Click here to join the effort!
‘The Proverbs of Solomon.’
Here we have the heading for this subsection. It is brief and to the point, for Solomon has already been more fully described in Proverbs 1:1. It will be noted that the proverbs that follow are two liners. This indicates that they are early rather than late. Later wisdom literature tended to use one liners. It was prior to the time of Solomon that in wisdom literature two liners were the norm. These can be of various types:
· Sometimes the two lines contrast with each other. For example, ‘the mouth of the righteous is a wellspring of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence’ (Proverbs 10:11). These are the most common in chapters 10-15.
· Sometimes the second line both contrasts with the first, and also extends it. For example, ‘behold the righteous will be recompensed on the earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner’ (Proverbs 11:31).
· Sometimes the second line explains the first, for example, ‘as vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to those who send him’ (Proverbs 10:26).
· Sometimes the two lines contain parallel thoughts. For example, ‘the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise wins lives’ (Proverbs 11:30).
· Sometimes the second line carries forward the idea in the first, for example, ‘the blessing of YHWH, it makes rich, and He adds no sorrow with it’ (Proverbs 10:22).
A large number of proverbs will be found to be of the first variety, especially in chapters 10-15. One common contrast found in these is between ‘the righteous’ and ‘the unrighteous’ (evildoers, those who do not follow the way of righteousness but wander off in byways, regularly thought of as ‘the wicked’ because they do what is wrong. In other words the word includes all who do not walk after God’s wisdom). Another common contrast is between ‘the wise’ and ‘the foolish’. But we must not be dogmatic about these contrasts for the righteous can also be contrasted with the foolish (Proverbs 10:21).
The proverbs are gathered into subsections indicated by chiasms, with proverbs in those subsections to some extent linking together. But there are also clear variations within those subsections. Part of Solomon’s appears to have been to ensure that readers received a broad sweep of wisdom continually as they went through the narrative, which would tend to be split up for reading purposes.
It is perhaps significant that just as the Prologue began with an appeal to hear father and mother, ‘my son, hear the disciplinary instruction of your father, and do not forsake the torah (law, instruction) of your mother’ (Proverbs 1:8; compare also Proverbs 6:20), so this new subsection encourages obedience to father and mother, but now on the basis of family affection. It is a call to heed a godly father and mother, and be pleasing to them. It is also interesting that each of the first eight verses deals with a subject prominent in the Prologue, and this is something that is discovered again and again in the narrative. This adds further support to the idea that the Prologue and these proverbs all form one record from the beginning. These first eight verses form a chiasmus, something which in our view continues throughout Solomon’s proverbs.
Those Who Follow God’s Wisdom (The Wise) Bring Happiness To Their Parents Through Their Obedience And Experience Both Spiritual And Physical Blessing And Provision, Whilst The Foolish (Who Ignore God’s Wisdom) Cause Grief, Gain Nothing, And Are Rejected By God (Proverbs 10:1-8 ).
In these opening proverbs we have a description of the benefits of righteousness and wisdom, and of the adverse effect of unrighteousness and folly. The wise son lives in an harmonious household (Proverbs 10:1), his righteousness delivers from death (Proverbs 10:2), the righteous will be satisfied both spiritually and physically (Proverbs 10:3), will become wealthy (Proverbs 10:4), will be blessed (Proverbs 10:6), and remembered (Proverbs 10:7), and will be obedient to those who are over them (Proverbs 10:8).
In contrast are the foolish and the unrighteous. The foolish son breaks his mother’s heart (Proverbs 10:1), his ill-gotten gains are finally of no profit (Proverbs 10:2), he is spurned by YHWH (Proverbs 10:3), he will become poor (Proverbs 10:4), he brings shame on his family (Proverbs 10:5), he will suffer violence (Proverbs 10:6), he will be forgotten (Proverbs 10:7), and he will be trodden down (Proverbs 10:8).
This can be presented chiastically as follows:
A A WISE son makes a glad father, but a FOOLISH son is a grief to his mother (Proverbs 10:1).
B Treasures of WICKEDNESS profit nothing, but RIGHTEOUSNESS delivers from death (Proverbs 10:2).
C YHWH will not allow the soul of the RIGHTEOUS to go hungry, but he thrusts away the craving of the WICKED (Proverbs 10:3).
D He becomes poor who works with a lazy hand, but the hand of the hard worker makes rich (Proverbs 10:4).
D He who gathers in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who causes shame (Proverbs 10:5).
C Blessings are on the head of the RIGHTEOUS, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the WICKED (Proverbs 10:6).
B The memory of the RIGHTEOUS is blessed, but the name of the WICKED decays (Proverbs 10:7).
A The WISE in heart will accept commands, but a loudmouthed FOOL (literally ‘a fool of lips’) will be trodden down (Proverbs 10:8).
It will be noted that in A the WISE son makes a glad father, and in the parallel the WISE in heart will accept commands (compare Proverbs 6:20 where the son is so to observe the command of his father). In B the treasures of WICKEDNESS profit nothing, while in the parallel the name of the WICKED decays (becomes worm-eaten). Furthermore RIGHTEOUSNESS delivers from death, whilst in the parallel the memory of the RIGHTEOUS is blessed. One horror of the Israelite was to die and be forgotten. In C YHWH will not allow the RIGHTEOUS to go hungry, whilst in the parallel there are blessings on the head of the RIGHTEOUS. Centrally in D working with a lazy hand parallels sleeping during harvest, whilst the hand of the hard worker parallels the one who gathers harvest at the due time.
‘A wise son makes a glad father,
But a foolish son is a grief to his mother.’
This proverb does not come in a vacuum. In the Prologue wisdom and folly have been regularly contrasted. Thus a ‘wise son’ is one who walks in the fear of YHWH (Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 2:5; etc.) and in the wisdom of YHWH (Proverbs 2:2-6; Proverbs 3:21-22; Proverbs 4:5-9; etc.), and who increases in learning (Proverbs 1:5) and responds to the call to follow the way of wisdom as depicted in chapters 1-9. Such a son listens to his father and mother (Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 6:20), and as a consequence of his obedience to YHWH his father is glad and rejoices. He is proud of him.
The foolish son on the other hand is like the fool or the naive one who goes astray, as depicted in chapters 1-9. He does not choose the fear of YHWH (Proverbs 1:29), he associates with greedy or perverse men (Proverbs 1:10-19; Proverbs 2:10-15) and with enticing and adulteress women (Proverbs 2:16-19; Proverbs 5:3-14; Proverbs 6:24-35; Proverbs 7:5-27; Proverbs 9:13-18). He breaks his mother’s heart (compare Proverbs 17:25 b). There is a sensitivity here which is moving (compare Proverbs 4:3 where the mother is seen as more emotionally involved than the father). It is the father who encourages him to walk positively, chastening him where necessary, and proud of his response. But it is the mother who feels most deeply when her son takes the wrong path. On the other hand the father may also be grieved (Proverbs 17:21; Proverbs 17:25 a), and the mother can also delight in her son (Proverbs 23:25).
The assumption is being made here that the father and mother are giving advice that can be trusted. And that can only because they do it in line with Solomon’s teaching concerning the wisdom of God, and its corollary in the Torah (the law of Moses). It is a reminder of how important good parenting is to children of all ages. A very similar proverb appears in Proverbs 15:20.
‘Treasures of unrighteousness (wrongdoing, ‘wickedness’) profit nothing,
But righteousness delivers from death.’
Note that the themes of the benefits of righteousness and of the consequences of unrighteousness (the word translated ‘wickedness’ is regularly indicating simply the opposite of righteousness), and of wealth gained or lost, continue on in the next few verses (3-6).
The connection with Proverbs 10:1 suggests that the wise and foolish sons are still in mind. Here the foolish son seeks for the ‘treasures of wickedness’, that is, if looked at physically, wealth obtained by false means and unpleasant activity (Proverbs 1:10-19). He prefers that to working hard (Proverbs 10:4-5). But we are to note that such treasures will not profit him in the end. He finally ends up with nothing. All he can expect is calamity (Proverbs 1:26-28; Proverbs 1:32 b) and death. Note that the proverb takes a long view, and sees the final working out of men’s attitudes and behaviour. Treasures obtained by unrighteousness can only lead to final loss, and this is so even if meanwhile they prosper men. Note the Psalmist’s perplexity in Psalms 73:0 where he could not understand why the wicked were prospering ‘until he considered their end’. The assumption made in many of these Proverbs is that there will in one way or another be such a final judgment on men.
In contrast the righteous son, through following wisdom and righteousness, will be delivered from death (Proverbs 1:18; Proverbs 1:32-33; Proverbs 2:18-19; etc.). For the path of righteousness is like the dawning light of day which grows ever brighter until it reaches its ultimate (Proverbs 4:18). Thus the righteousness which results from God’s wisdom (Proverbs 2:9-10; Proverbs 8:20) is better than earthly treasures (Proverbs 8:8-12; compare Proverbs 3:14-18), it consists of durable riches (Proverbs 8:18), whilst the assumption of his being delivered from death is that he will therefore enjoy a prosperous and fruitful life (Proverbs 3:16-18), which is God’s purpose for us all (Proverbs 8:14-16).
We must not, however, limit these words to the wise and foolish sons for the proverb is deliberately more generalised. It therefore applies to all. Thus any gains of any kind (whether physical or emotional) which result from unrighteousness will not benefit someone in the end, for their way leads to death (Proverbs 1:18; Proverbs 1:32; Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 5:5; Proverbs 7:27; Proverbs 9:18 compare Psalms 73:17). There will be a price to pay, because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and the pleasures of sin are only for a season (Hebrews 11:25). On the other hand all who walk in righteousness will be delivered from sin’s consequences. They will enjoy a full life (Proverbs 3:16-18; Proverbs 8:35; Proverbs 9:6; compare Proverbs 1:33; Proverbs 3:35) and end up in the presence of God (Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15). Whilst not spelled out the assumption is that somehow God will ensure that the righteous will come out of it well in the end.
‘YHWH will not allow the soul (inner life, appetite) of the righteous to go hungry,
But he thrusts away the craving of the wicked.’
Note how speedily YHWH, the covenant God of Israel, is brought into the equation. We learn immediately that the proverbs are valid and true because YHWH ensures their fulfilment, These word amplify Proverbs 10:2. The reason that righteousness delivers from death is because YHWH will not allow the inner life of the righteous to go hungry, to be famished. He will ensure that he enjoys a satisfying and fruitful life (Proverbs 3:16-18). He will satisfy his appetites. And this in contrast with the unrighteous, whose desires and cravings YHWH will ‘thrust away’. He pushes them from Him. He has no time for the cravings of wrongdoers which are for things displeasing to Him.
Note the significant point that the lives of the righteous follow wisdom (Proverbs 10:1). Indeed, the definition of the righteous man is that he responds to wisdom and seeks to live in accordance with it. In contrast are the lives of evildoers which are ruled by covetousness and desire. For the cravings of the latter include seeking the treasures of wickedness (unrighteousness - Proverbs 10:2); greed for gain (Proverbs 1:13); following men of a perverse heart and mouth who rejoice to do what is not right (Proverbs 2:12-15); and responding to the enticements of adulterous women (Proverbs 2:16-19; Proverbs 5:3-14; Proverbs 6:24-35; Proverbs 7:5-27; Proverbs 9:13-18).
This thought then leads on to YHWH also satisfying the needs of the bodies of the righteous This is dealt with in this next verse.
‘He becomes poor who works with a lazy hand,
But the hand of the hard worker makes rich.’
Men seek ‘the treasures of unrighteousness’, treasures obtained through theft, fraud, dishonesty and violence, because it is the easy way, and they are lazy. For otherwise laziness leads to poverty. This proverb is vividly illustrated in Proverbs 6:6-11. The dilatory worker will never be wealthy except by unjust gain. In contrast the hard worker does become relatively wealthy. And he also experiences richness of heart.
‘He who gathers in summer is a wise son,
But he who sleeps in harvest is a son who causes shame.’
The ‘wise son’ was spoken of in Proverbs 10:1. And one of the things that he does is to take advantage of the seasons in order to harvest products at the right time, so that he obtains the maximum benefit. He plans his time wisely, making the most of the opportunity. On the other hand the foolish son sleeps during harvest time. He is lazy, and the opportunity passes him by. Compare again Proverbs 6:6-11.
In other words we should take advantage when times are good, filling our barns, (or making our savings), so that if less prosperous days come on us we have sufficient for our needs. The lazy person does not do this. He prefers to sleep and hope for the best. ‘A little slumber, and a little sleep’ and poverty and want will creep up on him like a thief (Proverbs 6:10-11).
Notice the consequence in each case. The wise son earns the commendation of everyone. His barns are full and he is content, and admired by his neighbours who respect both him, and his parents who reared him. His neighbours nod their heads and say ‘they have a wise son’. This continues the theme of Proverbs 10:1 where the father’s heart was made glad. In contrast the foolish son can only look at his half empty barns and be filled with shame, and bring shame on his father and mother. All their neighbours look at them and shake their heads, saying secretly to one another under their breaths, ‘they should have brought him up properly’.
Blessings are on the head of the righteous,
But extreme behaviour (e.g. violence by action or words) overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.
The satisfying of the inner life of the righteous (Proverbs 10:3) is necessarily a consequence of blessings coming from YHWH as now described. But blessings in Scripture are not just happy wishes, they have a potency given to them by God. They assume the activity of YHWH in bringing about their fulfilment. And through Him they impart potency to the recipient. Here they are seen to come on the head of the righteous, those who do what is right before God. They include spiritual, mental and physical blessings. These include the blessings within the inner man referred to in Proverbs 10:3, and the blessings in Proverbs 10:4-5 which are physical blessings, All these blessings have to be appropriated by response. In contrast, however, are those who do not receive such blessings. In Proverbs 10:3 it is because their cravings are wrong, here it is because they are so involved in the ‘extreme behaviour’, including actual physical violence, which is fed by those cravings. Alternately it may indicate that instead of receiving blessings from YHWH they will receive violence. Thus the ‘violence, extreme behaviour’ could both issue from them as it takes possession of their mouths and come on them as they are overwhelmed by it.
This proverb is illustrated in Proverbs 1:9-19. The righteous, who listen to their godly fathers and mothers, will receive a floral wreath on their heads, symbolic of joy and happiness (Proverbs 1:9; compare Proverbs 4:9). They will be showered with blessings. They will receive abundant life (Proverbs 3:16-18; Proverbs 8:35; Proverbs 9:6; compare Proverbs 1:33; Proverbs 3:35). In contrast the mouth of the unrighteous is filled with talk of violence (Proverbs 1:11-14). Their evil intentions overwhelm their mouths. They reveal what they are by what they say. And so with perverted heart they devise evil, which comes out in their continually sowing discord (Proverbs 6:14; Proverbs 6:19). But their violence will rebound upon them (Proverbs 1:18-19). We can compare Proverbs 3:33 where YHWH blesses the habitation of the righteous, but the curse of YHWH is in the house of the unrighteous (evildoers, the ‘wicked’).
‘The memory of the righteous is blessed,
But the name of the wicked decays (becomes worm eaten).’
The consequence of a righteous man being blessed will be that when he dies, his memory too will be blessed. His life will have produced fruit among all who know him, and he will be long remembered with gratitude. He will be held in honour. Compare Psalms 112:6, ‘the righteous will be held in everlasting remembrance’. The memory of them will live on for ever. The dread of every Israelite was that he would die and his name be forgotten, that memory of him would cease to exist. That was why they kept genealogies and were desperate to maintain the family name. In contrast is the name of the wrongdoer. His name will gradually decay and be forgotten. It will be worm-eaten. No one will remember him for long. All that will remain will be a forgotten grave containing a decaying, worm-eaten body.
‘The wise in heart will accept commands,
But a loudmouthed fool (literally ‘a fool of lips’) will trip up (fall).’
The final proverb in this group takes up the ideas in Proverbs 10:1. The wise in heart will be a joy to their fathers because they receive and follow his commandments (compare Proverbs 6:20). They walk in the way of wisdom. That indeed is what demonstrates that they are wise ‘in heart’ (in their minds, wills and emotions). In contrast is the scorner, here called a loudmouthed fool, who refuses to heed those commandments (compare Proverbs 9:7-12). He is here described as a ‘fool of lips’, a loudmouthed fool who mockingly rejects the teaching of his father and mother, and can only bring grief to them. The misuse of the mouth or tongue is a regular way of describing wrongdoers (e.g. Proverbs 2:12; Proverbs 4:24; Proverbs 8:13). Indeed, a wayward mouth was the sign of the ‘worthless man’ (Proverbs 6:12 b, Proverbs 6:17 a, Proverbs 6:10). But in the end such a man will ‘trip up’. For as he goes on his way with his proud boasting, he will inevitably continually stumble and fall, because he has nothing which guides him in the right way. And one day he will fall, never to rise again.
A Collection Of Solomon’s Proverbs (Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 29:27 ).
Solomon’s presentation of The Book of Proverbs has followed the pattern of much Wisdom literature. This commenced with the initial heading detailing the details of the author and his purpose in writing (Proverbs 1:1-7), continued with a Prologue which laid the foundation for what was to follow (Proverbs 1:8 to Proverbs 9:18), and was then followed by the body of the work introduced by one or more subheadings. In Solomon’s case this main body comprises Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 29:27. It is usually divided up into four parts:
1) Proverbs of Solomon (Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16), introduced by a subheading ‘The Proverbs Of Solomon’. This may possibly be divided into two sections, Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 15:21, and Proverbs 15:22 to Proverbs 22:16.
2) Words of the Wise (Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:22), introduced by an exhortation to hear the words of the wise. This is in a form comparable with exhortations in the Prologue, but there is no subheading in the text as we have it. It may rather therefore be seen as a third section of The Proverbs of Solomon, but with unusual characteristics.
3) Further Sayings of the Wise (Proverbs 24:23-34), introduced by the subheading, ‘these also are of the wise’.
4) Proverbs of Solomon copied out by the ‘Men of Hezekiah, King of Judah’ (Proverbs 25:1 to Proverbs 29:27), introduced by a specific heading.
The inclusion of the words of the wise within two sets of proverbs of Solomon, the first time without a subheading, suggests that we are to see the words of the wise and the sayings of the wise as also from Solomon, but based in each case more specifically on collections of Wisdom sayings known to him, which he himself, or his Scribes, had taken and altered up in order to conform them to his requirements thus making them finally his work. That does not necessarily mean that his proverbs in section 1 (Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16) were not based on other material. He would have obtained his material from many sources. But once again we are to see them as presented after alteration by his hand.
We should note, for example, the continual references to YHWH that occur throughout the text. Whatever material Solomon may have appropriated, he refashioned it in order to make it the wisdom of the God of Israel, of YHWH their covenant God. This approach of taking what was written by others and refashioning it, while at the same time introducing further ideas of his own, may be seen as following the pattern of modern scholars, each of whom takes the works of others, and then reinterprets them in his own words, whilst adding to them on the basis of his own thinking. The final product is then seen as their own thinking, aided by others. The only difference is that Solomon would have been far more willing to copy down word for word what others had said and written without giving acknowledgement.
Having said that we must not assume that Solomon simply copied them down unthinkingly. As the Prologue has made clear, he did not see himself as presenting some general form of Wisdom teaching. He saw what he wrote down as given by YHWH, and as being in the words of YHWH (Proverbs 2:6). And he saw it as based on YHWH’s eternal wisdom, His wisdom which had also been involved in the creation of heaven and earth (Proverbs 3:19-20; Proverbs 8:22-31). Thus he wants us to recognise that what now follows is not a series of general wisdom statements, but is a miscellany revealing the wisdom of YHWH, the wisdom that leads men into the paths of life.
The Righteous (The Wise) Walk Uprightly, Are A Wellspring Of Life To Others, Store Up Knowledge, Accept Correction, Think Before They Speak And Act As Shepherd To Many. The Unrighteous Pervert Their Ways, Wink With The Eye, Hide Their Violent Attitudes And Their Slander, Stir Up Trouble, Reject Correction, And Are Of Little Value (Proverbs 10:9-21 ).
In this subsection we learn of the virtues of the righteous and the wise in contrast with the follies of the unrighteous (the evildoers) and the foolish, as a consequence of which the unrighteous face certain judgment. The righteous walk uprightly (Proverbs 10:9), are a wellspring of life to others (Proverbs 10:11), try to maintain peace and harmony (Proverbs 10:12), speak wisely (Proverbs 10:13), store up true knowledge (the knowledge of God) (Proverbs 10:14), accept correction (Proverbs 10:17), think before they speak (Proverbs 10:19), and as a consequence act as shepherd to many (Proverbs 10:21). In contrast the foolish pervert their ways (Proverbs 10:9), wink with the eye (Proverbs 10:10), hide their violent attitudes and their slanders (Proverbs 10:11), stir up trouble (Proverbs 10:12) and reject correction (Proverbs 10:17. The result will be that they will be exposed (Proverbs 10:9), they will fall (Proverbs 10:10), they face imminent ruin (Proverbs 10:14), they are considered do be of little worth (Proverbs 10:20), and they face death (Proverbs 10:21)..
The subsection may be presented chiastically as follows:
A He who walks uprightly walks surely, but HE WHO PERVERTS HIS WAY WILL BE KNOWN (EXPOSED) (Proverbs 10:9).
B He who winks with the eye causes sorrow, but a FOOL OF LIPS will fall (Proverbs 10:10).
C The mouth of the righteous is a wellspring of life, but the MOUTH OF THE WICKED CONCEALS VIOLENCE (Proverbs 10:11).
D HATRED stirs up strifes, but love conceals all transgressions (Proverbs 10:12).
E On the lips of a discerning person wisdom is found, but A ROD IS FOR THE BACK of him who is void of understanding (Proverbs 10:13).
F Wise men STORE UP knowledge, but the mouth of the foolish is imminent (approaching) RUIN (machitta) (Proverbs 10:14).
F The RICH MAN’S WEALTH is his fortress, poor men’s poverty is their RUIN (machitta). The labour of the righteous tends to life, the PRODUCTION of the wicked, to sin (Proverbs 10:15-16).
E He is in the way of life who takes note of CORRECTION, but he wanders who forsakes reproof (Proverbs 10:17).
D He who hides HATRED with lying lips, and who utters a slander is a fool (Proverbs 10:18).
C In the MULTIPLYING OF WORDS there lacks not transgression, but he who REFRAINS HIS LIPS his lips does wisely (Proverbs 10:19).
B The TONGUE OF THE RIGHTEOUS is as choice silver, The heart of the wicked is of little worth (Proverbs 10:20).
A The lips of the righteous feed many, but the FOOLISH DIE FOR LACK OF UNDERSTANDING (Proverbs 10:21).
In A the one who perverts his way (and is therefore foolish) will be exposed, he will be shown for what he is by what happens to him, and in the parallel the foolish die for lack of understanding. In B the tongue of the righteous parallels the fool of lips. In C the mouth of the wicked conceals violence, and this contrasts in the parallel with the one who refrains his lips for a good reason. In D hatred is paralleled by hatred. In E the rod of correction contrasts with those who take note of correction. Centrally in F storing up parallels wealth and productivity, whilst ruin parallels ruin.
‘He who walks uprightly walks surely,
But he who perverts (makes crooked) his ways will be known (or ‘exposed’).’
Walking uprightly (Proverbs 2:7; contrast Proverbs 2:13) and being perverse (Proverbs 2:12; Proverbs 2:15; Proverbs 3:32; Proverbs 6:14) and forsaking the paths of uprightness (Proverbs 2:13), were again two features of the Prologue. The one who walks uprightly (in integrity, blamelessly) can walk with confidence and sureness, and with no fear of being ‘found out’. He also knows that he will not trip up (contrast the fool in Proverbs 10:8). What he says will feed many (Proverbs 10:21) so that they too will walk in the way of the upright. But the one who turns from the straight way, choosing crooked paths (Proverbs 2:13), will eventually be exposed. The truth about him will become known to his undoing. He will be revealed as one who lacks understanding (Proverbs 10:21). Compare Proverbs 12:23 where ‘the heart of fools proclaims foolishness’.
‘He who (maliciously) winks with the eye causes sorrow,
But a loudmouthed fool will fall.’
Two types of waywardness are in mind here. The first is the waywardness of the smooth deceiver. He acts unkindly behind people’s back. He is untrustworthy and smooth, saying one thing to one person, and another to another. This indeed was one of the signs of the ‘worthless man’ (Proverbs 6:13). And in consequence he causes much sorrow. He brings much hurt on people.
The second is the waywardness of the loudmouthed fool (the ‘fool of lips’, compare Proverbs 10:8 b). He may be more straightforward, but he is boastful and goes on his way heedlessly, not caring about his behaviour. And as a result he will trip up and fall. Both the deceitful and the heedless can cause much trouble. We are not to see here that the deceitful man gets away with it. The assumption is that because he causes sorrow he will in some way be brought to account, in the same way as the loudmouthed man. Alternately ‘fool of the lips’ may here rather refer to making false or inaccurate statements (Proverbs 10:18), having a perverse mouth (Proverbs 6:12; Proverbs 6:17 a, Proverbs 6:19), thus providing a parallel with the deceitful winking eye (see Proverbs 6:12 b, Proverbs 6:13 a).
Note the connection between Proverbs 10:9-10. The one who deceitfully and maliciously winks with the eye does not walk uprightly, but rather perverts his ways.
The chiasmus draws attention to the parallel thoughts in Proverbs 10:18. ‘Winking eyes’ and ‘lying lips’ go along with each other (Proverbs 6:12-13; Proverbs 6:17), and if ‘fool of lips’ is taken as indicating lying lips the parallel is even closer. Whilst those who wink their eyes as an indication of deceit, are in a very real sense slanderers.
The exact parallel of Proverbs 10:10 with Proverbs 10:8 has been seen by some as suspicious. And in fact LXX (the early Greek Old Testament) replaces it with, ‘a frank rebuke will make for peace’ (or ‘he who reproves boldly is a peacemaker’), which contains the important lesson that open and honest criticism, in contrast to deceitfulness, will often solve issues. But this is an obvious change, whilst repetition is not uncommon in Proverbs, and both MT and the Targums support ‘a loudmouthed fool (a fool of the lips) will fall’, which fits in adequately.
‘The mouth of the righteous is a wellspring of life,
But the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.’
The thought of ‘the fool of lips’ (Proverbs 10:10 b) now leads into a proverb concerning the use of the mouth. The mouth of the righteous is a wellspring of life. It feeds and sustains people, and satisfies their deepest longings (their thirst). It produces life within them making them fruitful (one of the main uses of water was to water the crops and vegetation) and guides them into a wholesome life. It does good to all. It is like the Torah of YHWH (the law of God), it brings life wherever it goes (Psalms 1:2-3; Jeremiah 17:7-8; Joshua 1:8). The Wisdom of God could herself declare that, ‘all the words of my mouth are in righteousness, there is nothing crooked or perverse in them’ (Proverbs 8:8). It is no coincidence that ‘the instruction (torah) of the wise’ (Proverbs 13:14) and ‘the fear of YHWH’ (Proverbs 14:27) will also be said to be ‘a wellspring of life’, for the mouth of the righteous promulgates both. The idea of a wellspring is of plenty, and thus the righteous speak often of wisdom. They gush forth wisdom. They are in direct contrast with those of whom it is said ‘in the multiplying of words there lacks not transgression’.
Fruitful springs and gushing wells counted among the most precious things in life in the ancient world. They were places at which people gathered, and for which men fought. But they were limited to one place. On the other hand the mouth of the righteous goes about everywhere taking life wherever it goes. ‘Out of his innermost being flow rivers of living water’ (John 7:38).
In contrast the mouth of the wrongdoer ‘conceals violent behaviour’. He ‘hides hatred by lying lips’ (Proverbs 10:18). His mouth deceitfully conceals (as did the winking eye - Proverbs 10:10 a) his attempts to get his own way, by emotional bullying, by false presentation, or even by physical violence. He is always full of false explanations and is suave while trying to force things on people or obtain things from people for his own benefit. His multiplying of words does not lack transgression (Proverbs 10:19). Solomon might well have said, ‘beware of the mouth of the evildoer because you do not know what his aims are’.
‘Hatred stirs up strifes,
But love conceals all transgressions.
The mouth of the wicked concealing violence (Proverbs 10:11 b) links with this proverb, both in the strife that hatred stirs up, for it could only do that through the mouth, and in the thought of concealment. In Proverbs 6:12; Proverbs 6:14; Proverbs 6:19 it was the perverse mouth and heart of the worthless man which sowed discord among brothers, here it is the mouth of the hater which stirs up discord. And indeed hatred would be one of the mainsprings of the actions of the worthless man. The hater causes trouble wherever he goes, he is not happy until he has set people at each other’s throats. He brings division and discord. When men hate they behave irrationally. Hatred consumes them and they become irresponsible. They become ‘fools’. Even when they speak fair words they are not to be believed (Proverbs 26:25), for hatred makes men lie and deceive (Proverbs 26:24; compare Proverbs 10:18). They ‘hide hatred with lying lips’ (Proverbs 10:18).
But in stark contrast is love. Hatred conceals nothing, unless it is for a wrong purpose. But love conceals everything unless it is essential that it be brought out into the open. Love seeks to maintain peace, harmony and unity. And it does it, not by pretending that sin does not exist, but by determining not to bring it into prominence unnecessarily. It does not drag sins out into the open just for the sake of it, or in order to obtain vengeance. As Proverbs 11:13 declares, ‘He who goes about as a tale-bearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.’ And in the words of James, citing this verse, we read ‘love covers a multitude of sins’ (James 5:20), although, having said that, James has more specifically in mind that this will be by turning men from their sins, which is something which love also seeks to do. He has perceived a second application of these words, that love conceals transgressions by turning the heart of the transgressor into the right way.
The love that conceals all transgressions is the love that ‘endures long and is kind, does not envy, does not vaunt itself, is not puffed up. It does not behave itself in unseemly fashion, or seek its own way or benefit, or allow itself to be provoked, or take account of the evil of others unnecessarily. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endure all things. It never fails’ (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 a).
It should, of course, be noted that, as James has pointed out, that same love will gently seek to make men aware individually of their sins, but it will do so for a good purpose, in a way that avoids causing strife, and preserves harmony. It will deal with such matters privately, only making them public where there is no option, and then only for a good purpose (Matthew 18:15-17).
‘On the lips of a discerning person wisdom is found,
But a rod is for the back of him who is void of understanding.’
This proverb continues the thought of the previous two proverbs. The lips of the righteous are a wellspring of life (Proverbs 10:11), precisely because the lips of the righteous are the lips of a discerning person, a man with insight, on whose lips are found wisdom. And while the hater speaks everywhere, deceiving and causing dissension, love speaks wisely seeking to avoid dissension, precisely because the one who loves is a wise and discerning person. Here is the explanation of the behaviour of the one who loves, he is a discerning person who has wisdom, and speaks accordingly. That, in Solomon’s eyes, is the hallmark of the discerning person, he is wise in God’s wisdom, and not lacking in understanding.
In contrast is the man who is void of understanding. He lacks a knowledge of the wisdom of God. For him the only hope is proper discipline, and in those days that meant the rod for the back. By that means hopefully he might be brought to his senses. He is in contrast with the one who is in the way of life who accepts correction (Proverbs 10:17). Because he lacks understanding such a man tries to dodge reproof (Proverbs 10:17). It should, however, be noted that Solomon elsewhere stresses that this use of the rod must be an act of love. It was to be a loving father who chastened his son with the rod when necessary (Proverbs 13:24), not a vengeful tyrant.
In those days when child psychology was unknown there were, in most families, few other methods of exerting discipline. For they enjoyed few pleasures to be withheld (compare Luke 15:29), and life was hard and chastening had to be swift. This advice has therefore served well through the ages. Today, if we are wise, we follow the same principle of the need for discipline, whilst happily at the same time being able to call on subtler and more time-consuming methods which would have been unavailable and impracticable in those days. Thus Solomon’s method, as long as reasonably and fairly applied, was a correct one for those days, although clearly open to abuse. At my school I was brought up on the cane, and to be honest, I always preferred it to detention. Much depended on how it was used. (At my school each teacher had his cane but it was usually, although not always, used reasonably and fairly). It is not, however, something that I would recommend in the modern day except in extreme cases, and then only reasonably, for we have better methods of discipline. In most cases physical punishment is unnecessary, and with much use loses its efficacy.
‘Wise men store up knowledge,
But the mouth of the foolish is imminent (approaching) ruin.’
We now come to three verses which interplay with each other. They refer to ‘storing up’ (Proverbs 10:14), ‘rich men’s wealth’ (Proverbs 10:15), ‘the labour of the righteous’ (Proverbs 10:16) and in contrast the ‘productivity of the unrighteous’. This last leads to sin (Proverbs 10:16), and to destruction (Proverbs 10:14-15). But the wise man stores up ‘knowledge’ (Proverbs 10:14), and therefore becomes truly wealthy (Proverbs 10:15), for the labour of the righteous tends to life (Proverbs 10:16). But we must recognise what is meant by knowledge. It does not mean ‘knowledge ‘ as modern man understands it, knowledge built up by means of a good education. In Proverbs knowledge is very much what is produced by the fear of YHWH (Proverbs 1:9), it is the knowledge of God and His ways (Proverbs 2:6-7). To hate knowledge is to not choose the fear of YHWH (Proverbs 1:29). Indeed the two are paralleled in Proverbs 2:6. The knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10). We shall henceforth refer to it as ‘true knowledge’.
Here then wise men seek out true knowledge (the knowledge of God). They treasure it, and apply it to their lives. They store it up for future use. And that is the reason that wisdom is on their discerning lips (Proverbs 10:13), that is why they have a love that covers transgressions (Proverbs 10:12), that is why their mouth is a wellspring of life (Proverbs 10:11), that is why they walk uprightly (Proverbs 10:9).
In contrast are the foolish. They reveal how foolish they are by what they say, and this is slowly bringing them to ruin, which is ever on the horizon waiting to descend (see Proverbs 1:24-28). There is hope for them if they respond to the rod, thus gaining understanding from their fathers and mothers and getting wisdom on their lips (Proverbs 10:13), but otherwise they let hatred take hold of them and cause dissension (Proverbs 10:12), they speak of violence and forceful behaviour (Proverbs 10:11), they are loudmouthed and deceitful (Proverbs 10:10), and they pervert their ways (Proverbs 10:9). Note how regularly the mouth and lips are mentioned or assumed in line with the words of this verse. And the consequence of what they say and do is that they will be found out (Proverbs 10:9), they will trip and fall (Proverbs 10:10,), and they will come to final destruction (Proverbs 10:14).
‘The rich man’s wealth is his fortress,
The ruin (or ‘terror’) of poor men is their poverty.’
At first sight this proverb appears to be saying that the rich man is hugely better off than poor men because his wealth acts as a fortress or fortified city which protects him from the ruin or terror that besets poor men through their poverty. And as a generalisation this would undoubtedly be true. Rich men are protected from many of the problems that beset the poor. But if it does mean this it goes contrary to the tenor of much of what Proverbs teaches. For elsewhere the teaching of Proverbs is that far from being protected by their riches, rich men are brought down by them.
For example, ‘there is who makes himself rich, yet has nothing, there is who makes himself poor, yet has great riches’ (Proverbs 13:7). ‘Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death (Proverbs 11:4). ‘He who trusts in riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish as a green leaf’ (Proverbs 11:28). And very pertinently, ‘the rich man’s wealth is his fortress (fortified city), and a high wall in his own imagination ’ (Proverbs 18:11). It will be noted that in this last case we have the very same words as are found in Proverbs 10:15 here, but with a derogatory meaning, for the indication in Proverbs 18:11 is that the idea that a rich man’s riches are his fortress is an illusion. It is ‘in his own imagination’. Furthermore in Proverbs 18:10 Solomon had already declared, ‘the Name of YHWH is a strong tower, the righteous runs into it and is safe’ (Proverbs 18:10), which contrasted with the rich man’s wrongly held self confidence.
Now it is not unknown for proverbs to appear to contradict one another, for truth often has two sides, but it would be unusual (although not unknown) for it to do so in exactly the same words. However, there is the further point that if the proverb is merely teaching that the rich are better off than the poor it goes against the tenor of this whole chapter, the concentration of which is on the benefits accruing from wisdom, uprightness, and righteousness.
One way in which the idea that ‘the rich’ are better off than the poor might be defended is by comparison with Proverbs 10:4, ‘he becomes poor who deals with a slack hand, but the hand of the diligent makes rich (or ‘prosperous’)’, with the ‘rich’ indicating those who have become prosperous through hard work, and the poor indicating those who have become poor through laziness or inefficiency. But that is not the impression given, and it would still mean that the first clause was cited in two places with two contradictory meanings. and it would still go against the tenor of the passage. The emphasis in Proverbs 10:4 is on the contrast between diligence and laziness, not on the contrast between rich man and the poor.
Two alternatives present themselves. The first is that its teaching is that neither the rich man nor poor men are secure from ruin, the rich man because his confidence is in the wrong place, being placed in uncertain riches, the poor because their poverty makes them vulnerable. In other words that it is basically saying that both the rich and the poor are in a sad situation because the only security that the rich man has is uncertain riches, whilst the poor men’s problem lies in their poverty. This would then tie it in with the meaning in Proverbs 18:11. But even this might be cavilled against on the grounds that its teaching is that the poor as a class are in a hopeless situation, when elsewhere in Proverbs it is made clear that that is not the case. For example, ‘there is who makes himself poor, but has great riches’ (Proverbs 13:7). ‘The rich man is wise in his own conceit, but the poor who has understanding searches him out’ (Proverbs 28:11). And what is more the teaching of Proverbs concerning the poor concentrates mainly on how the better off are to be concerned for their needs (Proverbs 14:31; Proverbs 19:4; Proverbs 19:17; Proverbs 21:13; Proverbs 22:9; Proverbs 22:16; Proverbs 22:22; Proverbs 28:8; Proverbs 28:15; Proverbs 29:7; Proverbs 29:14). The exception is when speaking of those who have become poor through laziness (Proverbs 6:10-11; Proverbs 10:4).
The second alternative is to take ‘rich man’ as the equivalent of ‘the righteous, the upright and the wise’ (it follows immediately after the description of ‘wise men’ and before a description of ‘the righteous’), and ‘poor men’ as the equivalent of ‘the unrighteous, the wayward and the foolish’ (it follows immediately after the mention of ‘the foolish’ and before a description of ‘the wicked, the unrighteous’), by seeing them as descriptions of ‘richness’ or ‘poverty’ in wisdom and understanding.
If we were to take the verse standing on its own this might appear a little far fetched. But it does not stand on its own and indeed in this regard we need to remember that every mention of the riches previously in Proverbs has specifically had in mind those who sought and responded to God’s wisdom, being rich in both wisdom and material goods (Proverbs 3:13-16; Proverbs 8:18. Proverbs 10:4). And we shortly learn that it is ‘the blessing of YHWH that makes rich’ (Proverbs 10:22), and that ‘it is the way of YHWH’ that is ‘a fortress to the upright’ (Proverbs 10:29). Thus we are justified in seeing at this stage an equation in Solomon’s mind between the rich and the wise, even if later on he recognises that there is another side to the story (Proverbs 11:4; Proverbs 11:28; Proverbs 18:11; Proverbs 28:11).
And this can be seen as supported by the fact that the previous verse speaks of knowledge being ‘stored up’, thus making the wise ‘wealthy’, and the following verse speaks of the labour of ‘the righteous’ tending to ‘life’, with life being the wealth of the righteous produced by the labour. (We should also note that in the chiasmus the three Proverbs 10:14-16 come together). As in Proverbs 10:4 it was ‘riches’ that were produced by labour, riches are seen to equate to ‘life’. This interpretation would fit the verse firmly into its context, would make good sense, and would tie in with teaching elsewhere. If ‘the rich man’ means first of all ‘the one who is rich in wisdom’, and as a consequence became rich, so that ‘the rich man’s wealth’ is primarily in fact wisdom, and ‘poor men’ means those who are lacking in wisdom, and have therefore been negligent and have become poor (Proverbs 6:9-11; Proverbs 10:4-5), so that the poor men’s poverty lies in their not having had wisdom, the teaching of the verse is consonant with the whole passage, and with the Prologue. The essence of the verse is that richness in wisdom delivers, whilst lack of it (foolishness) leads to ‘ruin’, the latter ‘ruin’ tying in with what is said in the previous verse, ‘the mouth of the foolish is impending ruin’.
This interpretation can be seen as obtaining further support from verses such as ‘there is who makes himself poor yet has great riches’ (Proverbs 13:7), and the probability that the riches in Proverbs 8:18 themselves have largely in mind what are the true riches, ‘yes, durable riches and righteousness’.
Its weakness lies in the fact that it is not obvious on the surface (unless, of course, we are holding in our minds what has previously been said in the Prologue); it makes a different use of the clause repeated in Proverbs 18:11 (although that might indicate an advance in Solomon’s thought); and in the fact that there may be an intended parallel between folly leading to ruin, and poverty leading to ruin, the poverty arising through the folly of laziness (Proverbs 10:4). This latter could, however, be an argument both for and against (it equates folly with poverty). On the whole, therefore, this appears to be the best interpretation in context. Its strongest point is that it fits the tenor of the whole passage.
‘The labour of the righteous tends to life,
The productivity of the wicked, to sin.’
Solomon continues to think in terms of wealth and poverty. In Proverbs 10:4 diligent labour led to riches, here the diligent labour of the righteous leads to ‘life’, a life of wellbeing and prosperity, which is therefore paralleled with riches. Note how ‘life’ is contrasted, not with ‘death’, but with ‘sin’. To ‘live’ is to walk blamelessly. The righteous man thereby becomes ‘rich’ because he has long life, prosperity, honour, and pleasant and peaceful ways (Proverbs 3:16-17). In contrast is the productivity of the unrighteous. Because of what he is, even his prosperity leads him into sin, and thence to trouble and destruction. Compare Proverbs 1:32, ‘the prosperity of fools will destroy them’, and Proverbs 15:6 ‘the productivity of the unrighteous is trouble’. We can contrast how in Proverbs 3:14; Proverbs 8:19 the ‘productivity’ of wisdom does the opposite. It is better than silver and gold.
The proverb is a reminder that it is not what we have and what we receive that determines what we are, it is how we use them. The righteous use their prosperity for good, the unrighteous use it for sin.
‘He is in the way of life who takes note of correction,
But he wanders who forsakes reproof.’
The question of chastening has already been introduced in Proverbs 10:13. There correction was for the one who was void of understanding, who did not have the discernment that resulted in enjoining wisdom. Here it is in order to assist the one who walks in ‘the way of life’, so as to ensure that he remains true to God’s wisdom. He will recognise in the correction the chastening of YHWH (Proverbs 3:11). For the one who has God’s wisdom will welcome and respond to such correction, precisely because he does walk in the way of life and does not want to stray from it. He will know God in all his ways, receiving direction from Him (Proverbs 3:6). In contrast are those who reject reproof and forsake it (compare Proverbs 1:25; Proverbs 1:30). They despise the chastening of YHWH (Proverbs 3:11), will err and will wander in other paths.
Note the direct connection with Proverbs 10:16 in terms of ‘life’, In Proverbs 10:16 the labour of the righteous tends to ‘life’, for what he does will lead to peace and prosperity (compare Proverbs 3:16-18), and such a person, who is in ‘the way of life’ will respond to correction by both YHWH and those whom He has put in responsibility over them (Proverbs 1:25; Proverbs 3:11-12).
The thought of the two ways comes directly from the Prologue where such an idea was a common feature (see Proverbs 2:13; Proverbs 2:15; Proverbs 2:18 b, Proverbs 2:19 b, Proverbs 2:20; Proverbs 4:11; Proverbs 4:14; Proverbs 4:18-19; Proverbs 4:26-27; Proverbs 5:6; Proverbs 5:21; Proverbs 7:25; Proverbs 7:27; Proverbs 8:20; Proverbs 9:6). Indeed YHWH’s commandments, instruction (Torah) and reproof are there described as ‘the way of life’ (Proverbs 6:23), so that those who do not walk in it are in the way of death (Proverbs 2:18-19; Proverbs 5:5-6; in both cases contrasted with the path(s) of life; Proverbs 7:27; Proverbs 9:18).
‘He who hides hatred with lying lips,
And who utters a slander is a fool.’
Prominent in the earlier verses have been ‘the fool of lips’ (Proverbs 10:8; Proverbs 10:10), ‘the mouth of the wicked’ (Proverbs 10:11) and ‘the mouth of the foolish’ (Proverbs 10:14), whilst ‘hatred which stirs up strife (presumably verbally)’ (Proverbs 10:12) is closely connected with the mouth of the wicked. This subject is therefore now taken up in more depth, and Proverbs 10:18-21 all deal with the theme. The chiasmus required reference to hatred at this point.
We have just seen that ‘the productivity of the unrighteous is sin’ (Proverbs 10:16), and that the unrighteous ‘forsake reproof’ and therefore ‘go astray’ (Proverbs 10:17), and we are now given a striking example of this in the one who is filled with hate but disguises it behind lying lips, whilst indulging in slander. Like the one who winks with the eye (Proverbs 10:10) he is two-faced. The hatred in his heart comes out in his distorting of the truth in his accusations against others, in order to bring them into disrepute by lies and innuendoes. Such people hate the righteous and the wise, and do all that they can to disparage them. And yet at the same time such a man seeks to pretend that his cause is just, and that he is only concerned with truth. He is slippery tongued. But he is excluded from the presence of YHWH (Psalms 15:2-3).
We have already come across ‘a lying tongue’ in Proverbs 6:17 as something that God abominates (compare Proverbs 12:22), along with ‘false witness’ and the ‘sowing of discord between family members’ (Proverbs 6:19), and now this is shown to be typical of the unrighteous and foolish. Foolishness is a theme of this chapter. Such people cause grief to their parents (Proverbs 10:1), are ‘fools of lips’ who will trip up and fall (Proverbs 10:8; Proverbs 10:10) and bring impending destruction on themselves (Proverbs 10:14). And there is no one more typical of the fool than the slanderer who spreads lies and impugns the characters of others, thinking that he will not be caught out. Let him therefore recognise that he is a ‘fool’, subject to the condemnation of fools. It is a call to ‘the fool’ to listen to reproof (Proverbs 10:17) and think again.
It has been well pointed out that in the Hebrew text of this verse there are a proliferation of sibilant sounds in this verse which cannot be brought out in the English but deliberately give the impression of the whispered words being passed on by the slanderer.
‘In the multiplying of words there lacks not transgression,
But he who refrains his lips does wisely.’
Having given a particular example Solomon now extends the idea to all use of the lips. The foolish are free with their words. Possibly in mind here are the large number of words with which the slanderer will have sought to justify his position. But the thought now goes wider than that and is that all who constantly speak out and chatter away without thought, or even with predetermined malice, can be sure that they will transgress God’s wisdom and God’s Torah. They will come under condemnation. For as the Torah declared, ‘you shall not go up and down as a talebearer among your people’ (Leviticus 19:16). The fact is that men are sinful and will soon reveal that sinfulness in what they say. As Solomon says elsewhere, ‘Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him’ (Proverbs 29:20). While Jesus said, ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34). The point is that those who are not careful about what they say will soon find themselves saying what is against God’s commandments.
In contrast is the wise man, the man of understanding. He gives thought before he speaks and is careful with his words. He ensures that he is expressing God’s wisdom, and that nothing that he says can cause unnecessary offence or be construed as being false. He speaks up and shuts up. ‘God is in heaven and you are on the earth, therefore let your words be few’ (Ecclesiastes 5:2). We are reminded here of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘by your words you will be shown to be righteous, and by your words you will be condemned’ (Matthew 12:37).
Both the Old and New Testaments lay great emphasis on the tongue and its dangers, and indeed so often that it would be impossible to list the references, but see e.g. Psalms 15:2-3; Psalms 34:13; Psalms 50:19-20; Psalms 101:5 a, Psalms 101:7 b; Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 28:17; Zechariah 8:16; Matthew 12:34-37; Ephesians 4:25; Ephesians 4:29; Ephesians 5:4; Colossians 3:9; Jas 3:1-12 ; 1 Peter 3:10. For the tongue is the revealer of the heart.
The passage will now go on to illustrate this by contrasting the tongue and lips of the righteous, which are extremely valuable and fruitful, giving sustenance to many, with the worthless heart and lack of understanding of the unrighteous and foolish, which are of little value and result in death.
‘The tongue of the righteous is as choice silver,
The heart of the wicked is of little worth.’
In consequence of the righteous man restraining his tongue (Proverbs 10:19), when he does finally speak his tongue, and therefore what he says, ‘is as choice silver’, silver from which the dross has been removed. The picture is apposite, for the righteous man only speaks when he has removed all the dross from what he has to say. His words are therefore pure silver. They are valuable and telling. He is always worth listening to.
In contrast the heart of the evildoer, and therefore what he says, is of little worth. The mouth of the evildoer has already been contrasted with the mouth of the righteous in Proverbs 10:11, where the mouth of the righteous was like a wellspring of life, whereas the mouth of the evildoer reveals the violence that is in his heart. Here it is being emphasised that what the evildoer says reveals what is in his heart. There is a play on words in that ‘tongue’ is leb whereas ‘heart’ is leson.
‘The lips of the righteous feed (shepherd) many,
But the foolish die for lack of understanding.
The subsection ends by indicating what the lips of the righteous achieve. They act as a shepherd to many, leading them and feeding them as they walk in the path of life. But, as we have seen, in order to do this the dross has had to be removed. It is because they speak sparingly that their words have such value. Nevertheless it is worth it because by doing so they bring God’s wisdom home to men’s hearts, and many are fed. In the words of Jesus to Peter, ‘Feed My sheep’. That is a command to us all.
In contrast are ‘the foolish’. This designation as a direct contrast with the righteous comes as something of a surprise for usually the righteous have been compared with the unrighteous (evildoers, the wicked) (Proverbs 10:2-3; Proverbs 10:6-7; Proverbs 10:11; Proverbs 10:16; Proverbs 10:20), and the foolish with the wise (Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 8:10; Proverbs 8:14). It is a reminder that the righteous are the wise, and the unrighteous are the foolish. Here the foolish have nothing to contribute to men, for they lack in understanding. In consequence they bring death on themselves by failing to feed on the words of the righteous. They thus have nothing to offer to others. They may have much to say. They may indeed speak many clever words. But their words are empty (Proverbs 10:20), because what men see as wisdom is foolishness with God (1 Corinthians 1:20-21).
It should, however, be noted that the foolish and those lacking in understanding are not just written off. Solomon’s purpose is to face them up with their folly so that they might find wisdom and gain understanding (compare Proverbs 8:5; Proverbs 9:6).
The Blessing Of YHWH, Which Comes As A Result Of The Fear Of YHWH, Makes Rich Without The Bad Consequences That Can Result From Riches, And Produces True Joy, Whilst The Fool Suffers The Worst Possible Consequences (Proverbs 10:22-27 ).
The blessing of YHWH, which represents a positive active response toward His people, comes on those who fear YHWH, and will as a consequence have a long and profitable life. In contrast the fool and the unrighteous, who laugh at sin, will experience the judgments of YHWH, distress others, and have a shortened life expectancy.
The subsection can be presented chiastically:
A The blessing of YHWH, it makes rich, and with it he ADDS no pain/sorrow/labour (‘eseb)’ (Proverbs 10:22).
B It is as laughter to a fool to do wickedness, and so is wisdom to a man of understanding (Proverbs 10:23).
C What the wicked fears will come upon him, what the righteous desires will be granted (Proverbs 10:24).
C When the fierce storm (whirlwind) passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is an everlasting foundation (Proverbs 10:25).
B As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so to those who send him is the sluggard (‘asel) (Proverbs 10:26).
A The fear of YHWH ADDS days, but the years of the wicked will be shortened (Proverbs 10:27).
Note that in A the blessing of YHWH makes rich, and He ‘adds’ no sorrow, and in the parallel the fear of YHWH brings about those blessings, and He ‘adds’ days. In B the fool makes fun of wickedness, and laughs at it, and in the parallel he himself turns out to be a misery to all because of his behaviour. In other words, he treats sin as a joke, but there is nothing funny about the effect of his behaviour on others. Centrally in C what the wicked fear will come upon them (compare Proverbs 1:26-27 a) whilst in the parallel it is a fierce storm or whirlwind which will pass through making the wicked no more (Proverbs 1:27 b).
‘The blessing of YHWH, it makes rich,
And he adds no pain/sorrow/labour with it.’
Blessings on the head of the righteous have already been mentioned in Proverbs 10:6. Now it is confirmed that this is as a result of the blessing of YHWH, that is, that positive movement of God on behalf of His people that bodes well for them. The blessing was always seen as moving God to act in the matter in question. And this blessing makes rich without any necessary bad consequences. The thought is not that the righteous will not suffer. We know from elsewhere that they sometimes will (Proverbs 3:11-12). It is that their wealth will come without painful effort on their part (although they will work hard (Proverbs 10:4) and will not be sluggards, contrast Proverbs 10:25). It will be a consequence of their walking in wisdom. ‘eseb can mean pain or labour, or indeed painful labour. The idea is that when YHWH is active, whilst hard work is necessary, painful struggle is unnecessary. We only struggle painfully if we are not trusting Him.
‘It is as entertainment (laughter) to a fool to do wickedness,
And so is wisdom to a man of understanding.’
But while YHWH is blessing the righteous, fools are laughing at sin. For the mark of ‘the fool’ is that he considers wickedness (the word contains the thought of evil devices) to be a joke. He laughs at it, and does not take it seriously. Indeed he enjoys it. He plots a negative course. In contrast the man of understanding rejoices in wisdom. He plots a positive course. His way ahead is sure. The fool finds great enjoyment in pleasing himself, the man of understanding in pleasing God.
‘What the wicked (the unrighteous) fears will come upon him,
What the righteous desires will be granted.’
But while the fool laughs at sin, he is well aware of the uncertainties of life. There is thus in him a fear of what the future holds. And this is what proves him to be a fool. He fears the future because he does not fear YHWH, whilst the wise and righteous man fears YHWH (Proverbs 10:27), and is therefore unafraid. And the unrighteous does well to be afraid, because for him the future is bleak, whilst the righteous follower of God’s wisdom looks forward to the future with confidence knowing the God will fulfil his desires.
Note that in this and the following proverb we have a repetition of the ideas in Proverbs 1:26-27 (although the actual Hebrew root for fear is different), and that is that what men fear will come upon them, among which are fierce storms, are sure to come. Thus evildoers have need to be afraid, for what they fear will eventually come on them, because God’s judgment on sin is certain. In contrast the righteous look to God in confident trust knowing that their desires will be granted. Their fear is not of coming events, but of YHWH, and they look ahead positively because they know that God will meet their desires. Note the differing verbs. The evildoer ‘is afraid’ of what is coming. He knows that the future is uncertain. The righteous, on the other hand, are unafraid. They come to YHWH and bring to Him their wants, and needs, and desires. For they trust in God. They thus know that God is on their side and will grant them their ‘desires’.
When the fierce storm (whirlwind) passes, the wicked (the unrighteous) is no more,
But the righteous is an everlasting foundation.’
So both unrighteous and righteous will meet the storms of life. For one thing is sure in life and that is that fierce storms will come. But when they do come the unrighteous and the righteous will meet them in a different way. The unrighteous, who do not follow God’s wisdom, will be swept away. They will be no more, because they have no solid foundation (compare the foolish man who built his house on sand - Matthew 7:26-27). In contrast those who do follow God’s ways and are righteous, are sure of permanence and stability, for they are founded on an everlasting foundation. Indeed, they know that they are that foundation. They know that they will never be removed (Proverbs 10:30).
‘As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes,
So is the sluggard to those who send him.’
Note the contrast with Proverbs 10:23. There the unrighteous saw the doing of wrong as a cause for laughter. They saw sin as a joke. But here they themselves, seen in terms of a sluggard (compare Proverbs 6:6; Proverbs 6:9; Proverbs 13:4; Proverbs 20:4), are seen as the very opposite. The effects of their behaviour is not a joke. To those who send them to fulfil a responsibility they are like vinegar wine to the teeth and smoke to the eyes. They cause discomfort and pain. And this is because they are too lazy to carry out their responsibilities properly. Vinegar wine is wine that has become sour and acidic, and will attack the teeth, especially in the days when dental care was minimal. To drink it was to suffer unpleasantness and pain. Equally unpleasant and painful can be smoke in the eyes.
Especially in Solomon’s mind may be the example of official messengers who, through laziness and carelessness, conveyed their message incorrectly. It was common problem in those days. And it could cause great embarrassment, or even worse. Ptah-hotep had instructed many centuries before, ‘if you are a man of trust sent from one great man to another, adhere to the nature of him who sent you, give his message as he said it.’ The happy-go-lucky man of Proverbs 10:23 was not the one to send as a messenger.
‘The fear of YHWH prolongs days
But the years of the wicked will be shortened.
The subsection commenced in Proverbs 10:22 with the blessing of YHWH which makes rich. It now ends with the fear of YHWH which prolongs days. In the Prologue both riches and long life were regularly seen as the reward for following God’s wisdom. See especially Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 8:18. The ‘fear of YHWH’ was that reverent obedience that a man showed towards an authoritative figure. It would regularly go along with genuine love. As a consequence of following YHWH’s wisdom, such a person would be preserved from many of the dangers and excesses of life (compare Proverbs 1:10-19; Proverbs 2:12-22; etc.). In contrast those who failed to follow YHWH’s wisdom would find themselves involved in them, and find their lives cut short. Solomon’s continual aim was to present a glowing picture of the future for those who followed his (and God’s) wisdom, and a bad end for those who did not. For the one there was a future in the presence of God (Proverbs 1:33; Proverbs 2:21; Proverbs 3:33 b, Proverbs 3:35 a; Proverbs 4:18; etc.; compare Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15). For the other there was finally only death and the grave world (Proverbs 2:18-19; Proverbs 5:5; Proverbs 7:27; Proverbs 9:18).
The Righteous Have A Joyful Hope, Are Secure In YHWH And Are Firmly Established. They Speak Wisely And Acceptably, Hate False Practises, And Walk Humbly And With Integrity. The Unrighteous Have No Solid Grounds For Hope, Are Without Security, Perverse Of Mouth And Tongue, Embrace False Practises, And Walk Arrogantly And Perversely (Proverbs 10:28 to Proverbs 11:3 ).
In this subsection we have a cameo of the lives of both the righteous and the unrighteous. The righteous look forward to a life of joyfulness (Proverbs 10:28), walk securely (Proverbs 10:29) and are firmly founded (Proverbs 10:30). They speak with the wisdom given to them by God (Proverbs 10:31), and speak acceptably (Proverbs 10:32), refuse to indulge in false business practises (Proverbs 11:1), and walk in humility and in integrity (Proverbs 11:2-3).
In contrast are the unrighteous. They have no solid grounds for hope (Proverbs 10:28), have no genuine grounds for security and are ever at the mercy of the winds of fortune (Proverbs 10:29-30). They speak perversely and with false wisdom (Proverbs 10:31-32), indulge in false business practises (Proverbs 11:1), walk arrogantly only to be humiliated (Proverbs 11:2), and will find that their unreliability and perverseness will destroy them (Proverbs 11:3).
The subsection may be presented chiastically as follows:
A The hope of the righteous will be (result in) joyfulness, but the expectation of the wicked will perish’ (Proverbs 10:28).
B The way of YHWH is a fortress to the upright, but is frightening to the workers of iniquity (Proverbs 10:29).
C The righteous will never be removed, but the wicked will not dwell in the land (or ‘earth’ (Proverbs 10:30).
D The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the tongue of the perverse will be cut out (Proverbs 10:31).
D The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked what is perverse (Proverbs 10:32).
C A false balance is an abomination to YHWH, but a true weight is his delight (Proverbs 11:1).
B When pride comes, then comes shame, but with the humble is wisdom (Proverbs 11:2).
A The integrity of the upright will guide them, but the perverseness of the treacherous will destroy them (Proverbs 11:3).
Note that in A the hope of the righteous results in joyfulness, (because the way of YHWH leads to joyfulness), but the hope of the unrighteous perishes, and in the parallel the integrity of the upright guides them (in the way that leads to joyfulness), whilst the perverseness of the treacherous destroys them. In B the way of YHWH upholds the upright, but frightens, or is ruinous for, workers of iniquity, and in the parallel the humble (and therefore upright) are upheld by God’s wisdom, whilst the proud, who resist God’s wisdom, come to shame. In C the righteous are firmly established and will never be removed, whilst the wicked will be removed, and in the parallel those who use false balances are an abomination to YHWH (and will therefore be cast out or cut off; compare Leviticus 18:27; Leviticus 18:29; Deuteronomy 18:12) whilst YHWH delights in those who use true weights (and He will therefore not cast them out. Their position is secure). The same words ‘abomination’ and ‘delight’ are found in Proverbs 11:20, where we read, ‘those who are perverse in heart, (and are thus of those who use false balances), are an abomination to YHWH, but such as are perfect in their way (and are thus of those who use true weights) are His delight’. Centrally in D the mouth and lips of the righteous are contrasted with the tongue and mouth of the perverse.
The hope of the righteous will be (result in) joyfulness,
But the expectation of the wicked will perish.’
In Proverbs 10:23 the fool obtained his laughter from his ill-doing, but it was a laughter which was short-lived until what he feared came upon him (Proverbs 10:24). But here the hope of the righteous is long lasting joyfulness and exuberance, for, unlike in the case of the evildoer, it will not perish. He has much to look forward to which is solid and permanent. His joy is of heart and soul and expresses itself exuberantly (Isaiah 55:12; contrast Jeremiah 50:11 where the exuberance of the unrighteous is temporary). Indeed, his joy is in God Whose wisdom he follows. As a consequence, in New Testament terms, he enjoys ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’ (1 Peter 1:8). In contrast is the expectation of the evildoer which is short-lived, for he has no real hope. Any hope he has will perish.
‘The way of YHWH is a fortress to the upright,
(or ‘YHWH is a stronghold to him whose way is upright’).
But is frightening (or ‘ruinous’) to the workers of iniquity.’
How we view this will depend on whether we take ‘way’ as the subject of the sentence, or ‘YHWH’. Either is possible from the Hebrew text, and in the end both come to the same conclusion, security and peace for those who look to YHWH.
On the first view the stress is on ‘the way of YHWH’. It is being made clear that the way that Solomon is inculcating is not just some idealistic or philosophical way, it is the way of YHWH. This ‘way of YHWH’ is the way of God’s wisdom, the way of His truth, the way of His Torah, for Solomon’s knowledge of wisdom teaching was firmly founded in the Torah of Moses (1 Kings 3:14). This is brought home in Proverbs 2:5-9 where Solomon stresses that what he is bringing them is God’s wisdom given to men and that through it He is a ‘shield to those who walk uprightly’. In the Prologue this way is variously termed as ‘the path(s) of uprightness’ (Proverbs 2:13; Proverbs 4:18), ‘the path(s) of life’ (Proverbs 2:19; Proverbs 5:6), ‘the paths of the righteous’ (Proverbs 2:20), ‘the way of wisdom’ (Proverbs 4:11), ‘the way of life’ (Proverbs 6:23), ‘the way of righteousness’ (Proverbs 8:20), and ‘the way of understanding’ (Proverbs 9:6). In Proverbs 10:17 it is ‘the way of life’. Those who walk in the way of YHWH (those who are straight and upright) are as safe as if they were in a strong fortress. While they walk in obedience to Him they have nothing to fear. And that way leads to a wholesome and fulfilled life. In contrast are the ‘workers of iniquity, for they hate that way, and ‘are frightened of it’ or alternatively ‘find it ruinous’. Either way they hate it.
If YHWH is the subject of the sentence, which is very possible, then YHWH Himself is the Fortress of the Righteous, He Himself is their Security so that they have nothing to fear, whilst the unrighteous, far from feeling secure are rightly frightened of Him, not with the reverent fear of a man towards his father, but in the way of being terrified of a stern Judge. They have no relationship with God except as the accused.
‘The righteous will never be removed,
But the wicked will not dwell in the land (or ‘earth’).
And because the upright are in the way of YHWH, which is their fortress, they know that they will never be moved. They have a permanent place under God’s Kingly Rule in the land which He has given them (compare Proverbs 2:21). This is in contrast to the unrighteous who will have no permanent place in the land (or in the earth) (Proverbs 2:21). They will be cast out as an abomination. The warning of being cast out of the land was firmly given in Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 28:64-67.
The promise is general not specific. Some of the righteous were removed from the land (Daniel 1:0). But they nevertheless found that their refuge was with YHWH. What was being promised was their secure future. Not all the unrighteous were cast of the land, but they were nevertheless finally removed from it by death. They had no lasting hope.
‘The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom,
But the tongue of the perverse shall be cut out.
As so often in Scripture, what men are is revealed by what they say. The mouth of the righteous speaks wisdom and godliness, he encourages what is true and right, but the tongue of the unrighteous speaks perversely, because he is perverse, and it is thus fitted only to be cut out. The cutting out of the tongue was possibly a punishment often inflicted on someone who was seen to have spoken falsely against authority. But the idea here is that their ability to speak perverse things will be removed. At the Judgment they will have nothing to say.
‘The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable (delightful),
But the mouth of the wicked what is perverse.’
This proverb parallels Proverbs 10:31. The lips of the righteous produce wisdom because they know what is acceptable in the divine economy. They know what is acceptable to God, and that is what they speak. In contrast is the mouth of the wicked. That only knows what is perverse. It may have much worldly wisdom, but it has no true wisdom, for it fails to take God into account, often deliberately. Indeed it may deliberately speak against what is acceptable to God.
‘A false balance is an abomination to YHWH,
But a true weight is his delight.’
There is a verbal connection of this proverb with the previous one in the use of the word ‘acceptable/delight’ (rason). In both cases YHWH shows favour because of what is fully acceptable in His eyes, whether it be true lips or true weights. The false balances speak to YHWH about their owner as loudly as the false tongue. Note how naturally Solomon includes the words ‘to YHWH’ . A general wisdom teacher would have omitted it. But to Solomon all judgments had to be made in the light of YHWH.
There is a similar verbal connection with Proverbs 11:20 where the same words ‘abomination’ and ‘delight’ are found. There we read that, ‘those who are perverse in heart, (and are thus of those who use false balances), are an abomination to YHWH, but such as are perfect in their way (and are thus of those who use true weights) are His delight’. So the use of false balances and true weights are seen as revealing the hearts and moral worth of the users. This was recognised in the Torah which declared, ‘just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin shall you have. I am YHWH your God Who brought you out of the land of Egypt’ (Leviticus 19:36), and again, ‘you shall not have in your bag differing weights, a great and a small, you shall not have in your house differing measures, a great and a small, a perfect and just weight shall you have ---’ (Deuteronomy 25:13-15)
So whilst at first sight this proverb might appear out of place, as a statement of business practise, a moment’s consideration reveals that it is not. Solomon knew that YHWH was not concerned about weights and balances as such (accuracy was very difficult to obtain). What He was concerned about was the attitude of heart and mind that lay behind their use or misuse. Whereas in the previous proverb ‘the lips’ and ‘the mouth’ represented people, so here ‘the balance’ and ‘the weight’ represent people. So we could paraphrase this proverb as, ‘those who use a false balance are an abomination to YHWH, but those who use a true weight are His delight’. For the false balance represents the unrighteous who use false methods in business. They may do it by surreptitiously holding down the balances with their finger suggesting that they were giving due weight when they were not, or by deliberately having one pan heavier than the other, or by twisting the crossbow so as to affect the measurement. Or they may do it by deliberately using false or inaccurate weights. Compare the words of the Egyptian wisdom teacher Amenemope, ‘Do not lean on the scales or falsify the weights, do not damage the fractions of the measure’. Whichever way it was their balances, and therefore themselves, were an abomination to YHWH. The true weight represented those who sought to be scrupulously honest. They were seeking to utilise what they saw as an honest weight. Such people, and their weights, were a delight to YHWH.
We must remember that in those days weights were not exact. They would often be stones selected depending on their size, and then suitably shaped and marked as providing the approximate weight. Many such weights have been discovered, and they were rarely exactly the correct weight. Indeed in many cases there would have been no exact standard to measure them by. But there was nothing wrong in there being variances if an attempt was being made to use them genuinely (the owner would often genuinely have seen them as being of the correct weight). What constituted the crime was the misuse of them. So a man might knowingly have two differing weights marked the same, using one when buying and the other when selling, to his own advantage (Deuteronomy 25:13). Or he might knowingly use a lighter weight so as to make a large profit (compare Amos 8:5). It was such that was an abomination to YHWH.
In the same way the manufacturer of a set of balances would have great difficulty in ensuring that they balanced exactly. There would almost always be some slight deviation, and this as been demonstrated to have been up to as much as 6 per cent. The main issue was how the merchant dealt with that deviation when he knew of it (or even caused it by bending the crossbow). It was the dishonest merchant not the honest manufacturer who made them into ‘false balances’, by not taking account of the discrepancy, although there would, of course, have been deliberately dishonest manufacturers. But the final determinant of their honesty or dishonesty was the user. He could take into account discrepancies, or use them to his own advantage.
The word ‘abomination’ connects the verse back to Proverbs 10:30. Removal from the land was regularly seen in terms of the practising of abominations (compare Leviticus 18:27; Leviticus 18:29; Deuteronomy 18:9-12). So here the deliberate use of false balances is seen as so morally abhorrent that it justifies removal from the land, whereas the one who uses a true weight can be sure of his permanent acceptability.
‘When pride comes, then comes shame,
But with the humble (lowly) is wisdom.’
The unrighteous, the fool and the scorner (Proverbs 21:24) is now thought of in terms of pride and arrogance (compare Deuteronomy 17:12), whilst the righteous and wise is equated with the humble and the lowly (compare Micah 6:8). The proud and arrogant have a high opinion of themselves, and are high in their own estimation. They continually want their own way, and they are unwilling to be corrected (see Proverbs 13:18). But they await the judgment of YHWH and of men. For poverty and shame comes to him who refuses to be corrected (Proverbs 13:18). They will soon find themselves called on to give place and will be shamed (Luke 14:9). It is those who are of a humble and contrite spirit who are pleasing to YHWH (Isaiah 57:15), and will never be put to shame. Those who are proud and arrogant in their attitude towards God and man will soon be brought to shame, they will be dragged down from their high perch, for pride comes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18; Hosea 5:5). They will then truly discover that the way of YHWH is ruinous to the unrighteous (Proverbs 10:29). They will be shamed and humbled.
In contrast the humble (the wise and righteous and upright) show wisdom. They already see themselves as humble and lowly before God and men, and they take the lowest place (Luke 14:10). They have thus nowhere to fall. They are secure in YHWH (Proverbs 10:29).
‘The integrity of the upright will guide them,
But the perverseness of the treacherous will destroy them.’
The righteous and the unrighteous have now become the upright and the treacherous. The upright (the straight) will be guided by their integrity and loyalty to YHWH. Because they are true of heart it will prevent them from going astray. They thus have hope and look forward to the future with gladness (Proverbs 10:28). In contrast are the treacherous, those who are not straight and upright, for their very perverseness (twistedness, distortedness) will destroy them. As Proverbs 10:28 puts it, ‘The expectation of the unrighteous will perish’. The term rendered ‘treacherous’, includes the idea of deceitfulness and its use may well have in mind the false balances spoken of in Proverbs 10:1.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 10". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany