A GENTLE ANSWER TURNS AWAY WRATH, BUT A HARSH WORD STIRS UP
ANGER: The way one answers another person -- the tone, the demeanor, the
timing, the preliminary remarks, the politeness, the personal touch -- will
often affect how the message is received. The LXX prefaces this with a powerful
and relevant addition: "Anger slays even wise men; but..." The rest of the verse
then shows how this is possible.
A GENTLE ANSWER TURNS AWAY WRATH:The Hebrew "rakh" means
"gentle, soft, tender". It is used of the "tender calf" that Abraham prepared as
a meal for the visiting strangers (Gen 18:7): tender words, like tender meat,
are easiest to receive. "Rakh" (in its feminine plural form) is used of Leah's
"weak" eyes in Gen 29:17 -- suggesting perhaps a softness or gentleness in Leah
that was not to be seen in the more outwardly or conventionally "beautiful"
Rachel. McKane comments: "More than merely gentle or soft, the idea seems to be
conciliatory, ie, an answer that restores good temper and reasonableness" (EBC).
Even words that rebuke can -- and should -- be "aptly (of 'fitly') spoken" --
ie, put into pleasant settings (Pro 25:11,12). And even a "gentle ('rakh')
tongue" can "break a bone" (Pro 25:15)!
If someone is angry with you, even if it is your fault, you
can end the matter peaceably by responding gently and kindly, rather than with
your own anger in defense (cp Pro 12:16; 15:18; 29:22). Will you crush your
pride and end the fight (Pro 13:10; 21:24; 28:25)?
Gideon in Jdg 8:1-3 is a classic example of the "soft" (KJV)
answer that brings peace. Likewise, the response of Naaman's servant to his
angry words (2Ki 5:11,12) turned away his anger and predisposed him to heed good
advice. Other examples: Jacob with Esau (Gen 32; 33), Aaron with Moses (Lev
10:16-20), the Reubenites with their brethren (Josh 22:15-34), Gideon with the
men of Ephraim (Jdg 8:1-3), David with Saul (1Sa 24:9-21), and Abigail with
David (1Sa 25:24-31).
"When Jacob sought reconciliation with Esau, he thought a
great deal about how he would answer him. When Jacob's messengers told of how
Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men, Jacob turned to Yahweh Elohim in
prayer (Gen 32:9). Jacob then prepared a present for his brother. What a present
it was, for it was no less than 580 specially prepared animals -- a small
fortune! But Jacob recognized that even with this mammoth gift, a gentle answer
was still required to turn away wrath. So he who held the birthright instructed
his servants to say to Esau: 'Behold, thy servant Jacob...' When Jacob finally
met his brother, he bowed himself to the ground seven times (Gen 33:3,4) in an
act of humility, for actions spoke just as loudly then as now. It had the
desired effect, for the tears they wept put out the fire of wrath in Esau"
"Gentleness" (or "meekness") is the quality that trusts God to
do the work of changing attitudes (1Pe 3:15-17; cf 2Ti 2:24,25). "The wisdom
that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate,
submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere" (Jam 3:17).
Such a quality is exemplified in the words and attitudes of the Lord Jesus
Christ, even in the most difficult of circumstances: "To this you were called,
because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow
in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth' [Isa
53:9]. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he
suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges
justly" (1Pe 2:21-23). See Lessons, "Gentleness",
and "Speak gently".
"A soft answer need not be a weak one, nor should it imply any
compromise of truth, nor any yielding of righteousness. It may be firm in
substance, though soft in language and spirit. Very often the most effective
reply is given in the mildest tone. It is impossible to resent it, yet it is
equally impossible to answer it. But often we may go further. When no vital
interest of truth or righteousness is at stake, it may be well to yield a point
of our own will and pleasure in order to secure peace... [A soft answer] is
successful -- not, perhaps, in gaining one's own way, but in allaying wrath. It
turns away wrath. The angry opponent is silenced. For very shame he can say no
more; or his wrath dies out for want of fuel; or he is won to a better feeling
by the generous treatment. At the worst he can find little pleasure in fighting
an unarmed and unresisting opponent" (Pulpit).
"It is not a light matter to be warned that we bear about
within us a fire, which needs only to be quickened and blown up by the breath of
man's mouth to produce in its ravages upon ourselves and others the most cruel
and disastrous issues. This is the end at which we must aim, and after which we
must never cease to strive and pray until it has been attained, that the law of
God may reign supreme in all our hearts, enlightening the understanding,
inclining the will, subduing all unhallowed passions, purifying and sanctifying
even lawful affections, and 'bringing into captivity every thought to the
obedience of Christ' [2Co 10:5]. Forbearance is oftentimes a difficult and a
painful duty, the incentive to retaliation quick and urgent. At such times we
need to prove the power of prayer" (Spence, BI).
"It doesn’t matter how unbalanced, ill-advised, or
misinformed the angry one is -- there is always something, no matter how slight,
about which you can agree. He is about to lose control, if that has not happened
already, and you are the one who must deal with it. The first task is to bring
him back to earth... One way to do this is to be able to agree with him. Of
course you do not agree with him entirely because he is wrong to be so angry.
But you can say you understand how the matter would upset them. Once you
establish a base for discussion you can begin to build the perspective which
will set the matter right... A quiet reaction will immediately diffuse the
situation and shame the other person into calming down and being rational. The
involuntary reaction to every confrontation is to give back in kind. By failing
to react as he has, you now encourage him to react toward you in the better way.
Practice it, you will be surprised how well it works and you -- being a person
who does not lose control -- will be a powerful influence for good"
BUT A HARSH WORD STIRS UP ANGER: To use a "harsh"
("etsev") word is to cause pain (which is the same Hebrew word) and bring an
angry response. The words of Nabal, directed at that 'rebel' David, illustrate
this proverb (1Sa 25, esp vv 10,11). [Of course, his wife Abigail's gentle
answer -- in the same chapter -- illustrates the first part of this proverb
also. Its features and details are perhaps the best commentary on Pro 15:1 in
all the Bible.] Likewise, Jephthah demonstrates the harsh answer that leads to
war (Jdg 12:1-6). Other examples: Saul (1Sa 20:30,31), Rehoboam (1Ki 12:12-15),
Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:39).
ANGER: Hebrew "aph" -- from the flaring of the
nostrils: this is the sw used of the pig's "snout" in Pro 11:22; cp the similar
word "appayim" in Pro 14:17, and notes there.
"This proverb envisions a situation where a gentle answer
might help diffuse someone's wrath, since the natural inclination is to respond
in kind. But by the same token, a gentle answer may have no effect on the other
person at all. This does not invalidate the proverb, since the practice of
wisdom is not mechanistic or ritualized. The wisdom in this proverb is simply an
encouragement to seek situations where this wisdom is applicable. Knowing when
to speak is just as important as knowing how to speak" (Bricker, JETS
"We have read many times that 'A soft answer turneth away
wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.' We know that the proverb is true. We
may desire that wrath should be turned away, the stirring up of anger may be the
last thing in the world that we should want, yet when the occasion comes how
many of us can find the soft, healing words? How many can resist the temptation
to use grievous words if we chance to think of something which we consider apt
and telling, and which in any case gives relief to the feeling of the moment?"
"Any one with a grain of sense will put a check upon his
rising temper; his discretion makes him slow to anger, and he never feels to
have won such true glory as when he bridles his wrath and passes by an offence
without a sign of annoyance or resentment. You may almost be sure that a man is
wise if you find that he has a cool spirit (Pro 17:27). When you see a person
who cautiously avoids the ground where strife is apt to be excited, and builds
his house on a spot where contention is impossible, you instinctively respect
him, for you know it betokens wisdom; but when you see a man always getting
involved in quarrels, always showing his teeth, you rightly conclude that he is
a fool (Pro 20:3). 'A fool uttereth all his anger: but a wise man keepeth it
back and stilleth it' (Pro 29:11). If we are naturally irritable or splenetic,
wisdom will incline us to avoid occasions which excite us, and to keep a
watchful guard over our spirits where the occasions are inevitable"
Columnist Sidney Harris tells of going with a friend to a
newspaper stand. The friend bought a newspaper. The vendor was abrupt, gruff,
and the friend responded in kindness. Harris was perplexed and said, "Is he
always so unkind?" "Yes." "Do you always reply like that?" "Yes." "Why?" "I
can't determine how he will act, but I can determine how I will
What dangerous fires of hatred are kindled by words spoken in
haste! That's why taking time to think about what we should say is so important.
Restraint can bring peace to many an ugly situation, as is illustrated by this
story: An old Englishman was greatly loved because of his positive influence.
One day an angry young man who had just been badly insulted came to see him. As
he explained the situation, he said he was on his way to demand an apology from
the one who had wronged him. "My dear boy," the elderly man said, "take a word
of advice from an old man who loves peace. An insult is like mud; it will brush
off better when it is dry. Wait a little, till he and you are both cool, and the
problem will be easily solved. If you go now, you will only quarrel." The young
man heeded the wise advice, and soon he was able to go to the other person and
resolve the issue. ¶ How often the tongue pours fuel on a fire that would
go out if left alone! "Do not be rash with your mouth... let your words be few"
(Ecc 5:2). Perhaps you have a problem with someone and have decided to "tell him
off." Why not wait? It's easier to brush off mud when it's dry. And pray for the
one who offended you. It may dry the mud a little faster.
"If you kick a stone in anger, you'll hurt your own foot"
(Korean proverb). "Temper is one thing you can't get rid of by losing it." "A
kind word never broke anyone's mouth" (Irish proverb). "Soft words are hard
arguments" (Thomas Fuller).
Whereas v 1 deals with the tone of voice, this next verse
deals with the quality of what is said. Having quenched the fire of wrath by
gentleness, the wise speaker can now devote himself to choosing the right
subject and presenting it in the best way possible. Thus this verse deals as
well with the timing of what is said: "There is... a time to be silent and a
time to speak" (Ecc 3:1,7).
THE TONGUE OF THE WISE COMMENDS KNOWLEDGE, BUT THE MOUTH OF
THE FOOL GUSHES FOLLY: The relative wisdom of different people can usually
be determined by what they say: generally, and obviously, knowledge comes from
the wise and folly from the fools. It would be an extraordinary thing indeed if
the wise were characterized by folly, and fools by wisdom!
Many people have useful knowledge -- on one subject or another
-- but it is a rare, and wise, person who knows when and where to communicate
his knowledge. The circumstances that govern the time and place are many and
varied and are carefully weighed by the wise, whereas others will bubble out
their knowledge like a fountain that cannot be controlled. Relevance is
unimportant to them because their purpose is not to inform but to impress. Their
speech lacks order and flows rapidly and continuously. They are fools. Why is it
that so many feel compelled to reassure themselves and others of their worth by
this artificial device? "Knowledge puffeth up" in a very real way in many
individuals (1Co 8:1). How refreshing it is to encounter someone intent on
imparting his knowledge for the good it will do and for no other reason! "By
their fruits you shall know them" (Mat 7:16,20; 12:33; cf Luk 6:43-45; Jam
3:12). "Words from a wise man's mouth are gracious, but a fool is consumed by
his own lips. At the beginning his words are folly; at the end they are wicked
madness -- and the fool multiplies words" (Ecc 10:12-14).
Paul's preaching and teaching contain wonderful examples of
tact, by which words of wisdom are rendered more likely to be heeded: (1) He
diplomatically commends the Athenians for their interest in and commitment to
religion (Act 17:22,23 -- in NIV, which is far better here than the KJV!), when
he might instead have condemned them outright for their superstitious idolatry.
(2) He points out that King Agrippa "believes the prophets" (Act 26:27-29), a
point that might well have been arguable, but that was useful to assume for the
moment. (3) He chooses his words carefully, depending on his audience (1Co
9:19-23). (4) He feeds the young with milk and the older with meat (1Co 3:2; cf
Heb 5:12-14; 1Pe 2:2). (5) And he avoids giving unnecessary offense (1Co
10:31-33). For a first-class lesson in diplomatic writing, consider Paul's
letter to Philemon. On the other hand, Paul warns against "godless chatter" (2Ti
2:16-18), and "merely talking" for the sake of being heard (Tit 1:10).
Matthew Henry lists other proverbs of wise and good discourse,
and the hurt and shame of an ungoverned tongue: Pro 10:11,13,14,20,21,31,32;
11:30; 14:3; 15:4,7,23,28; 16:20,23,24; 17:7; 18:4,7,20,21; 20:15; 21:23; 23:9;
THE TONGUE OF THE WISE COMMENDS KNOWLEDGE: According to
EBC, the Hebrew "tetiv", translated "uses aright" in the AV and "commends" in
the NIV, is literally "makes good" or "treats in a good or excellent way" (Toy).
The art of good speech aids or enhances the advancement of knowledge, by
rendering it more acceptable to listeners. "The tongue of the wise knoweth what
is fair" (LXX). On this point, cp the similar verses Pro 16:21 ("Pleasant words
promote [nsw] instruction") and Pro 16:23 ("[A wise man's] lips promote
However, Dahood (also cited in EBC) suggests a change from
"tetiv" to "tatip" ("drip") and offers the reading: "Tongues of the sages DRIP
with knowledge." Thus the RSV reads "dispenses knowledge" and Moffatt "distils
knowledge". But there seems no real need for this emendation.
Cp generally Pro 13:20 ("He who walks with the wise grows
wise"); Pro 15:7 ("The lips of the wise spread knowledge"); and Pro 18:15 ("The
heart of the discerning acquires knowledge").
BUT THE MOUTH OF THE FOOL GUSHES FOLLY: The Hebrew
"yabia" signifies "to pour out; to emit; to cause to bubble; to belch" (cp sw
used in Psa 59:7; 94:4; Pro 15:28; Ecc 10:1). The fool bursts out with reckless
utterances, like a boiling pot that spills its contents uselessly and
wastefully. Cp Pro 10:8,10 ("A chattering fool comes to ruin"); Pro 10:18
("Whoever spreads slander is a fool"); and Pro 13:16 ("A fool exposes his
folly"). In Pro 12:23 ("The heart of fools blurts out folly"), the words for
"fool(s)" ("keciyl") and "folly" ("iwwelet") are the same as in this verse (see
further notes at Pro 12:23).
THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE EVERYWHERE, KEEPING WATCH ON THE
WICKED AND THE GOOD: The omniscience of the One God, Yahweh, is a first
principle of Bible teaching: "For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the
earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him" (2Ch 16:9; cp
Zec 4:10; Rev 5:6). "The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD is on his heavenly
throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them" (Psa 11:4). "For a
man's ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths" (Pro
5:21). "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is
uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account"
(Heb 4:13; cp Jer 16:17; 23:24). From His penetrating investigation there is no
escape (Psa 139:1-12). The LORD weighs motives (Pro 16:2) and hearts (Pro
24:12). See also Psa 33:18,19, and in Proverbs see also Pro 22:12; 24:18.
Such knowledge is one of the greatest influences and
exhortations to righteous behavior. God's constant watchfulness is true not only
of individuals (as here), but also of nations (Psa 66:7). It is even true of the
relatively "inconsequential" birds of the air (Mat 10:29; Luk 12:6).
Other proverbs of God's omniscience, and His universal
providence: Pro 15:11; 16:1,4,9,33; 17:3; 19:21; 20:12,24; 21:1,30,31;
KEEPING WATCH ON THE WICKED: "By 'evil' [AV] men may be
meant both profane sinners and carnal professors; such as are more openly
wicked, and declare their sin, as Sodom, or more secretly so; He sees into all
the wickedness there is in their hearts, all their secret devices against His
people; the works done by them in the dark, as well as their more open ones; and
His eyes are upon all of them, to bring them into judgment at the last day: His
eyes are particularly on the proud, to abase them; such as are under a disguise
of religion, and have a form of godliness, He has His eyes upon; He sees through
all their disguises; He knows on what foot they took up their profession; He
discerns between that and true grace; He sees how they retain their lusts with
their profession; observes the springs and progress of their apostasy; and will
fix His eyes on the man without a righteousness, not having on the wedding
garment, and order him into outer darkness" (Gill).
AND THE GOOD: "He sees them in outward destitution (Gen
16:7,13), in secret retirement (Joh 1:48), in deep affliction (Exo 3:7; Psa
91:15). He pierces the prison walls (Gen 39:21; 2Ch 33:12,13). He 'covers their
heads in the day of battle' (Psa 140:7). He is with them in the furnace (Dan
3:25), and in the tempest (Acts 27:23). His eye guides them as their journeying
God, and will guide them safe home (Psa 23:4; 48:14; Isa 42:16), full of
blessing (Gen 26:3), protection (2Ch 16:9; 1Pe 3:12), and support (Isa 41:10)"
THE TONGUE THAT BRINGS HEALING IS A TREE OF LIFE, BUT A
DECEITFUL TONGUE CRUSHES THE SPIRIT: Speech is double-edged; what a person
says can bring either healing or harm. The teaching here affirms that healing
words bring life to the spirit, but perverse words crush the spirit. Each person
may be either a tree of life to others, or a crushing of their spirit. He may
either heal and help with his words, or he may hurt and injure. He may either
instruct and uplift, or corrupt and offend. "The tongue has the power of life
and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit" (Pro 18:21). Each of us can
be a tree of life, providing kind and useful words to help others; or we can be
a breach in their spirit, discouraging and irritating them.
THE TONGUE THAT BRINGS HEALING IS A TREE OF LIFE: The
AV has "a wholesome tongue". Pro 12:18 states that "the tongue of the wise
brings healing ['marphe': sw as here, and translated 'peace' in Pro 14:30]" --
soothing and peace and calm and tranquility -- to the sword-like wounds
inflicted by a chatterbox. According to Pro 13:17, in contrast to the wicked
messenger who always falls into trouble, "a trustworthy envoy brings healing",
by faithfully delivering his message. Pro 16:24 notes that "pleasant words are a
honeycomb, sweet to the palate and healing to the bones."
The "tree of life" is representative of the woman Wisdom;
those who lay hold of her will be blessed (Pro 3:18n). The fruit of the
righteous, which would be the fruit of their lips (Hos 14:2; Heb 13:15), is a
tree of life (Pro 11:30). This "tree of life", of which the righteous speak, and
of which men may lay hold -- in the Scriptures and ultimately in Christ -- will
be the fulfillment of every longing (Pro 13:12n).
BUT A DECEITFUL TONGUE CRUSHES THE SPIRIT: The contrast
is the perverse, twisted, or "deceitful" ("seleph") words that crush the spirit.
The sw occurs in Pro 11:3, as "duplicity". Its verb form ("calaph") is also
found several times in this book: Pro 13:6; 19:3; 21:12; 22:12. "Impure,
unchaste, unsavoury, and corrupt language does mischief to the spirits of men;
evil communications corrupt the heart and manners, and defile the soul and the
The Psalms contain examples of a deceitful tongue, as in those
who plotted against David (chiefly Saul and his henchmen, and later Absalom and
his followers): "Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man? Why do you boast all
day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God? Your tongue plots
destruction; it is like a sharpened razor, you who practice deceit. You love
evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth. You love every
harmful word, O you deceitful tongue!" (Psa 52:1-4). "Wicked and deceitful men
have opened their mouths against me; they have spoken against me with lying
tongues. With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause. In
return for my friendship they accuse me, but I am a man of prayer. They repay me
evil for good, and hatred for my friendship" (Psa 109:2-5).
"In Pro 15:4 we are graphically taught that the 'perverseness'
of the serpent's lying tongue (one of the LORD's seven abominations -- Pro 6:17)
caused a 'breach' [AV] in our human nature because Adam and Eve followed its
tempting advice. By contrast, we are advised to have our tongues healed (see the
AV mg), like the nations in the Millennium in Rev 22:2, by recourse to the tree
of life. As a symbol of what is wrong, inwardly, with human nature, of course,
the tongue is used elsewhere in Scripture, notably by James. The whole of
[James'] third chapter seems to be based around the lessons of these proverbs of
Solomon. The following verses in particular pick up a number of Solomon's
themes: '...the tongue... setteth on fire the course of nature... For every kind
of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed...
but the tongue... is... full of deadly poison... This wisdom... is earthly,
sensual, devilish... But the wisdom that is from above is... full of mercy and
good fruits... And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace' (Jam
3:6-8,15-18)" (RC, Tes 57:5).
The LXX offers a very different rendering of the second part
of the verse: "The healing tongue is a tree of life, and (as per LXX) he that
guards it [or, possibly, watches his opportunity] shall be filled with the
Spirit." But as far as can be seen, there is no real textual reason for this
A FOOL SPURNS HIS FATHER'S DISCIPLINE, BUT WHOEVER HEEDS
CORRECTION SHOWS PRUDENCE: Proverbs instructs us to respect the instruction
of father, mother, and people who are older and wiser (see, eg, Pro 1:8;
4:1–6,13; 13:1,20; 15:7; 16:31). How well one responds to discipline
reveals his character. The contrast here is between the fool who spurns it and
the prudent individual who heeds it.
A FOOL SPURNS HIS FATHER'S DISCIPLINE: "Discipline" is
"muwcar" -- warning or instruction. Any one who hates or rejects this travels
the path leading to ruin (Pro 5:12–14; 10:1,17; 15:10) and is considered
stupid (Pro 12:1). God's people demonstrate their foolishness when they despise
His counsel (Psa 107:11), spurn His advice (Pro 1:30), and reject His correction
(Pro 5:12). One proverb graphically pictures such a person as hardening the back
of the neck so that it suddenly breaks beyond repair (Pro 29:1). Examples of
such fools: Hophni and Phinehas (1Sa 2:23-25), and Absalom (2Sa
"Yet the young man is very likely to consider his knowledge
superior to that of his father, especially in this age of leapfrogging
knowledge, where today's knowledge is obsolete tomorrow. Man's knowledge is
increasing exponentially. Who has not had to deal with his nine-year-old son who
tells his mother how to drive, and his father about the new super-computer which
processes at speeds several orders of magnitude faster than the one his father
knows about? But man's knowledge is only foolishness with God. The things that
are eternal do not change, and you cannot leap over many years' experience with
the word of God. It is folly to touch the stove to see if it burns, just as it
is folly to ignore the wisdom of the Bible on any matter. If one good example
can put this folly to shame, it is that of our Master, who would have been able
to teach his parents, yet 'was subject unto them' (Luke 2:51)"
BUT WHOEVER HEEDS CORRECTION SHOWS PRUDENCE: Readiness
to be corrected is an important characteristic that distinguishes the wise from
the foolish (cf v 10; Pro 12:1; 13:1). Correction (the Hebrew "towkechah" =
"reproof", "chastisement", "rebuke") is an integral tool for educating (Pro
29:15). One who heeds correction is prudent (here, and Pro 15:32), for heeding
correction or reproof leads to life (Pro 6:23; 15:31). The student is, thus,
exhorted not to be weary of rebuke (Pro 3:11, sw). Paul instructed the young man
Titus so to rebuke the Cretan believers, even sharply as necessary (Tit 1:13;
"Five times in this chapter we read the refrain: 'the wise
receives rebuke, but the fool despises it.' We see it repeated in vv
5,10,12,31,32. Why does Solomon repeat it so many times? We are left in no doubt
that wisdom is only gained through rebuke and chastening. It is gained by
listening to the words of the wise, which will often not be the words we want to
hear. The one who does not listen, however, is a fool (Pro 12:1).
"The problem with the foolish man is this: he doesn't actually
know good council when he finds it! A fool is too foolish to see wisdom. In v 21
the fool is seen to have joy in folly. He enjoys it because he thinks it's good!
This means that when he seeks out wisdom, he'll go to the wrong place (v 12). He
is naturally drawn to those with flattering lips. Wise council is too harsh for
him, because it means that some of his own foolish thoughts will be challenged.
It means he may be rebuked, and he doesn't want that!
"We have a choice to make in our every day lives. V 10 tells
us that those who hate discipline will die. Vv 24 and 31 tell us that wisdom
gained by rebuke will save us. To whom do we go for advice? Those who tell us
what we want to hear, or those who will tell us the truth? How do we pray to
God? Do we ask Him to teach us His way, or do we avoid saying so, and go our own
way? God is the only one who can teach us real wisdom. The proceeds of wisdom
are not only eternal life, but joy and peace in this life. With wisdom we can
live the life God has designed us to live. The rewards of wisdom are extremely
great (Pro 8:10-22; 16:16), but there's a catch. Only those who want wisdom
enough will actually submit to the trouble, chastening, rebuke, and humbling
required to receive it. God has cleverly designed life so that we will not
naturally choose this path, but rather foolishness because it's easier! The
world around us is surely a testimony to this fact...
"Let's not listen to our natural instincts too much. We are
born of the flesh. Jesus says that those who think from their own devices are
children of the devil. Our natural heart is deceitful, just like the serpent
which convinced Eve. God calls us to stop being of the flesh; the natural; and
to be born again as sons of Him. God is wisdom. If we are His offspring then we
will have it too. Jesus demonstrated very clearly how this could be achieved, by
applying the wisdom in the word of God so perfectly that he was even called 'the
word made flesh' (John 1:14). The struggle that Jesus had was the same as ours,
for he 'learned obedience by the things he suffered'. If we want to be sons of
God too, we will have to walk the same path. (Pro 3:11,12; Heb 12:7). By our
attitude to the rebuke of the word of God, and His chastening in our lives, we
declare our sonship; whether we are still sons of our earthly father; or sons of
our heavenly one" (RdJ).
This verse has this addition (from the LXX), which may
actually be the prelude to v 6: "In abounding righteousness is great strength
[here is 'another tree of life': cp Pro 15:4!], but the ungodly shall perish,
his roots entirely out of the ground." The mind goes instinctively to: "Every
plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up" (Mat 15:13),
and to this: "Ye shall say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the
root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it shall obey you" (Luke
THE HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS CONTAINS GREAT TREASURE, BUT THE
INCOME OF THE WICKED BRINGS THEM TROUBLE: Cp with Pro vv 16,17: "Better a
little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. Better a meal
of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred." Other
proverbs of the happiness of the righteous, and the misery of the wicked: Pro
10:6,9,16,24,25,27-30; 11:3,5-8,18-21,31; 12:2,3,7,13,14,21,26,28;
13:6,9,14,15,21,22,25; 14:11,14,19,32; 15:6,8,9,24,26,29; 20:7;
21:12,15,16,18,21; 22:12; 28:10,18; 29:6.
THE HOUSE OF THE RIGHTEOUS CONTAINS GREAT TREASURE:
"Treasure" is the noun "khosen", meaning "wealth". Prosperity is the reward for
righteousness; this is illustrated in the life of Abraham (Gen 14:22--15:1).
This is true only in part (Pro 8:21); there will always be exceptions. Even
though the rich will trust in their wealth (Pro 18:11), it is well to remember
that such wealth will not endure forever (Pro 27:24).
The LXX for this verse, however, has no reference to wealth
but talks about amassing righteousness. Whereas the reading on which this
translation is based might be questioned, there is certainly Scriptural merit in
seeing the true "wealth" of the righteous as being knowledge, wisdom, and hope
in God's gospel truth: in the NT, this spiritual wealth is called "the full
riches of complete understanding" (Col 2:2), "the riches of God's grace" (Eph
1:7; 2:7), "the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints" (Eph 1:18),
and "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph 3:8; cp Phi 4:19; Col 1:27). Thus a
man may be poor in this world's goods, yet possess "all things" in Christ (2Co
6:10). "Disgrace for the sake of Christ [is] of greater value than the treasures
of Egypt (Heb 11:26).
"One smile of God is better than all the treasures of the
world. If the sun be wanting, it will be night for all the stars; and if the
light of God's countenance be wanting, if He frown upon us, a man may sit in the
shadow of death for all the glisten of worldly contentments" (Stoughton, BI).
BUT THE INCOME OF THE WICKED BRINGS THEM TROUBLE:
"Trouble" is "achar", which could signify the calamity that one person's actions
bring upon others. The case of Achan, who coveted and took the Babylonian
garment (Jos 7:18-26), illustrates this point (cp 1Ch 2:7 and the NIV mg, where
"Achar" and "Achan" seem interchangeable). Treasures appropriated unethically
are worthless (Pro 10:2) and "a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare"; that is,
they will bring about the downfall of those who pursue them (Pro 21:6). "Cast
but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and
fly off to the sky like an eagle" (Pro 23:5). "Better the little that the
righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will
be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous" (Psa 37:16,17; cp also Ecc
5:10-14; Jam 5:1-3).
"People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap
and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and
destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people,
eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many
griefs" (1Ti 6:9,10). "In the great incomes [the wicked] have, there is trouble;
for there is guilt and a curse; there is pride and passion, and envy and
contention; and those are troublesome lusts, which rob them of the joy of their
revenues and make them troublesome to their neighbours" (Henry).
THE LIPS OF THE WISE SPREAD KNOWLEDGE; NOT SO THE HEARTS OF
FOOLS: Cp Pro 10:31: "The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but a
perverse tongue will be cut out." And Pro 15:2: "The tongue of the wise commends
knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly" (see notes there).
THE LIPS OF THE WISE SPREAD KNOWLEDGE: "Spread" is
"zarah" -- to spread about, to scatter, to disperse, to disseminate -- as the
sower does with the "zerah", or seed (Mat 13:1-23). The right use of knowledge
is, first, to store it up (Pro 10:14), as in a granary, and secondly, as
appropriate, to dispense it. Wise people will spread knowledge when they speak
-- their words are profitable: "What I tell you in the dark, speak in the
daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs" (Mat 10:27; cp
Mat 28:18-20; Mar 16:15; Acts 8:4; Rom 10:14-17). Words carefully chosen and
wisely spoken are beautiful, for which both God and men will hold you in high
esteem and favor (Pro 12:14,18; 15:23; 16:13,24; 22:11; 24:26; 25:11). And wise
men use such words to feed many (Pro 10:21).
NOT SO THE HEARTS OF FOOLS: On the other hand, fools
simply have no knowledge in their hearts, and no interest in acquiring
knowledge; consequently, they have nothing to disseminate -- except the "folly"
of v 2. The "evil" which overflows from their hearts -- having no other outlet
-- will gush forth from their mouths (Mat 12:34). Beyond that, if they do sow
anything at all, it will be, not the "good seed" of Mat 13:1-23, but the "tares"
of the subsequent parable (Mat 13:24-30)!
"Considering that 'the wise shall inherit glory,' and that
'shame shall be the promotion of fools' [Pro 3:35], in whom God 'takes no
pleasure' (Ecc 5:4), it is important for us, as those who are striving to be
among the former, to note every divinely recorded characteristic of the wise
man. Here is one, very identifiable, but rarely to be met with on the world's
highway: he deals in knowledge. His talk is the talk of reason and sobriety. He
walks in the light himself, and the effect of his walk is to enlighten others.
How different it is with 99 men out of every 100 you meet. Their talk is all
froth -- the bubbling of folly. They strain after that which is witty -- that
which is smart -- that which is scornful and depreciative of others -- that
which is telling and caustic, even when they don't mean it. Anything in the way
of sober knowledge or instruction is abhorrent to them, and [scorned] as
'long-faced' and 'old fogey'. 'The heart of fools poureth forth foolishness'
[Pro 15:2], and 'the foolish shall not stand in thy presence' [Psa 5:5]" (RR).
"The only wise God has given us the knowledge of His will,
committed to us by holy men of old; He has dispersed abroad His saving grace, so
that those who receive it might bring forth fruit to His honour and glory.
Having obtained a knowledge of His will, the wise in heart become sowers of the
good seed of the kingdom, going forth bearing the precious seed. The moral
effects are first seen in the bearer of the grace, and in others who receive it
in the love of it.
"The Lord Jesus was a sower of the good seed of the Kingdom,
and illustrates his work in the parable of the sower. The different types of
ground show the different types of hearts possessed by those who had opportunity
to receive the priceless promises of God" (Jakeman, Dawn 16:104).
THE LORD DETESTS THE SACRIFICE OF THE WICKED, BUT THE
PRAYER OF THE UPRIGHT PLEASES HIM: The spiritual condition of the worshiper
will determine the acceptability of the worship offered. A sacrifice without a
prayer can never be acceptable; but a heartfelt prayer -- even if it is offered
without any other sacrifice -- will surely be accepted!
THE LORD DETESTS THE SACRIFICE OF THE WICKED: This
phrase is parallel to Pro 21:27a: "The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable"
(cf also Pro 28:9). Sacrifices from wicked people are unacceptable because they
are insincere and blasphemous (cf v 29; Pro 21:3; 28:9; see also 1Sa 15:22; Psa
40:6-8; Isa 1:10-17; 66:3; Jer 6:20; 7:21-23; Hos 5:6; Amo 5:22). External
service means nothing unless it is accompanied by a change of heart. "Sacrifice"
here is "zebach", used particularly of the peace offering (Lev 3:1,3,6; 4:10,26;
7:11-13). Cain's sacrifice was rejected, because it was offered insincerely (Gen
4; Pro 14:9,12).
"The term ['sacrifice'] applies to all heedless and
unreflecting worship; that which neither occupies the understanding, nor affects
the heart. And the absence of consideration within the house of God is itself
equivalent to rebellion. Directly opposed to the 'sacrifice of the wicked,' we
have 'the prayer of the upright.' This implies sincerity; then solemn, serious,
and devout consideration. 'Upright' here does not denote a perfection of moral
integrity; which is rarely, if ever, found in men. A sacrifice of falsehood is
the act of the outward; the sacrifice of truth is the act of the inward man. The
'prayer of the upright' is based upon consideration, and reflection. It is first
the offspring, and then the companion, of thought" (Dale, BI).
BUT THE PRAYER OF THE UPRIGHT PLEASES HIM: Prayer is a
private and inward service, and is not as likely to be offered by the wicked
(although, when it is, it is also abominable: Pro 28:9). So it scarcely needs to
be added that, if God accepts the prayers of the upright, He will also accept
their offerings and sacrifices.
"Pleases" is the verb form of "ratsown": 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 case, plainly, prayer is a
sort of substitute for "zebach"-sacrifice. True prayer is true sacrifice, for it
is the submission of one's will to the will of God.
"The wicked sometimes sacrifice. They did so under the Law,
and they do so under the gospel. The form of the sacrifice differs, but the
spirit of the thing is the same. They give for Divine use, but instead of being
acceptable, it is 'abomination' to God. The reason is to be found in the mind in
which it is given. It is not given from a love of God, or from a desire to be in
the way of obedience, but either from a superstitious notion that it may avert
the consequences of their wicked course in common life (which is the most
respectable form of this wickedness), or from a desire to be considered
religious by his fellow-sinner, or to [procure] the good graces of the
priesthood, through whom he may obtain influence and trade with the people. The
approaches that please God are the approaches of 'upright' men -- men who fear
God and work righteousness in private as well as in public -- every day as well
as Sunday -- in the transactions of common life as well as in religious
exercises -- towards enemies as well as among friends" (RR).
Notice how v 8 and v 9 are parallel: "The LORD detests the
sacrifice of the wicked" (v 8a) is parallel to "The LORD detests [sw] the way of
the wicked" (v 9a). And "the LORD is 'pleased' ('ratzown') with 'the prayers of
the upright ['yashar']" (v 8b) is parallel to "the LORD 'loves' ('ye'ahab')
those who pursue righteousness ['tsedaqah']" (v 9b).
THE LORD DETESTS THE WAY OF THE WICKED: The "way" or
"road" ("derek") -- ie, the course through life -- of the wicked is
characterized by darkness (Pro 2:13), falsehood (Psa 119:29), and perversity
(Pro 22:5). The fool (Pro 12:15) and sluggard (Pro 15:19) will be found on that
road. "The way of the wicked will perish" (Psa 1:6); even though it be "wide"
and "broad", and many follow it, yet it inevitably leads to destruction (Mat
DETESTS: "Tow'ebah" = treats as an abomination. See v
8n, and Lesson, "Abomination" to the LORD. To this Robert Roberts adds, "The
moderns in their sublime speculations have lost the idea of anything being 'an
abomination [or 'detestable thing'] of the LORD.' Nothing is more certainly or
more frequently revealed in the Scriptures. It is a comfort to those who 'follow
after righteousness'; it is also a warning. The comfort lies here: the way of
the wicked is a distress to the righteous; is it not a comfort to them to know
that what distresses them is an abomination to God? The warning comes thus: the
way of the wicked is an abomination to God; will not the righteous, then, be on
their guard against being involved in that way? There is nothing in 'air, earth
or sky' to tell us that the way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD.
Looking at these, it seems as if the way of the wicked were a matter of sheer
indifference to all creation. But it is only fools that are misled by
appearances. God's views are hidden from human discernment: but they exist for
all that; and the day of their manifestation will be a terrible day for the
wicked, and a supreme day for the righteous."
BUT HE LOVES THOSE WHO PURSUE RIGHTEOUSNESS: God loves
those who pursue righteousness; the verb "radaph" signifies a persistent
pursuit, as of a hunter after his prey. He who loves God will be moved to an
active, persistent, and even dangerous search for justice. In Proverbs, foolish
and wicked men pursue ["radaph"] "evil" (Pro 11:19) and "fantasies" (Pro 12:11;
28:19) -- while the righteous pursue [sw] "justice" (Pro 15:9; 21:21).
Paul describes the NT counterpart of this pursuit -- a
faithful and strong purposefulness: "Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to
have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and
straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of
the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Phi 3:13,14). And again, as he writes
to Timothy: "But you, man of God... pursue righteousness, godliness, faith,
love, endurance and gentleness" (1Ti 6:11). And finally, "Pursue righteousness,
faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure
heart" (2Ti 2:22).
STERN DISCIPLINE AWAITS HIM WHO LEAVES THE PATH; HE WHO
HATES CORRECTION WILL DIE: Proverbs about the wisdom of obedience, and folly
of disobedience: Pro 10:8,17; 12:1,15; 13:1,13,18; 15:5,10,12,31,32; 19:16;
STERN DISCIPLINE AWAITS HIM WHO LEAVES THE PATH: "Path"
is "orach" -- a well-trodden road, like that which is followed by a caravan.
Like "derek", its nearest synonym (as in v 9), "orach" can refer to the ways of
God, either in general (Psa 25:4,10; 44:18; 119:15; Isa 2:3; Mic 4:2) or in such
phrases as "way of life" (cf Psa 16:11; Pro 2:19; 5:6; 10:17; 15:24) or
"straight path" (Psa 27:11). Thus, there is the prayer that Yahweh will reveal
His ways (Psa 25:4), ways that bring His steadfast covenant loyalty ("khesed")
and reliability ("emeth") to those who walk in conformity to His covenant (Psa
HE WHO HATES CORRECTION WILL DIE: But he who forsakes
the covenant-path of Yahweh can expect the sternest discipline ("muwcar": see
Pro 1:2n). And he should not despise such "discipline" [sw], because it is the
means by which a loving Father seeks to bring His children back to Himself (Pro
3:11,12; see notes there).
However, there is a fearful progression involved here: if that
stern discipline fails to bring him back to his senses, that is, if he continues
to refuse to accept the correction ("towkechah") of the intended lessons, then
the very last step will be "ya'muth" -- death! As Paul says, "For if you live
according to the sinful nature, you will DIE" (Rom 8:13). Other proverbs give
their warnings in just as severe terms: "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. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them,
and the complacency of fools will destroy them" (Pro 1:30-32). "A man who
remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed -- without
remedy" (Pro 29:1).
DEATH AND DESTRUCTION LIE OPEN BEFORE THE LORD -- HOW MUCH
MORE THE HEARTS OF MEN!: The LORD knows every intent of every individual.
The development of thought in these two lines is an argument from the lesser to
the greater ("how much more"). "Sheol" and "Abaddon" speak of the realm of the
dead. If that remote region, with all its "occupants", is open before the LORD
(suggesting His irresistible omniscience) -- and He knows all about their lives,
their histories, and their characters, even though they are dead -- how much
more does He know the hearts of all men still living! (Cp the same idea in Psa
139:7,8 -- where the "depths", or "Sheol", are completely open to the Spirit of
DEATH AND DESTRUCTION LIE OPEN BEFORE THE LORD: "Death"
is "Sheol" (NIV mg), which is generally translated "hell" in the AV. Literally,
it means "the hidden, or covered place" -- and refers to the grave, where the
dead are hidden away (see Pro 1:12; 5:5; 7:27; 9:18 -- and notes there).
"Destruction" is "Abaddon" (NIV mg) -- from a root meaning "to destroy". The two
words, "Sheol" and "Abaddon", occur together in Job 26:6. "Sheol" and "abaddoh"
(related to "Abaddon") occur together in Pro 27:20. "Abaddon" and "death"
("maveth", or "muwth") occur together in Job 28:22 and Psa 88:10,11. In all
these cases the intention is the same: to picture the death-state, a place where
the dead are hidden away, and destroyed (cp Psa 88:10n).
"Abaddon" is seen as a fire that burns and consumes in Job
31:12. The word appears in Rev 9:11 as the name of the Destroying Angel, who is
also called "Apollyon" in the Greek; in the LXX "Apollyon" is the Greek
translation of "Abaddon" in Job 26:2; 28:22; Psa 88:12; and Pro 15:11). The
Destroying Angel is of course under the authority of Almighty God: "There is
nothing fanciful about taking these words... in the most literal sense possible.
The angel who slew the firstborn in Egypt is called the Destroyer (Exo 12:23).
The angel who punished Israel in the wilderness is called the Destroyer (1Co
10:10). The angel who afflicted Israel with pestilence in the time of David is
spoken of as destroying (1Ch 21:12,15,16)" (WRev).
HOW MUCH MORE THE HEARTS OF MEN!: Literally, "the
hearts of the sons of men" (as KJV). "Hearts" is a metonymy for individuals'
motives and thoughts in Psa 44:21: God "knows the secrets of the heart" (cf Psa
7:9; Pro 5:21; 15:3; 16:2; 17:3; 21:2; Jer 17:10; 1Jo 3:20). And later, His Son
also "knew all men. He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what
was in a man" (Joh 2:24,25; cp Joh 21:17; Heb 4:12,13). To Jesus, as the
representative of God Himself, has been given the keys of death and Hades
('Sheol', or the grave) (Rev 1:18; cf Rev 2:23).
A MOCKER RESENTS CORRECTION; HE WILL NOT CONSULT THE
WISE: Continuing the theme of reproof in this chapter: cp vv 5,10.
A MOCKER RESENTS CORRECTION: A scoffer, or mocker,
"loves not correction" (as the AV puts it) -- that is, he resists all efforts to
reform him. He will not read any books that might point him in the right way,
much less the Bible. He will not pay any attention to any preachers that might
offer help (cf 2Ti 4:3,4). And he will not keep company with anyone who might
help him by a firm word, or even a good example. In short, he "will not come
into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed" (Joh 3:20). Therefore he
can learn nothing that will help him in practical, everyday life -- either by
admonitions, reproofs, or sterner punishments (Pro 9:7,8; 13:1; 18:2; 19:25; Amo
5:10; ct Pro 3:11,12; 28:23).
HE WILL NOT CONSULT THE WISE: The MT has, literally,
"he will not go TO the wise", to seek instruction. The LXX, by a slight change,
has "he will not go WITH the wise" -- ie, keep company with them (as Enoch
walked WITH God: Gen 5:24; cp Pro 13:20). An illustration of this is King Ahab
refusing the counsel of the prophet Micaiah in 1Ki 22:8 and 2Ch 18:7: "I hate
him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always
Vv 13-15: In three successive verses, the writer refers to
three kinds of hearts (ie, three kinds of persons): the "happy" heart (v 13),
the "discerning" heart (v 14), and the "cheerful" ("towb" -- good) heart (v
A HAPPY HEART MAKES THE FACE CHEERFUL, BUT HEARTACHE
CRUSHES THE SPIRIT: This verse is more or less paralleled by Pro 17:22: "A
cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." But
there is a slight progression between each phrase of each proverb -- so that
they may easily be recombined into two other proverbs. Thus: "A happy heart
makes the face cheerful" (Pro 15:13a), and "a cheerful heart is good medicine"
(Pro 17:22a). And likewise, "Heartache crushes the spirit" (Pro 15:13b), and "a
crushed spirit dries up the bones" (Pro 17:22b).
A HAPPY HEART MAKES THE FACE CHEERFUL: Literally, "a
heart of joy makes the face ['panim'] good ['yetib']" -- ie, a healthy,
favorable, uplifted expression; an expression that conveys courage and faith,
and most reasonably trust in God.
"A happy person is not a person in a certain set of
circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes" (Hugh
Downs). "Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been" (Mark Twain).
"A smile is a light that shows the heart is at home."
BUT HEARTACHE CRUSHES THE SPIRIT: "Ruach nakeh" = a
crushed, or depressed, spirit; this seems to be the point of this verse, as well
as Pro 17:22 and Pro 18:14: "A crushed spirit who can bear?"
But Isa 66:2, using the identical expression, seems to be
describing an attitude of contrition and humility and submission: "This is the
one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite ['nakeh'] in spirit ['ruach'], and
trembles at my word." Although the word "nakeh" does not occur in Psa 51:17, the
idea there is similar to this last usage: "The sacrifices of God are a broken
spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." The knowledge
of one's weakness, and the knowledge of one's sins, may "crush" the "ruach";
sometimes, this may lead to a irremediable depression, as "worldly sorrow brings
death" (2Co 7:10).
But at other times the depression may be the sacrifice of
one's own pride and will, the despairing in one's own abilities, and the first
step on the way to repentance and renewal, through grace. "Godly sorrow brings
repentance that leads to salvation" (2Co 7:10). And so Jesus says, "Blessed are
the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mat 5:3), as well as,
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Mat 5:4).
This in turn will lead to "joy in heart" (Neh 8:10), and "good
cheer" because of sins forgiven (Mat 9:2), as mentioned in the first half of
this verse -- and so this verse may be read back to front, IF the heart's
"brokenness" prepares the way for regeneration: "Heartache crushes the spirit,
but a happy heart makes the face cheerful!"
But if the "brokenness" is a "dead-end", then there is no hope
See also Pro 12:25, and notes there.
THE DISCERNING HEART SEEKS KNOWLEDGE, BUT THE MOUTH OF A
FOOL FEEDS ON FOLLY: Those who are wise and discerning desire knowledge.
This verse is similar to v 7 (see notes there); throughout the Book of Proverbs
knowledge is linked with righteousness, and ignorance goes with
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.
THE DISCERNING HEART SEEKS KNOWLEDGE: The discerning
("biyn") heart seeks ("baqash") knowledge ("da'ath"). This corresponds, very
closely, to Pro 14:6: "The mocker seeks ['baqash'] wisdom and finds none, but
knowledge ['da'ath'] comes easily to the discerning ['biyn']." (The same three
Hebrew words are also found in combination in Pro 18:15.) For "discerning"
("biyn"), see notes at Pro 14:6.
This phrase also echoes Pro 14:33: "Wisdom reposes in the
heart of the discerning." And it recalls Pro 9:9: "Instruct a wise man and he
will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning" (cf
Solomon himself, in his early life at least, was an example of
such discernment, for he sought knowledge more than all other attainments (1Ki
3:6-12). "The Queen of Sheba, 'coming from the utmost parts of the earth' (1Ki
10:1; Mat 12:42), Nicodemus and Mary, 'sitting at the feet of Jesus" (Joh 3:1,2;
Luk 10:39), the eunuch, journeying to Jerusalem (Acts 8:26-28), Cornelius and
his company, drinking in the precious message of salvation (Acts 10:33), the
Bereans, carefully 'searching the Scriptures' (Acts 17:11) -- all these show the
understanding heart, seeking a larger interest in the blessing" (Bridges).
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be
filled" (Mat 5:6).
BUT THE MOUTH OF A FOOL FEEDS ON FOLLY: "Fool" is
"keciyl" (see Pro 14:16n). "Feeds on folly" ("yir'eh 'ivvelet") expresses in
poetic imagery the idea of acquiring folly. As a flock of sheep grazes in a
pasture, patiently and endlessly, so the fool goes about studiously and
carefully acquiring and assimilating more and more folly into his
Then, of course, this folly "gushes forth" from his "mouth" --
as he shares what he has acquired with others (v 2; Pro 12:23)! The fool is
always gobbling down every silly, or slanderous, or wicked word -- every
trifling amusement or profane entertainment -- that comes his way. Even when he
ventures, or stumbles, into the realm of Bible teaching, there he will show his
appetite for every "foolish and unlearned question" (2Ti 2:23, AV) -- or every
"foolish and stupid argument" (NIV) -- as well as the pleasant or smooth thing,
and the illusion (Isa 30:10) and the fantasy (Pro 12:11) and the lie (Isa
44:20). Then in his turn he gleefully spreads abroad all the nonsense he has
accumulated -- thus "airing his own opinions" (Pro 18:2).
"Alonso Schokel describes the 'good' that unites vv
15–17: a contented heart, fear of the LORD, and harmony with companions;
thus, peace with self, God, and neighbor" (WBC).
ALL THE DAYS OF THE OPPRESSED ARE WRETCHED, BUT THE
CHEERFUL HEART HAS A CONTINUAL FEAST: This proverb is a sort of restatement
of v 13: "A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the
spirit" -- turned front to back! Life can be delightful or difficult, depending
on one's circumstances AND one's disposition. Life will be largely what one
makes of it, by one's attitude and outlook. Even in the Philippian jail men may
sing hymns of joy (Acts 16:25). (The Swedish proverbs says, "Those who wish to
sing always find a song.") "What makes one person wilt under pressure and
another person thrive, what causes one to be crushed by hardship and another to
survive without apparent harm? It is their attitude toward it. The proverb
suggests you are better off cultivating a merry heart as a defence against the
hard times. But most of us prefer to look on the bleak side, to appear harassed,
to be worthy of sympathy, to feel sorry for ourselves -- this is the way we
conduct most of our affairs. How refreshing it is to meet a contented soul who
doesn't complain even though things have turned out badly. What a bore it is to
converse with one who doesn't have a positive word to say. Those who are walking
in the way have no right to be sad even though things are tougher. There is a
work of encouragement to be done; it would help if more of us showed by our
countenance that we don't care what happens, we look beyond the present to the
continual feast ahead."
ALL THE DAYS OF THE OPPRESSED ARE WRETCHED: "All the
days of the afflicted ['ani'] are evil ['ra'ah']" (AV). "Ani" and its related
forms signify, in Proverbs particularly, a condition of poverty or economic
oppression (eg, Pro 22:22; 30:14; 31:9,20). "Evil" occurs here in the sense of
calamity, catastrophe, but not necessarily sin (cp esp Gen 47:9; Job 2:10; Isa
45:7; Amo 3:6). The word "ra'ah" is translated "misfortune" (NIV) and
"afflicted" (AV) in Rth 1:21 -- which is a close parallel to this verse, since
Naomi's "bitterness" is related to her belief that God Himself is responsible
for her troubles.
But even if God is -- as we know Him to be -- ultimately
responsible for the "evil" in our lives, we -- and we alone -- are responsible
for our attitudes toward this fact: "In what sense can we ever say that our days
are 'evil' except that we have made them so? And how more readily can we make
them so than by yielding to the dark and gloomy mood, and ever looking on the
dark side of things? The side of things on which we see the reflection of our
narrow selves is ever dark; that on which we see God's attributes mirrored --
the beauty of His nature, the wisdom of His providence -- is bright and
inspiring. It is, indeed, a feast to the soul to have found God; for thought,
for feeling, for every practical need, He is present, and He alone shall supply
all our needs" (Johnson, Pulpit). Therefore, even though all the days of one's
life may be (outwardly) "wretched", yet "even in death the righteous have a
refuge" (Pro 14:32).
BUT THE CHEERFUL HEART HAS A CONTINUAL FEAST: Obviously
the proverb recommends the cheerful frame of mind, for the image of the feast
signifies enjoyment of life's offerings. This phrase is illustrated by Hab
3:17-19: "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no
sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls" -- ie, 'although I have every
reason to feel bitter at our evil affliction, as from the LORD' -- "yet I will
rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my
strength" -- 'and my outward affliction will nevertheless yield an inward
"feast", for I understand that the LORD has not abandoned me!' And so David
sings, "Many are asking, 'Who can show us any good?' Let the light of your face
shine upon us, O LORD. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their
grain and new wine abound" (Psa 4:6,7).
With this may be compared the last of Christ's beatitudes:
"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is
the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and
falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad,
because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the
prophets who were before you" (Mat 5:10-12).
"The mere repose of security is like the continuance of
refreshment. Whereas, on the other hand, the evil mind is always set in pains
and labours, since it is either contriving mischiefs that it may bring down, or
fearing lest these be brought down upon it by others" (Gregory). And Delitzsch
writes, "The true and real happiness of a man is thus defined, not by external
things, but by the state of the heart, in which, in spite of the apparently
prosperous condition, a secret sorrow may gnaw, and which, in spite of an
externally sorrowful state, may be at peace, and be joyfully confident in
"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my
weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's
sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in
difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2Co 12:9,10). "Consider it
pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know
that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish
its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything" (Jam
1:2-4). "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" (Phi 4:4).
"Be joyful always" (1Th 5:16). "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a
little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have
come so that your faith -- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even
though refined by fire -- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory
and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 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 1:6-8). "You sympathized with those
in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you
knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions" (Heb 10:34). See
Article, "Rejoice in tribulations".
Vv 16-18 are all about anger: "turmoil" in v 16, "hatred" in v
17, and "dissension" and "a quarrel" in v 18.
Vv 16,17: These verses stress that spiritual things are far
better than material wealth. In v 16 the idea is that the fear of the LORD
brings more satisfaction than wealth with discontentment or, as Moffat (of an
alliterative bent) has it, "wealth with worry". The mention of a "continual
feast" in v 15 -- with its imagery of abundance, fulfillment, and pleasure -- is
developed in these next two proverbs. The "turmoil" (v 16) and "hatred" (v 17)
can turn even "wealth" (v 16) and the "fattened calf" (v 17) into an occasion
for "evil", "calamity", and "affliction". By contrast, even "a little" (v 16) --
ie, "a meal of vegetables" (v 17) -- can be a wonderful banquet if one has a
peaceful and thankful frame of mind, and is able to praise God for His
blessings, and put one's trust in Him wholeheartedly.
BETTER A LITTLE WITH THE FEAR OF THE LORD THAN GREAT WEALTH
WITH TURMOIL: This is also quite closely parallel to Pro 16:8: "Better a
little with righteousness than much gain with injustice." "The fear of the LORD"
// "righteousness". "Great wealth" // "much gain". And "turmoil" //
Cp also Psa 37:16 ("Better the little that the righteous have
than the wealth of many wicked"); Ecc 4:6 ("Better one handful with tranquility
than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind"; and Christ's words in
Luk 12:15 ("Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life
does not consist in the abundance of his possessions") and Mat 6:33,34: "But
seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given
to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry
about itself." Then, of course, there is Paul's extended exhortation in 1Ti
6:3-10 (where "godliness with contentment" is just about the perfect
counterpoint to "wealth with turmoil").
Illustrations of this verse are: the shepherds (Luk 2:20)
compared to Herod (Mat 2:3); and Paul in prison (Phi 4:11,13,18) compared to
Ahab in his palace (1Ki 21:4).
BETTER: This is the very common "tob" -- which simply
means "good", in a wide variety of cases, although often a comparison is
intended: "good" being "better" than something else: see Lesson, Proverbs: "Better things".
A LITTLE: "Me'at" means, literally, "little, small, or
few". It can denote quantity: eg, a few sheep (Gen 30:30), a few people (Num
13:18; Deu 26:5), a little water (Gen 18:4), a short distance (2Sa 16:1), or
even a little folly (Ecc 10:1). In several situations the rhetorical question is
asked, as in the KJV: "Is it a little thing?" -- using this same word "me'at".
Very reasonably, the NIV translates this along the lines of "Is it not
enough...?" (eg, Num 16:13; Jos 22:17; Isa 7:13; Eze 16:20; 34:18). The point
seems to be that, with some things or some actions, etc, even a "little" is
"enough". And that may be the point here too, in Pro 15:16: "a little" need not
be absolute destitution, but simply very modest means; even a "little"... of
wealth, treasure, silver, or gold... is ENOUGH... WHEN there is also the "fear
of the LORD"! But, as Bowen says, "How many of us have suffered because we would
not settle for less! Greed is a disease and a great destroyer." "Better have a
little with a good conscience, than ever so much attended with such
circumstances; it is not any man's little, but the good man's little, that is
preferable to the wicked man's much" (Gill).
THE FEAR OF THE LORD: A recognition of the reality and
authority of God: see Pro 1:7, with notes and references there.
GREAT WEALTH: "Owtsar" sometimes means "treasuries, or
storehouses", as of God or a king (Jos 6:19,24; 1Ki 7:51; 14:26; 15:18; 2Ki
12:18; 24:13; 2Ch 5:1; Deu 28:12; Job 38:22). Other times, more generally, it
means "treasure", or "great wealth". In this sense "owtsar" occurs 3 times in
Proverbs: Pro 10:2 ("Ill-gotten treasures are of no value"); here, Pro 15:16;
and Pro 21:6 ("A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly
snare"). There is nothing inherently evil about "wealth" or "treasure": the wise
may obtain wealth (Pro 8:21; 15:6); indeed, it is worth seeking (Pro 2:4). The
fool cannot keep wealth (Pro 21:20). But treasure obtained unethically is
worthless (Pro 10:2) and will lead to one's downfall (Pro 21:6). And, as here, a
righteous attitude ("the fear of the LORD"), even without wealth, is far better
than wealth without a righteous attitude! Indeed, as this proverb points out,
the wise and the righteous and the godly may also be... poor (cf Pro 16:8; 19:1;
28:6); they may even, as Job, be made poor by God Himself!
TURMOIL: "Mehumah" is anxiety or confusion; sometimes
it is visited upon Israel's enemies, and sometimes even upon Israel: "In Deu
7:23 it is used... to denote the confusion that God will create among His
enemies. In Deu 28:20 confusion is one of the curses pronounced on the people
for breaking the covenant (cf also Amo 3:9; 2Ch 15:5). In 1Sa 5:9,11... panic
was one of the results of the entry of the ark in the Philistine cities. In 1Sa
14:20 confusion in the ranks of the Philistines also resulted from the ark's
entry into the Israelite camp. In Isa 22:5 confusion is part of the
eschatological day of the Lord (cf also Eze 7:7; 22:5; Zec 14:13)" (NIDOTTE).
The reverential "fear of the LORD" alleviates such anxiety; for it brings
contentment and tranquility, the very opposite of "turmoil". Wealth, by itself,
has no disadvantage; but when it is accompanied with "anxiety" (as, not
infrequently, it is), then it is truly undesirable.
The AV (as well as the ASV) adds a final word to this verse:
"therewith" -- "great treasure and trouble therewith" (the RSV and the NET add
"with it"). Although it might seem obvious anyway, this last bit emphasizes that
"great wealth" is not being evaluated alone, nor is it being compared, BY
ITSELF, to anything -- but rather considered in combination with other
possessions or experiences or character traits.
" 'Riches and poverty are more in the heart than in the hand.
He is wealthy, that is contented. He is poor, that wanteth more' (Hall). The
universe will not fill a worldly (Ecc 1:8), while a little will suffice for an
heavenly (Gen 28:20), heart. 'The children of light' [Luk 16:8] content
themselves willingly with the small pittance, which their Father allows them
during the time of their minority; knowing that their main portion is reserved
for them in safe keeping, unto the 'full age' (1Pe 1:4). They are well satisfied
on their way home to live rather more scantily by the way; like Joseph's
brethren, who are provided with food for their journey; but their full sacks
were unopened, till they reached their home (Gen 42:25). Here their God
compensates for everything [they lack]. But what would compensate for [a lack
of] Him?" (Bridges).
See also v 16n: these two verses (vv 16,17) come about as
close as any in the main body of the Book to being one proverb rather than
BETTER A MEAL OF VEGETABLES WHERE THERE IS LOVE THAN A
FATTENED CALF WITH HATRED: Happy, loving relationships are more desirable
than a great meal where there is hatred (contrasting "ahabah" ["love"] with
"sin'ah" ["hatred"]). The spirit in which a meal is shared is far more important
than the kind of food that is eaten. Like v 16, this verse concerns the negative
side of wealth. For one thing, wealth, when it exists, often displaces love in a
family -- as though all pleasure, satisfaction, and fulfillment come from money
first and foremost. "Countless homes are sacrificed to the attempt to earn
money, often on the pretext of providing for the family. Proverbs instructs us
that it is much more important to have a home filled with love and harmony than
one that has only money" (Deffinbaugh). Of course, the ideal would be to have a
loving family, friends, ALONG WITH great food; but short of that, a humble meal
with love is preferable.
"All the delicacies that can be spread upon the table will not
give enjoyment to him that has a restless spirit, or a secret that he knows he
cannot hide, or a debt he knows he cannot meet, or a bounden duty he knows he
has neglected" (Clarkson, Pulpit).
"Quietness under one's own roof, and quietness in our own
conscience, are two substantial blessings. Abroad, we must more or less find
tribulation; yet as long as our home is a secure and peaceful retreat from all
the disappointments and cares of the world, we may still be tolerably happy.
There cannot be a greater curse than to have those of one's own household one's
greatest foes; when we neither can live happily with them, nor must think of
living apart from them. Love is a tender plant; it must be kept alive by great
delicacy, it must be fenced from all inclement blasts, or it will soon drop its
head and die. To see a well-regulated family acting as if they were one body
informed by one soul is a beautiful scene, and amiable even in the sight of that
Being who maketh men to be of one mind in a house... The habitual sweetness of
our temper, or the habitual badness of it, is not so much contracted by the
great and considerable accidents of life, as by our behaviour in little things
which befall us every day. Men of a generous education have a more refined
humanity, passions more softened and civilised, than those in very low life,
where rudeness, ill-manners, and brutality too often prevail. By studying to
promote the happiness of those in our home circles, we mould ourselves into
those habits which are productive of our own happiness, both here and hereafter"
MEAL: "Arucha" signifies a ration, a portion, or a
daily allowance ((2Ki 25:29,30; Jer 40:5; 52:33,34; Neh 5:14,18) -- certainly
not a grand feast, but more like the "daily bread" for which Christ teaches his
followers to pray (Mat 6:11).
VEGETABLES: This is better than "herbs" in the KJV.
While meat, or flesh, would be served on a festive occasion, or perhaps more
often by those who could afford it, a dish of vegetables would be the common
meal of the poor and even the "middle class". "Yarach" occurs 5 times in the OT,
either in reference to grass in general or more specifically to vegetables. It
is used twice in conjunction with "gan" ("to fence", ie as a garden) to refer to
a vegetable garden (Deu 11:10; 1Ki 21:2). The latter reference contrasts Egypt,
where irrigation of crops was carried out manually as with a small vegetable
garden, with Israel's promised land, which the LORD cared for by rain from the
sky. In 2KI 19:26 (= Isa 37:27), the vulnerable inhabitants of cities overcome
by Sennacherib's armies are likened to tender grass. Here, in Pro 15:17, a
meager dinner of vegetables, if served in a loving context, is preferable to
abundance in the absence of love. Daniel and his young companions turned down
the fine meat and wine, and did quite well on a modest diet of "vegetables"
("zeroa", seeds, that which is sown) (Dan 1:12,15,16).
When Jesus and his disciples visited the home of Mary and
Martha (Luk 10:38-42), Martha was "worried and upset about many things" (v 41)
-- that is, possibly, meaning many different and special "dishes" that she felt
she must prepare. For this she received a mild rebuke from the Lord: "But only
one thing [ie, possibly, meaning only one 'dish'] is needed" (v 42). Then he
pointed out that Mary -- who sat quietly at his feet, listening to his words --
had chosen "what is better", ie, the best dish. It seems that his lesson is
this: that a simple meal -- of one dish only -- served in a calm atmosphere,
where there is love and good fellowship and wisdom to be dispensed and absorbed,
is better than an elaborate meal served by a harassed hostess who cannot rest to
take in the better things (cp Pro 15:17; 17:1). The "one thing, or dish" that
Mary chose was then, of course, "love" (Pro 15:17), and "peace and quiet" (Pro
17:1), all of which were being provided by Jesus especially.
LOVE: This is the ordinary and expected
FATTENED: "The past participle of 'avas' ['to keep in
the stall', from a root for 'fodder', because fodder was kept in the animal's
stall]... occurs in 1Ki 4:23 and Pro 15:17... A beast would be fattened for the
table by careful feeding and by being kept in the stall while other animals were
worked" (NIDOTTE). Other passages speak of "calves of the stall" (Amo 6:4; Mal
4:2) -- ie, fattened calves -- and, in the NT, "the fattened calf" (literally,
the "grain-fed" calf) (Luk 15:23; cf Mat 22:4). Thus, in Pro 15:17, the NIV and
RSV's "fattened" is simpler and easier, even though the AV and ASV's "stalled"
is perhaps more literal. WBC has "well-fed".
When this writer was a young fellow, his Bible reading was
from the KJV only; he remembers pondering Pro 15:17 more than once, with its
peculiar "stalled ox". He had no recourse to any concordances or dictionaries or
commentaries. The best he could come up with was that a "stalled" ox was an ox
that, once a mouthful of it was swallowed, got only as far as the throat and
"stalled" there! In other words, it was "indigestible". Somewhat later, he
figured out this was not the best of expositions. But in hindsight, even though
his "exegetical apparatus" was deficient, he can see now that the result arrived
at was about right! Such a meal, where there is hatred, is practically
WITH HATRED: This phrase is of the same construction as
the earlier one ("where there is love"); so it is better to translate "where
there is hatred" here.
HATRED: In contrast to love, "sin'a" describes
animosity between individuals (Psa 109:5; cf v 3), or, as the opposite of love,
it stirs up dissension or strife (Pro 10:12, cf v 18).
Examples of rich feasts embittered by hatred: King Saul's
family feast, from which David absented himself for fear of his life (1Sa
20:24-34), Absalom's feast, where he murdered his brother Amnon (2Sa 13:23-29),
Herod's birthday feast, which ended in the execution of John the Baptist (Mat
14:6-11; Mar 6:21-28).
A HOT-TEMPERED MAN STIRS UP DISSENSION, BUT A PATIENT MAN
CALMS A QUARREL: Simply put, it takes great patience and calmness to
maintain peaceful relationships. Cp generally Pro 15:1 (and notes
A HOT-TEMPERED MAN STIRS UP DISSENSION: The phrase in
Pro 29:22a ("An angry man stirs up dissension") is identical to this one, except
that "angry" ("aph", from the Hebrew for "nose" or "nostril") replaces
"hot-tempered" (Hebrew "chemah"). The same verb form for this Hebrew word "stir
up" occurs one other time, also in Proverbs: "A greedy man stirs up dissension
[sw as here also]" (Pro 28:25). The variation between this phrase ("greedy") and
the two other verses ("angry" and "hot-tempered") suggests that, if we wonder
WHY people often get angry, then it's a good idea, as they say, to "follow the
money": when money is involved, then small, forgettable disputes sometimes turn
into major strifes!
STIRS UP: The Hebrew "garah" means to grate or grind,
and thus to strike, to irritate, to excite, or to set on fire. In Bible terms,
"hot-tempered" people are arsonists! They start fires where they do the most
damage. They are "trouble looking for a place to happen"!
Although a different Hebrew word is used (for "kindling"), Pro
26:21 is quite appropriate to this last meaning ("setting on fire"): "As
charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling
strife." Strife or dissension is "stirred up", or "set on fire", when there is:
(a) potential fuel, (b) a means of producing a spark, and (c) willing hands to
bring the two together.
DISSENSION: Heb "madown" -- a contest or struggle --
derived from "diyn" (to rule, or judge), and hence most often (but not
necessarily) a legal struggle. "Proverbs describes several types of antisocial
individuals (eg, a scoundrel and villain, Pro 6:12,14; the mocker, Pro 22:10) or
behavior (eg, hatred, Pro 10:12) that characteristically stir up... dissension.
'Madown' is used 10 times in the singular and 12 times in the plural, the latter
indicating the multiplied instances of strife produced, and it occurs 5 times in
poetic parallelism with 'riyb' ['quarrel' in Pro 15:18]... Especially unpleasant
is the contentious wife (Pro 19:13; 21:9,19; 25:24; 27:15). Such disputes are
detestable to the LORD (Pro 6:16–19) but can be mitigated or eliminated
through love (Pro 10:12) or patience (Pro 15:18), by simply dropping the matter
(Pro 17:14), by casting lots (Pro 18:18), or, as a last resort, by expelling the
instigator (Pro 22:10)" (NIDOTTE).
"Not the fastest horse can catch a word spoken in anger"
"Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech
you will ever regret" (Ambrose Bierce).
BUT A PATIENT MAN CALMS A QUARREL: "Patient" here is
"erekh appayim" (which is literally "long of nose") (see Pro 14:29n), in
contrast to the "quick-tempered" man (who is literally "short of nose") (see Pro
14:17n). "Calms" is "yashqit", which means "to cause quietness; to pacify; to
allay", ie the strife or quarrel. This type of person goes out of his way to
keep things calm and minimize contention; his opposite number thrives on
disagreement and dispute. "Quarrel" is "riyb" -- the use of this word strongly
implies that the setting is the courtroom or legal setting (ie, "the gates of
the city"), where leading citizens sit to adjudicate. McKane writes, "There is
the kind of person who thrives on acrimony and who seeks a pretext to transform
every difference or disagreement into a bitter legal contest" (EBC).
"A patient man calms a quarrel." How does one go about calming
a quarrel? The simple answer is: by being patient. As this verse implies,
several actions are very useful:
Start out by refusing to get angry: far better to have no answer, no
response, and no action whatsoever if it cannot be carried off without returning
anger for anger. The perfect -- and perfectly logical -- response, if offered in
an angry manner, is worse than no response at all.
If necessary (and it
often can be), WAIT until you have rid yourself of all vestige of emotion before
attempting to solve the problem. (The old adage, "Count to one hundred", was
invented for this!) If this cannot be managed at the time the "quarrel" begins,
it is better to say nothing at all, or to walk away, than to retaliate in any
Never, ever bring in extraneous matters: this is only adding fuel to
the fire. If your "antagonist" speaks with a funny accent, or reads the NIV
instead of the KJV, or simply forgot your birthday after you remembered his...
then just forget it: it doesn't help to mention that now! And...
If it will
help -- or even if you don't think it will -- concede all but the really
important issues. Like Paul in the storm-tossed sea, throw overboard all the
excess baggage. Be prepared to say you are "wrong" on a dozen unimportant
matters (or to agree, at least, that those matters are of no consequence to the
main issue). This makes it easier to achieve the important
Why can't all this be done? Is it a matter of "pride"? If so,
then surely humility is better than pride? Is it a matter of one's "reputation"?
If so, then isn't a reputation for patience and calmness and love far better
than a reputation for always being right, and being eager to prove it? Is it a
matter of simply NEEDING to win? Then remember Christ's teaching about
"peacemakers" (Mat 5:9), and "turning the other cheek" (Mat 5:39; Luk
And while contemplating whether such action (or inaction!) can
work, or whether you can do it, then spend a bit of time remembering Christ's
example -- especially at the most crucial point of his life, his trial -- where
he was beset by hateful men, bringing grossly unfair charges, who were
determined to see him dead: "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example,
that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was
found in his mouth' [Isa 53:9]. When they hurled their insults at him, he did
not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted
himself to him who judges justly" (1Pe 2:21-23). In other words, quoting Peter
again, "Our Lord's PATIENCE means salvation" (2Pe 3:15); in short, we owe OUR
very salvation to the fact that, under extreme duress, our Lord was...
Examples of those who calmed quarrels: (a) Abram, who ceded
the better pastureland to his nephew Lot: "Let's not have any quarreling between
you and me... for we are brothers" (Gen 13:8,9). (b) Gideon, who answered the
angry Ephraimites humbly (Jdg 8:1-3). (c) Abigail, who did a great service to
King David by turning aside his anger, when he came to kill Nabal (1Sa
Harry Whittaker writes, "Verse 18 (King James' Bible) has
this: 'A wrathful man stirreth up strife; but he that is slow to anger appeaseth
strife' -- which is near to being a platitude. Much more colourful is the LXX
reading: 'A passionate man prepares strife; but the patient man will pacify even
that which he had determined' " (WBS). In my opinion, there is (especially in
the context of Proverbs) nothing really wrong with platitudes -- that's simply
another word for exhortations we've heard before! On the other hand, Harry might
have a point with the LXX, which seems not to involve a Hebrew word change so
much as a slightly different interpretation: that is, whereas a hot-tempered man
might rush into a law suit (see notes above), it may often be that cooler heads
will find a settlement -- either before the issue comes to trial or
THE WAY OF THE SLUGGARD IS BLOCKED WITH THORNS, BUT THE
PATH OF THE UPRIGHT IS A HIGHWAY: Here the sluggard is contrasted with the
upright. Thus, to complete the comparison, the sluggard would seem to be evil,
while the upright would be diligent. Or to put it another way, the diligence of
the wise is contrasted with the sloth of the foolish and wicked (cf Pro 10:26).
Sluggards lack "judgment", or common sense (Pro 24:30), and are only wise in
their own inflated self-esteems (Pro 26:16). In other words, the sluggard is a
fool. He, like all fools, is heading for sudden (even if as yet unrecognized)
destruction (Pro 6:11; 20:34). In the meanwhile, for the wicked, lazy servant
(Mat 25:26), every step is an insurmountable barrier to accomplishing any good
thing. But for the upright, faith can move mountains (Mat 17:20; Mar
Proverbs of slothfulness and diligence: Pro 10:4,26;
12:11,24,27; 13:4,23; 15:19; 16:26; 18:9; 19:15,24; 20:4,13; 21:5,25,26;
22:13,29; 24:30-34; 26:13-16; 27:18,23,27; 28:19. Particularly the improving or
neglecting opportunities: Pro 6:6; 10:5.
THE WAY OF THE SLUGGARD IS BLOCKED WITH THORNS: The
"derek" of the sluggard is like a hedge of thorns (AV) -- "kimsukat chedeq".
"Kimsukat" is from the same root as "sukkoth" -- "booths" or "tabernacles"; its
basic meaning is "to entwine, to shut it" (cp Isa 5:5). Cp Hos 2:6: "I will
block ['suwk'] her path with thornbushes." For the lazy man, it is as though --
by his excuses and indecisions and procrastinations -- he is planting his own
"hedge". And its "thorns" grow up to impede all his ways.
THORNS: "Chedeq" refers specifically to the gray
nightshade, a hairy, spiny abundantly branching shrub with large oval leaves. It
is a tropical plant limited to the lower Jordan and Dead Sea areas. Its flowers
are lilac and its berries yellow (ABD). Both occurrences in the OT (here and Mic
7:4) refer to hedges that block a path.
"Have you noticed the uncertainty of the lazy one? Everything
is too hard, too long or too boring. The indecision, the procrastination is
painful. His way, the path he walks, is like a hedge of thorns, he makes little
progress. He has all the reasons in the world for his failures; he changes
direction time and again, and usually gives up in dismay. But the [upright] know
what they want, how to get it and what they must do next. Their life is not
complicated by procrastination. If it needs to be done, they do it -- their way
is plain. The lazy person is a fool. By his procrastination he lays on himself
burdens that do not exist. If he were more positive, he would save himself an
enormous amount of effort" (Bowen).
"The way of the sluggard is also difficult. The idle man walks
a hard road in his own apprehension: he has to break through thorns. Every
mole-hill is a mountain to him; every straw is a stumbling-block. There is a
lion in the way; he will be slain in the streets. You look out, and can only see
the smallest possible dog, but he is sure that it is a roaring lion, and he must
stay at home, and go to bed. He cannot plough by reason of the cold. The clods
are frozen, he is sure; they are hard as iron, and will break the plough-share.
If you look out of doors, you will see the neighbours' teams going; but he has
another excuse if you beat him out of the one he has given you. The difficulties
that he sees are created in his own mind by his natural sluggishness; but he has
such a creative faculty that he has always twenty arguments against exerting
himself once. The first thing such persons do in the morning, when they open
their window, is to look out, and see a difficulty. Whenever they are sent about
a task, or on an errand, they straightway begin to consider the great labor that
will be involved in it, the imminent risk that will surely come of it, and the
great advantages of leaving it undone. To the slothful man, his way, when he
gets so far as having a way at all, always appears to be as hard to pursue as a
hedge of thorns; and, mark you! if he continues slothful, it will actually
become a hedge of thorns. Difficulties imagined are apt to arrive. Duty
neglected today will have to be done some time or other; and the arrears of
neglected service are grim debts" (CHS).
BUT THE PATH OF THE UPRIGHT IS A HIGHWAY: "Path" is
"orach" -- a well-trodden road, as by a caravan (Pro 15:10n). "Upright" is
"yashar": to be straight or even (cp "straight ['yasher'] paths ['orach']" in
Pro 2:13; cp Pro 3:6; Isa 26:7). The "highway of the upright" is also mentioned
in Pro 16:17; it is the road that avoids evil, and it is the way to life.
"Highway" is "selulah", that which is heaped up or built up.
This is the kind of road on which the traveler has no reason to detour or
swerve; he can expect "clear sailing"! In the Kingdom Age, such a highway will
be provided for God to come to His people (Isa 40:3), and the righteous will
journey to Jerusalem on such highways (Isa 57:14; 62:10).
"Life is no mere picnic or excursion. For amusement of the
leisure hour we may strike into a by-path, but never lose sight of the high road
of faith" (Johnson, Pulpit).
A WISE SON BRINGS JOY TO HIS FATHER, BUT A FOOLISH MAN
DESPISES HIS MOTHER: This verse is practically identical to Pro 10:1: "A
wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother." (For
detailed comments, see the notes there.)
Like Pro 10:1 and Pro 13:1, this verse in its generality
suggests the beginning of a new section (what would, then, be the third
subsection of Pro 10:1--22:16); there may of course by other reasons altogether
for repeating a proverb as fundamental as this one.
BUT A FOOLISH MAN DESPISES HIS MOTHER: The only
difference between this verse and Pro 10:1 is that "despises" replaces "[brings]
grief" (NIV). The additional point of this verse, according to Derek Kidner, is
that it describes the callousness of the one who inflicts grief on his mother:
he doesn't just cause terrible suffering to his mother, but apparently he
doesn't even care.
What happens to the son that despises his mother? Proverbs
provides the graphic answer: "The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience
to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by
the vultures" (Pro 30:17).
FOLLY DELIGHTS A MAN WHO LACKS JUDGMENT, BUT A MAN OF
UNDERSTANDING KEEPS A STRAIGHT COURSE: Knowledge, or "understanding", put in
practice by good decisions (or good "judgment"), helps one steer a true course
through life, avoiding the places and pursuits of folly. "Folly may amuse the
empty headed; but a man of understanding makes straight for his goal" (NEB).
FOLLY DELIGHTS A MAN WHO LACKS JUDGMENT: This is a sad
follow-up to the previous verse: after the mention of true joy there (that which
a wise son gives his father), this describes the senselessness of the fool who
-- paradoxically -- finds "joy" in his own folly. It corresponds closely to Pro
10:23: "A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct" (see notes there).
"Judgment" is "leb", heart. This has little to do with
emotions, and much more to do with intellect, mind, and reason. What is
described here is foolishness of a very high order: the one who lacks "heart"
does not merely prefer folly; absurdly, he DELIGHTS in it! Furthermore, he
apparently supposes that he is exempt from the consequences of his foolish
lifestyle. Particular activities characterizing one lacking in heart include
adultery (Pro 7:7), despising one's neighbors (Pro 11:12), committing oneself as
surety for another's debts (Pro 17:18), and being lazy or engaging in frivolous
activities when there is work to be done (Pro 12:11; 24:30). The one who lacks
heart is associated with simpletons (Pro 7:7; 9:4,16) and stands in contrast to
the person of understanding (Pro 11:12; 15:21), the discerning (Pro 10:13), the
righteous (Pro 10:21), and the hard worker (Pro 12:11).
BUT A MAN OF UNDERSTANDING KEEPS A STRAIGHT COURSE:
"Understanding" is "tebunah", derived from the Hebrew "biyn" (see notes on Pro
14:6,8; 15:14). "Keeps a straight ['yasher'] course ['laketh']" is "makes
straight (to) go". This is a verbal hendiadys, two verbs run together: in this
case the first verb becomes adverbial, and the second, the infinitive of "to
go", becomes the main verb; thus the combination form: "goes straight ahead". It
is related to Pro 4:25: "Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze
directly before you." In fact, it is related to the whole of Pro 4:25-27 (see
notes there too). For that matter, it suggests the cherubim of Eze 1 also: the
manifestations of the Presence and Glory of Yahweh Himself: their legs are
straight, and they go "straight ahead; they do not turn as they move" (Eze
1:7,9,12,17, etc). Also cp Isa 40:3,4 and Heb 12:13. To look or to go straight
ahead suggests devotion, singleness of purpose, and perseverance.
On the other hand, the fool finds a false and deceptive "joy"
in his trifling and silly games -- they keep him amused but also draw him aside
from the direct path of that which is good, from the faithful and serious
performance of the duties of his high calling. He meanders down endless byways,
gets stuck in various dead ends, wastes hours and days beyond counting, and
forgets that the "highway" (cf v 19) awaits him -- the highway that leads on
toward God's Kingdom.
"The fool is not content with saying or doing the foolish
thing; he must needs chuckle over it and make a boast of it, often gaining
applause for his mere audacity. But the man of true sense is content to forego
the momentary triumph, and goes on his way. Ever to forsake the way we know to
be right, even in momentary hilarity, brings its after-sting" (Johnson,
"[The fool's] appetite for sin proves the man to be 'destitute
of wisdom' [AV]. That which hath turned this fair world into a sepulchre; nay --
that which hath kindled 'everlasting burnings' [Isa 33:14], is his joy. And thus
he goes on, intent upon the trifles of the day; and trifling with eternal
concerns; preferring shadowy vanities to everlasting glory. Will he not open his
eyes to the discovery, that 'they that observe lying vanities, forsake their own
mercy' [Jon 2:8]? The Lord save him, ere it be too late, from reaping the bitter
fruit of his foolish choice!" (Bridges).
PLANS FAIL FOR LACK OF COUNSEL, BUT WITH MANY ADVISERS THEY
SUCCEED: The success of plans requires using good advice. This verse is
quite similar to Pro 11:14 (see notes there). This is a general observation that
is of value on the personal and national level (also cp Pro 20:18;
PLANS FAIL FOR LACK OF COUNSEL: "Fail" is from the root
"parar": "to break; to frustrate; to go wrong" (HAL). The plans are made
ineffectual, or are frustrated, when there is insufficient or unsuitable
counsel. One reason for not looking for, or taking, advice is pride (Pro 13:10).
On a number of occasions, "parar" is found with the sense of bringing to naught
(ie, in frustrating, thwarting) the purposes, plans, or plots of others. The
enemies of Israel, for example, hired counselors to work against them and
frustrate their plans to rebuild the Temple (Ezr 4:5). While fleeing, David
sends Hushai to infiltrate Absalom's circle of advisers in order to frustrate
Ahithophel's counsel (2Sa 15:34). The plan works, though only because "the LORD
had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring
disaster on Absalom" (2Sa 17:14). This typifies the frequent use with God as the
subject: according to the psalmist, "The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he
thwarts the purposes of the peoples" (Psa 33:10). God also frustrated the plan
of those who wanted to stop the rebuilding of Jerusalem's walls (Neh 4:15). In
stark contrast to the ease by which Yahweh frustrates the plans and intentions
of others, His plans CANNOT be foiled; eg, His judgment of Assyria will not be
frustrated, "for the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? (Isa
PLANS: This word is "machashabah" -- "the verb form is
used for calculating, such as the lease of a field or the price for the release
of an indebted servant (Lev 25:27,50,52; cf Lev 27:18,23). It is also used for
keeping account of funds for a building project (2Ki 12:15). Determining the
value of something with a balanced scales serves as a metaphor to express how
God considers the nations to be nothing more than dust one places on one tray of
the scales (Isa 40:15). It is hardly surprising that the root often appears in
wisdom aphorisms (Pro 6:18; 12:5; 15:22,26; 16:3,9,30; 19:21; 20:18; 21:5; 24:8;
27:14) and in wisdom poetry (Job 5:12; 6:26; 13:24; 18:3; 19:11,15; 21:27;
33:10; 35:2; 41:19,21,24; Ecc 7:23ff)" (NIDOTTE). To calculate the value of
something is the first step on the way to categorizing various items as to
relative value, and then to make judgments about things, activities, or people.
To "plan", then, is to make informed, astute, and careful judgments about one's
business affairs, one's personal habits, one's spiritual progress, one's friends
-- in short, any and all aspects of one's life.
COUNSEL: In Proverbs, "counsel" ("suwd") has the
meaning of advisers, ones who offer confidential, or private, counsel (Pro 3:32;
11:13; 15:22; 20:19; 25:9). The wise keeps matters in confidence (Pro 25:9),
whereas the foolish gossip betrays confidences (Pro 11:13; 20:19). The LORD
Himself may become a counselor to the upright (Pro 3:32): "Surely the Sovereign
LORD does nothing without revealing his plan ['suwd'] to his servants the
prophets" (Amo 3:7).
BUT WITH MANY ADVISERS THEY SUCCEED: Of course, many
counselors do not guarantee success: twenty people giving bad advice do not make
the hearer wiser! If many counselors are to be of help, they must all have good
general knowledge of the subject matter under consideration. Then the benefit of
the "many" is that there may be a number of paths by which one may hope to
arrive at the right goal -- and the pros and cons of each approach may be
considered and weighed carefully and prayerfully.
An alternative: "many advisers" is "rab yaatsim" -- which can
possibly mean 'the chief, or the great, counselor'. IF this is a reasonable
translation, then it goes practically without saying that the "great counselor"
would be God Himself (cp Isa 9:6). With the Almighty as our adviser, our plans
will surely succeed (cf 2Ch 18:4).
But it is also well to remember that plans ALONE are never
enough. The road to the grave is paved with good intentions. As GV Growcott puts
it, "Let us not mistake mere planning for true purpose, nor mere organization
for vital efficiency. Truly, planning and organization can be the essential
skeleton of living purpose and efficiency, but they can also be a skeleton --
and no more."
Furthermore, it must also be remembered that -- whatever man's
plans, even if they be the most righteously undertaken -- man's "proposals" must
be "disposed" by God: "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the LORD's
purpose that prevails" (Pro 19:21). "In his heart a man plans his course, but
the LORD determines his steps" (Pro 16:9). And so, even with the best of
intentions, and the best of plans, and keeping in mind an abiding trust in God,
we must say, as did James: "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will
go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.'
Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are
a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to
say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that' " (Jam
Whereas v 22 is about the taking of advice, this verse is
about the giving of the same. This verse is synonymously parallel, in the midst
of a number of antithetical proverbs. That is, the second phrase reinforces and
builds upon the first, rather than supplying a contrast.
A MAN FINDS JOY IN GIVING AN APT REPLY -- AND HOW GOOD IS A
TIMELY WORD!: It is most satisfying to be able to give the considered and
appropriate reply (Pro 12:14; 16:13; 23:16; 24:26); this requires knowledge and
wisdom. The first clause is about saying the right thing; the second is about
saying it at the right time. This proverb is echoed, albeit more poetically, in
Pro 25:11: "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver."
When an adviser considers approaching a king, he is wise to "know the proper
time and procedure" (Ecc 8:6) -- just blurting out sensitive matters recklessly
(cf Pro 12:18) would be foolish and hurtful.
The Proverbs contain other advice about speaking. Words should
be few (Pro 10:19; cf Ecc 6:11). Words should not be spoken in haste (Pro 29:20;
cf Ecc 5:2,3). Words cannot replace work (Pro 14:23) or discipline (Pro 29:19),
but they can cheer (Pro 12:25; 15:23), correct (Pro 25:11,12), and calm (Pro
The New Testament likewise touches on the advice that we may
give one another: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but
only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it
may benefit those who listen" (Eph 4:29). "Always be prepared to give an answer
to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do
this with gentleness and respect" (1Pe 3:15).
A MAN FINDS JOY IN GIVING AN APT REPLY: "In the answer
of his mouth" (AV) is more literal. "Good advice blesses the giver as well as
the receiver" (JFB).
AND HOW GOOD IS A TIMELY WORD!: Or "a word spoken in
due season" (AV). Timing is all-important: to say even the best possible thing
at the worst possible time can be counterproductive and even destructive. There
is, as the Preacher says, a time to be silent as well as a time to speak (Ecc
3:7). For instance, to tell someone else of his shortcomings when he is
suffering greatly (as was Job) will do no good. And again (still thinking of
Job), one more word of rebuke in certain situations might be simply "piling on",
and will merely be hurtful.
It was said prophetically of Jesus that the LORD would give
him an instructed tongue, to know the word ['the word in season': AV] that
sustains the weary (Isa 50:4). And Christ's ministry was characterized by a
quick wit that, even under extreme duress from his enemies, allowed him to "give
them a good answer" (Mar 12:28). "True as they are at all times, [apt replies]
also bring before us a special characteristic of the East: the delight in ready,
improvised answers, solving difficulties, turning aside anger. Such an answer,
to a people [more] imaginative... than logical, has much more weight than any
elaborate argument" (Spk).
What makes a word of advice "good"? It must be the right word,
and it must be said at the right time. What does this mean in practical terms?
(a) The "soil" of the human heart receiving it must be of the proper condition
(as in Christ's parable of the sower and the seed). (b) The current disposition
of the potential hearer must be considered: for example, words of comfort to
someone who is merry are pointless, and words of hard rebuke to someone who is
already hurting will almost certainly not achieve any useful improvement. (c)
Then again, the situation of the GIVER of the advice ought to be considered: due
to respective ages, or previous unsatisfactory interactions, or other factors,
some potential advisers will simply not be able to give helpful advice to
certain others in need of it. If that is the case, then better to step aside and
let another give the necessary words.
Naaman's nameless servants, a Gentile lord's Gentile
underlings, might seem the least likely to speak apt and timely words. But their
advice was the best that the troubled general could have had (2Ki 5:13). And, as
has been mentioned before, Abigail's most timely advice turned aside the wrath
of King David, and saved him a world of trouble (1Sa 25:32,33).
THE PATH OF LIFE LEADS UPWARD FOR THE WISE TO KEEP HIM FROM
GOING DOWN TO THE GRAVE: The simplest meaning here is that wisdom preserves
one's life -- that is, leads in general to a long and healthy life in this world
(Pro 2:19-22; 3:18; 5:5; 10:17; 13:14). There is some disagreement over the
meaning of "upward" ("lema'lah"). The verse often is taken to mean that "upward"
is a reference to this physical life only, because "going down to Sheol" is a
reference to physical death, eg, "the grave". However, some -- like McKane --
argue that "upwards" does not fit this worldly pattern of conduct and that it is
only intelligible if taken as a reference to immortality (ie, going to heaven)
Of course, it is a leap of the most extraordinary distance,
physically as well as semantically, from "upward" to "heaven" itself!
Heaven-going of imagined "immortal souls" plays no part in the whole picture
here; neither does it do so in any other Bible passage (see Lesson,
Heaven-going?). But literally "heaven-going" aside, believers in Christ may
rightly expect to be taken "upward" in more ways than one: (1) By a resurrection
upward and out of the grave, as opposed to the second death -- tending downward,
once again, into Sheol. (2) By going upward to the Mount of the LORD, Jerusalem
and the Temple placed there (symbols of God's eternal Kingdom, as many passages
will attest). (3) Or simply by a "higher calling" -- upward from a world of sin
and degradation and death to the "higher" (or "heavenly") world of obedience and
life and love, wherein the Heavenly Father is glorified. This last possibility
is well illustrated by Paul's words in Col 3:1,2: "Since, then, you have been
raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at
the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly
THE PATH OF LIFE LEADS UPWARD FOR THE WISE: "Path" is
"orach" (see Pro 15:10,19 and notes there). "Path of life" -- considering its
connection to Psa 16:9-11 -- suggests the "way to the tree of life" in Gen 3:24:
the garden of Eden, the promise of eternal life, the Kingdom of God, and the
renewal of the world at Christ's coming. All these allusions and echoes point to
eternal life, and not just a better life in this age.
TO KEEP HIM FROM GOING DOWN TO THE GRAVE: "Grave" is,
as stated above, "Sheol". For details, see notes at Pro 5:5; 9:18. Seemingly,
"Sheol" here is put in antithesis to "life" in the first phrase, and thus
"Sheol" may mean more than the "grave" itself: if "life" in the first phrase may
signify TRUE life or "eternal life", then "Sheol" could be taken to mean not
just death but "eternal death". This is not, of course, a burning "hell" of
eternal torment for damned immortal souls, presided over by a fearsome
supernatural hooves-and-horns "devil" -- but rather a judicial death, called
also the "second death" (Rev 2:11; 20:6,14; 21:8).
THE LORD TEARS DOWN THE PROUD MAN'S HOUSE BUT HE KEEPS THE
WIDOW'S BOUNDARIES INTACT: "The LORD administers his justice through
righteousness. He brings down the proud but protects the needy. Scripture amply
confirms that the LORD champions the cause of the widow, the orphan, the poor,
and the needy. These people were often the prey of the proud, who would take
their lands and houses (cf 1Ki 21 and the story of Naboth; cf also Pro 16:19;
Isa 5:8-10)" (EBC).
The LORD is the defender of the rights of the widow (Psa 68:5)
and the One who sustains her (Psa 146:9). His Law made special provisions for
widows (Exo 22:22; Deu 14:29; 16:11,14; 24:17). Job himself testifies that he
took care of the fatherless and widows (Job 29:12,13; 31:16,17) in spite of his
friends who reproached him with the opposite charge (Psa 22:9). More generally
in Proverbs, Pro 19:17 says that the man who shows kindness to the poor is
lending to Yahweh (cf Pro 14:31; Mat 25:34-46). God, who is the Maker of rich
and poor alike (Pro 22:2), not only has a special concern for the needy (Psa
138:6), but also expects His children to recognize their religious obligation to
care for the underprivileged (see Pro 14:20,21; 17:5; 21:13; 22:16,22,23; Isa
58:7). The righteous person who lends generously in order to help the needy, as
opposed to making a profit, is warmly commended in Psa 37:26; 112:5.
In the Old Testament, God caused that the widow Naomi's
property rights be confirmed, and that she have descendants, including the whole
of David's dynasty (Rth 1:7-18; 4:14-17). God sent Elijah to preserve the
starving widow of Zarephath (1Ki 17:8-16; Luk 4:25,26). He sent Elisha to save
another widow from her creditor (2Ki 4:1-7). Later Elisha helped to preserve the
property rights of the Shunamite (2Ki 8:1-6). "Leave your orphans; I will
protect their lives. Your widows too can trust in me" (Jer 49:11).
Likewise, the New Testament also takes special notice of, and
makes special provision for, widows (Mat 23:14; Luk 2:36-38; 7:11-18; 21:1-4;
John 19:26,27; Acts 6:1-7; 9:36-41; 1Ti 5:3-10; Jam 1:27).
THE LORD TEARS DOWN THE PROUD MAN'S HOUSE: While the
proud may be punished simply for being proud, which is a plain offense against
the sovereignty of Almighty God (Pro 12:7; 14:11; 16:18; Isa 2:12), this verse
especially implies that the "proud" make unjust gain from the needy (cf Psa
10:2), and so God will set the balance right. Pride is a fundamental attitude of
self-sufficiency by which a person throws off humility and pursues selfish
desires. In pride a person rejects the need for dependence on God or His laws.
In pride he despises moral or social limitations that regulate behavior
according to the highest good for others: he thinks he may get away with
anything because he is stronger than his victims. The proud are contrasted with
the humble (Job 40:11; Pro 16:19; 29:23), and a proud attitude is the opposite
of fearing the LORD (Pro 8:13). Pride is evil and leads to destruction (Pro
BUT HE KEEPS THE WIDOW'S BOUNDARIES INTACT: The Law of
Moses forbade the removal of boundary stones, which, as markers, were set up by
the ancestors (Deu 19:14; cf Deu 10:18). In a country where property was defined
by landmarks -- stones or some such objects -- nothing was easier than to remove
these altogether, or more likely to alter their position a bit at a time. That
this was a common form of fraud and oppression may be inferred from the
seriousness of the enactments against the offence. To move such markers
surreptitiously, especially of one like a widow who might be powerless, was to
steal her properties, perhaps by small increments. This warning and prohibition
is restated in Pro 22:28 (cf also Pro 23:10; Job 24:2–4). Here God
declares Himself to be the protector of such boundary stones, and especially in
the case of widows (cf Isa 1:23; Jer 7:6). The seriousness of any violation is
evident from the curse pronounced on violators (Deu 27:17) and the implied
coming of divine wrath (Hos 5:10): "Judah's leaders are like those who move
boundary stones. I will pour out my wrath on them like a flood of
Where the NIV has "to keep intact" (for "natsab"), the AV has
"establish". The Hebrew often carries the idea of a military garrison or guard
or outpost: it is as though Yahweh Himself -- or His Angel -- is the sentinel or
watchman, standing guard over the boundaries (and thus the rights in general) of
even the poorest and humblest of His children.
THE LORD DETESTS THE THOUGHTS OF THE WICKED, BUT THOSE OF
THE PURE ARE PLEASING TO HIM: The LORD is pleased with thoughts, or plans,
that have righteous intentions. On the one hand, the intentions or "thoughts of
the wicked" are thoughts that will harm other people -- these are an abomination
to the LORD.
THE LORD DETESTS THE THOUGHTS OF THE WICKED: "Thoughts"
(NIV, AV, RSV) is the Hebrew "machashabah" -- the plural derived from "chasab",
a root meaning to count or calculate, and sometimes to "weave together". More
than just passing thoughts, it signifies "plans". Because such wicked ("ra")
plans are the father to various wicked deeds, even the plans themselves are
abominations ("tow'ebah") to the LORD (see Pro 11:20n; also see Lesson,
"Abomination" to the LORD). "The schemes of folly are sin" (Pro 24:9). "The LORD
condemns a crafty man" (Pro 12:2).
This principle (actually, both negatively AND positively) is
reinforced by Jesus himself: "The good man brings good things out of the good
stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up
in him... For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be
condemned" (Mat 12:35,37); and again, negatively: "For out of the heart come
evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony,
slander. These are what make a man 'unclean' " (Mat 15:19,20; cp Jer 4:14).
Charles Bridges writes, "How lightly do most men think of the
responsibility of their thoughts! as if they were their own, and they might
indulge them without restraint or evil. One substantial sin appals men, who
quietly sleep under the mighty mass of THINKING without God for months and
years, without any apprehension of guilt. But thoughts are the seminal
principles of sin. And as the cause virtually includes its effects; so do they
contain, like the seed in its little body, all the after fruit. They are also
the index of character... 'For as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he' (Pro
BUT THOSE OF THE PURE ARE PLEASING TO HIM: "The
contrasting clause is very difficult, the MT having 'tehorim 'imre-no'am'
('pleasant words are pure'). Usually 'to him' [ie, to the LORD] is inserted to
make the connection" (EBC). The LXX has: "the sayings of the pure are held in
honor." Words alone have great power; the character of the righteous is
determined in large part by WHAT THEY SAY: "Then those who feared the LORD
talked with each other, and the LORD listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance
was written in his presence concerning those who feared the LORD and honored his
name. 'They will be mine,' says the LORD Almighty, 'in the day when I make up my
treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his
son who serves him' " (Mal 3:16,17).
PLEASING: "Pleasant words" ("imre-no'am") occurs also
in Pro 16:24: "Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to
the bones." "The 'gracious words' are not sweet nothings; they are the opposite
of the 'evil plans' of v 26a, and thus express the virtuous designs of the just.
These affect not only others, but also oneself, as they act in a healing manner,
according to Pro 16:24" (WBC). It may be noted that "pleasant, or pleasing,
words" in this context are not necessarily and always comforting or placating;
sometimes, they may need to be bold and bracing and upbraiding -- either when
spoken to oneself or to others. In their end result, words of rebuke may be
kinder, and ultimately more "pleasing", than merely soothing words (Psa 141:5;
Pro 15:31; 17:10; 19:25; 25:12; 27:5).
PURE: "Tehorim" -- the plural here -- can have the
sense of "purifying, or cleansing", as used often in sacrificial contexts (see,
eg, Jer 33:7,8; Eze 36:25,33). So we see that words (and by extension, thoughts
and plans) may have a purifying effect, just as sacrifices themselves do: "The
fear of the LORD is pure ['tahowr']... May the words ['imre'] of my mouth and
the meditation of my heart be pleasing ['ratsown', as an acceptable sacrifice]
in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer" (Psa 19:9,14).
A GREEDY MAN BRINGS TROUBLE TO HIS FAMILY, BUT HE WHO HATES
BRIBES WILL LIVE: Those who are secure in their circumstances will not
succumb to the evil devices of greed. The verse is actually a warning against
taking bribes. Cp Ecc 7:7: "Extortion turns a wise man into a fool, and a bribe
corrupts the heart." And Pro 28:16: "He who hates ill-gotten gain will enjoy a
In two other passages in Proverbs (Pro 17:8; 18:16) there are
observations about "bribes" that do not directly condemn them, but rather seem
to suggest that the giving of bribes (as opposed to the taking of bribes) can
sometimes be a wise and prudent expedient. Such verses, however, ought probably
to be filed under the heading "the way things are", but not necessarily "the way
things should be"!
A GREEDY MAN: "The 'greedy man' is the 'botseakh
batsa', the one who wants a big cut, who is in a hurry to get rich, and who is
not particular how it happens (McKane 485)" (EBC). The Hebrew for "cut" here may
also mean "to kill"; thus, "to make a big killing" (in the stock market, in real
estate, in the oil business, etc, etc) would seem to be of Hebrew derivation.
(The Hebrew is also related to the Arabic "baksheesh", with its connotation of
palms greased and expense accounts padded.)
BRINGS TROUBLE TO HIS FAMILY: The same phrase occurs in
Pro 11:29 (see notes there). The participle "brings trouble" ("okher") can have
the connotation of making things difficult for the family, or completely ruining
the family. In Jos 7 Achan took the "banned thing" and was put to death: Because
he "troubled Israel", the LORD would "trouble" him (ie, take his life). The
prophet Habakkuk pronounces God's curse upon the greedy businessman, whose
obsession for more and more gain brings trouble upon his own family, whom
ostensibly he is seeking to benefit: "Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust
gain to set his nest on high, to escape the clutches of ruin! You have plotted
the ruin of many peoples, shaming your own house and forfeiting your life" (Hab
2:9,10; cf Jer 17:11).
Plumptre, in Speaker's Commentary, notes that the Chaldee
Targum paraphrases this clause, referring especially to "lucre" gained by
unrighteous judgments, thus: "He who gathers the mammon of unrighteousness
destroys his house." He suggests that Christ's use of that phrase (Luk 16:9) may
have had some connection with this proverb through the version then popularly
used in the Palestinian synagogues.
Examples of those whose greed led to their downfall: Lot (Gen
13:10,11; 14:12; 19:14,30), Achan (Jos 7), Saul (1Sa 15:19-26), Ahab (1Ki 21;
2Ki 9), Gehazi (2Ki 5), Jehoiakim (Jer 22:13,18-30), and of course
BUT HE WHO HATES BRIBES WILL LIVE: "Bribes" (NIV, RSV,
ASV) is literally "mattanoth", rendered "gifts" in the AV. Accepting strictly
personal gifts, with "no strings attached", would be perfectly legitimate. But
if the "gift" was in any way designed to win favor or influence, that might
translate into cronyism in a business environment, or a "kickback" on a business
deal, or a favorable legal ruling, etc, then it would be unethical (and perhaps
illegal) in itself. Generally speaking, government officials and members of
various professional groups (those who are expected to make impartial judgments
and decisions) are absolutely forbidden from accepting personal gifts from
anyone with whom they may ever have business dealings. In these areas, even the
APPEARANCE of partiality or favoritism should be carefully avoided.
"So hating [gifts, or] bribes is the safest path to follow.
For an example of avoiding this danger, see Gen 14:22-24, where Abram refused to
take anything for himself. See also the story of Elisha's refusal of Naaman's
gift and Gehazi's ruinous greed for it (2Ki 5:16,20,27)" (Kidner). Judges were
to fear God, be trustworthy, and "hate dishonest gain ['batsa']" (Exo 18:21).
"Do not accept a bribe ['shachad' = 'donation'], for a bribe blinds those who
see and twists the words of the righteous" (Exo 23:8; cp Deu 16:19; Isa 33:15;
Psa 15:5). The prophet Samuel never accepted a bribe (1Sa 12:3), but his own
sons were unworthy of carrying on the role of judge, because they "turned aside
after dishonest gain ('batsa') and accepted bribes ['shachad'] and perverted
justice" (1Sa 8:3). The apostle Peter refused Simon's offer of money (Acts
Elsewhere, the Proverbs warn: "A wicked man accepts a bribe in
secret to pervert the course of justice" (Pro 17:23). "By justice a king gives a
country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down" (Pro
"Verse 27 has an addition to which no counterpart exists in
the Hebrew text. 'By alms and faithful dealing sins are purged away.' A palpable
forgery, for in the Bible, from beginning to end, there is only one road to
forgiveness of sins, and this is not it" (WBS).
THE HEART OF THE RIGHTEOUS WEIGHS ITS ANSWERS, BUT THE
MOUTH OF THE WICKED GUSHES EVIL: This proverb is much like v 2, except that
the just/wicked contrast has replaced the wise/fool (cf also v 14). The
righteous man is cautious in how he answers. "His tongue never runs before his
wit, he never speaks rashly, and never unadvisedly; because he studies, or
ponders, his thoughts and his words" (Clarke). The righteous man knows that
searching out a matter is the honor of kings (Pro 25:2), and so he studies all
the details of a situation before judging. He knows there is no shame in saying
to those asking him a question, "Please give me a little time to consider your
question and prepare a proper answer." (Seemingly, Jesus did something very like
this when confronted with the Pharisees' questions about the woman taken in
adultery: he stooped to write on the ground, and did not immediately answer: see
"Caution is the fruit of wisdom; rashness of folly" (JFB). In
this verse the righteous are contrasted with the wicked, who quickly and without
forethought blurt out silly and sometimes hurtful things. Thus the thoughtful
discourse of the just is the opposite of the rash (and even "evil") speech of
the wicked. Johnson writes, "Speech is the one thing that many think they have a
right to squander. There is no more common profligacy than that of the tongue.
Yet, is there anything of which experience teaches us to be more economical than
the [expending] of the tongue?" (Pulpit).
Proverbs of the praise of wise and good discourse, and the
hurt and shame of an ungoverned tongue: Pro 10:11,13,14,20,21,31,32; 11:30;
14:3; 15:2,4,7,23,28; 16:20,23,24; 17:7; 18:4,7,20,21; 20:15; 21:23; 23:9;
THE HEART OF THE RIGHTEOUS WEIGHS ITS ANSWERS: The
"heart", ie the mind, of the righteous "weighs" ("yehgeh" = "considers",
"muses", "meditates", "deliberates", or "studies") how to answer or respond. The
advice is to avoid "gushing" (as the wicked do) and to say less but better
things. "A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction"
(Pro 16:23). Perhaps the advice is also to let one's actions "speak" for
oneself, in lieu of words.
The verb "haga" may be used to express the act of meditation
or planning. Meditation may be characterized as deep, reflective thought, often
occurring in a repetitive or enduring fashion. This is linked with adverbial
phrases such as "day and night" (Jos 1:8; Psa 1:2) and "during the watches of
the night" (Psa 63:6). Typically, meditation is an act of the righteous that
focuses on the Law (Jos 1:8; Psa 1:2), the LORD Himself (Psa 63:6), and the
works or deeds of the LORD (Psa 77:12; 143:5). It seems that the righteous
meditate not only for the purpose of "answering" others, ie in instruction and
encouragement, but also that their lives may actually conform to the object of
such meditation. In other words, their lives -- as lived out each day -- may be
the "answer" or response to their thoughts. "Do not let this Book of the Law
depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful
to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful" (Jos
BUT THE MOUTH OF THE WICKED GUSHES EVIL: "Gushes" is
from the verb "naba" -- to bubble, or pour forth, as a spring. The verb is used
of water only one time, and even that is in a symbolic context (Pro 18:4).
Figurative usages refer, positively, to bubbling forth with the praise of God
(Psa 19:2; 78:2; 119:171; 145:7), or God's wisdom (Pro 1:23). But here the
negative usage prevails: the bubbling forth is with folly (Psa 59:7; 94:4; Pro
15:2,28; Ecc 10:1; esp see the notes on Pro 15:2). Robert Deffinbaugh says, "One
of the principal differences between a wise man and a fool is that the wise man
exercises restraint in his use of words, while the fool has a hair-trigger lip."
John Gill says, "The mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things; without any
previous thought and consideration, without fear or wit; in great abundance, as
water out of a fountain; thus an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart
brings forth evil things readily and at once, having no concern about the
consequences of things (Mat 12:25)." And Qoheleth says, "Do not be quick with
your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is
in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few" (Ecc 5:2); and "A fool
is consumed by his own lips. At the beginning his words are folly; at the end
they are wicked madness -- and the fool multiplies words" (Ecc
Other proverbs can scarcely be ignored here: "When words are
many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise" (Pro 10:19). "Do
you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him"
THE LORD IS FAR FROM THE WICKED BUT HE HEARS THE PRAYER OF
THE RIGHTEOUS: "God's response to prayer is determined by the righteousness
of the one who prays. The wicked keep a distance from him; so he is 'far' from
them, an idea that signifies that he is inaccessible or deaf to their appeal...
Of course, a prayer of repentance by the wicked is the exception, for by it they
would become the righteous (Toy)" (EBC). This verse is very similar to v 8: "The
LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases
him" (see comments there).
THE LORD IS FAR FROM THE WICKED: "Far" is "rahoq". To
say that the LORD is "far off" from the wicked is to say that he has made
Himself unavailable to their appeal -- He does not answer them. In the prophetic
passages of the OT there are a number of references to Israel's futile entreaty
of God: "Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them" (Eze 8:18;
cf Isa 1:15; Jer 11:11). Jeremiah must not intercede for them, for neither will
God listen to him (Jer 7:16; 11:14). Israel's prayers are futile because they
will not listen to God (Jer 11:10). God is not deaf, but their iniquities have
separated them from Him "so that he will not hear" (Isa 59:1,2; cf Isa 58:4). In
Isa 1:10-17 there is an extended list of the things Israel needs to set right,
about their worship, their sacrifice, and their personal lives, if they expect
God to listen to their prayers. Or more succinctly, in the words of Proverbs,
"If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable" (Pro
28:9). "Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me
but will not find me, since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the
LORD" (Pro 1:28,29).
This motif is used by David throughout Psa 22 (cp also Psa
10:1) for the problem of unanswered prayer: "Why are you far off?" (Of course,
in the case of Psa 22 -- and especially as it is applied in the NT to Christ --
there may be other reasons than the 'wickedness' of the person praying why God
appears not to hear, or answer.)
BUT HE HEARS THE PRAYER OF THE RIGHTEOUS: The verb
"hear" ("shama") has more of the sense of "respond to". If one "listens to the
voice of the LORD", for example, it means that he obeys the LORD. If one wishes
God to "hear his prayer", it means he wishes God to answer it.
"The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective" (Jam
5:16). This does not mean so much that one must have fulfilled a personal
standard of conduct in order to have his prayers heard, but rather that one must
in faith call upon the LORD. (In fact, this is precisely the point in the first
part of Jam 5:16: "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each
other so that you may be healed...") Thus a sincere prayer of remorse and
repentance -- even by one whom others might consider to be "wicked" -- will
nevertheless put him in the way of being righteous (ie, forgiven, and "declared"
or "reckoned" righteous on the basis of faith). "The LORD is near to all who
call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those
who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them" (Psa 145:18,19).
In the wonderful events described in Joh 9, Jesus heals the
man born blind. The leaders of Israel, the Pharisees, can scarcely accept that
such a thing is possible, because "this man [Jesus] is a sinner" (v 24). The
healed man answers with unassailable logic: "Whether he is a sinner or not, I
don't know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!" (v 25). The same
leaders respond with further attacks on Jesus' character, education, and
background -- how could such a one as HE do such miracles? Finally they also
attack the "messenger", the man who was healed: "You were steeped in sin at
birth; how dare you lecture us!" (v 34). But his insight is remarkable: "We know
that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his
will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man
were not from God, he could do nothing" (vv 31-33).
In pointing out that "God does not listen to sinners", the man
who had been born blind indicated that, for all his lack of "learning", he knew
this proverb: "The LORD is far from the wicked." But in thankfully accepting the
amazing miracle done for himself, he also knew, and acknowledged, that even
"sinners" or "wicked" ones might be accounted "righteous" on the basis of their
need, and their faith that such needs might be met: "He [the LORD, and now His
Son too!] hears the prayers of the righteous!"
A CHEERFUL LOOK BRINGS JOY TO THE HEART, AND GOOD NEWS
GIVES HEALTH TO THE BONES: These two lines first appear to be about two
different things, but they may actually speak -- by a synonymous parallelism --
of the same incident: the arrival of a messenger. The messenger brings a
"cheerful look", which presages his "good news". The recipient is first stirred
with "joy" to see the messenger, and then this initial joy is rapidly followed
by a swelling of good feeling as the news sinks in. Parallel to this verse,
then, would be Pro 25:25: "Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a
The gospel of the kingdom of God, sent into all the world via
the apostles and the early believers, IS "good news from a distant land" (Mar
13:10; 16:15,16; Mat 24:14; 28:19,20)! "How beautiful on the mountains are the
feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!' " (Isa 52:7). (And
the "good news" described in Isa 52 is surely what is developed in Isa 53 -- see
esp v 1: "Who has believed our MESSAGE and to whom has the arm of the LORD been
revealed?"; cp also Rom 10:16.)
Our hearts should surely leap for joy, and our minds and
bodies and spirits experience a radiance of good health and peace and calm as
this "good news" sinks in. "Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has
risen from the dead and... you will see him'... the women hurried away from the
tomb... filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples" (Mat 28:7,8). Into the
city the women ran, with a gleam in their eyes and a song of joy in their
hearts. It is a song of thanksgiving that has never ceased from that day to
this, no, nor ever shall. It is a song passed from one to another, sung by each
new generation with a wonder that it is always fresh. It is a song of joy to
gladden the heart of the weariest disciple with the prospect of a day when all
tears shall cease (Rev 21:4), and the sorrow of the long "night" will be only a
A CHEERFUL LOOK BRINGS JOY TO THE HEART: "Cheerful
look" is "me'or 'enayim", literally "light of the eyes" (cf 1Sa 14:27,29; Psa
13:3; 19:8; Pro 13:9; 16:15; 29:13; Ecc 8:1): the NET has "a bright look". This
describes the gleam in the eyes of the one who bears good news. The LXX,
evidently by repointing "me'or", has "the eye that sees beautiful things" -- a
reading which changes the meaning very little, actually.
"Joy" is "samach" -- joy, happiness, and (according to some)
even brightness (cf also "light" as above). In the Old Testament, such "joy"
came from meeting a loved one (Exo 4:14), and receiving good news (1Sa 11:9;
19:5; 2Sa 1:20; 1Ki 5:7; 1Ch 29:9; Jer 20:15) -- which seems to be clearly the
point here. Furthermore, such "joy" acccompanied release from prison (Jer
41:13), victory over an enemy (1Sa 19:5; 2Sa 1:20; Amo 6:13), and the receiving
of great wealth (Job 31:25) -- all of which have easily-seen spiritual
counterparts here, as pertaining to the gospel of Christ. "Joy" was often an
accompaniment of perfumes and incense (Pro 27:9), music (Job 21:12; Psa 45:8),
and wine and feasting (Jdg 9:13; Psa 104:15; Ecc 10:19; Zec 10:7). "Joy"
attended the ingathering of the harvest (Psa 4:7; Isa 16:10), weddings (Song
3:11; Jer 7:34; 16:9; 25:10; 33:11), and the building and dedication of the
temple in Jerusalem (Ezr 3:12,13; Neh 12:27,43,44). And, on a more mundane
level, simple yet important things like a kind word (Pro 12:25) and an apt reply
(Pro 15:23) can bring joy to a person. Each and every item on this list may,
upon reflection, be seen as evocative of the "good news" of the gospel, and
especially of the final realization of God's purpose that it describes -- the
coming of the Messiah, and the re-establishment of God's Kingdom on the earth.
Verily, the news that "the LORD reigns" brings joy ("samach") to the heavens as
well as the earth (Psa 96:11)! And at such time, in the true fulfillment of
which the original "creation" was only a shadow, the LORD will find great joy
("samach") in His own works (Psa 104:31). The "New Jerusalem" will rejoice in
the glory of God that gives it light; and the nations will walk by that light
(Rev 21:23,24; cf Psa 89:15).
AND GOOD NEWS GIVES HEALTH TO THE BONES: The idea of
"health to the bones" comes from a Hebrew expression that is literally "makes
the bones fat", a symbol of health and prosperity. "To make fat" is the Hebrew
"dashen"; the same or very similar expressions are found here and there,
translated in a variety of ways: Psa 23:5 ("You anoint -- 'dashen' -- my head
with oil"); Pro 11:25 ("A generous man will prosper -- 'dashen'; he who
refreshes others will himself be refreshed"); Pro 13:4 ("The desires of the
diligent are fully satisfied -- 'dashen' "); and Pro 28:25 ("He who trusts in
the LORD will prosper -- 'dashen' "). In general, although the same words
("dashen" and variations) are not used, this thought here is very similar to Pro
17:22: "A cheerful heart is good medicine."
As to the "bones" in this phrase, they were often viewed -- in
the Hebrew -- as "the seat of one's physical strength and health (Job 20:11;
21:24; Pro 3:8; Isa 58:11; 66:14; Lam 4:7). Zion's children (the returning
exiles) will rejoice over her restoration. Isa 66:14 states that the 'bones' of
the children (symbolizing their national strength and prosperity here) will
flourish 'like grass.' Those overcome by fear spoke of their bones shaking (Job
4:14; Jer 23:9; Hab 3:16), while those enduring intense physical pain or
emotional distress frequently complained that their bones were weakened (Job
33:19,21; Psa 6:2; 31:10; 32:3; 38:3; 42:10; Lam 1:13; cf Job 19:20; 30:17,30;
Psa 102:5)" (NIDOTTE).
Vv 31-33: Kidner writes, "Wisdom repays all the rigours it
prescribes; for admittedly its schooling is unflattering ('reproof' (AV, RV), vv
31,32b ['rebuke', v 31; 'correction', v 32 in NIV]) and arduous ('discipline', v
32a). The point is made in different ways: v 31a commends the process as
life-giving; v 31b as fitting one for the company of the wise; v 32 punctures
complacency by showing WHOM the unteachable person, paradoxically, is despising;
and v 33 puts the matter in perspective by varying the motto of the book (cf Pro
1:7) to show that the fear of the LORD is not merely the gateway but the whole
path of wisdom ('instruction of' [AV] = 'training in')."
HE WHO LISTENS TO A LIFE-GIVING REBUKE WILL BE AT HOME
AMONG THE WISE: "The one who is prepared to accept advice that will improve
his prospect of life in the Kingdom is a wise person. There are few to whom this
proverb applies. What is our normal reaction to reproof? Acute embarrassment,
immediate hostility, a defensive response, a blaming of others" (Bowen). This
verse is in direct contrast to v 12: "A mocker resents correction; he will not
consult the wise." Verse 5, however, presents both sides of the statement: "A
fool spurns his father's discipline [cp v 12], but whoever heeds correction
shows prudence [cp v 31]." Likewise, Pro 9:8,9; 13:20.
Also, a wise man needs ONLY a rebuke, and nothing else,
whereas the fool will only learn, if at all, through punishment or chastening --
the "rod": "A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a
fool" (Pro 17:10; see also Pro 19:25).
A LIFE-GIVING REBUKE: "Rebuke" is "towkechah" -- from a
root "yachah", which signifies "to reason together, to show the right way" (see
detailed note at Pro 12:1). Instead of "a life-giving rebuke", the AV has "the
reproof of life". This may mean one of two things: (a) the rebuke that leads to
life (which is the sense favored by the NIV), or (b) the rebuke that is comes
out of living and life experiences (what might be called "the school of hard
WILL BE AT HOME AMONG THE WISE: "To be at home" is
"luwn" -- "to dwell", "to settle" (ie, permanently). "He not only chooseth to be
among [the wise], that he may have the advantage of their wise counsels and
reproofs, but he becomes wise himself thereby, and attains to the character of a
wise man, and is numbered among them; such a man abides in the house of wisdom,
the church of God, and attends upon and has conversation with the wise
dispensers of the word, and shall have a part with them... in the kingdom...
where the wise will shine as the firmament [Dan 12:3]" (Gill).
HE WHO IGNORES DISCIPLINE DESPISES HIMSELF, BUT WHOEVER
HEEDS CORRECTION GAINS UNDERSTANDING: EBC notes: "Cf vv 5 and 10. Whybray
rightly remarks that v 32 'echoes in antithetical parallelism what v 31 states
in a single sentence'." This verse echoes the extended warning at the beginning
of Proverbs (Pro 1:24-33).
To despise discipline is to despise oneself -- a creature made
in the image of God. Thus it is also to despise God's own handiwork. But to
accept discipline, and even correction as necessary, and to seek to learn from
it, is to show proper respect for God's creation, and His design. As the little
boy, though poor, was taught by his mother to say: "God made me, and He don't
make no trash!" Whatever the LORD God makes... has a transcending purpose;
whether that purpose is realized depends, in significant measure, upon the
"user". But the Bible, and all God's discipline and correction that might attach
to it, or arise from its reading and application -- that is the "user's manual"
for every human being. Pay attention! God doesn't want to "waste" you, or break
you little a flawed piece of pottery; He wants to put you to use, now and
HE WHO IGNORES DISCIPLINE DESPISES HIMSELF: As to the
word "ignores", Mathew Henry writes: "He that neglects instruction puts it far
from himself, and sets himself at a distance from it; not only because he hates
it, but because he fears it. Or he 'strips himself of' instruction; shaking off
his education, as a garment he will not be hampered with. The original word has
a further signification, he that 'will be revenged on' instruction; that takes
it for an affront, and studies revenge [ie upon those who seek to instruct him],
if he be told of his faults."
"Discipline" is "muwcar" (see Pro 1:2n). To "despise oneself
['nephesh']" means to reject one's own self as if he or she were of little
value. The one who ignores discipline is not interested in improving himself (cp
Heb 12:5-11). On the other hand, "He who gets wisdom loves his own soul
['nephesh']; he who cherishes understanding prospers" (Pro 19:8).
How serious was it to ignore discipline? "If a man has a
stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not
listen to them when they discipline him, his father and mother shall take hold
of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to
the elders, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us.
He is a profligate and a drunkard.' Then all the men of his town shall stone him
to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and
be afraid" (Deu 21:18-21). Are we offended by this passage? Can we believe that
such a command was ever actually followed in Israel? But even to ask such
questions, with our modern sensibilities, is to admit -- in a way -- that we
still fail to see the enormity of "despising God's instruction". What, after
all, is a life worth (even the life of a loved and cherished son or daughter) if
that life is dedicated to anything and everything EXCEPT following God's
"Reproof indeed may be considered one of the wholesome bitters
of life (Pro 29:15; Rev 3:19). Thoughtless gaiety may prefer 'the song of fools'
to 'the rebuke of the wise' (Ecc 7:5). But after-reflection will shew the wisdom
of honouring those who deal faithfully with our faults, though it may be with
[something] of severity; rather than those, who would soothe us with the
poisoned sweets of flattery, and wink at or encourage our wayward follies (Pro
27:5,6)... Many are examples of ruinous folly: the young man (Pro 5:11-13);
Korah and his party (Num 16: 12-14,31-33); Zedekiah (Jer 27:17; 38:14-23; with
Jer 39:1-7)" (Bridges). Other examples, from Crawford: Nebuchadnezzar (Dan
4:27-33), Belshazzar (Dan 5:22-30), the Jews in Mat 23:34-38, and the Gerasenes
or Gadarenes (Luk 8:37).
BUT WHOEVER HEEDS CORRECTION GAINS UNDERSTANDING:
"Correction" is "towkechah" (also in v 31; see Pro 12:1n). Gains understanding"
is "qoneh lev", from the root "qanah" (to acquire) plus its object "heart". The
word "heart" is frequently a metonymy of subject, pointing to all the capacities
of the human mind. Thus to "gain understanding" is not just to acquire general
knowledge (although that plays a part); beyond that, it is to acquire
discernment -- the ability to make correct assessments -- especially about
oneself: one's own mind and spirit.
To "heed correction" is to be exercised thereby, and to learn
obedience by daily meditation on the Word of God, and daily application of its
principles in one's own life: "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine
and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.
The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that
house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But
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 7:24-27). "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive
yourselves. Do what it says" (Jam 1:22). "Those whom I love I rebuke and
discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock.
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him,
and he with me" (Rev 3:19,20).
THE FEAR OF THE LORD TEACHES A MAN WISDOM, AND HUMILITY
COMES BEFORE HONOR: Humble submission in faith to the LORD brings wisdom and
honor. "Fear" and "honor" are also connected in Pro 22:4 -- "Humility and the
fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life."
THE FEAR OF THE LORD TEACHES A MAN WISDOM: This
essentially repeats the theme verse of the first section of Proverbs: "The fear
of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Pro 1:7; see notes there), and "The
fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom" (Pro 9:10). It may be noted that,
because of the transitive property of the phrase in the Hebrew, the sense here
might just as easily be: "Wisdom teaches a man [or 'leads a man to'] the fear of
the LORD" (thus the NIV mg). At any rate, the results may be cyclical: fear of
the LORD teaches wisdom, and wisdom in turn leads us to fear the LORD, etc,
AND HUMILITY COMES BEFORE HONOR: This part of the verse
is parallel to Pro 18:12b. It may also reinforce the first phrase: thus, "the
fear of the LORD" is more or less equivalent to "humility", and true "wisdom"
will ensure one's "honor", in the sight of God and righteous men. A man who
fears God must be humble, and as the fear of God leads to wisdom, it may be said
that humility leads to the honor and glory of being wise and reckoned among the
wise (v 31). A man with a lowly opinion of himself will hearken to the teaching
of the wise, and scrupulously obey the Law of God, and thus he will be blessed
in his ways. "A man of lowly spirit gains honor" (Pro 29:23). The old
commentator Trapp writes, "The more humble, the fitter to come to God, and He
the more willing to come into the soul, and dwell in it. The highest heavens are
the habitation of God's glory; and the humble heart hath the next honour, to be
the habitation of His grace."
HUMILITY: Heb "anawa", from a root meaning "to stoop
low, to submit" -- it is the opposite of pride, or self-exaltation. The word
occurs two other times in Proverbs: Pro 22:4 (as quoted above) and Pro 18:12
(which is parallel to this verse). It also occurs in Psa 18:35, where it is
applied to God Himself "stooping down", or acting in "gentleness" (AV) or
"condescension", to "make [David] great". Finally, it occurs in Zep 2:3, where
it is translated "humility" and paired with righteousness. " 'Anawa' is thus the
personal quality that makes integration into the world order possible and
enables the possessor to know his place in the total system. 'Anawa' confesses
the limits beyond which human wisdom cannot pass and acknowledges human
lowliness before God. The would-be wise man in his world is humbled by his
recognition that humankind is not the measure of all things. The opposite to
humility is the scornful attitude of the religious despisers, to which Pro 1:7
points. Note that all three occurrences of 'anawa' in Proverbs associate
humility with social recognition and status... As pride, the opposite of
humility, brings destruction [cf Pro 18:12], humility brings honor. Humility is
here defined again as the fear of God and, in sharp contrast to arrogance, is
revealed in modesty before God and human beings. According to Ploeger, humility
is to be understood as a sign of self-critical judgment, a sober evaluation of
one's own importance" (NIDOTTE).
Jesus says, "Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this
child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Mat 18:4). "For everyone who
exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Luk
14:11; cp Mat 23:12; also cp Pro 25:6,7). James says, "God opposes the proud but
gives grace to the humble" (Jam 4:6, citing Pro 3:34). Jesus himself provides
the perfect example of true humility, leading on to honor from God (Phi 2:1-11):
"He humbled himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross!" (v
HONOR: The Hebrew "kabod" signifies "weight". To honor
someone is to give him due weight, or dignity, or respect. The English word
"gravitas", borrowed from the Latin, conveys this same thought. Honor is
personal respect from others. Wisdom leads to honor (Pro 3:35; 4:8; 8:18). It
secures a good name and favor with others, at least with others of the right
sort (Pro 3:4; 22:1). Solomon taught, among other things, as rules for honor, a
gracious spirit (Pro 11:16; 22:11), avoiding and/or ending strife (Pro 20:3),
searching out matters -- ie, getting one's facts straight (Pro 25:2), humility
(Pro 29:23), using few words (Pro 17:27,28), earnest and interested counsel (Pro
27:9), handling matters wisely (Pro 16:20), and marrying a virtuous and diligent
woman (Pro 31:23).
The lesson is certain; the law is infallible. God resists the
proud, but He gives grace to the humble (Pro 3:34; Jam 4:6). "Humble yourselves
before the Lord, and he will lift you up" (Jam 4:10; cp 1Pe 5:5,6). It is the
way of Him who cannot stand the odor of human confidence! Joseph reached the
throne via the slave market and prison (Gen 37:12-28; 41:14-44). Moses and David
became shepherds of a whole nation only after learning to keep a few sheep in
great obscurity (Exo 3:1-12; Psa 78:70-72). Gideon and Jephthah had little
pedigree or position, but God promoted them over His people (Jdg 6:15,16;
11:1-29). Rahab and Ruth were despised foreigners, one a prostitute and the
other a destitute widow, but both are in the lineage of Jesus Christ (Jos 2:1;
Rth 1:5,7; 4:13-22; Mat 1:5)! Daniel and Esther were orphaned early and taken
into captivity by Gentile kingdoms (Dan 1; Est 2:6,7), but both rose to the
right hand of power! Abigail said she was unworthy to wash the feet of David's
servants, but the great king chose her to be his wife (1Sa 25:23-42)! John the
Baptist abandoned the great Temple, and dwelt in the desert wastelands, eating
locusts and wild honey, until God called him to announce the coming Messiah (Mat
3:1-4; Mar 1:2-6; John 1:15,30; 3:30). Paul the great apostle was kept from
exalting himself by the bitterest of afflictions (2Co 12:7-9).
And Jesus -- born to poor parents, laid in a manger where barn
animals fed, exiled to a foreign land, raised in obscurity, his ancestry
questioned, his education mocked, his character insulted, his accent laughed at
-- learned obedience in his humble circumstances, bowed low before the God of
heaven, submerged his will in the will of the Father, and submitted to the ugly,
hateful, and cruel cross of suffering. Then -- and only then -- did "God [exalt]
him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at
the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the
earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God
the Father" (Phi 2:9-11).