] give the hand to one another, unite in
their counsels, enter into combinations, confederacies, and strict alliances,
and join all their force and strength together; or though with both hands, with
all their might and main, [they] endeavour to secure themselves, yet they shall
not go unpunished" (Gill). Furthermore, Edward White speaks of what is now
called the "mob mentality": "There is a special delusion which attends the
combinations in which men seek to... unite their forces in order to accomplish
their ends. This delusion consists in mistaking joint responsibility for divided
responsibility. The persuasion is extended widely that union is not only
strength in administration and enterprise, but that it distributes the
oppressive burden of responsibility in equal or nearly equal and insignificant
shares between all the persons who are joined together in any undertaking; so
that although the practical result of their united action may be morally
indefensible, or even utterly wicked and injurious, no single person can be
justly blamed, or rendered accountable for the whole criminality of the result
-- since the wickedness has been effected by an organisation or administration
consisting of numbers of agents who have assisted or consented in the work. [And
so] even well-disposed men will sometimes agree to do in company what they would
not dare to do as individuals" (BI).
The first, and perhaps the most powerful, example of this
folly is the conspiring of wicked men to build the Tower of Babel: "Then they
said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the
heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the
face of the whole earth' " (Gen 11:4). As if to say, 'Let us all work together
in this evil undertaking, and Almighty God will not be able to stand against us,
or undo what we do!' -- which of course was the plainest idiocy. And surely the
most important such "joining of hands" to do wickedness was when Jew and Gentile
-- Caiaphas and Herod and Pilate -- "joined their power" against the Son of God
(Acts 4:25-28; Psa 2:1,2) -- but all to no avail.
History has witnessed many such "joinings of hands" by lawless
mobs bent on wicked enterprises: lynchings of blacks in the American South
during the last part of the 19th and the first part of the 20th centuries,
"pogroms" directed against Russian Jews in the latter 19th century, the terrible
persecutions culminating in the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, and racial and tribal
violence -- so called "ethnic cleansings" -- in Muslim Europe and
Finally, there will yet be at least one more evil confederacy,
when "the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to
make war against the rider on the horse and his army" -- a coalition will not
profit those who join it, because it will be conspiring against the God of
heaven (Rev 19:19-21).
WILL NOT GO UNPUNISHED: "The verb 'naqah' means 'to be
clean; to be empty... to be free of guilt; to be innocent', and therefore "to be
exempt from punishment" (BDB 667). Cp sw Exo 21:19; Psa 19:13; Jer 2:35; 25:29;
49:12. Here, as we see, it is put in the negative: the wicked will NOT be free,
or escape punishment.
BUT THOSE WHO ARE RIGHTEOUS: Literally, the "seed of
the righteous". This could of course mean the real descendants of the righteous
(eg Psa 37:25,26; 112:1,2), or it could be taken, more idiomatically, to mean
simply a class of people who are -- in this case -- righteous (cp Psa 24:6; Isa
1:4; 65:23): eg, the spiritual "seed" of Abraham (Joh 8:39; Gal 3:7,27-29). Or,
again, it could be taken, as the LXX puts it, "he that SOWS righteousness..." --
cp with v 18n.
WILL GO FREE: Hebrew "malat": to slip away, to escape
(sw 2Sa 4:6; 1Sa 23:13; 1Ki 19:17). Here, and in other places, the same word
means particularly to escape the divine punishment that will come upon the
wicked (Pro 19:5; 28:26).
Proverbs of good and bad women, or wives: Pro 11:16,22; 12:4;
14:1; 18:22; 19:13,14; 21:9,19; 25:24; 27:15,16. With this verse -- which may be
subtitled, "Beauty and the beast"! -- compare Pro 31:30: "Charm is deceptive,
and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be
LIKE A GOLD RING IN A PIG'S SNOUT IS A BEAUTIFUL WOMAN WHO
SHOWS NO DISCRETION: What an extraordinary figure, but how appropriate! The
grotesque hyperbole and surrealism of the simile produce the humor here, but
humor in a serious vein. Two similes are presented: (1) a gold ring is compared
to a beautiful woman: lovely, sparkling, arousing attention and admiration and
even desire; and (2) a pig's snout is compared to a lack of "discretion"
(judgment, wisdom, virtue). It is a fascinating picture that practically
explains itself. Especially to a Jew trained in the Law of Moses (Lev 11:7; Deu
14:8), the pig was a symbol of all that was base, ignoble, distasteful, or
reprehensible. Whether the word refers to a wild boar (Psa 80:13) or to a
domesticated pig (Lev 11:7; Isa 65:4), both were regarded negatively as unclean,
and as the coarsest of animals. The reference to the snout itself (where the
gold ring would be affixed) evokes the notion of the pig's obnoxious habit of
eating garbage and endlessly rooting about in mud and filth -- as well as of its
insensibility to what is valuable (for which see Mat 7:6: "Do not throw your
pearls to pigs"). Its irrationality and esthetic blindness tarnishes the
precious ornament and inevitably wastes it.
A key feature of the figure of speech is the relative size of
those things being compared. A gold ring may be extraordinarily beautiful, just
like the outward appearance of a beautiful woman. But the old saying is true
here: "Beauty is only skin-deep". The gold ring may weigh a few ounces at most,
and on the other side of the "scales", so to speak, we must put a gross, filthy,
disgusting, waddling, grunting, stinking 600-pound "abomination" of a beast...
and with that is compared the lack of "discretion" of the woman. And when the
relative sizes of the beautiful and the abominable are considered, then one gets
a sense of how the mere "accident" of physical beauty compares, in terms of
relative worth and merit, to "discretion" or the lack thereof. As the tiny gold
snout ring is practically swallowed up, forgotten and lost in the snorting,
rooting, utter swinishness of its "setting", so mere "beauty" is totally
overwhelmed by the ugly, stupid, thoughtless character of the indiscreet woman.
What a pity and a great waste, that what promises much should be reduced in
value to nothing (cp, eg, Jud 1:12: clouds without rain, trees without fruit). A
swine wallowing in the mire is not a creature anyone would kiss. Why then would
a man embrace a worthless heart simply because it is covered by a fair
Another powerful point in the proverb is this: amazing as it
may seem, the foul and smelly "beast" -- that is, the indiscretion in the
beautiful woman -- may actually not be noticed for a little while. But, once it
is noticed, it can never be ignored again. It is, not to mix metaphors too
seriously, like the elephant in the living room -- once you see it, you can
thereafter see nothing else! It dwarfs and destroys everything else. And so is a
beautiful woman who, the first time she opens her mouth, reveals her vile and
disgusting character. Once this aspect is experienced, how can she ever be
looked at again in the same light as she was the first time?
A GOLD RING: This translation is better than a "jewel
of gold" (AV) or an "earring of gold" (LXX). The Hebrew is "nezem" -- a nose
ring (Gen 24:22,47; cp Isa 3:21; Eze 16:12) -- quite common in the Middle
DISCRETION: Heb "ta'am", signifying "taste." The term
can refer to physical taste (Exo 16:31; Num 11:8; Job 6:6), intellectual
discretion (1Sa 25:33: as Abigail), or ethical judgment (Psa 119:66; Pro
What is discretion? Here is a marvelous quality, for lacking
it can turn a beautiful woman into an ugly pig! Discretion is the ability to
discern or distinguish what is right, fitting, or advisable for one's own
conduct. It is propriety of behavior; civility; courtesy; judicious, prudent,
circumspect, and cautious conduct. Especially it is the ability to be silent
when speech would be improper. Discretion is the ability to be proper at all
times, in all situations. Discretion is part of wisdom (Pro 1:4; 2:10-17; 3:21;
5:1,2; Gen 41:33,39). Discretion is generosity to others (Psa 112:5). It rejects
the wicked conduct of others (Pro 2:10-17). It rules one's spirit to control
anger (Pro 19:11). It knows how each situation calls for different conduct (Isa
28:23-29). It is the prudent application of wisdom to one's speech and actions.
Here -- given the subject of the beautiful woman -- the lack
of discretion probably means that she has no moral sensibility, no propriety, no
restraint, no good taste -- she is unchaste. Her beauty is all for show; if used
at all, it will be used for the wrong, if not immoral, purposes. In fact, the
woman described in this verse bears an uncanny resemblance to the Woman Folly in
the earlier vignettes of Proverbs (cp Pro 7:10,11; 9:13). And so it is easy to
compare this verse with: (a) Eze 16:15-22, where beauty and fine jewelry and
luxurious clothes become the tools of the prostitute; (b) Nah 3:4-6, where
prostitution is compared with wallowing in filth; and esp (c) Pro 26:11
alongside 2Pe 2:22 ("A sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the
THE DESIRE OF THE RIGHTEOUS ENDS ONLY IN GOOD, BUT THE HOPE
OF THE WICKED ONLY IN WRATH: Once again, the absolute truth of this proverb
is not to be questioned or doubted, BUT... the ultimate time-period, so far as
this life and this world are concerned, will be necessary before it will finally
come true. This is what we call "Proverbs time": God's will WILL be done! Though
nations fall and others nations rise, though generation follows generation,
though multitudes of skeptics, scoffers, and silly sinners laughingly ask,
"Where is the promise of his coming?" (2Pe 3:3,4), God's will WILL, finally and
inexorably, be done! "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the
Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The
Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is
patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to
repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will
disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and
everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this
way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives
as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring
about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the
heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and
a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are
looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and
at peace with him" (2Pe 3:8-14).
Matthew Henry categorizes this proverb under "Proverbs of
mischievousness and usefulness: Pro 10:10,23; 11:9-11,23,27; 12:5,6,12,18,20;
13:2; 14:22; 16:29,30; 17:11; 21:10; 24:8; 26:23,27." This characterization of
Pro 11:23 seems to assume that the verse means -- more in line with the AV (and
ASV) translation -- that the desire of the righteous is only TO DO good, while
the hope of the wicked is only TO BRING wrath on others. And that is a fair
enough assessment, and may even be discernible in the text itself -- although
this writer feels that the NIV rendering (supported by the RSV and the NET),
which is followed here, is the more reasonable understanding of the verse. But
of course, since the righteous are those who desire to do good, then it does
follow that God will finally do good to them -- and contrariwise, on both
scores, for the wicked.
THE DESIRE OF THE RIGHTEOUS ENDS ONLY IN GOOD: "What
the righteous desire leads only to good" (NET). "Desire" is "ta'avah", a longing
or a craving. The word can refer to the desires or lusts of the wicked, as in
references to Israel's desire for special foods in the desert (Num 11:4; Psa
78:29,30; 106:14); the word is picked up as a part of the place name, Kibroth
Hattaavah (Num 11:34,35; 33:16,17), "Graves of Lust, or Craving," so named to
commemorate that event. But "ta'avah" can also refer to the lawful and blessed
desires of the righteous, and the righteously afflicted: "All my longings [sw]
lie open before you, O LORD" (Psa 38:9). "You hear, O Lord, the desire [sw] of
the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry" (Pro 10:17).
"What the righteous desire [sw] will be granted" (Pro 10:24).
And what exactly do -- should! -- the righteous desire? Psa
27:4 provides perhaps the best answer: "One thing I ask of the LORD, this is
what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple." "Whom have I
in heaven but you, O LORD? And earth has nothing I desire besides you" (Psa
73:24). And so... "delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires
of your heart" (Psa 37:4). "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for
righteousness, for they will be filled" (Mat 5:6).
BUT THE HOPE OF THE WICKED ONLY IN WRATH: "But what the
wicked hope for leads to wrath" (NET). "Hope" is "tiqvah", a word which can have
wonderfully positive connotations (eg, Hos 2:15; Zec 9:12; Pro 23:18; 24:14;
etc), but -- when attached to "the wicked" -- can result only to frustration,
confusion, and meaninglessness: "The hopes of the wicked come to nothing" (Pro
10:28). "When a wicked man dies, his hope perishes; all he expected from his
power comes to nothing" (Pro 11:7).
"Wrath" is "ebrah", an outburst, a pouring out, or a flowing
over -- it is derived from the Heb "eber" (to cross over). It suggests that the
divine wrath may be restrained for a while, as wine is held in a cup (Jer
25:150-28; Rev 16), as a river is dammed up, or as rain waters are stored up in
the storm clouds, but that ultimately it will be poured out, and flow forth, and
inundate the wicked in a flood of destruction. "If we deliberately keep on
sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins
is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will
consume the enemies of God" (Heb 10:26,27). And thus "a shameful servant incurs
[the king's] wrath [sw]" (Pro 14:35). [The LXX, pointing the vowels differently,
reads "shall perish" for "wrath"; the meaning is scarcely changed.]
If unrepentant sinners should view their most brilliant
accomplishments in the light of eternity, they would find them to be as lasting
and as valuable as bursting bubbles. Alexander the Great was not satisfied, even
when he had completely subdued the nations. He wept because there were no more
worlds to conquer, and he died at an early age in a state of debauchery.
Hannibal, who filled three bushels with the gold rings taken from the knights he
had slaughtered, committed suicide by swallowing poison. Few noted his passing,
and he left this earth completely unmourned. Julius Caesar, "staining his
garments in the blood of one million of his foes", conquered 800 cities, only to
be stabbed by his best friends at the scene of his greatest triumph. Napoleon,
the feared conqueror, after being the scourge of Europe, spent his last years in
banishment. No wonder Solomon warned of the poor prospects for anyone who
strives to succeed without relying on God.
Vv 24-31: "A deathblow seems struck at selfishness in the
following verses. They open with a maxim expressly framed to startle souls and
call for reflection. But the more the words are weighed, their certainty appears
all the clearer and the more important" (Kelly). And JFB comments: "The scope of
the whole of vv 24-31 is a comment on Pro 11:23. Thus liberality, by God's
blessing, secures increase, while penuriousness, instead of expected gain,
Proverbs of charity to the poor, and uncharitableness: Pro
11:24-26; 14:31; 17:5; 22:9,16,22,23; 28:27; 29:7.
ONE MAN GIVES FREELY, YET GAINS EVEN MORE; ANOTHER
WITHHOLDS UNDULY, BUT COMES TO POVERTY: "Generosity determines prosperity in
God's economy... The verse uses hyperbole to teach that giving to charity does
not make anyone poor, and neither does refusal to give ensure prosperity"
(NETn). This is also the lesson of the parable of the talents: the servant who
"put the money to work", so as to gain more, are rewarded; but those who hoard
and hide their money are punished (Mat 25:14-30).
The AV has, more literally, "There is that scattereth, and yet
increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to
poverty." The writer uses the analogy of the farmer, who must take his precious
seed grain and commit it to the earth again; he must give it back to the ground,
and to God, in hope and expectation of reaping a harvest in time to come (Psa
126:5,6). Simply put, to be a farmer means to have faith -- in the orderly
progression of the seasons, in the sun, in the clouds that bring rain... in
short, in God Himself, who controls all these natural phenomena. And so the
planting of seed, in hope, is like an offering to the "Lord of the harvest" (cp
And this, the parable of the farmer, provides the foundation
for the lesson here -- which has little to do with crops and planting, but all
to do with kindness and generosity of spirit and willingness to serve others. In
God's "economy", just as on the farm, one must give in order to gain: "Blessed
is the man who fears the LORD... Good will come to him who is generous and lends
freely... He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness
endures forever" (Psa 112:1,5,9). "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn
away from the one who wants to borrow from you" (Mat 5:42). "Remember this:
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously
will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart
to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all
times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is
written: 'He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness
endures forever' [Psa 112:9]" (2Co 9:6-9; cp 2Co 8:1-5; Phi 4:17-19). Generosity
to the poor is also encouraged in Pro 19:17; 22:9,16; 28:22; 29:7; Deu 15:10;
Ecc 11:1,2; and Acts 11:29,30. And the observation that people will reap what
they sow (Pro 11:18; Hos 8:7; Gal 6:7) tends to the same admonition and
OT illustrations of this principle: (a) Abraham, who gave away
a tenth of everything to God's priest (Gen 14:20), was very rich, in spite of
moving six hundred miles from home, without a strategic plan, to a strange land,
where he didn't know anyone or anything (Gen 13:2,6)! (b) His son Isaac -- who
was willing to give away his own life (Gen 22:8) -- had an annual return on
10,000% on his "portfolio" (Gen 26:12). (c) His son Jacob moved to a new country
with only a staff, but in twenty years he was so rich he could only travel in
two companies (Gen 32:10). What was his great secret for financial success? He
gave to God 10% of all his income (Gen 28:22). "Give, and it will be given to
you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be
poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you"
ANOTHER WITHHOLDS: Heb "chasak": to refrain, to refuse,
to hold back. In the sense of "hoarding", the issue is the failure to be
generous. Abraham passes God's examination here, for twice God hails him as one
who did not withhold [sw] his only son Isaac (Gen 22:12,16). Abraham's obedience
illustrates the first part of Pro 11:24 graphically: as a consequence of giving
freely, Abraham received promises about many descendants (Gen 22:17).
This phrase may be a follow-up on Pro 11:18: "The wicked man
earns deceptive wages." And James condemns those who "hold back" the lawful
wages of their employees: "Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of
the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten
your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify
against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last
days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are
crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the
Lord Almighty" (Jam 5:1-4). His language has caught the spirit of Christ's words
in Mat 6:19-21: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth
and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for
yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where
thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart
will be also."
"Israel once thought it was financially wise to build their
own houses first, but God blew against their efforts and put holes in the bags
where they kept their wages (Hag 1:1-11). He guaranteed them great success, if
they would put His cause first (Hag 2:13-19)... He told Israel He would open the
windows of heaven and pour out a blessing they could not receive, if they would
simply bring their tithes and offerings to Him (Mal 3:7-12)... RG LeTourneau
(1888-1969), a Christian man with little education, was one of our nation's
greatest inventors with 300 patents in earthmoving and other heavy equipment. He
and his plants produced 70% of the heavy earthmoving machines used by the Allies
during World War II. His rule for success? He gave 90% of all income back to the
LORD. His favorite verse? Mat 6:33. His philosophy and experience about giving?
'I shovel out the money, and God shovels it back to me -- but God has a bigger
shovel' " (LGBT).
"One would say that to scatter anything is to part with it
without advantage; and that to withhold, to keep back, is undoubtedly to save
and to retain. The text teaches that this may be quite a mistake on our part.
There is reckless scattering and there is wise withholding. The text is not to
be taken in its literalness; it is to be examined in its spirit. Happily we have
no need to go further in search of illustration of the truth of the text; we
find it on every farm, in every business, in every school. The text calls to
benevolent activity founded on religious faith. The doctrine enlarges and
glorifies life by calling into life elements and considerations which lie beyond
the present and the visible. The very exercise of scattering carries blessing
with it, breaks up the mastery of selfishness, and enlarges the circle of kindly
interests. Beneficence is its own compensation. Charity empties the heart of one
gift that it may make room for a larger. But if any man think to give God
something with the idea of having it back again, that man will be disappointed
and humiliated, and justly so. The other side of this text is as emphatic and as
often illustrated in practical life as the first. Selfishness is suicidal;
selfishness lives in gloom; selfishness injects poison into every stream of
life. Selfishness is most intensely selfish when it assumes the name of
prudence... God can turn the wicked man's very success into failure, and out of
selfish ambition He can bring the scorpion whose sting is death. Though this
text is found in the Old Testament, the principle is distinctly held by Jesus
Christ. It is a moral principle, universal and unchangeable in its force and
application" (Parker, BI).
The Jordan River flows south through the Sea of Galilee, and
then continues down the length of the Land of Israel on the east side. Thus the
Sea of Galilee takes in the river's fresh water on its north side, and sends out
its fresh water on the south side; what it receives it gives back. Consequently,
the sea (which is really a fresh-water lake) supports plenty of fish and is a
good source of water for irrigation and urban needs. It is living, and it is
On the other hand, the Dead Sea -- in the south of the Land of
Israel -- receives the Jordan's fresh water but does not give any away. It is
landlocked and in a great depression, and nothing flows out. Its salt
concentrations have long become so high that it cannot support any kind of life.
All around it is barren and forbidding landscape -- like the surface of the
moon. It is aptly named: it IS the "Dead Sea."
Too often we don’t want "living water" -- which
refreshes us and flows out to others also. We would rather have a cistern, or
tank, that is exclusively ours to dip into when we feel like it -- we don't want
to "share". But our "cisterns" are broken (cp Jer 2:13) and quite unable to
contain and preserve the refreshment we want to keep all to ourselves.
God's living water (Joh 4:14; 7:37,38) is for us to receive
and to pass on to others. The Sea of Galilee or the Dead Sea –- which
should WE be?
A GENEROUS MAN WILL PROSPER; HE WHO REFRESHES OTHERS WILL
HIMSELF BE REFRESHED: Cp v 17: "A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man
brings trouble on himself." Pro 19:17: "He who is kind to the poor lends to the
LORD, and he [the LORD] will reward him for what he has done." And Mat 5:7:
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."
A GENEROUS MAN WILL PROSPER: "A generous person" is,
literally, "nephesh berakah" -- "a soul of blessing"; KD translates "a liberal
soul". "Blessing" is used in the Bible to describe a "present" (Gen 33:11) or
"special favor" (Josh 15:19). "Prosper" is Heb "to grow fat". Drawing on the
standard comparison of fatness and abundance (Deu 32:15), the term means "to
become rich, prosperous".
"The Septuagint departs widely from the present text: 'A
passionate man is not graceful', ie, is ugly in appearance and manner -- a
sentiment which may be very true, but it is not clear how it found its way into
the passage" (Pulpit).
HE WHO REFRESHES OTHERS WILL HIMSELF BE REFRESHED:
Literally, "he that watereth shall be watered also himself." This phrase draws a
comparison between providing water for others with providing for those in need
(eg, Jer 31:25). Such a kind act will be reciprocated. "And if anyone gives even
a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I
tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward" (Mat 10:42; Mar
"We are here taught the great lesson, that to get, we must
give; that to accumulate, we must scatter; that to make ourselves happy, we must
make others happy; and that in order to become spiritually vigorous, we must
seek the spiritual good of others. In watering others, we are ourselves watered.
How? Our efforts to be useful, bring out our powers for usefulness. We have
latent talents and dormant faculties, which are brought to light by exercise.
Our strength for labour is hidden even from ourselves, until we venture forth to
fight the Lord's battles, or to climb the mountains of difficulty. We do not
know what tender sympathies we possess until we try to dry the widow's tears,
and soothe the orphan's grief. We often find in attempting to teach others, that
we gain instruction for ourselves. Oh, what gracious lessons some of us have
learned at sick beds! We went to teach the Scriptures, we came away blushing
that we knew so little of them. In our converse with poor saints, we are taught
the way of God more perfectly for ourselves and get a deeper insight into divine
truth. So that watering others makes us humble. We discover how much grace there
is where we had not looked for it; and how much the poor saint may outstrip us
in knowledge. Our own comfort is also increased by our working for others. We
endeavour to cheer them, and the consolation gladdens our own heart. Like the
two men in the snow; one chafed the other's limbs to keep him from dying, and in
so doing kept his own blood in circulation, and saved his own life. The poor
widow of Sarepta [1Ki 17:9] gave from her scanty store a supply for the
prophet's wants, and from that day she never again knew what want was. Give
then, and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, and running
over [Luk 6:38]" (CHS).
PEOPLE CURSE THE MAN WHO HOARDS GRAIN: "This proverb
reveals how a merchant's response to supply and demand will influence the
customer's opinion of him. Some merchants hoard up the produce to raise the
prices when there is a great need for the produce. Merchants must have a social
conscience, too" (EBC). One of the sins of the merchant, which Amos condemns, is
"boosting the price" (Amo 8:5) -- probably by hoarding, or "cornering the
market". In today's world, the oil-producing nations of the Middle East hoard
oil (or energy) so as to keep prices high -- and incur the anger and resentment
of Western countries, even while they must still go to them to buy. Thus Pro
28:20 promises that "one eager to get rich will not go unpunished."
"People" is "le'om" -- an archaic and poetic word (the
authorities say) used often in Psalms and Isaiah. According to NIDOTTE, the
singular form that occurs in the Proverbs (Pro 11:26; 14:28) "requires the
The one who "hoards" here may be compared with the one who
"withholds unduly" (v 24) -- although the Hebrew is not the same. The rich man
who foolishly builds bigger barns to hoard his grain (Luk 12:15-21) may be
withholding it from the market so as to drive up the price
BUT BLESSING CROWNS HIM WHO IS WILLING TO SELL:
Obviously, him who is willing to sell AT A FAIR PRICE! "Blessing" (Heb
"berakah") is sw v 25: the "man (or soul, 'nephesh') of blessing", that is, the
one who blesses others -- such a man will himself be "blessed" by his
neighbors... as he will be blessed by God.
The righteous Job "rescued the poor who cried for help." And
"the man who was dying ['ready to perish': AV] blessed [him]" (Job 29:12,13) --
presumably because he provided for them out of his wealth -- whether it was by
selling at a fair price, or by simply giving away, in an act of charity, we
Joseph, when promoted to power in Egypt, did just the opposite
of hoarding: indeed, he had stored up grain against the famine years, which he
knew were coming; but he had no intention of making a "killing" in the "market"!
Instead, he was ready and willing to open the storehouses and sell at fair
prices when the need arose (Gen 41:56; 42:6). And thus he justified the name
that Pharaoh gave him: "Savior of the world" (Gen 41:45).
"A man has a right to do the best he can for himself; the
best, even, for his own purse, though that is saying something very different
and MUCH LESS. But this right may soon be traversed. It is so crossed when a man
cannot go any further without injuring his brethren; that bars his way;
obligation limits claim. In other words, the claim of our fellow men is greater
far than that of our individual self. When the people are lacking bread, we may
not hold back our corn. God has given us our powers and our resources, not that
we may build up a fortune, but that we may be of true service in a world which
is full of need. To grow rich is not at all necessary to any one, and proves to
be a curse to multitudes; to feed the hungry, to minister to want and sorrow, to
still the cry of pain or perishing, to make glad the heart and bright the life,
that is the real privilege and heritage of man" (Clarkson, Pulpit).
"But if it bring a curse upon a man to withhold the bread that
perisheth, what a weight of curse will light upon the man who withholds the
bread of eternal life! And how can this be done? (1) By locking up the Word of
God in an unknown language, or by delivering and preaching it in such a style
that the people shall not comprehend it. [Such has been] the practice of the
Roman Church. But the terms of theology, the phrases of art, the definitions of
philosophy, the jargon of science, are an unknown tongue to the young godly
ploughmen, or praying shopkeepers. Simplicity is the authorised style of true
gospel ministry. [This was precisely the avowed purpose of the translator,
William Tyndale, who famously promised that he would see that the unlearned
farmer would know more about the Bible than the classically-trained priest!] (2)
By keeping back the most important and vital truths of revelation, and giving a
prominence to other things, which are but secondary... (3) By want of loving
zeal in our labour... and (4) By refusing to help those who are working for
HE WHO SEEKS GOOD FINDS GOODWILL, BUT EVIL COMES TO HIM WHO
SEARCHES FOR IT: One generally receives the consequences of the kind of life
he pursues, whether good or evil. Whether those consequences come quickly or
later in life, or whether they come after this life, in God's own "judgment"
time, or both -- this is all up to God Himself. But come they surely will!
"Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue
from evil and your lips from speaking lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek
peace and pursue it. The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are
attentive to their cry; the face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to
cut off the memory of them from the earth" (Psa 34:12-16; cited 1Pe
HE WHO SEEKS GOOD FINDS GOODWILL: The AV has: "He that
DILIGENTLY seeketh good procureth favour" -- where "diligently" means,
literally, "early in the morning" (Pro 27:14; Jer 7:13). That which is worth
doing, is worth doing early in the morning, before other distractions intervene.
Jesus surely catches the spirit of this attitude in Mat 6:33, when he says,
"Seek FIRST his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be
given to you as well."
"Man was never intended -- least of all the Christian -- to be
idle. Our Divine Master 'went about doing good' [Acts 10:38]; always in motion;
active in beneficence. And he is a counterfeit who does not live after this
pattern. Usefulness is everything. We must not rest in life received. We should
feel ashamed of our depravity, that we could ever spend a day without the great
object -- 'seeking good'. Nor must we wait to have it brought to us. We must
'seek in diligently', rise up early, and spring with joy to the work... Every
talent finds its suitable sphere, and may be 'put out to usury' with large
returns [Mat 25:27]... Let each of us try what we can do; and, whether it be
little or much, do it prayerfully, faithfully, heartily; not damped by trifling
hindrances (Ecc 11:4); nor making the incapacity of doing much an excuse for
doing nothing" (Bridges).
"Goodwill" is the Heb "ratsown" -- the sw as "favor" in Pro
8:35, "fitting" in Pro 10:32, and "delight" in Pro 11:1,20. It signifies that
which is "acceptable", especially to God, and related quite often to sacrifices
(cf Exo 28:38; Lev 19:5; 22:20,21,29; 23:11).
BUT EVIL COMES TO HIM WHO SEARCHES FOR IT: Instead of
"evil", the KJV has the old-fashioned "mischief" -- which to modern ears sound
like silly childish pranks, but in reality is a much, much more powerful term.
So those who seek to do "evil" to others will find that, sooner and later,
"evil" (meaning punishment, or calamity) will come upon them (cp Psa 7:15,16;
9:15,16; 57:6). "When men are ripe for slaughter, even straws turn into
thunderbolts," says an old Indian proverb. And thus says Johnson, "Every moral
action is a prophecy before the event; every moral result, a fulfilment of a
previous prophecy" (Pulpit).
Even in this life, and in limited ways, we often find what we
are looking for. [How many houses of righteous men and women did the young man
pass by, in his heedless search for the painted woman on the street corner (Pro
The train pulls into the small town, and a man gets off. He
approaches the old fellow sitting at the station, and says to him, "I'm thinking
of moving to this town. Can you tell me: what kind of people live here?" The old
fellow thinks for a moment, and then asks, "What kind of people lived in the
town you came from?" The man, without hesitation, says, "Oh! They were a
wretched lot -- they were liars, and hypocrites, and wicked, wicked people. I
was so happy to get away from them." The old man replies, "You'd better get
right back on the train then, because that's the sort of people you'll find
around here too."
The next day another train pulls into town, and another man
gets off. Approaching the same old fellow, he says, "I'm thinking of staying in
this town. Can you tell me what kind of people live here?" To which comes the
response: "What kind of people lived in the town you came from?" This man says,
"They were fine people -- kind and generous, and neighborly... I was very sorry
that circumstances forced me to leave." The old man smiles and replies, "In that
case, welcome to our fair town... that's just the kind of people you'll find
WHOEVER TRUSTS IN HIS RICHES WILL FALL: God is the
supreme object of trust, and some of the things in which people put their trust
are substitutes for God, however naturally worthy of trust they may appear to be
in themselves. Thus, people can often put their trust in riches (Job 31:24; Psa
49:6-9; 52:7; 62:10; and here), in powerful people (Psa 146:3), in strongly
fortified cities (Deu 28:52; Jer 5:17), or in their own cleverness (Pro 3:5;
28:26). All these are, in the divine perspective, negative things, even "false
gods"; and to trust in them is a pathetic and empty alternative to trusting in
With this cp Christ's parable of the rich man with too many
barns: Luk 12:15-21 (ct 1Ti 6:17). "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on
earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal" (Mat
WILL FALL: The RSV alters "fall" (Heb "yippol") to
"wither" ("yibbol"). Kidner calls this "a tempting touch [ie, in view of the
possible connection with 'a green leaf' in the second phrase], but without
textual support or real necessity".
BUT THE RIGHTEOUS WILL THRIVE LIKE A GREEN LEAF: The
comparison of the righteous to the greening of a tree is frequent, eg, Psa 1:3.
Jer 17:7,8 contains the same sequence as here: trust and a flourishing tree (cp
Psa 92:12-14; Isa 60:21; 66:14; ct Isa 34:4).
The righteous as green leaves leads, naturally enough, to the
pictures of Eze 47:12 and Rev 22:2 -- where, in the Kingdom Age, the righteous
will become constituents of the multitudinous "tree of life", arranged in a
great grove or orchard around the One True "Tree of Life", the Lord Jesus
Christ. And their leaves, John says, will be for the healing of the
HE WHO BRINGS TROUBLE ON HIS FAMILY WILL INHERIT ONLY WIND,
AND THE FOOL WILL BE SERVANT TO THE WISE: Matthew Henry suggests that this
verse is the first of several proverbs about "covetousness and contentment": Pro
11:29; 15:16,17,27; 23:4,5. Indeed, there may be other topics covered in this
particular proverb, but this would be a good place to start. This verse is also
an expansion upon Pro 11:17: a cruel man brings trouble on himself, AND on his
HE WHO BRINGS TROUBLE ON HIS FAMILY WILL INHERIT ONLY
WIND: "Brings trouble" is "achar" (sw Pro 11:17); it signifies "to entangle,
to throw into disorder or confusion; to bring ruin". This word may be intended
to recall (1) the man Achan -- a "troubler" of Israel -- and the Valley of Achor
(Jos 7:25,26); and (2) the charge that Elijah flung back at Ahab -- that he,
Ahab, was the true "troubler [sw 'achar'] of Israel" (1Ki 18:17,18; cp 1Ki
22:38; 2Ki 9:36,37). Such a person will inherit nothing, either naturally or
spiritually: the word "wind" (Heb "ruach") refers to what cannot be grasped (Pro
27:16; Ecc 1:14,17; 4:16; 5:16; Job 6:26). Even more forbidding, the "wind" may
also imply something bad and destructive such as the dreaded Palestinian
"sirocco" or whirlwind (cp Hos 8:7: "they sow the wind and reap the
Simeon and Levi troubled their father, and their family, by
their dastardly murder of the Shechemites. "Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi,
'You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and
Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they
join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed' "
(Gen 34:30). And later Jacob denied them their expected inheritance, citing
their terrible crime here (Gen 49:5-7). Nabal, by his arrogance and greed,
brought trouble on himself and his house, and was struck dead (1Sa 25). Adonijah
troubled his father's house by trying to proclaim himself king (1Ki 1:5); he was
forced to become a "servant", bowing down to his brother Solomon (1Ki 1:51-53)
-- but he later lost his life ("inherited the wind"!) by continuing to scheme
for the throne (1Ki 2). On a national level, the ten northern tribes "troubled"
the house of David and Solomon, first by rejecting David himself, and later in
the secession under Jeroboam; thus they forfeited their inheritance in Judah and
Jerusalem (2Sa 20:1; 1Ki 12:16; 2Ch 10:16). Habakkuk condemns those who "shame
their own house" by seeking unjust gain (Hab 2:9,10).
"There are many ways in which [a man may bring trouble on his
house]. A man may, by the violence and irritability, the peevishness,
fretfulness, and selfishness of his temper; he may by his avarice on the one
hand, or by his reckless prodigality on the other -- involving his family in
starvation and suffering by opposite means; he may by intemperance, with all its
horrid attendants; he may by sloth, and idleness, and indisposition to work,
trouble his own house. 'He shall inherit the wind.' The expression is a very
strong one. Could any words more impressively convey the idea of loss,
disappointment, and ultimate destitution and beggary? The result the man
deserves. A man's family is his first charge from heaven, and ought to be his
chief and constant solicitude. The only evil to be lamented is that he brings
the destitution upon them as well as himself" (Wardlaw, BI).
AND THE FOOL WILL BE SERVANT TO THE WISE: The "ewil",
or fool, is the antithesis of "chakham", the wise man (Pro 10:8,14; 11:29;
12:15; 14:3; 17:28; 29:9). The "ewil" always speaks the wrong things or at the
wrong time and gets himself into trouble (Pro 14:3; 17:28). In contrast to the
wise, the fool is shortsighted, poor in management, and not receptive to advice
(here, and Pro 12:15). Therefore, he (and his household, if he has one) will end
up in poverty or even slavery. "Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in
slave labor" (Pro 12:24). The one who acts foolishly, in troubling his own house
or family, will lose his own inheritance. As a result he will be forced into the
role of a servant (Heb "ebed") in order to support himself.
This is exactly what befalls the prodigal son of Christ's
parable (Luk 15:11-32): he troubles his father and his family by demanding his
share of the inheritance; then he squanders all that he has received in riotous
living; and finally he must work as the most menial of servants in order just to
survive. After this he comes to his senses, and returns home, offering to accept
the lowliest of serving positions in the family if he might only have bread to
eat! The ironic twist -- in keeping with the spiritual ideals of the New
Testament -- is that, despite his pride and his avarice and his folly and his
sin, the prodigal son, upon his confession of sin, and his return to his
father's house, is welcomed back into the good graces of his father and blessed
with new garments, a ring of authority, and a glorious meal of
THE WISE: Literally, as AV, "the wise in heart".
"Wisdom" (Heb "chokmah") and the "wise person" (Heb "chakham") figure
prominently in the whole of Proverbs, as well as in Ecclesiastes -- these are,
after all, usually referred to as the "Wisdom literature" of the OT!
The words imply firmness, solidity -- in ct the "wind" here
(and in Eph 4:14), which is ephemeral and cannot be grasped. "Chokmah" refers to
"skill" that produces something of value. It is used in reference to the skill
of seamen (Psa 107:27), abilities of weavers (Exo 35:26), capabilities of
administrators (1Ki 3:28), or skill of craftsmen (Exo 31:6). In the realm of
moral living, it refers to skill in living -- one lives life with moral skill so
that something of lasting value is produced from one's life.
The common and general understanding of the difference between
"knowledge" and "wisdom" -- at least in their English usages -- is described by
Wiersbe: "The pages of history are filled with the names of brilliant and gifted
people who were smart enough to become rich and famous but not wise enough to
make a successful and satisfying life. Before his death, one of the world's
richest men said that he would have given all his wealth to make one of his six
marriages succeed. It's one thing to make a LIVING, but quite something else to
make a LIFE."
The ultimate source of wisdom and understanding is that taught
by the Holy Spirit-inspired Scriptures, through the life and the power of the
Lord Jesus Christ (Col 1:9-12). All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are
found in Christ Jesus (Col 2:3); in him we may joyfully know we have found the
One greater than Solomon (Mat 12:42).
THE FRUIT OF THE RIGHTEOUS IS A TREE OF LIFE: The
"fruit of the righteous" seems to be echoed in the NT as the "harvest of
righteousness" (Jam 3:18; 2Co 9:10; Phi 1:11; Heb 12:11); this in turn may be
connected to the "fruit of the Spirit" in Gal 5:22. Those who are righteous
produce the fruit of righteousness, as surely as a good tree brings forth good
fruit -- as a matter of course, because of the nourishment that they draw from
God Himself. And such "fruits" in turn nourish others -- so that they also may
become "trees of life", and produce their own similar "fruit" in turn. With this
compare, generally, the idea behind Pro 13:14: "The teaching of the wise is a
fountain of life, turning man from the snares of death."
TREE OF LIFE:The tree that bestowed life
was located in the "middle of" the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:9; 3:24). Before Adam
and Eve sinned, they had free access to it, but after their act of disobedience,
God set the cherubim to guard the way to its fruit, and the couple were not
permitted to partake of it. The only other places in the OT where the expression
"tree of life" occurs are all in Proverbs. Pro 3:18 promises that wisdom will be
"a tree of life to those who embrace her." Pro 13:12 promises, "Hope deferred
makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life." And finally,
Pro 15:4 tells us, "The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life." In these
cases the concept "tree of life" is associated with wellbeing, health, and
fullness of life.
The last book of the Bible again contains references to the
tree of life. Rev 2:7 promises, to those who overcome, the "right to eat from
the tree of life, which is in the paradise [ie, garden] of God." And the last
chapter of the Bible presents the tree of life "on each side of" the "river of
the water of life" (Rev 22:2; cp Eze 47:12). And the last reference in that
chapter promises a blessing to "those who wash their robes, that they may have
the right to the tree of life" (Rev 22:14).
AND HE WHO WINS SOULS IS WISE: "The alternative reading
is 'he who takes away lives is violent.' [The reading of] 'hamas' ('violent'),
instead of 'hakam' ('wise'), is reflected in the LXX and Syriac. If 'loqeah
nepheshot' were interpreted positively ('winning souls'), 'wise' could have
easily been read through orthographic confusion. If the phrase were read
negatively ('captures souls'), then 'violent' fits well as the predicate. The
line would then form an antithetical idea to the first line" (EBCn). The RSV
accepts this reading, and thus translates: "Lawlessness takes away lives." The
same Hebrew phrase appears in this negative light in 1Ki 19:4, where Elijah
prays to God, "LORD... take my life ('laqach nephesh')." Also cp Pro 6:25 --
where "captivate" = Heb "laqach" again.
"Winning souls" suggests influencing people toward one's ways
or philosophy. Such an enterprise could be either righteous or wicked: here it
would be a righteous endeavor (as in Mat 4:19 and Luk 5:10: being a fisher of
men; also cp Dan 12:3; Jam 5:19,20), whereas in 2Sa 15:6 it was for wicked
purposes (Absalom "stealing the hearts" of the men of Israel).
"Are we catching lives that would otherwise be lost for ever?
Have we got our Bibles clearly marked in first principles and wrested scriptures
so that we can rightly divide the word of Truth in season and out of season? Are
we workmen that need not be ashamed? If so, then we will be among the 'some' who
will partake of 'everlasting life' (Dan 12:2). As the wise prophet said: 'they
that be wise' are 'they that turn many to righteousness' and as a result they
'shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and... as the stars for ever'
(v 3)... The fact that we have 'caught lives' will be our joy when we come into
the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ (1Th 2:19), and one of the means of our
glory (v 20)" (Crawford).
Proverbs of the happiness of the righteous, and the misery of
the wicked: Pro 10:6,9,16,24,25,27-30; 11:3,5-8,18-21,31;
12:2,3,7,13,14,21,26,28; 13:6,9,14,15,21,22,25; 14:11,14,19,32;
15:6,8,9,24,26,29; 20:7; 21:12,15,16,18,21; 22:12; 28:10,18; 29:6.
IF THE RIGHTEOUS RECEIVE THEIR DUE ON EARTH, HOW MUCH MORE
THE UNGODLY AND THE SINNER!: "Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in
the earth: much more the wicked and the sinner" (KJV). In the KJV, this is the
only verse of all Solomon's proverbs that begins with "Behold".
IF THE RIGHTEOUS RECEIVE THEIR DUE ON EARTH: Never mind
the "if", which really means "since" -- the statement IS true, and a fundamental
principle of Bible teaching. "The righteous will never be uprooted, but the
wicked will not remain in the land ['eretz']" (see Pro 10:30 and the notes and
references there; as well as Psa 37:29; 115:16).
ON EARTH: This can be misleading; the word is "eretz"
(just as it is in Pro 10:30) -- which can, and most often in the Bible does,
refer to a specific piece of land, not necessarily the whole earth or globe.
Most commonly, the "eretz" in question is the "Land of Israel", or as the
Israelis call it today, "Eretz Israel". In the Greek, "ge" reproduces the same
ambiguity found in "eretz".
HOW MUCH MORE THE UNGODLY AND THE SINNER!: This is an
example of the "how much more" argument -- if the one point be true, "how much
more" the other (arguing from the lesser to the greater). The point is that if
the righteous are to receive their due, recompense, or reward "in the LAND [Heb
"eretz"], then certainly the wicked will as well. (As to the ungodly and
sinners, see Pro 10:30 again, along with the notes and references.)
THE UNGODLY AND THE SINNER: Or more precisely, by the
principle called hendiasys (literally, "two joining in one"), "the ungodly
The LXX introduces a new idea to the verse: "If the righteous
be SCARCELY saved"; this is the version quoted in 1Pe 4:18: "If the righteous
scarcely be saved" (AV), or "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved" (NIV).
Why this difference? The common Hebrew, or Masoretic text (MT), has "ba'ares",
that is, "in the land". The "scarcely" of the LXX could have come from reading
"ba'ares" as "bassarah" (deficiency) or "bassor" (to cut off, shorten) --
perhaps arising from a transcriptional confusion over the letters. [EBCn calls
this a "Vorlage", which is German and means a "reconstructed" text as assumed by
a translator (such a text might be reconstructed by working backwards from the
words of the translation, while being unknown in reality). So one can speak of
the Hebrew Vorlage of the LXX, which was occasionally different from our present
Hebrew text (MT).]
The rationale behind the LXX translation may also include this
idea: that the righteous -- who will of course be "rewarded" with eternal life
in the end -- may also receive from God's hand a "recompense" (chastisement,
affliction, instruction, or punishment) in this life as well (cp, generally, 1Co
11:32). And this observation could be the starting point for the "how much more"
argument of this verse. As Henry puts it, "Some understand both parts of [Pro
11:31] as a recompence in displeasure: The righteous, if they do amiss, shall be
punished for their offences in this world; much more shall wicked people be
punished for theirs, which are committed, not through infirmity, but with a high
hand." And this approach to the verse actually helps to explain the introduction
to the 1Pe quotation of Pro 11:31, for in 1Pe 4:17 we read: "If judgment begin
at the house of God, what will become of the ungodly?" (The same "how much more"
argument is found in Jesus' words in Luk 23:31: "For if men do these things when
the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?": cp Eze 20:47,48. Indeed,
in both the 1Pe 4 passage and Luk 23, the "judgment" in view for even the
righteous involved the Roman destruction of Jerusalem -- in which they suffered
much right alongside the wicked.)