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Commentary On The Book Of Proverbs 4

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

True Riches Are Found Through Responding To God’s Wisdom, Whilst Those Who Ignore That Wisdom Are The Truly Poor (13.7-11).

In this subsection genuine ‘riches’ are contrasted with transient and deceptive riches. A man may be poor and yet enjoy true riches, for true riches consist in knowing that one is right with God and in walking in the way of God’s wisdom. They will bring rejoicing to the heart and will be long lasting. In contrast a man may be rich and yet lacking in true wealth. If he does not listen to God’s reproof through those who are wise, he will not become right with God and he will not enjoy true wisdom. Anything that he does have will be temporary and transient.

The subsection is presented chiastically:

  • A There is who makes himself rich, yet has nothing. There is who makes himself poor, yet has great wealth (13.7).
  • B The ransom of a man’s life is his riches, but the poor hears no rebuke (threatening) (13.8).
  • C The light of the righteous rejoices (13.9a)
  • C But the lamp of the wicked will be put out (13.9b).
  • B Only by pride comes contention, but with the well-counselled is wisdom (13.10).
  • A Wealth obtained by unsatisfactory methods will be diminished, but he who gathers by hard work will have increase (grow great) (13.11).

Note that in A deceptive wealth is contrasted with true wealth, and in the parallel the same occurs. Furthermore there is a parallel between ‘great (rab) wealth’, and wealth that ‘grows great’ (rabah). In B a man’s true riches lie in his being ransomed by God as a consequence of his response to God’s wisdom, whilst the poor in heart refuse to listen to reproof, and in the parallel, those who listen to counsel are truly wise, whilst those who are proud resist God. Centrally in C is the contrast between the light of the righteous and the lamp of the wicked.

13.7

‘There is who makes himself rich, yet has nothing,
There is who makes himself poor, yet has great wealth.’

It will be noted that this verse connects with verse 8 in the use of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’, and with verse 11 in the use of ‘riches’ and ‘great/increase’ (rab, rabah). In verse 11 great riches come to those who work hard, whilst both this verse and verse 11 deal with deceptive wealth which in the end fails, in contrast with genuine wealth which is satisfying. It is interesting that here it is the man who considers himself to be rich who ‘has nothing’, whilst in 13.4 it is the desiring sluggard who ‘has nothing’. The rich man would not want to be compared with the sluggard, but because of his failure to see beyond his riches he comes to the same end.

The proverb is ambiguous because of the ambiguity of the verb. It could mean;

  • 1). ‘Falsely makes himself out to be, pretends’. In this case the person in the first clause is putting on a show of being rich in order to gain respect and status, whilst the person in the second clause is making himself out to be poor, even though he is very wealthy, because he wants to avoid tithes, and/or his responsibility to the poor. Both are thus misleading their communities. Both are hypocrites. In our view, while possible, this interpretation is unlikely as it removes the contrast which is suggested by ‘has nothing’ and ‘has great wealth’.
  • 2). ‘Considers himself to be, honestly puts himself forward as’. In the first clause he is someone who considers himself to be rich, but is actually spiritually impoverished, and even physically impoverished in other ways (e.g. his children may be a heartache to him, or he may be in very poor health). In the second clause he is someone who considers himself to be poor but spiritually has great wealth in that he is humble and fears YHWH (22.4), and may also have physical ‘riches’ in that his children are loving and responsive and he is of vibrant health. Compare 11.28, ‘he who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like the green leaf’, and 22.4, ‘the reward of humility and the fear of YHWH is riches, and honour, and life’. We consider this to be the most likely.
  • 3). ‘Literally makes himself’. In the first clause he struggles hard and attains riches, but in doing so becomes spiritually poor and loses his old friends and all that is worthwhile, and in the second clause he makes himself poor deliberately by his acts of charity and self-sacrifice, or because of his tenacious faith and obedience to God, and in doing so gains riches beyond telling (compare Matthew 6.33; 19.29). Whilst very apposite in view of the teaching of Jesus, and undoubtedly true, we think it unlikely that Solomon had this in mind.
  • 4). There may be a deliberate play on the possible distinctions in the verb so that it means ‘there are those who think themselves rich but have nothing, there are those who for God’s sake have made themselves poor and thus have great riches’. We can consider here the example of the Laodicean church in Revelation 3.18, ‘you say you are rich, and have obtained riches and have need of nothing, and do not know that you are the wretched on, miserable, poor, blind and naked’, and Jesus’ words to the disciples in Mark 10.29. But this is probably to anticipate New Testament teaching.

In our view the most probable meaning, in line with 2), is that a man can be physically rich, and yet poor in other ways, especially spiritually, and that a man can be physically poor, and yet rich in other ways, especially spiritually. In the Psalms the upright are often seen as the humble and needy (even the king).

13.8

‘The ransom of a man’s life is his riches,
But the poor hears no rebuke (threatening).’

This proverb is again ambiguous. Some see this as saying that a rich man is always in danger of losing his riches by being kidnapped/captured and held to ransom, (as Satan said in Job 2.4, ‘all that a man has he will give for his life’), but that a poor man has no such fear. He and his family are unlikely to receive threatening demands. This would in fact be a good argument for being poor, but such an argument tends to go against what Solomon has said elsewhere. In the Prologue riches were a result of following the way of wisdom, and poverty was a consequence of laziness. Furthermore in 10.4 he confirms that this continues to be his view when he says, ‘he becomes poor who deals with a slack hand, but the hand of the hard worker makes rich’. Whilst the word for the poor used here in 13.8 does not in its later uses have the necessary connotation of laziness (it does in 10.4), it is even then never suggested to be a desirable state. This interpretation also takes the word for ‘rebuke’ in an unusual sense. Elsewhere it always means ‘rebuke’. See especially 13.1 where we find the same phrase. Thus we must ideally look for some other interpretation.

An alternative is to see the first clause as meaning that the rich man has the advantage that he can buy himself out of trouble, but that idea does not make a good parallel with the second clause.

A further alternative, however, which balances the two clauses, and ties in with verse 7, is that this could mean that a man’s true riches are found in his being ‘ransomed’ (because he has listened to God’s wisdom), whilst those who are poor are so (both physically and spiritually) because they do not listen to rebuke. In other words a man’s true riches lie in his having an assurance that he is acceptable to God and is not subject to death, and this because all that is necessary for his acceptance has been accomplished. These are the great riches which can be enjoyed even by the poor (verse 7). In Solomonic terms that would be through heeding God’s wisdom and responding to God (3.5-6).

The idea of ‘a ransom’ links with the idea of redemption. In Psalm 49.7-8 the two are equated, ‘none can by any means redeem his brother or give a ransom for him’, although it is then made clear that a redemption is possible even though that redemption is costly. The impression given is that it could only be by God. Such a ransom was conceived of in Exodus 30.12 where whenever the men were numbered a ransom had to be paid for each one, although it was not a costly one (although the poorer among them might not have felt that). But it did indicate that men had to be continually ransomed before God, otherwise they would die. The idea was expanded in the idea that every firstborn male in Israel had to be ‘redeemed’ by the offering of a substitute, a lamb or goat (Exodus 13.12 ff.; Numbers 18.15). Thus the prospective head of each family had to be redeemed by means of an offering or sacrifice.

This suggests that some, if not all, offerings and sacrifices were seen as ‘ransoms’ and had a redemptive purpose. They made atonement before God. And this was something confirmed in the Gospels where Jesus speaks of giving Himself as ‘a ransom for many’ (Mark 10.45) in a context where the guilt offering of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53.10 is in mind, and in Hebrews where the redemptive purpose of His sacrifice is made clear (9.12, 15). Israel were indeed looked on as God’s redeemed people, redeemed by the exertion of His mighty power (Exodus 6.6; 15.13; Psalm 74.2; 77.15; 78.35; Isaiah 43.3). But that was as a nation. And they continued to be so in the offering of offerings and sacrifices, both national and personal. The individuals participated in that redemption by personal response to the covenant and by personal sacrifices. This is constantly brought out in the prophets. That the idea of ransom applied to individuals comes out especially in Job 33.24; 36.18; Psalm 49.7-8, whilst the Psalmists continually refer to being redeemed (Psalms 19.14; 26.11; 31.5; 34.22; etc.), where it is clear that some are not. Those who did not genuinely enter into the covenant were cut off from Israel (something which it took the prophets, and a series of catastrophes, a long time to convince the people of).

Thus the recognising by a man that he had been ransomed as a result of his responsiveness to God’s covenant and God’s wisdom, may well have been seen as bestowing on him riches beyond telling.

And this in contrast with the wayward ‘poor’ who ‘hear no rebuke’. Whatever God’s wisdom says to them they continue on in their sluggardly ways (10.4; 6.9-11). One advantage of this interpretation is that it gives ‘rebuke’ its common meaning in Proverbs. This would then tie in with verse 10, ‘by pride comes only contention’, the poor in their pride having refused God’s rebuke are in contention with Him. And it continues with, ‘but with the well advised is wisdom’, they have responded to God and His wisdom, have been accepted by Him, and they thus enjoy the true riches.

13.9

‘The light of the righteous rejoices,
But the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.’

There is a similar combination of light and lamp in 6.23 where ‘the commandment is a lamp and the Torah is a light’ which serves to demonstrate that light and lamp are to be seen as synonymous. The idea here could then be that the light of wisdom of the righteous makes him glad, whilst the false wisdom of the wicked will be snuffed out and vanish. On the other hand in 4.18 we read that, ‘the path of the righteous is as the shining light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day’. Taking it in the light of this, ‘light’ indicates ‘a shining life’, a life lived in the light of God’s wisdom.

The idea of ‘the lamp of the wicked being snuffed out’ is found also in 20.20; 24.20, and may either signify dying, which would equate ‘lamp’ with life, or his losing quality of life. Taking the verses as a whole the former appears to be more likely.

The general idea, however, is clear. The life of the righteous is like a continually shining light, and is one of continual rejoicing. But whatever quality of life the unrighteous have will be snuffed out, probably by death. This would tie in with ‘the ransom of a man’s life’ being ‘his riches’ of the previous verse signifying that the true riches of a man’s life is to enjoy the fact that his life has been ransomed by God.

13.10

‘Only by pride comes contention,
But with the well-counselled is wisdom.’

In the parallel clause ‘pride’ parallels ‘well-counselled’. This suggests that in mind is the pride which refuses to listen to counsel. They rather contend with it. So the idea here is that it is only pride, (which is an abomination to God - 6.17), which causes men to contend with wisdom and therefore not listen to rebuke, whilst the truly wise (and humble) heed counsel, which is why they are wise. This parallels the ideas of ‘the poor hearing no rebuke’ (verse 8), and a man’s true riches lying in the fact that he has responded to wisdom and has therefore been ransomed by God, in verse 8.

13.11

‘Riches obtained by unsatisfactory means will be diminished,
But he who gathers by hard work (literally ‘by hand’) will have increase.’

In the subsection we learned in verse 7 of the ‘great riches’ which even a poor man might have, and in verse 8 that those riches include the fact that his life has been ransomed by God. In verse 9 such riches were a light to the righteous man which caused him to rejoice, and in verse 10 resulted from the fact that he had responded to wise counsel. Now this is related to physical wealth by indicating that it is only wealth obtained in the right way which will endure and increase. And there may be the added thought that the same is true of spiritual wealth, for in Proverbs physical wealth and spiritual wealth go hand in hand, see 3.13-18; 8.11, 18.

The word translated ‘unsatisfactory means’ has lying behind it the thought of a ‘puff of air’, and therefore something which is insubstantial and temporary. What is gathered in that way will itself be insubstantial and temporary. Some of it will quickly disappear. Such a person will tend not to be thrifty. It is a warning against the desire to ‘get-rich-quick’ either physically or spiritually. Quick fixes tend not to last long. Examples of such are obtaining money by violence (1.11 ff.), robbery or false pretences, by extortion or deceit, or even by gambling which, if successful, (and the gambler always hopes to be successful), involves loss to others..

In contrast is the one who ‘gathers by hand’, in other words by hard effort (contrast ‘the slack hand’ of 10.4). His riches will be ‘caused to increase’ (hiphil, which is causative ). For such a person values what he has obtained precisely because it has entailed hard work, and he therefore has a healthy regard for it and reinvests it so that it will increase. The same is true in the spiritual realm. The more effort we put into understanding truth from God’s word, the more benefit and greater certainty we will obtain from it.

Those Who Want Their Hopes And Desires Fulfilled Must Respond God’s Wisdom And Understanding, Heeding Those Who Teach Them, And It Will Be To Them A Tree Of Life And Sweetness To Their Inner Being (13.12-19).

The connection between the closing verse of the last subsection, and the opening verse of this one, is the thought of diminishment and increase. Deceptive wealth ‘diminishes’, true wealth ‘causes to increase’ (verse 11). Hope deferred ‘diminishes’ (makes sick), fulfilment of desire ‘causes increase’ (it is a tree of life).

The subsection itself deals with the impartation of God’s wisdom. When the desire for wisdom is satisfied, it is a tree of life (verse 12). He who fears the commandment will be rewarded (verse 13). The instruction of the wise is a wellspring of life (verse 14). Good understanding gives favour (verse 15). Every shrewd man acts with knowledge (verse 16). A faithful ambassador is health (verse 17). He who takes note of reproof will be honoured (verse 18). The desire (for wisdom) accomplished is sweet to the soul (verse 19).

In the subsection there are a number of recurring ideas. Fulfilled hope is ‘a tree of life’, whilst the instruction of the wise is ‘a wellspring of life’. There is a stress on the importance of ‘the word’ (verse 13), ‘the commandment (verse 13) and ‘instruction (law)’ (verse 14) which will benefit those who respond to them. These words are all reminiscent of the Prologue. Reference is made to the one who ‘fears the commandment’ (verse 13), the one who has ‘good understanding’ (verse 15), ‘the shrewd man’ who has ‘knowledge’ (verse 16), the ‘faithful ambassador’ (verse 17), and the one who ‘takes note of reproof’ (verse 18), similarly reminiscent of the Prologue. The whole is enveloped in an inclusio concerning desire which ‘comes’ (verse 12) and ‘is accomplished’ (verse 19).

Thus those who want their worthwhile hopes and desires fulfilled, with that fulfilment being to them a ‘tree of life’, must respond to ‘the word, the commandment and instruction (law)’, which will be to them ‘a wellspring of life’, and thus prove themselves to be shrewd, understanding and responsive to reproof.

The subsection is presented chiastically:

  • A Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when what is desired comes, it is a tree of life (13.12).
  • B Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who fears the commandment will be rewarded (13.13).
  • C The instruction (law) of the wise is a wellspring of life, that one may depart from the snares of death (13.14).
  • D Good understanding gives favour, but the way of the treacherous is continuing (13.15).
  • D Every shrewd man works with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly (13.16).
  • C A wicked messenger falls into evil, but a faithful ambassador is health (13.17).
  • B Poverty and shame will be to him who refuses correction, but he who takes note of reproof will be honoured (13.18).
  • A The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul, but it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil (13.19).

Note that in A when what is desired comes it is a tree of life, and in the parallel it is sweet to the soul (rather than making the heart sick - verse 12). In B the one who despises the word (of wisdom) brings destruction on himself, while the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded, and in the parallel to refuse correction brings poverty and shame whilst to take notice of reproof results in honour. In C the law of the wise is a wellspring of life, and in the parallel a faithful ambassador is health. Centrally in D we have reference to good understanding and the way of the treacherous, and in the parallel the shrewd man has knowledge whilst the way of the treacherous is described in terms of a fool flaunting folly

13.12

‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
But when the desire (what is desired) comes, it is a tree of life.’

‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick’ is an often cited phrase, indicating the general truth that if the arrival of something is put off too often it ceases to be a hope and becomes a frustration. But Solomon is here taking it as referring to the hope of righteousness and wisdom leading to a wholesome life, for when that desire is fulfilled it will be a tree of life (compare 3.18 of wisdom). It will ensure long and wholesome life. It will ‘cause to increase’ (verse 11). It will be ‘sweetness to the soul’ (verse 19). If, however, it is deferred it will result in sickness of the mind, will and emotions (the heart). it will result in diminishment. The wholesome life will not be achieved

‘Hope’ is expectation of heart. Being ‘deferred’ does not mean being put off until another date, but rather being constantly deferred with no end in sight. The idea is that in the end the hope dwindles and the heart (the inner person) becomes ‘sick’, sometimes physically, always mentally. It results in resignation and even despair.

In contrast when what is desired comes through response to God’s word, commandment and instruction, it is a tree of life. It produces long, wholesome and unceasing life. (The one who ate of the tree of life would live for ever).

13.13

‘Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself,
But he who fears the commandment will be rewarded.’

This puts in more prosaic terms what has been said in the previous verse. The one who despises the word of God’s wisdom will bring destruction on himself. The one who fears the commandment will be rewarded. These are consequences not deserts. To walk in God’s word and in His commandments is to live, ‘which if a man do he will live in them’ (Leviticus 18.5). The words reflect the Prologue (e.g. 4.4; 1.6; 2.1; 7.1) although here in the singular indicating all Solomon’s (and therefore God’s) words. Note that the opposite of ‘to despise’ is ‘to fear, hold in awe’. The one who despises has not realised in his heart the truth about God. The one who has realised in his heart the truth about God, ‘fears’ (takes serious and awe inspired note of what He says).

It should also be noted that the one who despises the word brings destruction ON HIMSELF. He has no one else to blame. He has refused correction (verse 18). He was given the option, knowing the consequences, and made his own choice. In contrast the one who fears the commandment, will be ‘rewarded’. He has ‘taken note of reproof’ (verse 18). He receives the consequences of God’s lovingkindness, not his deserts. It brings the opposite of destruction. It result in enjoying the fruit of the tree of life.

13.14

‘The instruction (law - torah) of the wise is a wellspring of life,
That one may depart from the snares of death.’

The thought of verse 13 continues, but here expanding the positive aspect. The instruction (torah) of the wise is a wellspring of life. In 14.26 it is the fear of YHWH which is a wellspring of life. Thus the instruction of the wise is with reference to the fear of YHWH (compare verse 13b). The word instruction (torah) was regularly used in the Prologue. See 1.8; 3.1; 4.2; 6.20, 23; 7.2. It refers to instruction in wisdom as backed up by the Torah (the Law of Moses). This is a ‘wellspring of life’. It is like a gushing spring sending forth life-giving water. To drink of it is to partake of the tree of life (verse 12). We can compare how Jesus likened Himself and His words to a wellspring of life in John 4.14.

And partaking of this water results in ‘departing from the snares of death’ (compare 14.27; also 7.23). Note that there is only one wellspring of life, God’s wisdom, but there are many snares of death. One who is drinking from the wellspring will not listen to the enticing voices of their contemporaries (1.11 ff.), or of those who speak perverse things (2.12 ff.) or the sexual enticements of ‘strange women’ (9.17; 2.16 ff; 7.5-27), all of which are a living death and lead to death. He will drink wisdom and find life (9.5). He will pay heed to the faithful ambassador whose words produce health (13.17).

13.15

‘Good understanding gives favour,
But the way of the treacherous is continuing.’

‘Good understanding’ can be seen as resulting from ‘the instruction of the wise which is a wellspring of life’ (verse 14), and this might be seen as confirmed by the fact that in 16.22 it is ‘understanding’ which is said to be ‘a wellspring of life to him who has it’. In this case the ‘good’ emphasises the quality of the understanding, it is understanding concerning what is good, as taught by the wisdom of God. And this results in ‘favour’, that is the favour of both God and man (1.9; 3.4, 22, 34; 4.9). Those who have such good understanding have come from under wrath into His favour.

On the other hand, in 3.4 the assiduous attention by ‘my son’ to the torah (instruction, law) (verse 14) and commandments (verse 13) would result in him finding ‘favour and good understanding in the sight of God and men.’ It is possible therefore that the idea here is that it is God’s and men’s good understanding which results in their showing ‘favour’ to the one who has responded to ‘the instruction of the wise’, with the emphasis being on the situation of the treacherous. This interpretation better explains the introduction of ‘good’, but it does not provide such a close parallel to the second clause.

In contrast there is no favour for the treacherous (the word indicates those who act covertly). Their way is unchanging, continuing. They are not given any favour. They are still under wrath. The word translated ‘continuing’ means ‘perennial’ (e.g. a perennial river which is continual from year to year), and then ‘strong, mighty’, and we expect here something which contrasts with ‘favour’. Favour involves a change of attitude, either from wrath in the case of God or neutrality in the case of man. Thus we have translated the word as ‘continuing’, as indicating that for the treacherous their way continues as it always has. Consequently there is no change of attitude towards them by God. They continue under judgment.

13.16

‘Every shrewd man acts (works) with knowledge,
But a fool flaunts (spreads out) his folly.’

The shrewd man, having good understanding (verse 15), does what he does (does, acts, works) with knowledge (the knowledge of God - 2.5). But the fool, who hates such knowledge (1.22), ‘spreads out’ (like a market salesman) his folly. The point is that the one acts with good understanding, the other openly behaves foolishly.

‘A fool flaunts his folly’ would fit well with the idea of the treacherous walking in a continual way, but it expands into the thought that because he is a fool he draws attention to his folly. The knowingly ‘treacherous’ act covertly (verse 15), but the fool is such a fool that he is not aware of how great a fool he is. He has no conception of how his activities appear to God. And he hates knowledge (the knowledge of God - 2.5). Thus he does not care and flaunts his folly.

An alternative translation is suggested for ‘sh (do, act, work) based mainly on an Arabic root which means ‘cover’. It is pointed out that in 12.23 ‘a shrewd man’ is said to ‘conceal knowledge’. Thus the Arabic root would give us the same meaning here, and make a good contrast with ‘flaunts’. But we might then ask, why did Solomon not use the same verb as in 12.23? The suggestion awaits further evidence. And a strong point against it is that in this subsection there is no thought of concealment (it is the treacherous who act covertly). All the emphasis is on the word, the commandment and the torah being openly declared.

13.17

‘A wicked messenger falls into evil,
But a faithful ambassador is health.’
But the word ‘messenger’ was also used of prophets as God’s messengers. Prophets also could be true or false, and it may well be that Solomon sent men out to communicate his wisdom teaching, who could be seen as messengers. In the context this would appear to be the most likely idea in mind. The whole subsection, and much of the section, are concerned with the communication of God’s wisdom.

Alternately Solomon may simply be using the idea of messengers in order to indicate ‘wise men’, (who were no doubt often sent as messengers), and ‘wisdom teachers’. This would especially be so if, in accordance with the chiasmus, we see the verse as paralleled with 13.14, which speaks of ‘the instruction of the wise’ as ‘a wellspring of life’. So it may well be that the wise who were instructing others, interpreting Solomon’s wisdom, were seen by him as ‘messengers’ and ‘ambassadors’. And the ideas of ‘the wellspring of life’ and ‘the snares of death’ would fit well with the ides of good and bad messengers, especially as the good messenger is said to be ‘health’. Messengers carried messages which could indeed have life and death consequences, and so did wise men and prophets.

With all this in mind let us consider the two clauses in the proverb. ‘A wicked messenger falls into evil.’ This vivid description portrays the ‘wicked messenger’ as ‘falling headlong into evil’. He misrepresents his message with evil consequences, for the one who sent him, for those who heard him, and eventually for himself. He despises the word and brings destruction on himself (verse 13). He flaunts his folly (verse 16). He is a disaster for all. This may well have been Solomon’s (and God’s) view of false messengers of wisdom. Alternatively, taking the consonantal (original) text as it stands and repointing as hiphil we could read, ‘a wicked man causes to fall into evil’. This would then put the emphasis on the evil effects of a false messenger.

In contrast, ‘a faithful ambassador/messenger is health.’ He is healthy for the one who sent him, if his message is a positive one what he communicates brings health for his hearers, and he finally brings health on himself. If he is indeed a messenger of wisdom teaching this is very much the case. The proverb can thus be seen, firstly as a warning to prophets and wisdom teachers to be ‘healthy’ in what they teach, secondly as a warning to people not to listen to false wisdom teachers and prophets but to heed those who give them ‘health’, and thirdly as an indication of what their messages accomplish in line with what has already been repeated again and again. They bring health to people’s hearts. In other words, the wicked result in evil, the faithful result in wellbeing.

‘Is health’ seems a strange way to describe a normal king’s messenger, and his message might be the very opposite, but it is just the description we would expect of a wise man, for as 12.18 has already told us, ‘the tongue of the wise is health’. That seems to confirm that this faithful messenger is a wise man.

13.18

‘Poverty and shame (shameful poverty) will be to him who refuses correction,
But he who takes note of reproof will be honoured.’

The one who refuses to be corrected will in the end suffer shameful poverty. Like the unrighteous messenger he will fall into evil (verse 17). This is paralleled in verse 13 by ‘whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself’, for the one who refuses to be corrected demonstrates thereby that he despises the word of wisdom. Indeed, he also despises reproof (1.25, 30; 5.12). Thus does he bring on himself the total collapse of all that he has. But the one who takes note of reproof, demonstrates thereby that he fears the commandment (verse 13), thus he will be rewarded by being honoured.

The importance of responding to reproof and correction was a main theme in the Prologue (1.23, 25, 30; 3.11; 5.12; 6.23). It is also found in 10.17; 12.1. It was connected in the Prologue with the idea of the chastening of YHWH (3.11-12).

13.19

‘The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul,
But it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil.’

‘The desire accomplished’ was referred to in verse 12 as ‘when what is desired comes’, and in both cases the effects of the fulfilment of desire are described. Here it is ‘sweet to the inner person’ (nephesh), (it gives them ‘health’ (verse 17)), in verse 12 it was ‘a tree of life’, which offered life to God’s true people. It is clear from this that ‘the desire’ refers to the desire of the wise and righteous, for only they can partake of the tree of life. It is a desire which will only be satisfied for the wise, for it is in contrast with the experience of ‘fools’. Thus it is the desire to follow God’s wisdom and be pleasing to Him, and as 3.15; 8.11 makes clear, nothing that can otherwise be desired can be compared with this. An appreciation of God’s wisdom is the most precious thing that a man can possess.

To put it another way this desire is the desire to hear the word and respond to the commandment (verse 13), it is the desire to receive the instruction of the wise (verse 14), it is the desire to have good understanding (verse 15).

In contrast those who do not have this desire are fools, for to them it is an abomination to depart from evil. They hate wisdom and the true knowledge of God (1.22), for it will interfere with their selfish ways. Ironically in their desperate bid for happiness, they miss what could satisfy the desire of their inner hearts.

Walking With The Wise Will Result In Prosperity And A Well-knit And Integrated Family, Whilst Being A Fool Is A Prelude To Disaster (13.20-14.1).

We have in this subsection a call to follow wisdom and be wise (verse 20), righteous verses 21, 25) and good (verse 22). He who does so will be recompensed with good (13.21); will find himself in a position to leave his descendants an inheritance (verse 22); will properly discipline his son (verse 24); will not go hungry (verse 25); and will have a wise wife who will build up his household (14.1). In contrast are the fools (verse 20); sinners (verses 21, 22); the poor (verse 23); and the unrighteous (verse 25). They will make those who trust them ‘smart’ (verse 20); will be pursued by evil (verse 21); will eventually lose their inheritance ( verse 22); will eventually suffer hunger (verses 23, 25); and may have a wife who allows the household to collapse (14.1).

We should note the emphasis on the family. A good man ensures that his children and grandchildren are provided for (13.22). A loving father disciplines his son (13.24). A wise woman by her wisdom builds up her house (her family) (14.1).

The subsection can be presented chiastically:

  • A Walk with WISE men, and you will be wise, but the companion of FOOLS will smart for it (13.20).
  • B Evil pursues sinners, but the RIGHTEOUS will be recompensed with good (13.21).
  • C A good man leaves an inheritance to his CHILDREN’S CHILDREN, and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the righteous (13.22).
  • D Much food is in the tillage of the poor (13.23a).
  • D But there is that is destroyed by reason of injustice (13.23b).
  • C He who spares his rod hates his SON, but he who loves him is intent on disciplining him (13.24).
  • B The RIGHTEOUS eats to the satisfying of his inner man (nephesh), but the stomach of the wicked will want (13.25).
  • A Every WISE woman builds her house, but the FOOLISH plucks it down with her own hands (14.1).

Note that in A we have the accomplishment of the wise man, and in the parallel the accomplishment of the wise woman, whilst ‘fools’ parallels ‘foolish’. In B the righteous will be recompensed with good, and in the parallel the righteous eats to the satisfying of his inner man. In C the good man provides for his children materially, and in the parallel the one who loves his son ‘provides for’ his son by chastening him. Centrally in D, whilst there is much food in the tillage of the poor, in the contrasting parallel some of it is destroyed by injustice.

13.20

‘Walk with wise men, and you will be wise,
But the companion of fools will smart for it.’

Note the inclusio of wise men here and the wise woman in 14.1. Walking with the wise makes a man wise, he marries a wise woman, and thus produces a wise family. Both the wise husband and the wise wife are needed to produce a well rounded individual. Compare the constant pairing with regard to wisdom teaching of the father and the mother (1.8; 4.3;10.1). And note that Solomon is presented as a father figure (he refers to ‘my son’) and wisdom is presented as a mother figure (wisdom is always feminine). So while a wise father is seen as vital for a family, a wise mother is also seen as essential.

The consequence of becoming wise will be that he will be recompensed with good (verse 21), he will be in a position to leave wealth to his children’s children (verse 22), he will eat well both physically and spiritually, and his family will be made strong (14.1).

The lesson of the individual proverb is important. It is a reminder that we become like the company that we keep. Solomon exhorts ‘his son’ (those whom he addresses for whom there is yet hope) to walk with wise men. He is to keep company with them, listen to them, and respond to what they say. Then he himself will become wise in God’s wisdom. In the parallel by living with a wise woman, he (and the whole family) will be established in the right way (14.1).

In contrast those who walk with fools (those who do not respond to God’s wisdom), and have fools as their companions, will suffer the consequences. They will ‘smart for it’, they will ‘suffer harm’ (like the one who is surety for a stranger (11.15)). They walk with fools (2.12-15), pay heed to what they say (1.11 ff) and become fools themselves. How much better had they been made to smart by their father’s discipline (verse 24). And the same will be true of those who have a ‘foolish’ mother. They will live in an unhappy and disintegrated household (verse 14.1).

We could take ro‘eh as a qal participle and translate as ‘the one who keeps companionship with’ but the meaning is the same. Note that the r‘h (companion) yrw‘ (suffers harm), whilst in the next verse r‘h (evil) pursues sinners, connecting the two verses.

13.21

‘Evil pursues sinners,
But the righteous will be recompensed with good.’

The importance of walking with the wise (verse 20) comes out in that ‘evil pursues sinners’. In view of the parallel clause ‘evil’ includes all the unpleasant things that can face man (compare 3.29), such as hunger, fierce storms, calamity and death (1.25-27, 32; 2.22; 3.25; 5.9-10; 6.11, 15, 33; 7.27). But it is probably also intended to include moral evil. A sinner attracts evil (what is not good) and it pursues him. Evil is here personified and seen as a remorseless enemy which hunts down its victims (see 1.10-19; 2.12-15, 16-19; 6.24; 7.10-21). But it cannot touch those who walk with the wise. The righteous, instead of being pursued with the world’s evils, will be recompensed with good (3.16-18) because by responding to Gods’ wisdom they have become ‘good’, (have had their mind set on following God’s wisdom), and are thus becoming more and more good. Compare Matthew 6.33, ‘seek first the kingly rule of God and His righteousness, and all these things (food and clothing) will be added to you’.

In the parallel verse (13.25), ‘the righteous eats to the satisfying of his inner man (nephesh)’, whilst the stomach of the non-righteous will be empty. Here is one of the ‘good’ things which the righteous will enjoy. Note the parallel reference in verse 25 to ‘the righteous’. Other good things described are that he becomes wealthy enough to leave an inheritance to his descendants (verse 22), and that he weds a wife who will be a blessing to his future family (14.1).

Note also how the mention of ‘sinners’ connects up with the verse which follows this (verse 22). These connecting links demonstrate that Solomon wants us to connect the proverbs together. Sinners are those who fall short of ‘goodness’ (verse 22).

13.22

‘A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children,
And the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the righteous.’

The good man, the righteous man, the one who walks with the wise (verse 20), is here contrasted with ‘the sinner’, the one who falls short of goodness, the one who is unrighteous. Here we learn that the good man retains his wealth so that he is able to pass it on to his descendants, whilst the sinner fails to do so. The sinner loses it. Either he or his children, who will tend to grow up like him, will squander it, or he will lose it through some disaster. And in the end it will benefit the righteous. (The righteous will benefit in the end, the sinner will lose all).

The fact that the good man leaves his inheritance to his children’s children also suggests that his own children will be ‘good men’ so that they too prosper, for it is they who will ensure that the succession continues. And the reasons why they become good men is that they are properly disciplined (verse 24) and have a good and wise mother (14.1). Thus by walking with the wise a good man benefits not only himself, but his children. They too become wise.

For an illustration of the clause ‘the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the righteous’ compare Genesis 31.9, 16; Exodus 12.36; Deuteronomy 2.26-35; 3.1-2; Esther 8.1; Psalm 105.44.

13.23

‘Much food is in the fallow (unploughed) ground of the poor,
But there is that is destroyed by reason of injustice (judgment).’

Standing by itself this could be saying that even if the poor did not work hard and plough their ground (fallow ground is untilled ground, ground which has not been broken up - see Hosea 10.12; Jeremiah 4.3), they would still be able to provide enough food for their families, were it not for the fact that their situation could be affected by injustice. But the idea is more likely that much food is there assuming that the poor would work hard and plough the ground. Then they would discover that it would produce much food. The injustice may have in mind that they could find themselves over-taxed, or having what they produced taken from them by invaders (compare Judges 6.3-4) or by a rich person using his influence on the courts, or by storms and unseasonal rain. The fact that they can produce ‘much food’ is evidence that ‘the poor’ are not to be seen as the destitute (they have land), and indicates that all could have been satisfactorily fed were it not for man’s greed.

But in context the verse has a further significance. It is illustrating the fact that ‘evil pursues sinners’ (verse 21). For up to this point Solomon’s clear teaching has been that the poor are poor because they are slothful (6.9-11; 10.4-5). They have not followed the way of wisdom. And that is confirmed here by the reference to ‘fallow (untilled) ground’. They have not broken up their ground. And yet even so that ground could produce sufficient food were it not for the fact that ‘evil pursued them’, that what they produce is subject to misfortune. It must be remembered that such injustices were regularly seen as due to the hand of YHWH punishing His people for their ill-doing (Judges 6.1-4).

An alternative is to paraphrase as, ‘much food could be in the fallow ground of the poor, were it not that it is swept away by poor judgment.’ In other words the ground fails to produce what it could because the poor exercise poor judgment and do not break up the ground. They fail to produce because of their own slothfulness.

Either way this is central in the chiasmus because, coming in between the inclusio which refers to walking with the wise (13.20), and being brought up by the wise (14.1), Solomon wants to emphasise that sinners bring their misfortune on themselves in spite of God having initially shown His goodness towards them.

Brief Note On The Poor.

We may feel that Solomon is a little unfair to the poor when he suggests that they are always responsible for their own poverty. But we must remember that he saw the Israelite society in which he lived, and over whom he reigned, as composed of families each of which had its own portion of land handed down from their ancestors. Thus he considered that, on the whole, where this was so, they had the means by which they could feed themselves if they put in enough effort. Given this scenario we can see why he spoke as he did.

End of note.

13.24

‘He who spares his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him is intent on disciplining him.’

In verse 22 the good man leaves an inheritance to his descendants, here he gives his son a different kind of inheritance by disciplining him in love so that he will learn wisdom. To ‘spare the rod’ is to not use it. He fails to use it because he is not bothered about the way in which his son walks. In contrast the one who loves his son will discipline him when necessary. He is ‘intent on’ disciplining him because he loves him and wants him to learn the way of wisdom. The fact that it would be done in love (‘he who loves him’) would prevent it from being excessive.

This is not an admonition to beat one’s children. It is an admonition to discipline them properly. The rod was the method of discipline in those days. Life was hard and time precious, and children rarely had privileges that could be withheld. The rod was a quick method of discipline, and psychological methods were unknown. Today we may use other methods of discipline. We live in an affluent age and children can always be punished by withholding privileges or, with young children, using ‘the naughty seat’. This was not possible, or even thought of, in those days. But good parents are still ‘intent on’ sufficiently disciplining their children when necessary, so that they will learn what is good. And if this does finally require ‘the rod’ they will use it. A judicious smack given in love (not in despair or temper) may well save the child much trouble (in spite of modern prejudices).

13.25

‘The righteous eats to the satisfying of his inner man (nephesh),
But the stomach of the wicked will want.’

In 13.22 we read, ‘Evil pursues sinners, but the righteous will be recompensed with good.’ This is illustrated here. It is because misfortune pursues sinners, that the stomach of the unrighteous will want (go hungry). In contrast the righteous will be recompensed with good, because the righteous will be satisfied, both physically by having sufficient food, and spiritually by feeding on wisdom. It is a reminder that the wise man chooses the way of righteousness, and discovers that in the end that is the way to wellbeing and life.

14.1

‘Every wise woman builds her house,
But the foolish plucks it down with her own hands.’

This is the second part of the inclusio, the first part being verse 20. ‘Every wise woman’ is paralleled with ‘wise men.’ Like Ms Wisdom (9.1) this wise woman ‘builds her house’, although in her case it is not a literal building but the ‘building’ of the family. She spends her efforts on building up her family and making them wise. She instructs them in the Torah (Law of Moses) (1.8), and is deeply concerned if they go astray (10.1). Like woman wisdom she constantly exhorts them to walk in the right way, the way of the wise. Note that it is not said that she does it ‘with her own hands’. The idea is probably that she is assisted by YHWH. And as a consequence she is a ‘crown’ to her husband (12.4).

In contrast is the foolish woman who plucks down her house ‘with her own hands’. She must take total responsibility for what happens, when her children are badly behaved and disunited, and when her household collapses. She is as rottenness in her husband’s bones (12.4).

The One Who Fears YHWH Walks In Uprightness, Is Preserved By What He Says, Enjoys Prosperity, Is A True Witness And Easily Comes To Understanding (14.2-6).

The one who fears YHWH walks in uprightness (verse 2); speaks in such a way that his lips and words preserve him (verse 3); takes full advantage of the strength of the ox which is God’s gift to man in order to enjoy abundant harvest (verse 4); speaks truthfully and is a reliable witness (verse 5); and through the understanding that God has given him, easily comes to true knowledge (verse 6).

In contrast the one who despises YHWH is perverse (crooked) in his ways (verse 2); speaks in foolish pride which will rebound on him (verse 3); is sluggardly in his ways (verse 4a); is untruthful in his speech (verse 5); and while seeking true wisdom is unable to find it, because it is only found in God (verse 6).

The subsection is presented chiastically:

  • A He who fears YHWH walks in his uprightness, but he who despises him is perverse in his ways (14.2).
  • B In the mouth of the foolish is a rod (or ‘branch’) of pride, but the lips of the wise will preserve them (14.3).
  • C Where no oxen are, the manger is clean (14.4a)
  • C But much increase is by the strength of the ox (14.4b)
  • B A faithful witness will not lie, but a false witness utters lies (14.5)
  • A A scorner seeks wisdom, and does not find, but knowledge is easy to him who has understanding (14.6).

Note that in A we have the one who fears YHWH, (which is the beginning of knowledge (1.7)), compared with the one who despises YHWH, and in the parallel the one who has understanding and finds knowledge is compared with the one who is cynical and fails to find such knowledge. In B the foolish betray themselves by their mouths, whilst the wise by their lips preserve themselves, and in the parallel the false witness utters lies, while the faithful witness does not lie (and thus preserves himself from repercussions). Centrally in C the foolish avoid having oxen, and thus have an empty, and therefore clean, manger, (on which being foolish they probably congratulate themselves), whilst the wise have a strong ox, (have to clean out their mangers), and thus enjoy good harvests.

14.2

‘He who fears YHWH walks in his uprightness,
But he who despises him is perverse in his ways.’

The fear of YHWH is a central feature of Proverbs. Among other things it is ‘the beginning (or first principle) of knowledge’ (1.7). Those who fear YHWH find the knowledge of God (2.5) and receive from Him knowledge and understanding (2.6). That is why they walk in uprightness (straightness). Their way is true and right. They walk in the way of righteousness (8.20; 12.28). And because the fear of YHWH has given them understanding, true knowledge (the knowledge of YHWH) comes easily to them (verse 6).

In contrast the one who despises YHWH and does not fear Him is crooked (‘turns aside’) in his ways. He does not walk in the way of righteousness, which includes obedience to YHWH. Instead he walks in many ways unable to find the right way. As a despiser of YHWH and a scorner he seeks wisdom but does not find it (verse 6).

14.3

‘In the mouth of the foolish is a rod (or ‘branch’) of pride,
But the lips of the wise will preserve them.’

This could mean that as a consequence of his being perverse in his ways his tongue (the rod in his mouth) is proud and speaks arrogantly, and even falsely (verse 5), eventually bringing repercussions on himself. He beats himself with his own rod (tongue). Alternately his tongue can be seen as a ‘flourishing branch’ (compare Isaiah 11.1 for the use of the word) which is full of pride and causes pride in others. The proud look and the lying tongue are two of the abominations which God hates (6.17).

In contrast the lips of the wise preserve them. They do not bring repercussions on themselves by what they say (compare 11.12; 12.6; 13.3). They speak carefully and thoughtfully (10.13, 32). Nor do they perjure themselves (verse 5) bringing on themselves the wrath of the law. Thus they preserve themselves rather than bringing a rod on themselves.

The word for ‘rod’ only occurs here and in Isaiah 11.1 (where it means ‘shoot, branch’), but in Aramaic it indicates a rod for punishment.

14.4

‘Where no oxen are, the crib is clean,
But much increase is by the strength of the ox.’

Note that the person in question has a manger for feeding animals. Why then does he not have an ox? It may be that because of his folly he cannot afford an ox, or has had to dispense with it. Or it may be that he does not want to do the work which having an ox would involve. Nor does he want to have to clean the manger. Either way his folly does result in a clean manger, but it also results in no harvest. As a sluggard he has avoided work and will find himself in poverty (6.6-11; 10.4-5). As he lies in bed slumbering he may even pride himself on not having to clean the manger like others have to. But not only is his manger clean, so is his grain store, and so is his larder. He is left without a means of survival. This is what his perverse ways have led him to (verse 2).

In contrast is the wise man. He has an ox and gathers in an abundant harvest. The ox enables him to multiply the effect of his labours. He obtains ‘much increase’ due to the oxen’s strength. His manger may be dirty, and need cleaning, but his reward is a multiplicity of grain. And the provision of the ox is one of God’s mercies to man. Without the ox man’s toil would be almost unbearable. It is a gift of God.

The whole proverb is a reminder of the fact that if we want our lives to count for anything we must allow them to be disturbed. We must be prepared for interference in our cosy lives if we are to serve our God. If we are not prepared to sacrifice our cosiness, we will never achieve great things, for the things that matter most make great demands upon us. We can compare the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘he who would save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s, the same will save it’ (Mark 8.35). The cross is uncomfortable, but it is essential for those who would experience life.

14.5

‘A faithful witness will not lie,
But a false witness utters lies.’

The faithful and true witness does not lie. He is a wise and righteous man. He tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Thus he walks with a satisfied conscience, and without fear of repercussions. He walks uprightly (verse 2). He preserves himself with his mouth (verse 3). If he testifies in court his witness can be relied on. If he declares something in his community he is believed. Even his enemies believe him. His ‘yes’ is ‘yes, and his ‘no’ is ‘no’, for whatever is more than this is of evil (Matthew 5.37).

In contrast the false witness does lie. He does it because he despises YHWH and His commandments (verse 2), and in essence despises justice, as a consequence he comes under the condemnation of both God and man.

14.6

‘A scorner seeks wisdom, and does not find,
But knowledge is easy to him who has understanding.’

In verse 2 the one who despised YHWH was perverse in his ways. This would often result in false pride (verse 3), failure to take advantage of his resources (verse 4), and lying in court (verse 5). Now we learn that the scorner seeks wisdom and cannot find it. But why can he not find it? It is because he does not look to God. He despises the fear of YHWH (verse 2). Thus his search for true wisdom is in vain. He may be worldly wise, he may have great earthly knowledge, but he fails to find true wisdom, which is why he behaves as he does.

In contrast is the one who has understanding. He has no difficulty in finding wisdom because he submits to the fear of YHWH (verse 2). He seeks the knowledge of God in the right way (2.5). And because God reveals to him His wisdom (2.6) and gives to him understanding (2.9-11) he finds knowledge easily.

We Are To Follow The Ways Of The Wise And Shrewd, Not The Ways Of The Foolish (14.7-16).

The whole emphasis of Proverbs is on following God’s wisdom. By doing so the shrewd man understands his way (verse 8); he finds favour with God (verse 9); he will flourish whatever his circumstances (verse 11), he will avoid final death (verse 12); he will be satisfied from what comes upon him (verse 14); he looks well to his steps (verse 15); and he fears YHWH and departs from evil (verse 16).

In contrast is the worldly-wise fool. He does not speak or hear true knowledge (the knowledge of God) (verse 7); he deceives and is deceived (verse 8); he mocks at guilt (verse 9); his emotions constantly vary (verse 10); his house will be overthrown (verse 11); he will end up in final death (verse 12); he never knows full joy (verse 13); he will receive the consequences of his own ways (verse 14); he believes what the worldly-wise tell him ( verse 15); he is angry with God and totally self confident.

The subsection is presented chiastically:

  • A Go from the presence of a FOOLISH man, for you will not know in him the lips of knowledge (14.7).
  • B The wisdom of the SHREWD is to understand his way, but the folly of fools is deceit (14.8)
  • C A guilt-offering mocks fools, (or ‘every fool mocks at guilt’), but among the upright there is favour (14.9).
  • D The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not intermeddle with its joy (14.10).
  • E The house of the wicked will be overthrown, but the tent of the UPRIGHT (yashar) will flourish (14.11).
  • E There is a way which seems RIGHT (yashar) to a man, but its end is the ways of death (14.12).
  • D Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of mirth is heaviness (14.13).
  • C The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways, and a good man will be satisfied from (what comes) upon him (14.14).
  • B The naive man believes every word, but the SHREWD man looks well to his going (14.15).
  • A A wise man fears, and departs from evil, but the FOOL bears himself insolently, and is confident (14.16)

Note that in A you will not know in the foolish man the lips of knowledge, and in the parallel the fool bears himself insolently, and is confident. In B the shrewd man understands his way, and in the parallel the shrewd man looks well to his going. In C the fool mocks at guilt but among the upright there is favour, and in the parallel the backslider is filled with his own ways, and the good man is satisfied from what comes upon him. In D the heart knows its own bitterness, and in the parallel the heart is sorrowful and heavy. Centrally in E the house of the unrighteous will be overthrown, and in the parallel the end of the mistaken man is the ways of death.

14.7

‘Go (walk) from the presence of a foolish man,
For you will not perceive the lips of knowledge.’

Solomon now warns that when seeking knowledge (the knowledge of God), we are to avoid ‘fools’, those who ignore God’s wisdom, and we are to do it because they will not be reliable guides. We could paraphrase ‘you will not perceive the lips of knowledge’ as ‘you will not find true knowledge in his words’. And this is because, ‘the mouth of fools pours out folly’ (15.2). And they do so because they follow worldly wisdom rather than the wisdom that comes from God.

‘Walk from the presence of a foolish man’. Compare 13.20 where Solomon’s instruction was rather to walk with wise men. He was to walk with the wise, and walk away from the foolish. Today we would say the same with regard to those who ignore the Scriptures. They are not reliable guides with regard to the things of God, however clever they might be. In regard to the things of God the wise of this world are fools. We should, therefore, rather look to those who are wise in the Scriptures. He is not saying that we should avoid any contact with such people completely, although we are certainly to avoid their ways (2.12-22), only that we should do so in regard to finding the knowledge of God

As the parallel verse in the chiasmus (verse 16) makes clear, this is because the fool is over-confident, and insolent towards God. By his manner of life he ‘despises YHWH’ (14.2), and this is reflected in his thinking. He is thus not a good guide to a true knowledge of God. This proverb also connects back with verse 6 where knowledge ‘is easy (and easy to be found) to him who has understanding’, an understanding given to him by God (2.6, 9; compare Matthew 11.25-27).

We may also see as included here a warning not to discuss difficult questions with the ‘foolish’ unless we are of sufficient calibre to do so. Inexperienced Christians may well find themselves distressed by the arguments of clever atheists. It is better if they give their testimony and then walk away from their presence as the proverb suggests.

14.8

‘The wisdom of the shrewd is to understand his way,
But the folly of fools is deceit.’

It is because the shrewd are wise that they will go from the presence of the foolish man. They understand what their way is to be, and thus do not get involved in the way of the fool. For the folly of the foolish man is found in his involvement with ‘deceit’. He is both deceived and a deceiver of others. ‘The god of this world has blinded the minds of those who believe not, that the light of the good news of the glory of Christ may not shine on them’ (2 Corinthians 4.4). Thus such men are deceived themselves and deceive others. But they do not deceive the shrewd because the shrewd man understands (from the wise and from God) what the way is in which he should go. And this is because he ‘looks well to his going’ (14.15). He ensures that it is in accordance with God’s wisdom as taught to him by the wise. He is not like the naive who believe everything they are told (14.15). He rather considers his way in the light of God’s wisdom.

14.9

‘A guilt-offering mocks fools, (or ‘every fool mocks at guilt’)
But among the upright there is favour.’

There is a translation problem here in that the word for ‘guilt’ also means ‘guilt-offering’. Thus we can translate as ‘a guilt-offering mocks fools’ or as ‘every fool mocks guilt’. In the first case the idea is that it is useless for a fool (a man who ignores God’s wisdom) to offer a guilt-offering, because it will be of no avail. The guilt-offering will just mock at him, because he is not bringing it with the right attitude of heart (compare 15.8; 21.27). In the second case the idea is that the fool mocks at guilt. He does not take it seriously. He is insolent and self-confident (verse 16). He is filled with his own ways (verse 14). In either case, he, as a consequence, does not find favour with God.

In contrast the upright do find the favour of both God and men. For them the guilt-offering is effective and makes them acceptable before God. For they treat their guilt seriously, and they come in repentance. In the same way today we must take our guilt seriously, knowing that we can then come into God’s favour through the guilt-offering of our Lord Jesus Christ Who bore our guilt on the cross (Isaiah 53.10: 1 Peter 2.24; 3.18).

14.10

‘The heart knows its own bitterness,
And an outsider does not intermeddle with its joy.’

In context the point here is that man left to himself is terribly alone. He alone knows the bitterness that is within him. He alone appreciates the joy that he experiences. It is only when he comes to God that he can find Someone who can share the bitterness of his soul, and can enter into his joys.

This proverb goes to the depths of our inner beings. It says that in the end we are only known to ourselves. Only we ourselves know the depths of our own bitterness, and the reasons for it, at times of heartache. Others may surmise, but they can only look at the outward appearance. God alone can look at the heart. Comparing with the previous verse this also includes our guilt. This is something of which only we are aware, and it can be bitter within us. But once we face up to it and come to God in God’s way we can come into God’s favour. And that is what matters. ‘Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged. Take it to the Lord in prayer.’

And in the same way only we can plumb the true depths of our joy. Others may rejoice with us, but the ‘outsider’ cannot fully enter into our joy, nor can he in the end make any difference to it. Our joy is our own. The outsider cannot fully appreciate it or take it away from us. It can, however, be transient. It may soon once again be replaced by bitterness. But for the true believer there is joy that is permanent. Those who joy in God have something which the world cannot affect (Psalm 16.11; 30.5; 32.11; 35.9; etc.). In New Testament terms, when we experience ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’ through knowing Christ, (1 Peter 1.8) it is beyond the wit of man to affect it.

So both our sorrows and our joys find their solution in God. In the end there is only One Who is fully aware of what we suffer, and how fully we rejoice, and that is God. Indeed, as verse 13 makes clear, often our emotions are in conflict. We can experience joy and sorrow at the same time. Even in laughter there may be causes of sorrow in our hearts that others know nothing of. And whatever rejoicing we may experience it is often followed by heaviness of spirit. This is why the shrewd man needs to understand his way (verse 8), needs to gain true knowledge rather than false knowledge (verse 7), and looks well to his going (verse 15). For in the end his life is between him and God.

The ideas in the verse are preparing for verse 11 where the house of the unrighteous is contrasted with the tent of the upright. It is not what we live in that is important, but what lives in us.

14.11

‘The house of the wicked will be overthrown,
But the tent of the upright will flourish (sprout).’

The unrighteous man may live in a splendid house, and live in it with great confidence, happy that his circumstances are now secure. He is confident that he has succeeded at last. He has nothing to fear. He is at last established. He can say to himself, ‘I have much goods laid up for many years, I can take my ease, and eat and drink and be merry’ (Luke 12.19). What he does not realise is that in the end his house will be overthrown, and indeed it might be that very night (Luke 12.20). His life is not secure at all. And the final overthrowing of it is certain.

In contrast is the upright. He is happy in whatever God has seen fit to give him. He is happy though he has but a tent. He does not pine for outward security. He rather looks for a city which has eternal foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11.10). And he has reason to be joyful, for his life and home will flourish and grow from its early beginnings, because he walks in God’s wisdom.

The idea behind the tent would be of a nomad’s tent, a kind of bell-tent round a central pole, made of goatskins held down by wooden pegs. It is a reminder that life is transient and that we should be living for things above.

4.12

‘There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the ways of death.’

Unrighteous man thinks that he has life worked out. Whilst the upright man (yashar) in verse 11 has chosen the straight path, this man thinks that he also has chosen a right and straight path (it seem yashar to him). He is confident that all will go well for him. He builds his house (verse 11), establishes his business, and is sure that nothing can go wrong. He lives heedless of God’s wisdom. He is sure that he has chosen the right way. But because he is unrighteous he will discover that, just as the unrighteous man’s house will be overthrown (verse 11), so the way that he has chosen, like the differing ways of other unrighteous people, is ‘the ways of death’. He has forgotten to consider his end (Psalm 73.17). He has chosen the broad way to destruction (Matthew 7.14). He is like the wealthy man in Jesus’ parable, self-contained and foolish (Luke 12.16-21). He thinks that he has got it right, but because he leaves God out of account he has not.

14.13

‘Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful,
And the end of mirth is heaviness.’

What the unrighteous man forgets is that life is not a smooth ride, except for the very fortunate. Even while people are laughing and enjoying themselves there is that which makes them sorrowful in their hearts, and even whilst they are living it up, black times lie on the horizon. For as verse 10 brings out the heart experiences its own bitterness which none can know except itself. And even its joy is personal. And here we learn that it ends in tears. In this is summed up much of the message of Proverbs, that though for the unrighteous life may seem good for a time, it always catches up with them in the end. Without God life goes downward rather than upwards.

In 4.12 the end of the man’s way was the ways of death. Here the end of mirth is heaviness. The two are related. In verse 12 the man has gone on in his life satisfied with his choice, but ‘his end’ is no fun, it is the ways of death. Here the man lives for fun and mirth, but ‘its end’ is heaviness.

14.14

‘The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways,
And a good man will be satisfied from (what comes) upon him.’

In verse 9 the fool mocked at guilt, whilst among the upright there was favour and goodwill. Here that mocking at guilt results in him being filled with his own ways. It produces the ‘backslider in heart’, the one who backslides from God’s covenant, and receives the reward that is due to him for his behaviour and attitude. He is filled (repaid fully) with his own ways. There is a dual play on ‘filled’. His mind is filled with his own ways (he thinks only of himself), and as a consequence his own ways come back on him, bringing their own punishment (he is ‘filled’, fully repaid, for his own ways).

The backslider in heart is one who with his mind and will has turned his back on God. He may nominally believe in Him, and outwardly profess Him, such belief was after all part of the social structure, but at heart he ignores him. He is like the fool who says in his heart, ‘there is no God’ (Psalm 14.1).

In contrast the ‘good man’ will be satisfied ‘from upon him’. He will be fully rewarded (and therefore satisfied) from what comes upon him (as a result of what comes upon him). He will not be filled with the consequences of his own ways, but will receive favour from God (verse 9).

14.15

‘The naive believes every word,
But the shrewd man looks well to his going (steps).’

In 14.9 the ‘folly of fools was deceit’ (deceiving and being deceived). Here we learn why some fools are deceived. It is because they ‘believe every word’ that they are told. They are gullible. They swallow the wisdom of the worldly wise who turn their thoughts away from God and His ways. After all it suits them to do so. In contrast the shrewd man ‘understands his way’ (verse 9), he ‘looks well to his steps’, because he looks to God’s wisdom and walks in it step by step. He lives by His Word. He ‘walks step by step by the Spirit’ (Galatians 5.25; Psalm 51.10). He says, ‘your Spirit is good, lead me in the land of uprightness’ (Psalm 143.10).

14.16

‘A wise man fears, and departs from evil,
But the fool bears himself insolently, and is confident.’

The subsection closes by again distinguishing the wise man from the fool. The wise man ‘fears’. He fears the consequences of evil, but most of all he reverently fears YHWH. Thus he ‘departs from evil’, from all that is ‘not good’. He seeks only what is good. Departing from evil is specifically said to be a consequence of fearing YHWH in 3.7, where we read quite explicitly ‘fear YHWH and depart from evil’.

In contrast the fool has no fear of YHWH. He walks insolently, disregarding His word. He ‘shows himself angry’ towards YHWH. He does not like His restrictions. He is fully confident in himself. And this is because he does not have ‘the lips of knowledge (the knowledge of God)’ (verse 7). He does not speak or hear what is wise and true, because of his supreme confidence in himself.

The Triumph Of Truth Over Falsehood And Of Righteousness Over Unrighteousness (14.17-25).

The thought of truth against falsehood undergirds this subsection. It commences with the fact that fools deal foolishly and devise evil schemes, and ends with the thought that they even, by their lies, destroy the reliability of the courts. But they do not in the end succeed. For they are hated and in the end have to bow down to the good. They are in contrast with the true. The shrewd are crowned with true knowledge (verse 18); the evil will have to bow down to them (verse 19); those who devise good will enjoy true covenant love (verse 22); the true witness saves lives (verse 25). In contrast are the false. They are evil schemers (verse 17); they inherit folly (verse 18); they have to bow down to the good and the righteous (verse 19); they devise evil (verse 22); they utter lies in court and cause deceit where there should only be truth (verse 25).

Also prominent is the benefit of righteousness and wisdom. The wise and good devise good and not evil (verse 22) and will thus not be hated (verse 17); they will be recognised as having true knowledge (verse 18); in time to come the evil will bow down to them (verse 19); they have many friends (verse 20); they will be blessed (verse 21); they will enjoy true favour (verse 22); they will increase in goods (verse 23), which will be a crown to them (verse 24); and they will save lives in court (verse 25).

In contrast are the foolish. They will deal foolishly (verse 17); they will be hated (verse 17); they will inherit folly (verse 18); in time to come they will bow down to the good (verse 19); they are hated by their own neighbour (verse 20); They sin because the despise their neighbour (verse 21); they wander from the true path (verse 22); their ways result in poverty (verse 23); their folly is folly (verse 24); and they destroy the reliability of the courts (verse 25).

The subsection is presented chiastically as follows:

  • A He who is soon angry (the quick tempered man) commits folly, and a man of wicked devices (an evil schemer) is hated (14.17).
  • B The simple inherit folly, but the prudent are crowned with knowledge (14.18).
  • C The evil bow down before the good, and the wicked at the gates of the righteous (14.19).
  • D The poor is hated even of his own neighbour, but the rich has many friends (14.20).
  • E He who despises his neighbour sins (14.21a)
  • E But he who has pity on the poor, happy is he (14.21b).
  • D Do they not err who devise evil? But mercy and truth will be to those who devise good (14.22).
  • C In all labour there is profit, but the talk of the lips (idle chatter) tends only to penury (14.23)
  • B The crown of the wise is their riches, but the folly of fools is only folly (14.24).
  • A A true witness delivers lives, but he who utters lies causes deceit (14.25).

Note that in A the evil schemer is hated, whilst in the parallel the utterer of lies causes deceit (by his schemes). In B the simple inherit folly, whilst the prudent are crowned with knowledge, and in the parallel the folly of fools is only folly, whilst the wise are crowned with riches. In C the evil and the unrighteous bow down before the good and the righteous, whilst in the parallel the righteous grow rich, and the unrighteous become poor. In D the rich man has many friends, whilst in the parallel those who devise good receive compassion and truth. Centrally in E the one who despises his neighbour sins, whilst the one who pities the poor is happy.

14.17

‘He who is soon angry (the quick tempered man) will commit folly,
And a man of wicked devices (an evil schemer) is hated.’

The subsection commences with a contrast between two types of ‘fool’, the quick tempered man who acts impetuously and in consequence commits folly, and the cool-headed evil schemer who is hated. Quick temper and anger are regularly depicted as resulting in folly. Anger makes men behave foolishly. They lose all sense of proportion (consider Saul in his determination to destroy David). Thus in 15.18a; 29.22a, ‘the angry man stirs up strife’, so that there is more hope for a fool than for a man who is hasty with his words (29.20). In contrast the cool-headed appease strife (15.18b). As Paul warns, ‘be angry and do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your wrath’ (Ephesians 4.26) for to do so is to ‘give place to the Devil’ (Ephesians 4.27).

In contrast is the evil schemer. He is cool-headed and plans his evil schemes carefully and with forethought. He is a destroyer of lives and of happiness, and is deservedly hated. Such a man will go into court and perjure himself (verse 26). He is a totally untrustworthy man in whom there is little that is good. And he is hated by both God (6.18) and man.

14.18

‘The naive inherit folly,
But the shrewd are crowned with knowledge.’

Here we learn where the folly of the naive often comes from. They inherit it. It is passed on from generation to generation. All too often they learn it from their parents, or their relatives. We all need to remember this, that our faults are picked up and carried into practise by our children. They mirror our behaviour.

In contrast are the shrewd. They are crowned with knowledge (the knowledge of God). Their knowledge of God decorates their brow and is seen by all. It brings them honour and esteem. This idea was stressed in the Prologue. Compare 1.9; 4.9. In the parallel verse 24 they are crowned with riches (which they have built up through hard labour - verse 23), the riches which come from wisdom, whilst all that folly produces is folly.

14.19

‘The evil bow down before the good,
And the wicked, at the gates of the righteous.’

And it is because the shrewd are crowned with knowledge that the evil bow down before them. They recognise their quality. Even though they may not admit it, evil men have respect for the truly good. We have here a reminder that good will triumph in the end.

And this is especially so in respect of justice (at least ideally). ‘The gates’ of a city were the places where the courts sat, and judgment was given. Thus those appointed to judge are generally those who have gained the respect of the people by their reliability and honesty, and the unrighteous have to bow down to them. Paradoxically unrighteous people do not want to be judged by unrighteous men (unless they are in a position to bribe them). It is the men who have become well off through their own labours, rather than those who just talk (verse 23), in whom men tend to put their trust. They have proved themselves by their actions. Interestingly the idea is that the unrighteous recognise those who are like themselves and do not want to be governed by them.

14.20

‘The poor is hated even of his own neighbour,
But the rich has many who love him.’

In verse 17 it was the evil schemer who was hated. Here it is the poor. ‘The poor’ can have a number of meanings. It can signify the destitute, many of whom have become destitute though slothfulness (6.6-11; 10.4). It can signify the subsistence farmer, who struggles to supply his family with food. It can signify those who labour for others as employees in order to supply their families with food (compare Jeremiah 39.20). And it can signify the relatively poor, who have sufficient for survival and no more. But it is probably not ‘the deserving poor’ who are in mind here. It is probably rather speaking of the poor who are poor because of their slothfulness and neglect, which has been the regular significance of the poor in Proverbs up to this point ( 6.6-11; 10.4; etc.). These are ‘the poor’ in context also, for verse 23 refers to those who are in poverty because they do nothing but talk.

And in that case we can see why their own neighbours despise them. They see them for what they are. For they see the thorns growing on their strips of land and impinging on their own strips of land. And they see what a burden they are on the community. Furthermore they may well fear how they will behave, for it is such men who in the Prologue cause harm to their fellows.

In contrast the man who has worked hard (verse 23) and become well-to-do is respected by all (his riches are a crown on his head - verse 24). His family flourish. He has many friends. They recognise his worth and rejoice at how well he is doing. This interpretation ties in with the parallel proverb which contrasts the evil with the good (verse 22), and with verses 23-24 which again demonstrate that ‘the rich’ are the wise (verse 24) and the hard working (verse 23), whilst the poor are the slothful who do nothing but chat (verse 23).

It is, of course possible to interpret this proverb as simply cynically meaning that people hate poor neighbours and love rich ones. But in that case we would have to take it tongue in cheek and put ‘who love him’ in inverted commas. For the fact is that the opposite would probably be the case. The rich may be fawned on, but they are usually not loved by those who are worse off, whereas neighbours tend to have sympathy for those who have become poor through misfortune. Once, however, it means the wise and good who have become well-to-do by hard work, as opposed to the slothful poor who have become poor through laziness, it begins to make sense, especially in Solomonic terms. It is true that at first sight the following proverb might be seen as supporting the second interpretation, but the word for ‘poor’ there is a different one referring more to the lowly than to the destitute (compare 3.34; 16.19). Thus there is a different emphasis.

14.21

‘He who despises his neighbour sins,
But he who has pity on (shows favour to) the poor (lowly), happy is he.’

This verse parallels verse 20 in its references to neighbours and the poor. But the meaning of ‘poor’ (a different word from verse 20) is probably somewhat wider here. More in mind are those of lowly status. The point here is that it is wrong to despise your neighbour, however high or low he might be, for God commanded, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 19.18) and ‘you shall not hate your brother in your heart’ (Leviticus 19.17). As a consequence the one who despises his neighbour, whether high or low, transgresses the commandments of God.

Some would argue that in order to balance the two halves the ‘neighbour’ must signify a ‘lowly neighbour’ and ‘the lowly’ must also signify a ‘lowly neighbour’, but that is to ignore the breadth of God’s Law which commands us to love all neighbours, and to show kindness to all lowly people. The emphasis is on the contrast between despising and showing favour, not on the similarity of the recipients. Note how in the next proverb erring does not balance mercy and truth.

In contrast the one who follows God’s Law and ‘has pity on (or shows favour to) the lowly’ (compare Deuteronomy 15.11) will be blessed (God will act towards him in favour). We note that the proverb carefully avoids speaking of a ‘poor neighbour’, and if it stood by itself we would not imply it in the first clause. Here, however, ‘having pity on and showing favour to the lowly’ appears to indicate all lowly people, not just those who can be seen as neighbours. It would include ‘the stranger who lives among you’ (Leviticus 19.33-34). But whatever may be the case, we must not miss the main point which is that we must not despise our neighbour and should have deep concern for the lowly if we would be blessed by God.

14.22

‘Do they not err who devise evil?
But mercy and truth will be to those who devise good.’

The words in the first clause cover all types of evil, both physical and moral. Evil basically means anything harmful. And the point is that to devise harm against others in any way is to err, to wander from the straight and true path. Those who ‘devise evil’ are the ‘evil schemers’ of verse 17 who are ‘hated’, and no wonder, for they plan to cheat, slander, inconvenience or do violence to their neighbours. Their thoughts are wrapped up in themselves.

In contrast are those who ‘devise good’. They plan for the wellbeing of their fellowman. They think of others. They devise for their neighbours what they would want their neighbours to devise for them (compare Matthew 7.12). And their neighbours will reciprocate, and so will God. Thus they themselves will be treated with compassion and faithfulness by men, and covenant love and faithfulness by God (they will be blessed as in verse 21). Even the unrighteous will bow down before them and see them as worthy (14.19). They will win the hearts of all.

14.23

‘In all labour there is profit (or plenteousness),
But the talk of the lips (tends) only to penury (or want, need).’

In verses 20-21 there has been an emphasis on the poor, and we are now presented with the explanation of that poverty which is typical of Proverbs. In verse 22 mention was made of ‘covenant love and faithfulness’ and this is exemplified in the profit that comes from labour. It is God Who supplies the rain and the sun which cause the crops to grow (compare 3.9-10).

The point here is that toil is never wasted, it always results in some benefit. There is always gain from it. And hard toil results in plenty. In contrast those who spend all their time chatting (especially about all that they have done, instead of doing it) will end up in poverty and need. Once again the thought is that the wise prosper and the fool becomes poor. That is why the ‘evil’ (the unrighteous) will bow down before the good (the righteous). It is because the good have prospered and the evil tend to be poor (verse 19).

14.24

‘The crown of the wise is their riches,
But the folly of fools is only folly.’

The hard worker who becomes wealthy and the one who does nothing but talk (verse 23) are now described in terms of the wise and the foolish. To the wise their comparative riches are a crown, just as in the parallel their ‘knowledge’ of God is a crown (verse 18). They reveal their status and wisdom, for they testify to their diligence and righteousness (compare 1.9; 4.9; 12.4). In contrast fools are just fools. There is nothing more to be said. They have no status. Their status is that of a fool.

14.25

A true witness delivers lives,
But he who utters lies causes deceit.’

The subsection, which began with the thought of the evil schemer (verse 17), now closes with an affirmation of the importance of truth, especially in relation to bearing witness in court where lives may truly be at stake. In a society where cases were decided mainly on the evidence of witnesses a true witness could make the difference between life and death for an innocent party. His true testimony might thus save a life. Unlike the evil schemer (verse 17), he ‘devises good’ because he himself is true, and he will thus himself receive truth and favour (see verse 22).

How different is the false witness. He blurs the truth by his lies and replaces truth with falsehood. He makes deceit flourish. By that means he causes falsehood to triumph and may destroy lives. (Consider the false witnesses who bore testimony against Jesus). He is a man of wicked devices (verse 17) who is hated by all who know the truth about him.

YHWH Is A Refuge And A Wellspring Of Life To His People Whose Glory Is Revealed, Firstly, When His People Are Self-Controlled And Show Compassion On The Needy And Secondly, By His Providing Them A Refuge In Death (14.26-32).

In this subsection we have the first mention of kingship by Solomon, and it is in contrast to the greatness and supremity of YHWH. YHWH is the One In Whom His people can have confidence’ He is a wellspring of life , and One in Whom they can find a refuge, even in death. They are wholly dependent on Him, whilst He is dependent on no one. In contrast an earthly king’s greatness and splendour is dependent on the quantity of his subjects without whom he can accomplish little. We can compare in this respect Solomon’s prayer in I Kings 8.22 ff. in which he brings out the uniqueness and incomparable greatness of YHWH, and his and his people’s whole reliance on Him.

And what does YHWH require of His people in return? It is that they be self-controlled, quiet of heart, and compassionate to the needy.

The subsection is presented chiastically:

  • A In the fear of YHWH is strong confidence, and his children will have a place of refuge, the fear of YHWH is a wellspring of life, that one may depart from the snares of death (14.26-27).
  • B In the multitude of people is the king’s glory, but in the lack of people is the terror of the prince (14.28).
  • C He who is slow to anger is of great understanding, but he who is hasty of spirit exalts folly (14.29).
  • C A tranquil heart is the life of the flesh, but envy is the rottenness of the bones (14.30).
  • B He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who has mercy on the needy honours him (14.31).
  • A The wicked is thrust down in his evildoing, but the righteous seeks a refuge in his death (14.32).

Note that in A YHWH is His people’s REFUGE, and a wellspring Who saves from the snares of DEATH, and in the parallel the righteous seeks A REFUGE in DEATH. In B a large number of subjects is a king’s glory whilst in the parallel to have mercy on the needy ‘honours’ his Maker (is YHWH’s glory). In C he who is slow to anger parallels he who is tranquil of heart.

14.26

‘In the fear of YHWH is strong security (confidence),
And his children will have a place of refuge.’

The ‘fear of YHWH’ has been a major theme of Proverbs. His people are to fear Him like a son fears his father (Leviticus 19.3), with respectful awe and obedience to his commands. In this is the beginning, or prime element, of true knowledge (1.7, 29), and of wisdom (9.10). Indeed, we should note how in 2.5; 9.10 the fear of YHWH is paralleled with the knowledge of God, of the Holy One. The fear of YHWH and the knowledge of God as the Holy One go together. Furthermore those who fear YHWH will depart from evil (3.7; 8.13).

And Solomon now tells us that in that fear of YHWH is ‘strong security’. He who fears YHWH can have total confidence, both now and in the future, because in Him he has a place of refuge. YHWH is his protection and his help, his strong security, his sphere of confidence. And this applies not only to the person himself but also to his children. They too will learn to fear YHWH and place their confidence in Him. Note the assumption that the well instructed children will also walk in the fear of YHWH.

14.27

‘The fear of YHWH is a wellspring of life,
That one may depart from the snares of death.’

And it is right that they place their confidence in Him and see Him as their strong security, for the fear of YHWH is a wellspring of life, giving them life and enabling them to avoid the snares of death. Experiencing life in Him through His wisdom means that there is for those who fear Him no fear of death (they depart from the snares of death). Wellsprings were literally a source of life in those days. They supplied the water that men and their cattle drank, and the water that would bring life to their vegetation and trees. In the same way does the fear of YHWH bring life to those who fear Him.

This picture of the fear of YHWH as a wellspring of life is a forerunner to the ideas in the New Testament of the Holy Spirit as being a wellspring of life in the lives of believers, ‘he who drinks of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst, for the water that I shall give him will become in him a wellspring of water springing up to eternal life’ (John 3.5; 4.14; 7.38-39). The Spirit was active in those who heeded God’s wisdom in Solomon’s day as He is in us (1.23; Psalm 51.10-11; 143.10).

And as a consequence they will ‘depart from the snares of death’. The contrast between ‘the wellspring of life’ and ‘the snares of death’ is well drawn. On the one hand abundant life, on the other encroaching death which is like a series of traps designed to ensnare its victims. On the one hand long life, wellbeing and honour, pleasantness and peace (3.16-17) with a confidence that death is not the end (15.24; Psalm 16.11; 17.15). On the other a living death, ‘she who live in pleasure is dead while she lives’ (1 Timothy 5.6), with final entry into the grave world (7.27; 9.18).

Elsewhere in Proverbs ‘the mouth of the righteous is a wellspring of life’ (10.11), for he urges the fear of YHWH, and ‘the instruction of the wise is a wellspring of life, to depart from the snares of death’ (13.14), for the same reason. Note there also the departing from the snares of death. It is difficult to avoid the impression that Solomon does not see death as ending life for the believer.

14.28

‘In the multitude of people is the king’s glory,
But in the lack of people is the terror of the prince.’

In this first reference to the king in Proverbs 10.1 ff. he is placed in strong contrast to YHWH. As we have seen YHWH is the place of security and confidence, of refuge from the storms of life, and requires nothing but Himself in order to be so, whilst here the king is dependent for his splendour on the quantity of his subjects, and this will partly be a consequence of him ruling wisely (8.15-16). Indeed, the king’s constant fear is that his subjects will become few, for then his splendour will have gone, and, we may add, he will no longer be able to be a refuge for his people (it is ironic that this is precisely what happened to his son Rehoboam who almost overnight lost a large proportion of his subjects by his own folly and thus became a prey to Pharaoh). The king is thus seen as very much dependent on his people, and requires their goodwill. In contrast YHWH is seen as dependent on no one. No one was more conscious than Solomon of the greatness and uniqueness of YHWH (1 Kings 8.23, 27, 60).

The contrast is further drawn out by the chiasmus in that here the large numbers of his subjects is what gives the king his splendour, whilst in contrast in the parallel verse what gives YHWH ‘honour’ is His people showing compassion on the needy (verse 31). The king’s glory lies in the number of his subjects, he is ‘honoured’ by might, but YHWH, Who is almighty, and Who as man’s Maker has all the subjects He can want, requires no such glory. He is rather honoured by the compassion of His people. If only Solomon had followed his own spoken wisdom, seeking out compassion rather than splendour, he would not have attained the reputation of being ‘the wisest fool in Jewry’.

Solomon may well have intended ‘his son’, those who carefully listened to his instruction, to see in this an indication that if they would be ‘king’ in their own sphere they too could only do so by gaining widespread support. If it was true of a king, it was also true of all. (The isolated nature of the proverb suggests that it is to be seen as referring to more than kings). So the point would be that in order to be a genuine success a man must have good support from his compatriots. No man is an island. Thus those who lose the support of their compatriots will never attain to anything.

14.29

‘He who is slow to anger (relaxed of nostrils) is of great understanding,
But he who is hasty of spirit exalts folly.’

There now follow two verses which indicate what YHWH, as the wellspring of His people, seeks in them. The two verses also supply the ways for maintaining support among one’s compatriots. In this initial verse it is the one who is slow to anger (who does not quickly lose control of himself) who demonstrates the greatness of his understanding, revealing himself as a man of God’s wisdom. Self-control contributes towards wisdom. And in demonstrating such wisdom a man becomes beloved of all. In contrast the one who is ‘hasty of spirit’ (quick-tempered and soon angry - verse 17) ‘exalts folly’. Either he makes a god out of folly, as his life soon reveals, for quick temper results in folly, or he lifts it up before people’s eyes so that they see what a fool he is. Such a man will soon lose support. It is only the man who makes his decision when his head is cool, and when he is thinking rationally, who makes wise decisions.

The phrase ‘slow to anger’ is more literally ‘relaxed of nostrils’ (and therefore revealing his longsuffering by his face). He controls himself well, not allowing his nostrils to distend in anger, or his face to show anger. And he does this simply because he is always under control. ‘Hasty of spirit’ is more literally ‘short of (a controlled) spirit (i.e. short of temper)’. He snaps quickly.

14.30

‘A tranquil heart is the life of the flesh,
But envy is the rottenness of the bones.’

For it is a tranquil heart which enables a man to live truly and fosters the life which God has given him. It is the life of the ‘fleshes’ (besarim - an intensive plural which indicates the totality of a man’s being and behaviour) in contrast with rottenness in the bones. It is what characterises the wise man. Being slow to anger and being of a tranquil heart go together. But the parallel clause suggests that largely in mind here is the one who does not succumb to jealousy and envy. He is calm and quiet. He is not easily aroused by human passions. For it is envy, in contrast with the tranquil heart, which is rottenness in the bones. Nothing eats into a man’s wisdom like envy. It makes a man behave irrationally, and it destroys him inside.

14.31

‘He who oppresses (or denigrates) the poor reproaches his Maker,
But he who has mercy on the needy honours him.’

In verse 28 the king was honoured because he had many subjects, but here YHWH is honoured because His people demonstrate compassion. For YHWH is man’s Maker, and therefore the poor as well as the wealthy are important in His sight, and indeed are made in the image of God. He made them. Thus to oppress or denigrate the poor is to oppress or denigrate one of YHWH’s creations. In contrast those who treat the needy well by showing compassion to them, by this means honour the One Who made them. This concern for all people, both small and great (including slaves and animals who serve man) comes out in Exodus 20.10; 23.2; Deuteronomy 5.14).

A similar thought is expressed in Job 31.15, where Job, when realising his own wrong attitude towards his manservant (31.13) says, ‘Did not He Who made me in the womb make him? And did not One fashion us in the womb?’

14.32

‘The wicked is thrown down in his evildoing,
But the righteous seeks a refuge in his death.’

And the final consequence for the unrighteous is that they are ‘thrown down’. They have no security, for the life that they have built by their evildoing is not secure. Its foundations are shaky, and it will be brought to ruin when calamity comes upon it (1.27). We can again compare Jesus parable of the foolish man who did not heed His words and thus discovered that his house was built on unstable sand and collapsed when the storm came (Matthew 7.26-27). In the final analysis the unrighteous have no hope. When death comes they are lost.

In contrast is the righteous man. He has a refuge to Whom he can turn in death (verse 26). This can only indicate that he has hope beyond death (compare 15.4). Such a hope was not spelled out. But it was sure (14.27; 15.24; Psalm 16.11; 17.19; 23.6). For YHWH is depicted as a wellspring of life who delivers from the snares of death (verse 27).

The Eye Of YHWH Is On All, Whether Individual, Nation Or King’s Servant And All Will Be Revealed As What They Are (14.33-15.3).

The effect of wisdom, or false wisdom, is now considered in respect of individuals (verse 14.33), nations (14.34) and royal servants (politicians and civil servants) (14.35), all of whom are seen to be under the watchful eye of YHWH (15.3). And that wisdom is seen as especially revealed, or otherwise, by the activity of the tongue (15.1-2).

This is presented chiastically as follows:

  • A Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding, but what is in the inward part of fools is made known. Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproof of peoples. The king’s favour is towards a servant who deals wisely, but his wrath will be against him who causes shame (14.33-35).
  • B A tender answer turns away wrath, but a grievous word stirs up anger (15.1).
  • B The tongue of the wise utters knowledge aright, but the mouth of fools pours out folly (15.2).
  • A The eyes of YHWH are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good (15.3).

Note that in A wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding, in contrast to the fool, in the nation that reveals itself as righteous, in contrast to the unrighteous nation, and in royal servants who deal wisely, in contrast to those who cause shame, and in the parallel all are overseen by the watchful eye of YHWH who keeps watch on the evil and the good. Centrally in B what the caring man says has good effects, whilst a grievous word has bad effects, and in the parallel the tongue of the wise has good effects, while the mouth of the fool pours out folly.

14.33

‘Wisdom rests (settles, is stored up) in the heart of him who has understanding,
But what is in the inward part of fools is made known.’

This proverb, along with those in verses 34 and 35 form a combined picture of the activity of wisdom as revealed in individuals, nations, and the highest officials (royal servants/civil servants/politicians). All will then be seen as under the watchful eye of YHWH (15.3).

The word rendered ‘rests’ indicates a kind of permanence. Wisdom settles permanently in the heart of the one who has understanding. It is stored up there. Once a man has truly responded to wisdom the effects are permanent. He walks on in true wisdom, ever growing more wise, with wisdom affecting his mind, will and emotions (his ‘inner heart’). Wisdom is at home in his heart.

In contrast is the so-called wisdom of the fool. That is in his inward parts and soon makes itself known. He is soon revealed as what he is, for it manifests itself in the way he lives. It is a spurious wisdom which is not true wisdom at all. It shouts out the truth about him.

We can compare here Jesus’ parable about the sower. When he sowed his seed some fell on good ground (the wise), and it took root and flourished, and it produced thirtyfold, sixtyfold and a hundredfold. But other seed fell on other types of ground (the fools) and the quality of the ground was soon made known. The seed might appear to grow for a time but it soon died (Mark 4.4-8).

14.34

‘Righteousness exalts a nation,
But sin is a reproach to any people.’

And what is true of the individual is also true of the nation. When a nation has wisdom resting in it, it behaves righteously. Justice prevails, honesty abounds, taxation is fair and reasonable, the people are as one. It becomes a just and fair society. And as a consequence it is exalted. It is lifted up in the eyes of those round about. It is admired and respected. People see it as an example. It produces a good and wholesome society.

But when sin takes over, and a society becomes unjust and unfair, and full of dissension, and taxation becomes a heavy burden, these things become a reproach and reproof to that society. It is no longer exalted in men’s eyes, but looked down on and despised. What is in its inward parts is made known. It is seen for what it is.

14.35

‘The king’s favour is toward a servant who deals wisely,
But his wrath will be against him who causes shame.’

The ‘servants’ in mind here are the high officials in a land or an empire. They were called ‘the servants of the king’, and many a jar handle has been discovered inscribed as ‘(person’s name), servant of the king’. It is their jurisdiction, together with the response of the wise within that nation, which will determine the righteousness or otherwise of a nation. And the righteous king (or president, or prime minister) who rules by wisdom (8.15-16), and oversees the behaviour of his royal officials (politicians), will show favour to the royal official who deals wisely, and reveal his wrath against the royal official who causes shame.

In the parallel verse (15.3) we are reminded that YHWH also oversees individuals, nations, and His servants, ‘keeping watch on the evil and the good’. These proverbs bring to mind the parable of Jesus concerning the response of individuals and royal officials to the king (Luke 19.12-27).

Thus in all spheres, whether in the case of individuals (verse 33), nations (verse 34, or high royal officials/civil servants (verse 35), response to wisdom will reveal itself and receive its consequences whether for good or ill.

15.1

‘A soft answer turns away wrath,
But a grievous word stirs up anger.’

Central to the wisdom, or otherwise, of individuals, nations and high royal officials is the use of the tongue. They can demonstrate their wisdom, or otherwise, by soft answers or grievous words. The soft answer will turn away wrath. It will cause the one to whom it is spoken, who is incensed and set on retaliation, to stop and consider matters again. It is an answer which, rather than giving like for like, seeks to appease and call for calm thought on the matter in question. It accepts that the other might have a point, and calls for a reasoned approach. It is gentle, not inflammatory.

But in contrast is the retaliatory ‘grievous word’, the harsh reply. Pride demands that we respond in a retaliatory and inflammatory fashion. And thus our words stoke up the fires of anger, feeding them and making the anger grow until it has disastrous effects. This is well illustrated in the behaviour of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, who, when the people brought their grievances, retaliated in like fashion, and thus lost a large part of his kingdom (1 Kings 12.3-20). It is also illustrated in the story of David, Nabal and Abigail (1 Samuel 25.2-35) where Nabal’s ‘grievous answer’ to David nearly brought about the deaths of all his household, whilst the ‘soft answer’ of Abigail preserved them.

15.2

‘The tongue of the wise utters knowledge aright,
But the mouth of fools pours out (gushes forth) folly.’

What is said in verse 1 is now put in another way. The tongue of the wise speaks the truth, but it speaks it wisely. It ‘utters knowledge aright’. Or to translate more literally, ‘it adorns knowledge’. It makes it attractive and acceptable. The wise want what they say to be heeded and appreciated. Thus they present it in a way that will be convincing to the hearer. But in contrast the mouth of fools ‘pours out folly’. Folly ‘gushes forth’ from it. It speaks without thinking, and its words, however wise they might appear to be, are contrary to God’s wisdom.

15.3

‘The eyes of YHWH are in every place,
Keeping watch upon the evil and the good.’

Solomon now reminds us that the wisdom and knowledge that he is speaking of is God’s wisdom and knowledge. It is not only the king who keeps watch over his royal servants and subjects, it is also YHWH. As Creator of the Universe (3.19-20; 8.22-31) He has rooted true wisdom and knowledge in the world and calls on men to respond to it. ‘Out of His mouth come knowledge and understanding, He lays up sound wisdom for the upright’ (2.6-7). And as Judge of all men His eyes are in every place observing men response to His wisdom. He keeps watch on all, both the evil and the good. All will be called to account. And the implication is that His favour too will be shown to those who deal wisely, whilst His wrath will be against him who causes shame (see 14.35).

Wise Words, Reproof And Firm Discipline Uphold The Righteous, Giving Them Suitable Reward, Whilst The Unrighteous Reject Reproof, And Suffer The Consequences (15.4-13).

In this subsection there is a strong emphasis on wise words, reproof and firm discipline (correction) which affect the righteous. Thus we have the healing tongue in verse 4; the father’s correction in verse 5; the reproof that produces shrewdness in verse 5; the lips of the wise dispersing knowledge in verse 7; the painful discipline (correction) and reproof in verse 10; and the scorner who does not love to be reproved and refuses to go to the wise in verse 11. As a consequence the righteous enjoy partaking of the tree of life (verse 4); obtain shrewdness (verse 5); enjoy much treasure (verse 6); are a delight to YHWH (verse 8); and have a cheerful countenance (verse 13).

In contrast there is also an emphasis on the adverse effects on the sinful who reject reproof. In verse 4 they suffer brokenness of spirit; in verse 6 they face trouble and ruin; in verse 10 they ‘die’; and in verse 12 they suffer sorrow of heart and brokenness of spirit.

The subsection is presented chiastically:

  • A A healing tongue is a tree of life, but perversity in it is a fracturing of the spirit (15.4).
  • B A fool despises his father’s CORRECTION, but he who regards REPROOF obtains shrewdness (15.5).
  • C In the house of the righteous is much treasure, but in the revenues of the wicked is trouble (or ‘ruin’) (15.6).
  • D The lips of the wise disperse knowledge, but the heart of the foolish does not do so (15.7).
  • E The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to YHWH, but the prayer of the upright is his delight (15.8)
  • E The way of the wicked is an abomination to YHWH, but he loves him who follows after righteousness (15.9).
  • D There is painful CORRECTION for him who forsakes the way, and he who hates REPROOF will die (15.10).
  • C Sheol and Destruction are before YHWH. How much more then the hearts of the children of men!’ (15.11).
  • B A scorner does not love to be REPROVED, he will not go to the wise (15.12).
  • A A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken.’ (15.13)

Note that in A there is a healing tongue which is a tree of life, and there is a fracturing of the spirit, and in the parallel there is a glad heart which makes a cheerful countenance and the spirit is broken (fractured). In B a fool despises his father’s correction, and in the parallel a scorner does not love to be reproved and will not go to the wise. In C the revenues of the wicked is ‘ruin’, and in the parallel ‘destruction’ is before YHWH in relation to the hearts of men. In D the lips of the wise disperse knowledge, and in the parallel the one who forsakes the way receives painful correction (the purpose of which is to inculcate knowledge). Centrally in E the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to YHWH, and in the parallel the way of the wicked is the same.

15.4

‘A healing (or ‘restorative’) tongue is a tree of life,
But perversity in it is a fracturing (or ‘breaking’) of the spirit.’

The power of words is now brought out in terms of the idea of a ‘healing’ or ‘restorative’ tongue. Such words are a tree of life to those who respond to them. In other words they bring them into long life, wealth and honour, pleasant ways, paths of peace and life before YHWH (3.16-18). The healing tongue clearly speaks words of wisdom and understanding, (it utters knowledge aright - 15.2), and as much of this subsection deals with the idea of restoration by reproof and discipline, that may also be partly in mind. Thus the one who walks with God must humbly so speak as to restore men’s lives and reprove them lovingly where necessary, rather than having the perverse tongue which breaks men’s spirits. It is all too easy for the former to turn into the latter when it becomes too harsh. We are reminded of YHWH’s Servant, ‘He will not cry, or lift up, or cause His voice to be heard in the street (denouncing men publicly), the bruised reed He will not break, the smoking flax he will not quench, He will bring forth justice in truth’ (Isaiah 42.3).

In contrast is the perverse tongue. That deals harshly with men. It is not concerned how it affects people, speaking bluntly and carelessly. And it results for its hearers in brokenness of spirit. Such brokenness of spirit is in Isaiah 65.14 paralleled with sorrow of heart. Compare verse 13 where sorrow of heart results in brokenness of spirit. It signifies a deep loss of morale, and a broken heart.

15.5

‘A fool despises his father’s correction,
But he who regards reproof obtains shrewdness.’

The idea of the healing tongue leads on to the idea of the father’s correction. It was a father’s responsibility as the head of the family to act as mentor to his children. He was responsible to lead, guide and teach them, and if necessary administer discipline in love. But the young person who despised that correction is described as ‘a fool’. The assumption is being made that the father will be inculcating God’s wisdom and God’s Torah (1.8; 6.20). Thus to go against it is to go against God. And that is the act of a fool. And a fool suffers a fool’s end. ‘He who hates reproof will die’ (verse 10).

In contrast is the one who does heed his father’s reproof. He will become shrewd, that is, knowledgeable in the things of God and the ways of God. He will walk with the wise. His father’s reproof will be to him a tree of life (verse 4). Thus he loves reproof, in contrast to the one who does not love to be reproved and will not go to the wise (verse 12)

15.6

‘In the house of the righteous is much treasure,
But in the revenues of the wicked is trouble.’

We are probably to see this as signifying much more than that the righteous become relatively wealthy. Whilst that has also been stated in the Prologue, the Prologue also emphasises that there is a treasure greater than wealth, and that is instruction in wisdom and understanding. It is better far than pure silver and fine gold (3.13-15; 8.10-11). Thus in the house of the righteous is found not only wealth, but also wisdom and understanding and truth. That is why they are righteous. We can compare the words of Jesus, ‘the good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things’ (Matthew 12.35). This is the best kind of treasure. And along with it they enjoy pleasantness, peace and fullness of life (3.15-18). All is harmony both with God and with man.

In contrast are the unrighteous. What they earn by being what they are is trouble and ruin. Their house is temporary and unmentioned. Their income results from dishonesty and greed. They are on the road to ruin. The word rendered ‘trouble, ruin’ was used by Ahab of Elijah when he called him ‘the troubler of Israel’. What he meant by that was that he had brought Israel to the edge of ruin by withholding the life-giving rain. And Elijah’s reply was that Ahab was the troubler of Israel, because he had brought them to the edge of spiritual ruin (1 Kings 18.17-18). The same word was used of the ‘trouble, ruin’ that Achan had brought on Israel, which had resulted in their disastrous defeat before the men of Ai-Bethel, which would rebound on his own head as he was stoned to death (Joshua 7.25). It thus refers to trouble of the severest kind. Such ruin/destruction is seen in terms of the grave world in verse 11, where it is related to the condition of the hearts of men.

15.7

‘The lips of the wise disperse knowledge,
But the heart of the foolish does not do so.’

Good men out of the good treasure of their heart produce good things (Matthew 12.35). Thus the lips of the wise disperse knowledge (the knowledge that comes from God and the knowledge about God). They spread abroad through their words the treasure that is in their house (verse 6) and in their hearts. They proclaim truth. Notice that it is expected that they will do so. They have a responsibility to proclaim wisdom when they are in a position to do so.

In contrast evil men out of the evil treasure of their hearts produce evil things (Matthew 12.35). The foolish have no true knowledge of God in their hearts, and their lips are thus unable to convey such knowledge.

15.8

‘The sacrifice (zebach) of the wicked is an abomination to YHWH,
But the prayer of the upright is his delight.’

The zebach is a fellowship offering through which worshippers, if genuine in heart, have fellowship with YHWH by their participation before Him in a fellowship meal. A practical example of it is found in Exodus 24.8-11. The ‘adulterous woman’ in 7.14 had offered ‘sacrifices (zebach) of peace offerings’, a perfect example of ‘the sacrifice of the wicked. But such sacrifices were at some stage offered by all Israelites when they came up for the main feasts, and by those living in Jerusalem they would be offered even more regularly. No feast was possible in Jerusalem without such sacrifices. Thus they were offered by the righteous and the unrighteous. But here Solomon makes clear that, far from being acceptable, or touching Him in any way, such sacrifices by those who did not walk in accordance with His wisdom were an abomination to him. Man looked at the outward appearance, but God looked at the heart. They enjoyed their fellowship meal, but they ignored the One with Whom they were supposed to be enjoying fellowship. This was an anticipation by Solomon of the teachings of the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 1.11-15; Jeremiah 6.20; 7.21-24; Hosea 6.6; Amos 5.21-23; Malachi 1.10). The same was said by Paul of partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion, Mass) (1 Corinthians 11.29).

In contrast the prayer of the upright, those who are straight in their ways, is His delight, for their prayer comes from the heart. This includes petitions, intercession, praise and worship and thanksgiving. If we believed this, and we should, how much more often we would pray. The change from ‘sacrifice’ to ‘prayer’ acknowledges the fact that God does not just desire sacrifices, He desires our prayers as well, which we offer even more often.

15.9

‘The way of the wicked is an abomination to YHWH,
But he loves him who follows after righteousness.’

The ‘way of the unrighteous’ is the opposite of the way of righteousness. It is to walk other than in the way of the fear of YHWH. It is to take the by-paths instead of the straight road (2.13, 15). It is to ‘walk as in darkness, knowing not at what they stumble’ (4.19). Such is an abomination to YHWH. God does not view what we call our peccadilloes lightly. He hates them.

In contrast He loves the person who follows after righteousness. Notice that the proverb does not say that He hates the unrighteous. It is the way in which he walks that He hates. To the heedless sinner He reveals the general benevolence of John 3.16. Nevertheless elsewhere it does say, ‘those who are of a perverse heart are an abomination to YHWH’ (11.20). So there is a balance between benevolence because God is good, and hatred because he hates perversity. In contrast, towards the righteous, those who seek to walk in His wisdom, He has positive love. These are the ones who respond to the healing tongue of verse 4; who regard their father’s reproof (verse 5); who listen to the lips of the wise and respond to them (verse 7); and who offer the prayers of the upright (verse 8).

15.10

‘There is painful correction (discipline) for him who forsakes the way,
But he who hates reproof will die.’

There is probably a contrast here between the one who suffers painful correction, and the one who hates reproof. In 3.11-12 we read, ‘my son, do not despise the chastening of YHWH, nor be weary of His reproof, for whom YHWH loves He reproves, even as a father the son in whom he delights’. And such a father would in love use the cane on his son in order to bring him back into the right way when he had forsaken the way (13.24; 22.15; 33.13). This could well be seen as ‘painful correction’. Thus we need not doubt that YHWH’s correction of His children can also be painful (compare 3.11-12 with Hebrews 12.3 ff).

It is the one who does not respond to this painful correction who thereby demonstrates that he hates reproof. Such a one ‘will die’. Unless words are meaningless this indicates that the righteous will not finally ‘die’, otherwise the threat is pointless (compare verse 24).

Note the connection with ‘following after righteousness’ in verse 9. That is the way that has been forsaken. And as we have already seen correction and reproof are important themes in the subsection (verses 4, 5, 7, 12).

15.11

‘Sheol and Destruction (Abaddon) are before (in front of) YHWH,
How much more then the hearts of the children of men!’

The one who hates reproof will die (verse 10). He will descend into Sheol (the grave world) and Destruction. But even there he will not escape the wrath of YHWH. It is where the unrighteous rich who die will face their ‘ruin’ because they obtained their riches dishonestly and used them selfishly (verse 6; compare Luke 16.19 ff). For all in that place of shades and of darkness are ‘in front of YHWH’. That mysterious world of emptiness and lostness, so beyond human understanding, is not hidden from Him. How much more then is He aware of the hearts of the children of men (verse 3) which are also in front of Him. From Him there is no escape. ‘All things are naked and open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4.13). And indeed what He does discern in the hearts of the children of men is made clear in verses 8, 13, and regularly in Proverbs.

For Sheol and Destruction (Abaddon) compare 27.20; Job 26.6. For Death and Destruction (Abaddon) compare 28.22. In Revelation 9.11 Adaddon is the name of the angel of the Abyss. There are no genuine grounds for seeing it as a portion of Sheol. The two are used in parallel. They are a combined idea.

15.12

‘A scorner does not love to be reproved,
He will not go to the wise.’

In verse 4 the fool despised his father’s correction, in contrast with the one who took notice of reproof. Now we learn that a scorner also does not love to be reproved. He refuses to go to the wise lest they reprove him. His heart is hardened. He thus awaits the destiny of those who refuse wisdom’s reproof (1.24-30; 6.15).

The scorner is the most godless of the three types mentioned in chapter 1. The others were the naive and the fool (1.22). The scorner is probably to be identified with the worthless man in 6.12-19, the surety being naive and the sluggard a fool. Whilst the naive goes on his way thoughtlessly, and the fool forgets God in his ways, the scorner is openly scornful of God and of wisdom. He is hostile towards all who try to bring to him the knowledge of God (9.7-8, 12).

15.13

‘A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance,
But by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken.’

The subsection ends as it began with the spirit of the unrighteous being broken (verse 4). That is not true of the righteous. The righteous have a glad heart, and as a consequence have a cheerful countenance. But the unrighteous will eventually experience sorrow of heart so that their spirit will finally be broken. Such is the final consequence of unrighteousness.

The Man Of Understanding Overcomes Adverse Circumstances And Enjoys A Life Of Pleasantness Whilst The Fool Continually Experiences Trouble (15.14-21).

This subsection is in an inclusio concerning understanding and folly (verses 14, 21). The understanding seeks knowledge (verse 14) and makes straight his going (verse 21), the fool feeds on folly (verse 14), and enjoys it because he lacks wisdom (verse 21). Indeed his folly is the only enjoyment the fool gets for he is afflicted and experiences evil days (verse 15); he experiences trouble (verse 16); he experiences hatred (verse 17); he experiences contention (verse 18); his way is strewn with thorn bushes (verse 19); and he has family problems (verse 20).

In contrast the understanding have a cheerful heart (verse 15); fear YHWH (verse 16); experience love (verse 17); avoid strife (verse 18); walk a smooth path (verse 19); and enjoy a happy family life (verse 20).

Note how the first four verses in the subsection all have to do with eating, either directly or indirectly. Thus the mouth of the fool feeds on folly (verse 14); the cheerful heart has a continual feast (verse 15); it is better to have a little with the fear of YHWH (verse 16); and a dinner of vegetables with love is better than a fatted calf with hatred (verse 16), with three of them indicating that the understanding can triumph over their physical circumstances (verse 15-17). The next three verses then indicate that the righteous can, as a consequence of righteousness, have a life of pleasantness, one that is void of strife (verse 18); is like walking on a highway (verse 19); and enjoys glad parenthood (verse 20). All this is the difference that having understanding makes.

The subsection can be presented chiastically:

  • A The heart of him who has UNDERSTANDING seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feeds on FOLLY (15.14).
  • B All the days of the afflicted are evil, but he who is of a CHEERFUL heart has a continual feast (15.15).
  • C Better is little, with the fear of YHWH, than great treasure and trouble with it (15.16).
  • D Better is a dinner of herbs, where love is, than a fatted ox and hatred with it (15.17).
  • D A wrathful man stirs up contention, but he who is slow to anger appeases strife (15.18).
  • C The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is made a highway (15.19).
  • B A wise son makes a GLAD father, but a foolish man despises his mother (15.20).
  • A FOLLY is joy to him who is void of wisdom, but a man of UNDERSTANDING makes straight his going (15.21).

Note that in A the heart of the one who has understanding seeks knowledge, and the fool feeds on folly, and in the parallel the man of understanding makes straight his going (as one who seeks knowledge), whilst the unwise love folly. In B the ‘man of cheerful heart’ is parallel with ‘the glad father’. In C the unrighteous experience trouble, and in the parallel the sluggard meets up with thorns. Centrally in D love and hatred in the first proverb are paralleled by being slow to anger and being contentious in the second proverb.

15.14

‘The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,
But the mouth of fools grazes (feeds) on folly.’

In verse 11 the ‘hearts’ of men were known to YHWH, and in verses 13-14 something about those ‘hearts’ is revealed (note the repetition of ‘heart’). Here now we have a further revelation concerning the heart of man thus connecting this subsection with the last. Here it is the heart of one who has understanding, one who is wise (wisdom and understanding were regularly paralleled in the Prologue). And such a heart seeks the true knowledge of God. The truly wise man will want to know God and His ways, for nothing is more important to a person than this. ‘A man of understanding makes straight his going’ (verse 21), that is, walks uprightly in God’s ways, because he has come to a knowledge of God.

In contrast is the fool. The mouth of fools grazes on folly. (The verb is the usual one for grazing sheep). For folly is all that the fool has to talk about. He excludes God from his so-called ‘wisdom’. It may be deep wisdom in the eyes of the world, but it is folly in God’s eyes and with regard to God’s ways. As the parallel passage tells us, the thing that is a joy to those who lack wisdom is folly (verse 21). Note the contrast between ‘seeking’, a verb which indicates effort and determination, and ‘grazing’, a verb which indicates a passive response to a situation. The fool grazes on folly because he cannot raise the effort to seek something outside of it.

15.15

‘All the days of the afflicted are evil,
But he who is of a cheerful heart has a continual feast.’

It should be noted that the contrast here is not between the afflicted and the unafflicted, but between those who are permanently (all the days) afflicted in spirit and those who are continually cheerful of heart. This must be so because someone who is temporarily afflicted can also be cheerful of heart. The point is that how we view life can make a great difference to our enjoyment of it. Temporary afflictions may weigh us down, but those whose hearts are set on God eventually rise above them. Their trust is in Him.

Take, for example, Paul’s words in Philippians 4.11, ‘I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content’. He was saying that even when he was physically afflicted, his heart was content. Thus the afflicted here are not the physically afflicted but the emotionally afflicted. They are those who are not cheerful of heart. They are those who are not rejoicing in YHWH. We can contrast them with Habakkuk in Habakkuk 3.17-18, where after indicating a total lack in this world’s goods he declared, ‘yet will I rejoice in YHWH, I will joy in the God of my salvation. YHWH the Lord is my strength, and He makes my feet like hind’s feet, and will make me walk on my high places.’ Even though he was physically afflicted he had a cheerful heart. So this proverb parallels that in verse 13, ‘A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken,’ which indicates that in the long term the set of our heart determines our enjoyment of life (we all experience sorrows in the short term).

The proverb is thus saying that those who allow themselves to be continually weighed down by the cares of this world will find that they continually have bad days, whilst those who are of a cheerful heart, because they trust in God and in Christ, will find that life is a continual celebratory feast. (Compare 2 Corinthians 4.8; 6.9-10). A similar thought is contained in the next two proverbs, which are linked with this one by the use of ‘tob’ (‘good’, therefore, in context ‘cheerful/better’).

15.16

‘Better is little, with the fear of YHWH,
Than great treasure and trouble with it.’

The emphasis here is on the fact that our enjoyment of life is not dependent on our circumstances. It is better to have little along with reverently fearing YHWH (and thus on the whole avoiding worry and trouble), than to have great treasure which brings worry and trouble with it. The point is that riches are not everything, but that fearing YHWH is. Compare Hebrews 10.34. Indeed people who get rich quickly have often discovered that it brings trouble with it.

15.17

‘Better is a dinner of herbs, where love is,
Than a fatted bullock and hatred with it.’

The thought of verse 16 is continued using another example. It is better to have a poor man’s dinner, and be in a house where love is prevalent, than to enjoy a rich man’s dinner, and be subjected to hatred. The ‘dinner of herbs’ would for many families be the norm. It is not indicating poverty. Relatively few could afford a fatted bullock. Their few animals were work animals. The emphasis is rather on how much better it is to live in a loving environment, than in one where hatred is prevalent. Solomon’s point is that being wealthy and enjoying luxuries does not make up for that.

15.18

‘A wrathful man stirs up contention,
But he who is slow to anger appeases strife.’

In this proverb the love and hatred of the previous proverb is illustrated. The household where contention is prevalent is compared with the peaceful household. The bad-tempered or quick-tempered man stirs up contention, ‘sowing discord among brothers’ (6.19). He is thus like the worthless man. In contrast the one who can control his temper (the man of understanding) sows peace. He calms down stressful situations. He prevents strife from getting out of hand. He is a wise man.

This is not, of course, limited to households. It is true in life. The bad-tempered man (and therefore foolish man) arouses bad feelings wherever he goes, the self-controlled man (and therefore wise man) constantly calms down bad feelings. It thus applies in every walk of life.

15.19

‘The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns,
But the path of the upright is made a highway.’

This proverb may well have in mind the work environment of the two contrasting people. In those days land was divided into strips of arable land, each often having differing ownership, with pathways in between on which to walk so as not to tread down the grain. The thorns which grew on the sluggard’s land unchecked would soon spread to his pathways. The pathway of the upright man, the hard worker, would be constantly trodden and would therefore be like a highway.

Solomon then sees this as depicting the general direction of their lives. The sluggard will constantly come up against thorn bushes, whether literal or metaphorical, because he makes no effort to ensure a smooth life, and no one else will bother to help him. It is one of the consequences of being a sluggard. The upright man, who does all that he can to ensure that life runs smoothly, and has many friends who will help him, will find his way ahead like a prepared highway. Where necessary he or his helpful and loving friends will arrange for the lowering of the mountains and the raising of the valleys well in time so as to ensure a level path (compare Isaiah 40.4; 57.14).

That the contrast is between the sluggard and the upright (rather than the hard worker) brings out that there is some dishonesty in being a sluggard. He robs society of the contribution that he should make towards it, and sponges on those who work hard.

15.20

‘A wise son makes a glad father,
But a foolish man despises his mother.’

The cheerful heart which has a continual feast (verse 15), has prepared the way for this proverb. Here the thought is of a wise son and a glad father. And the father is glad because his son has not turned out to be a fool. His son has heeded reproof and has sought wisdom, and this has maintained harmony in the household (contrast verses 16, 17, 18) and contributes to the family wellbeing.

In contrast is the foolish man who despises his mother. Note the description ‘man’ instead of ‘son’. He has no filial loyalty and is therefore excluded from the family. He refuses to listen to her instruction in the Torah (1.8b). He rejects her call to wisdom. It goes without saying that he is a grief to his mother (10.1b) and that he causes trouble, and stirs up contention in the household (verses 16, 18). He walks the way of all those in the Prologue who reject wisdom (1.11-19, 24-31; 2.12-22; etc.).

15.21

‘Folly is joy to him who is void of wisdom,
But a man of understanding makes straight his going.’

This verse forms an inclusio with verse 14. There the man who had understanding sought the knowledge of God, here as a consequence he makes straight his going. He takes the straight path and walks in it. But in contrast is the one who is void of wisdom. Folly is his joy. Even what he says leads on to folly (verse 14).

Note the contrast between the fools joy in folly and the cheerful heart (verse 15) of the righteous. Together with the glad father (verse 20) the latter found joy in wisdom and understanding. But the fool’s joy is to be void of wisdom, something which will result in evil days (verse 15); trouble (verse 16); experience of hatred (verse 17); contention (verse 18); a way through thorn bushes (verse 19); and broken family relationships (verse 20).

Verses 20-21 may be seen as closing the first part of Solomon’s proverbs in an apt way, the first part (verse 20) forming an inclusio with 10.1.

‘A wise son makes a glad father,
But a foolish man despises his mother,
Folly is joy to him who is void of wisdom,
But a man of understanding makes straight his going.’

Note the chiastic ‘wise son -- foolish man -- folly -- man of understanding.’ A wise son makes a glad father because as a man of understanding his direction of life is straight, whilst a foolish man despises his mother by enjoying folly, and being void of the wisdom which she has striven to teach him. This sums up much of the previous teaching, and brings out the importance of heeding the wise instruction of father and mother.

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