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By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
A Collection Of Solomon’s Proverbs (10.1-29.27).
Solomon’s presentation of The Book of Proverbs has followed the pattern of much Wisdom literature. This commenced with the initial heading detailing the details of the author and his purpose in writing (1.1-7), continued with a Prologue which laid the foundation for what was to follow (1.8-9.18), and was then followed by the body of the work introduced by one or more subheadings. In Solomon’s case this main body comprises 10.1-29.27. It is usually divided up into four parts:
The inclusion of the words of the wise within two sets of proverbs of Solomon, the first time without a subheading, suggests that we are to see the words of the wise and the sayings of the wise as also from Solomon, but based in each case more specifically on collections of Wisdom sayings known to him, which he himself, or his Scribes, had taken and altered up in order to conform them to his requirements thus making them finally his work. That does not necessarily mean that his proverbs in section 1 (10.1-22.16) were not based on other material. He would have obtained his material from many sources. But once again we are to see them as presented after alteration by his hand.
We should note, for example, the continual references to YHWH that occur throughout the text. Whatever material Solomon may have appropriated, he refashioned it in order to make it the wisdom of the God of Israel, of YHWH their covenant God. This approach of taking what was written by others and refashioning it, while at the same time introducing further ideas of his own, may be seen as following the pattern of modern scholars, each of whom takes the works of others, and then reinterprets them in his own words, whilst adding to them on the basis of his own thinking. The final product is then seen as their own thinking, aided by others. The only difference is that Solomon would have been far more willing to copy down word for word what others had said and written without giving acknowledgement.
Having said that we must not assume that Solomon simply copied them down unthinkingly. As the Prologue has made clear, he did not see himself as presenting some general form of Wisdom teaching. He saw what he wrote down as given by YHWH, and as being in the words of YHWH (2.6). And he saw it as based on YHWH’s eternal wisdom, His wisdom which had also been involved in the creation of heaven and earth (3.19-20; 8.22-31). Thus he wants us to recognise that what now follows is not a series of general wisdom statements, but is a miscellany revealing the wisdom of YHWH, the wisdom that leads men into the paths of life.
The Proverbs Of Solomon (10.1-22.16).
The proverbs in this section are now introduced by the brief subheading ‘The Proverbs Of Solomon’. Contrast ‘The sayings of Solomon, the Son of David, the King of Israel’ in 1.1. The details given there do not need to be repeated because this is a subheadng, not a main heading. This is in line with comparable wisdom literature going back far beyond the time of Solomon
What follows in 10.1 onwards is somewhat deceptive. Without careful study it can appear to contain simply a string of proverbs with no direct connection to each other. But closer examination soon reveals otherwise. Solomon has rather taken his vast knowledge of wisdom literature, and put together a series of sayings which gel together and give consecutive teaching.
Various attempts have been made to divide up this material, but none of them have been fully successful as the basis of construction and the dividing lines are not always clear. They tend to be somewhat subjective. But that some thought has gone into the presentation of the material is apparent by the way in which topics and ideas are grouped together. Consider for example 10.2-5 which are based on the idea of riches and men’s cravings, whilst 10.18-21 are all based on the lips or the tongue. On the whole, however, the basis of the presentation overall is tentative, for up until 22.17 we do not have any clear introductory words which can help us to divide the text up.
What is certain is that we are not simply to see this as just a number of proverbs jumbled together with no connection whatsoever. And in our view Solomon made this clear by using the well known method (previously used by Moses in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) of dividing up the text by means of chiasms as we have illustrated. Ancient Hebrew was written in one continuing steam of letters with no gaps to distinguish words, and no punctuation. This was not quite as confusing as it sounds for words and word endings followed definite patterns which were mainly distinguishable. But the only way of dividing it up into paragraphs was either by the way of material content, or by the use of chiasms (presenting the material in an A B C D D C B A pattern). In our view this latter method was used by Solomon in this section as we hope we have demonstrated..
The proverbs which follow are designed to give a wide coverage of wisdom and instruction, and as we study them we will receive guidance in different spheres. For this is the wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and instruction that Solomon has been speaking of in the Prologue. It is a revelation of ‘the fear of YHWH and the knowledge of God’ (2.5).
It will be noted at once that Solomon immediately expects us to be able to differentiate ‘the righteous’ from the ‘unrighteous’ (or ‘wicked’), and the wise from the ‘foolish’. This confirms that the righteous and the wise are in his eyes identifiable, and in Israel that would be because they walked in accordance with the covenant, the ‘Law of Moses’, as well as in the ways of wisdom. Thus wisdom does not exclude the Law, nor does it supersede it. It embraces it, although mainly from a non-ritualistic standpoint (consider, however, 3.9-10; 7.14; 15.8; 17.1; 21.3, 27). For it sees it from a less legalistic attitude, and encourages a broad view of life.
We must, however, recognise that ‘wicked’ does not mean ‘totally evil’ and that ‘foolish’ does not mean ‘stupid’. The wicked are those who come short of righteousness (the term regularly contrasts with the righteous). Basically they live disregarding God’s requirements in some aspect of their lives. They may appear solid citizens, but in parts of their lives they pay no heed to God. This might come out in false business practises, or in deceit, or in lack of love for others, or in selfishness, as being part of their way of life. That is why we often speak of ‘the unrighteous’ rather than of ‘the wicked’.
In the same way the ‘foolish’ are called foolish because they set aside God’s ways in the way in which they live their lives. They may be astute, clever and full of common sense, but they are ‘foolish’ because they disregard YHWH. (‘The fool has said in his heart, “there is no God” (Psalm 14.1) even though he might give an outward impression of being religious).
Here we have the heading for this subsection. It is brief and to the point, for Solomon has already been more fully described in 1.1. It will be noted that the proverbs that follow are two liners. This indicates that they are early rather than late. Later wisdom literature tended to use one liners. It was prior to the time of Solomon that in wisdom literature two liners were the norm. These can be of various types:
A large number of proverbs will be found to be of the first variety, especially in chapters 10-15. One common contrast found in these is between ‘the righteous’ and ‘the unrighteous’ (evildoers, those who do not follow the way of righteousness but wander off in byways, regularly thought of as ‘the wicked’ because they do what is wrong. In other words the word includes all who do not walk after God’s wisdom). Another common contrast is between ‘the wise’ and ‘the foolish’. But we must not be dogmatic about these contrasts for the righteous can also be contrasted with the foolish (10.21).
The proverbs are gathered into subsections indicated by chiasms, with proverbs in those subsections to some extent linking together. But there are also clear variations within those subsections. Part of Solomon’s appears to have been to ensure that readers received a broad sweep of wisdom continually as they went through the narrative, which would tend to be split up for reading purposes.
It is perhaps significant that just as the Prologue began with an appeal to hear father and mother, ‘my son, hear the disciplinary instruction of your father, and do not forsake the torah (law, instruction) of your mother’ (1.8; compare also 6.20), so this new subsection encourages obedience to father and mother, but now on the basis of family affection. It is a call to heed a godly father and mother, and be pleasing to them. It is also interesting that each of the first eight verses deals with a subject prominent in the Prologue, and this is something that is discovered again and again in the narrative. This adds further support to the idea that the Prologue and these proverbs all form one record from the beginning. These first eight verses form a chiasmus, something which in our view continues throughout Solomon’s proverbs.
Those Who Follow God’s Wisdom (The Wise) Bring Happiness To Their Parents Through Their Obedience And Experience Both Spiritual And Physical Blessing And Provision, Whilst The Foolish (Who Ignore God’s Wisdom) Cause Grief, Gain Nothing, And Are Rejected By God (10.1-8).
In these opening proverbs we have a description of the benefits of righteousness and wisdom, and of the adverse effect of unrighteousness and folly. The wise son lives in an harmonious household (verse 1), his righteousness delivers from death (verse 2), the righteous will be satisfied both spiritually and physically (verse 3), will become wealthy (verse 4), will be blessed (verse 6), and remembered (verse 7), and will be obedient to those who are over them (verse 8).
In contrast are the foolish and the unrighteous. The foolish son breaks his mother’s heart (verse 1), his ill-gotten gains are finally of no profit (verse 2), he is spurned by YHWH (verse 3), he will become poor (verse 4), he brings shame on his family (verse 5), he will suffer violence (verse 6), he will be forgotten (verse 7), and he will be trodden down (verse 8).
This can be presented chiastically as follows:
It will be noted that in A the WISE son makes a glad father, and in the parallel the WISE in heart will accept commands (compare 6.20 where the son is so to observe the command of his father). In B the treasures of WICKEDNESS profit nothing, while in the parallel the name of the WICKED decays (becomes worm-eaten). Furthermore RIGHTEOUSNESS delivers from death, whilst in the parallel the memory of the RIGHTEOUS is blessed. One horror of the Israelite was to die and be forgotten. In C YHWH will not allow the RIGHTEOUS to go hungry, whilst in the parallel there are blessings on the head of the RIGHTEOUS. Centrally in D working with a lazy hand parallels sleeping during harvest, whilst the hand of the hard worker parallels the one who gathers harvest at the due time.
This proverb does not come in a vacuum. In the Prologue wisdom and folly have been regularly contrasted. Thus a ‘wise son’ is one who walks in the fear of YHWH (1.7; 2.5; etc.) and in the wisdom of YHWH (2.2-6; 3.21-22; 4.5-9; etc.), and who increases in learning (1.5) and responds to the call to follow the way of wisdom as depicted in chapters 1-9. Such a son listens to his father and mother (1.8; 6.20), and as a consequence of his obedience to YHWH his father is glad and rejoices. He is proud of him.
The foolish son on the other hand is like the fool or the naive one who goes astray, as depicted in chapters 1-9. He does not choose the fear of YHWH (1.29), he associates with greedy or perverse men (1.10-19; 2.10-15) and with enticing and adulteress women (2.16-19; 5.3-14; 6.24-35; 7.5-27; 9.13-18). He breaks his mother’s heart (compare 17.25b). There is a sensitivity here which is moving (compare 4.3 where the mother is seen as more emotionally involved than the father). It is the father who encourages him to walk positively, chastening him where necessary, and proud of his response. But it is the mother who feels most deeply when her son takes the wrong path. On the other hand the father may also be grieved (17.21, 25a), and the mother can also delight in her son (23.25).
The assumption is being made here that the father and mother are giving advice that can be trusted. And that can only because they do it in line with Solomon’s teaching concerning the wisdom of God, and its corollary in the Torah (the law of Moses). It is a reminder of how important good parenting is to children of all ages. A very similar proverb appears in 15.20.
Note that the themes of the benefits of righteousness and of the consequences of unrighteousness (the word translated ‘wickedness’ is regularly indicating simply the opposite of righteousness), and of wealth gained or lost, continue on in the next few verses (3-6).
The connection with verse 1 suggests that the wise and foolish sons are still in mind. Here the foolish son seeks for the ‘treasures of wickedness’, that is, if looked at physically, wealth obtained by false means and unpleasant activity (1.10-19). He prefers that to working hard (verses 4-5). But we are to note that such treasures will not profit him in the end. He finally ends up with nothing. All he can expect is calamity (1.26-28, 32b) and death. Note that the proverb takes a long view, and sees the final working out of men’s attitudes and behaviour. Treasures obtained by unrighteousness can only lead to final loss, and this is so even if meanwhile they prosper men. Note the Psalmist’s perplexity in Psalm 73 where he could not understand why the wicked were prospering ‘until he considered their end’. The assumption made in many of these Proverbs is that there will in one way or another be such a final judgment on men.
In contrast the righteous son, through following wisdom and righteousness, will be delivered from death (1.18, 32-33; 2.18-19; etc.). For the path of righteousness is like the dawning light of day which grows ever brighter until it reaches its ultimate (4.18). Thus the righteousness which results from God’s wisdom (2.9-10; 8.20) is better than earthly treasures (8.8-12; compare 3.14-18), it consists of durable riches (8.18), whilst the assumption of his being delivered from death is that he will therefore enjoy a prosperous and fruitful life (3.16-18), which is God’s purpose for us all (8.14-16).
We must not, however, limit these words to the wise and foolish sons for the proverb is deliberately more generalised. It therefore applies to all. Thus any gains of any kind (whether physical or emotional) which result from unrighteousness will not benefit someone in the end, for their way leads to death (1.18, 32; 2.18; 5.5; 7.27; 9.18 compare Psalm 73.17). There will be a price to pay, because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23), and the pleasures of sin are only for a season (Hebrews 11.25). On the other hand all who walk in righteousness will be delivered from sin’s consequences. They will enjoy a full life (3.16-18; 8.35; 9.6; compare 1.33; 3.35) and end up in the presence of God (Psalm 16.11; 17.15). Whilst not spelled out the assumption is that somehow God will ensure that the righteous will come out of it well in the end.
Note how speedily YHWH, the covenant God of Israel, is brought into the equation. We learn immediately that the proverbs are valid and true because YHWH ensures their fulfilment, These word amplify verse 2. The reason that righteousness delivers from death is because YHWH will not allow the inner life of the righteous to go hungry, to be famished. He will ensure that he enjoys a satisfying and fruitful life (3.16-18). He will satisfy his appetites. And this in contrast with the unrighteous, whose desires and cravings YHWH will ‘thrust away’. He pushes them from Him. He has no time for the cravings of wrongdoers which are for things displeasing to Him.
Note the significant point that the lives of the righteous follow wisdom (verse 1). Indeed, the definition of the righteous man is that he responds to wisdom and seeks to live in accordance with it. In contrast are the lives of evildoers which are ruled by covetousness and desire. For the cravings of the latter include seeking the treasures of wickedness (unrighteousness - verse 2); greed for gain (1.13); following men of a perverse heart and mouth who rejoice to do what is not right (2.12-15); and responding to the enticements of adulterous women (2.16-19; 5.3-14; 6.24-35; 7.5-27; 9.13-18).
This thought then leads on to YHWH also satisfying the needs of the bodies of the righteous This is dealt with in this next verse.
Men seek ‘the treasures of unrighteousness’, treasures obtained through theft, fraud, dishonesty and violence, because it is the easy way, and they are lazy. For otherwise laziness leads to poverty. This proverb is vividly illustrated in 6.6-11. The dilatory worker will never be wealthy except by unjust gain. In contrast the hard worker does become relatively wealthy. And he also experiences richness of heart.
The ‘wise son’ was spoken of in verse 1. And one of the things that he does is to take advantage of the seasons in order to harvest products at the right time, so that he obtains the maximum benefit. He plans his time wisely, making the most of the opportunity. On the other hand the foolish son sleeps during harvest time. He is lazy, and the opportunity passes him by. Compare again 6.6-11.
In other words we should take advantage when times are good, filling our barns, (or making our savings), so that if less prosperous days come on us we have sufficient for our needs. The lazy person does not do this. He prefers to sleep and hope for the best. ‘A little slumber, and a little sleep’ and poverty and want will creep up on him like a thief (6.10-11).
Notice the consequence in each case. The wise son earns the commendation of everyone. His barns are full and he is content, and admired by his neighbours who respect both him, and his parents who reared him. His neighbours nod their heads and say ‘they have a wise son’. This continues the theme of verse 1 where the father’s heart was made glad. In contrast the foolish son can only look at his half empty barns and be filled with shame, and bring shame on his father and mother. All their neighbours look at them and shake their heads, saying secretly to one another under their breaths, ‘they should have brought him up properly’.
The satisfying of the inner life of the righteous (verse 3) is necessarily a consequence of blessings coming from YHWH as now described. But blessings in Scripture are not just happy wishes, they have a potency given to them by God. They assume the activity of YHWH in bringing about their fulfilment. And through Him they impart potency to the recipient. Here they are seen to come on the head of the righteous, those who do what is right before God. They include spiritual, mental and physical blessings. These include the blessings within the inner man referred to in verse 3, and the blessings in verses 4-5 which are physical blessings, All these blessings have to be appropriated by response. In contrast, however, are those who do not receive such blessings. In verse 3 it is because their cravings are wrong, here it is because they are so involved in the ‘extreme behaviour’, including actual physical violence, which is fed by those cravings. Alternately it may indicate that instead of receiving blessings from YHWH they will receive violence. Thus the ‘violence, extreme behaviour’ could both issue from them as it takes possession of their mouths and come on them as they are overwhelmed by it.
This proverb is illustrated in 1.9-19. The righteous, who listen to their godly fathers and mothers, will receive a floral wreath on their heads, symbolic of joy and happiness (1.9; compare 4.9). They will be showered with blessings. They will receive abundant life (3.16-18; 8.35; 9.6; compare 1.33; 3.35). In contrast the mouth of the unrighteous is filled with talk of violence (1.11-14). Their evil intentions overwhelm their mouths. They reveal what they are by what they say. And so with perverted heart they devise evil, which comes out in their continually sowing discord (6.14, 19). But their violence will rebound upon them (1.18-19). We can compare 3.33 where YHWH blesses the habitation of the righteous, but the curse of YHWH is in the house of the unrighteous (evildoers, the ‘wicked’).
The consequence of a righteous man being blessed will be that when he dies, his memory too will be blessed. His life will have produced fruit among all who know him, and he will be long remembered with gratitude. He will be held in honour. Compare Psalm 112.6, ‘the righteous will be held in everlasting remembrance’. The memory of them will live on for ever. The dread of every Israelite was that he would die and his name be forgotten, that memory of him would cease to exist. That was why they kept genealogies and were desperate to maintain the family name. In contrast is the name of the wrongdoer. His name will gradually decay and be forgotten. It will be worm-eaten. No one will remember him for long. All that will remain will be a forgotten grave containing a decaying, worm-eaten body.
The final proverb in this group takes up the ideas in verse 1. The wise in heart will be a joy to their fathers because they receive and follow his commandments (compare 6.20). They walk in the way of wisdom. That indeed is what demonstrates that they are wise ‘in heart’ (in their minds, wills and emotions). In contrast is the scorner, here called a loudmouthed fool, who refuses to heed those commandments (compare 9.7-12). He is here described as a ‘fool of lips’, a loudmouthed fool who mockingly rejects the teaching of his father and mother, and can only bring grief to them. The misuse of the mouth or tongue is a regular way of describing wrongdoers (e.g. 2.12; 4.24; 8.13). Indeed, a wayward mouth was the sign of the ‘worthless man’ (6.12b, 17a, 10). But in the end such a man will ‘trip up’. For as he goes on his way with his proud boasting, he will inevitably continually stumble and fall, because he has nothing which guides him in the right way. And one day he will fall, never to rise again.
The Righteous (The Wise) Walk Uprightly, Are A Wellspring Of Life To Others, Store Up Knowledge, Accept Correction, Think Before They Speak And Act As Shepherd To Many. The Unrighteous Pervert Their Ways, Wink With The Eye, Hide Their Violent Attitudes And Their Slander, Stir Up Trouble, Reject Correction, And Are Of Little Value (10.9-21).
In this subsection we learn of the virtues of the righteous and the wise in contrast with the follies of the unrighteous (the evildoers) and the foolish, as a consequence of which the unrighteous face certain judgment. The righteous walk uprightly (verse 9), are a wellspring of life to others (verse 11), try to maintain peace and harmony (verse 12), speak wisely (verse 13), store up true knowledge (the knowledge of God) (verse 14), accept correction (verse 17), think before they speak (verse 19), and as a consequence act as shepherd to many (verse 21). In contrast the foolish pervert their ways (verse 9), wink with the eye (verse 10), hide their violent attitudes and their slanders (verse 11), stir up trouble (verse 12) and reject correction (verse 17. The result will be that they will be exposed (verse 9), they will fall (verse 10), they face imminent ruin (verse 14), they are considered do be of little worth (verse 20), and they face death (verse 21)..
The subsection may be presented chiastically as follows:
In A the one who perverts his way (and is therefore foolish) will be exposed, he will be shown for what he is by what happens to him, and in the parallel the foolish die for lack of understanding. In B the tongue of the righteous parallels the fool of lips. In C the mouth of the wicked conceals violence, and this contrasts in the parallel with the one who refrains his lips for a good reason. In D hatred is paralleled by hatred. In E the rod of correction contrasts with those who take note of correction. Centrally in F storing up parallels wealth and productivity, whilst ruin parallels ruin.
Walking uprightly (2.7; contrast 2.13) and being perverse (2.12, 15; 3.32; 6.14) and forsaking the paths of uprightness (2.13), were again two features of the Prologue. The one who walks uprightly (in integrity, blamelessly) can walk with confidence and sureness, and with no fear of being ‘found out’. He also knows that he will not trip up (contrast the fool in verse 8). What he says will feed many (verse 21) so that they too will walk in the way of the upright. But the one who turns from the straight way, choosing crooked paths (2.13), will eventually be exposed. The truth about him will become known to his undoing. He will be revealed as one who lacks understanding (verse 21). Compare 12.23 where ‘the heart of fools proclaims foolishness’.
Two types of waywardness are in mind here. The first is the waywardness of the smooth deceiver. He acts unkindly behind people’s back. He is untrustworthy and smooth, saying one thing to one person, and another to another. This indeed was one of the signs of the ‘worthless man’ (6.13). And in consequence he causes much sorrow. He brings much hurt on people.
The second is the waywardness of the loudmouthed fool (the ‘fool of lips’, compare verse 8b). He may be more straightforward, but he is boastful and goes on his way heedlessly, not caring about his behaviour. And as a result he will trip up and fall. Both the deceitful and the heedless can cause much trouble. We are not to see here that the deceitful man gets away with it. The assumption is that because he causes sorrow he will in some way be brought to account, in the same way as the loudmouthed man. Alternately ‘fool of the lips’ may here rather refer to making false or inaccurate statements (10.18), having a perverse mouth (6.12, 17a, 19), thus providing a parallel with the deceitful winking eye (see 6.12b, 13a).
Note the connection between verses 9 and 10. The one who deceitfully and maliciously winks with the eye does not walk uprightly, but rather perverts his ways.
The chiasmus draws attention to the parallel thoughts in verse 18. ‘Winking eyes’ and ‘lying lips’ go along with each other (6.12, 13, 17), and if ‘fool of lips’ is taken as indicating lying lips the parallel is even closer. Whilst those who wink their eyes as an indication of deceit, are in a very real sense slanderers.
The exact parallel of verse 10 with verse 8 has been seen by some as suspicious. And in fact LXX (the early Greek Old Testament) replaces it with, ‘a frank rebuke will make for peace’ (or ‘he who reproves boldly is a peacemaker’), which contains the important lesson that open and honest criticism, in contrast to deceitfulness, will often solve issues. But this is an obvious change, whilst repetition is not uncommon in Proverbs, and both MT and the Targums support ‘a loudmouthed fool (a fool of the lips) will fall’, which fits in adequately.
The thought of ‘the fool of lips’ (verse 10b) now leads into a proverb concerning the use of the mouth. The mouth of the righteous is a wellspring of life. It feeds and sustains people, and satisfies their deepest longings (their thirst). It produces life within them making them fruitful (one of the main uses of water was to water the crops and vegetation) and guides them into a wholesome life. It does good to all. It is like the Torah of YHWH (the law of God), it brings life wherever it goes (Psalm 1.2-3; Jeremiah 17.7-8; Joshua 1.8). The Wisdom of God could herself declare that, ‘all the words of my mouth are in righteousness, there is nothing crooked or perverse in them’ (8.8). It is no coincidence that ‘the instruction (torah) of the wise’ (13.14) and ‘the fear of YHWH’ (14.27) will also be said to be ‘a wellspring of life’, for the mouth of the righteous promulgates both. The idea of a wellspring is of plenty, and thus the righteous speak often of wisdom. They gush forth wisdom. They are in direct contrast with those of whom it is said ‘in the multiplying of words there lacks not transgression’.
Fruitful springs and gushing wells counted among the most precious things in life in the ancient world. They were places at which people gathered, and for which men fought. But they were limited to one place. On the other hand the mouth of the righteous goes about everywhere taking life wherever it goes. ‘Out of his innermost being flow rivers of living water’ (John 7.38).
In contrast the mouth of the wrongdoer ‘conceals violent behaviour’. He ‘hides hatred by lying lips’ (verse 18). His mouth deceitfully conceals (as did the winking eye - verse 10a) his attempts to get his own way, by emotional bullying, by false presentation, or even by physical violence. He is always full of false explanations and is suave while trying to force things on people or obtain things from people for his own benefit. His multiplying of words does not lack transgression (verse 19). Solomon might well have said, ‘beware of the mouth of the evildoer because you do not know what his aims are’.
The mouth of the wicked concealing violence (verse 11b) links with this proverb, both in the strife that hatred stirs up, for it could only do that through the mouth, and in the thought of concealment. In 6.12, 14, 19 it was the perverse mouth and heart of the worthless man which sowed discord among brothers, here it is the mouth of the hater which stirs up discord. And indeed hatred would be one of the mainsprings of the actions of the worthless man. The hater causes trouble wherever he goes, he is not happy until he has set people at each other’s throats. He brings division and discord. When men hate they behave irrationally. Hatred consumes them and they become irresponsible. They become ‘fools’. Even when they speak fair words they are not to be believed (26.25), for hatred makes men lie and deceive (26.24; compare 10.18). They ‘hide hatred with lying lips’ (verse 18).
But in stark contrast is love. Hatred conceals nothing, unless it is for a wrong purpose. But love conceals everything unless it is essential that it be brought out into the open. Love seeks to maintain peace, harmony and unity. And it does it, not by pretending that sin does not exist, but by determining not to bring it into prominence unnecessarily. It does not drag sins out into the open just for the sake of it, or in order to obtain vengeance. As 11.13 declares, ‘He who goes about as a tale-bearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.’ And in the words of James, citing this verse, we read ‘love covers a multitude of sins’ (James 5.20), although, having said that, James has more specifically in mind that this will be by turning men from their sins, which is something which love also seeks to do. He has perceived a second application of these words, that love conceals transgressions by turning the heart of the transgressor into the right way.
The love that conceals all transgressions is the love that ‘endures long and is kind, does not envy, does not vaunt itself, is not puffed up. It does not behave itself in unseemly fashion, or seek its own way or benefit, or allow itself to be provoked, or take account of the evil of others unnecessarily. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endure all things. It never fails’ (1 Corinthians 13.4-8a).
It should, of course, be noted that, as James has pointed out, that same love will gently seek to make men aware individually of their sins, but it will do so for a good purpose, in a way that avoids causing strife, and preserves harmony. It will deal with such matters privately, only making them public where there is no option, and then only for a good purpose (Matthew 18.15-17).
This proverb continues the thought of the previous two proverbs. The lips of the righteous are a wellspring of life (verse 11), precisely because the lips of the righteous are the lips of a discerning person, a man with insight, on whose lips are found wisdom. And while the hater speaks everywhere, deceiving and causing dissension, love speaks wisely seeking to avoid dissension, precisely because the one who loves is a wise and discerning person. Here is the explanation of the behaviour of the one who loves, he is a discerning person who has wisdom, and speaks accordingly. That, in Solomon’s eyes, is the hallmark of the discerning person, he is wise in God’s wisdom, and not lacking in understanding.
In contrast is the man who is void of understanding. He lacks a knowledge of the wisdom of God. For him the only hope is proper discipline, and in those days that meant the rod for the back. By that means hopefully he might be brought to his senses. He is in contrast with the one who is in the way of life who accepts correction (verse 17). Because he lacks understanding such a man tries to dodge reproof (verse 17). It should, however, be noted that Solomon elsewhere stresses that this use of the rod must be an act of love. It was to be a loving father who chastened his son with the rod when necessary (13.24), not a vengeful tyrant.
In those days when child psychology was unknown there were, in most families, few other methods of exerting discipline. For they enjoyed few pleasures to be withheld (compare Luke 15.29), and life was hard and chastening had to be swift. This advice has therefore served well through the ages. Today, if we are wise, we follow the same principle of the need for discipline, whilst happily at the same time being able to call on subtler and more time-consuming methods which would have been unavailable and impracticable in those days. Thus Solomon’s method, as long as reasonably and fairly applied, was a correct one for those days, although clearly open to abuse. At my school I was brought up on the cane, and to be honest, I always preferred it to detention. Much depended on how it was used. (At my school each teacher had his cane but it was usually, although not always, used reasonably and fairly). It is not, however, something that I would recommend in the modern day except in extreme cases, and then only reasonably, for we have better methods of discipline. In most cases physical punishment is unnecessary, and with much use loses its efficacy.
We now come to three verses which interplay with each other. They refer to ‘storing up’ (verse 14), ‘rich men’s wealth’ (verse 15), ‘the labour of the righteous’ (verse 16) and in contrast the ‘productivity of the unrighteous’. This last leads to sin (verse 16), and to destruction (verses 14, 15). But the wise man stores up ‘knowledge’ (verse 14), and therefore becomes truly wealthy (verse 15), for the labour of the righteous tends to life (verse 16). But we must recognise what is meant by knowledge. It does not mean ‘knowledge ‘ as modern man understands it, knowledge built up by means of a good education. In Proverbs knowledge is very much what is produced by the fear of YHWH (1.9), it is the knowledge of God and His ways (2.6-7). To hate knowledge is to not choose the fear of YHWH (1.29). Indeed the two are paralleled in 2.6. The knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (9.10). We shall henceforth refer to it as ‘true knowledge’.
Here then wise men seek out true knowledge (the knowledge of God). They treasure it, and apply it to their lives. They store it up for future use. And that is the reason that wisdom is on their discerning lips (Verse 13), that is why they have a love that covers transgressions (verse 12), that is why their mouth is a wellspring of life (verse 11), that is why they walk uprightly (verse 9).
In contrast are the foolish. They reveal how foolish they are by what they say, and this is slowly bringing them to ruin, which is ever on the horizon waiting to descend (see 1.24-28). There is hope for them if they respond to the rod, thus gaining understanding from their fathers and mothers and getting wisdom on their lips (verse 13), but otherwise they let hatred take hold of them and cause dissension (verse 12), they speak of violence and forceful behaviour (verse 11), they are loudmouthed and deceitful (verse 10), and they pervert their ways (verse 9). Note how regularly the mouth and lips are mentioned or assumed in line with the words of this verse. And the consequence of what they say and do is that they will be found out (verse 9), they will trip and fall (verse 10,), and they will come to final destruction (verse 14).
At first sight this proverb appears to be saying that the rich man is hugely better off than poor men because his wealth acts as a fortress or fortified city which protects him from the ruin or terror that besets poor men through their poverty. And as a generalisation this would undoubtedly be true. Rich men are protected from many of the problems that beset the poor. But if it does mean this it goes contrary to the tenor of much of what Proverbs teaches. For elsewhere the teaching of Proverbs is that far from being protected by their riches, rich men are brought down by them.
For example, ‘there is who makes himself rich, yet has nothing, there is who makes himself poor, yet has great riches’ (13.7). ‘Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death (11.4). ‘He who trusts in riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish as a green leaf’ (11.28). And very pertinently, ‘the rich man’s wealth is his fortress (fortified city), and a high wall in his own imagination’ (18.11). It will be noted that in this last case we have the very same words as are found in verse 15 here, but with a derogatory meaning, for the indication in 18.11 is that the idea that a rich man’s riches are his fortress is an illusion. It is ‘in his own imagination’. Furthermore in 18.10 Solomon had already declared, ‘the Name of YHWH is a strong tower, the righteous runs into it and is safe’ (18.10), which contrasted with the rich man’s wrongly held self confidence.
Now it is not unknown for proverbs to appear to contradict one another, for truth often has two sides, but it would be unusual (although not unknown) for it to do so in exactly the same words. However, there is the further point that if the proverb is merely teaching that the rich are better off than the poor it goes against the tenor of this whole chapter, the concentration of which is on the benefits accruing from wisdom, uprightness, and righteousness.
One way in which the idea that ‘the rich’ are better off than the poor might be defended is by comparison with 10.4, ‘he becomes poor who deals with a slack hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich (or ‘prosperous’)’, with the ‘rich’ indicating those who have become prosperous through hard work, and the poor indicating those who have become poor through laziness or inefficiency. But that is not the impression given, and it would still mean that the first clause was cited in two places with two contradictory meanings. and it would still go against the tenor of the passage. The emphasis in verse 4 is on the contrast between diligence and laziness, not on the contrast between rich man and the poor.
Two alternatives present themselves. The first is that its teaching is that neither the rich man nor poor men are secure from ruin, the rich man because his confidence is in the wrong place, being placed in uncertain riches, the poor because their poverty makes them vulnerable. In other words that it is basically saying that both the rich and the poor are in a sad situation because the only security that the rich man has is uncertain riches, whilst the poor men’s problem lies in their poverty. This would then tie it in with the meaning in 18.11. But even this might be cavilled against on the grounds that its teaching is that the poor as a class are in a hopeless situation, when elsewhere in Proverbs it is made clear that that is not the case. For example, ‘there is who makes himself poor, but has great riches’ (13.7). ‘The rich man is wise in his own conceit, but the poor who has understanding searches him out’ (28.11). And what is more the teaching of Proverbs concerning the poor concentrates mainly on how the better off are to be concerned for their needs (14.31; 19.4, 17; 21.13; 22.9, 16, 22; 28.8, 15; 29.7, 14). The exception is when speaking of those who have become poor through laziness (6.10-11; 10.4).
The second alternative is to take ‘rich man’ as the equivalent of ‘the righteous, the upright and the wise’ (it follows immediately after the description of ‘wise men’ and before a description of ‘the righteous’), and ‘poor men’ as the equivalent of ‘the unrighteous, the wayward and the foolish’ (it follows immediately after the mention of ‘the foolish’ and before a description of ‘the wicked, the unrighteous’), by seeing them as descriptions of ‘richness’ or ‘poverty’ in wisdom and understanding.
If we were to take the verse standing on its own this might appear a little far fetched. But it does not stand on its own and indeed in this regard we need to remember that every mention of the riches previously in Proverbs has specifically had in mind those who sought and responded to God’s wisdom, being rich in both wisdom and material goods (3.13-16; 8.18. 10.4). And we shortly learn that it is ‘the blessing of YHWH that makes rich’ (10.22), and that ‘it is the way of YHWH’ that is ‘a fortress to the upright’ (10.29). Thus we are justified in seeing at this stage an equation in Solomon’s mind between the rich and the wise, even if later on he recognises that there is another side to the story (11.4, 28; 18.11; 28.11).
And this can be seen as supported by the fact that the previous verse speaks of knowledge being ‘stored up’, thus making the wise ‘wealthy’, and the following verse speaks of the labour of ‘the righteous’ tending to ‘life’, with life being the wealth of the righteous produced by the labour. (We should also note that in the chiasmus the three verses 14-16 come together). As in verse 4 it was ‘riches’ that were produced by labour, riches are seen to equate to ‘life’. This interpretation would fit the verse firmly into its context, would make good sense, and would tie in with teaching elsewhere. If ‘the rich man’ means first of all ‘the one who is rich in wisdom’, and as a consequence became rich, so that ‘the rich man’s wealth’ is primarily in fact wisdom, and ‘poor men’ means those who are lacking in wisdom, and have therefore been negligent and have become poor (6.9-11; 10.4-5), so that the poor men’s poverty lies in their not having had wisdom, the teaching of the verse is consonant with the whole passage, and with the Prologue. The essence of the verse is that richness in wisdom delivers, whilst lack of it (foolishness) leads to ‘ruin’, the latter ‘ruin’ tying in with what is said in the previous verse, ‘the mouth of the foolish is impending ruin’.
This interpretation can be seen as obtaining further support from verses such as ‘there is who makes himself poor yet has great riches’ (13.7), and the probability that the riches in 8.18 themselves have largely in mind what are the true riches, ‘yes, durable riches and righteousness’.
Its weakness lies in the fact that it is not obvious on the surface (unless, of course, we are holding in our minds what has previously been said in the Prologue); it makes a different use of the clause repeated in 18.11 (although that might indicate an advance in Solomon’s thought); and in the fact that there may be an intended parallel between folly leading to ruin, and poverty leading to ruin, the poverty arising through the folly of laziness (verse 4). This latter could, however, be an argument both for and against (it equates folly with poverty). On the whole, therefore, this appears to be the best interpretation in context. Its strongest point is that it fits the tenor of the whole passage.
Solomon continues to think in terms of wealth and poverty. In verse 4 diligent labour led to riches, here the diligent labour of the righteous leads to ‘life’, a life of wellbeing and prosperity, which is therefore paralleled with riches. Note how ‘life’ is contrasted, not with ‘death’, but with ‘sin’. To ‘live’ is to walk blamelessly. The righteous man thereby becomes ‘rich’ because he has long life, prosperity, honour, and pleasant and peaceful ways (3.16-17). In contrast is the productivity of the unrighteous. Because of what he is, even his prosperity leads him into sin, and thence to trouble and destruction. Compare 1.32, ‘the prosperity of fools will destroy them’, and 15.6 ‘the productivity of the unrighteous is trouble’. We can contrast how in 3.14; 8.19 the ‘productivity’ of wisdom does the opposite. It is better than silver and gold.
The proverb is a reminder that it is not what we have and what we receive that determines what we are, it is how we use them. The righteous use their prosperity for good, the unrighteous use it for sin.
The question of chastening has already been introduced in verse 13. There correction was for the one who was void of understanding, who did not have the discernment that resulted in enjoining wisdom. Here it is in order to assist the one who walks in ‘the way of life’, so as to ensure that he remains true to God’s wisdom. He will recognise in the correction the chastening of YHWH (3.11). For the one who has God’s wisdom will welcome and respond to such correction, precisely because he does walk in the way of life and does not want to stray from it. He will know God in all his ways, receiving direction from Him (3.6). In contrast are those who reject reproof and forsake it (compare 1.25, 30). They despise the chastening of YHWH (3.11), will err and will wander in other paths.
Note the direct connection with verse 16 in terms of ‘life’, In verse 16 the labour of the righteous tends to ‘life’, for what he does will lead to peace and prosperity (compare 3.16-18), and such a person, who is in ‘the way of life’ will respond to correction by both YHWH and those whom He has put in responsibility over them (1.25; 3.11-12).
The thought of the two ways comes directly from the Prologue where such an idea was a common feature (see 2.13, 15, 18b, 19b, 20; 4.11, 14, 18-19, 26-27; 5.6, 21; 7.25, 27; 8.20; 9.6). Indeed YHWH’s commandments, instruction (Torah) and reproof are there described as ‘the way of life’ (6.23), so that those who do not walk in it are in the way of death (2.18-19; 5.5-6; in both cases contrasted with the path(s) of life; 7.27; 9.18).
Prominent in the earlier verses have been ‘the fool of lips’ (verses 8, 10), ‘the mouth of the wicked’ (verse 11) and ‘the mouth of the foolish’ (verse 14), whilst ‘hatred which stirs up strife (presumably verbally)’ (verse 12) is closely connected with the mouth of the wicked. This subject is therefore now taken up in more depth, and verses 18-21 all deal with the theme. The chiasmus required reference to hatred at this point.
We have just seen that ‘the productivity of the unrighteous is sin’ (verse 16), and that the unrighteous ‘forsake reproof’ and therefore ‘go astray’ (verse 17), and we are now given a striking example of this in the one who is filled with hate but disguises it behind lying lips, whilst indulging in slander. Like the one who winks with the eye (verse 10) he is two-faced. The hatred in his heart comes out in his distorting of the truth in his accusations against others, in order to bring them into disrepute by lies and innuendoes. Such people hate the righteous and the wise, and do all that they can to disparage them. And yet at the same time such a man seeks to pretend that his cause is just, and that he is only concerned with truth. He is slippery tongued. But he is excluded from the presence of YHWH (Psalm 15.2-3).
We have already come across ‘a lying tongue’ in 6.17 as something that God abominates (compare 12.22), along with ‘false witness’ and the ‘sowing of discord between family members’ (6.19), and now this is shown to be typical of the unrighteous and foolish. Foolishness is a theme of this chapter. Such people cause grief to their parents (verse 1), are ‘fools of lips’ who will trip up and fall (verses 8, 10) and bring impending destruction on themselves (verse 14). And there is no one more typical of the fool than the slanderer who spreads lies and impugns the characters of others, thinking that he will not be caught out. Let him therefore recognise that he is a ‘fool’, subject to the condemnation of fools. It is a call to ‘the fool’ to listen to reproof (verse 17) and think again.
It has been well pointed out that in the Hebrew text of this verse there are a proliferation of sibilant sounds in this verse which cannot be brought out in the English but deliberately give the impression of the whispered words being passed on by the slanderer.
Having given a particular example Solomon now extends the idea to all use of the lips. The foolish are free with their words. Possibly in mind here are the large number of words with which the slanderer will have sought to justify his position. But the thought now goes wider than that and is that all who constantly speak out and chatter away without thought, or even with predetermined malice, can be sure that they will transgress God’s wisdom and God’s Torah. They will come under condemnation. For as the Torah declared, ‘you shall not go up and down as a talebearer among your people’ (Leviticus 19.16). The fact is that men are sinful and will soon reveal that sinfulness in what they say. As Solomon says elsewhere, ‘Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him’ (29.20). While Jesus said, ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12.34). The point is that those who are not careful about what they say will soon find themselves saying what is against God’s commandments.
In contrast is the wise man, the man of understanding. He gives thought before he speaks and is careful with his words. He ensures that he is expressing God’s wisdom, and that nothing that he says can cause unnecessary offence or be construed as being false. He speaks up and shuts up. ‘God is in heaven and you are on the earth, therefore let your words be few’ (Ecclesiastes 5.2). We are reminded here of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘by your words you will be shown to be righteous, and by your words you will be condemned’ (Matthew 12.37).
Both the Old and New Testaments lay great emphasis on the tongue and its dangers, and indeed so often that it would be impossible to list the references, but see e.g. Psalms 15.2-3; 34.13; 50.19-20; 101.5a, 7b; Isaiah 28.15, 17; Zechariah 8.16; Matthew 12.34-37; Ephesians 4.25, 29; 5.4; Colossians 3.9; James 3.1-12; 1 Peter 3.10. For the tongue is the revealer of the heart.
The passage will now go on to illustrate this by contrasting the tongue and lips of the righteous, which are extremely valuable and fruitful, giving sustenance to many, with the worthless heart and lack of understanding of the unrighteous and foolish, which are of little value and result in death.
In consequence of the righteous man restraining his tongue (verse 19), when he does finally speak his tongue, and therefore what he says, ‘is as choice silver’, silver from which the dross has been removed. The picture is apposite, for the righteous man only speaks when he has removed all the dross from what he has to say. His words are therefore pure silver. They are valuable and telling. He is always worth listening to.
In contrast the heart of the evildoer, and therefore what he says, is of little worth. The mouth of the evildoer has already been contrasted with the mouth of the righteous in verse 11, where the mouth of the righteous was like a wellspring of life, whereas the mouth of the evildoer reveals the violence that is in his heart. Here it is being emphasised that what the evildoer says reveals what is in his heart. There is a play on words in that ‘tongue’ is leb whereas ‘heart’ is leson.
The subsection ends by indicating what the lips of the righteous achieve. They act as a shepherd to many, leading them and feeding them as they walk in the path of life. But, as we have seen, in order to do this the dross has had to be removed. It is because they speak sparingly that their words have such value. Nevertheless it is worth it because by doing so they bring God’s wisdom home to men’s hearts, and many are fed. In the words of Jesus to Peter, ‘Feed My sheep’. That is a command to us all.
In contrast are ‘the foolish’. This designation as a direct contrast with the righteous comes as something of a surprise for usually the righteous have been compared with the unrighteous (evildoers, the wicked) (verses 2, 3, 6, 7, 11, 16, 20), and the foolish with the wise (verses 1, 8. 10, 14). It is a reminder that the righteous are the wise, and the unrighteous are the foolish. Here the foolish have nothing to contribute to men, for they lack in understanding. In consequence they bring death on themselves by failing to feed on the words of the righteous. They thus have nothing to offer to others. They may have much to say. They may indeed speak many clever words. But their words are empty (verse 20), because what men see as wisdom is foolishness with God (1 Corinthians 1.20-21).
It should, however, be noted that the foolish and those lacking in understanding are not just written off. Solomon’s purpose is to face them up with their folly so that they might find wisdom and gain understanding (compare 8.5; 9.6).
The Blessing Of YHWH, Which Comes As A Result Of The Fear Of YHWH, Makes Rich Without The Bad Consequences That Can Result From Riches, And Produces True Joy, Whilst The Fool Suffers The Worst Possible Consequences (10.22-27).
The blessing of YHWH, which represents a positive active response toward His people, comes on those who fear YHWH, and will as a consequence have a long and profitable life. In contrast the fool and the unrighteous, who laugh at sin, will experience the judgments of YHWH, distress others, and have a shortened life expectancy.
The subsection can be presented chiastically:
Note that in A the blessing of YHWH makes rich, and He ‘adds’ no sorrow, and in the parallel the fear of YHWH brings about those blessings, and He ‘adds’ days. In B the fool makes fun of wickedness, and laughs at it, and in the parallel he himself turns out to be a misery to all because of his behaviour. In other words, he treats sin as a joke, but there is nothing funny about the effect of his behaviour on others. Centrally in C what the wicked fear will come upon them (compare 1.26b-27a) whilst in the parallel it is a fierce storm or whirlwind which will pass through making the wicked no more (1.27b).
Blessings on the head of the righteous have already been mentioned in 10.6. Now it is confirmed that this is as a result of the blessing of YHWH, that is, that positive movement of God on behalf of His people that bodes well for them. The blessing was always seen as moving God to act in the matter in question. And this blessing makes rich without any necessary bad consequences. The thought is not that the righteous will not suffer. We know from elsewhere that they sometimes will (3.11-12). It is that their wealth will come without painful effort on their part (although they will work hard (10.4) and will not be sluggards, contrast verse 25). It will be a consequence of their walking in wisdom. ‘eseb can mean pain or labour, or indeed painful labour. The idea is that when YHWH is active, whilst hard work is necessary, painful struggle is unnecessary. We only struggle painfully if we are not trusting Him.
But while YHWH is blessing the righteous, fools are laughing at sin. For the mark of ‘the fool’ is that he considers wickedness (the word contains the thought of evil devices) to be a joke. He laughs at it, and does not take it seriously. Indeed he enjoys it. He plots a negative course. In contrast the man of understanding rejoices in wisdom. He plots a positive course. His way ahead is sure. The fool finds great enjoyment in pleasing himself, the man of understanding in pleasing God.
But while the fool laughs at sin, he is well aware of the uncertainties of life. There is thus in him a fear of what the future holds. And this is what proves him to be a fool. He fears the future because he does not fear YHWH, whilst the wise and righteous man fears YHWH (verse 27), and is therefore unafraid. And the unrighteous does well to be afraid, because for him the future is bleak, whilst the righteous follower of God’s wisdom looks forward to the future with confidence knowing the God will fulfil his desires.
Note that in this and the following proverb we have a repetition of the ideas in 1.26-27 (although the actual Hebrew root for fear is different), and that is that what men fear will come upon them, among which are fierce storms, are sure to come. Thus evildoers have need to be afraid, for what they fear will eventually come on them, because God’s judgment on sin is certain. In contrast the righteous look to God in confident trust knowing that their desires will be granted. Their fear is not of coming events, but of YHWH, and they look ahead positively because they know that God will meet their desires. Note the differing verbs. The evildoer ‘is afraid’ of what is coming. He knows that the future is uncertain. The righteous, on the other hand, are unafraid. They come to YHWH and bring to Him their wants, and needs, and desires. For they trust in God. They thus know that God is on their side and will grant them their ‘desires’.
So both unrighteous and righteous will meet the storms of life. For one thing is sure in life and that is that fierce storms will come. But when they do come the unrighteous and the righteous will meet them in a different way. The unrighteous, who do not follow God’s wisdom, will be swept away. They will be no more, because they have no solid foundation (compare the foolish man who built his house on sand - Matthew 7.26-27). In contrast those who do follow God’s ways and are righteous, are sure of permanence and stability, for they are founded on an everlasting foundation. Indeed, they know that they are that foundation. They know that they will never be removed (verse 30).
Note the contrast with verse 23. There the unrighteous saw the doing of wrong as a cause for laughter. They saw sin as a joke. But here they themselves, seen in terms of a sluggard (compare 6.6, 9; 13.4; 20.4), are seen as the very opposite. The effects of their behaviour is not a joke. To those who send them to fulfil a responsibility they are like vinegar wine to the teeth and smoke to the eyes. They cause discomfort and pain. And this is because they are too lazy to carry out their responsibilities properly. Vinegar wine is wine that has become sour and acidic, and will attack the teeth, especially in the days when dental care was minimal. To drink it was to suffer unpleasantness and pain. Equally unpleasant and painful can be smoke in the eyes.
Especially in Solomon’s mind may be the example of official messengers who, through laziness and carelessness, conveyed their message incorrectly. It was common problem in those days. And it could cause great embarrassment, or even worse. Ptah-hotep had instructed many centuries before, ‘if you are a man of trust sent from one great man to another, adhere to the nature of him who sent you, give his message as he said it.’ The happy-go-lucky man of verse 23 was not the one to send as a messenger.
The subsection commenced in verse 22 with the blessing of YHWH which makes rich. It now ends with the fear of YHWH which prolongs days. In the Prologue both riches and long life were regularly seen as the reward for following God’s wisdom. See especially 3.16; 3.2; 8.18. The ‘fear of YHWH’ was that reverent obedience that a man showed towards an authoritative figure. It would regularly go along with genuine love. As a consequence of following YHWH’s wisdom, such a person would be preserved from many of the dangers and excesses of life (compare 1.10-19; 2.12-22; etc.). In contrast those who failed to follow YHWH’s wisdom would find themselves involved in them, and find their lives cut short. Solomon’s continual aim was to present a glowing picture of the future for those who followed his (and God’s) wisdom, and a bad end for those who did not. For the one there was a future in the presence of God (1.33; 2.21; 3.33b, 35a; 4.18; etc.; compare Psalm 16.11; 17.15). For the other there was finally only death and the grave world (2.18-19; 5.5; 7.27; 9.18).
The Righteous Have A Joyful Hope, Are Secure In YHWH And Are Firmly Established. They Speak Wisely And Acceptably, Hate False Practises, And Walk Humbly And With Integrity. The Unrighteous Have No Solid Grounds For Hope, Are Without Security, Perverse Of Mouth And Tongue, Embrace False Practises, And Walk Arrogantly And Perversely (10.28-11.3).
In this subsection we have a cameo of the lives of both the righteous and the unrighteous. The righteous look forward to a life of joyfulness (10.28), walk securely (10.29) and are firmly founded (10.30). They speak with the wisdom given to them by God (10.31), and speak acceptably (10.32), refuse to indulge in false business practises (11.1), and walk in humility and in integrity (11.2-3).
In contrast are the unrighteous. They have no solid grounds for hope (10.28), have no genuine grounds for security and are ever at the mercy of the winds of fortune (10.29, 30). They speak perversely and with false wisdom (10.31, 32), indulge in false business practises (11.1), walk arrogantly only to be humiliated (11.2), and will find that their unreliability and perverseness will destroy them (11.3).
The subsection may be presented chiastically as follows:
Note that in A the hope of the righteous results in joyfulness, (because the way of YHWH leads to joyfulness), but the hope of the unrighteous perishes, and in the parallel the integrity of the upright guides them (in the way that leads to joyfulness), whilst the perverseness of the treacherous destroys them. In B the way of YHWH upholds the upright, but frightens, or is ruinous for, workers of iniquity, and in the parallel the humble (and therefore upright) are upheld by God’s wisdom, whilst the proud, who resist God’s wisdom, come to shame. In C the righteous are firmly established and will never be removed, whilst the wicked will be removed, and in the parallel those who use false balances are an abomination to YHWH (and will therefore be cast out or cut off; compare Leviticus 18.27, 29; Deuteronomy 18.12) whilst YHWH delights in those who use true weights (and He will therefore not cast them out. Their position is secure). The same words ‘abomination’ and ‘delight’ are found in 11.20, where we read, ‘those who are perverse in heart, (and are thus of those who use false balances), are an abomination to YHWH, but such as are perfect in their way (and are thus of those who use true weights) are His delight’. Centrally in D the mouth and lips of the righteous are contrasted with the tongue and mouth of the perverse.
In 10.23 the fool obtained his laughter from his ill-doing, but it was a laughter which was short-lived until what he feared came upon him (10.24). But here the hope of the righteous is long lasting joyfulness and exuberance, for, unlike in the case of the evildoer, it will not perish. He has much to look forward to which is solid and permanent. His joy is of heart and soul and expresses itself exuberantly (Isaiah 55.12; contrast Jeremiah 50.11 where the exuberance of the unrighteous is temporary). Indeed, his joy is in God Whose wisdom he follows. As a consequence, in New Testament terms, he enjoys ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’ (1 Peter 1.8). In contrast is the expectation of the evildoer which is short-lived, for he has no real hope. Any hope he has will perish.
How we view this will depend on whether we take ‘way’ as the subject of the sentence, or ‘YHWH’. Either is possible from the Hebrew text, and in the end both come to the same conclusion, security and peace for those who look to YHWH.
On the first view the stress is on ‘the way of YHWH’. It is being made clear that the way that Solomon is inculcating is not just some idealistic or philosophical way, it is the way of YHWH. This ‘way of YHWH’ is the way of God’s wisdom, the way of His truth, the way of His Torah, for Solomon’s knowledge of wisdom teaching was firmly founded in the Torah of Moses (1 Kings 3.14). This is brought home in 2.5-9 where Solomon stresses that what he is bringing them is God’s wisdom given to men and that through it He is a ‘shield to those who walk uprightly’. In the Prologue this way is variously termed as ‘the path(s) of uprightness’ (2.13; 4.18), ‘the path(s) of life’ (2.19; 5.6), ‘the paths of the righteous’ (2.20), ‘the way of wisdom’ (4.11), ‘the way of life’ (6.23), ‘the way of righteousness’ (8.20), and ‘the way of understanding’ (9.6). In 10.17 it is ‘the way of life’. Those who walk in the way of YHWH (those who are straight and upright) are as safe as if they were in a strong fortress. While they walk in obedience to Him they have nothing to fear. And that way leads to a wholesome and fulfilled life. In contrast are the ‘workers of iniquity, for they hate that way, and ‘are frightened of it’ or alternatively ‘find it ruinous’. Either way they hate it.
If YHWH is the subject of the sentence, which is very possible, then YHWH Himself is the Fortress of the Righteous, He Himself is their Security so that they have nothing to fear, whilst the unrighteous, far from feeling secure are rightly frightened of Him, not with the reverent fear of a man towards his father, but in the way of being terrified of a stern Judge. They have no relationship with God except as the accused.
And because the upright are in the way of YHWH, which is their fortress, they know that they will never be moved. They have a permanent place under God’s Kingly Rule in the land which He has given them (compare 2.21). This is in contrast to the unrighteous who will have no permanent place in the land (or in the earth) (2.21). They will be cast out as an abomination. The warning of being cast out of the land was firmly given in Leviticus 26.33; Deuteronomy 28.64-67.
The promise is general not specific. Some of the righteous were removed from the land (Daniel 1). But they nevertheless found that their refuge was with YHWH. What was being promised was their secure future. Not all the unrighteous were cast of the land, but they were nevertheless finally removed from it by death. They had no lasting hope.
As so often in Scripture, what men are is revealed by what they say. The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom and godliness, he encourages what is true and right, but the tongue of the unrighteous speaks perversely, because he is perverse, and it is thus fitted only to be cut out. The cutting out of the tongue was possibly a punishment often inflicted on someone who was seen to have spoken falsely against authority. But the idea here is that their ability to speak perverse things will be removed. At the Judgment they will have nothing to say.
This proverb parallels verse 31. The lips of the righteous produce wisdom because they know what is acceptable in the divine economy. They know what is acceptable to God, and that is what they speak. In contrast is the mouth of the wicked. That only knows what is perverse. It may have much worldly wisdom, but it has no true wisdom, for it fails to take God into account, often deliberately. Indeed it may deliberately speak against what is acceptable to God.
There is a verbal connection of this proverb with the previous one in the use of the word ‘acceptable/delight’ (rason). In both cases YHWH shows favour because of what is fully acceptable in His eyes, whether it be true lips or true weights. The false balances speak to YHWH about their owner as loudly as the false tongue. Note how naturally Solomon includes the words ‘to YHWH’ . A general wisdom teacher would have omitted it. But to Solomon all judgments had to be made in the light of YHWH.
There is a similar verbal connection with 11.20 where the same words ‘abomination’ and ‘delight’ are found. There we read that, ‘those who are perverse in heart, (and are thus of those who use false balances), are an abomination to YHWH, but such as are perfect in their way (and are thus of those who use true weights) are His delight’. So the use of false balances and true weights are seen as revealing the hearts and moral worth of the users. This was recognised in the Torah which declared, ‘just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin shall you have. I am YHWH your God Who brought you out of the land of Egypt’ (Leviticus 19.36), and again, ‘you shall not have in your bag differing weights, a great and a small, you shall not have in your house differing measures, a great and a small, a perfect and just weight shall you have ---’ (Deuteronomy 25.13-15)
So whilst at first sight this proverb might appear out of place, as a statement of business practise, a moment’s consideration reveals that it is not. Solomon knew that YHWH was not concerned about weights and balances as such (accuracy was very difficult to obtain). What He was concerned about was the attitude of heart and mind that lay behind their use or misuse. Whereas in the previous proverb ‘the lips’ and ‘the mouth’ represented people, so here ‘the balance’ and ‘the weight’ represent people. So we could paraphrase this proverb as, ‘those who use a false balance are an abomination to YHWH, but those who use a true weight are His delight’. For the false balance represents the unrighteous who use false methods in business. They may do it by surreptitiously holding down the balances with their finger suggesting that they were giving due weight when they were not, or by deliberately having one pan heavier than the other, or by twisting the crossbow so as to affect the measurement. Or they may do it by deliberately using false or inaccurate weights. Compare the words of the Egyptian wisdom teacher Amenemope, ‘Do not lean on the scales or falsify the weights, do not damage the fractions of the measure’. Whichever way it was their balances, and therefore themselves, were an abomination to YHWH. The true weight represented those who sought to be scrupulously honest. They were seeking to utilise what they saw as an honest weight. Such people, and their weights, were a delight to YHWH.
We must remember that in those days weights were not exact. They would often be stones selected depending on their size, and then suitably shaped and marked as providing the approximate weight. Many such weights have been discovered, and they were rarely exactly the correct weight. Indeed in many cases there would have been no exact standard to measure them by. But there was nothing wrong in there being variances if an attempt was being made to use them genuinely (the owner would often genuinely have seen them as being of the correct weight). What constituted the crime was the misuse of them. So a man might knowingly have two differing weights marked the same, using one when buying and the other when selling, to his own advantage (Deuteronomy 25.13). Or he might knowingly use a lighter weight so as to make a large profit (compare Amos 8.5). It was such that was an abomination to YHWH.
In the same way the manufacturer of a set of balances would have great difficulty in ensuring that they balanced exactly. There would almost always be some slight deviation, and this as been demonstrated to have been up to as much as 6 per cent. The main issue was how the merchant dealt with that deviation when he knew of it (or even caused it by bending the crossbow). It was the dishonest merchant not the honest manufacturer who made them into ‘false balances’, by not taking account of the discrepancy, although there would, of course, have been deliberately dishonest manufacturers. But the final determinant of their honesty or dishonesty was the user. He could take into account discrepancies, or use them to his own advantage.
The word ‘abomination’ connects the verse back to verse 30. Removal from the land was regularly seen in terms of the practising of abominations (compare Leviticus 18.27, 29; Deuteronomy 18.9-12). So here the deliberate use of false balances is seen as so morally abhorrent that it justifies removal from the land, whereas the one who uses a true weight can be sure of his permanent acceptability.
The unrighteous, the fool and the scorner (21.24) is now thought of in terms of pride and arrogance (compare Deuteronomy 17.12), whilst the righteous and wise is equated with the humble and the lowly (compare Micah 6.8). The proud and arrogant have a high opinion of themselves, and are high in their own estimation. They continually want their own way, and they are unwilling to be corrected (see 13.18). But they await the judgment of YHWH and of men. For poverty and shame comes to him who refuses to be corrected (13.18). They will soon find themselves called on to give place and will be shamed (Luke 14.9). It is those who are of a humble and contrite spirit who are pleasing to YHWH (Isaiah 57.15), and will never be put to shame. Those who are proud and arrogant in their attitude towards God and man will soon be brought to shame, they will be dragged down from their high perch, for pride comes before a fall (16.18; Hosea 5.5). They will then truly discover that the way of YHWH is ruinous to the unrighteous (10.29). They will be shamed and humbled.
In contrast the humble (the wise and righteous and upright) show wisdom. They already see themselves as humble and lowly before God and men, and they take the lowest place (Luke 14.10). They have thus nowhere to fall. They are secure in YHWH (10.29).
The righteous and the unrighteous have now become the upright and the treacherous. The upright (the straight) will be guided by their integrity and loyalty to YHWH. Because they are true of heart it will prevent them from going astray. They thus have hope and look forward to the future with gladness (10.28). In contrast are the treacherous, those who are not straight and upright, for their very perverseness (twistedness, distortedness) will destroy them. As 10.28 puts it, ‘The expectation of the unrighteous will perish’. The term rendered ‘treacherous’, includes the idea of deceitfulness and its use may well have in mind the false balances spoken of in verse 1.
The Triumph Of Righteousness And The Sad End Of Unrighteousness (11.4-8).
These next five verses lay great emphasis on the advantages of righteousness (obedience to YHWH’s requirements). Righteousness delivers from death and judgment (verse 4), it directs men in the right way (verse 5), and it delivers them out of trouble (verse 6). In contrast the unrighteous face the day of wrath (verse 4), will fall by their own evildoing (verse 5), will be taken captive by covetousness (verse 6), and will discover that their expectations are groundless (verse 7) They will experience the day of trouble.
The subsection is closely connected with the previous one (note the upright in 3a, 6a, and the treacherous in 3b, 6b), and focuses on being ‘delivered, snatched away’ (natsal) from death (4b, 6b). It is also connected with the following subsection by reference to ‘deliverance’ (chalats) in verses 8a, 9b.
The subsection can be presented chiastically:
Note that in A the righteous man is delivered from death, but riches do not profit in the day of wrath, whilst in the parallel the expectation of the unrighteous proves useless and perishes. In B the righteousness of the blameless will direct his way, whilst the unrighteous will fall as a result of their own evildoing, whilst in the parallel the righteousness of the upright will deliver them, whilst the treacherous will be enslaved by covetousness and will take the place of the righteous, presumably in death.
This verse puts 10.15 into perspective. ‘Riches do not profit in the day of wrath.’ It is thus not the wealth of the wise man which is his fortress city, it is his righteousness. It is the fact that he walks in accordance with God’s wisdom. In 10.15 his wealth was simply a sign that he had so responded to God’s wisdom.
It will be noted that the riches mentioned here are more general. They apply both to the unrighteous (1.13 where they are hoped for riches; 6.31) and the righteous (8.18). Such riches are of no profit to anyone on the day of wrath, the day when troubles come on men from YHWH as illustrated in 1.26-31; 2.22; 3.25; 6.15; 7.22-23, 26-27; 8.36b; personalised in 6.34. In that day wealth will be of no value. Men’s expectations will die with them (verse 7). The only thing that will matter in that day will be the protection of YHWH. For the assumption is being made that YHWH will watch over the righteous and deliver them from death.
Solomon thus puts riches into perspective. There are the riches which abound to the righteous because they walk wisely with God, which are a by-product of their righteousness, and there are the riches which are obtained by wresting them from others (1.11-19) or by using false balances (11.1). In the latter case they are their main aim in life, not simply a by-product of living wisely. But in neither case will those riches benefit them in the day of wrath. God will then look at their hearts and see if they have walked with Him. It was this paradox that caused the disciples such problems in the case of the rich young ruler (Mark 10.23-31).
These two parallel verses describe the two different kinds of people who will face the day of wrath, and explains why each will be treated in the way they are. The blameless and upright will be guided by their righteousness in the right way and will be delivered, not by their riches, but by the One Who upholds the righteous. In contrast the evildoer (wicked) and the treacherous will fall as a result of their own evildoing. They have nothing by which to direct their way and find themselves stumbling and falling in the by-paths in which they find themselves (compare 7.26; 3.23; 4.12, 19; 2.13-15). Furthermore they will be taken captive as a consequence of their own greed and covetousness (compare 1.11-19; 11.1). Their greed has taken them over, and they will have brought the wrath upon themselves.
The unrighteous (‘wicked’) man is now brought into the foreground. He lives in expectation of good things, and especially so if he is strong and wealthy, but he will die and his expectations will perish, whatever prompts them. In that day all his vaunted strength will be of no avail. His riches will do him no good (verse 4).
Neighbours And Fellow-Citizens (11.8-14).
Solomon now deals with contrasts between the righteous and the wicked with regard to their neighbours and fellow-citizens. The first two verses in the subsection are connected together by the deliverance of the righteous, and can be seen together. The final two are connected by the damage caused by the despiser of his neighbour, who is a talebearer, and by the wisdom of the man of understanding who seeks to counter such tale-bearing. It will be noted that there is throughout an emphasis on speech. The godless man destroys his neighbour with his mouth (verse 9). When it goes well with the righteous the city rejoices, whilst the decline of the wicked is greeted with shouting (verse 10). The city is often overthrown by the mouth of the wicked (verse 11). He who despises his neighbour (verse 12) clearly does so with his mouth, for in the parallel the righteous holds his peace. The tale-bearer spreads his tales by mouth (verse 13). Wise guidance and counsel is given by mouth (verse 14). So out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
The subsection can be presented chiastically:
Note that in A the righteous man is delivered from trouble by the knowledge given to him by God, whilst the godless man steps right into trouble (takes his place) and destroys his neighbour with words, and in the parallel the guidance of many counsellors (giving true knowledge) provides safety, whilst people without guidance fall. In B the godless man destroys his neighbour with his words, whilst in the parallel the man who despises his neighbour and is a talebearer revealing secrets also clearly seeks to destroy his neighbour with is words. In C the city rejoices when it goes well with the righteous whilst in the parallel the city is exalted when the upright are blessed.
We have noted in previous verses how those who were in contrast with the righteous have been described. Apart from the regular ‘the wicked/unrighteous’, we have ‘the foolish’ (10.21); ‘the sluggard’ (10.26); ‘the workers of iniquity’ (10.29); ‘the perverse’ (10.31); ‘the treacherous’ (11.3, 6). These help to sum up the varieties of ‘unrighteous’ persons. Now we have here some who are described as ‘godless men’, (or, taking an alternative meaning, as ‘base deceivers’). These godless men and base deceivers are responsible for destroying their neighbours with their words.
It will be noted initially that the first line is explained by the fourth line. The righteous man is delivered out of trouble because of his ‘knowledge’, that is, his knowledge of God and His wisdom (1.4, 7; 2.5-6; 1.22; 2.10). He thus avoids the traps into which the evildoer plunges headlong (taking his place), and is himself delivered from trouble. (And through his wise guidance along with others, he can guide others into a place of safety (verse 14))
The evildoer meanwhile also ‘takes his place’ by using his mouth to destroy his neighbour, instead of giving him the good guidance that would help him (verse 14). With his deceptive mouth he destroys his neighbour, who is presumably one of the naive, or a fellow-evildoer. For where there is no wise guidance the people ‘fall’ (verse 14). It is a reminder that we need to beware whom we listen to. The evildoer acts on his own. He does not have the wisdom to restrain himself from malicious gossip and rumour. He thus runs headlong into ‘trouble’ (verse 8). And he has no wise guidance to offer (verse 14). Talebearing (verse 13) was specifically forbidden in Leviticus 19.16, something of which Solomon appears to have been aware. Thus by his actions the talebearer was defying God. He truly was a godless man.
The idea that the evildoer ‘takes the place’ of the righteous man, by going headlong into trouble (something which is assumed from the fact that the righteous man is delivered from it) may be intended to emphasise that not all can escape the inevitable coming wrath (verse 4). If some are to be spared by their ‘knowledge’ and wisdom then others must ‘take their place’. For in the end sin has to be paid for, it cannot be ignored. And the sacrificial system has failed because the sacrifices of the unrighteous are an abomination to God. So if the nation is under wrath, then that wrath must at least partially be propitiated by the sufferings of that part of the nation which has not responded to God, whose sacrifice have been unacceptable. This statement is not unique. We can compare 21.18 where, ‘the wicked is a ransom for the righteous, and the treacherous in the place of the upright’. The believing remnant of the people escape, but the unresponsive remainder pay for the sins of the nation which have not been covered by acceptable sacrifices (compare Romans 9-11). And this was certainly patterned in the future history of Israel.
Alternately we may see the verses as signifying that the righteous man will be delivered through his wisdom (and therefore manner of life) from the trouble into which the evildoer seeks to drag him by his lying rumours. But that is to ignore the fact that ‘the neighbour’ is said to be destroyed. Thus the neighbour is not the righteous man, for the righteous man is delivered. It is rather the evildoer’s naive ‘neighbour’ who is destroyed. In order, therefore, to interpret it like this we would have to paraphrase as, ‘seeks to destroy’.
What has been said above leaves hanging in the air the question as to how the sins of some could be placed on others who were even more sinful? How could the evildoer take the place of the righteous? One answer is to be seen in the fact that the gap was being made up by the offerings and sacrifices of the righteous. Thus Israel, seen as one nation, had had a partial atonement made for them. But how was the remainder to be paid for Israel as a whole? The answer is given here, by the deaths of those whose sacrifices had been unacceptable. This would be seen in that in the future both righteous and unrighteous would be carried away into exile, with Israel as a whole under the curse. Thus if the righteous were to be delivered the atonement for the whole of Israel would be paid for by the deaths of the unrighteous, making up for what was lacking in the sacrifices. They would take the place of the righteous.
But as the writer to the Hebrews accurately said, ‘how could the blood of bulls and of goats take away sins?’ We are therefore left with the problem of ‘partial satisfaction’. The final answer, of course, lies in the New Testament, for the verse is in interesting contrast with 1 Peter 3.18, where ‘the Messiah also suffered for sins once, the Righteous One for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.’ It was in the end because He died as the Righteous One that the unrighteous righteous can be brought to God and delivered from trouble. As both God and representative man He provided full satisfaction. It is the divine paradox that it was finally not evildoers, but the One Who was wholly perfect, Who took our place.
We now have two proverbs centring on the relationship of the righteous to city dwellers. The city rejoices when it goes well with the righteous, that is when the righteous prosper, because it means that times are good and pleasant. It means that justice is being maintained, and that wrongdoing is being dealt with. It means that life is pleasant and fruitful (1.33; 3.10, 16-18, 35; 8.13-19). The verb ‘rejoices’ always indicates rejoicing because YHWH is triumphing.
And when evildoers are dealt with there are shouts of joy. For that too will result in the triumph of YHWH (compare the use in Psalm 118.15, ‘Listen, the sound of the victory shout in the tents of the righteous’). The thought is not of vindictiveness against individuals, but of joy because a general trend of evildoing has been thwarted. True Christians do not gather to watch people being put to death in order to enjoy the spectacle. But they do rejoice when evil is properly judged and dealt with.
‘The blessing of the upright’ could indicate either their being blessed by YHWH, or their blessing the city as they worship and pray. The parallel with ‘the mouth of the wicked’ suggests the latter. The idea of the former has already been upheld in verse 10. Thus when God’s people pray and worship truly, lifting up the city before God, it is ‘built up’. It is made strong and vibrant. But when the mouth of the wicked prevails it is ‘torn down’. Such people have no wise guidance to give (verse 14). Evil words and evildoing destroy the very fibre of the city. When the wicked prevail, injustice also prevails, and wrongdoing triumphs.
We now have two verses which apply the general thought in verse 11b to personal situations. Men are seen to be responsible for both their cities and their neighbours. These two verses are then followed by a third verse illustrating the fact that the despiser of his neighbour as one who acts on his own, has no wise counsel to give, and contrasting him with the man of understanding who agrees together with his fellows and can therefore give safe counsel.
The basic idea of this verse is that a man who shows that he despises his neighbour by what he says about him (unlike the righteous he does not hold his peace) demonstrates his own lack of wisdom. Whether he does it by lying rumours, false testimony, or inciting dissension (the traits of the worthless man in 6.16-19), he is destroying the very fabric of society and demonstrates that he has no wise counsel to give. Indeed multiplied his attitude will result in verse 11b. In contrast the man of understanding, the righteous man, refuses to stir up trouble with his words. He holds his peace and seeks quietly to give counsel and remedy matters, so that wellbeing will triumph.
And verse 12 is true because gossipers, talebearers and slanderers reveal secrets which would be better not stirred up. They cause dissension and bitterness (6.14b, 19b). There is no one more devastating than the one who passes on confidences, often in order to stir up trouble. But the one who has a faithful and loyal spirit tries to settle things without raising a fuss. He does not bring things out into the open unless it is necessary. He can be trusted with confidences, and he takes counsel with others (verse 14). He settles things quietly thus maintaining harmony. Notice the contrasting attitudes of mind. The talebearer reveals that he ‘despises’ his neighbour (verse 12a). His very motives are wrong. He forgets that God is the Maker of them all (14.31; 17.5; 22.2). But the man of understanding has a loyal spirit. He is concerned for the good of all. He is true and reliable, and therefore trusted by all.
The situations described above are now summed up by indicating why the city and the neighbour can only find help from the righteous and upright, and should certainly not depend on evildoers. It is because it needs the combined help of wise counsellors.
The evildoer destroys his neighbour (verse 9) or his city (verse 11), because by his words he causes disharmony and injustice. He has no wise guidance to give (verse 14), and therefore the people fall. For he despises them and is too busy passing on his tales and slandering people (verse 13) to have time for anything else, with the result that the city is divided and weak. He is thus not to be trusted.
In contrast the righteous are delivered though ‘knowledge’, that is, the knowledge of God and His ways (verse 9); they are a sign, when flourishing, that all is well (verse 10); by their true prayer and worship they make the city strong (verse 11); they are wise concerning what they bring into the open (verse 12); and because they are faithful in spirit prevent the spread of rumours and slander (verse 13). They are thus suited to offer wise guidance as a group, making the city strong and safe (verse 14).
The special lesson of this verse is that it is better to rely on a group of wise counsellors, than it is to listen to an individual. For it is more likely that they, acting in unison, will come to a safe conclusion. A committee may be cumbersome, but it guards against the dangers of individualism, and especially against the danger of one person causing trouble for all as a consequence of vindictiveness or self-conceit.
Further Contrasts Between The Righteous And The Unrighteous (11.15-23).
In this subsection we again have the continual contrast between the righteous, the gracious, the merciful and the blameless on the one hand, and the unrighteous, the violent, the perverse and the indiscreet on the other.
The righteous hates suretyship (verse 15), obtains honour (verse 16), does good to his own inner self (verse 17), sows righteousness and has a sure reward (verse 18), will attain to life (verse 19), is a delight to YHWH (verse 20), will be delivered (verse 21), and desires only good (verse 23). The unrighteous acts as a surety and will smart for it (verse 15), obtains ill-gotten riches (verse 16), troubles his own flesh (verse 17), earns deceitful wages (verse 18), pursues evil to his own death (verse 19), is an abomination to YHWH (verse 20), will be suitably punished (verse 21), and can only expect wrath (verse 23).
Note that for the first time since 10.1 women are directly brought into the equation (verse 16, 22). We must, however, recognise that, whilst Solomon appears to direct his word towards men as those most directly involved in life and politics, he would also include women as having a responsibility to respond to wisdom. Both ‘man’ and ‘he’ can regularly include both sexes. (In Genesis 1.27 ‘man’ (adam) included both male and female). Indeed, he depicted Wisdom as a woman. Consider, for example, how he firmly sees the wise mother as having responsibility alongside the wise father (1.8-9; 4.3), which could only be because she had absorbed wisdom and the Torah.
The subsection can be seen chiastically:
As 6.1-5 has suggested Solomon saw suretyship as an evil. This was because in the Torah (Law of Moses) God had exhorted that loans be given freely to the poor without strings attached (Deuteronomy 15.7-8). Thus as with the payment of interest (Exodus 22.25; Leviticus 25.36-37), to take commission from either an Israelite or a stranger dwelling in the land (Leviticus 19.34), for acting as a surety, was frowned on. The one who gives surety for a stranger would only do so for reward, thus Solomon sees him as a fool, because of the risk he takes, and unrighteous, because it went against God’s requirements. In contrast those who hated suretyship were the righteous and upright. So in A the unrighteous will smart for what they have done (they will in the parallel come under God’s wrath), whilst the righteous, who hate suretyship, are secure. In the parallel the desire of the righteous is only for good (they thus reject suretyship), while the wicked expect wrath. In B the gracious woman who obtains honour is contrasted with the fair woman who is without discretion. In C the merciful man thereby does good to himself, whilst the cruel are headed for trouble, and in the parallel the seed of the righteous will be delivered, (because their father is merciful and has done good to himself) whilst the evil man will not be unpunished. Centrally in D are three verses which demonstrate that the righteous and upright will gain by it for they are a delight to YHWH, whilst the unrighteous, the pursuer of evil and the perverse in heart will receive their reward.
The one who acts as surety for a stranger, that is, someone who was not related, ‘will smart for it’. He will come under God’s judgment and be punished. For the righteous man hates suretyship and he will thereby be kept secure by God. Note that the one who acts as surety is paralleled with ‘violent men’ (verse 16b), ‘one who is cruel’ (verse 17b), and ‘the unrighteous’ (verse 18a). In contrast the one who hates suretyship is paralleled with ‘a gracious woman’ (verse 16a), ‘the merciful man’ (verse 17a), and ‘the one who sows righteousness’ (verse 18b).
It is quite clear from Proverbs that Solomon saw suretyship as something disapproved of by God, although not as putting the surety beyond the pale (he provides a way out for him). In 6.1-5 he had urged ‘his son’ not to act as a surety, and to have himself released from its obligations at all costs. Now he makes clear that to act as surety for a stranger will have bad consequences, presumably because God frowns on it, whilst the one who hates suretyship is secure. He is doing what is pleasing to God.
This is only understandable in the light of the teaching of the Torah (the Law of Moses). There loans were to be made on compassionate grounds (Deuteronomy 15.7-8) and without charging interest (Exodus 22.25; Leviticus 25.35-37). Offering suretyship for a commission would therefore have been frowned on. Apparently it was acceptable for a poor man to offer his cloak as security, but that was seemingly short term so that he could buy food, for it had to be restored at sunset so he could sleep in it (Exodus 22.26). Presumably he could by that time have worked the debt off. This last, however, was not what was in Solomon’s mind for he was thinking of suretyship that could ruin a man.
And these instructions were not only as regards Israelites, but were equally to be applied to strangers living among them (Leviticus 19.34). The only distinction was that the stranger did not benefit by the seven year release (Deuteronomy 15.3). He was not a holder of land in perpetuity. In Solomon’s day his whole kingdom may well have been seen as the area in which the laws applied, although in some matters he did distinguish between Israelites and non-Israelites (1 Kings 9.20-22).
So being a surety is here seen as the act of an unrighteous man, a fool, whilst refusing to act as a surety was seen as the act of a wise man, a righteous man. It is paralleled in the chiasmus with the desire of the righteous man which is good (among other things he does not act as surety), and the expectation of the unrighteous which is wrath. He can expect to smart for what he has done.
Women are not prominent in the Book of Proverbs, but nor are they excluded, a balance which we might have expected in those days. In the Prologue Wisdom was regularly depicted as a woman, and the influence of the mother was seen as important (1.8; 4.3; 6.20), whilst the faithful wife was to be enjoyed and treasured (5.15-20). And this continues to be the case (10.1; 12.4; 14.1a; 18.22). It may well have been his acknowledgement of the influence of good women on growing children (experienced by him as a child - 4.3b), which made him depict wisdom as a woman. This counters the fact that adulterous and immoral women were regularly depicted as a source of men’s downfall (2.16-20; 5.3-14; 7.5-27; 9.13-18), and that foolish and contentious women were seen as able to destroy a home (14.1b; 21.9). He saw both sides of the question.
Here in this subsection we have a contrast between such women. On the one hand there is ‘a gracious woman’ (verse 16a) and on the other ‘a fair woman who is without discretion’ (verse 22b). The former resembles the wise mother and good wife, the latter the indiscreet, foolish and contentious woman who simply stirs up trouble. Solomon is bringing out that in women graciousness is more important than beauty (compare 31.30). The distinction in the context of Proverbs reminds us of Paul’s exhortations in 1 Timothy 2.9-10; 3.11; 5.13-14; 2 Timothy 3.6; Titus 2.4-5.
The woman who is gracious is honoured by all who know her, and is well thought of in society. She is well valued, and is of those who are righteous and wise. She is gracious and gentle and clearly depicted in 31.10-31. In direct contrast are violent and forceful men. They may become wealthy, but they do so at the expense of honour and reputation. They are of those who are unrighteous and foolish. Their riches will not profit them in the day of wrath (11.4), and meanwhile they are dissatisfied within themselves (verse 17b). Macho man is as nothing compared with virtuous woman.
The same contrast was found in 1.11-33 between violent men, who sought to entice the naive into sin, and woman Wisdom who guided the naive in the right way. Solomon lays great emphasis on the influence of good women. Whilst the violent and forceful often shape society from the outside, to its detriment, gracious women shape society from the inside. It is, of course, ironic that Solomon was the perfect example of the former with his forced levees and high taxes which would have caused hardship to many families.
In contrast to the violent and forceful in verse 16 is the merciful and kind man (so not all men are to be written off). He is the man of chesed (‘covenant love’). He not only benefits others by his compassion, but he also does himself a great deal of good. ‘He does good to his own inner self’. He enjoys peace and contentment and a sense of wellbeing.
The cruel man, on the other hand, may, like the violent, become wealthy, but he does so at the expense of his own inner peace. He ‘troubles (disturbs) his own flesh’, making himself uneasy and dissatisfied and morally discontent. The contrast with ‘does good to his own self’ suggests that ‘troubling his own flesh’ also refers to his own personal inner experience. But it may also be seen as including the fact that he can bring violent repercussions on himself and on his family.
For the idea of ‘troubling his own flesh’ compare Ahab’s words to Elijah, ‘Is it you, you troubler (disturber) of Israel’, to which Elijah replied, ‘it is not I who have troubled Israel, but you --’ (1 Kings 18.17-18). Achan had also troubled Israel (Joshua 7.25). In these cases to ‘trouble’ meant to bring devastating repercussions on.
The contrast between the inner self and the flesh used in the same context is interesting, suggesting a significant difference spiritually between the truly righteous and the unrighteous, indeed almost, but not quite, in terms of spirit and flesh. One is ruled by his inner self which is at peace, the other by his outer flesh which is ever discontented. That we are not to apply the terms too literally comes out in the next verse. Solomon is dealing in metaphors.
The violent, the cruel, and the unrighteous not only ‘trouble their own flesh’, but they also earn for themselves ‘deceitful wages’. They gain nowhere. They may appear to be achieving value, but in the end their ‘wages’ are revealed as unsatisfying and not worth what they have cost. The deceitful wages are, of course, representative of all that the unrighteous obtain for themselves. They may think that they are doing well by their behaviour, but they will learn that it has all been an illusion. The deceivers are deceived about what they will receive.
Meanwhile the merciful man sows righteousness, and eventually receives a sure reward. Sowing involves scattering widely, it depends on God for increase, and where successful it achieves great returns. So does the man of righteousness sow his righteous acts and behaviour widely, look to God for any increase, and have confidence that he will have great returns.
Note the interesting contrast between the quick returns coming to the unrighteous, ‘wages’ which would be paid at once by men, and the slower but more certain returns of the righteous who sow and then wait for God to give the increase, an increase which may be slow, but is sure and well founded. Man looks at the short term. God looks at the long term.
And in the end those issues are ones of life and death. The one who is steadfast in righteousness attains to life (compare 3.16; 4.4; 10.16, 17, 27). He finds prosperity, peace, wellbeing and security (1.33; 3.2, 16-18, 35; 4.18; etc.). And the continual contrast with death suggests that Solomon saw life as going on beyond the grave (compare 15.24; Psalm 16.11; 17.15; 23.6). In the words of Jesus, those who believe in Him will obtain good things in this life, and will inherit eternal life (Matthew 19.29).
In contrast those who pursue evil do so ‘to their own death’. They ‘die’ in this life, losing the wholesomeness of life (verses 17b, 18a), and then finally sink to the world of the grave, to eternal death (2.18-19; 5.5; 7.27; 9.18); 10.2; 11.7).
An alternative translation is, ‘Behold the righteous attain life.’ But it makes little difference to the sense.
These two proverbs are to be seen together. The perverse (twisted) in heart are an abomination to YHWH and will not go unpunished, those who walk blamelessly (straightly) are His delight, and their seed will be delivered. Thus as so often in Proverbs God is seen to divide mankind into two. On the one hand are the perverse in heart, always at cross-purposes with God and His ways, and seeking to please themselves. And it is not a temporary blip, but an attitude of heart. On the other are the blameless, those who walk in His wisdom and seek to please Him. They walk in a way that fills Him with delight. What they are comes out in their walk. So the one are a hateful thing to Him, the others are His delight.
Note also how the unrighteous go on their way ‘hand to hand’. They are all in agreement about their attitude towards God’s wisdom. They combine their forces against God. They are all in it together (compare 1.11-19). And they will all be punished together. In contrast the blameless saves not only himself but his seed. His whole family will be blessed. Godly families have always been the foundation on which godliness has flourished. They perpetuate godliness from one generation to another even when times are evil (although, of course, not unfailingly). The evil man finds his ‘family’ in terms of those who unite with him in evil. In contrast the family of the righteous (his seed) are close knit and support each other in godliness.
The ring of gold was a nose ring of a kind regularly worn by women in the Ancient Near East. Eliezer, Abraham’s steward, gave one to Rebekah (Genesis 24.22). The ring would have a small breach in it with two pointed ends, and would fit on the nose. It was a sign of wealth. The pig, of course, was seen as an ‘unclean’ animal. And the point is that you can put such an expensive gold ring in a pig’s snout, but it is totally incompatible. It will not remedy the pig’s defects or make it clean. You cannot turn a pig into a beauty. What could have been so beautiful in the right surroundings (for example on the woman’s nose) has been debased. No one will stop to admire it. People will only wonder at the waste. (Incongruously there are some today who would put a gold ring in a pet pig’s snout, but that simply reveals their extravagance. The pig does not appreciate it in the least).
In the same way a beautiful woman is a contradiction to herself if she is not beautiful at heart. If she is ‘without discretion’, in other words does not behave wisely, her beauty counts for nothing. Her outward form is like the gold ring, but her inward heart is like the pig’s snout. The two are incongruous. Many a beautiful woman has spoiled herself by her bad temper, her wilfulness, and her total selfishness. Not all the beauty in the world can make up for such traits. In the end they will only disgust. What a contrast this woman is with the gracious woman of verse 16a who is honoured by all.
This verse parallels to some extent 10.28, ‘the hope of the righteous will be joyfulness, and the expectation of the wicked will perish,’ but now instead of expressing the hope of joyfulness to come, it expresses the desire for what is good, and instead of expectation perishing, it results in wrath (compare 11.4).
So this subsection comes to an end with a summary of the situation for the righteous and the unrighteous. The righteous desire only what is good. Their hearts are set on goodness. In consequence their expectation is also good. They are honoured by men (verse 16a), satisfied at heart (verse 17a), will receive a sure and abundant reward (verse 18b), attain to life (verse 19a), and are a delight to God (verse 20b). They know that they will finally be delivered (saved), along with their families (verse 21b).
In contrast are the unrighteous. Their only expectation is the wrath of God (compare 11.4). They may obtain riches (verse 16b), but these will bring them no lasting joy (verse 17b). What they will earn by their ways is in fact deceptive, it is not as good as it at first seems (verse 18a), whilst the consequence of their behaviour is death (verse 19b). Indeed, they are an abomination to YHWH (verse 20a), are destined for punishment (verse 21a), and are like a gold ring in a pig’s snout (verse 22a), which is where they belong. They are ostentatious and misplaced. Their expectation can only be wrath, in other words, the wrath of God.
Generosity Of Spirit Will Bring Blessing And Plenty, But Niggardliness Will Bring Want And Cursing (11.24-26).
We now have three proverbs in a minimal chiastic form which deal with the question of generosity and niggardliness. Those of a generous spirit will prosper and be blessed. Those who are niggardly will themselves suffer want and be cursed.
This can be presented chiastically:
Note that in A there is one who generously scatters his kindness, with the consequence that he becomes even better off, and in the parallel there is the man who sells his grain at a time of want rather than keeping it in the family. In B the one who withholds more than is necessary will find that his parsimonious attitude results in want for himself, and in the parallel the one who withholds grain at a time of hunger will find himself cursed. Centrally in C the one who is liberal will become wealthier, and in the parallel the one who ‘waters’ others will himself be ‘watered’.
11.24 ‘There is that scatters, and increases yet more,
There is a connection here with verse 23 where the desire of the righteous is only for good. This is now expressed in more concrete form. The picture is of a man of generosity and compassion who liberally dispenses his kindness towards others without restraint, and the consequence of this is that he finds himself even wealthier. We can compare the proverb, ‘cast your bread upon the waters for you will find it after many days’ (Ecclesiastes 11.1). The thought is not of profligacy (it is not true of all who scatter) but of open-hearted generosity. ‘Withholding more than is meet’ in the second part suggests that public duty is in mind. In Israel the wealthy were seen as having a responsibility to the poor. Thus this man goes well beyond his public duty. In contrast is the one who is tight-fisted, and clings on to all that he has. He fails to fulfil his public duty. As a consequence he may well later find that he himself is in want. Note that he is not being called on to give sacrificially. He rather withholds more than can be considered reasonable given his circumstances. He is niggardly. Thus when he himself is in need no one is concerned for him or can be bothered with him.
The central point in the chiasmus expresses a similar idea in two different ways. The one who is liberal (one who bestows blessing) will find that he himself will enjoy ‘the fat of the land’ (Genesis 45.18). To be ‘made fat’ is to enjoy ample provision, to enjoy the very best, to prosper greatly (compare Deuteronomy 31.20).
‘He who waters’ may refer to the wealthy landowner who uses his irrigation resources in order to supply water to the land of those who are not blessed with his resources, or who opens his springs to others so that they and their herds can refresh themselves at them (it was quite common for ample springs to be privately owned and limited to the use of the owner(s)). Or it may have in mind the watering of the parched in Israel, that is ‘the poor’ (compare Isaiah 41.17). Whichever way it is, the idea is that his efforts will be rewarded by himself prospering and being refreshed. What he dispenses will return to him. Generosity will be rewarded. We are reminded of the words of Jesus, ‘with what measure you mete it will be measured to you’ (Matthew 7.2b)
The thought here is of the wealthy man or trader who has filled his barns or his storage cisterns (huge grain pits have been discovered at Gibeon and Megiddo) only for a time of want to come along. Those less fortunate find themselves short of food and look to those more fortunate to sell them grain from their own ample resources. The one who withholds grain in those circumstances will find that the people who are starving will curse him, especially if he does it with the hope of increasing the price. But on the head of the one who willingly sells grain will come blessing, which includes the thought of increasing prosperity in the future.
It is noteworthy that both men cause people to look to God, but on the one hand those who are deprived do so by calling down curses because of the inhumanity of the person involved (thus wishing want and hunger on him), whilst on the other hand those who are provided for call down blessing because of the man’s humanity (thus wishing that he will be prospered in future).
One good example of this was Joseph who on behalf of Pharaoh stored ample grain in times of plenty, in order, when the time of want came, to be able to sell it to those who were without grain because of famine (Genesis 41.46; 42.4).
The Righteous Seek What Is Good, Flourish Because They have True Life, Producing Its Fruit, And Will Be Recompensed on Earth. The Unrighteous Search After What Is Bad, Trust in Riches, Are Brought Low, And Also Receive Their Due Recompense (11.27-31).
The ‘the one who --’ of verse 26 now spurs a series of ‘the one who --’ statements (in translation). ‘The one who diligently seeks good’ (verse 27a), ‘the one who searches after evil’ (verse 27b), ‘the one who trusts in his riches’ (verse 28) and ‘the one who troubles his own house’ (verse 29), followed by a secondary ‘the one who is wise captures hearts’. Thus there are two positives and three negatives in chiastic form We could put them together and note that the one who diligently seeks good captures hearts, and the one who searches after evil and trusts in his riches troubles his own house. Both sentiments are true. Seeking good has positive benefits, searching after evil and trusting in riches has negative consequences.
These verses are presented chiastically:
Note that in A the diligent doer of good seek favour, while the searcher after evil finds evil, and in the parallel the righteous will be recompensed, as will the doer of evil. In B the righteous flourish like a green leaf, and in the parallel the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life. Centrally in C the one who troubles his own house inherits nothing, and in the parallel he becomes a servant.
The contrasts here all connect with each other. On the one hand the righteous, the wise, diligently seek what is good (wholesome and morally right), they do not trust in riches but flourish because they have abundant life, they enjoy prosperity (they hire bondsmen), they bring blessing to everyone (their fruit is a tree of life), and they will be recompensed on the earth. In contrast are the unrighteous, the unwise, who search after evil (what is unwholesome and morally wrong), they trust in riches rather than YHWH, they bring down trouble on their own house, and lose what they have and themselves become bondservants, and they receive their due recompense.
This proverb can be compared with verse 23, ‘the desire of the righteous is only good, but the expectation of the wicked is wrath’. But here the desire has turned into action, he not only desires ‘only good’ (in contrast with those whose motives are dubious), but diligently seeks ‘good’, a good which has more reference to positive public good (compare 3.27), for he is seeking the welfare of others in contrast with the one who seeks to harm others. Furthermore he here obtains a benefit, the favour of YHWH. The idea of the latter is not that he is diligently seeking good in order to obtain favour, but that by diligently seeking good he is, as an unsought consequence, seeking favour. God is such that his seeking good necessarily means that he is seeking favour with God. He is bringing himself under His good pleasure.
In contrast the one who searches after evil, looking for evil things to do (compare 1.16) will discover that evil comes to him. Instead of receiving the favour of God he will come under His approbation, and in some way suffer accordingly. His name will rot (10.7), he will fall (10.8, 10; 11.5), he will experience his worst fears (10.24), calamity will come on him and he will be no more (10.25), his expectation will perish (10.28), he will be destroyed (11.3), he will die (11.19), he will experience wrath (11.23).
Here the one who trusts in riches is paralleled with the one who searches after evil (11.27) and the one who troubles his own house (11.29). Part of his search after evil (wrongdoing, what is not good and wholesome) is in order to build up illicit riches (illicit because he is contrasted with the righteous). Compare 1.11-19. And like the one who searches after wrongdoing he will fall by his own wickedness (3.5). The context may suggest that, unlike the green leaf, he falls as an autumn leaf that has crinkled and died. Or the reference might be to the fall of him and his house (verse 29), or to falling by the sword, or to a building collapsing, or to falling to one’s death from a mountain pathway.
Like so many he thought that if he could become rich his position would be secure. But he was sadly wrong. And by his activities in search of riches he has troubled his own house. His own family will be involved in the consequences of what he has done (compare 11.17).
In contrast the righteous will flourish like the green leaf, the leaf which is attached to the tree and receives full life from it. They will remain a vital and life-producing part of the fruitbearing tree which is true Israel (compare Jeremiah 11.16). And they will do this because they heed the word of God, ‘His leaf will not wither and whatever he does will prosper’ (Psalm 1.3).
(Whilst leaves are never elsewhere said to fall (naphal), but rather to wither (nabal) there is a reference to ‘falling’ figs in Nahum 3.12 (naphal); compare also Revelation 6.13. Elsewhere falling leaves and falling figs are both described in terms of nabal (Isaiah 34.4). So the two can be used synonymously. Thus there is nothing unlikely in the idea of this signifying leaves falling. Whilst normally leaves are said to wither and die, the emphasis here is not on the leaf withering, but on it losing connection with the its source of life (the tree)).
The one who ‘troubles his own house’, by searching after evil (verse 27) or trusting falsely in riches rather than in YHWH (verse 28), will inherit absolutely nothing. To inherit the wind is to inherit what is insubstantial and disappears as quickly as it comes. It is to inherit nothing substantial. To ‘trouble’ is ‘to bring down disasters on’. Ahab claimed that Elijah was a troubler of Israel in consequence of the drought, and Elijah replied that it was rather he who had troubled Israel (1 Kings 18.17-18).
In those days, when men sank into dire poverty, the only way in which they could survive was by selling themselves into bondage. Thus as a consequence of disasters they could lose their wealth and descend from being landowners to bondsmen. That is the picture here. They (the fools, the unrighteous) have, with their false wisdom, lost everything and have become the servants of others (the wise, the righteous), those truly wise of heart, whose house is, of course, untroubled.
The crowning blessing of the righteous is that they become a blessing to others. Their fruit is a tree of life, a lifegiving tree. By their lives, the ‘natural’ product of their walking in wisdom with God, they are a source of life and wellbeing to others. Through their wisely lived lives they win the hearts of men. We translate ‘hearts’ because that gives the sense. It does not strictly mean ‘winning souls’ in an evangelistic sense, although that is undoubtedly one of its outcomes. If we would ‘win men’s souls’ we must first win men’s hearts. Nephesh indicates the inner man, the ‘breath of life’. Jesus may well have been taking up this thought when He said to His disciples, ‘from now on you will catch men’ (Luke 5.10).
The reference to the tree of life indicates that God’s purpose for the spiritually wise, who follow God’s wisdom, is that they will play their part in restoring what has been lost by the fall. And they do it by attracting others to God’s way of wisdom. It is part of the process of restoration. We too are to be a tree of life to men and women as we attract men to Christ by the beauty of our lives, and of course by proclaiming His wisdom.
The subsection ends with an assurance that all will be recompensed, whether for good or ill, because of what they reveal themselves to be. The righteous are not recompensed because somehow they have deserved a reward for their goodness. They are recompensed because having responded to God and His goodness and His wisdom, He has made them good. It is because they have ‘found favour’ (verse 27). It is because their trust is in Him rather than in uncertain riches (implied in verse 28; compare 3.5-6). It is because their lives have become fruitful (verse 30). God will therefore respond by giving them wholesome lives, prosperity and a life to come (3.16-18).
There may, however, also be included here the idea that even the righteous man falls short and requires chastening. See for example 3.11-12. This would explain even more fully the ‘how much more’. If the righteous man has to be chastened, how much more will punishment fall on the unrighteous. This verse is cited from LXX in 1 Peter 4.18, ‘if the righteous scarcely be saved, where will the ungodly and sinner appear?’
In contrast the wicked and sinner will also be recompensed, and the details of that recompense have been out lined above, ending inevitably in death. It is even more certain that the unrighteous will receive their due recompense, for that is rooted in the very moral fabric of creation. To deliberately partake of evil is to come under sentence of death. Life is God’s gift, but death is man’s deserts.
A Comparison Between The Righteous And The Unrighteous, The Basis Of The Righteous Family, And The Destiny Of Each (12.1-8).
We have here another subsection in which the various attributes of the righteous are commended, with the unrighteous (the wicked) being revealed as what they are. The righteous man loves correction because he loves the true knowledge of God, he will thereby obtain favour from YHWH, and consequently his root will not be moved (he will not be cast out of the land - 1.33; 2.22; 10.30). If his wife is worthy she is like a crown to him, making him master of his house, his thoughts are just, what he says will deliver him, his house will stand, and he will be commended for his wisdom. In contrast the unrighteous hates reproof and thinks irrationally, will engage in wicked devices and be condemned, his wife will make her husband ashamed, he will not be established, will give deceitful counsel, will speak of violence and forceful behaviour, will be overthrown and cease to be, and will be despised.
It can again be presented chiastically:
Note that in A the one who loves correction, loves knowledge, while the one who hates reproof is little better than an animal, whilst in the parallel a man is commended for his wisdom (synonymous with knowledge) and the perverse heart is despised. In B a good man obtains YHWH’s favour, and a man of evil devices will be condemned, whilst in the parallel the house of the righteous stands, (because he has YHWH’s favour), whilst the wicked are overthrown. In C a man will not be established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will stand firm, it will not be moved, and in the parallel that wickedness is defined, whilst the mouth of the upright delivers them (so they will not be moved). Centrally in D the worthy woman supplements her righteous husband, being herself righteous, and instils righteous thoughts in her children (1.8-9), whilst the wife, who should be counselling her children knowledgeably, but instead brings shame, is like rottenness within (teaching what is false) in the same way as the counsels of the wicked are deceitful.
The one who loves correction (disciplinary instruction) reveals himself as a lover of the knowledge of God (2.5), and indeed of YHWH Himself, for whom YHWH loves He reproves (3.12). Thereby men reveal that they choose the fear of YHWH (1.29). The aim of such disciplinary instruction is to guide young persons in the right way as inculcated by their godly father and mother (1.8). And by it they come to understand the reverent fear of YHWH and find the knowledge of God (2.5). Such persons would be commended in accordance with their wisdom (12.8). In the words of 10.14, ‘wise men store up knowledge (the knowledge of God)’.
In direct contrast is the one who hates reproof. He shakes if off and rebels against it, thereby revealing himself to be more like an animal. He is behaving irrationally. And because of his perverse heart such a person will be despised (12.8). The rebel was very much looked down on in Israelite society because he interfered with the smooth running of life. He did not make his full contribution to the welfare of the family (compare the elder brother and the prodigal son in Luke 15.11-32).
In consequence of his love of the knowledge of God (verse 1) the good man, good because he diligently seeks the knowledge of God, responds to it and makes his full contribution to the wellbeing of the community. By this he will obtain the favour of YHWH (3.4; 8.35; 11.27). It is understandable why his house will stand (12.7). In contrast the one who rejects reproof, and follows his own private thoughts, planning evildoing (compare 1.11 ff.), will be condemned by YHWH. He will be overthrown and cease to be (12.7). He who thinks and behaves like an animal will die like one.
The good man is epitomised in the elder brother of the above-mentioned parable, who had faithfully carried out his family responsibilities (although somewhat lacking in compassion). The ‘man of wicked devices’ is epitomised in the prodigal son. He squandered the family wealth, and thought only of himself. And yet once he had repented God was willing to show him favour. So in view of the mercy of God such a pathway is not irreversible.
The one who follows the path of evildoing will not thereby be established. He may think that he is securing his future, but in fact he will not be firmly planted, safe and secure (2.22). He will be subject to the varying winds of fortune. His house will not stand (compare 12.7). In the time of trouble he will not be delivered (12.6).
In contrast is the righteous. He will be firmly rooted so that he will not be moved by the vicissitudes of life (compare Psalm 1.3; 2 Kings 19.30; Isaiah 27.6). His house will stand (12.7). He will be delivered in the time of trouble (12.6). Such deliverance is a constant theme (2.12, 16; 10.2; 11.4, 6, 8, 9, 21).
The worthy (strong, capable) woman has been revealed as the one who instructs her children in the Torah (1.8), and who tenderly loves and trains them (4.3). She grieves over their folly (10.1). She ensures that their thoughts are righteous (12.5). She builds up her household (14.1). Thus she makes a full contribution in the rearing of the children in wisdom and knowledge and adds to her husband’s status. She is a crown to him, just as his worthy children are a floral wreath of flowers on his head (1.9). She makes him look and feel like a king. The community admire him for his worthy family.
In contrast is the wife who makes her husband ashamed. She neglects the training of her children, does not instruct them in the Torah, and is not over-concerned about their welfare. She gives them bad counsel (verse 5). Thus his household begins to rot within and disintegrate, and the community shakes its head.
The worthy wife enhances her husband whose thoughts are right and just, and her thoughts also are right and just. Her children, who have been brought up to be righteous, grow up to be righteous and just. The whole family are an exemplar of godliness.
In contrast the family brought up by the shameful wife have been left to wallow in dishonesty and deceit. They have been badly advised and ill taught, by both father and mother who are themselves ‘unrighteous’. Their plans for life are false and deceitful, for they follow the inclinations of their hearts which are ‘deceitful above all things and desperately wicked’ (Jeremiah 17.9; Matthew 15.19; Mark 7.21-22). They are an exemplar of unrighteousness. Their very talk is of lying in wait for blood (verse 6; compare 1.11). They follow wicked devices leading to condemnation (verse 2). They will therefore be overthrown and cease to be (verse 7).
And this also applies outside the family. The righteous will give wise advice, the advice of the unrighteous will be deceiving. We should be careful from whom we seek advice.
There is a direct reference here to 1.11 which were words spoken by those who were not guided by, or did not respond to the guidance of, godly fathers and mothers (1.8). They were the disreputable and their ways led to death (1.18). They counselled deceit and violence (verse 5; 1.11-12). They followed wicked devices leading to condemnation (verse 2). They have not listened to reproof (verse 1). They have no root and will therefore be uprooted (verse 3). For them there will be no deliverance.
In contrast are the upright (the straight). They heed correction (verse 1) and the training of their mothers (verse 4). They are deeply rooted (verse 3). Their thoughts are just and right (verse 5). And because they are deeply rooted they will be delivered (2.12, 16; 10.2; 11.4, 6, 8, 9, 21) when the storms of life come upon them (1.27; 10.25). They will not be moved (verse 3).
The special emphasis on ‘the mouth’ of the upright looks back to references to words, whether good or bad. Their words are of wisdom which they have received and observed, revealing what is in their hearts (10.31; 1.23; 2.1; 4.4; 7.1). They are a wellspring of life to others (10.11). They know what is acceptable (10.32). They do not have a perverse mouth or a lying tongue, or bear false witness, or cause dissension (6.12, 17, 19). Thus what they say is heard and believed. Their words make them acceptable to God and man (3.4).
The wicked (the unrighteous) have specifically been referred to in verses 2, 5 and 6. YHWH will condemn their wicked devices (verse 2). They practise deceit and violence (verses 5, 6), which is why they will not be established (verse 3). That is why they will be overthrown and ‘are not’. They will pass out of existence and memory. They will become nothings (10.25).
In contrast the house of the righteous will stand, because they have obtained favour from YHWH (verse 2). They will be rooted so as never to be moved (verse 3). For their house is established on a worthy wife (verse 4), and on a righteous husband to whom she is a crown (verses 4, 5), and has produced worthy seed (11.21).
This verse sums up the subsection. A man will be commended (by both God and man - 3.4) according to his wisdom, as revealed in understanding and behaviour. He will be commended because he has received reproof and loved knowledge (verse 1), thus obtaining favour from YHWH (verse 2). This is revealed by his just thoughts and his upright words (verses 5-6) which make him acceptable to God and to society.
In contrast is the one who is perverse of heart. He has hated reproof and become like an irrational animal (verse 1). He plots evil devices (verse 2), encourages deceit and fraud (verse 5), and talks of violence (verse 6). In consequence he will be despised by both God and man.
The Righteous Are Compassionate And Hard Working And Will Prosper, While The Unrighteous Are Lacking In Compassion And Slothful And Will Suffer Lack And Be Punished (12.9-16).
The first three verses of this subsection deal with a man who is not too highly thought of, and yet (because he behaves wisely) is nevertheless prosperous enough to have a servant (verse 9); a man who is kind to his animals (and thus gets the best out of them) (verse 10); and a man who tills his land and has plenty of bread (verse 11). He thus benefits from his wise behaviour. As a consequence he yields fruit both spiritually and physically (verse 12), avoids trouble (verse 13), talks wisely and is therefore satisfied with good (verse 14), takes note of good advice (verse 15), and hides his failings (verse 16).
In contrast is the one who makes a lot of himself, but totally unjustifiably because he cannot even supply his family with food (verse 9); who treats his animals harshly and thus gets little response from them (verse 10); and follows the ways of the sluggard (verse 11). As a consequence he wants to ape the ways of evil men with their false snares in order to make up for his own lack (verse 12); finds himself ensnared by their evil talk (verse 13); will get back what he deserves (verse 14), ignores all good advice (verse 15; and makes himself known for what he is, because, being incensed and having no restraint or shame, he reveals himself to be a fool. (verse 16).
The subsection is presented chiastically:
In A the humble and diffident man nevertheless reveals his hard-working status by having a servant, but he does not seek to be esteemed, whilst the fool ‘honours himself’, seeking esteem, even though his lack of bread reveals that he is concealing the truth about himself (e.g. that he is a sluggard). He is hiding his failures. In the parallel it is the shrewd man who hides his failures because he is ashamed of them (the shame he conceals might in fact be his hidden vexation), whilst the fool, because he is lacking in self control, makes his failures (in this case his bad temper) publicly known. In B the righteous man is kind to his animals, while the fool beats them unstintingly, whilst in the parallel the fool does exactly what he wants (thus he beats his animals), whilst the wise listens to the advice of others, and especially to wisdom and the Torah, which exhorts kind treatment of animals (Deuteronomy 25.4; compare Exodus 23.4-5, 12; Deuteronomy 22.1-4, 6-7, 10). In C he who tills the land diligently will have plenty of BREAD, whereas those who follow the empty-headed will go short, and in the parallel the former will be satisfied with good from the FRUIT of his mouth whilst the latter will get what he deserves. Centrally in D the wicked desire what the snares of evil men produce, and in the parallel are themselves ensnared by what evil men say. Meanwhile the righteous work hard and produce fruit, and because they do not listen to evil men they will come out of trouble.
It is to misrepresent this proverb to suggest that it simply means that it is better to have low esteem and have food than to have high esteem of oneself and lack food, as though all that mattered was food. The point is rather that the former is prospering (he can afford a servant), and the assumption in Proverbs up to this point is that that is because he is wise. He has quietly got down to work without bothering about his reputation. But the latter is hungry, and this is because he has spent his time seeking to bring honour on himself, and in his arrogance has been lazy (and foolish) and thus lacks bread. Lack of bread has previously been, and continues to be, seen as due to the person’s laziness (6.6-11; 10.4-5;12.24; 13.4).
The first man may be lightly esteemed by his neighbours. He has not been concerned about his reputation. But he has been wise and has worked sufficiently hard to be able to afford a servant. And he has been able to hide anything of which he might have been ashamed (verse 16). He has let his work do the talking. This theme of fruitfulness continues on in the subsection. He tills his land and has plenty of bread (verse 11). His root yields fruit (verse 12).
In contrast the fool thinks a lot of himself, and has sought to be undeservedly highly esteemed. He may even have spent a lot of time boasting about his hard work and his coming crops. But he has proved in the end that he is really a sluggard. He has followed those who have no real understanding (verse 11). And this is something that he cannot hide, because ‘in the day’ when harvest time comes this will be known (verse 16).
A suggested emendation followed by some of the versions is to repoint the Hebrew for servant as a participle, thus rendering it as ‘who serves’ (i.e. who humbly serves himself). But ‘has a servant’ is a more natural rendering, and contrasts better with ‘lacks bread’.
Going along with their attitude to work is their attitude towards their work-animals. The righteous man has concern for his animals (and possibly his servant). He is kind to them and looks after them properly as required by the Torah (Exodus 23.4-5; Deuteronomy 25.4; compare Exodus 23.12; Deuteronomy 22.1-4, 6-7, 10). In contrast the ‘wicked man’, the sluggard, has treated his animals cruelly, probably in order to make up for his own laziness. As the verse demonstrates reference to his ‘tender mercies’ is sarcastic. His way of caring for them has been to beat the life out of them, which would have contributed to his poor harvest.
Thus the wise man has acted in accordance with ‘counsel’ (verse 15), that is in accordance with wisdom and the Torah. The foolish man has done what is right in his own eyes (verse 15). He has ignored the lessons of wisdom and the Torah.
The lightly esteemed, but wise, man tills his land diligently and has plenty of bread (in contrast with the one who lacks bread in verse 9). The man who has made a lot of himself has imitated those who are empty and vain, and has thus proved that, in spite of his boasting, he ‘lacks understanding’ (so he lacks both bread and understanding). Alternately it may refer to ‘what is vain (empty)’. He has followed after what is vain, taking labour-saving short cuts and hoping for the best. Sowing is much easier if you do not plough properly first, but it has disastrous consequences.
In the parallel verse 14 the first man is satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth. Instead of boasting he has been giving instructions and guidance to his servant about the tilling of his land. And consequently his field has been fruitful. And not only that, all that he says produces a harvest for him, raising his esteem and winning friendship. In contrast the boastful man will have rendered to him the doings of his hands, including his slackness in labour, and his mistreatment of his animals.
It should be noted that ‘his land’ probably consisted of strips in a field marked off by stones as landmarks. Most Israelites would not be rich enough to own a whole field, nor would the land tend to be divided into separate fields..
The root of the righteous may mean his son(s), or simply the roots of what he has planted. Either way they ‘yield’ well (they ‘give, put forth’). He has no need to look further for his sustenance. In contrast the unrighteous man, aware that his crops are not doing well, looks around for means of supplementing his income. He turns his thoughts to dishonesty. He turns his desires on crooked ways of making up for his lack, on ‘the snare of evil men’. This snare is illustrated in 1.11 ff. where the activity of the men of violence is likened to a snare. He thinks that what he cannot achieve by hard toil, he might achieve by violence. The desire to avoid honest toil is often the cause of crime.
The word used for ‘snare’ often indicates the ‘striker’ in the snare which springs down and traps the animal caught in the snare. The ‘transgression of the lips’ may be the words of evil men who with them seek to trap the wicked man into behaving wickedly (compare 1.11-14), but which can have no effect on the wise who will ‘come out of trouble’. This ties in well with the previous verse where the wicked man is dallying with evil men’s snares. Or they may refer to the words of the wicked man which he uses to seek to strike and ensnare the righteous. But if so it will fail. The righteous, because of his wisdom, will come out of trouble.
In contrast to the transgression of the lips of evil men is the fruit of the mouth of the righteous which will satisfy either he himself or men in general. The fruit of his mouth will cause him (or others) to be satisfied with good, indeed to be satiated with good things. This includes his guidance to his servant, and his exhortation to him to work hard following his own example, which will result in a good harvest, and which contrasts with the ensnaring lips of evil men with their get rich quick ideas. Or it may simply be saying that in general a righteous man will speak in such ways as will only result in abundance of good for him or for others. For only a righteous man can in general always be satisfied with good by what he says. An unrighteous man at times speaks evilly.
The second part of the proverb may be seen as of general application (which is what ‘a man’s’ seems to indicate) and thus signify that each man will have rendered to him the doings of his hands, whether he works hard or works lazily. However, the context with its continual contrasts, and the fact that the righteous man is simply also called ‘a man’ may indicate that this second part is speaking of the activities of the unrighteous man, with the implication being that he will receive the consequences of having lazy and harsh hands, lazy in effort and harsh in his treatment of his work animals.
In the parallel to this verse it says ‘a righteous man regards the life of his animal, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel’ (verse 10). The righteous man has regard to what others think, he is wise and listens to ‘counsel’, that is, to what is said in wisdom and the Torah, where he learns that he must be kind to them and have consideration for them. Thus in Exodus 23.4-5 he must assist even the overburdened ass of his enemies; in Deuteronomy 25.4 he must allow the ox who treads the corn to eat of it; and in Exodus 23.12 he is to allow his ox and ass to benefit by the Sabbath ‘so that they might have rest’. Compare also Deuteronomy 22.1-4, 6-7, 10.
In contrast the fool ill-treats his animals because he ‘does what is right in his own eyes’. However, the proverb is not necessarily limited to this particular circumstance, for it also lays down a general rule that the wise listen to advice if it is from the right source (they even gladly listen to rebuke because they love knowledge - 12.1), whilst the fool simply goes his own way doing his own thing.
It will be noted that verses 15 and 16 are united by both referring to ‘a fool’, in contrast, in the first case, to ‘he who is wise’ and in the second case to ‘the shrewd’. The language repeats that continually found in the Prologue.
We might paraphrase this as ‘what a fool is incensed or excited about he makes immediately known (or makes known when the time comes), but what a shrewd man is ashamed of he keeps to himself’. In other words the fool immediately makes known his folly because he has little shame, whilst the shrewd man conceals errors and tempers that he is ashamed of simply because being righteous he is ashamed of them. Unlike the fool he does not glory in them. He wishes that they had never happened. He will seek to rectify them, but he does not want them publicised.
But the probability is that it looks back over the subsection and declares that when the harvest comes (‘the day’) the fool has not worked hard enough and is thus vexed at what his field has produced, because that day has shown up the truth about him, whilst the shrewd man (the one previously lightly esteemed - verse 9) has by his success covered up his shame and has thus grown in esteem. In other words the shrewd man covers up his shame by demonstrating that it is undeserved.
‘Vexation, excitement, being incensed’, in other words losing calmness and control, is in contrast to the calm, controlled state of the shrewd man. Such loss of calmness and control was despised by wisdom teachers. ‘Vexation kills the foolish man, and jealousy slays the silly one’ (Job 5.2).
The Importance Of Truth And Sound Authority (12.17-24).
In this next subsection the stress is on truth as opposed to falsehood, on authority as opposed to disobedience, and on the benefits accruing from both. Truth is especially stressed in verses 17, 19, 22, but also implied in verses 18 and 20. Falsehood is stressed in verse 17, 19, 20, 22, and implied in verses 18 and 23. The true witness shows forth and establishes righteousness, thus underpinning justice (verse 17), and such as speak truth will be established for ever (verse 19). Those who counsel peace and wellbeing are joyful (verse 20), and no mischief will happen to the righteous, because authority and justice prevail, and YHWH is over all (verse 21). For those who deal truly are YHWH’s delight (verse 22). The shrewd man is wise in what he says and when he says it, and is careful not to thrust the knowledge of God (2.5) on those not ready to receive it (verse 23), whilst it is the diligent who will rise to the top and receive authority (verse 24). Underlying all is that truth establishes good government, and makes life secure, and that in the end it will prevail because YHWH is over all.
In contrast are the unrighteous. They show forth deceit (verse 17), speak rashly and hurtfully (verse 18), are of short duration (verse 19), devise evil (verse 20), will experience evil (verse 21), are an abomination to YHWH (verse 22), proclaim foolishness (verse 23), and because they are slothful, end up as forced labourers (verse 24).
It should be noted that on the basis of the Prologue we can identify the one who utters truth (verse 17), with the wise man (verse 18), the counsellors of wellbeing (verse 20), the righteous (verse 21), those who deal truly (verse 22), the shrewd man (verse 23), and the diligent man (verse 24).
The subsection is presented chiastically:
Note that A and its parallel deal with two of the most important virtues, truth and diligence. Truth establishes sound justice, diligence establishes sound authority, an essential for sound justice. Where truth is lacking, justice collapses. Where diligence is lacking, authority becomes inefficient, and if authority fails, justice is likely to be lacking (especially in ancient days where justice and authority went hand in hand. The king was also the chief justice). In B speaking rashly parallels proclaiming foolishness, whilst a wise tongue parallels using knowledge wisely. In C the lying tongue parallels lying lips, whilst the lip of truth parallels those who deal truly. Centrally in D the deceitful devise evil, whilst in the parallel the wicked experience evil.
As already mentioned this subsection is about true justice and sound authority, and the things which could undermine both were it not for YHWH’s built in safety devices and overall watch. This proverb deals with the protagonists. On the one hand are those who utter truth, and are true witnesses before authority. They show forth and establish righteousness, for where truth is lacking injustice prevails. (They are the wise, the righteous, the discerning, the diligent). In contrast is the false witness. He shows forth and seeks to establish deceit. He perjures himself in order to gain false ends. (He is the fool, the scorner, the worthless man, the violent).
So concerned was God that justice should prevail that the Torah declared severe penalties on those who perjured themselves. If found out they would be sentenced to the same punishment that they had sought to bring on others (Deuteronomy 19.16-19).
Sadly history is full of examples where false witness has prevailed, but only where authority has been corrupt or has been weak and vacillating. We can consider the example of Naboth who was judicially executed as a result of false witness and corrupt authority, in the time of a weak and vacillating king (1 Kings 21). And we have the prime example of our Lord Jesus Christ who was sentenced as a result of false witness, and crucified as a consequence of a corrupt regime and a weak and vacillating Pilate. In both cases truth and sound authority were lacking.
What is, however, of greatest importance is that inbuilt into creation is the fact that good tends to triumph over evil (thus the diligent rise to the top - verse 24) and that in the end it is righteousness that will prevail. That is the constant message of Scripture (e.g. Isaiah 11.1-4).
Solomon was in no doubt that truth and falsehood vied with each other, and he points out that those who speak rashly are causing people harm, piercing them as though with a sword. For the heart of fools proclaim foolishness (verse 23). People who would never think of waving a sword around dangerously, will quite happily fling their words around thoughtlessly and equally dangerously. In contrast the tongue of wise men will speak truth, and will contribute towards the health of society, and the health of individuals, and will only speak when it is wise to do so (verse 23). It will also speak in a way that is conducive to other people’s good (and withhold from speaking when it is not to anyone’s good - verse 23).
What is, however, important to recognise is that truth will prevail. Those who speak truth (the lip of truth), and what they stand for, will be established for ever. For truth, like wisdom, lies at the very root of creation, and those who deal truly are His delight (verse 22). In contrast the lying tongue is only very temporary. It is an aberration. It is but for a moment (the wink of an eye) and will soon pass away. For lying lips are an abomination to YHWH (verse 22).
We have already seen that ‘the righteous is established for ever’ (10.25); that ‘the root of the righteous will never be moved’ (12.3); that ‘the house of the righteous will stand’ (12.7); now we are informed that the truthful lip (and therefore its owner) is established for ever. Truth and righteousness go together.
Note that ‘the truthful lip’ parallels ‘the lying tongue’. One refers to the words of those who speak truth, the other to those who speak deceitfully.
In verse 17 it was ‘a false witness who utters deceit’, and ‘rash words’ (verse 18) and ‘a lying tongue’ (verse 19) also indicated deceit. Thus deceit is a theme of verses 17-20. It also continues in verses 22-23. Here Solomon tells us that deceit is ‘in the heart of those who scheme and devise evil’. Not to walk in the truth and in righteousness is to walk deceitfully. As Jeremiah declared, ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately unrighteous’ (Jeremiah 17.9). By the heart is meant the mind, will and emotions. And the result of this will be that they will be filled with the consequences of evil (verse 21). What a man sows he will reap.
In contrast to the devisers of evil are the counsellors of peace and wellbeing, in other words those who pass on the wisdom which leads to peace and wellbeing (3.16-18). And their hearts, instead of being filled with deceit, are filled with joy. Indeed, no mischief will happen to the righteous (verse 21).
The parallel clauses suggest that we should see ‘filled with evil’ as being a consequence of the attitude and behaviour of the wicked, in the same way as ‘no mischief’ is the consequence of the attitude and behaviour of the righteous. Thus we have here the assurance that no mischief (nothing bad) will happen to the righteous, whilst the unrighteous will get their fill of evil (compare 1.18, 26-27, 32; 2.18-19; etc.). They will receive their reward for their deceitful ways.
But what does he mean when he says that no mischief will happen to the righteous? Clearly it does not indicate that they will be safe from the mischief that evil men will bring on men by their evil devices. In the short run at least the righteous do often suffer at the hands of the unrighteous. But as we have seen the background to this subsection is the carrying out of justice by the authorities (verse 17). Thus there are two ways of taking this promise to the righteous. Firstly as a general principle in a just society, the idea being that they will not be of those who are hauled before the courts for judgment. And secondly as a promise that they need not be afraid of the judgment of God and of His wrath for they will be preserved from them (11.4, 23).
Solomon now makes clear the grounds for the promise in verse 21. The wicked will given their fill of evil because lying lips are an abomination to YHWH, they go against the very fabric of creation, whilst the righteous, those who ‘deal truly’, will be kept from ‘mischief’ (anything bad) at the hands of justices and also at His hands because they are His delight. We have in this further introduction of the Name of YHWH a reminder that He and His activity constantly underlie what is written in Proverbs.
In verse 18 we were told that ‘the tongue of the wise is health’, in other words that what the righteous say contributes to the health and wellbeing of the community, and of those who are in that community. Here we are reminded that there are times when it is right not to speak. The shrewd man does not conceal knowledge from those who seek it, but he does from those who would mock at it or misuse it. He weighs his words carefully depending on who is hearing him. He is concerned that his words do not cause unnecessary hurt. There are times when it is best for things not to be known (compare 11.13, ‘he who is of a faithful spirit conceals the matter (the tales being spread about)’, and 13.3, ‘he who guards his mouth preserves life’). Thus, for example, we may consider that it is best not to bring up the doctrine of election with a non-Christian, especially one who mocks Christianity; we may feel it best not to air our ‘knowledge’ about mental illness with someone whom we know whose close relative is mentally ill; and there are times, when passions are roused, that it is best for things not to be made known, keeping them for a time when reason prevails.
A similar thought, although expressed in a very different way, occurred in the Instruction of Amenemope, ‘better is one whose speech is in his belly, than he who tells it to cause harm’.
Fools, however, have no such inhibitions. From their hearts they proclaim their worldly wisdom, which is foolishness. They often speak rashly, hurting people by their words (verse 18), or speak confidently about things that they know nothing about. They do not care whom they hurt.
We need to recognise here that Solomon equates the diligent with the righteous and the wise, just as he equates the slothful with the unrighteous and fool (6.6-11; 10.4; 13.4). He is thus declaring that it is the diligent and wise and righteous who will tend to attain positions of authority, certainly in the ideal world. Thus those who judge the cause in the case of the witnesses of verse 17, whose tongues bring health to the people (verse 18), and who are counsellors of peace and wellbeing (verse 20), and who deal truly with people (verse 22), are regularly men of authority. Here we learn that they have been put in a position to do this because they are diligent and wise. Truth triumphs because good men are given positions of authority. Consider 8.14-16. There would otherwise be little point in bringing truth before them, or in seeking their counsel. This proverb therefore underlines why the previous proverbs are effective.
In contrast to the diligent and wise are the slothful and foolish. They become poor, neglect their responsibilities, avoid hard labour, and therefore ironically find themselves conscripted to the hardest labour of all. This is where their deceit has brought them.
The Righteous Prevail Through Their Knowledge Of Wisdom, Whilst The Unrighteous Go Astray Because They Reject Wisdom (12.25-13.6).
In the first part of the subsection there is an emphasis on guiding and learning. ‘A good word makes (the heart) glad’ (12.25). ‘The righteous is a guide to his neighbour’ (12.26). ‘A wise son listens to his father’s instruction’ (13.1). ‘A man will eat good by the fruit of his mouth (because he has guided people)’ (13.2).
There is also an overall emphasis on diligence as against laziness. The ‘good word’ of 12.25 requires effort to apply it to the particular needs of the anxious man, the righteous man ‘searches out’ what is required by his friend (12.26), the diligent man makes full use of what is of benefit to man (12.27), a man has to make fruitful use of his mouth if he is to ‘eat good’, (another metaphor) (13.2), it is the diligent who will prosper and become rich (13.4).
A third emphasis is on the right use of words. ‘A good word makes the heart of man glad’ (12.25), ‘the righteous is a guide to his neighbour’ (12.26), ‘a wise son listens to his father’s instruction’ (13.1), ‘from the fruit of his mouth a man will eat good’ (13.2), ‘he who guards his mouth preserves his life’ (13.3), ‘a righteous man hates lying’ (13.5)
But the prime emphasis is on solid teaching. The good word makes glad (12.25), the righteous searches out in order to guide his neighbour (12.26), the diligent brings forth the valuable wealth of man (12.27), the way of righteousness, as known through wisdom, is the way of life (12.28), the wise son listens to his father’s teaching (13.1), it is the soul of the diligent which will be made fat (13.4), the righteous man, having received wisdom, hates what is false (13.5), righteousness obtained through wisdom guards the upright (13.6).
The subsection is presented chiastically:
Note that in A heaviness anxiety a man’s heart STOOP, whilst in the parallel righteousness guards the UPRIGHT. In B the righteous is a true guide to his neighbour, while the wicked causes him to err, and in the parallel the righteous hates lying (and is therefore reliable), and the sinner causes himself to err and therefore loathsome and comes to shame. In C and its parallel the sluggard and the diligent are contrasted. In D the way of righteousness is LIFE and in its pathway is no DEATH, whilst in the parallel he who guards his mouth preserves his LIFE, and he who speaks (unwisely) will have DESTRUCTION. In E a wise son benefits by the words of his father, whilst in the parallel a man benefits by either his own words or the words of another.
The point here is that deep anxiety can bow a man down, but that a good word (sound advice, which in Proverbs is godly advice) wisely presented can restore its gladness. Such sound and godly advice and words, associated with the idea of peace and wellbeing, were a feature of the Prologue (1.2, 8; 2.1, 6-7, 10-11; 3.2, 15-18; etc.). They are a reminder that the promises and assurances of God are an antidote to anxiety (note 3.5-6) and that true godly wisdom can bring a man peace. In the parallel ‘righteousness guards the one who is straight (upright)’ (13.6). Thus there wisdom and righteousness (the knowledge of God) are seen as the preventatives from deep anxiety.
Strictly speaking the first clause reads literally ‘the righteous spies out/searches out (from/because of) his friend’. Whether there is a preposition min, shown in brackets as ‘from/because’), is questionable. Its presence depends on whether we take the noun for ‘friend’ as merea‘ or rea‘ (both are possible). Thus it could signify that the righteous man searches out (wisdom) because of/on behalf of his friend, thus acting as his guide. This would fit well into the theme of guiding and learning in 12.25 and 13.1. Alternatively it could signify that he searches out/spies out his bosom friend, because he does not want as a close friend one who is untrustworthy or unreliable (see 13.20). This carefulness would tie in well with the carefulness demonstrated in 12.27.
In the latter case ‘the way of the wicked causes them to err’ may signify that it is because they are not so careful in choosing their friends (compare 1.11 ff.). In the case of the former it may signify that it is because they do not (like the righteous) seek out wisdom, something which is again a continual urging of the Prologue.
Either interpretation could gain support from the parallel verse in the chiasmus, ‘a righteous man hates lying, a wicked man --- comes to shame’ (13.5). The righteous man searches out wisdom because he hates lying and deceit, or he ‘spies out’ his prospective bosom friend for the same reason.
The word translated ‘roast’ occurs only here in the Old Testament, but the translation has been remarkably supported by a 14th century BC tablet from Ras Ibn Hani, near Ugarit. It need therefore no longer be questioned. The point is that the slothful man is so lazy that rather than roasting his game for full enjoyment, he simply eats it raw. It may, however, be that Solomon wants us to see behind this simple statement and recognise that the same is true of wisdom. It is not just to be accepted as it is without thought and effort, ‘unroasted’, but must rather become palatable by deep consideration. This would tie in with the equal effort of the righteous in verse 26, who does not just take things as they are but ‘searches them out’, and that in contrast to the slackness of the wicked man. The suggestion is further reinforced by the wording of the second clause, which while probably referring to the roasting of game, does so in a highly metaphorical form, stressing what is precious to man. It explains also the reference to ‘the inner life of the diligent being made fat’ in 13.4.
The first clause concerning the behaviour of the slothful is in contrast to that of the diligent man. Using the translation above and seeing the ‘precious wealth of men’ as being game animals available from hunting once they have been roasted, the parallel is clear. The diligent are better off than the slothful because they enjoy delectable roast meat rather than raw game. They have made proper use of their precious resources. The emphasis here is on the greater benefit resulting from diligence. Continuing the metaphorical interpretation above, this also emphasises that the precious wealth to man of wisdom is also only to be obtained by diligence. This was a constant theme of the Prologue (2.1-4; 3.3; 4.5-6, 20-23; 6.20-22; 7.1-4; 8.17, 33-34).
The translation of the second clause is, however, disputed, because the literal translation, keeping strictly to the Hebrew text, is, ‘But the wealth of a valuable (precious) man is diligent’ which may indicate that the big advantage of a valuable man, and what makes him valuable, is that he is diligent (and thus among other things roasts his game and studies wisdom deeply). Among a number of alternative translations the following have also been proposed:
However, what is certain is that the basic message is the superiority of the diligent man to the slothful one, something already brought out in 12.24, and underlined in the parallel passage to this in 13.4. The diligent man partakes of what is so much better.
The effort of the counsellor in 12.25, the righteous man in 12.26 and the diligent man in 12.27, is all to one end, the propagation of righteousness. And that because the way of righteousness is life. For those who walk in that way there is no death. As always life means wholesome life and life that will be prolonged, untarnished by death. It has already been emphasised in 2.19, 3.2, 22; 4.13, 22, 23; 6.23; 8.35; 9.11; 10.11, 16; 11.4, 19.
‘In the pathway of it there is no death.’ This could simply mean that the righteous will not meet premature death. But it must have been patently clear to Solomon that that was not true. In the light of 14.32; 15.25 the greater probability is that here there is the clear hint of immortality, which is strengthened even more if we see the idea of ‘no death’ as an echo of Anath’s promise of immortality in terms of ‘no death’ to Aqhat in the Ugaritic mythology and used as a vivid illustration by Solomon. Such a concept is inherent in the descriptions in the Prologue relating to the fate of the disobedient (2.18-19; 5.5-6) and in the promise of the tree of life in 3.18. It must also be seen in the light of Psalms 16.11; 17.15; 23.6, and receives some support in 10.2, 25; 11.4, 19; 12.19; 14.32; 15.24.
This second clause presents translation problems. It says literally, ‘and a way a path no death’, which we may paraphrase as ‘and a way of a pathway of no death’, which basically says the same as above.
In the chiasmus this verse parallels 13.3, ‘he who guards his mouth keeps his life, he who opens wide his lips will have destruction’. Once again there is the promise of preserved life resulting from righteousness (a guarded mouth), whilst the second clause presents a contrast to the ‘no death’ here. The alternative for the wicked is destruction.
The themes of teaching and learning, of diligence, and of obtaining a foundation in wisdom and righteousness are now continued. The wise son pays diligent heed to his father’s disciplinary instruction (‘listens to’ is read back from the second clause). Unlike the scoffer he takes note of rebuke (compare 1.23, 25, 30; 6.23; 9.8; 10.17; 12.1). Once more we note that the father (along with his wife) was to be the prime instrument for imparting wisdom (1.8-9; 4.1, 3; 6.20; 10.1). In contrast the scoffer refuses to listen to rebuke. ‘He does not love to be reproved’ (15.12). He hates it (15.10).
In 13.1 a wise son benefits by the words of his father, whilst here a man benefits, either from his own words or from the words of another, and ‘eats good’. The two ideas are in parallel. In contrast the one who would not listen to rebuke (13.1) ‘eats violence’.
The first clause is almost a repetition of 12.14a, ‘from the fruit of a mans mouth he (or ‘one’) will be satisfied with good’, and it conveys the same idea, whilst the idea of fruit reminds us of 11.30, ‘the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life’. It is fruit that is ‘better than gold’ (8.19). There is a reminder here of the importance of listening to those who impart God’s wisdom. And it is a reminder also that to all who follow God’s wisdom what it says is important. We have to ensure that men eat good from it.
But the contrasting clause supports the idea that the one who benefits from the fruit of his mouth is himself (just as the treacherous ‘eats (his own) violence’). In other words those who speak what is good also benefit from it themselves. Because of what they say they have an appetite for good. How we talk makes a difference to what we are. In the parallel clause ‘the inner life, appetite’ (nephesh) of the treacherous itself eats violence, in other words the treacherous man has an appetite for violence which comes from deep within him, and he enjoys participating in it. Consequently he will ‘eat the fruit of his own ways’ in the end (1.31).
In 12.28 we learned that ‘in the way of righteousness is life.’ In other words that those who walk in that way will experience abundant life, a life that will endure. And in 11.2 we learned that a man ‘eats good from the fruit of his mouth’. He benefits himself, and fashions his character, by what he says. Now the two ideas are put together. To walk in the way of righteousness involves being careful of what we say, for ‘he who guards his mouth preserves his life.’ Once again the idea is that what we say not only reveals what we are, but actually affects what we are. We should therefore guard our mouths because, ‘in the multiplicity of words sin is not lacking’ (10.19). In consequence it is of great importance that we do guard our mouths, ensuring that nothing slips from them which will grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4.29-30). By this means we will preserve whole and intact the life that God has given us. On the other hand the one who ‘opens wide his lips’, speaking without restraint or thought, will ‘have destruction’. He will bring retribution on himself. For by our words we will be revealed as righteous, and by our words we will be condemned (Matthew 12.37),
There is a general principle here that lazy people want things in their ‘inner man, appetite’ (nephesh), but often don’t get them because of their laziness. They lie in bed and let the years slip away (see 6.6-11). In contrast diligent people set about things, and get what they want and more. Thus their ‘inner men’ will be ‘made fat’, that is, will prosper and enjoy prosperity.
But in the context of guiding and listening, and of solid teaching (see introduction to the subsection) there is here special reference to the gathering of wisdom and truth. The lazy person wants to have wisdom and understanding, and every now and then he wants to know God and His word, but he never gets round to seeking them. Thus he ends up spiritually poor. Indeed he ends up with nothing that is worthwhile. But the one who from his heart (his inner person) diligently seeks, and makes an effort to understand, will not only find, but will grow and enjoy fullness of blessing. What such people receive they will ‘roast’, in other words, will take time and effort over it in order to enjoy it to the full (12.27). They will enjoy what is most precious in the earth (12.27).
As in 12.26 we now have a contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous. There the righteous man ‘spied out’ his friends, like Joshua’s men spied out Canaan, in order to ensure that they were worthy friends, so that he would not be led astray by them (compare 1.11 ff.). Here the righteous man hates lying (as does God - 6.17, 19; 12.22). He searches out the truth. He cannot abide anything that smacks of deceit. He will therefore obtain a reputation for being honourable and trustworthy (he does not come to shame). In contrast the unrighteous man is loathsome before both God and man, for his way is that of deceit (11.20). He has the lying lips which are an abomination to God (6.17), and to honest men. He cannot be trusted, even with a confidence, and he destroys other people’ s reputations or wealth. And in the end his deceit will bring him into being shamed.
The subsection ends with a summarising verse. The one who is walking uprightly in the way, listening to disciplinary instruction and responding to it, is guarded by his righteousness. ‘In the way of righteousness is life’ (12.28). His life is thus secure, and he walks with confidence without stumbling (10.9). For he who walks uprightly in the way is a delight to YHWH (11.20), and YHWH is a shield to him (2.7). In contrast is the sinner who is overthrown by his evildoing. His hope is not life but death. He will ‘have destruction’ (13.3). He is loathsome to YHWH (13.5).
‘Him who is upright in the way’ takes us right back into the atmosphere of the Prologue, where being, or not being, ‘in the way’ is a constant theme (1.15; 2.13, 15, 18, 20; 4.11, 14, 18, 19; etc.).
Back to Proverbs 1-5
Back to proverbs 6-9
Forward to Proverbs 12-15
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