Vv 1-3, in the words of Delitzsch, "form a beautiful trifolium
[a three-part picture]: wise management, God-fearing conduct, and wise silence,
with their threefold contraries."
THE WISE WOMAN BUILDS HER HOUSE, BUT WITH HER OWN HANDS THE
FOOLISH ONE TEARS HERS DOWN: The picture of the contrasting women, one named
"Wisdom" and the other "Folly" in Pro 9, is resumed here. This brief statement
in the first clause anticipates the detailed description of the wise (and
virtuous) woman in Pro 31:10-31, whereas the brief statement in the second
clause looks back to the detail of Pro 7:10-23. Cp also Pro 12:4: "A wife of
noble character is her husband's crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in
his bones." And the disgrace cannot be hidden, because "restraining her is like
restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand" (Pro 27:15,16).
Houses were built up by Hannah (1Sa 1:27,28), Lois and Eunice
(2Ti 1:5; 3:15), and Bathsheba -- all of whom invested of themselves in their
children and grandchildren to the glory of God. Houses were torn down by Michal
(2Sa 6:16-23), Jezebel (1Ki 16:31; 21:24,25), Athaliah (2Ki 11:1), and other
selfish, lazy, sensual, and wicked women. The only widows to be supported by the
ecclesia were those who build up houses -- by good deeds, teaching, hospitality,
and charity as well as raising and educating children (1Ti 5:3-10).
THE WISE WOMAN BUILDS HER HOUSE: Most literally, of
course, a woman "builds up" her house (or household or family) by producing
children -- and this aspect is not slighted in the OT (eg the levirate marriage
of Deu 25:9, Hagar with Sarah in Gen 16:3, Rachel and Leah -- along with Ruth --
in Rth 4:11). But more than producing heirs physically, nurturing and teaching
and cultivating character in them -- spiritually -- is certainly intended here.
This is especially the province of (although of course not restricted to) women:
"Women are physically and morally constructed with a view to the stationary life
and settled pursuits of home. Its comfort, the strength of the race, the well
being of society, are rooted, more than in any other human means, in the
character, the principle, the love and truth of the wife and mother" (Johnson,
Pulpit). A wise woman teaches and enforces the virtues of Christian character.
She instills in her children an ambition for holiness, a love of truth, a desire
to serve others, and gracious conduct. She warns against and restrains sibling
rivalry, foolish talking and jesting, sarcasm, backbiting, disrespect of
authority, and ungodly attitudes.
And to build up "houses" spiritually requires the realization
that God Himself must be involved: "Unless the LORD builds the house, its
builders labor in vain" (Psa 127:1). A "house" that is build the right way, that
is, upon the true Rock which is God and His Son, will withstand the most severe
poundings of nature and its storms (Mat 7:24,25). The building of a house is
also the subject of Pro 24:4: "By wisdom a house is built, and through
understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with
rare and beautiful treasures."
On a linguistic note, it is worth remembering that -- in
Hebrew -- the words for "build" ("banah") and "stone" ("eben") and "son" ("ben")
are related, as are the words for "house" ("beth") and "daughter" ("bath"). As
stones build up a house materially, so sons and daughters build up a "house"
spiritually. (These word associations, even in Hebrew, shed light on John the
Baptist's words in Mat 3:9: "I tell you that out of these STONES God can raise
up -- or BUILD -- children -- SONS and DAUGHTERS -- for Abraham.")
THE WISE WOMAN: More literally, "the wise among women"
-- pointing to a whole class of women.
BUT WITH HER OWN HANDS THE FOOLISH ONE TEARS HERS DOWN:
The destruction of a fool and her (or his) house is graphically demonstrated in
the parable of Jesus: "Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put
them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain
came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and
it fell with a great crash" (Mat 7:26,27).
The first phrase in this line produces a powerfully emphatic
idea: "with her own hands" suggests the wonder of the thing -- as though such a
sturdy structure could be literally torn apart by the feeble hands of a woman!
But on a spiritual plane, this is exactly what happens. A continual dripping --
as of a leaky roof (Pro 27:15; cf Pro 19:13) -- may seem innocent at the
beginning, but if left unchecked it can do untold damage. In like fashion, the
continual words of a negative, critical, and spiteful woman can destroy the
whole fabric of a family, by undermining the esteem and self-worth of its
members, and swamping them in a sea of inadequacy and frustration and bitterness
and anger. It is true that men, husbands and fathers, can do the same thing, but
this verse (as with others) points out the obvious: that in matters of the
family itself, a woman's influence can be far greater than that of the man, for
ill as well as for good.
"In truth, the oneness of the house is more dependent on the
mother than on the father. A wise mother can, if her husband be dead or
neglectful of his duty, always keep the house together; but if the house-wife
has neither understanding nor good-will for her calling, then the best will of
the house-father cannot hinder the dissolution of the house, [and his] prudence
and patience [can] only conceal and mitigate the process of dissolution... the
ruin of the house" (KD).
What are the curses of the foolish woman? Laziness.
Selfishness. Hurtful and negative criticism. Wasted time due to misguided
priorities. Distraction due to an unfocused mind. Pleasure in an
entertainment-oriented generation. Merely going through the motions in
housekeeping duties. Failure to teach children spiritually.
The wise woman is described: she "(1) must know how to manage
with prudence and care the concerns of a family. It is woman's work to 'guide
the house.' How many, on marrying, find they need to learn the first principles
of domestic economy. If a man can be more happy in any other house than his own,
he is a lost man. (2) A wise woman will improve her taste and her manners. This
in no way involves her becoming proud. (3) A wise woman will aim to improve her
mind. The mind is enlarged by receiving ideas, and by using them as materials of
thought and reasoning. (4) A wise woman will endeavour to enlighten and improve
her conscience. This is the faculty of the soul by which we weigh the morality
of an action. To improve the conscience we must give it light, and let it guide
us. Well enlightened, it guides to happiness and [the Kingdom]. (5) A wise woman
will be particularly careful to cultivate the heart. The instinctive affections
are capable of improvement by other means than grace. But the female character
is essentially defective in the absence of piety. Religion has a peculiar
sweetness when it mingles with the modest softness of the female character.
"A wise woman buildeth her house. To build her house is to
promote the best good of her husband and her offspring: (1) How will such a
woman affect their estate? Her wisdom will save more than her hands could earn.
(2) She will render her family respectable. (3) She will render her family
happy. She will so manage as not to irritate their passions. Her example will
breathe through the house a mild and soft atmosphere. There is no resisting the
combined influence of so many virtues. What she cannot do by her precepts and
examples, she effects by her prayers. Her influence surely extends beyond her
own family... (4) Females should make the Scriptures their daily study. From the
mother, rather than the father, the members of the family will take their
character" (Clark, BI).
"Perhaps this has a meaning even on the most material plane.
Some women take steps to improve their houses as time goes on, while others let
everything go to ruin. We have even heard of people breaking up some of the
woodwork of their houses and burning it through foolish indolence or still more
foolish anger. On a slightly less material plane we have noticed the
extraordinary difference between the woman who builds a home of confidence,
unselfishness and love and the one who pulls a home to pieces by suspicion,
jealousy and a generally negative attitude. On a higher plane still, the saying
is true of the corporate woman formed through the ages. Those who desire to be
constituent members of the bride to be, must be wise. They must build the house
and not pull it down" (PrPr 134).
HE WHOSE WALK IS UPRIGHT FEARS THE LORD, BUT HE WHOSE WAYS
ARE DEVIOUS DESPISES HIM: This verse expresses the contrast between those
who fear the LORD and those who despise Him. The expressed distinction may not
be seen, at least not conclusively, in the words that each class express -- but
rather in the conduct each produces: whether uprightness or perversion (see Pro
2:15; 3:32; 10:19).
Charles Bridges expresses this briefly and well when he
writes: "There can be no stream without the fountain." The fountain is of course
the "fear of the LORD", and it sends forth the stream of an upright way of life.
Such a good "fountain" MUST send forth a stream; it cannot be dammed up or
stifled. On the other hand, a perverse and devious and crooked way of life must
have been sent forth from a different "fountain" entirely. James seems to have
grasped this concept very well, for he writes: "With the tongue we praise our
Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.
Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.
Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?" (Jam 3:9-11).
HE WHOSE WALK IS UPRIGHT FEARS THE LORD: Other proverbs
about the fear of the LORD: Pro 1:7,29; 2:5; 8:13; 9:10; 10:27; 14:2,16,26,27;
15:16,33; 16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17,18; 31:30. The command to fear the LORD also
occurs in Pro 3:7; 24:21. Fearing the LORD is associated with wisdom six times
(Job 28:28; Pro 1:7,29; 2:5; 8:13; 15:33).
HE WHOSE WALK IS UPRIGHT: Compare Pro 2:7; 14:9; 15:8;
16:17; 21:8; 28:6. It is worth remembering that -- elementary as it may sound --
walking is not taking A step: it is taking MANY steps. Jesus said, "If you
CONTINUE in my word, then are you my disciples indeed" (John 8:31). If we do not
continue, then it is plain that we do not fear the LORD. We are to be in the
fear of the LORD all the day long (Pro 23:17, AV). An upright, or righteous,
walk is a journey -- not a single step, and not a meandering or wandering about
in circles. It is a fixed and determined and firm resolution that finds and
proves itself in a continuing walk toward a single goal. And so the psalmist
prays, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious
thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way
everlasting" (Psa 139:23,24).
BUT HE WHOSE WAYS ARE DEVIOUS DESPISES HIM: Most
reasonably, "him" here would seem to refer to the LORD Himself. And so it is
taken by most commentators. But it is just possible that "him" may refer to the
one "whose walk is upright" in the first clause: that is to say, the upright is
despised by the devious. But then, of course, it amounts to the same thing in
the end, because the one who rejects Christ's disciple rejects Christ, and the
one who rejects Christ rejects the God who sent him (Luk 10:16).
HE WHOSE WAYS ARE DEVIOUS: Or "he who walks in crooked
paths": according to the proverb, he did not have to blaze a new trail of
deviousness; he merely had to follow the path that many others had trodden
before him. To see this is to remind ourselves that "Others are doing it" is no
justification or excuse for bad conduct. In fact, every act of disobedience
against God constitutes contempt of Him and His revelation (Num 15:31; 2Sa 12:9;
DEVIOUS: The Hebrew "luwz" is a fairly uncommon word.
In Pro 3:32 as well as here, it is found in a verb form signifying "to walk --
or wander -- out of the way", in contrast to walking in straight or upright
paths. It suggests crooked dealings (Pro 2:15; Isa 30:12). The verses tell us
that a person who walks in such a way is abominable to God and faces ruin and
Talk is cheap, and a once-a-week religion is vain. We may know
how men feel inwardly toward their Maker by observing how they deal outwardly
with each other. While a man will walk uprightly out of respect for his God, the
devious man -- on the other hand -- has no real fear of Him. Thus by his
continuing actions he shows his utter contempt for God. We must not be confused
in the matter. It is usually quite easy to distinguish the two by their actions.
Yet many times the devious or crooked one will protest that he DOES fear Yahweh,
and in the name of tolerance others may make the mistake of treating him as
though he is one of the upright. However, Jesus Christ himself warns us, "Watch
out... By their fruit you will recognize them" (Mat 7:15,16,20; cf Mat
This observation leads us to ask a very practical question: in
this day and time, when many openly despise God and religion, why would anyone
bother to profess what he does not really believe? It would seem so unnecessary.
But if we think of it for a moment, we shall have some easy answers. Why do men
profess religion falsely? For several reasons: (a) Christians are friendly, and
it is good to have friends. Sometimes friends may be cultivated for business
reasons. A man may be "religious" in order to sell something. (b) The best
women, and the most faithful, are Christians. A man may pretend to be religious
in order to win such a woman -- to "buy" something with pretense! And thereafter
he may even use the threat of religion to keep her! (c) Christians are often
generous. A man may pretend to be a Christian so as to get something for free,
to take without ever intending to repay.
A FOOL'S TALK BRINGS A ROD TO HIS BACK, BUT THE LIPS OF THE
WISE PROTECT THEM: What people say has a great bearing on how they are
received. Curses, like chickens, after they are released, come home to roost!
The wise men are acutely aware of the power of words for good or hurt (cf, eg,
Pro 11:11,13; 17:19,20; 18:6,7,21; 21:24; 22:8; 28:25; Ecc 10:12).
A FOOL'S TALK BRINGS A ROD TO HIS BACK: The AV has: "In
the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride." "Rod" is the very rare "choter"
(twig, switch, or stick), not the quite common "shebet"; the only other
occurrence of "choter" in the OT is in Isa 11:1 (where it is translated "shoot"
in NIV, "rod" in AV). One possible interpretation of this phrase is: " 'In the
mouth of a fool is a shoot of pride.' That is to say, the mouth shoots forth
arrogant words" (WBC). And so the LXX has: "From the mouth of fools cometh a
staff of insolence." In a like manner, the tongue is sometimes compared to a
sword, inflicting pain and punishment on those whom the speaker addresses (Psa
57:4; 64:3; Jer 18:18; Rev 1:16; 11:5). But this perspective does not seem to
provide a reasonable contrast with the following phrase (as we might have
expected). Other possibilities for this first phrase are considered in the notes
A FOOL'S TALK BRINGS...: Literally, as the AV, "in the
mouth of a fool is..." -- which might merely be a figurative way of saying: "a
fool's mouth brings upon him..." Thus the NIV quite reasonably captures this
...A ROD TO HIS BACK: "A rod to his back" is,
literally, "a rod of pride" (as the AV has it). But, again, the NIV is not
unreasonable: (1) first of all, it provides a telling contrast with the second
half of the verse; (2) secondly, it could as easily be translated "a rod FOR
pride" -- ie, a punishment for his pride; and, finally (3) some commentators
have emended the text from "ga'avah" ("pride") to "gevoh" ("back") -- thus
reading "a rod upon his back", and emphasizing further the impending punishment
for the talking fool (cf, generally, Pro 10:13).
BUT THE LIPS OF THE WISE PROTECT THEM: The lips of the
wise shall preserve them, that is, the wise: "He who guards his lips guards his
life" (Pro 13:3). These do not abuse speech to insult and injure others; and
their words tend to pacify others, and promote calm and good will (cp Pro
12:6,18). And with those same mouths they confess that "Jesus is Lord", and so
are themselves justified (Rom 10:9,10); for in this they overcome all evil by
the word of their testimony (Rev 12:11).
"The word of God is plain here. Corrupt speech is to be
replaced with gracious and edifying speech (Eph 4:29). Bitterness, wrath, anger,
clamor, evil speaking, and malice are to be replaced with kindness,
tenderheartedness, and forgiveness (Eph 4:31,32). Your speech is to always be
gracious, allowing room for only a little salty seasoning (Col 4:6).
"The Lord Jesus Christ spoke with the purest grace ever (Psa
45:2; Luk 4:22). Even officers sent by the Jews to apprehend Him could not
believe His excellent speech (John 7:45.46). The wisdom from heaven is
distinctly different from [demonic "wisdom"], and both kinds are evidenced in
the heart, attitude and speech of men (Jam 3:14-18)" (LGBT).
WHERE THERE ARE NO OXEN, THE MANGER IS EMPTY, BUT FROM THE
STRENGTH OF AN OX COMES AN ABUNDANT HARVEST: To be productive one must use
the appropriate means (cf, generally, Pro 12:11; 13:23). For the farmer, oxen
are indispensable; so the wise farmer will see to it that his oxen are numerous
and in good condition. In practical terms, the farmer has to balance the grain
his ox consumes against the grain the animal helps to produce. And so the Law of
Moses teaches: "Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain" (Deu
25:4; cf 1Co 9:9), or "that treadeth out the grain" (as the AV in 1Co 9:9; 1Ti
In the passages just cited, the apostle Paul is teaching that
those who labor to preach the gospel might, with profit, be helped financially
while doing so. This is a lesson we do well to remember; our Christadelphian
community has a long, and generally successful, history of having no "paid
ministers", but rather of encouraging all qualified brothers to speak and teach.
However, we should not lose sight of the fact that, in some circumstances,
appointing particularly qualified individuals to do special work, and providing
the means to help them do that work, has Bible support.
WHERE THERE ARE NO OXEN, THE MANGER IS EMPTY: The
agricultural value of the ox explains in part the worship of the golden calves
(Geog 89; 1Ki 12:28,29).
Where the NIV has "empty", the AV has "clean". "An empty
stable stays clean -- but there is no income from an empty stable" (The Living
Bible). Or, as Kidner puts it, "Orderliness can reach the point of sterility.
This proverb is not a plea for slovenliness, physical or moral, but for the
readiness to accept upheaval, and a mess to clear up, as the price of growth. It
has many applications to personal, institutional and spiritual life, and could
well be inscribed in the minute-books of religious bodies, to foster a farmer's
outlook, rather than a curator's."
It is possible for us, in our lives, to be such
perfectionists, such fastidious people, that we concentrate on all the wrong
things: a perfectly clean house rather than a home that is open and welcoming to
brothers and sisters and friends. A new, well-appointed and clean car rather
than one slightly older and shabbier because it is often used to transport
children to healthful and enriching activities, older folks to social activities
and doctors' appointments, and everyone to ecclesial functions. A life may be
very well-organized and neat, but ultimately without point and purpose, and thus
truly without hope.
"There is no good to be got without its accompanying
drawbacks; let the drawbacks and the good be weighed carefully together, and if
the good outbalance the drawbacks, then let the good be chosen and the drawbacks
faced with resolution, intelligence, and cheerfulness. Sentiment is right in its
place, fastidiousness is proper in its season; but sentiment is worse than idle,
fastidiousness is worse than false, when we permit them to stand between us and
a substantial good, the good that Providence intends us to get or the good that
Providence commands us to do" (Gray, BI).
"It is a very great thing to prefer the greater to the
smaller, the more serious to the less serious, in the regulation of our life. It
makes all the difference between success and failure, between wisdom and folly.
[It is] a serious mistake to prefer nicety or daintiness [instead of]
fruitfulness or usefulness. This grave mistake is made by the farmer who would
rather have a clean crib than a quantity of valuable manure; by the housewife
who cares more for the elegance of the furniture than the comfort of the family;
by the [preacher] who spends more strength on the wording than on the doctrine
of his discourse... [But] wisdom... is found in subordinating the trivial to the
important; in being willing to submit to the temporarily disagreeable if we can
attain to the permanently good; in being content to endure the sight and the
smell of the unclean crib if there is a prospect of a fruitful field" (Clarkson,
BUT FROM THE STRENGTH OF AN OX COMES AN ABUNDANT
HARVEST: The role of animals in agricultural work was all important, and it
made the difference between meager and abundant harvests. Since strong oxen are
indispensable for a good harvest, they ought to be kept strong and well-fed. The
farmer has to balance their grain consumption with the work that they only can
do. (Alternatively, "harvest" or "produce" could refer not just to the crops
that result from the plowing of the oxen, but also to the young born of the
oxen: cp Deu 14:22,23.)
A TRUTHFUL WITNESS DOES NOT DECEIVE, BUT A FALSE WITNESS
POURS OUT LIES: This verse addresses the problem of legal testimony: a
faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness does lie -- naturally. It is
not so much that each witness makes a conscious decision, time after time,
either to tell the truth or to lie. But rather, each out of his own heart speaks
-- as a matter of course -- what is already there: whether a true heart speaking
truth, or a wicked heart speaking lies. The spring sends forth the kind of water
that exists there, the water that defines the spring itself; the good tree and
the bad tree alike produce only the fruit that characterizes each of them. Cp,
generally, Pro 12:17; 14:25; 21:28.
This proverb seems like the simplest cliche until one realizes
that the wisest counselors in the land, those of the legal profession, rely
absolutely on the common sense expressed in this proverb to sort out right from
wrong in the most complex situations. Find a man or woman who will
unhesitatingly tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, who
cannot be shaken in his or her testimony, and they know they will have found a
wonderful thing. And they know also, and legal precedent reminds them, that if
only they can establish that an opposing witness has lied once, then it follows
that his whole testimony is discredited. As a matter of course, the defense and
prosecution in a legal case spend much time analyzing and integrating the
testimony of each other's witnesses just to find one fault in their statements.
If they can establish that a witness has lied -- even in the smallest matter --
or even merely exaggerated, or simply cannot remember facts that he should
remember, or has been shown to be unreliable or untrustworthy in any other area
of his life, then they know that that witness will be impeached, or rejected,
and the contrary case correspondingly strengthened. "What a flaw is in steel,
what a foreign substance is in any texture, that a falsehood is to the
character, a source of weakness, a point where under strain it may break"
The word twice translated "witness" here is the Hebrew "ed".
It often refers to a legal witness to the truth of a matter. Such a witness can
testify as an eyewitness to actions, statements, and legal transactions (see Rth
4:9–11; Isa 8:2; Jer 32:10,12,25). The Law of Moses carefully regulated
legal testimony. A man could not be condemned by the testimony of only one
witness (Num 35:30; Deu 17:6; 19:15). In a case involving a capital offense, the
witnesses who bring the incriminating evidence must be the primary executioners
(Deu 17:7). Individuals were not to withhold testimony (Lev 5:1) or bear false
witness against an innocent man (Exo 20:16 // Deu 5:20; Exo 23:1). False
witnesses received the same penalty as the falsely accused individual would have
suffered if condemned as guilty (Deu 19:16–21).
A TRUTHFUL WITNESS DOES NOT DECEIVE: The rather obscure
OT prophet Micaiah was an eminent example of a truthful witness; when pressed
and threatened, he replied: "As surely as the LORD lives, I can tell him only
what the LORD tells me" (1Ki 22:12-14). "A faithful witness is moved neither by
entreaties nor bribes, neither by promises nor threats, to swerve from truth...
He is therefore [God's] delight (Joh 1:47)... and the ornament of godliness (Phi
4:8)" (Bridges). Jesus is preeminently the "Amen, the Faithful and True Witness"
(Rev 3:14; cp Rev 1:5; 19:11). Men falsely accused him during his trial (Mar
14:56-60), and they hated him for his absolute and total honesty (Isa 53:9). But
no one could ever convict him of a sin, for he never lied but always told the
truth (Joh 8:46).
BUT A FALSE WITNESS POURS OUT LIES: "A false witness
who pours out lies" is one of the seven things that the LORD Himself finds
detestable (Pro 6:19). Such a false witness will not escape punishment (Pro
19:5,9). Cp also Pro 24:28; 25:18. Examples of false witnesses in judicial
settings: those whom Jezebel hired, whose testimony procured the death of Naboth
(1Ki 21:13), and those hired by the chief priests who sought to bring false
charges against the Lord himself (Mat 26:59-61; Mar 14:57-60). Perhaps most
detestable today are those practitioners of religion who bear witness to lies
for their own selfish gain -- the "Balaamites" (2Pe 2:12-20; Jud 1:10-13; Rev
POURS OUT: This is the Heb "yafeach". The traditional
view was that it meant "to puff, or blow", and by implication "to utter"; but
this word has been recently discovered in the Ugaritic, and confirmed as a
totally different word, which obviously means "witness" (NIDOTTE). "Yafeach" is
used in a formal sense, of a witness, as in court, several times in Proverbs
(Pro 6:19; 12:17; 14:5,25; 19:5,9) and also in Psa 27:12 (BibSac
THE MOCKER SEEKS WISDOM AND FINDS NONE, BUT KNOWLEDGE COMES
EASILY TO THE DISCERNING: "The frivolous man, to whom truth is not a matter
of conscience, and who recognises no authority, not even the Supreme, never
reaches to truth notwithstanding all his searching, it remains veiled to him and
far remote; but to the man of understanding, who knows that the fear of God and
not estrangement from God leads to truth, knowledge is an easy matter -- he
enters on the right way to this end, he brings the right receptivity, brings to
bear on it the clear eye, and there is fulfilled to him the saying, 'To him that
hath it is given' [Mat 13:12; 25:29; Mar 4:25; Luk 8:18; 19:26]" (KD).
THE MOCKER SEEKS WISDOM AND FINDS NONE: The "mocker",
or "scorner" (AV), is the Hebrew "luwts" -- properly, "one who makes a mouth".
The "mocker", or "luwts", is marked by attitudes and actions that bespeak
corruption or bribery (Pro 19:28), rebellion or discord (Pro 14:9), and gluttony
and excess and drunkenness (Pro 20:1). He lacks humility (cf Pro 11:2); pride
and haughtiness delude him to delight in derision and, like the fool, to despise
knowledge (Pro 1:22): "The proud and arrogant man -- 'Mocker' is his name; he
behaves with overweening pride" (Pro 21:24). Such pride bars the way to wisdom
(as here) and insulates such a person from the positive impact of discipline
(Pro 9:7), rebuke (Pro 9:8; 15:12), and instruction (Pro 13:1). Because he keeps
company with the wicked and the fool (Pro 1:20–33; 15:7–14), the
mocker is detestable (Pro 24:9) and must be avoided (Psa 1:1), lest his
influence sabotage the walk of the wise. The mocker is a disruptive element to
be driven from the midst of the righteous (Pro 22:10). The simple gain insight
from the mocker only when they witness his fall and punishment (Pro 19:25;
21:11), and this is indeed his promised destiny: "Penalties are prepared for
mockers, and beatings for the backs of fools" (Pro 19:29; cf Pro 9:12; Isa
29:20). "The LORD's curse is on the house of the wicked, but he blesses the
house of the righteous. He mocks proud mockers, but gives grace to the humble"
As this verse (Pro 14:6) implies, such a mocker lacks any
serious interest in religion or spiritual knowledge. He may actually wish to
have just enough knowledge so as to APPEAR to be wise, because he is proud, or
intellectually arrogant (cf 2Pe 3:3,4; 1Co 3:18; Mat 11:25-27; Jam 4:6). But for
real wisdom he cares not at all. And so he may "seek" -- or THINK that he is
seeking, or PRETEND to seek -- but he will not find (Joh 7:34)!
Examples of this phrase are the Pharisees (Joh 9:29, cf Joh
7:52); the Athenian philosophers (Acts 17:18); Herod (Luke 23:8); and the Jews
looking for the Messiah, and yet rejecting Christ (Acts 13:41,45).
"Four things unfit a man for impartial inquiries after Divine
truth -- a very proud, or a very suspicious temper, false wit, or sensuality.
The two last generally belong to him; but the two first are essential to him,
and inseparable from him. There is no quality that sticks more closely to a
scorner than pride, and nothing more evidently obstructs right reasoning.
Suspicion makes him doubt everything he hears and distrust every man he
converses with. An extremity of suspicion in an inquirer after truth is like a
raging jealousy in a husband or a friend; it leads a man to turn all his
thoughts towards the ill-natured side, and to put the worst construction upon
everything. False wit is a way of exposing things sacred and serious, by passing
a bold jest upon them and ridiculing arguments instead of confronting them. The
sensual man is, of all men living, the most improper for inquiries after truth
and the least at leisure for it. He is never sedate and cool, disinterested and
impartial" (Atterbury, BI).
BUT KNOWLEDGE COMES EASILY TO THE DISCERNING: The
"discerning" man is the Hebrew "nabon" (from "biyn"): one who knows how to
separate or distinguish between one thing and another (cp Pro 8:9; 17:24); he
receives God's message with great eagerness and examines it every day to see if
it is true (Acts 17:11; cp Neh 8:1-12; Joh 7:17). He is not proud in his own
folly, but meek and humble (Psa 25:9). He truly understands the value of
knowledge, and is willing to learn and to seek out -- even if the proper meaning
is "hidden" (Mat 11:25-27; 13:11,15,16). "It is the glory of God to conceal a
matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings" (Pro 25:2). It seems
little effort to him (ie, it is "qalal": easy, small, light, or trifling) to
acquire such knowledge. Knowledge of spiritual things is his life's blood, his
food and drink, the very air he breathes; it is more precious to him than silver
or gold (Pro 2:2-4; 4:5-7; 23:23; Job 28:12-23). Consequently he never misses an
opportunity to acquire wisdom, and to add to his store. Others may look at such
a discerning man, and remark, "How can you ever remember such things?" Or "How
do you remember all those verses?" But to him they are second nature; doesn't
everyone know his or her birthdate, or the names of one's parents, or one's
children? So why wouldn't everyone know the fundamentals of Bible truth, and
much more besides, if in fact "[God's] word is truth" (Joh 17:17)?
An example of this phrase is the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts
8:27-39): he searched out matters humbly, desperately wanted to learn, asked
questions and listened to the answers, and was not afraid to act on his
STAY AWAY FROM A FOOLISH MAN, FOR YOU WILL NOT FIND
KNOWLEDGE ON HIS LIPS: "There is nothing ambiguous or halting in this
advice. We must be just, kind and polite to all people, but we must be careful
how we make friends. Especially must we beware of strangers who use flattering
words, the flattering woman being the most dangerous of all. It is good to seek
the companionship of the wise and avoid the friendship of the foolish. The plea
of trying to help people is sometimes used as an excuse for seeking an
undesirable companionship which is attractive. We cannot help men by going to
perdition with them, but we may help them by taking a firm stand and setting a
good example. The words of Scripture admit of an attempt to help even when
dealing with fools. 'Go from the presence of a foolish man when thou perceivest
not in him the lips of knowledge' [KJV]. This implies an effort to help but
counsels us to withdraw if there is no response" (PrPr).
STAY AWAY FROM A FOOLISH MAN: There is some doubt about
the rendering of this passage. The RV -- as the ASV -- has, "Go INTO the
presence of a foolish man." If read this way, then the whole verse undoubtedly
means, "IF you go into the presence of a foolish man, THEN you will not find
knowledge..." However, the AV -- as well as the NIV and RSV -- considers the
sentence to be an injunction to turn away from a foolish man as soon as you
perceive that you can do him no good, for he will only do you harm if you remain
in his company!
With this agree quite well the words of Jesus: "Do not give
dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may
trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces" (Mat 7:6).
Also, the words of Paul: "Do not be misled: 'Bad company corrupts good
character' " (1Co 15:33; cp also 1Co 5:11; 2Co 6:17; Eph 5:11; Jam 4:4). As
Charles Bridges -- in his "common sense" fashion -- paraphrases, "Do not
overrate your strength, nor be blind to the personal risks that may be incurred
in imprudent efforts to do good... The path of sin is much more easily avoided
than [given up]. We can far more readily keep out of the course of the stream,
than stem the torrent." And Matthew Arnot advises, "It is the intention of their
Maker that some creatures should seek safety, not in fighting, but in fleeing.
In the moral conflict of human life it is of great importance to judge rightly
when we should fight and when we should flee. The weak might escape if they knew
their own weakness, and kept out of harm's way. That courage is not a virtue
which carries the feeble into the lion's jaws. To go in among the foolish for
the rescue of the sinking may be necessary, but it is dangerous work, and
demands robust workmen. Your first duty is your own safety" (BI).
A FOOLISH MAN: "Foolish" is "kesil", the most common of
the words meaning "fool" (It occurs 49 times in Proverbs alone). It is the
opposite of "chokham" ("wise"). The word for "man" here is "ish", the more
honorable man, the "gentleman" as it were, in contrast to "adam". The employment
of "ish" here reminds us that even men of higher rank in society, as the world
the sees it, may be "fools". Perhaps they especially! With this compare the
ideas generally expressed in Psa 49:12,16,20: riches, honor, and standing in
this world make a man no less a "beast"!
FOR YOU WILL NOT FIND KNOWLEDGE ON HIS LIPS: The MT
reads, in effect, "you did not know the lips of knowledge." Some commentators
emend the text to say: "for his lips do not utter knowledge." If so, this would
correspond closely to Pro 15:7: "The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so
the hearts of fools." But either way, the sense would be practically the same,
and thus an emendation would seem unnecessary; the MT makes sense as it is.
"Lips of knowledge" means, of course, "wise counsel". "Knowledge" ("da'at") is
repeated from v 6: it comes easily to the discerning, but cannot be found at all
with the foolish. Or put another way, v 6 tells us how to find "knowledge",
while v 7 tells us (a somewhat lesser virtue, but worthwhile nonetheless) how to
Cp Pro 9:6: "Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in
the way of understanding." Pro 13:20: "He who walks with the wise grows wise,
but a companion of fools suffers harm." And Pro 17:12: "Better to meet a bear
robbed of her cubs than a fool in his folly" (also cp Pro 28:7; 29:3). As well,
contrast this with Pro 20:15: "Gold there is, and rubies in abundance, but lips
that speak knowledge are a rare jewel."
THE WISDOM OF THE PRUDENT IS TO GIVE THOUGHT TO THEIR
WAYS: "Thought" is "habiyn": to understand. Cp v 15: "A prudent [sw] man
gives thought to his steps." If necessary, he seeks shelter or refuge in time of
danger (Pro 22:3; 27:12). "While the OT says that the first woman failed under
the 'craftiness' of the tempter, it also recounts to us women who overcame
enormous life challenges because of their shrewdness. The lives of Naomi and
Esther are colorful examples of prudent persons who played a vital role in God's
history of salvation. Though successes in life ultimately come from God, the OT
also emphasizes a responsible attitude to the life of faith. Cleverness for the
sake of achieving one's own malicious goal is condemned, but exercising it
diligently and responsibly in dependence on God brings divine blessings. It is
in light of this that Jesus' words, 'shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves'
(Mat 10:16), take on meaning" (NIDOTTE). Paul's additional comment is based on
the words of Jesus: "Be very careful, then, how you live -- not as unwise but as
wise... Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is"
(Eph 5:15,17; cf Col 1:9,10). Prudence is extolled also in Pro 1:4; 2:9; 8:5,12;
12:16; 13:16; 15:5,14,21; 17:24.
"Christian prudence consists in a right understanding of our
way; for we are travellers, whose concern it is, not to spy wonders, but to get
forward towards their journey's end. It is to understand our own way, not to be
critics and busybodies in other men's matters, but to look well to ourselves and
ponder the path of our feet, to understand the directions of our way, that we
may observe them, the dangers of our way, that we may avoid them, the
difficulties of our way, that we may break through them, and the advantages of
our way, that we may improve them -- to understand the rules we are to walk by
and the ends we are to walk towards, and walk accordingly" (Henry).
Prudence is "giving thought to one's ways", which can mean
also knowing one's abilities as well as one's limitations. Aleck Crawford
writes: " 'As the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this
manner let him walk' (1Co 7:17, NASB). If Moses prayed on the mount and Joshua
fought in the valley (Exo 17:10,11), it was not because the one was deficient in
courage, or the other in prayer, but because each had his appointed work, and
understood his own way. 'So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will
of the Lord is' (Eph 5:17). In other words, build with the tools that you have
come to understand that you possess. Don't try to be an international speaker if
you are meant to be the finance brother, or the gardener."
But the fact that prudence alone is not a perfect approach to
life is also demonstrated by Pro 14:12: "There is a way that SEEMS right to a
man, but in the end it leads to death." If prudence is uninformed, and
ungoverned, by faith, then it will lead, at last, to death and not life.
Prudence alone can, in fact, be a kind of self-deception -- as the second half
of this verse suggests.
BUT THE FOLLY OF FOOLS IS DECEPTION: The word "mirmah"
means "deception", and in this case may suggest "self-deception" (McKane), but
some scholars question the latter point. The parallelism of this verse would
favor that (ie, the wise help themselves, and the foolish hurt themselves), but
there is little support elsewhere for this reading of "mirmah", as it usually
means deceiving others (Toy). In general, however, it may be observed that those
who most successfully deceive others are the ones who have deceived themselves
first -- in other words, the ones who believe their own propaganda! "Evil men
and imposters" can easily be guilty both of "deceiving and being deceived" (2Ti
" 'Mirmah' is found 40 times and describes false scales (Pro
11:1; Amo 8:5), which God abhors (Mic 6:11), and treacherous and crafty dealings
with others (Gen 34:13; 2Ki 9:23). Treacherous lips are especially depicted by
the word (Psa 17:1; 52:4), including swearing falsely (Psa 24:4). Fools, false
witness, and deceit are inseparably linked (Pro 12:17; 14:8). Israel as a people
had become like bird cages full of deceit (Jer 5:27). The womb of the evil
produces deceit (Job 15:35)... The destroyer of God's people is a master of
deceit/treachery (cf Gen 3:13; Dan 8:25) [cp 2Th 2:10; Rev 13:14]. The servant
of Yahweh is notable, for no deceit was found in his mouth (Isa 53:9). Anyone
who desires a successful life must refrain from speaking lies (Job 31:5,6; Psa
17:1; 34:13)" (NIDOTTE).
This last phrase of v 8, then, along with v 12, may deal with
self-deceit, a problem of no small magnitude. The wisdom of the prudent is to
delve deeply into his own heart and mind for motive and reason, to be as
objective with himself as he is searching and sceptical of others. We all know
how easy it is to deceive others, especially if they have no prior evidence of
such action. What we don't realize is that it is equally easy to deceive
ourselves: "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can
understand it?" (Jer 17:9). The "old man", or "old self" is "corrupted by its
deceitful desires" (Eph 4:22). "Each one is tempted when, by his own evil
desire, he is dragged away and enticed" (Jam 1:14). "See to it, brothers, that
none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.
Encourage one another daily... so that none of you may be hardened by sin's
deceitfulness" (Heb 3:12,13).
How do we examine ourselves for this fault? We should be aware
of our prejudices; they exist in us all but may affect each of us differently.
It may be the emotional tie of a mother to a child that challenges her
impartiality when the child is accused of misbehavior. It may be an overwhelming
need to win an argument even at the expense of truth or reason. It may be the
tendency to see "signs" from God only when they point us in the direction we
have already decided to go. It may be the gnawing need to feel important by
impressing others. It may be any one, or more, of a thousand other reasons. We
should seek to know and recognize our own personal prejudices, and examine them
ruthlessly for the possible self-deceit to which they may lead.
The two parts of this verse may be illustrated by various
pairs in the Bible: (a) Joseph understood the evil of adultery, and so he
rejected Potiphar's wife, and even prudently fled out of her presence (Gen 39);
Samson, on the other hand, was sure he could handle Delilah, but his self-deceit
cost him dearly (Jdg 16). (b) Abraham understood commanding his family to obey
God (Gen 18:19); Eli thought he could be lenient, and surely deceived himself
that things would turn out well, even as they sank deeper and deeper into the
worst depravities (1Sa 1; 2). (c) Barnabas sold his property and brought the
proceeds to the apostles (Acts 4:36,37); Ananias and Sapphira did the same but
"prudently" kept back part for themselves, thinking that their deceit would go
undiscovered (Acts 5)!
FOOLS MOCK AT MAKING AMENDS FOR SIN, BUT GOODWILL IS FOUND
AMONG THE UPRIGHT: This verse is about offending others: the fool seems to
care not at all whether his actions cause problems for others, nor does he have
any interest in putting his wrongs right, or in making reparations (which is the
best meaning of the Hebrew "asham" -- "guilt", or "sin-offering": see esp Lev
5:1-7,15-19; Lev 6:1-7; Num 5:7,8), or in seeking forgiveness. But the
"upright", or "righteous" (Heb "yashar"), wants not only to have a right
relationship with God, but also to seek the "goodwill" of his fellowmen.
This verse seems to explain the contrasting attitudes and
conduct of Cain and Abel, in Gen 4. There, Cain mocks, or scoffs, at the
"bloodshed" offering -- the sort of offering that his brother Abel freely makes
to God. Cain compounds his mockery with his hatred of his righteous brother
Abel, and murders him. He is driven away from the presence of the Almighty. But
Abel finds favor with Yahweh, both in life and in his death. (While pondering
this connection, note how Pro 14:12 as well is a comment on Cain and his
"sacrifice": "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads
FOOLS MOCK AT MAKING AMENDS FOR SIN: Or, fools -- even
when they make their sin-offerings ("asham") -- turn them into a mockery because
they are accompanied by no real repentance. Suggestions of this are found in Pro
15:8 ("The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked"); Pro 21:27 ("The sacrifice
of the wicked is detestable"); Psa 40:6 ("Burnt offerings and sin offerings you
[God] did not require"); Isa 1:14 (where their "festivals" and "appointed
feasts" are "a burden to [God]", and He is "weary of bearing them"); and Amo
5:22 ("Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not
accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings [ie, peace offerings],
I will have no regard for them").
MAKING AMENDS FOR SIN: Since the same word, in one of
the wonderful economies of the Hebrew language, can signify both "sin" and
"offering for sin", it is inevitable that there will be minor confusions as to
meaning in individual verses. Thus the KJV translates Pro 14:9a: "Fools make a
mock at SIN", and Rotherham has: "The foolish scoff at guilt" (cp, generally,
Pro 19:28). And quite honestly, one is tempted to take this simplest rendering
at its face value, for it certainly expresses truth: how sad it is to see, in
our modern world, the callous and even the humorous and silly and joking
disregard for all sin and all guilt. Not only do worldly ones commit the
grossest indecencies and sins, but they also find pleasure in doing so, and
vicariously enjoy others who go even further into such depravities (cp Pro
10:23: "A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct"). Also cf Rom 1:32 ("Although
they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death,
they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who
practice them"); 2Th 2:12 ("All will be condemned who have... delighted in
wickedness"); and 2Pe 2:13 ("Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad
daylight. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their pleasures while they
feast with you"). Examples of such attitudes are Abner (2Sa 2:14-17); Haman (Est
3:13-15) and some of the Jews in Hezekiah's day (Isa 22:13).
However, as mentioned in the earlier comments, the NIV has:
"Fools mock at making amends for sin", and the NET has: "Fools mock at
reparation." These renderings are the ideas that are followed here.
Besides all these, there are even other alternatives offered
by translators: the ASV -- reversing the words -- has: "A trespass-offering
mocketh fools", and the RSV -- by a questionable addition -- has: "GOD scorns
BUT GOODWILL IS FOUND AMONG THE UPRIGHT: "Goodwill" is
"ratsown" (translated "favour" in the AV). The word "ratsown" means "favor;
acceptance; pleasing." It usually means what is pleasing or acceptable to God.
(This word is used often of sacrifices and offerings which are acceptable or
pleasing to Yahweh: Exo 28:38; Lev 19:5; 22:20,21,29; 23:11.) In this passage it
either means that the upright try to make amends to any persons they have
offended, or that the upright find favor -- especially with God Himself -- for
doing so. Pro 15:8 points to this second meaning (and is reasonably parallel,
both its phrases, to Pro 14:9); it reads: "The LORD detests the sacrifice of the
wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him." Also see Pro 8:35;
Biblical "fools": The rich fool (Luke 12:20). The unbelieving
fool (Psa 53:1). The self-righteous fool (Pro 28:26). The scornful fool (Pro
14:9). The righteous "fool" (1Co 4:10).
Vv 10,13,14: Derek Kidner refers to these three verses,
closely clustered together, as "glimpses of human loneliness" -- for each
reminds us that, for good or ill, each of us is an individual who in large part
lives a solitary life -- whose joys and sorrows, hopes and fears, are his or
hers alone, even as they may be somewhat like the feelings and experiences of
our fellowmen. With a touch of whimsy and sadness, mingled with humor, he
entitles these verses "Table for one".
EACH HEART KNOWS ITS OWN BITTERNESS, AND NO ONE ELSE CAN
SHARE ITS JOY: There are joys and sorrows that cannot be shared, no matter
how much sympathy and understanding may be present. There is many a dark spot,
many a grief, of which one's best friend knows nothing; the skeleton is locked
in the closet, and no one has the key but ourselves. This verse does not deny
that one can identify to some extent with another's sorrows and joys; it does
not even command us not to try. And elsewhere, in fact, Paul exhorts: "Rejoice
with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn" (Rom 12:15). But this
proverb also implies that such sensitivity has its limits. People in their
deepest emotional feelings of "bitterness" ("marah") or "joy" ("simhah") alone
can truly understand those feelings. This proverb also warns against any
unnatural or forced attempts to express sympathy -- which, even if quite
well-meaning, can appear artificial and hypocritical.
"Just as real sympathy helps, unreal sympathy hurts. Now,
sympathy may be unreal without being hypocritical, and even when it is well
meant and heartfelt; if we do not understand a person's feelings, we cannot
sympathize with him. We may feel kindly towards him, and may desire to show
compassion. But it will be all in vain, we shall not touch the fringe of the
trouble, or, if we do penetrate further, we shall jar and wound the sensitive
soul by blundering incompetence. It will be like a surgeon trying to dress a
wound in the dark. Thus [in Shakespeare's "Macbeth"] Macduff, when robbed of all
his children at one cruel stroke, is only vexed by the kindly but impotent
condolence of Malcom, and cries, 'He has no children!' " (Pulpit).
"Each man's heart is to himself a solitude, into which he can
retire and be alone, indulging his own thoughts without an associate and without
a witness. There is a world within, which must lie undiscovered by the acutest
observer... It would not be possible to communicate to another all that is
within us. It is one of the delights and benefits of friendship that it helps
men, in a measure, to open their minds to one another. But this can only be done
in part. Every one has his reserve. This is especially true respecting the
sorrows and joys of religion. No Christian can find a spirit so perfectly
kindred to his own as to be able to comprehend all the sources of his grief or
of his gladness. In many a sorrow, and in many a joy, he must be solitary... God
hath so ordered it that no man can fully reveal to another the secrets of his
soul. This truth is of the utmost importance when set beside the other truth,
that God 'knoweth us altogether' [Psa 139:4]" (Bellett, BI).
God Himself does absolutely know each human heart (Pro 15:11;
Psa 44:21). Elster, cited by Delitzsch, observes: "By this thought, that the
innermost feelings of a man are never fully imparted to another man... yea,
cannot at all be fully understood by another, the worth and the significance of
each separate human personality is made conspicuous... At the same time the
proverb has the significance, that it shows the impossibility of a perfect
fellowship among men, because one never wholly understands another. Thereby it
is indicated that no human fellowship can give true salvation, but only the
fellowship with God, whose love and wisdom are capable of shining through the
most secret sanctuary of human personality."
In observing this fact -- the omniscience of Almighty God --
we enter into the realm of the deepest and most personal knowledge and
satisfaction that the Bible and the gospel can provide. And this journey of
discovery does not so much take us further outside ourselves, into the world
around and beyond us, as it takes us further within, deeper into the inner
sanctuary of our own hearts: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and
know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me
in the way everlasting" (Psa 139:23,24). There we discover that there IS One who
knows everything there is to know about each of us. One who is -- astoundingly
-- "distressed" and "afflicted" in OUR "distresses" and "afflictions" (Isa
63:9). One who is prepared to love us nevertheless, despite our sins. And this
knowledge, this love, this kindness of a Father for a little child, is
communicated to, and shared with, His Son.
That Son has in turn shared our nature, with all its
weaknesses (Heb 2:18; 4:14,15; Isa 53:3; 1Pe 2:24), so as to become the true and
only mediator between God and men (1Ti 2:5; Heb 7:25; 8:6; 9:15; 12:24). In our
despair, no less than our joy, in our weaknesses and sins, no less than our
supposed "strengths" and "achievements", we have one who shares in our feelings
most perfectly, one who listens and one who cares and one who loves and one who
helps. "Who is he that [would] condemn? Christ Jesus, who died -- more than
that, who was raised to life -- is at the right hand of God and is also
interceding for us" (Rom 8:34): the one who, being the Judge, is in the position
to condemn is, in fact, the one who laid down his life for us, the Good Shepherd
for the sheep (John 10:11,15). He is our advocate, our intercessor, our
mediator, and our friend! Thus, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or
sword?... No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who
loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life... neither the present
nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in
all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ
Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:35,37-39). It is only when we know we are weak -- when we
have needs that no mortal can satisfy -- that we may turn wholeheartedly to the
one real source of strength (2Co 12:9,10). In the full sweep of Scripture, this
proverb of weakness and sorrow and bitterness (Pro 14:10) opens, like the temple
gate called Beautiful (cp Acts 3:10), into the inner sanctuary of healing and
peace and joy and eternal fellowship.
EACH HEART KNOWS ITS OWN BITTERNESS: Literally, "the
heart ['leb'] knows the bitterness ['marar'] of his own soul
"Marar" means to be bitter, emotionally distraught, or
miserable (Pro 14:10; 17:25; Job 9:18; Gen 26:35). It seems to be derived from
the bitter or brackish taste of water; afterward, it was used metaphorically of
bitter or hostile relationships between people. It also applies to the sour
taste of wormwood (Pro 5:4; Lam 3:15) or the bitter herbs (Exo 12:8; Num 9:11)
eaten at the Passover. The bitter herbs reminded the Israelites of the bitter
experience of slavery in Egypt, from which God delivered them (Exo 1:14). God
tested the faith of the children of Israel at the waters of Marah, which had a
bitter, brackish taste, the opposite of sweet (Exo 15:23,25; cf Pro 27:7; Isa
5:20, where bitter is contrasted to sweet). In the day of God's judgment even
strong drink -- otherwise pleasant to the taste -- will be bitter (Isa
The figurative sense of bitterness is associated with: (a) the
misery of the ruthless forced labor that the Egyptians required of Israel (Exo
1:14); (b) angry words of complaint caused by suffering, and God's seemingly
unjust treatment of someone who was righteous (Job 7:11; 23:2); (c) the
emotional agony and uncontrollable crying caused by childlessness (1Sa 1:10);
(d) other miserable or distressing circumstances of life that seemingly cannot
be changed (Gen 26:35; Job 9:18); or (e) the death of a favorite or only child
(Gen 37:34; 1Sa 30:6; 2Ki 4:27; Zec 12:10). The cause of bitterness and anguish
may be an evil human king (Exo 1:14; Est 4:1), or sometimes the bitter person
may believe that God is responsible for the sufferer's agony (1Sa 1:10,11; Rth
1:20; Job 23:1–7). Frequently God in His sovereign wisdom may close the
womb and prevent a family from having children, or in His righteous judgment
bring bitter punishment on those who are evil (Jer 4:18). Bitterness is an inner
emotional feeling of deep sorrow or an outwardly directed anger that cries out
to the power that seems to be causing the problem. Severe mourning, complaining,
and wailing were ways of expressing a person's emotional unhappiness.
Examples of those who knew such bitterness are Hannah in her
barrenness (1Sa 1:10-13), the Shunammite woman in 2Ki 4:27, and Job in Job 13:4;
AND NO ONE ELSE CAN SHARE ITS JOY: "No STRANGER
('zuwr') can share ('arav')": (1) "Zuwr" "may have a neutral sense of simply
another or belonging to another (Pro 6:1; 11:15; 14:10; 20:16, etc), but there
may be negative overtones (Job 19:15). The strange woman of Pro 1–9 (Pro
2:16; 5:3,20, etc) is a danger, not because of foreign ethnic association but
because of her immoral ways. In general 'zuwr' has a threatening nuance, and
relations with any such strange person or activity are to be avoided as
incompatible with Yahweh" (NIDOTTE). (2) The verb "arav" means "to take in
pledge; to give in pledge; to exchange". Here it means "to share
Michal could understand David's bravery, but not his joy. She
knew him as a man of war, but not as a man of God (1Sa 18:20; 2Sa 6:16). His
exuberant dancing before the LORD only caused her to scoff at him, and she paid
dearly for her inability to understand or enter into his joy.
"Remember, also, that men in their highest and deepest
conditions are remarkably secretive. The extreme heights and depths lie in
darkness. A man may openly show himself in his ordinary life, and 'wear his
heart upon his sleeve for [crows] to peck at'; but when he reaches a special
grief, the deep waters are still. The keenest griefs cut a narrow but deep
channel, and as they wear into the inmost soul they flow without noise. The
grief that babbles is a shallow brook. Silent sorrow is profound. Great misery
is dumb with silence: it opens not its mouth. It is precisely the same in the
higher ranges of joy. When once we soar into the heavenlies we are alone. As I
rode along in the South of France, the driver, turning to me, exclaimed, 'See,
there are eagles!' 'No,' I said, 'not eagles, for eagles fly alone.' Seven or
eight large birds together might be hawks, or falcons... but not true eagles. A
royal eagle soars alone into the blue: his mate may bear him company, but he has
no crew of comrades around him. The child of God, the true eagle of the skies,
when he rises into the diviner ranges of his spiritual life, is, and must be,
alone. Like their Lord, all saints will have a winepress, which they must tread
alone [Isa 63:3]; even as they will have a [Mount Nebo] to which they will climb
unattended [Deu 34]. I marvel not that men hide those lives which God has hidden
in Christ [Col 3:3], and that their fellows see not the part of them which lives
upon the invisible" (CHS).
But it is, of course, just those "invisible" things that
should, and must, sustain the believer in Christ. And it is the best and most
powerful exhortation that we can offer to one another, in the words of the
apostle Paul: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting
away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary
troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So
we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is
temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2Co 4:16-18). Seeing that which is
"invisible" in THIS world, and being nourished spiritually by that vision, is
the only means by which the true believer can leap for joy in the midst of
trials and afflictions (Isa 35:6; Luk 6:23), can sing hymns of praise at
midnight in the Philippian dungeon (Acts 16:25), and can turn the valley of
tears into a place of refreshing springs (Psa 84:6). "Though you have not seen
him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him
and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy" (1Pe 1:8).
THE HOUSE OF THE WICKED WILL BE DESTROYED, BUT THE TENT OF
THE UPRIGHT WILL FLOURISH: Cp Pro 12:7 and notes and references there. In
the NT, Jesus' parable of the two houses, one built on the shifting sands and
the other on a rock, echoes this and the similar proverbs (Mat 7:24-27). Also cp
Pro 3:33 and Isa 58:11,12.
Generally, this verse describes 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 HOUSE OF THE WICKED WILL BE DESTROYED: Sin is the
ruin of great houses, great families, and great nations. Egypt, at one time the
greatest of nations, has been reduced to a backwater -- the chief reminder of
its awesome power being the great "houses" of death erected to store the
mummified remains of its pharaohs (see Psa 49).
BUT THE TENT OF THE UPRIGHT WILL FLOURISH: "Oddly, the
tent is said to 'bloom', an unusual metaphor that suggests that house/tent is to
be taken for the occupants" (WBC). Cp the imagery of Psa 128:3 -- the wife as a
fruitful vine and the sons like olive shoots around the table -- and Psa
92:12-14: "The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a
cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the LORD, they will flourish in the
courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh
In contrast to the "house" of the wicked, the "tent" of the
upright suggests a simpler, more nomadic existence -- that enjoyed by the
fathers of Israel, and others who might be characterized as sojourners and
pilgrims in this world (Heb 11:13-16,27; 1Pe 1:1; Jam 1:1).
THERE IS A WAY THAT SEEMS RIGHT TO A MAN, BUT IN THE END IT
LEADS TO DEATH: "Way" (Heb "derek") means literally a road or a path, but is
metaphorical for a course of life. "Right" is "yashar", upright, or -- in this
context, ie of a road -- straight, level, and uncluttered. There are
philosophies, and beliefs, and ways of life that lead to ruin. One should be
warned that any false or evil course of action may seem, in the short term,
successful and safe; it may even be entered upon with the sincerest desires to
do right, and with the best of intentions; but none of that is enough. Such a
road can nevertheless take any number of "wrong turns" to destruction (the
expression is in the plural -- there may be ONE "road", singular, that SEEMS
right, but turning off as side-roads from that ONE "road" there are MANY "roads
that lead to death"). The proverb recalls the ways of the adulterous woman in
Pro 1-9. The image is that of a traveler on a straight road; it seems safe, but
it is fatal, because the destination is "Death" (cp Pro 2:18; 5:5; 7:27; 12:15;
16:2; 21:2; 28:26; also cp Rom 6:21).
Quite likely Jesus had this very proverb in mind when he said,
"Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many
enter through it" (Mat 7:13); plainly, many follow that broad, level, and
straight road simply because it appears so inviting -- not stopping to consider
the hidden dangers that lurk ahead. It is only the reasonable and expected
contrast to this negative that then yields his next statement: "But small is the
gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it" (Mat 7:14;
cp Luk 13:24). (Psa 1:6 also mentions two roads, one leading to life, and
watched over by Yahweh, and one leading to "perishing" and death.)
This verse is exactly repeated at Pro 16:25.
THERE IS A WAY THAT SEEMS RIGHT TO A MAN: "But 'things
are not what they seem.' A flame seems good to a moth; thin ice, safe to a
heedless child; the mined road, sound to the hoodwinked general; the sparkling
water, refreshing to one who knows not that the well from which it is drawn has
been poisoned. The bad social custom appears to be innocent to the slave of
fashion. The way of sin 'seemeth right' to the [dull] conscience... This
pleasant, inviting path is a tributary to a high road. Innocent as it looks in
itself, it leads into other ways, and those the ways of death. It is like a
winding lane between green hedgerows and flower-strewn banks, that brings the
traveller out at length into a very different road from that he supposed he was
nearing. There are questionable courses that do not seem to be evil in
themselves, but they lead to evil. There are amusements that seem to be innocent
enough, yet they are paths towards more dangerous things, and in the end they
bring the unwary to the very gates of [the grave]. Now, the chief question to
ask about any road is -- [Where] does it lead? If it will bring us to a
treacherous bog, a homeless waste, a dark and dangerous forest, or a perilous
precipice, it matters little that its early course is harmless. [Where] does the
way tend? If it is the path of sin, it must lead to death (Rom 6:23)" (Johnson,
One man remarked to his friend, "I don't care what your creed
is. I am an agnostic. It makes no difference what a man believes if he is
sincere." To which his friend responded: "Oh, yes, it does. Let us see. A family
was poisoned recently by eating toadstools which they sincerely believed to be
mushrooms. Three of them died. Did it make no difference? A man endorsed a note
for a friend whom he sincerely believed to be an honest man. He was a scoundrel,
and left him to pay the debt. Did it make no difference? A traveller took the
wrong train, and went to Scotland instead of to Brighton. Did it make no
difference? If a man is sincere he will take pains to know the truth. For where
facts are concerned all the thinking in the world will not change them. A
toadstool remains a toadstool, whatever we may think about it" (BI).
Some things may SEEM right, but be wrong -- deadly wrong!
"Consider David's sons. Amnon thought it right to rape his sister: he died for
it (2Sa 13:1-39). Absalom thought it right to steal his father's kingdom: he
died for it (2Sa 15:1-6; 18:1-18). Adonijah thought it right to use Solomon's
mother to beg for Abishag: he died for it (1Ki 2:12-25)" (LGBT). And of course,
Cain offered the sacrifice that SEEMED right to him, but God did not look upon
it with favor (Gen 4), presumably because it was a bloodless offering (cf Heb
9:22) -- the irony is that this led to "death" also, but in the first instance
it was the death of the righteous Abel!
BUT IN THE END IT LEADS TO DEATH: The AV is truer to
the Hebrew text: "the end thereof are the WAYS of death." This reminds us that
there may be -- ultimately -- a practically infinite number of paths that lead
to the grave. Paths of false religions are manifold and immensely varied; they
promise many pleasant but deceptive things, sometimes under the guise of
tolerance and openness and "love". Some paths are more easily seen to be evil,
and dangerous -- drugs, drunkenness, promiscuity, crime. Others may even seem
"respectable" to all but the most discerning of humans: lives of laudable public
service; lives of serious work and industry; lives of artistic development;
iives of scientific investigation; and even lives of sacrificial service to
others less fortunate. But without God, and a real knowledge of His truth, and a
faithful obedience to it, even such "commendable" lives are but other "roads"
leading to the grave. By contrast, there is one and only one "road that leads to
life" (Mat 7:14): "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name
under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
After "death", the LXX adds "and Hades [the grave]" -- as if
to emphasize that this is no symbolic death under consideration here, but the
"Reject the flesh as a way of life. It isn't. It is a way of
death. Reject it over the whole spectrum of your thinking and activity. It is
cheating, deceptive and misleading. It has nothing to offer by way of
satisfaction and happiness, in spite of all its false promises and glittering
attraction. It's the world's biggest fake and fraud" (GVG).
EVEN IN LAUGHTER THE HEART MAY ACHE, AND JOY MAY END IN
GRIEF: In this present world, no joy is permanent, and no joy is completely
free of grief. We live, as Robert Roberts put it, in a "mixed and preparatory
state". So long as sin and death reign (Rom 5:21; 6:21,23a), even the "new
creation" of believers is subject to vanity, emptiness, and futility (Rom 8:20).
Much of what passes for joy, now, is superficial. As Matthew Henry puts it, much
mirth "is but from the teeth outward." There is underlying pain that will remain
after the "joy" is gone.
There is something in this verse of Ecclesiastes' "Preacher":
"For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief"
(Ecc 1:18). "Laughter is foolish. And what does pleasure accomplish?... All his
days [a man's] work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest.
This too is meaningless" (Ecc 2:11,23).
Is this a message of despair? Not at all. It is, again in the
words of Paul in Romans, a necessary reminder: our whole world, and we
ourselves, have been subjected to this vanity and frustration. But we have been
so subjected "IN HOPE"... in hope -- a sure and certain hope -- that we WILL at
last be "liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious
freedom of the children of God... [which is] our adoption as sons, the
redemption of our bodies" (Rom 8:21,23; cp Rom 6:22,23b).
In fact, sorrow is to be commended for the lessons it teaches
(Ecc 7:1-5). It is just because of who and what we are, and the world we live in
now, that -- even in the best of circumstances, and with the best of intentions,
and the best of hopes -- we may live on a "roller-coaster", susceptible to
alternating waves of joyfulness and underlying pain and grief. Our task should
be: (1) to cherish the joy, when it comes, and to build upon it, and to share it
with others, and (2) to develop the means, and the attitude, to weather the
storms of sadness and worry and doubt that at times assail us. It is for these
times that our loving Father has given us Scripture to study, past blessings to
remember, His unfailing promises upon which to meditate, and prayer as the means
of approaching His glorious throne. True, in this world, laughter may often end
in an aching heart, and joy may often end in grief. But in the world to come, as
surely as the sun rises each morning, heartache and grief WILL end in joy! "I
have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be
complete" (John 15:11). "I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the
world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving
birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born
she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.
So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will
rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask
me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in
my name" (John 16:20-23). "You [O, LORD] have made known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right
hand" (Psa 16:11).
EVEN IN LAUGHTER THE HEART MAY ACHE: "Many of our
earthly joys die in the very act of being enjoyed. Those which depend on the
gratification of some appetite expire in fruition, and at each recurrence are
less and less complete. The influence of habit works in two ways to rob all such
joys of their power to minister to us -- it increases the appetite and decreases
the power of the object to satisfy. Some are followed by swift revulsion and
remorse; all soon become stale; some are followed by quick remorse; some are
necessarily left behind as we go on in life. To the old man the pleasures of
youth are but like children's toys long since outgrown and left behind. All are
at the mercy of externals. Those which we have not left [earlier] we have to
leave [at the end]. The saddest lives are those of pleasure-seekers, and the
saddest deaths are those of the men who sought for joy where it was not to be
found, and sought for their gratification in a world which leaves them, and
which they have to leave" (Maclaren).
Examples: (1) Belshazzar and the feasting lords and ladies of
Babylon, mirthful with wine and banqueting one moment, and then stricken with
fear and trembling the next -- when they see the handwriting on the wall, and
know their kingdom, and their very days, are strictly numbered (Dan 5). (2)
Nabal (1Sa 25:36,37), and his NT counterpart, the rich fool who lays out
elaborate plans to build bigger barns in which to store his great wealth, only
to die that very night (Luk 12:13-21). (3) Haman, finding no satisfaction in his
banqueting because his heart was filled with hatred (Est 5:9-13). (4) The
"prodigal son", who squandered his wealth in riotous living -- only to realize,
finally, how empty it all was (Luk 15:13-24). (5) And then there is the fierce
and solemn warning of God's prophet Amos to those who are complacent in Zion:
"You put off the evil day and bring near a reign of terror. You lie on beds
inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches. You dine on choice lambs and
fattened calves. You strum away on your harps like David and improvise on
musical instruments. You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions,
but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph. Therefore you will be among the
first to go into exile; your feasting and lounging will end" (Amo
AND JOY MAY END IN GRIEF: "Grief" is the Hebrew
"tuwgah" -- depression or grief. The word appears three times in the book of
Proverbs. In each case (Pro 10:1; 14:13; 17:21), "tuwgah", grief or sorrow, is
paralleled with joy ("simchah"). A foolish son brings grief to his mother (Pro
10:1), and the parent who produces a fool gives birth also to grief (Pro 17:21).
By contrast, a wise ("chokham") son is a source of joy (Pro 10:1), and he who is
the father of a fool has no joy (Pro 17:21).
Joy in this world has in itself no element of endurance, and
when it is past, the real grief that it masked comes into prominence. In this
mortal life also joy and sorrow are strangely intermingled; sorrow flows closely
on the steps of joy: "The sweetest waters at length find their way to the sea,
and are embittered there." Another proverb reminds us: "There is no rose without
a thorn." And Shelley wrote: "Our sincerest laughter with some pain is fraught."
But the Christian's remedy is found in Mat 5:4: "Blessed are
those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (cp Luk 6:21,25). And so,
ultimately, the somber tone of this proverb is reversed -- and grief will end in
joy! The true believer, then, lives in hope, for he knows the time is coming
when all his fortunes will be permanently and perfectly reversed. And in measure
as he believes this, he is, in Paul's words, "hard pressed on every side, but
not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed" (2Co 4:8,9). Even more, as his inner spirit
yearns for and begins to dwell in that "promised land" that he will "later
receive", that "city with foundations" to which he looks forward (Heb 11:8-10),
then -- in his pilgrim's world, he is "dying, and yet living on; beaten, and yet
not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing... having nothing, and yet
possessing everything" (2Co 6:9,10).
The KJV of this second phrase reads: "and the end of THAT
mirth is heaviness". Derek Kidner comments that the gratuitous insertion of
"that" limits the meaning unduly. He is correct: surely the phrase is meant to
refer to "ALL mirth" -- ie, all mirth in this life.
Side note: some commentators attempt to make v 13 here no more
than a follow-up to v 12, as if to say, 'The end of the way that seems right to
a man is filled with sorrow and grief.' And IF the two verses were directly
linked, then that interpretation would be quite reasonable. But, as the
exposition above demonstrates, there is significant meaning in v 13 as it stand
alone, and no need to "explain away" its force by attaching it as an addendum to
the preceding verse.
THE FAITHLESS WILL BE FULLY REPAID FOR THEIR WAYS, AND THE
GOOD MAN REWARDED FOR HIS: The NIV here is much more accurate than the KJV.
The KJV reads: "The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways: and a
good man shall be satisfied from himself" -- which sounds (whether or not so
intended by the translators) very much as though (2) the punishments of bad men
and the rewards of good men are all to be found, more or less incidentally, in
this life (eg, 'Vice is its own punishment, and virtue its own reward!'), and
(2) God the great Judge has little or nothing to do with it. But surely the
furthest we might go in this direction is to realize that, in limited ways, the
"faithless" man reaps what he sows even now, and likewise, in limited ways, the
"good man" receives some satisfaction from his life of faith even now. But in
the bigger picture -- which must be part of this verse also -- the faithless
will be fully repaid for his ways only at the great judgment, and likewise the
good man will be fully rewarded only at that same judgment.
This is one of many proverbs under the heading "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 FAITHLESS WILL BE FULLY REPAID FOR THEIR WAYS:
"Faithless" is, literally, "the man whose heart ('leb') is turned away, or
backslidden ('suwg')" -- ie, from the way of righteousness. It might also be
translated: "the man with a perverted heart"! "Suwg" occurs only this once in
Proverbs, but it occurs a number of times in Psalms, where it describes the man
who "turns away" from God (Psa 44:18; 53:3; 78:57; 80:18), as well as the wicked
which are "turned away" by God (Psa 35:4; 40:14; 70:2; 129:5).
It really ought to be said, that to "turn away" or "backslide"
may mean to leave the Truth, and the way of life all at once, or suddenly. But
much more likely, it can mean to drift, gradually but inexorably, away from
those things that were once held dear. This sort of "backsliding" is perhaps the
most dangerous, the most insidious, because it happens by such small degrees
that it is not perceived for what it is. "Backsliders are "those who, in any
measure or degree, even for a very little time, decline from the point which
they have reached. Note the word 'backslider.' He is not a back-runner, nor a
back-leaper, but a back-slider; he slides back with an easy, effortless motion,
softly, quietly, perhaps unsuspected by himself or anybody else. Nobody ever
slides up. The Christian life is a climbing. If you would know how to
back-slide, the answer is, 'Leave off going forward and you will slide
backward.' Note that this is a backslider in heart. All backsliding begins
within, begins with the heart's growing lukewarm" (CHS).
The Bible is full of warnings against this gradual
backsliding: "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have
heard, so that we do not drift away" (Heb 2:1). "See to it, brothers, that none
of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But
encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you
may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness" (Heb 3:12,13). "Let us hold unswervingly
to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how
we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up
meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one
another-- and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (Heb 10:23-25). "I
know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one
or the other! So, because you are lukewarm -- neither hot nor cold -- I am about
to spit you out of my mouth" (Rev 3:15,16). "Only be careful, and watch
yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or
let them slip from your heart as long as you live... Be careful not to forget
the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you" (Deu 4:9,23). "Take to
heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may
command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not
just idle words for you -- they are your life" (Deu 32:46,47). "How can a young
man keep his way pure? By living according to your word" (Psa 119:9).
It is one of the great benefits of a book like Proverbs, that
the constant reading of its time-worn, perhaps "dull", but definitely true
precepts and admonitions keeps us focused on the simple daily tasks of: (1)
considering our ways, (2) watching how we live every day, (3) nurturing good
habits, and (4) always being aware of an all-wise, all-powerful God who is
observing our actions. A daily application of Proverbs, or some other like
portion of Scripture, is the antidote to "drifting away" from God's holy Truth
(cp Pro 3:21; 4:1-4,20-22; 7:1,2; and many other passages).
The verb "saba" (literally, "to be filled, or satisfied") here
means "to be repaid", that is, to partake in his own evil ways; in other words,
his "turning away" will come back to haunt him (quite possibly in this life but
especially in "the world to come"). "Since they hated knowledge and did not
choose to fear the LORD, since they would not accept my advice and spurned my
rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of
their schemes" (Pro 1:31).
AND THE GOOD MAN REWARDED FOR HIS: The words "shall be
satisfied" (KJV), or "rewarded" (NIV) are borrowed from the first phrase, and
added by the translators to complete the elliptical thought in the Hebrew.
Literally the second half of this verse is simply, "and the good man from
himself". Cp Pro 12:14: "From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good
things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him" (cf Pro 13:2). And Isa
3:10: "Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the
fruit of their deeds." (This last verse follows on from Isa 3:9, which says of
the wicked: "They have brought disaster upon themselves"; thus Isa 3:9,10
successively parallels the two parts of Pro 14:14.)
So, in the first instance, the man who drinks of Christ's
living water will never thirst, precisely because "the water [Christ] gives him
will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (Joh 4:14). He
will be satisfied, in this life, with the water of life which quenches his
spiritual thirst, even now. This ongoing source of refreshing, which he can
carry with himself because he has the Word of God in his heart and mind, will
help to direct his thoughts and actions, and keep him centered on the way that
leads to life. It will also, in measure, make him self-sufficient and not
dependent upon external conditions for his happiness and joy -- for his joy is
in the LORD (Neh 8:10; Psa 86:4; 92:4; 126:2,3; and many other
Alexander Maclaren comments upon this kind of "satisfaction
from oneself" (though he is careful to point out, and rightly, that this is not
the same as "self-satisfaction"): "No man is satisfied with himself until he has
subjugated himself. What makes men restless and discontented is their tossing,
anarchical desires. To live by impulse, or passion, or by anything but love to
God, is to make ourselves our own tormentors. It is always true that he 'who
loveth his life shall lose it' [cp Mat 10:39; 16:25,26; Mat 8:35,36; Luk 9:24;
17:33] and loses it by the very act of loving it. Most men's lives are like the
troubled sea, 'which cannot rest,' and whose tossing surges, alas! 'cast up mire
and dirt' [Isa 57:20], for their restless lives bring to the surface much that
was meant to lie undisturbed in the depths. But he who has subdued himself is
like some still lake which 'heareth not the loud winds when they call,' and
mirrors the silent heavens on its calm surface [cp the sea of glass in Rev 4:6;
15:2]. But further, goodness brings satisfaction, because, as the Psalmist says,
'in keeping Thy commandments there is great reward' [Psa 19:11]. There is a glow
accompanying even partial obedience which diffuses itself with grateful warmth
through the whole being of a man. And such goodness tends to the preservation of
health of soul as natural, simple living to the health of the body. And that
general sense of well-being brings with it a satisfaction compared with which
all the feverish bliss of the voluptuary is poor indeed."
But then of course, the "water of life" -- as well as the "sea
of glass" -- becomes a symbol also of the true and perfect eternal life,
bestowed by Christ at the Judgment Seat (cp Rev 7:16,17; 21:6). Thus there is a
"reward" in this life, but it is particularly and especially in the
contemplation of the great and lasting "reward" yet to come.
A SIMPLE MAN BELIEVES ANYTHING, BUT A PRUDENT MAN GIVES
THOUGHT TO HIS STEPS: Wisdom prevents gullibility. The simple man believes
every word he hears, quite possibly because he hears what he wants to hear. The
prudent person, however, analyzes carefully each course of action.
A SIMPLE MAN BELIEVES ANYTHING: "Simple" is "pethi",
one who is untrained intellectually and morally. The NET renders this "naive". A
"pethi" is one who lacks prudence ("hormah") (Pro 1:4; 8:5; 19:25), wisdom
("chokmah") (Pro 21:11; cf Psa 19:7), and discernment ("benim") (Pro 9:6; cf Pro
19:25; Psa 119:130), and thus is open to all influences (Pro 1:22). He is, in
the words of Paul, one who is an "infant", "tossed back and forth by the waves,
and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and
craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming" (Eph 4:14).
The variation of "emeth" ("believes") used in this verse is
said to mean specifically believing in a report, as distinguished from believing
in a person; other examples of this use are 1Ki 10:7 (= 2Ch 9:6), Isa 53:1, and
"Parent, teach your children to be skeptics. It can be
enjoyable. Show them the false advertisement you get about the free family
cruise to Tahiti. Show them the fine print requiring you to get to Mexico City
for departure and the contract to rent expensive condos on four continents over
the next four years. Teach them to look for the fine print, and teach them to
look around in a full circle, which is [the literal meaning of the KJV's]
'circumspection' (Eph 5:15).
"Teach your children one of life's greatest lessons -- there
is no free lunch. Teach them another -- no stranger loves them. For the salesman
and infomercial have one goal, to take money from their pocket for themselves.
Teach them the Bible is the only book to believe absolutely. Teach them the Lord
is the only Person they can totally trust.
"Watch [the Pentecostal faith-healer on television]. Tell them
he has never healed anyone, takes in over $100 million per year, and refuses to
open his organization to audits or interviews. Read 'The Emperor's New Clothes'
to them, and explain how often they will need to say, 'But the emperor doesn't
have any clothes on!' in our twisted world of peer-pressured perversity.
"We live in the perilous times of the last days (2Ti 3:1).
Information is the rage. Schools and degrees, books and other media, multiply
ridiculously. We are gorged on information, but there is no truth! Paul warned,
'Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth' (2Ti 3:7).
And it will not get better, for he said, 'Evil men and seducers shall wax worse
and worse, deceiving, and being deceived' (2Ti 3:13)" (LGBT).
BUT A PRUDENT MAN GIVES THOUGHT TO HIS STEPS: "Prudent"
is "arum" -- a shrewd man (cf also Mat 10:16) able to make critical
distinctions, and thus to discriminate between good and evil, and wise and
foolish. He is able to foresee difficulties and temptations and problems in the
path ahead (cf, generally, Pro 22:3; 27:12).
"Steps" ("goings" in the KJV) is from the Hebrew "ashur",
which, along with "magal" ("path") and "derek" ("road"), is metaphorical for a
person's way of life; here, undoubtedly, it refers especially to a moral or
religious life, walking after God. Cp this with Pro 13:16: "Every prudent man
acts out of knowledge, but a fool exposes his folly." And Pro 14:8: "The wisdom
of the prudent is to give thought to their ways ('derek')."
" 'Why are you treading so carefully?' said a donkey to a
heavily laden horse. 'You'll never get home at that rate.' 'Do you want to
know?' was the answer; 'it is because I remember there's a stone on the road
somewhere about here. I stumbled over it this morning on my way to work, and I
don't mean to have another fall this evening' " (Presser, BI).
In the churches around us, it is common, even fashionable, to
praise a sort of "faith" which is distinctly unscriptural -- a pseudo-"faith"
which is synonymous with credulity or gullibility. It has been said, only partly
with tongue in cheek, that "faith" is the ability to believe the impossible on
the basis of absolutely no evidence. And such "faith" (which we hardly need say,
is NO faith at all) is encouraged by the worst sorts of charlatans, the smooth,
well-groomed, well-dressed "salesmen" masquerading as "ministers" of the gospel.
Such "wolves" know how to coax, wheedle, stroke, and coerce their "flocks" into
following their teachings blindly, and at the same time they congratulate them
on their "faith", which is oh so wonderfully "Spirit-led" or "Spirit-filled".
Such verses as Pro 14:15 put the lie to this standard, and mark out such dupes
as the "simple" who "believe anything"; at the same time, these verses counsel
prudence, logical analysis, shrewdness, and intelligence as the handmaidens and
helpers of "faith", not the enemies. "Watch out for false prophets. They come to
you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves" (Mat 7:15).
"Test everything. Hold fast to the good" (1Th 5:21). "Test and approve what
God's will is" (Rom 12:2). "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit [ie
teacher], but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many
false prophets have gone out into the world" (1Jo 4:1). Luke commended the Jews
at Berea because "they received the message with great eagerness and examined
the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11). And
Christ commended the believers at Ephesus with these words: "I know your deeds,
your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked
men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have
found them false" (Rev 2:2).
Apropos of this, Robert Roberts writes: "There is a certain
kind of simplicity that is good -- simplicity concerning that which is evil (Rom
14:19). But to be simple in the sense of the proverb [Pro 14:15], is evil. To be
simple in this sense is to be undiscerning. What we hear requires discernment as
to whether we receive it or not; and this discernment comes of experience and
reflection. Most of the talk that goes on among men is mere babble. Even things
untrue, or most inaccurate, easily get into circulation and credit, with the
common run of people, and if you trust to the echoes of common talk you will
certainly be led astray -- grievously so, sometimes -- especially so as
affecting matters of divine principle. Exercise discernment: make sure of the
foundations, before committing yourself. Be not of the simple, who believeth
every word." Then, as though to cover the other extreme, RR also adds, "On the
other hand, do not belong to that other, but more pretentious class of
simpletons who believe nothing, unless their own precious eyes have seen.
Nothing requires less capacity than unbelief: it is the highest exercise of the
finest faculties of the human organisation, that enables the mind judicially to
extract conviction from evidence that may lie scattered far and wide."
A WISE MAN FEARS THE LORD AND SHUNS EVIL, BUT A FOOL IS
HOTHEADED AND RECKLESS: Wise people are cautious and not reckless.
A WISE MAN FEARS THE LORD AND SHUNS EVIL: Since the
Name of God is not used here (cp the AV), the verse probably does not mean,
necessarily, that the wise man ("chokmah") fears Yahweh, but that he fears the
consequences of his actions -- thus he is cautious: he "turns away" ("suwr")
from evil. Of course, this comes close to saying the same thing, whether or not
the Name of God occurs in this verse: the one who fears God will fear the
consequences of rash or reckless actions.
To those traveling the road of wickedness, the admonitions are
to leave that way and take the path of righteousness (Pro 3:7). Warnings are
issued to keep one's distance from evil and wickedness (Num 16:26; Pro 3:7; Isa
52:11) and to remove ("suwr") strange gods (Gen 35:2; Josh 24:14; 1Sa 7:3),
false worship (Amo 5:21,23), lying (Psa 119:29), perversity (Pro 4:24), or evil
generally (Isa 1:16). To depart from the way of evil is understanding (Job
28:28; cf Job 1:8; Pro 14:16), but fools detest doing that (Pro 13:19). By the
fear of the LORD one avoids ("suwr") evil (Pro 16:6). "A prudent man sees danger
and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it" (Pro 22:3;
When Nathan rebuked David, he repented (2Sa 12:13). When Jonah
warned Nineveh, they repented (Jon 3:5). Even Ahab repented, when warned by
Elijah (1Ki 21:27-29). All these men received mercy for fearing and departing
from evil. So a wise man examines himself by God's help to make sure there is no
evil in his heart (Psa 139:23,24). But when Moses warned Pharaoh, he hardened
his heart (Exo 8:32); and when he warned Korah and company, they defied him (Num
16:1-19). When Hanani warned Asa, he angrily put him in prison (2Ch 16:7-14).
And though our Lord warned his generation repeatedly, they crucified him in
rage. All these men were judged severely.
"So powerful a passion as fear was not given us for nothing,
nor should we be ashamed of a timidity which leads us to give a wide berth to
danger, to keep out of the lion's path. Over-confidence springs from the want of
a true estimate of our proper strength and weakness, and the security it begets
is false" (Johnson, Pulpit).
BUT A FOOL IS HOTHEADED AND RECKLESS: "Fool" is the
Hebrew "keciyl": the word occurs 70 times in the OT, and 49 times in Proverbs
alone. It means to be insolent in religion, and stupid in practical affairs. In
contrast to the wise man, the fool is reckless, self-assured, and overconfident.
The fool is arrogantly confident, when he of all types of people should be
cautious. He illustrates the old saying: "Fools rush in where angels fear to
He is "hotheaded" -- he "throws off restraint" (AV; NET): the
Hebrew is "abar", "to pass over", ie to go beyond the bounds of propriety or
good judgment, and thus to act insolently or recklessly (BDB 720). The sw occurs
in Pro 20:2, where it describes the one who "angers" the king -- presumably by
overstepping the bounds of behavior in the king's presence; and in Pro 26:17,
where it describes a man who "meddles" in a quarrel not his own.
The second word of description here is "batach" -- to be
assured or confident; in some instances it may mean to have reasonable grounds
for assurance or confidence, but in this instance it plainly means to be
self-assured and overconfident (as the NET puts it). Such an attitude may lead
to "recklessness", as the NIV suggests -- but that is not the principal meaning
of the word.
"The proud and arrogant man -- 'Mocker' is his name; he
behaves with overweening pride" (Pro 21:24). "He who trusts in himself is a fool
['keciyl'], but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe" (Pro 28:26).
Cain was a fool; he impetuously envied Abel, because God
rejected his offering (Gen 4:4-8). Rehoboam recklessly rejected the counsels of
the wise men in favor of the foolish counsel of his friends (1Ki 12:13-15).
Uzziah was a fool; he angrily entered the temple, though the priests warned him
against it (2Ch 26:16-21). Herodias raged against John for reproving her
adulterous marriage to Herod (Mark 6:17-28). They all arrogantly opposed God and
His servants in rage.
"A wise man will recognise restraint and respond with fear of
the consequences. He will check himself and depart from evil, but the fool will
be hostile at all constraints. He will boldly proclaim that his conduct should
be allowed and will deny that he is in any jeopardy at all. He will find
precedent in scripture and protest loudly to any who would warn him. This fool
is not of the 'out there in the world' kind. He claims to be a son of God. The
more outrageous his conduct the louder he protests; some may be tempted to
overlook the fault. But they do him no favour because his is in the way of the
fool. It is his fault and if he will not change he will suffer for it in the
end. He has only himself to blame" (Bowen).
A QUICK-TEMPERED MAN DOES FOOLISH THINGS, AND A CRAFTY MAN
IS HATED: The quick-tempered person acts foolishly and loses people's
respect; perhaps he is even pitied. On the other hand, the malicious plotter is
truly hated. There is danger on both sides, in hastiness and in deferring anger,
but the latter is the worst offence.
A QUICK-TEMPERED MAN DOES FOOLISH THINGS:
"Quick-tempered" is the Hebrew "qetzar appayim" -- which means, literally,
"short in his nostrils"; that is, (a) "because, when a man is angry, his nose is
contracted, and drawn up towards his eyes" (Clarke), or (b) he lets only a short
time elapse between taking offence and giving vent to his indignation. Thus,
"Better... a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city" (Pro 16:32;
cf also Pro 14:29; 15:18; Ecc 7:9; 1Co 13:5; Jam 1:19,20; 2Ti 2:24). See Lesson,
Prov and temper.
"Before applying this proverb, remember that not all anger is
sin. God is angry at the wicked every day (Psa 7:11), and He was angry at Moses
(Exo 4:14). Moses was justifiably angry at Israel worshipping the golden calf
(Exo 32:19). And Jesus was angry at the cruelty of religious Jews (Mar 3:5).
Properly directed anger for a righteous cause is good and holy. Any other anger
must be kept free from sin and ended quickly (Eph 4:26).
"Some men have quick tempers (they are intemperate, a sin).
They are infants in men's bodies. They never grew up or learned self-discipline.
They are weak and cannot rule their spirits. They usually had a parent with the
same fault. When provoked, often over nothing, they lose control of thoughts,
emotions, words, or actions in seconds. The resulting outburst shames them as
fools, costing them friends (Pro 12:16; 22:24; 25:8; 29:22)" (LGBT).
A CRAFTY MAN IS HATED: "A crafty man" is "a man of
devices, or schemes (ie, 'mezimmoth')". The AV, ASV, and Rotherham have: "A man
of wicked devices is hated." This word usually denotes EVIL plans or schemes.
Anyone given to making plans for evil is condemned by God (Pro 12:2). In the law
any one who commits perjury incurs the very penalty that would have been
pronounced against the one plotted against if convicted (Deu 19:16–19).
Those who trust God, however, should not be deeply irritated when evildoers
carry out their wicked schemes with initial success (Psa 37:7). In Pro 24:8 a
person who calculatingly devises evil schemes is called "an intriguer"
("mezimmoth ba'al" -- literally, "master of schemes"). The wicked may even go so
far as to devise evil plans against God (Psa 139:20; cf Psa 10:4); nevertheless,
they will not succeed (Psa 21:11). As would be expected, those who execute evil
schemes are not welcomed by God in the temple, neither will their vows and
offering sacrifices remove their guilt, especially when offered with an evil
intent (Jer 11:15; cf Pro 21:27).
"Hated" is the Hebrew "yissane", which also occurs in v 20:
"The poor are shunned ['sane'] by their neighbors."
Some men have black hearts that despise others and secretly
harbor malice for long periods of time. They cover their hatred with vain
smiles, false words, and lying kindnesses (Pro 26:24-26). Theirs is no small
sin, for it is like premeditated murder compared to involuntary manslaughter.
"The scoundrel's methods are wicked, he makes up evil schemes ['mezimmoth'] to
destroy the poor with lies, even when the plea of the needy is just" (Isa 32:7).
God and men hate this kind of malicious anger, which these truly wicked men
cultivate and harbor for a long time, while laying plans for revenge (Pro
6:16-19). As we look at the whole verse, we realize that weakness is one thing;
but out-and-out willfulness is another! Rash anger is hurtful, and pitiable, but
cold and calculating malice is surely an abomination! Moses died short of Canaan
because of presumption and foolish anger (Num 20:10-12), but Haman and his ten
sons were hanged for their malicious long-term strategy for Jewish genocide (Est
3:5-15; 7:9; 9:13-14)!
An alternative reading of this second phrase has been
suggested: the LXX substitutes "endures" ("yissa", from the Hebrew "nasa") in
place of "is hated" ("yissane", from the Hebrew "sane"). This change seems to
have arisen on the assumption that a greater contrast between the two phrases
was needed (although, as we know, not all proverbs are perfectly antithetical).
Then, if "mezimmoth" is taken in a good sense (again, which is possible, but not
the most likely), then the phrase might be rendered: "But a wise man [ie, a
prudent man, who thinks out and plans ahead] endures" (CH Toy, ICC). Cp the RSV:
"But a man of discretion is patient." In other words, the quick-tempered person
acts foolishly and loses people's respect, but the wise man does not. (IF this
view of the verse is adopted, then the whole verse finds a counterpart in Pro
So which of the two is better? Perhaps, with the NIV, AV, and
the others, the first is better, for two reasons: (1) it requires no emendation
of the Hebrew text, and (2) "mezzimoth" does most often suggest "wicked"
THE SIMPLE INHERIT FOLLY, BUT THE PRUDENT ARE CROWNED WITH
KNOWLEDGE: The kind of honor one receives in life is based on the amount of
wisdom used. Proverbs of prudence and foolishness: Pro 13:16; 14:8,18,33;
15:14,21; 16:21,22; 17:24; 18:2,15; 24:3-7; 26:6-11; 28:5. Cp, generally, Pro
3:35: "The wise inherit honor, but fools he holds up to shame." Also cp Pro
4:7-9: "Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have,
get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will
honor you. She will set a garland of grace on your head and present you with a
crown of splendor."
THE SIMPLE INHERIT FOLLY: Nothing but "folly" is the
inheritance of the "simple" ("pethiy"). The folly may well be his because it
first belonged to his parents, and he has inherited their character traits and
genetic dispositions, which point him in the same direction. Indeed, we all
inherit from our first parents Adam and Eve a weak and sin-susceptible nature,
and decaying, dying bodies. It is not, however, inevitable that a lasting folly
be the lot in life of any man, even a "simple" one; a greater effort to acquire
knowledge might elevate anyone out of the category of "fool". The challenge is a
difficult one in any case, and perhaps more difficult for some than others, but
not necessarily insurmountable for anyone. However, left to seek his own level,
like water running inevitably downhill, the simple one can inherit nothing but
simplicity, the fool nothing but folly (cp Job 11:12; Psa 51:5; Jer
INHERIT: "Inherit" (NIV, AV, RV) is "nachal" -- the sw
could mean, in the more active sense, "acquire" (as RSV) or "receive" as well.
Alternatively, Driver -- borrowing from the idea and the wording of Pro 25:12,
where "ornament" ("chaliy" occurs in a similar context -- proposes "are adorned
with" (from "chalah"). But WBC counters with the statement: "This improves the
parallelism [ie, "are adorned with" alongside of "are crowned with"], but it is
on shaky semantic ground, and has no support from the ancient versions." All in
all, there is no great reason why "inherit" or "acquire" need not stand in the
BUT THE PRUDENT ARE CROWNED WITH KNOWLEDGE: Following
on from the thought of the first phrase, the prudent will be "crowned" with
knowledge, but -- again -- this is not inevitable. It may be that their "crown"
is, to some extent, a family inheritance. But if, in this case, the potential
heir does not conduct himself so as to acquire, and to value, and to put to
practical use, knowledge -- if, in short, he thinks of it as a birthright, and
gives no attention to it -- then he will lose his crown (Rev 3:11). And so, in
some measure, the "crown" of eternal life will be an inheritance, or a gift; but
it also will be an achievement -- the righteous will "crown himself" (cf 1Co
9:25; 2Ti 2:5; Jam 1:12) with knowledge... and wisdom, and faith, and
CROWNED: "Crowned" is "kathar", but this is somewhat
diffficult; instead of "are crowned" or "crown themselves", other -- more
literal -- meanings might be "encompass" (ie, possess) or "embrace" (cp sw Psa
22:12; 142:7). Nevertheless, the comments above still stand.
There is nothing fatalistic about this verse. Can a simple man
become a prudent man? Of course! He does it, in part, by reading Proverbs; for
the purpose of this book is, among other things, to give "prudence" to the
"simple" (Pro 1:4). And he does it by reading the other parts of God's Law as
well, for "the [whole] law of the LORD is perfect... trustworthy, making wise
the simple" (Psa 19:7). "The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives
understanding to the simple" (Psa 119:130). Wisdom is offered throughout
Proverbs and the rest of the Bible, but most men do not want it (Pro 8:5; 9:4).
They would rather listen to the seductive temptations of their own inner
serpents, and the offers of "stolen water" and "food eaten in secret" (Pro
9:13-18). And so they follow in the ways of lying adulteresses, heedless
friends, foolish preachers, unscrupulous salesmen, and the like (Pro
"Is not wisdom freely offered to thee in asking for it (Jam
1:5)? Dost not thou therefore continue simple only by thy wilful neglect? If
knowledge is at hand, to be satisfied with ignorance is to throw away a talent
of inestimable price. 'I confess', says Dr Smith, 'God has no need of any man's
learning; but certainly then he has much less need of his ignorance' "
EVIL MEN WILL BOW DOWN IN THE PRESENCE OF THE GOOD, AND THE
WICKED AT THE GATES OF THE RIGHTEOUS: Ultimately the wicked will acknowledge
and serve the righteous. The figure used here is of a conquered people kneeling
before their victors awaiting their commands. While this proverb focuses to some
extent on triumphs in this life, one cannot help but think of the ultimate
fulfillment of the thought in Phi 2:9-11: "Therefore God exalted [Jesus] 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
EVIL MEN WILL BOW DOWN IN THE PRESENCE OF THE GOOD: To
bow down ("shakhakh") is to acknowledge the superiority of another. Generally,
Johnson comments: "The picture is presented of the envoy of a conquered people
who kneels at the palace gate of the conqueror and waits on his commands (cp on
the thought, Pro 13:9,22; Psa 37:25). There is a might in goodness; may we not
say the only true might is that of goodness, for it has omnipotence at its back?
It is victorious, irresistible, in the end. It is content to be acknowledged in
the end by all, the evil as well as the good." He then adds -- rather
insightfully -- that, in the meantime, "hypocrisy is the homage paid by vice to
goodness" (Pulpit), even, we might add, if such homage is paid reluctantly,
unconsciously, or grudgingly.
AND THE WICKED [will bow down] AT THE GATES OF THE RIGHTEOUS:
The phrase "will bow down" does not appear in this line but is implied by the
parallelism; it is supplied in some translations for clarity and smoothness. To
bow at the gates of another may suggest a supplicant asking for favors or
blessings (cp Lazarus at the gate of the rich man, in Luk 16:20,21, and, more
generally, the dogs begging crumbs from the children's table, in Mat 15:27 and
Mar 7:28). "The gates of the righteous" may refer to the entrances to the
tabernacle or temple -- called also "gates of righteousness" and "the gate of
the LORD" in Psa 118:19,20. To bow down at such gates means to seek humbly the
privilege of coming into the presence of the LORD and praising Him and
beseeching His favor. Such gates may also picture an entrance into the Kingdom
of God, or (which is much the same thing) the coming of the Kingdom of God to
the earth and mankind: thus in days to come Jerusalem will see "the gates of
righteousness" opened so that a King of Righteousness, a King of Glory, may come
into his city and his temple (Psa 110:4; 24:7,10). And finally, "the gates" may
be opened to admit the righteous NATION into God's kingdom and God's house (Isa
So, given such cross-references, why is it the "evil" and the
"wicked" especially who bow down? Several possibilities suggest themselves:
(1) All men fit, first of all, into the category of "evil" and
"wicked", and their supplication at the gates of the Heavenly Father are for the
forgiveness of their sins; indeed, such supplication is the very means by which
the "wicked" become the "righteous" (cf Pro 8:34). An illustration of this would
be Joseph's brothers bowing down before him (Gen 42:6; 43:28), and another would
be the Philippian jailer falling down trembling before Paul and Silas (Acts
16:29). (The Philippian magistrates also "bow down" before Paul and Silas, but
not to beseech spiritual blessing so much as to escape secular punishment from
their own superiors: Acts 16:39.)
(2) Further, the Kingdom Age will see many who previously
belonged in such categories coming forward to acknowledge, for the first time,
that their fathers inherited lies (Jer 16:19), and that there is but one God and
one LORD over them all (cf Phi 2:9-11 again). This point may also be illustrated
by the prophecy of Rev 3:9, where Christ promises the believers at Philadelphia:
"I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews
though they are not, but are liars -- I will make them come and fall down at
your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you" (also cp Dan 7:27; Isa 49:23;
60:14; Mic 7:10,16,17; etc). Isa 60:11,12 associates this kind of worshipful
acknowledgment in the Kingdom of God with the GATES of Zion!
(3) A third possibility: the unrepentant wicked will at last
bow down before the righteous God, His righteous Son, and the righteous saints
-- even as the Canaanite kings cringed before Joshua's captains (Jos 10:24; cp
Deu 33:29; Psa 2:11,12; 49:14; 110:5; 149:8,9; Mal 4:3; etc). And so, one way or
another, all the wicked will finally bow down before the LORD -- either
willingly in thankfulness and praise for blessings sought and received, or
unwillingly in final judgment and destruction.
THE POOR ARE SHUNNED EVEN BY THEIR NEIGHBORS, BUT THE RICH
HAVE MANY FRIENDS: To a large extent in this life, possessions determine
popularity. Other proverbs of the rich and poor: Pro 10:22; 11:28; 13:7,8;
14:24; 18:11,23; 19:1,4,7,22; 22:2,7; 28:6,11; 29:13.
THE POOR ARE SHUNNED EVEN BY THEIR NEIGHBORS: "Shunned"
is "yissane" (sw "hated", v 17). Not only are the poor shunned by others, but
sometimes they are actively oppressed by the well-to-do: "If you see the poor
oppressed in a district, and justice and rights denied, do not be surprised at
such things" (Ecc 5:8). When their fields produce crops, injustice sweeps it
away (Pro 13:23). They are often unsupported by family, friends, and neighbors
(Pro 19:4,7). They receive little mercy from the rich (Pro 18:23; cp Job 6:27;
Pro 3:29), who rule over them and, even when they lend them money, are careful
to extract the last ounce of exorbitant interest from them (Pro 22:7; cp Pro
This sad but true picture of human nature is not given
approvingly, but only as a fact. It should go without saying that it is terribly
wrong, as the very next verse demonstrates: "He who despises his neighbor sins."
There are wonderful counterexamples to this sad observation:
Ruth stayed with Naomi even in Naomi's poverty (Rth 1:14,21,22); Jonathan
remained David's friend even when David was stripped of all his royal honors
(1Sa 19:1-7; 23:16); and the "good Samaritan" cared for the victim of thieves
even in his extremity (Luk 10:33-35). And of course, "How endearing is the love
of Jesus! He was emphatically the poor man's friend (Psa 72:12,14). He sought
his many friends among the wretched and forlorn (Mat 4:18-22), and still does
his powerful compassion plead for those hated ones among their fellow-sinners
(Psa 109:31)" (Bridges).
BUT THE RICH HAVE MANY FRIENDS: "Friends" is the Hebrew
"ahab" (literally, to love). In this verse, "love" and "hate" need to be seen in
the proper context -- ie, without emotional nuance: the poor are "hated", which
here means: rejected, avoided, shunned; and the rich are "loved", which here
means: sought after, favored, embraced.
This is one of the few instances where "ahab" has a distinctly
negative connotation, expressing as it does a shallow and insincere and selfish
The Talmud says, "At the door of the tavern there are many
brethren and friends, at the poor man's gate not one." We have our own standard
expression for such friends, who remain friendly only so long as they have some
hope of benefiting from the relationship; they are the "fair-weather" variety.
In like manner, Job compared his "friends" to the wadis, the intermittent
streams in the desert, "the streams that overflow when darkened by thawing ice
and swollen with melting snow, but that cease to flow in the dry season, and in
the heat vanish from their channels" (Job 6:15-17). Other examples of the "rich"
who have many false friends: Haman, to whom all the royal officials paid homage
(Est 3:2; 5:10,11), and (by implication at least) the "prodigal son" (Luk
HE WHO DESPISES HIS NEIGHBOR SINS, BUT BLESSED IS HE WHO IS
KIND TO THE NEEDY: One cannot sin against a neighbor and hope to enjoy God's
blessings; for this is a grievous transgression of the Law itself: "Love your
neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD" (Lev 19:18). The line contrasts the sin of
despising ("buwz") a neighbor with showing favor ("mehonen": KJV "hath mercy";
NIV and NET "is kind") to the needy. In this proverb the neighbor is assumed to
be poor or at least in need. Despising ("buwzah") him means treating him with
contempt, dismissing him as worthless. To ignore a neighbor in this cold-hearted
fashion is just as much a sin as showing favor to the poor is an act of
See how this verse completes and explains v 20: While the poor
are shunned by the uncaring and greedy (v 20a) -- which is a sin (v 21a) --
blessed is the one who shows kindness to them (v 21b). While the rich have many
who pretend to be their "friends" (v 20b), the righteous are blessed because
they are TRUE friends to the needy (v 21b).
Comparing v 21 with v 20, Derek KIdner writes: "In v 20
[unkindness] is drily reported -- this is how things are... [But] here, to go
deeper, [unkindness] is shown to be a rejection of the will and the blessing of
See, furthermore, how this verse is amplified by v 31 also:
"he who despises his neighbor sins" (v 21a) is parallel to "he who oppresses the
poor shows contempt for their Maker" (v 31a); "blessed is he who is kind to the
needy" (v 21b) is parallel to ""whoever is kind [sw v 31] to the needy honors
God" (v 31b). HE WHO DESPISES HIS NEIGHBOR SINS: Cp Pro 11:12: "A man
who lacks judgment derides ['despises': sw Pro 14:21] his neighbor." The old
Puritan writer Sanderson (cited by Bridges) says, sarcastically, "Because we
think we over-top [our neighbor], therefore we think we may overlook him" and
thus neglect to show kindness to him.
Consideration of one's neighbor includes refraining from
mocking him (Pro 17:5), and 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). Jesus himself speaks vividly and memorably
of such an attitude of contempt for others, in his parable of the Pharisee and
the publican (Luk 18:9-14): "The Pharisee stood up and prayed about [or TO!]
himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men -- robbers, evildoers,
adulterers -- or even like this tax collector' " (v 11). And James chastises
those who insult the poor, who hypocritically offer their "good wishes" to the
poor and needy but do nothing about their physical needs (Jam 2:5,6,14-16; cf
1Jo 3:17). BUT BLESSED IS HE WHO IS KIND TO THE NEEDY: "To be
kind" is from the Hebrew "chen" -- "grace" [the root of such names as Hannah and
John], which is sometimes translated "mercy". We often take mercy to mean
specifically the forgiveness of sins, but the Hebrew word means so much more.
Especially in interpersonal relationships, the word is also used for the reality
of an ongoing relationship of courtesy, kindness, thoughtfulness, and even love
-- such as Joseph showed to Potiphar, and vice versa (Gen 39:4), David to
Jonathan (1Sa 20:3), Ruth to Boaz (Rth 2:13), and Esther to Ahasuerus (Est
2:17). Generally, these words are descriptive of beneficent actions that are
freely offered or received and contribute to the wellbeing of another or to the
health of an ongoing relationship. It is active kindness or generosity exhibited
particularly toward those in need, eg, aiding the poor (Pro 28:8), assisting the
young or old (Deu 28:50), and showing compassion for those who suffer (Job
19:21) or who are oppressed (Dan 4:27). It is assumed that these will not be
isolated actions, but constitute the ongoing shape of life (Pro 14:21,31). These
actions are not only pleasing to God (Pro 14:31), but are considered as done
unto the LORD himself; they carry their own reward (Pro 19:17; cf Mat 25:40).
While such actions may be expected (eg, respect, Lam 4:16), usually (as with
mercy or liberality) they go beyond what is just or customary and may be said to
be a gift from one person to another (Psa 37:21,26). Such attitudes and acts of
kindness or graciousness are not peculiar to faithful Israelites (Job 19:21),
but they are characteristic of the righteous (Psa 37:26; 112:4,5) rather than
the wicked (Psa 37:21; Pro 21:10).
Cp Pro 11:17 ("A kind man benefits himself"); Pro 11:24,25
("One man gives freely, yet gains even more... A generous man will prosper; he
who refreshes others will himself be refreshed"); Pro 12:10 ("A righteous man
cares for the needs of his animal"); Pro 19:17 ("He who is kind to the poor
lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done"); Pro 21:13 ("If
a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be
answered"); and Pro 28:27 ("He who gives to the poor will lack nothing"). Also
cp Psa 41:1-3: "Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the LORD delivers him
in times of trouble. The LORD will protect him and preserve his life; he will
bless him in the land and not surrender him to the desire of his foes. The LORD
will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness." Psa
112:5: "Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely." And of course
Mat 5:7: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."
"The true believer is charitable and bountiful, knowing that
he will not hereby impoverish himself, but lay up a rich store of blessing; he
acts thus not from mere philanthropy, but from higher motives: he has the grace
of charity which springs from and rests upon his faith in God" (Pulpit).
"Under [the Law of Moses] the enactments which tended to
prevent or relieve poverty are very prominent. The privileges of gleaners, the
precepts which forbade the withholding of wages, and the laws against usury, are
specimens. The Year of Jubilee was remarkable social institution. That year
poverty was suffered to put forth its claims in God's name, and was sure of a
fair hearing. [The Law] did but foreshadow the work of Jesus, who came to
establish righteousness, and to proclaim brotherhood between men and between
nations. He was listened to most eagerly by the poor. He was born among them,
was all through his life one of them -- understood their habits and feelings,
was at home in their houses, and taught truth in a way that they could
comprehend. We admit that we cannot reach an ideal state of society in the world
so long as sin exists. But we are not to fold our hands -- waiting for a coming
millennium -- thinking that of necessity things must be as they are. Christ our
Saviour is the world's rightful king, and he means to conquer it for himself,
through the righteousness and mercifulness of His people. Still, the law of love
holds good, and if we follow our Lord, we shall go forth to seek and to save
those that are lost. And they need saving -- from misery, from degradation, and
from despair. Consideration of the moral effects of poverty will lead us to
deeper pity of the poor. A poor man has not the gracious home influence that
most of us enjoy. The temptation to envy must come with tremendous power to a
poor man. What can be done to alter for the better a state of things which every
Christian ought to think of pitifully and prayerfully?" (Rowland, BI).
DO NOT THOSE WHO PLOT EVIL GO ASTRAY? BUT THOSE WHO PLAN
WHAT IS GOOD FIND LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS: The same verb occurs in both lines
of this proverb. "Charash" signifies to scratch, to engrave, to plow, to
fabricate -- and hence to build or devise or contrive something, as a craftsman
or artisan. A person's moral standing is the result of planning. While an
individual may be "evil" (Hebrew "ra") simply by default, the truly "evil" are
those who PLAN their evil deeds. And it is absolutely certain, at least, that no
one simply stumbles by accident into "good" (Hebrew "tob").
DO NOT THOSE WHO PLOT EVIL GO ASTRAY?: Those who plan
evil, in this context, include those who have no regard for their poor
neighbors. The question form suggests a possible connection with the previous
verses (vv 20,21), and by the way emphasizes the truths previously stated: 'Is
it not obvious that those who plot evil (ie, against the poor) will go astray?'
Cp Pro 3:29: "Do not plot [sw 'charash'] harm against your
neighbor, who lives trustfully near you." And Pro 6:12,14: "A scoundrel and
villain... plots [sw 'charash'] evil with deceit in his heart." And also Isa
32:7,8: "The scoundrel's methods are wicked, he makes up evil schemes to destroy
the poor with lies, even when the plea of the needy is just. But the noble man
makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands."
Such evil plotters go astray from the right way -- the way of
life; their views are distorted, and they no longer see their proper course.
"How miserably mistaken those are that not only do evil, but devise it: do they
not err? Yes, certainly they do; every one knows it. They think that by sinning
with craft and contrivance, and carrying on their intrigues with more plot and
artifice than others, they shall make a better hand of their sins than others
do, and come off better. But they are mistaken. God's justice cannot be
out-witted. Those that devise evil against their neighbours greatly err, for it
will certainly turn upon themselves and end in their own ruin, a fatal error!"
Of the many examples in the Bible of those who plan or plot
evil: the tower-builders of Babel (Gen 11:9), Haman with his evil devices (Est
7:10), and those who plotted evil against the Lord Jesus (Mat 21:41-44; Psa
BUT THOSE WHO PLAN WHAT IS GOOD FIND LOVE AND
FAITHFULNESS: "Find" (NIV), like "shall be to" (KJV) and "meet" (RSV),
suggest that "love and faithfulness" come as a reward from God to those who plan
good. But the verb could mean "show" (as in RSV mg). Or, as NET puts it: "Those
who plan good EXHIBIT [or demonstrate] faithful covenant love."
"Love and faithfulness", or "mercy and truth" are a common
pair in Hebrew; they usually describe the LORD's intervention, but here they
refer to the faithful and kind dealings of the righteous, which are demonstrated
or manifested by those who seek to do "good".
The noun "khesed" ("love" in NIV, "mercy" in AV) describes
those who show mercy, kindness, or "love" to God and His people. The description
of the righteous by this term indicates their active participation in the
covenant, for which God has promised His protection (Pro 2:8). "Emet"
("faithfulness" in NIV, "truth" in AV) is derived from the familiar "emen" or
"amen", and has connotations of both truth (as in fact or reality) and honor or
trustworthiness (as in faithfully doing what one has promised).
Taken together, the two words "khesed" and "emet" ("mercy and
truth" in the AV) form a hendiadys (meaning "two combined into one"), the second
word becoming an adjective, and thus modifying the first: "faithful [covenant]
love, or lovingkindness" or "loyal [covenant] love and faithfulness." (The two
words occur as a word pair in Pro 3:3; 16:6; 20:28 as well as Pro 14:22. They
occur in parallelism in Psa 26:3; 57:10; 69:13; Isa 16:5; and elsewhere.)
Specifically, on God's part, it is a total faithfulness to remember and fulfill
His covenant promises -- as to Abraham and David. And on man's part, as in this
verse, it is a relative faithfulness to remember his God and fulfill his part of
the divine covenant, as best he is able, in serving and obeying Him. For it is
only those who remember the covenant-love they have pledged to God, and show His
kindness to others, who may expect God's kindness shown to them at the end:
"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Mat 5:7). "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).
ALL HARD WORK BRINGS A PROFIT, BUT MERE TALK LEADS ONLY TO
POVERTY: Profits come from hard work and not idle talk. Or, in the words of
the Nike ads, "Just do it!" This proverb is quite similar to Pro 21:5: "The
plans of the diligent lead to profit [sw Pro 14:23] as surely as haste leads to
poverty [sw Pro 14:23]." See also Pro 12:24: "Diligent hands will rule, but
laziness ends in slave labor." And Pro 13:4: "The sluggard craves and gets
nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied."
Parents in Israel usually taught their children their
profession. Living at home with his father, the son naturally watched and helped
his father at work and learned to do his father's job (cf 1Sa 16:11; 2Ki 4:18).
The book of Proverbs several times insists on the usefulness of good work (Pro
12:24,27; 14:23; 18:9; 20:13; 22:29; cp also Ecc 9:10; 11:1–6), especially
agricultural work (Pro 12:11; 24:27,30–34; 27:18,23–27; 28:19).
Girls learned household activities with their mother, in particular baking (2Sa
13:8), spinning, and weaving (Exo 35:25,26). Pro 31:10–31 seems to present
the picture of the ideal woman as a model for the girls' education. Young girls
could also work in the fields (Gen 29:6-10; Exo 2:16-20; cf Song 1:6; Pro
31:16). The father's responsibility in teaching a profession to his son was
underlined by the rabbinical saying: "The man who does not teach his son to work
teaches him to steal."
"Proverbs does emphasize the moral restraints that God has
placed on gaining wealth. It is not to be achieved through deceit (Pro 21:6), or
by using false balances (Pro 20:10), or by shifting boundary markers (Pro
22:28), or through oppression (Pro 23:10,11). Such wealth will prove to be a
snare of death to those who touch it and a will-o'-the-wisp (Pro 21:6)" (WC
Kaiser, TJ 9:2:164). On this last point, cf also Pro 28:19.
ALL HARD WORK BRINGS A PROFIT: "Hard work" is "etseb"
-- literally, "painful toil", that which was promised to Eve in childbearing:
"With pain ['etseb'] you will give birth to children" (Gen 3:16). A related word
("itstsabown") is used in the same verse, about Eve ("pains in childbearing"; cf
1Ch 4:9), and also in the next verses to describe Adam's "painful toil" upon the
ground in order to produce food (Gen 3:17,19). Cp "etseb" in Psa 127:2 ("toiling
for food") and "itstsabown" in Gen 5:29 ("painful toil of our hands"). "In Eden
the principle was established that Adam was to tend the garden, not just sit
back and let grapes drop into his mouth!" (Crawford).
"Profit" ("mawthar") is related to the word "yithron" -- which
is very common in Ecclesiastes, signifying "that which is left over" or a
"surplus", and is in contradistinction to "hebel" (vanity, emptiness,
nothingness, a breath). In Ecclesiastes "profit" is contrasted with "hebel", or
"nothingness"; here it is contrasted with "poverty", a "lack, or need". Cp also
Pro 10:22: "The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble
['etseb'] to it."
"Much [profit] is got by [labour], food, raiment, riches,
wealth, wisdom, honour; either with the labour of the hands or head, and nothing
is to be got without labour; and he that is laborious in his calling, whether it
be by manual operation, working with his hands that which is good; or by hard
study, much reading, and constant meditation, is like to gain much for his own
use and the good of others" (Gill).
"The doctrine of the Proverbs is, that what is good for the
next world is good for this. He who wishes to go out of this world happily must
first go through this world wisely. Men do, to a very great extent, earn for
themselves their good or evil fortunes, and are filled with the fruit of their
own devices. True religion is a thing which mixes itself up with all the cares
and business of this mortal life, this workaday world. 'In all labour there is
profit.' Whatsoever is worth doing, is worth doing well. It is always worthwhile
to take pains. It is a shortsighted mistake to avoid taking trouble, for God has
so well ordered this world that industry always repays itself. God has set thee
thy work; then fulfil it. Fill it full. Throw thy whole heart and soul into it.
Do it carefully, accurately, completely. All neglect, carelessness, slurring
over work is a sin; a sin against God, who has called us to our work; a sin
against our country and our neighbours, who ought to profit by our work; and a
sin against ourselves also, for we ought to be made wiser and better men by our
work. Then take pains. Whatever you do, do thoroughly. Whatever you begin,
finish. Look upon your work as an honourable calling, and as a blessing to
yourselves, not merely as a hard necessity, a burden which must be done. Be sure
it will bring its reward with it. Work, hard work, is a blessing to the soul and
character of the man who works. Idleness makes a man restless, discontented,
greedy, the slave of his own lusts and passions. Being forced to work, and
forced to do your best, will breed in you temperance and self-control, diligence
and strength of will, cheerfulness and content, and a hundred virtues which the
idle man will never know.
"If you wish to see how noble a calling work is, consider God
Himself, who, although He is perfect, and does not need, as we do, the training
which comes by work, yet works for ever with and through His Son Jesus Christ,
who said, 'My Father worketh hitherto, and I work' [Joh 5:17]. Think of God as a
King working for ever for the good of His subjects, a Father working for ever
for the good of His children, for ever sending forth light, and life, and
happiness to all created things, and ordering all things in heaven and earth by
a providence so perfect that not a sparrow falls to the ground without His
knowledge, and the very hairs of your head are all numbered. And then think of
yourselves, called to copy God, each in his station, and to be fellow-workers
with God for the good of each other and of ourselves. Called to work because you
are made in God's image, and redeemed to be the children of God" (Kingsley, BI).
BUT MERE TALK LEADS ONLY TO POVERTY: Empty talk (NIV,
"mere talk"; literally "words of lips") leads to "penury" (KJV) or poverty (cp
Job 11:2; 15:3; Isa 36:5). "A chattering fool comes to ruin" (Pro 10:10).
"Poverty" ("machcowr", "need; thing needed; poverty") comes from a verb meaning
"to lack; to be lacking; to decrease; to need". A person given to idle talk
rather than industrious work will have needs that go unmet. So Paul exhorts the
Thessalonians: " 'If a man will not work, he shall not eat.' We hear that some
among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we
command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they
eat" (2Th 3:10-12). And elsewhere he warns against those who "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
Other, non-Biblical proverbs abound on the subjects of words
and works: "Sweet words, empty hands." "To speak of honey will not make the
mouth sweet." "We do not cook rice by babbling." All these are from the
Orientals. The Turks add, "The language of actions is more eloquent than the
language of words." And the English: "I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any
"I never did anything worth doing by accident, nor did any of
my inventions come by accident; they came by work" (Thomas Edison). Walter Scott
puts these words on the lips of an old Scotsman, speaking to his son from his
deathbed: "Be ever stickin' in a tree, John; it'll be doin' good to the world
when you and I are gane." "Depend on the rabbit's foot if you will, but remember
it didn't work for the rabbit" (RE Shay).
THE WEALTH OF THE WISE IS THEIR CROWN, BUT THE FOLLY OF
FOOLS YIELDS FOLLY: Wisdom brings its own rewards, as folly brings its own
punishments. Although the proverb makes sense as it reads in the Hebrew, some
translators and commentators feel that each line has difficulties. Some of these
will be pointed out below.
THE WEALTH OF THE WISE IS THEIR CROWN: This line reads
"the crown of the wise is their riches." But this leaves unanswered the
question: 'But what ARE the riches of the wise? Literal wealth, or spiritual
wealth?' CH Toy suggests that literal wealth is an ornament to those who use it
well ("Proverbs" 296). Buzzell, cited by Constable, agrees: "The wise are
crowned, that is, blessed with wealth (cf Pro 3:16; 8:18,21; 15:6; 22:4) because
of their diligence (Pro 14:23), but foolish conduct results not in blessing but
in more folly (cf Pro 14:18)." Bridges cites examples of wise men who used their
riches well: Job, employing his goods to benefit others (Job 29:6-17), and
David, assembling the materials for God's Temple (1Ch 29:1-5; 2Ch 5:1).
On the other hand, JH Greenstone suggests that the wisdom of
the wise, which IS their crown of glory, constitutes their "wealth" ("Proverbs"
155), regardless of any material prosperity.
BUT THE FOLLY OF FOOLS YIELDS FOLLY: "This line SEEMS
to be saying that fools only have their folly. Consequently many... read
'weliwyat' instead of 'iwwelet' to form a better parallel with the first half,
thus: 'the WEALTH of fools is their folly' (McKane 466). [The RSV -- following
the LXX -- makes its own emendation, in an effort to achieve a better
parallelism with the first line: 'Folly is the GARLAND of fools.'] The point
would be that the fool can only expect greater exposure of his folly, rather
than merely saying his folly is his folly" (EBC).
Is the meaning of the original sufficiently vague or
pointless, so as to justify proposing changes in the text? As this line stands
in the Hebrew, it is what some commentators call a "tautology" (ie, a
redundancy, a needless repetition). "Redundant" and "repetitious" it may be, but
is it really "needless"? That may be a matter of opinion. One of the strengths
of Proverbs, so it seems, is its repetition: the Book tells us what we NEED to
hear, even if -- sometimes -- it seems needlessly repetitious! So we ought to
ask: do we all know, as we should -- do we TRULY recognize -- that a life of
folly produces only folly in the end? And the answer, it seems to me, is: No! we
do NOT understand perfectly such a simple truth. If we did, then the world --
along with all of us who claim to "know the Truth" -- would have long since
given up every vestige of folly, and grasped wisdom with both hands, and
embraced it with both arms! But this has not happened, and so the plainest
cliche -- "The folly of fools yields folly" -- remains as one more witness,
pointing out to us a warning, and by implication THE "way"! As Kidner says, this
line "emphasizes by its very tautology the barrenness of folly, which is its own
reproach and its own harvest."
In the context (of the first line), we might read this second
line: "The folly of fools -- even when accompanied by riches -- is still only
folly!" "Folly is oftentimes made more manifest through the ill use [fools] make
of their riches; spending them in the gratification of their sinful lusts; and
making no use of them for their own improvement in knowledge, or for the good of
their fellow creatures" (Gill). Decorate folly as you will, dress it up in rich
fabrics and set it off with gaudy ornaments -- it is still nothing but folly.
And the wise and discerning see it for what it is, and more so for its being
flaunted conspicuously, so as to attract witnesses. In "Gone With the Wind", a
newly-rich Scarlett O'Hara -- anxious to move into the highest circles of
Southern society -- offers her old slave and nursemaid Mammy a fine new dress.
The wise Mammy replies, "Miz Scarlett, you and me can give ourselves airs and
get ourselves all slicked up like racehorses, but we are still just mules in
horse harness and everybody knows it."
A TRUTHFUL WITNESS SAVES LIVES, BUT A FALSE WITNESS IS
DECEITFUL: Telling the truth in court advances the cause of justice in the
outcome of a trial, but justice is perverted by false witnesses. Thus every
court punishes perjury (lying under oath) most severely, because the court that
cannot guarantee that its witnesses are telling the truth, the whole truth, and
nothing but the truth is worse than useless.
A TRUTHFUL WITNESS SAVES LIVES: "Truthful witness" is
"ed emeth". "Saves lives" is "matsil [to deliver, rescue] nepheshoth [the sw
often translated 'souls']". Thus the KJV translates: "A true witness delivereth
souls." As has been pointed out (by Kidner, for example), "special Christian
overtones [ie, 'delivering SOULS!']... do not really belong" here -- since the
setting of this verse is a court of law, and "witnesses" are those who testify
before the court. However, such a connection should not be dismissed so quickly:
the NT does speak, many times, of both (a) Christ "the Faithful and True
Witness" (Rev 1:5; 3:7,14; 19:11), and (b) -- other preachers of the gospel,
who are his "witnesses" also (Greek "marturion", or English "martyrs") (Mat
10:18; Mar 13:9; Luk 21:13; 2Ti 1:8; etc). Then, when it is remembered that
Christian "witnesses" do testify about the good news of the Kingdom of God,
while in the spiritual presence of the Righteous Judge (1Co 4:5; 2TI 4:1,8; Jam
5:9; 1Pe 4:5), before whose Judgment Seat they will ultimately stand (Rom 2:16;
14:10; Acts 10:42; 2Co 5:10), then perhaps a courtroom setting for the NT
"witnesses" is not too far amiss!
BUT A FALSE WITNESS IS DECEITFUL: "A deceitful witness
speaketh [Hebrew 'yafeach'] lies" (AV). "Yafeach" was once considered to mean
"to puff or blow", and thus "to utter or breathe out", but recent research into
the Ugaritic has shown that it is another word for a formal witness, as in court
"A false testimony deceives the court and brings ruin. To make
this point clearer, several commentators have changed 'mirmah' ('deceit') to
'merammeh' ('destroys'), a change that is not necessary, however. The point
stands that nothing good is gained by perjury. Moreover, as Kidner says, anyone
who will trim the facts for you is just as likely to do it against you" (EBC).
Examples of "false witnesses": (1) Jezebel, arraying false witnesses against
Naboth, so as to destroy him and thus appropriate his property (1Ki 25), and (2)
the Jewish authorities, arranging and bribing false witnesses against the Lord
Jesus Christ -- "but their statements did not agree" (Mar 14:56; cp Mat
"This [verse] shows a concern that was quite common in
Proverbs, that of truth and falsehood in legal settings (eg Pro 6:19a; 12:17;
14:5; 19:5,9; 21:28; cf Exo 20:16; Deu 19:18). A proverb like this one must have
arisen from a situation where the testimony given before the court resulted in
the removal of a harmful or potentially harmful person or circumstance from the
community." Or, for that matter, truthful testimony might save the life of a
person falsely accused of a capital crime. On the other hand... "a series of
events might just as easily be envisioned whereby the truthful testimony of a
witness leads to the loss of life -- for example, a legally sanctioned
execution" (Bricker, JETS 38:4:508) -- but, as the writer of Proverbs sees it,
this would be not be an undesirable outcome.
" 'Souls are saved,' human life is preserved, the bonds of
intercourse are held together, by the truthful man. Hearts are betrayed,
covenants are broken, the integrity of life is shattered, by the deceiver, the
hypocrite, and the slanderer" (Johnson, Pulpit).
HE WHO FEARS THE LORD HAS A SECURE FORTRESS, AND FOR HIS
CHILDREN IT WILL BE A REFUGE: This proverb builds upon the theme verse of
the Book: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Pro 1:7; cp Pro
9:10). Other proverbs about the fear of the LORD are Pro 14:2,26,27; 15:16,33;
16:6; 19:23; 22:4; 23:17,18. The command to fear the LORD occurs in Pro 3:7;
24:21. Four times the verbal form "fears the LORD" occurs (Pro 14:2,16,26;
31:30). Fearing the LORD is associated with wisdom six times (Job 28:28; Pro
1:7,29; 2:5; 8:13; 15:33). The fear of the LORD brings security (as here), life
(Pro 10:27; 14:27), safety and contentment (Pro 19:23), and wisdom and honor
(Pro 15:33). If one fears the LORD, he need not fear anything else (Pro
The "fear of the LORD" is put into practice throughout the
Bible: (a) Abraham sacrificed his son in the fear of the LORD; yet was fully
confident "that God was able to raise him up... from the dead" (Gen 22:3-10, Heb
11:19). (b) David "strengthened himself in the LORD his God" after the
Amalekites had made a raid on Ziklag and taken captive the wives and children of
his men and himself (1Sa 30:6). (c) Hezekiah exhorted the people: "Be strong and
courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged because of the king of Assyria and
the vast army with him, for there is a greater power with us than with him. With
him is only the arm of flesh, but with us is the LORD our God to help us and to
fight our battles" (2Ch 32:7,8). (d) Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Dan
3:17,25,27; cf Isa 43:2) feared the LORD but not the fiery furnace. (e) Habakkuk
feared the LORD more than any famine (Hab 3:17-19). (f) Peter feared the LORD
but not Herod's soldiers (Acts 12:6). And (g) Paul feared the LORD but not the
executioner (2Ti 4:6-8).
HE WHO FEARS THE LORD HAS A SECURE FORTRESS: The
reverential fear of the LORD leads to security. The image is of a "secure
fortress" ("mibtach oz") -- or "strong confidence" (KJV, NET) -- for the
God-fearer and his children. The "fear" finds expression in obedience to the Law
with all its rewards and punishments, and this ensures the safety. Cp Pro 18:10:
"The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are
AND FOR HIS CHILDREN IT WILL BE A REFUGE: There are two
possibilities here: either (a) "His children" means the children of the LORD (cf
Deu 14:1), or (b) "his children" means the children of the one who fears the
LORD. Either reading would follow the first clause and suit the context. Since
the "children of the LORD" is not a common OT expression, it is quite reasonable
to assume -- as do most commentators -- that the second possibility is the
correct one, and that the children mentioned here are the God-fearer's children
and not worshipers in general. Exo 20:5,6 declares that children will reap the
benefits of the righteous parents if they love the LORD too (cp also Pro 13:22;
20:7); so if fear gives the parents security ("machseh": a refuge) in the LORD,
then "it" (ie, that same security) -- or possibly "He" (ie, the LORD Himself)
will be a refuge for their children as well. "But from everlasting to
everlasting the LORD'S love is with those who fear him, AND his righteousness
with their children's children" (Psa 103:17). So God blessed the descendants of
Abraham, particularly as and when they followed in the footsteps of their
faithful father (Gen 17:7).
REFUGE: "Machseh" occurs 20 times in the OT; the NIV
translates "refuge" in 18 of these and "shelter" in the other two (Job 24:8; Isa
25:4). All but four of the passages employing "machseh" are figurative
expressions applied to Yahweh as the refuge of the righteous. Often "machseh" is
used in combination with other words like "tzur" ("rock") (Psa 62:7; 94:22),
"oz" ("strength") (Psa 46:1; 62:7; Pro 14:26), or "metsudah" ("fortress") (Psa
91:2). All these combinations emphasize the certainty and comprehensive nature
of Yahweh's ability to protect His own people. Unlike those who are swept away
by God's wrath because they have taken refuge in the lie of idolatry (Isa
28:15,17), those who fear the LORD have a secure fortress in the day of evil
(Jer 17:17), and this legacy of faith provides a refuge for their children as
well (Pro 14:26). The LORD is always a refuge, especially for those who by
choice (Psa 73:28) and faith (Psa 71:6,7) make Him such. But this does not
guarantee that the righteous will be unaffected by calamity. Rather, it provides
hope that the canopy of God's glorious presence will one day shelter the people
of God (Isa 4:6; Joe 3:16). Comment on Pro 14:27
THE FEAR OF THE LORD IS A FOUNTAIN OF LIFE, TURNING A MAN
FROM THE SNARES OF DEATH: This is practically a perfect parallel with Pro
13:14, except that "the fear of the LORD" (which repeats from v 26 here) has
replaced "the teaching of the wise". And so it is seen, by the transitive
principle ("If a equals b, and b equals c, then a equals c"), that "fear of the
LORD" equals "wisdom": cp Pro 15:33: "The fear of the LORD teaches a man
wisdom", as well as Pro 1:7; 9:10; etc. For further details, see notes at Pro
A LARGE POPULATION IS A KING'S GLORY, BUT WITHOUT SUBJECTS
A PRINCE IS RUINED: It is generally true that a ruler's power varies with
the size of his empire. And it is also generally true that a politician's power
is based on the number of people in his party or following, and thus how many
votes he can command, and what kind of budget he can draw upon.
A LARGE POPULATION IS A KING'S GLORY: "Large
population" is "rab am"; "rab" can mean "great" as well as "numerous". So it is
quite possible that the "glory" ("hadarah" -- an ornament, or other adornment)
of a "king" ("melek") is a prosperous, or honorable, or righteous, people --
more so than simply a large number of subjects. "It is much for the honour of a
king to have a populous kingdom; it is a sign that he rules well, since
strangers are hereby invited to come and settle under his protection and his own
subjects live comfortably; it is a sign that he and his kingdom are under the
blessing of God, the effect of which is being fruitful and multiplying. It is
his strength, and makes him considerable and formidable... It is therefore the
wisdom of princes, by a mild and gentle government, by encouraging trade and
husbandry, and by making all easy under them, to promote the increase of their
Solomon may be the pattern for this verse, as it is said of
him: "The people of Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand on the
seashore; they ate, they drank and they were happy. And Solomon ruled over all
the kingdoms from the Euphrates River to the land of the Philistines, as far as
the border of Egypt. These countries brought tribute and were Solomon's subjects
all his life" (1Ki 4:20,21).
Furthermore, on a spiritual plane, the true King's glory is a
righteous people, the multitude before his throne (Rev 5:8-13), the 144,000 (Rev
7:4; 14:1-3), and the great multitude which no man can number (Rev 7:9) -- along
with a Kingdom so extensive that it covers the whole earth (Num 14:21; Hab 2:14;
Isa 9:11; Psa 72:8-11)!
BUT WITHOUT SUBJECTS A PRINCE IS RUINED: "Subjects" is
"le'om" -- an archaic and poetic word (the authorities say) that is used often
in Psalms and Isaiah. According to NIDOTTE, the singular form that occurs in the
Proverbs (Pro 11:26; 14:28) "requires the translation 'population'." "Prince" is
"razown" -- a one-time OT word, signfying "dignitary", possibly derived from the
Hebrew for "weighty".
Possibly this phrase describes the "prince" who is not yet
ascended to the throne, and in the interim -- whether his intentions be good or
bad -- is essentially powerless. Such a position can produce a sense of
frustration, impotence, and resentment toward those in power; and can lead to
rebellion and ruin -- as was the case with some of David's sons.
A PATIENT MAN HAS GREAT UNDERSTANDING, BUT A QUICK-TEMPERED
MAN DISPLAYS FOLLY: Proverbs of anger and meekness: Pro 12:16; 14:17,29;
15:1,18; 16:32; 17:12,26; 19:11,19; 22:24,25; 25:15,28; 26:21; 29:22. Cp 1Co
13:4,5: "Love is patient, love is kind... not easily angered." Jam 1:19:
"Everyone should be... slow to become angry." And Jam 3:17,18: "But the wisdom
that comes from heaven is... peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of
mercy and good fruit... Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of
A PATIENT MAN HAS GREAT UNDERSTANDING: "Patient" is
"long, or slow ('erekh'), to anger ('appayim')". This is literally "long in his
nostrils", and is contrasted with the "short in his nostrils" of v 17 (see notes
there). This corresponds quite well with the "patient" (NIV), or "longsuffering"
(AV), of Gal 5:22; Eph 4:2; Col 1:11; 3:12; etc: "makrothumia" means, literally,
"long in breath" or "long in mind".
This same phrase, "slow to anger", is included in a listing of
the LORD's attributes seven times, together with His other attributes: love,
faithfulness or fidelity, compassion, and graciousness; see Exo 34:6; Neh 9:17;
Psa 86:15; 103:8; 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jon 4:2. Num 14:18 simply links the LORD's
slowness to anger with His love.
There is the caricature that emphasizes this point: the man
who prays, "LORD, give me patience -- and do it NOW!" But it simply does not
work that way. God's Spirit does not produce a miraculous result in the mind of
a believer, without regard to that mind's capacity to understand and accept it;
God does not pour righteousness into us as though we were an empty bucket! If
God's Spirit is to work with our spirits, so as to produce a good and desirable
result, it must move at the pace of the slower party -- that is, our own
spirits. The "fruit of the Spirit", like any fruit, must be nurtured and grow
slowly, with the seasons. In the normal circumstances of life, with the many and
varied experiences that come our way, we learn by observing, we learn by doing,
and we learn perhaps most of all by the mistakes we make, and the things we
suffer along the way. All this takes time. Patience develops slowly, from the
ground up, from the inside out. From observing -- and perhaps participating in
-- that which fails, we come finally to understanding and appreciating and at
last putting into practice that which succeeds. The great inventor Thomas Edison
was fond of saying that, for every marvelous discovery he made, there were 100
failed experiments along the way, and that his "genius" -- if such it was -- was
1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. So the prayer should NOT be: "LORD, give me
patience -- and do it NOW!" but rather: "LORD, give me patience, please, in Your
own time. And teach me, meantime, to trust in You while I am learning Your ways
and waiting for Your gifts." And so "wisdom is found in those who take advice"
(Pro 13:10; cf Pro 9:8,9; 12:15; 13:1).
BUT A QUICK-TEMPERED MAN DISPLAYS FOLLY: "Quick
tempered" is "qotser ruach" -- a hasty spirit (cp AV). Cp v 17: "A
quick-tempered man does foolish things." Thus, "Better... a man who controls his
temper than one who takes a city" (Pro 16:32; cf also Pro 14:29; 15:18; 19:11;
Ecc 7:9; 1Co 13:5; Jam 1:19,20; 2Ti 2:24). See Lesson, Prov and temper.
Illustrations: Rehoboam (1Ki 12); Jehoram (2Ki 5:7); Jonah (Jon 4:8,9); and
Martha (Luk 10:40).
DISPLAYS: The AV has "exalteth" (cp NET). "The
participle 'exalts' ('merim') means that this person brings folly to a full
measure, lifts it up, brings it to the full notice of everybody" (NETn). In
other words, a quick-tempered man does not CONSCIOUSLY exalt folly as desirable,
but rather he makes it conspicuous to public view, so that everyone may see that
a quick temper IS folly (cp Pro 3:35). We may all serve good and useful
purposes, some of us -- like the quick-tempered man -- by simply being a bad
example and a cautionary lesson: 'Pay attention, and don't do what this man
"Here we are presented with two quite different men, that we
may meditate upon them, seeing here the transformation that must take place
within us. The first man is 'slow to wrath.' This is due to the fact that he is
forbearing. The meaning of this is, that such a man is one who 'holds himself
back' or who 'controls himself.' But WHY is it he can hold himself back, and
control himself? Because he is able to do so -- capable of doing so -- is
equipped to do so, by deriving great understanding inwardly in the keeping of
"It is not an ability in which the flesh may glory. Indeed, it
is the reverse of glory to the flesh, since it is faithful and loving obedience
to God's Word that is the means of overcoming self and looking upon others with
greater and greater understanding as the weeks and months and years go by. The
second man is quick-tempered or hasty of spirit. This is due to the fact that he
does not hold himself back. He is quick of temper, letting self go immediately,
not holding back the works of the flesh enumerated in Gal 5, works that spring
from the opposite of self-control.
"A quick-tempered man is dominated and enslaved by the fleshly
mind and the works of the flesh, so that while he seeks early opportunities for
conflict and conquest, he himself is defeated and dominated by sin! Jesus says
(John 8:34), 'Verily, verily, I say unto you, whosoever committeth sin is the
servant (slave) of sin. As also the inspired words of 2Pe 2:19 teach, 'Of whom a
man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.' The first man --
forbearing -- shows or exhibits great understanding. The second man -- hasty of
spirit -- puts on display, and thereby exalts, great folly. Great understanding
in contrast to great folly" (Mammone, Ber 65:236).
A HEART AT PEACE GIVES LIFE TO THE BODY, BUT ENVY ROTS THE
BONES: It is healthy to find contentment, for envy brings constant turmoil.
Proverbs of envy, especially envying sinners: Pro 14:30; 23:17,18; 24:1,2,19,20;
A HEART AT PEACE GIVES LIFE TO THE BODY: Literally,
"the life of the flesh ['chayye besarim'] is a heart of healing ['leb marphe']."
The point is that a healthy spirit is the life of the body -- it soothes.
"A 'sound heart' [AV] is a heart that gives its supreme
affection to the supremely good. All other hearts are more or less rotten. Such
a heart, the text informs us, is the condition of physical health; it is the
very 'life of the flesh.' True, science can demonstrate this fact in many ways.
Physical health requires attention to certain laws; these laws to be attended to
must be understood; the understanding of these laws requires study; the proper
study of them is only insured by a supreme sympathy of heart with the law-giver.
Every man's experience, as well as science, attests this fact. The influence of
the emotions of the heart upon the state of the body even the dullest
recognises. The passions of grief, disappointment, anger, jealousy and revenge,
in proportion to their strength derange the bodily system. On the other hand,
pleasurable emotions give buoyancy and vigour to the body" (Thomas, BI).
God gives contentment (1Ti 6:6-10; Phi 4:11-13), and
contentment is the source of physical as well as spiritual health (Pro 14:30),
the opposite of greed (Pro 15:27), and ultimately the reward for the righteous
PEACE: Here the word is not "shalom", as one might
expect from the NIV translation, but "marphe" ("healing") -- it is translated
"tranquil" in the RSV, and "sound", as in "healthy" or "health-giving", in the
AV. It is derived from the root "rapha" -- to heal, or to mend. Frequently, the
prophets used "rapha" in terms of divine restoration for the nation after a time
of judgment and chastisement (Isa 6:10; Jer 30:17; Hos 5:13; 6:1). Such
restoration had both a natural element as well as a spiritual one. While it is
true that the prophets could describe Israel as a sin-sick people needing a
spiritual healing (cf Isa 1:4-7), and while their emphasis was certainly on
repentance and reconciliation, they knew that there were serious consequences to
sin, including social upheaval, military defeat, economic collapse, famine,
plague, the destruction of the temple, war, and even exile and captivity. And so
"the hope of the prophets was nothing less than the whole man wholly healed,
classically expressed in Isa 53:4,5: 'Surely he took up our infirmities and
carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and
afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our
iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds
we are healed.' The depth of meaning in these verses can be seen by comparing
the spiritualizing rendering of Isa 53:4 in the LXX ('This man bore our sins and
was pained because of them')... with Matthew's literal rendering in Mat 8:17
('He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases') in the context of
healing the sick (Mat 8:16,17). Both concepts are present in the Hebrew text, as
JA Motyer noted with reference to Isa 53:5: 'Isaiah uses "healing" in a total
sense: the healing of the person, restoring fullness and completeness, a mark of
the Messianic day (Isa 19:22; 30:26)' ("Isaiah", p 436)" (NIDOTTE).
In the Psalms, "rapha" is virtually always used with reference
to literal, physical healing (cf Psa 6:3; 30:3; 41:4; 103:3; 107:20). However,
because of the close connection in these psalms between sin and sickness, on the
one hand, and forgiveness and healing on the other hand, these texts have often
been understood as if "healed" simply meant "forgiven" -- whereas there ought to
be room for both concepts in the interpretation.
In Proverbs "rapha" describes the healing of a variety of
conditions. Some are obviously physical healings, contributing to the wellbeing
of "body" and "bones" (Pro 3:7,8; 4:20-22); plainly, godliness is a key to
healing and health. Tending toward more spiritual healing, there are these
verses: Pro 12:18, where "the tongue of the wise brings healing" to the wounds
inflicted by gossips; Pro 13:17, where "a trustworthy envoy brings healing", by
faithfully delivering his message; Pro 16:24, where "pleasant words [bring]
healing to the bones."
BUT ENVY ROTS THE BONES: On the other hand, envy brings
pain and problems. The word "qin'ah" ("envy") -- like the Greek "epithumia"
("desire, or lust") -- can refer to that which is good or evil. "Qin'ah"
describes passionate jealousy or zeal, depending on whether the object is out of
bounds or within one's rights. Either way, it can be a violent excitement that
is never satisfied, that consumes a person from the inside out. To take the
negative especially for the moment, the one who is thus "consumed with envy" has
"Envy is wounded by our neighbor's prosperity (Gen 26:14; 1Sa
18:9). His ruin, or at least his injury, would give pleasure. Envy sickens at
hearing of his praises, and repines at his very virtues. Something is always
wrong in his conduct, something at least which, if it does not deserve blame,
greatly detracts from his intolerable praise. This evil is indeed the deadliest
fruit of selfishness. Nothing flourishes under its shade (Jam 3:16). Often is it
a fretting sickness (Est 6:6,12), or a pining despondency (Psa 112:10), like the
destruction of the bodily system by the rottenness of the bones. 'Truly' -- as
Hall observes -- 'this vice is executioner enough to itself!'... So contrary is
it to the mind of Christ (Rom 13:13) and to the spirit of his gospel (1Co 13:4)"
(Bridges). Seemingly trivial sins open the floodgates to unstoppable big sins:
Cain began with envy; envy became hatred, and hatred led to murder.
ENVY: The root word appears 85 times in the OT and has
a wide range of meanings. The word can occur both in a positive sense (ie, to
speak or work zealously for the benefit of someone else) and in a negative sense
(ie, to bear a grudge against, or to resent). The various usages share the
notion of an intense, energetic state of mind, urging towards action. The cause
of the actions is the (possibly imagined) infringement of someone's rights or
injury to the subject's honor. It is noteworthy that the human "qinah" is
discussed predominantly in the Wisdom literature, whereas the divine "qinah" is
an issue in the prophetic literature.
The human "qinah" can appear in various guises, eg, passion
(Song 8:6), anger (Pro 14:30; 27:4), jealousy (Gen 26:14; Eze 31:9), competition
(Ecc 4:4), and devotion (Num 11:29). In Pro 6:34 and Num 5 (the law of
"jealousy") the word is used in connection with marriage and adultery. Also of
interest are those places where "qinah" describes the envy of God's children
against the prosperity and pride of the ungodly (Psa 37:1; 73:3; Pro 3:31;
23:17; 24:1,19); these seem to come close to what is described in Pro
But at other times "qinah" is used to express a laudable
religious fervor, impassionate devotion to God. Phinehas identified himself with
God's cause by his strong-willed behavior against Zimri, to such an extent that
he executed on His behalf God's "jealousy" (Num 25:11,13; cf 2Co 11:2). Elijah
and Jehu also passionately stand up for the name and honor of their God (1Ki
19:10,14; 2Ki 10:16). The fervor for God (God's home, God's law) completely
occupies the faithful and "devours" him (Psa 69:10; cf Psa 119:139).
The "zeal of the LORD" is one of the basic elements of the OT
conception of God. God can be called simply "zealous" (Exo 34:14) or "the
zealous [jealous] God" (this occurs at least seven times in the OT). At times
"qinah" expresses God's fiery, angry reaction to Israel's infringement of His
rights by worshiping false gods (Deu 6:4; cf Isa 42:8; 48:10). Any association
with self-centered pettiness, fear of losing property, envy, or jealousy is
absent in the context of the manifestation of the "qinah" of God. The
translation "jealous" is, therefore, inadequate. God's 'jealousy" is not
directed against the idols (which are, of course, nothing in themselves at all),
but against the disloyal covenant partner. His "qinah" is not like that of the
deceived husband against his rival, but rather like that of the lord or
sovereign who does not tolerate anyone else next to him in the covenant with his
subjects, and in that way he claims and maintains the exclusive relationship
with his people.
Finally, the divine "qinah" can also be directed against the
external threat to the covenant, and in that case it means a punishing fiery
wrath against the enemy of Israel (eg, Isa 42:13; Eze 36:5,6; 38:19; Nah 1:2).
In prophecies of the saving acts of God, the "qinah" of God has evident positive
meaning: as a consequence of His compassion (Eze 39:25) and pity (Joe 2:18) God
devoted Himself to His land and people (cf Zec 1:14). This divine devotion is
earnestly sought in Isa 63:15. In Isa 9:6; 37:22; and 2Ki 19:31, God's "qinah"
is the stimulating force behind the decisive turn in the history of Israel's
redemption: the "small remnant" who are saved, and the coming of the Messiah are
the result of God's burning love ("qinah") for Israel (adapted from
ROTS THE BONES: Here, as well as in Pro 12:4 and Hab
3:16, "raqav" describes the emotional effects of distress as "rottenness" to the
bones. There is plenty of evidence that emotional problems -- such as envy here
-- can lead to stress, which in turn may have a detrimental physical effect on
the body as a whole. Thus the "rottenness" that begins in the mind can become a
"rottenness" in the "bones" as well!
"We rarely equate our mental condition with our physical state
but the link exists and this proverb confirms it. Envy will gnaw away at our
insides and result in a depressed condition that is expressed physically. A
sound mental attitude to life has benefits today as well as the promise to come.
Is it not wise to change our way and avoid these debilitating mental conditions?
Why do we burden ourselves with things that will destroy us? Because we are not
wise enough to realise their effect" (Bowen).
"Sins of the soul and mind affect the body -- psychosomatic
illnesses. Amnon lusted so greatly after his half-sister Tamar that it made him
physically sick (2Sa 13:2). Craving what he could not have so tormented his soul
that he became ill. And envy, grinding the soul of a person day and night,
drains vitality from his health. If Amnon had feared God and rejected evil, it
would have been health to his navel and marrow to his bones (Pro 3:7,8).
"An excellent book for the details of psychosomatic illnesses
caused by sin is 'None of These Diseases' by Drs SI McMillen and DE Stern. These
doctors explain in easy-to-read chapters the ravaging physical effects of a
sinful lifestyle. It is confirming to faith that what our Creator inspired in
the Bible is often superior to pills or treatment. How many in mental
institutions and hospitals are there due to a spiritual problem -- sin?
"Consider a merry spirit. Recent studies have shown that
people who laugh and enjoy life live longer than those who are morose and
negative. Solomon wrote long ago, 'A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but
a broken spirit drieth the bones' (Pro 17:22). Vitality comes from your spirit,
not your diet! And you cannot be merry while envying others!
"You may hide your envy from other men -- for a while; but
backbiting, emulation, hatred, murder, slander, or whispering will soon expose
it. And it may consume your health directly through a stress-filled and angry,
bitter heart; or it may ruin your body by direct physical judgment from God.
Exchange your envy for love (Pro 15:17)!... You must examine yourself for envy,
the horrible cause of problems in soul and body. Many examine their bodies for
lumps, blood pressure, cholesterol readings, or other symptoms of deadly
diseases, but why not examine your soul for the root cause of greater
consequences? And the cause can be taken away easily by godly repentance and
confessing your sins to God (Pro 28:13; Job 33:27,28; 1Jo 1:9)"
Under the heading "A modern killer", BS Snelling wrote: "A
doctor who contributes a column to one of the more sober weekly Newspapers
confirmed, from his experience, the truth of this inspired wisdom [Pro 14:30],
written some 3,000 years ago. The first part of his article, headed 'Envy can be
the death of you', read as follows: 'Did you know one of the most deadly of all
modern killers? Envy. You won't find it in any medical textbook. But it should
be there. It not only distorts the mind, but it destroys the body. Victims lose
sight of what they have because they're blinded by the desire for what others
have. I've seen many a life ruined by envy -- and alas, it's a disease as common
in the old as in the young. Young folk are more envious of material possessions.
Old folk are more envious of the friendships others have, of the chances that
passed them by, of the happiness their neighbours have in their children and
grandchildren. Sadly, too, young couples nowadays are not just trying to keep up
with the Joneses, but to overtake them.'
"He proceeded to mention some of the illnesses which are
sometimes produced by a 'slow simmering of resentment and dissatisfaction,' due
to envy. These include blood pressure, a ruined digestion, coronary thrombosis
and strokes. The article concluded: 'Yes, if I had a bottle or tablet or
injection to cure envy, many of my patients would not only be happier, but
healthier -- and some would even be alive. As one wise man said -- the secret is
not in having what you like, but liking what you have.'
"Undoubtedly envy is an evil to which human nature is
especially prone and the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation provide examples
of its evil work, showing, further, that beyond the physical sicknesses
mentioned by the doctor, it can pervert and poison the mind. The case of Korah,
Dathan and Abiram comes readily to our attention, when jealousy of Moses'
divinely ordained leadership led to their rebellion and death. And Moses' words
to Korah and his Levitical associates are relevant: 'Seemeth it but a small
thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation
of Israel to bring you near to Himself to do the service of the tabernacle of
the Lord... and seek ye the priesthood also?' (Num 16:9,10). They had so much to
be thankful for, but were not satisfied. Envy worked in them to their
"Then in the New Testament, Paul who several times exhorted
the ecclesias against being envious, confessed that he had aforetime been a
slave to various passions and pleasures, passing his days in malice and envy
(Tit 3:3, RSV). What a sidelight on the state of the heart of the restless,
powerful, zealous Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus! Yet, after having been emptied of
pride and envy, he strove to imitate his Master, who in the prime of his life
was called upon to devote himself to his Father's business. Without ever a sign
of envy, he suffered poverty, homelessness, denial of family life or successful
career. His words, especially his prayers, reveal his tranquil heart. So Paul
could say truly, 'I coveted no man's silver or gold, or apparel' and the reason
-- 'I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content' (Acts
20:33, Phi 4:11). He had the priceless possession of 'a tranquil heart', which
was an indispensable element in his ability to endure faithful to the end.
"It would be vain to assert that all Christadelphians are free
from envy. Ideally they ought to be, but it is an ideal elusive to the natural
man, especially in the modern world convulsed by almost universal struggles for
'more'; where GREED and not NEED is the predominant motive. We tend to envy
those who have better houses, better homes, better cars, better clothes, better
holidays, better health, better friendships, happier family life, etc., than we
have. Not that we wish to deprive them of their privileges, but we are prone to
want at least the same, and to agitate our minds and feel dissatisfied until we
have it. But we need no 'bottle or tablet or injection to cure this envy'. We
have to learn, like Paul, 'in whatsoever state we are, therewith to be content'.
We have to become convinced that 'whatsoever state we are in' is controlled, and
indeed, contrived by God. For He has promised that 'all things' shall 'work
together for (eternal) good to them that love God, to them who are the called
according to his purpose' [Rom 8:28]. 'Be careful, (anxious) for nothing, but in
everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be
made known unto God. And the peace of God which passeth all understanding, shall
keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus' [Phi 4:6,7]. A tranquil heart!"
HE WHO OPPRESSES THE POOR SHOWS CONTEMPT FOR THEIR MAKER,
BUT WHOEVER IS KIND TO THE NEEDY HONORS GOD: How people treat the poor
displays their faith in the Creator. Here is the doctrine of the Creation in its
practical outworking. Cp generally Pro 11:24-26; 28:27; 29:7.
HE WHO OPPRESSES THE POOR SHOWS CONTEMPT FOR THEIR
MAKER: Anyone who "oppresses" ("osheq" -- to press down upon) the "poor"
("dal" -- thin, weak) shows contempt for his Maker, for that poor person also is
made in the image of God. "Contempt" is the Hebrew "charaph": "This verb has the
meaning of 'to reproach; to taunt; to say sharp things against' someone. By
oppressing the poor one taunts or mistreats God because that person is in the
image of God -- hence the reference to the 'Creator.' To ridicule what God made
is to ridicule God himself" (NETn). Cp Job 31:15; Pro 17:5; 22:2; cf Amo 5:7;
Hos 5:11; Isa 1:21-24; Mic 2:2; Jer 22:17.
BUT WHOEVER IS KIND TO THE NEEDY HONORS GOD: The Hebrew
text actually has, as in the AV, "honors HIM" -- which is in itself ambiguous:
it might mean "honors the needy one", OR "honors GOD". But the parallel
structure points strongly to the second alternative; this is made plain by the
NIV. Showing favor for the needy ("ebyon") honors God because God, first of all,
does the same (1Sa 2:8; Psa 113:7) and, secondly, commands men to do the same
(see Mat 25:31-46; Jam 1:27; 2:5; 1Jo 3:17,18; cf Pro 14:21; 18:16; 19:17; 22:9;
29:13,14; 31:8,9; Lev 6:2-7; 25:35,36; Deu 15:1-11; Isa 58:6,7). For more
detail, see the notes on Pro 14:21b.
WHEN CALAMITY COMES, THE WICKED ARE BROUGHT DOWN, BUT EVEN
IN DEATH THE RIGHTEOUS HAVE A REFUGE: When bad things happen in the world,
the wicked will most likely suffer, but -- even if the worst possible "bad
thing" happens to the righteous (that is, death) -- they will find a shelter or
protection in God. Cp this verse generally with Pro 10:30, where the fates of
both wicked and righteous are delineated: "The righteous will never be uprooted,
but the wicked will not remain in the land."
WHEN CALAMITY COMES, THE WICKED ARE BROUGHT DOWN:
"Calamity" is "ra" -- "evil". When "evil" comes upon the world, in the form of
calamity or catastrophe, the wicked will be "brought down". This phrase is
practically identical to Pro 24:16: "The wicked are brought down by calamity
It is not easy to see why the KJV has "driven away" here; the
NIV's "brought down" seems much more reasonable. The Hebrew (in Pro 14:32, but
not Pro 24:16) is "dachah": a word used several times of city walls being
battered or pushed down by a conqueror (Psa 36:12; 62:3; 118:13), and of
individuals "stumbling", ie into a serious or even life-threatening situation
(Psa 56:13; 116:8).
"Proverbs provides several insights into the fate of the
wicked. Their reputation will be like rotten wood (Pro 10:7). God will reject
all their desires (Pro 10:3), and all their hopes will come to nothing (Pro
10:28; 11:8,10). Their worst fears will be realized (Pro 10:24). The wicked
person will know nothing but calamity (Pro 12:21, depicted as a relentless
hunter in Pro 11:19), as well as contempt and reproach (Pro 18:3). He will flee
even when there are no pursuers (Pro 28:1) and eventually will be driven off to
death (Pro 14:32). Without a future dwelling place awaiting him (Pro 10:30), he
is overthrown by God (Pro 21:12) and is swept away like chaff (Pro 10:25)"
(NIDOTTE). One thing that is interesting about this summary, all from Proverbs,
is that there is absolutely no mention of an eternity of torment in a burning
hell (or anywhere else, for that matter)!
Illustrations of the fate of the wicked: Dathan and his
associates (Num 16:33); Israel (Exo 32:28); Balaam (Num 31:8,10; Rev 2:14);
Hophni and Phinehas (1Sa 4:11); and Baal's prophets (1Ki 18:40).
BUT EVEN IN DEATH THE RIGHTEOUS HAVE A REFUGE: "Refuge"
is "chacah": signifying a place where one might flee for protection in time of
trouble. The word is used only one other time in Proverbs (Pro 30:5), but quite
often, about 24 times, in Psalms, where it usually describes David's hiding in
caves and elsewhere to flee his enemy Saul. There would seem to be two
possibilities here: (1) "even in death" might signify, by supplying the
ellipsis, "even when death is threatened, or impending" (as in Psa 23:4: "Even
though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me"); or (2) "death" and "the grave" may itself be considered
the "refuge" of the righteous -- who "hide" themselves in its inner chambers
until God's "wrath" (in the form of trouble or distress or danger) is past (cf
Isa 26:20). The second of these is to be desired, as it suggests a keen hope in
Along these lines, Bowen writes: "To the righteous the
ultimate calamity, even his death, is a part of his hope. It is not a calamity
at all and in many ways a welcome release. It comes down to the moment when all
men meet their Maker. This is the moment of truth for all. How will we fare?
Where will we stand? An event at the beginning of the Lord's life is appropriate
as it illustrates the proverb: Simeon, a just and devout man who was waiting for
the consolation of Israel 'took the baby in his arms, and blessed God and said,
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for
mine eyes have seen thy salvation' [Luk 2:29,30]."
With this cp also the prophet's words, wherein he sees that
death is -- for some believers and in some circumstances -- a welcome visitor:
"The righteous perish, and no one ponders it in his heart; devout men are taken
away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from
evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in
death" (Isa 57:1,2). And David's song: "And I -- in righteousness I will see
your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness" (Psa
17:15; cp Psa 49:15; 73:24). Also, consider Job's words: "Though he slay me, yet
will I hope in him" (Job 13:15; cp Job 19:25-27). And the words of the
Apocalypse: "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" (Rev 14:13).
Other righteous who will be rewarded: Jacob (Gen 49:18);
Joseph (Gen 50:24, 25; Heb 11:22); David, who rested his worn body upon the Rock
of salvation (2Sa 23:5; Psa 17:15); Stephen, whose hope was anchored within the
veil, undisturbed by the volley of stones without (Acts 7:55-60); Paul, who
triumphed in his crown, as if it were already on his head (2Ti 4:6-8; 2Co 5:1)
and Peter (2Pe 1:14-16; 3:13).
IN DEATH: "The LXX reads this 'in his integrity', as if
it were 'betummo' instead of 'in his death' ('bemoto')" (NETn) -- ie, switching
the "m" and the "t". The RSV also follows this. This revision, however, involves
an assumption about the text itself, without any real supporting evidence. There
is no reason to tinker with the MT reading ("in death"), unless it be -- as EBCn
points out -- that "those who do not wish to see hope in immortality at this
point favor this variant reading."
But the fanciful idea, that Proverbs makes no mention of the
hope of a resurrection or immortality, is simply not proven -- and is in fact
disproved by such passages as Pro 10:25: "When the storm has swept by, the
wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever." Pro 10:30: "The
righteous will never be uprooted." Pro 11:31: "The righteous receive their due
on earth." Pro 12:28: "In the way of righteousness there is life; along that
path is immortality." And many more passages besides (eg, Pro 8:35; 9:11; 10:16;
On this last point, Robert Roberts writes also: "This is the
most beautiful feature of the Proverbs, their constant fundamental dependence on
the future dispensation of God's power in the destiny of man. Some think the
Proverbs of a merely secular application, that is, that their wisdom depends
upon considerations limited to the present life. That they are profitable for
the life that now is, is true, as it is also true of the Gospel (1Ti 4:8), but
that their chief bearing is towards that coming arrangement of things upon earth
which has been the purpose of God from the beginning, will not be denied by
those who have pondered the following sayings: 'The wicked is driven away in his
wickedness; but the righteous hath hope IN HIS DEATH' (Pro 14:32). 'When a
wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish, and the hope of unjust men
perisheth... but to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward' (Pro
11:7,18). 'The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is
but for a moment' (Pro 12:19). 'The righteous shall be recompensed in the earth:
much more the wicked and sinner' (Pro 11:31). 'The house of the wicked shall be
overthrown: but the tabernacle of the upright shall flourish' (Pro 14:11).
'Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed but he that feareth the commandment
shall be rewarded' (Pro 13:13). 'As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no
more: but the righteous is an everlasting foundation... The righteous shall
never be removed: but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth' (Pro 10:25,30).
'The upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it. But
the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be
rooted out of it' (Pro 2:21,22)" (SC). (Further on this point, see CCW's "The
Old Testament Doctrine of Eternal Life".)
WISDOM REPOSES IN THE HEART OF THE DISCERNING AND EVEN
AMONG FOOLS SHE LETS HERSELF BE KNOWN: The AV, slightly different, reads:
"Wisdom resteth in the heart of him that hath understanding: but that which is
in the midst of fools is made known." On the first clause Henry remarks,
"Modesty is the badge of wisdom"; and on the second, "Openness and ostentation
are a mark of folly." The AV would be very similar to Pro 29:11, if the two
clauses were reversed, so as to put the wise first, ie: "A wise man keeps
himself under control, [but] the fool gives full vent to his anger."
WISDOM REPOSES IN THE HEART OF THE DISCERNING: Cp Pro
10:23: "A man of understanding delights in wisdom ['chokman': sw]." The word
"reposes" ("nuwach" = to rest, settle down, dwell, reside) offers an additional
nuance: the "discerning" does not need to parade his knowledge, or try to
impress others with his wisdom. He may rest patiently, quietly secure in his
discernment and the wisdom that accompanies it -- trusting in the God who
confers His blessings upon him. This seems to be the point in Pro 10:14 ("Wise
men STORE UP knowledge"), Pro 10:19 ("He who holds his tongue is wise"), Pro
12:23 ("A prudent man keep his knowledge TO HIMSELF"), Pro 15:28 ("The heart of
the righteous WEIGHS its answers"), Pro 17:27; 20:5; and Ecc 9:17.
AND EVEN AMONG FOOLS SHE LETS HERSELF BE KNOWN: The LXX
and Syriac (followed by the RSV) offer the alternative: "But in the heart of
fools she is NOT known." This LXX reading is supported by other verses in
Proverbs, where it is commonly stated that the "fool" ("keciyl") lacks wisdom
(Pro 10:13,14, 21; etc) as well as self-control (Pro 12:16; 13:16; 14:16;
15:2,28; 20:3; 29:11; etc). Indeed, the whole thrust of the Book is against the
association of wisdom with fools.
Another possibility is to see this second clause as ironic or
sarcastic: the fool, anxious to appear wise, blurts out what he thinks is wisdom
but in the process turns it to folly. Rabbinical wisdom offers: "The heart of
fools is in their mouth; but the mouth of the wise is in their heart" (this is
practically a commentary on the whole of this verse), and -- regarding this
second clause especially -- "A fool's heart is ever dancing on his lips." Almost
every man would like to be better thought of by his fellowmen. The fool has at
hand the easiest method to accomplish this (although, being a fool, he can
scarcely hope to see it): all he needs to do is keep his mouth shut!
Another alternative, consistent with the rest of Proverbs,
would be -- as WBC suggests -- to read the second clause as a question: "But
among fools can [wisdom] come to be known?" Such a rhetorical question obviously
assumes an answer in the negative.
RIGHTEOUSNESS EXALTS A NATION, BUT SIN IS A DISGRACE TO ANY
PEOPLE: The prosperity and the power of a nation depends on its
righteousness. "The saying is a complement to v 28; not only numbers are
necessary for the prosperity of a people; justice is required as well" (WBC).
With this compare also Pro 16:12: "A throne is established through
righteousness." In fact, a nation may be populous and wealthy (in natural
resources, for example), and not be exalted at all -- but rather degraded and
oppressed and unhappy -- because its leadership (a monarchy, or a dictatorship)
is manifestly unrighteous and greedy and corrupt.
The words for "nation" ("goy") and "people" ("leummim") are
usually applied in Scripture to Gentile nations rather than to Israel. But
surely the principles apply to all, and -- if anything -- specifically to the
nation of Israel itself, who are or should be God's special witnesses (Isa
43:10,12; 44:8). Thus the first two chapters of Amos survey the various nations
around Israel and list their sins. But the prophet also enumerates the
punishments brought upon these nations for their unrighteousness. Their disgrace
is written in history. But it should be noted that both Judah and Israel find
themselves in that list as well. They were supposed to be a holy nation, but
Amos says: "They have rejected the law of the LORD and have not kept his
decrees, because they have been led astray by false gods [or 'lies'] their
ancestors followed, I will send fire upon Judah that will consume the fortresses
of Jerusalem" (Amo 2:4,5).
RIGHTEOUSNESS EXALTS A NATION: "Exalt" is "rum" -- to
be elevated or lifted up. "The most sure method that a nation can take to
support and exalt itself, is to follow the laws of righteousness and the spirit
of religion. It is not affirmed that in every particular case religion is more
successful in procuring some temporal advantages than violation of it. We only
affirm generally, that the more a society practises virtue, the more prosperity
will it enjoy. By 'exaltation' is not meant that sort of elevation to which
worldly heroes aspire. If we understand by 'exalting a nation,' whatever governs
with gentleness, negotiates with success, attacks with courage, defends with
resolution, and constitutes the happiness of a people, then a nation is only
exalted by righteousness" (Saurin, BI).
BUT SIN IS A DISGRACE TO ANY PEOPLE: "Disgrace" is
"khasad" -- "shame, or reproach". The AV, ASV, and RSV all use "reproach". The
verb form of the same word occurs in Pro 25:10: "Do not betray another man's
confidence, or he who hears it may SHAME you and you will never lose your bad
reputation." This suggests a public reproach. According to Lev 20:17 it was
considered a disgrace (sw) when a brother and sister have a sexual relationship,
and they must therefore be removed from society. The extended litany of curses
with which God threatens Israel, if they turn away from Him, underlines this
proverb: Deu 28:15-68; 29:18-28; cf Psa 107:34. Other examples of nations
debased by sin: Canaan (Lev 18:24-30); Egypt (Exo 12:12; Eze 29:1-15); Amalek
(Exo 17:16); Babylon (Isa 14:4-23; cp Rev 17:5); Moab (Isa 16:6,7); Tyre (Eze
28:2-8); and Nineveh (Zep 2:13-15).
This word "khasad" is essentially identical to "khesed" -- a
much more common word (found many times in Psalms) signifying "lovingkindness"
or "mercy" (sometimes translated "steadfast, or covenant, love" or). It would
seem there is no connection whatsoever between these two meanings. Some
commentators, assuming that it is this second "khesed" which is intended here,
have reinterpreted the clause to mean: "A sin-offering is a means of bringing
God's mercy upon a nation." All in all, this strikes me as ingenious and
imaginative, but more than a bit of a stretch.
"For the Christian, the message of history is that a society
that rejects the revealed will of God and continues to ignore or maltreat His
prophets will ultimately follow the historic path taken by Nineveh and Tyre. The
issues are stated clearly in one of ancient Israel's proverbs, 'Righteousness
exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people' (Pro 14:34). The tragedy
of Hebrew history is that the precept for security and salvation was known but
not applied. As a result, what should have become a model society for the pagan
world to imitate disintegrated under divine wrath. The Christian church needs to
safeguard its spiritual values zealously, lest it too be set aside by an angry
and disapproving God. The Christian may well feel lonely as he or she proclaims
a message of divine judgment on sin in a world that disdains or ignores the
message of salvation it needs so desperately. And yet God has called believers
to stand in the spiritual tradition of Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and others. He wants
to see in believers' lives the kind of spiritual and moral witness that will
convince the unholy and impure of their sin and point them to the One who can
cleanse them from all iniquity. This high level of spirituality is mandatory for
all of Christ's servants if they are to be effective in His service" (RK
Harrison, BibSac 146:583:254,255).
"A nation's real greatness consists not in its conquests,
magnificence, military or artistic skill, but in its observance of the
requirements of justice and religion... Morality has not yet been sufficiently
applied to politics. It is forgotten that the ten commandments relate to
communities as well as to individuals, because they are based on the eternal and
all-embracing principles of righteousness. Men have yet to learn that that which
is wrong in the individual is wrong in the society. Nations make war on one
another for reasons which would never justify individual men in fighting a duel.
Yet if it is wrong for a man to steal a field, it must be wrong for a nation to
steal a province; and if an individual man may not cut his neighbour's throat
out of revenge without being punished as a criminal, there is nothing to justify
a whole community in shooting down thousands of people for no better motive. If
selfishness even is sinful in one man, selfishness cannot be virtuous in thirty
millions of people. The reign of righteousness must govern public and national
movements if the will of God is to be respected" (Pulpit).
"It is written in God's word, and in all the history of the
race, that nations, if they live at all, live not by felicity of position, or
soil, or climate, and not by abundance of material good, but by the living word
of the living God. The commandments of God are the bread of life for the
nations" (RD Hitchcock).
A KING DELIGHTS IN A WISE SERVANT, BUT A SHAMEFUL SERVANT
INCURS HIS WRATH: A servant's competence will affect the king's attitude
toward him -- either for good or ill. "Servant" is "ebed", which may be
translated "slave", but it does not necessarily have the modern connotation: the
word could also encompass a household servant, and a debtor or bondservant.
Since the "king" is the subject here, his "servants" may well be court officials
and ministers, with varying degrees of honor and standing and wealth themselves.
This verse may well be the starting point for the Lord's words about faithful
and wise servants, as well as wicked ones (Mat 24:45-51; Luk 12:42-47), and his
parables of the talents (Mat 25:14-30) and the pounds or "minas" (Luk 19:11-27).
Other passages in Proverbs are concerned with kings'
"servants" -- and have a spiritual as well as a practical application: "Kings
take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth. A king's
wrath is a messenger of death, but a wise man will appease it. When a king's
face brightens, it means life; his favor is like a rain cloud in spring" (Pro
16:13-15). "A wicked messenger falls into trouble, but a trustworthy envoy
brings healing" (Pro 13:17; cp Pro 10:26). "He who loves a pure heart and whose
speech is gracious will have the king for his friend" (Pro 22:11). "A wise
servant will rule over a disgraceful son, and will share the inheritance as one
of the brothers" (Pro 17:2). Furthermore, Psa 101:4-8 sounds like a "job
description" written by a king for wise and faithful "servants" or ministers:
"Men of perverse heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with
evil. Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence;
whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure. My eyes will
be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me; he whose walk is
blameless will minister to me. No one who practices deceit will dwell in my
house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence. Every morning I will
put to silence all the wicked in the land; I will cut off every evildoer from
the city of the LORD."
A KING DELIGHTS IN A WISE SERVANT: The wise servant
receives his master's favor ("ratzon" -- good pleasure), which is "like dew on
the grass" (Pro 19:12), for he is "maskil" (skillful and clever). The wise
servant puts his master's money to work and gains a profit (Mat 25:16-18; Luk
19:13). He will receive the approval of his master -- "Well done, good and
faithful servant!" -- along with greater responsibilities (Mat 25:21,23; Luk
BUT A SHAMEFUL SERVANT INCURS HIS WRATH: An incompetent
or worthless ("mebish": from "bosh" -- that which is "shameful") servant is one
who does not discharge the king's business either well or efficiently; his
mistakes and laziness expose his master to criticism and ridicule. The shameful
servant is "afraid"; he hides his "talent" or "pound" (that with which he is
entrusted) (Mat 25:25; Luk 19:20). He loses his position with his master, whose
"rage is like the roar of a lion" (Pro 19:12), when he "sits on his throne to
judge" (Pro 20:8) -- "Take his [pound, or] mina away" (Luk 19:24) -- and he
himself is thrown "outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and
gnashing of teeth" (Mat 25:30; cf Pro 25:5).
Joseph is the preeminent example of a wise servant (Gen
41:38-40) -- because of his honest and faithful discharge of all his duties, in
whatever circumstances he finds himself, even prison, and because of his
elevation by first his master and then the Pharaoh to higher and higher
positions as a result. Kidner says, "[This verse] is a bracing reminder not to
blame favouritism but one's own shortcomings, for any lack of
Likewise, Haman is the preeminent example of a shameful
servant (Est 7:6-10): he uses his position to punish those whom he envies, to
advance his own personal agenda, and to line his own pockets. In the end he
suffers the ultimate punishment -- while his "enemy" Mordecai becomes another
example of a wise servant exalted out of obscurity to the highest