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A Comparison Between The Righteous And The Unrighteous, The Basis Of The Righteous Family, And The Destiny Of Each (Proverbs 12:1-8 ).
We have here another subsection in which the various attributes of the righteous are commended, with the unrighteous (the wicked) being revealed as what they are. The righteous man loves correction because he loves the true knowledge of God, he will thereby obtain favour from YHWH, and consequently his root will not be moved (he will not be cast out of the land - Proverbs 1:33; Proverbs 2:22; Proverbs 10:30). If his wife is worthy she is like a crown to him, making him master of his house, his thoughts are just, what he says will deliver him, his house will stand, and he will be commended for his wisdom. In contrast the unrighteous hates reproof and thinks irrationally, will engage in wicked devices and be condemned, his wife will make her husband ashamed, he will not be established, will give deceitful counsel, will speak of violence and forceful behaviour, will be overthrown and cease to be, and will be despised.
It can again be presented chiastically:
A Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is brutish (thinks and behaves irrationally) (Proverbs 12:1).
B A good man will obtain favour of YHWH, but a man of wicked devices will he condemned (Proverbs 12:2).
C A man will not be established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will not be moved (Proverbs 12:3).
D A worthy woman is the crown of her husband, but she who makes ashamed is as rottenness in his bones (Proverbs 12:4).
D The thoughts of the righteous are just, but the counsels of the wicked are deceit (Proverbs 12:5).
C The words of the wicked are of lying in wait for blood, but the mouth of the upright will deliver them (Proverbs 12:6).
B The wicked are overthrown, and are not, but the house of the righteous will stand (Proverbs 12:7).
A A man will be commended according to his wisdom, but he who is of a perverse heart will be despised (Proverbs 12:8).
Note that in A the one who loves correction, loves knowledge, while the one who hates reproof is little better than an animal, whilst in the parallel a man is commended for his wisdom (synonymous with knowledge) and the perverse heart is despised. In B a good man obtains YHWH’s favour, and a man of evil devices will be condemned, whilst in the parallel the house of the righteous stands, (because he has YHWH’s favour), whilst the wicked are overthrown. In C a man will not be established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous will stand firm, it will not be moved, and in the parallel that wickedness is defined, whilst the mouth of the upright delivers them (so they will not be moved). Centrally in D the worthy woman supplements her righteous husband, being herself righteous, and instils righteous thoughts in her children (Proverbs 1:8-9), whilst the wife, who should be counselling her children knowledgeably, but instead brings shame, is like rottenness within (teaching what is false) in the same way as the counsels of the wicked are deceitful.
‘Whoever loves correction loves knowledge,
But he who hates reproof is brutish.’
The one who loves correction (disciplinary instruction) reveals himself as a lover of the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:5), and indeed of YHWH Himself, for whom YHWH loves He reproves (Proverbs 3:12). Thereby men reveal that they choose the fear of YHWH (Proverbs 1:29). The aim of such disciplinary instruction is to guide young persons in the right way as inculcated by their godly father and mother (Proverbs 1:8). And by it they come to understand the reverent fear of YHWH and find the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:5). Such persons would be commended in accordance with their wisdom (Proverbs 12:8). In the words of Proverbs 10:14, ‘wise men store up knowledge (the knowledge of God)’.
In direct contrast is the one who hates reproof. He shakes if off and rebels against it, thereby revealing himself to be more like an animal. He is behaving irrationally. And because of his perverse heart such a person will be despised (Proverbs 12:8). The rebel was very much looked down on in Israelite society because he interfered with the smooth running of life. He did not make his full contribution to the welfare of the family (compare the elder brother and the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32).
‘A good man will obtain favour of YHWH,
But a man of wicked devices will he condemn.’
In consequence of his love of the knowledge of God (Proverbs 12:1) the good man, good because he diligently seeks the knowledge of God, responds to it and makes his full contribution to the wellbeing of the community. By this he will obtain the favour of YHWH (Proverbs 3:4; Proverbs 8:35; Proverbs 11:27). It is understandable why his house will stand (Proverbs 12:7). In contrast the one who rejects reproof, and follows his own private thoughts, planning evildoing (compare Proverbs 1:11 ff.), will be condemned by YHWH. He will be overthrown and cease to be (Proverbs 12:7). He who thinks and behaves like an animal will die like one.
The good man is epitomised in the elder brother of the above-mentioned parable, who had faithfully carried out his family responsibilities (although somewhat lacking in compassion). The ‘man of wicked devices’ is epitomised in the prodigal son. He squandered the family wealth, and thought only of himself. And yet once he had repented God was willing to show him favour. So in view of the mercy of God such a pathway is not irreversible.
‘A man will not be established by wickedness,
But the root of the righteous will not be moved.’
The one who follows the path of evildoing will not thereby be established. He may think that he is securing his future, but in fact he will not be firmly planted, safe and secure (Proverbs 2:22). He will be subject to the varying winds of fortune. His house will not stand (compare Proverbs 12:7). In the time of trouble he will not be delivered (Proverbs 12:6).
In contrast is the righteous. He will be firmly rooted so that he will not be moved by the vicissitudes of life (compare Psalms 1:3; 2 Kings 19:30; Isaiah 27:6). His house will stand (Proverbs 12:7). He will be delivered in the time of trouble (Proverbs 12:6). Such deliverance is a constant theme (Proverbs 2:12; Proverbs 2:16; Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 11:4; Proverbs 11:6; Proverbs 11:8-9; Proverbs 11:21).
‘A worthy woman is the crown of her husband,
But she who makes ashamed is as rottenness in his bones.’
The worthy (strong, capable) woman has been revealed as the one who instructs her children in the Torah (Proverbs 1:8), and who tenderly loves and trains them (Proverbs 4:3). She grieves over their folly (Proverbs 10:1). She ensures that their thoughts are righteous (Proverbs 12:5). She builds up her household (Proverbs 14:1). Thus she makes a full contribution in the rearing of the children in wisdom and knowledge and adds to her husband’s status. She is a crown to him, just as his worthy children are a floral wreath of flowers on his head (Proverbs 1:9). She makes him look and feel like a king. The community admire him for his worthy family.
In contrast is the wife who makes her husband ashamed. She neglects the training of her children, does not instruct them in the Torah, and is not over-concerned about their welfare. She gives them bad counsel (Proverbs 12:5). Thus his household begins to rot within and disintegrate, and the community shakes its head.
‘The thoughts of the righteous are just,
But the counsels of the wicked are deceit.’
The worthy wife enhances her husband whose thoughts are right and just, and her thoughts also are right and just. Her children, who have been brought up to be righteous, grow up to be righteous and just. The whole family are an exemplar of godliness.
In contrast the family brought up by the shameful wife have been left to wallow in dishonesty and deceit. They have been badly advised and ill taught, by both father and mother who are themselves ‘unrighteous’. Their plans for life are false and deceitful, for they follow the inclinations of their hearts which are ‘deceitful above all things and desperately wicked’ (Jeremiah 17:9; Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21-22). They are an exemplar of unrighteousness. Their very talk is of lying in wait for blood (Proverbs 12:6; compare Proverbs 1:11). They follow wicked devices leading to condemnation (Proverbs 12:2). They will therefore be overthrown and cease to be (Proverbs 12:7).
And this also applies outside the family. The righteous will give wise advice, the advice of the unrighteous will be deceiving. We should be careful from whom we seek advice.
‘The words of the wicked are of lying in wait for blood,
But the mouth of the upright will deliver them.’
There is a direct reference here to Proverbs 1:11 which were words spoken by those who were not guided by, or did not respond to the guidance of, godly fathers and mothers (Proverbs 1:8). They were the disreputable and their ways led to death (Proverbs 1:18). They counselled deceit and violence (Proverbs 12:5; Proverbs 1:11-12). They followed wicked devices leading to condemnation (Proverbs 12:2). They have not listened to reproof (Proverbs 12:1). They have no root and will therefore be uprooted (Proverbs 12:3). For them there will be no deliverance.
In contrast are the upright (the straight). They heed correction (Proverbs 12:1) and the training of their mothers (Proverbs 12:4). They are deeply rooted (Proverbs 12:3). Their thoughts are just and right (Proverbs 12:5). And because they are deeply rooted they will be delivered (Proverbs 2:12; Proverbs 2:16; Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 11:4; Proverbs 11:6; Proverbs 11:8-9; Proverbs 11:21) when the storms of life come upon them (Proverbs 1:27; Proverbs 10:25). They will not be moved (Proverbs 12:3).
The special emphasis on ‘the mouth’ of the upright looks back to references to words, whether good or bad. Their words are of wisdom which they have received and observed, revealing what is in their hearts (Proverbs 10:31; Proverbs 1:23; Proverbs 2:1; Proverbs 4:4; Proverbs 7:1). They are a wellspring of life to others (Proverbs 10:11). They know what is acceptable (Proverbs 10:32). They do not have a perverse mouth or a lying tongue, or bear false witness, or cause dissension (Proverbs 6:12; Proverbs 6:17; Proverbs 6:19). Thus what they say is heard and believed. Their words make them acceptable to God and man (Proverbs 3:4).
The wicked are overthrown, and are not,
But the house of the righteous will stand.’
The wicked (the unrighteous) have specifically been referred to in Proverbs 12:2; Proverbs 12:5-6. YHWH will condemn their wicked devices (Proverbs 12:2). They practise deceit and violence (Proverbs 12:5-6), which is why they will not be established (Proverbs 12:3). That is why they will be overthrown and ‘are not’. They will pass out of existence and memory. They will become nothings (Proverbs 10:25).
In contrast the house of the righteous will stand, because they have obtained favour from YHWH (Proverbs 12:2). They will be rooted so as never to be moved (Proverbs 12:3). For their house is established on a worthy wife (Proverbs 12:4), and on a righteous husband to whom she is a crown (Proverbs 12:4-5), and has produced worthy seed (Proverbs 11:21).
‘A man will be commended according to his wisdom,
But he who is of a perverse heart will be despised.’
This verse sums up the subsection. A man will be commended (by both God and man - Proverbs 3:4) according to his wisdom, as revealed in understanding and behaviour. He will be commended because he has received reproof and loved knowledge (Proverbs 12:1), thus obtaining favour from YHWH (Proverbs 12:2). This is revealed by his just thoughts and his upright words (Proverbs 12:5-6) which make him acceptable to God and to society.
In contrast is the one who is perverse of heart. He has hated reproof and become like an irrational animal (Proverbs 12:1). He plots evil devices (Proverbs 12:2), encourages deceit and fraud (Proverbs 12:5), and talks of violence (Proverbs 12:6). In consequence he will be despised by both God and man.
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 Are Compassionate And Hard Working And Will Prosper, While The Unrighteous Are Lacking In Compassion And Slothful And Will Suffer Lack And Be Punished (Proverbs 12:9-16 ).
The first three verses of this subsection deal with a man who is not too highly thought of, and yet (because he behaves wisely) is nevertheless prosperous enough to have a servant (Proverbs 12:9); a man who is kind to his animals (and thus gets the best out of them) (Proverbs 12:10); and a man who tills his land and has plenty of bread (Proverbs 12:11). He thus benefits from his wise behaviour. As a consequence he yields fruit both spiritually and physically (Proverbs 12:12), avoids trouble (Proverbs 12:13), talks wisely and is therefore satisfied with good (Proverbs 12:14), takes note of good advice (Proverbs 12:15), and hides his failings (Proverbs 12:16).
In contrast is the one who makes a lot of himself, but totally unjustifiably because he cannot even supply his family with food (Proverbs 12:9); who treats his animals harshly and thus gets little response from them (Proverbs 12:10); and follows the ways of the sluggard (Proverbs 12:11). As a consequence he wants to ape the ways of evil men with their false snares in order to make up for his own lack (Proverbs 12:12); finds himself ensnared by their evil talk (Proverbs 12:13); will get back what he deserves (Proverbs 12:14), ignores all good advice (Proverbs 12:15; and makes himself known for what he is, because, being incensed and having no restraint or shame, he reveals himself to be a fool. (Proverbs 12:16).
The subsection is presented chiastically:
A Better is he who is lightly esteemed, and has a servant, than he who honours himself, and lacks bread (Proverbs 12:9).
B A righteous man regards the life of his beast, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel (Proverbs 12:10).
C He who tills his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows after vain persons is void of understanding (Proverbs 12:11).
D The wicked desires the net (snare) of evil men, but the root of the righteous yields fruit (Proverbs 12:12).
D In the transgression of the lips is a snare to the evil man, but the righteous will come out of trouble (Proverbs 12:13).
C From the fruit of the mouth of a man he will be satisfied with good, and the doings of a man’s hands will be rendered to him (Proverbs 12:14)
B The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who is wise listens to counsel (Proverbs 12:15).
A A fool’s vexation (his being incensed) is presently known, but a prudent man conceals shame (Proverbs 12:16).
In A the humble and diffident man nevertheless reveals his hard-working status by having a servant, but he does not seek to be esteemed, whilst the fool ‘honours himself’, seeking esteem, even though his lack of bread reveals that he is concealing the truth about himself (e.g. that he is a sluggard). He is hiding his failures. In the parallel it is the shrewd man who hides his failures because he is ashamed of them (the shame he conceals might in fact be his hidden vexation), whilst the fool, because he is lacking in self control, makes his failures (in this case his bad temper) publicly known. In B the righteous man is kind to his animals, while the fool beats them unstintingly, whilst in the parallel the fool does exactly what he wants (thus he beats his animals), whilst the wise listens to the advice of others, and especially to wisdom and the Torah, which exhorts kind treatment of animals (Deuteronomy 25:4; compare Exodus 23:4-5; Exodus 23:12; Deuteronomy 22:1-4; Deuteronomy 22:6-7; Deuteronomy 22:10). In C he who tills the land diligently will have plenty of BREAD, whereas those who follow the empty-headed will go short, and in the parallel the former will be satisfied with good from the FRUIT of his mouth whilst the latter will get what he deserves. Centrally in D the wicked desire what the snares of evil men produce, and in the parallel are themselves ensnared by what evil men say. Meanwhile the righteous work hard and produce fruit, and because they do not listen to evil men they will come out of trouble.
‘Better is he who is lightly esteemed, and has a servant,
Than he who honours himself, and lacks bread.’
It is to misrepresent this proverb to suggest that it simply means that it is better to have low esteem and have food than to have high esteem of oneself and lack food, as though all that mattered was food. The point is rather that the former is prospering (he can afford a servant), and the assumption in Proverbs up to this point is that that is because he is wise. He has quietly got down to work without bothering about his reputation. But the latter is hungry, and this is because he has spent his time seeking to bring honour on himself, and in his arrogance has been lazy (and foolish) and thus lacks bread. Lack of bread has previously been, and continues to be, seen as due to the person’s laziness (Proverbs 6:6-11; Proverbs 10:4-5; Proverbs 12:24; Proverbs 13:4).
The first man may be lightly esteemed by his neighbours. He has not been concerned about his reputation. But he has been wise and has worked sufficiently hard to be able to afford a servant. And he has been able to hide anything of which he might have been ashamed (Proverbs 12:16). He has let his work do the talking. This theme of fruitfulness continues on in the subsection. He tills his land and has plenty of bread (Proverbs 12:11). His root yields fruit (Proverbs 12:12).
In contrast the fool thinks a lot of himself, and has sought to be undeservedly highly esteemed. He may even have spent a lot of time boasting about his hard work and his coming crops. But he has proved in the end that he is really a sluggard. He has followed those who have no real understanding (Proverbs 12:11). And this is something that he cannot hide, because ‘in the day’ when harvest time comes this will be known (Proverbs 12:16).
A suggested emendation followed by some of the versions is to repoint the Hebrew for servant as a participle, thus rendering it as ‘who serves’ (i.e. who humbly serves himself). But ‘has a servant’ is a more natural rendering, and contrasts better with ‘lacks bread’.
‘A righteous man regards the life of his beast,
But the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
Going along with their attitude to work is their attitude towards their work-animals. The righteous man has concern for his animals (and possibly his servant). He is kind to them and looks after them properly as required by the Torah (Exodus 23:4-5; Deuteronomy 25:4; compare Exodus 23:12; Deuteronomy 22:1-4; Deuteronomy 22:6-7; Deuteronomy 22:10). In contrast the ‘wicked man’, the sluggard, has treated his animals cruelly, probably in order to make up for his own laziness. As the verse demonstrates reference to his ‘tender mercies’ is sarcastic. His way of caring for them has been to beat the life out of them, which would have contributed to his poor harvest.
Thus the wise man has acted in accordance with ‘counsel’ (Proverbs 12:15), that is in accordance with wisdom and the Torah. The foolish man has done what is right in his own eyes (Proverbs 12:15). He has ignored the lessons of wisdom and the Torah.
‘He who tills his land will have plenty of bread,
But he who follows after those who are vain is void of understanding.’
The lightly esteemed, but wise, man tills his land diligently and has plenty of bread (in contrast with the one who lacks bread in Proverbs 12:9). The man who has made a lot of himself has imitated those who are empty and vain, and has thus proved that, in spite of his boasting, he ‘lacks understanding’ (so he lacks both bread and understanding). Alternately it may refer to ‘what is vain (empty)’. He has followed after what is vain, taking labour-saving short cuts and hoping for the best. Sowing is much easier if you do not plough properly first, but it has disastrous consequences.
In the parallel Proverbs 12:14 the first man is satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth. Instead of boasting he has been giving instructions and guidance to his servant about the tilling of his land. And consequently his field has been fruitful. And not only that, all that he says produces a harvest for him, raising his esteem and winning friendship. In contrast the boastful man will have rendered to him the doings of his hands, including his slackness in labour, and his mistreatment of his animals.
It should be noted that ‘his land’ probably consisted of strips in a field marked off by stones as landmarks. Most Israelites would not be rich enough to own a whole field, nor would the land tend to be divided into separate fields..
‘The wicked desires the net (snare) of evil men,
But the root of the righteous yields (fruit).’
The root of the righteous may mean his son(s), or simply the roots of what he has planted. Either way they ‘yield’ well (they ‘give, put forth’). He has no need to look further for his sustenance. In contrast the unrighteous man, aware that his crops are not doing well, looks around for means of supplementing his income. He turns his thoughts to dishonesty. He turns his desires on crooked ways of making up for his lack, on ‘the snare of evil men’. This snare is illustrated in Proverbs 1:11 ff. where the activity of the men of violence is likened to a snare. He thinks that what he cannot achieve by hard toil, he might achieve by violence. The desire to avoid honest toil is often the cause of crime.
‘In the transgression of the lips is a snare to the evil man,
But the righteous will come out of trouble.’
The word used for ‘snare’ often indicates the ‘striker’ in the snare which springs down and traps the animal caught in the snare. The ‘transgression of the lips’ may be the words of evil men who with them seek to trap the wicked man into behaving wickedly (compare Proverbs 1:11-14), but which can have no effect on the wise who will ‘come out of trouble’. This ties in well with the previous verse where the wicked man is dallying with evil men’s snares. Or they may refer to the words of the wicked man which he uses to seek to strike and ensnare the righteous. But if so it will fail. The righteous, because of his wisdom, will come out of trouble.
‘From the fruit of the mouth of a man he (one) will be satisfied (or ‘satiated’) with good,
And the doings of a man’s hands will be rendered to him.’
In contrast to the transgression of the lips of evil men is the fruit of the mouth of the righteous which will satisfy either he himself or men in general. The fruit of his mouth will cause him (or others) to be satisfied with good, indeed to be satiated with good things. This includes his guidance to his servant, and his exhortation to him to work hard following his own example, which will result in a good harvest, and which contrasts with the ensnaring lips of evil men with their get rich quick ideas. Or it may simply be saying that in general a righteous man will speak in such ways as will only result in abundance of good for him or for others. For only a righteous man can in general always be satisfied with good by what he says. An unrighteous man at times speaks evilly.
The second part of the proverb may be seen as of general application (which is what ‘a man’s’ seems to indicate) and thus signify that each man will have rendered to him the doings of his hands, whether he works hard or works lazily. However, the context with its continual contrasts, and the fact that the righteous man is simply also called ‘a man’ may indicate that this second part is speaking of the activities of the unrighteous man, with the implication being that he will receive the consequences of having lazy and harsh hands, lazy in effort and harsh in his treatment of his work animals.
‘The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
But he who is wise listens to counsel.’
In the parallel to this verse it says ‘a righteous man regards the life of his animal, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel’ (Proverbs 12:10). The righteous man has regard to what others think, he is wise and listens to ‘counsel’, that is, to what is said in wisdom and the Torah, where he learns that he must be kind to them and have consideration for them. Thus in Exodus 23:4-5 he must assist even the overburdened ass of his enemies; in Deuteronomy 25:4 he must allow the ox who treads the corn to eat of it; and in Exodus 23:12 he is to allow his ox and ass to benefit by the Sabbath ‘so that they might have rest’. Compare also Deuteronomy 22:1-4; Deuteronomy 22:6-7; Deuteronomy 22:10.
In contrast the fool ill-treats his animals because he ‘does what is right in his own eyes’. However, the proverb is not necessarily limited to this particular circumstance, for it also lays down a general rule that the wise listen to advice if it is from the right source (they even gladly listen to rebuke because they love knowledge - Proverbs 12:1), whilst the fool simply goes his own way doing his own thing.
It will be noted that Proverbs 12:15-16 are united by both referring to ‘a fool’, in contrast, in the first case, to ‘he who is wise’ and in the second case to ‘the shrewd’. The language repeats that continually found in the Prologue.
A fool’s vexation is known in the day,
But a shrewd man conceals (covers up) shame.’
We might paraphrase this as ‘what a fool is incensed or excited about he makes immediately known (or makes known when the time comes), but what a shrewd man is ashamed of he keeps to himself’. In other words the fool immediately makes known his folly because he has little shame, whilst the shrewd man conceals errors and tempers that he is ashamed of simply because being righteous he is ashamed of them. Unlike the fool he does not glory in them. He wishes that they had never happened. He will seek to rectify them, but he does not want them publicised.
But the probability is that it looks back over the subsection and declares that when the harvest comes (‘the day’) the fool has not worked hard enough and is thus vexed at what his field has produced, because that day has shown up the truth about him, whilst the shrewd man (the one previously lightly esteemed - Proverbs 12:9) has by his success covered up his shame and has thus grown in esteem. In other words the shrewd man covers up his shame by demonstrating that it is undeserved.
‘Vexation, excitement, being incensed’, in other words losing calmness and control, is in contrast to the calm, controlled state of the shrewd man. Such loss of calmness and control was despised by wisdom teachers. ‘Vexation kills the foolish man, and jealousy slays the silly one’ (Job 5:2).
The Importance Of Truth And Sound Authority (Proverbs 12:17-24 ).
In this next subsection the stress is on truth as opposed to falsehood, on authority as opposed to disobedience, and on the benefits accruing from both. Truth is especially stressed in Proverbs 12:17; Proverbs 12:19; Proverbs 12:22, but also implied in Proverbs 12:18; Proverbs 12:20. Falsehood is stressed in Proverbs 12:17; Proverbs 12:19-20; Proverbs 12:22, and implied in Proverbs 12:18; Proverbs 12:23. The true witness shows forth and establishes righteousness, thus underpinning justice (Proverbs 12:17), and such as speak truth will be established for ever (Proverbs 12:19). Those who counsel peace and wellbeing are joyful (Proverbs 12:20), and no mischief will happen to the righteous, because authority and justice prevail, and YHWH is over all (Proverbs 12:21). For those who deal truly are YHWH’s delight (Proverbs 12:22). The shrewd man is wise in what he says and when he says it, and is careful not to thrust the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:5) on those not ready to receive it (Proverbs 12:23), whilst it is the diligent who will rise to the top and receive authority (Proverbs 12:24). Underlying all is that truth establishes good government, and makes life secure, and that in the end it will prevail because YHWH is over all.
In contrast are the unrighteous. They show forth deceit (Proverbs 12:17), speak rashly and hurtfully (Proverbs 12:18), are of short duration (Proverbs 12:19), devise evil (Proverbs 12:20), will experience evil (Proverbs 12:21), are an abomination to YHWH (Proverbs 12:22), proclaim foolishness (Proverbs 12:23), and because they are slothful, end up as forced labourers (Proverbs 12:24).
It should be noted that on the basis of the Prologue we can identify the one who utters truth (Proverbs 12:17), with the wise man (Proverbs 12:18), the counsellors of wellbeing (Proverbs 12:20), the righteous (Proverbs 12:21), those who deal truly (Proverbs 12:22), the shrewd man (Proverbs 12:23), and the diligent man (Proverbs 12:24).
The subsection is presented chiastically:
A He who utters truth shows forth righteousness, but a false witness, deceit (Proverbs 12:17).
B There is who speaks rashly like the piercings of a sword, but the tongue of the wise is health (Proverbs 12:18).
C The lip of truth will be established for ever, But a lying tongue is but for a moment (Proverbs 12:19).
D Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but to the counsellors of peace is joy (Proverbs 12:20).
D There will no mischief happen to the righteous, but the wicked will be filled with evil (Proverbs 12:21).
C Lying lips are an abomination to YHWH, but those who deal truly are his delight (Proverbs 12:22).
B A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims foolishness (Proverbs 12:23).
A The hand of the diligent will bear rule, but the slothful will be put under taskwork (Proverbs 12:24).
Note that A and its parallel deal with two of the most important virtues, truth and diligence. Truth establishes sound justice, diligence establishes sound authority, an essential for sound justice. Where truth is lacking, justice collapses. Where diligence is lacking, authority becomes inefficient, and if authority fails, justice is likely to be lacking (especially in ancient days where justice and authority went hand in hand. The king was also the chief justice). In B speaking rashly parallels proclaiming foolishness, whilst a wise tongue parallels using knowledge wisely. In C the lying tongue parallels lying lips, whilst the lip of truth parallels those who deal truly. Centrally in D the deceitful devise evil, whilst in the parallel the wicked experience evil.
‘He who utters truth shows forth righteousness,
But a false witness, deceit.’
As already mentioned this subsection is about true justice and sound authority, and the things which could undermine both were it not for YHWH’s built in safety devices and overall watch. This proverb deals with the protagonists. On the one hand are those who utter truth, and are true witnesses before authority. They show forth and establish righteousness, for where truth is lacking injustice prevails. (They are the wise, the righteous, the discerning, the diligent). In contrast is the false witness. He shows forth and seeks to establish deceit. He perjures himself in order to gain false ends. (He is the fool, the scorner, the worthless man, the violent).
So concerned was God that justice should prevail that the Torah declared severe penalties on those who perjured themselves. If found out they would be sentenced to the same punishment that they had sought to bring on others (Deuteronomy 19:16-19).
Sadly history is full of examples where false witness has prevailed, but only where authority has been corrupt or has been weak and vacillating. We can consider the example of Naboth who was judicially executed as a result of false witness and corrupt authority, in the time of a weak and vacillating king (1 Kings 21:0). And we have the prime example of our Lord Jesus Christ who was sentenced as a result of false witness, and crucified as a consequence of a corrupt regime and a weak and vacillating Pilate. In both cases truth and sound authority were lacking.
What is, however, of greatest importance is that inbuilt into creation is the fact that good tends to triumph over evil (thus the diligent rise to the top - Proverbs 12:24) and that in the end it is righteousness that will prevail. That is the constant message of Scripture (e.g. Isaiah 11:1-4).
‘There is who speaks rashly like the piercings of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise is health.’
Solomon was in no doubt that truth and falsehood vied with each other, and he points out that those who speak rashly are causing people harm, piercing them as though with a sword. For the heart of fools proclaim foolishness (Proverbs 12:23). People who would never think of waving a sword around dangerously, will quite happily fling their words around thoughtlessly and equally dangerously. In contrast the tongue of wise men will speak truth, and will contribute towards the health of society, and the health of individuals, and will only speak when it is wise to do so (Proverbs 12:23). It will also speak in a way that is conducive to other people’s good (and withhold from speaking when it is not to anyone’s good - Proverbs 12:23).
‘The lip of truth will be established for ever,
But a lying tongue is but for a moment.’
What is, however, important to recognise is that truth will prevail. Those who speak truth (the lip of truth), and what they stand for, will be established for ever. For truth, like wisdom, lies at the very root of creation, and those who deal truly are His delight (Proverbs 12:22). In contrast the lying tongue is only very temporary. It is an aberration. It is but for a moment (the wink of an eye) and will soon pass away. For lying lips are an abomination to YHWH (Proverbs 12:22).
We have already seen that ‘the righteous is established for ever’ (Proverbs 10:25); that ‘the root of the righteous will never be moved’ (Proverbs 12:3); that ‘the house of the righteous will stand’ (Proverbs 12:7); now we are informed that the truthful lip (and therefore its owner) is established for ever. Truth and righteousness go together.
Note that ‘the truthful lip’ parallels ‘the lying tongue’. One refers to the words of those who speak truth, the other to those who speak deceitfully.
‘Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil,
But to the counsellors of peace is joy.’
In Proverbs 12:17 it was ‘a false witness who utters deceit’, and ‘rash words’ (Proverbs 12:18) and ‘a lying tongue’ (Proverbs 12:19) also indicated deceit. Thus deceit is a theme of Proverbs 12:17-20. It also continues in Proverbs 12:22-23. Here Solomon tells us that deceit is ‘in the heart of those who scheme and devise evil’. Not to walk in the truth and in righteousness is to walk deceitfully. As Jeremiah declared, ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately unrighteous’ (Jeremiah 17:9). By the heart is meant the mind, will and emotions. And the result of this will be that they will be filled with the consequences of evil (Proverbs 12:21). What a man sows he will reap.
In contrast to the devisers of evil are the counsellors of peace and wellbeing, in other words those who pass on the wisdom which leads to peace and wellbeing (Proverbs 3:16-18). And their hearts, instead of being filled with deceit, are filled with joy. Indeed, no mischief will happen to the righteous (Proverbs 12:21).
‘There will no mischief happen to the righteous,
But the wicked will be filled with evil.’
The parallel clauses suggest that we should see ‘filled with evil’ as being a consequence of the attitude and behaviour of the wicked, in the same way as ‘no mischief’ is the consequence of the attitude and behaviour of the righteous. Thus we have here the assurance that no mischief (nothing bad) will happen to the righteous, whilst the unrighteous will get their fill of evil (compare Proverbs 1:18; Proverbs 1:26-27; Proverbs 1:32; Proverbs 2:18-19; etc.). They will receive their reward for their deceitful ways.
But what does he mean when he says that no mischief will happen to the righteous? Clearly it does not indicate that they will be safe from the mischief that evil men will bring on men by their evil devices. In the short run at least the righteous do often suffer at the hands of the unrighteous. But as we have seen the background to this subsection is the carrying out of justice by the authorities (Proverbs 12:17). Thus there are two ways of taking this promise to the righteous. Firstly as a general principle in a just society, the idea being that they will not be of those who are hauled before the courts for judgment. And secondly as a promise that they need not be afraid of the judgment of God and of His wrath for they will be preserved from them (Proverbs 11:4; Proverbs 11:23).
‘Lying lips are an abomination to YHWH,
But those who deal truly are his delight.’
Solomon now makes clear the grounds for the promise in Proverbs 12:21. The wicked will given their fill of evil because lying lips are an abomination to YHWH, they go against the very fabric of creation, whilst the righteous, those who ‘deal truly’, will be kept from ‘mischief’ (anything bad) at the hands of justices and also at His hands because they are His delight. We have in this further introduction of the Name of YHWH a reminder that He and His activity constantly underlie what is written in Proverbs.
‘A shrewd man conceals knowledge,
But the heart of fools proclaims foolishness.’
In Proverbs 12:18 we were told that ‘the tongue of the wise is health’, in other words that what the righteous say contributes to the health and wellbeing of the community, and of those who are in that community. Here we are reminded that there are times when it is right not to speak. The shrewd man does not conceal knowledge from those who seek it, but he does from those who would mock at it or misuse it. He weighs his words carefully depending on who is hearing him. He is concerned that his words do not cause unnecessary hurt. There are times when it is best for things not to be known (compare Proverbs 11:13, ‘he who is of a faithful spirit conceals the matter (the tales being spread about)’, and Proverbs 13:3, ‘he who guards his mouth preserves life’). Thus, for example, we may consider that it is best not to bring up the doctrine of election with a non-Christian, especially one who mocks Christianity; we may feel it best not to air our ‘knowledge’ about mental illness with someone whom we know whose close relative is mentally ill; and there are times, when passions are roused, that it is best for things not to be made known, keeping them for a time when reason prevails.
A similar thought, although expressed in a very different way, occurred in the Instruction of Amenemope, ‘better is one whose speech is in his belly, than he who tells it to cause harm’.
Fools, however, have no such inhibitions. From their hearts they proclaim their worldly wisdom, which is foolishness. They often speak rashly, hurting people by their words (Proverbs 12:18), or speak confidently about things that they know nothing about. They do not care whom they hurt.
‘The hand of the diligent will bear rule,
But the slothful will be put under taskwork.
We need to recognise here that Solomon equates the diligent with the righteous and the wise, just as he equates the slothful with the unrighteous and fool (Proverbs 6:6-11; Proverbs 10:4; Proverbs 13:4). He is thus declaring that it is the diligent and wise and righteous who will tend to attain positions of authority, certainly in the ideal world. Thus those who judge the cause in the case of the witnesses of Proverbs 12:17, whose tongues bring health to the people (Proverbs 12:18), and who are counsellors of peace and wellbeing (Proverbs 12:20), and who deal truly with people (Proverbs 12:22), are regularly men of authority. Here we learn that they have been put in a position to do this because they are diligent and wise. Truth triumphs because good men are given positions of authority. Consider Proverbs 8:14-16. There would otherwise be little point in bringing truth before them, or in seeking their counsel. This proverb therefore underlines why the previous proverbs are effective.
In contrast to the diligent and wise are the slothful and foolish. They become poor, neglect their responsibilities, avoid hard labour, and therefore ironically find themselves conscripted to the hardest labour of all. This is where their deceit has brought them.
The Righteous Prevail Through Their Knowledge Of Wisdom, Whilst The Unrighteous Go Astray Because They Reject Wisdom (Proverbs 12:25 to Proverbs 13:6 ).
In the first part of the subsection there is an emphasis on guiding and learning. ‘A good word makes (the heart) glad’ (Proverbs 12:25). ‘The righteous is a guide to his neighbour’ (Proverbs 12:26). ‘A wise son listens to his father’s instruction’ (Proverbs 13:1). ‘A man will eat good by the fruit of his mouth (because he has guided people)’ (Proverbs 13:2).
There is also an overall emphasis on diligence as against laziness. The ‘good word’ of Proverbs 12:25 requires effort to apply it to the particular needs of the anxious man, the righteous man ‘searches out’ what is required by his friend (Proverbs 12:26), the diligent man makes full use of what is of benefit to man (Proverbs 12:27), a man has to make fruitful use of his mouth if he is to ‘eat good’, (another metaphor) (Proverbs 13:2), it is the diligent who will prosper and become rich (Proverbs 13:4).
A third emphasis is on the right use of words. ‘A good word makes the heart of man glad’ (Proverbs 12:25), ‘the righteous is a guide to his neighbour’ (Proverbs 12:26), ‘a wise son listens to his father’s instruction’ (Proverbs 13:1), ‘from the fruit of his mouth a man will eat good’ (Proverbs 13:2), ‘he who guards his mouth preserves his life’ (Proverbs 13:3), ‘a righteous man hates lying’ (Proverbs 13:5)
But the prime emphasis is on solid teaching. The good word makes glad (Proverbs 12:25), the righteous searches out in order to guide his neighbour (Proverbs 12:26), the diligent brings forth the valuable wealth of man (Proverbs 12:27), the way of righteousness, as known through wisdom, is the way of life (Proverbs 12:28), the wise son listens to his father’s teaching (Proverbs 13:1), it is the soul of the diligent which will be made fat (Proverbs 13:4), the righteous man, having received wisdom, hates what is false (Proverbs 13:5), righteousness obtained through wisdom guards the upright (Proverbs 13:6).
The subsection is presented chiastically:
A Heaviness (anxiety) in the heart of a man makes it stoop, but a good word makes it glad (Proverbs 12:25).
B The righteous is a guide to his neighbour, but the way of the wicked causes them to err (Proverbs 12:26).
C The slothful man does not roast what he took in hunting, but the precious substance of men is to the diligent (Proverbs 12:27).
D In the way of righteousness is life, and in the pathway of it there is no death (Proverbs 12:28)
E A wise son listens to his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke (Proverbs 13:1)
E From the fruit of the mouth of a man one eats good, but the soul of the treacherous will eat violence (Proverbs 13:2).
D He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips will have destruction (Proverbs 13:3).
C The soul of the sluggard desires, and has nothing, but the soul of the diligent will be made fat (Proverbs 13:4).
B A righteous man hates lying, but a wicked man is loathsome, and comes to shame (Proverbs 13:5).
A Righteousness guards him who is upright in the way, but wickedness overthrows the sinner (Proverbs 13:6).
Note that in A heaviness anxiety a man’s heart STOOP, whilst in the parallel righteousness guards the UPRIGHT. In B the righteous is a true guide to his neighbour, while the wicked causes him to err, and in the parallel the righteous hates lying (and is therefore reliable), and the sinner causes himself to err and therefore loathsome and comes to shame. In C and its parallel the sluggard and the diligent are contrasted. In D the way of righteousness is LIFE and in its pathway is no DEATH, whilst in the parallel he who guards his mouth preserves his LIFE, and he who speaks (unwisely) will have DESTRUCTION. In E a wise son benefits by the words of his father, whilst in the parallel a man benefits by either his own words or the words of another.
‘Heaviness (anxiety) in the heart of a man makes it stoop (bow down),
But a good word makes it glad.’
The point here is that deep anxiety can bow a man down, but that a good word (sound advice, which in Proverbs is godly advice) wisely presented can restore its gladness. Such sound and godly advice and words, associated with the idea of peace and wellbeing, were a feature of the Prologue (Proverbs 1:2; Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 2:1; Proverbs 2:6-7; Proverbs 2:10-11; Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:15-18; etc.). They are a reminder that the promises and assurances of God are an antidote to anxiety (note Proverbs 3:5-6) and that true godly wisdom can bring a man peace. In the parallel ‘righteousness guards the one who is straight (upright)’ (Proverbs 13:6). Thus there wisdom and righteousness (the knowledge of God) are seen as the preventatives from deep anxiety.
‘The righteous is a guide to (searches out) his neighbour (bosom friend),
But the way of the wicked causes them to err.’
Strictly speaking the first clause reads literally ‘the righteous spies out/searches out (from/because of) his friend’. Whether there is a preposition min, shown in brackets as ‘from/because’), is questionable. Its presence depends on whether we take the noun for ‘friend’ as merea‘ or rea‘ (both are possible). Thus it could signify that the righteous man searches out (wisdom) because of/on behalf of his friend, thus acting as his guide. This would fit well into the theme of guiding and learning in Proverbs 12:25 and Proverbs 13:1. Alternatively it could signify that he searches out/spies out his bosom friend, because he does not want as a close friend one who is untrustworthy or unreliable (see Proverbs 13:20). This carefulness would tie in well with the carefulness demonstrated in Proverbs 12:27.
In the latter case ‘the way of the wicked causes them to err’ may signify that it is because they are not so careful in choosing their friends (compare Proverbs 1:11 ff.). In the case of the former it may signify that it is because they do not (like the righteous) seek out wisdom, something which is again a continual urging of the Prologue.
Either interpretation could gain support from the parallel verse in the chiasmus, ‘a righteous man hates lying, a wicked man --- comes to shame’ (Proverbs 13:5). The righteous man searches out wisdom because he hates lying and deceit, or he ‘spies out’ his prospective bosom friend for the same reason.
‘The slothful man does not roast his game,
But the precious substance/wealth of men is to the diligent.’
The word translated ‘roast’ occurs only here in the Old Testament, but the translation has been remarkably supported by a 14th century BC tablet from Ras Ibn Hani, near Ugarit. It need therefore no longer be questioned. The point is that the slothful man is so lazy that rather than roasting his game for full enjoyment, he simply eats it raw. It may, however, be that Solomon wants us to see behind this simple statement and recognise that the same is true of wisdom. It is not just to be accepted as it is without thought and effort, ‘unroasted’, but must rather become palatable by deep consideration. This would tie in with the equal effort of the righteous in Proverbs 12:26, who does not just take things as they are but ‘searches them out’, and that in contrast to the slackness of the wicked man. The suggestion is further reinforced by the wording of the second clause, which while probably referring to the roasting of game, does so in a highly metaphorical form, stressing what is precious to man. It explains also the reference to ‘the inner life of the diligent being made fat’ in Proverbs 13:4.
The first clause concerning the behaviour of the slothful is in contrast to that of the diligent man. Using the translation above and seeing the ‘precious wealth of men’ as being game animals available from hunting once they have been roasted, the parallel is clear. The diligent are better off than the slothful because they enjoy delectable roast meat rather than raw game. They have made proper use of their precious resources. The emphasis here is on the greater benefit resulting from diligence. Continuing the metaphorical interpretation above, this also emphasises that the precious wealth to man of wisdom is also only to be obtained by diligence. This was a constant theme of the Prologue (Proverbs 2:1-4; Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 4:5-6; Proverbs 4:20-23; Proverbs 6:20-22; Proverbs 7:1-4; Proverbs 8:17; Proverbs 8:33-34).
The translation of the second clause is, however, disputed, because the literal translation, keeping strictly to the Hebrew text, is, ‘But the wealth of a valuable (precious) man is diligent’ which may indicate that the big advantage of a valuable man, and what makes him valuable, is that he is diligent (and thus among other things roasts his game and studies wisdom deeply). Among a number of alternative translations the following have also been proposed:
· ‘The diligent (does roast) the precious wealth of man’. The implication being that the diligent are wiser than the slothful.
· ‘A rare treasure of a man is one who is diligent’. The idea in context possibly being how fortunate are those whose hunters or cooks supply their meat roasted, with the emphasis being on the value of the diligent man.
However, what is certain is that the basic message is the superiority of the diligent man to the slothful one, something already brought out in Proverbs 12:24, and underlined in the parallel passage to this in Proverbs 13:4. The diligent man partakes of what is so much better.
‘In the way of righteousness is life,
And in the pathway of it there is no death.’
The effort of the counsellor in Proverbs 12:25, the righteous man in Proverbs 12:26 and the diligent man in Proverbs 12:27, is all to one end, the propagation of righteousness. And that because the way of righteousness is life. For those who walk in that way there is no death. As always life means wholesome life and life that will be prolonged, untarnished by death. It has already been emphasised in Proverbs 2:19, Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:22; Proverbs 4:13; Proverbs 4:22-23; Proverbs 6:23; Proverbs 8:35; Proverbs 9:11; Proverbs 10:11; Proverbs 10:16; Proverbs 11:4; Proverbs 11:19.
‘In the pathway of it there is no death.’ This could simply mean that the righteous will not meet premature death. But it must have been patently clear to Solomon that that was not true. In the light of Proverbs 14:32; Proverbs 15:25 the greater probability is that here there is the clear hint of immortality, which is strengthened even more if we see the idea of ‘no death’ as an echo of Anath’s promise of immortality in terms of ‘no death’ to Aqhat in the Ugaritic mythology and used as a vivid illustration by Solomon. Such a concept is inherent in the descriptions in the Prologue relating to the fate of the disobedient (Proverbs 2:18-19; Proverbs 5:5-6) and in the promise of the tree of life in Proverbs 3:18. It must also be seen in the light of Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 23:6, and receives some support in Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 10:25; Proverbs 11:4; Proverbs 11:19; Proverbs 12:19; Proverbs 14:32; Proverbs 15:24.
This second clause presents translation problems. It says literally, ‘and a way a path no death’, which we may paraphrase as ‘and a way of a pathway of no death’, which basically says the same as above.
In the chiasmus this verse parallels Proverbs 13:3, ‘he who guards his mouth keeps his life, he who opens wide his lips will have destruction’. Once again there is the promise of preserved life resulting from righteousness (a guarded mouth), whilst the second clause presents a contrast to the ‘no death’ here. The alternative for the wicked is destruction.
‘A wise son (listens to) his father’s instruction,
But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.’
The themes of teaching and learning, of diligence, and of obtaining a foundation in wisdom and righteousness are now continued. The wise son pays diligent heed to his father’s disciplinary instruction (‘listens to’ is read back from the second clause). Unlike the scoffer he takes note of rebuke (compare Proverbs 1:23; Proverbs 1:25; Proverbs 1:30; Proverbs 6:23; Proverbs 9:8; Proverbs 10:17; Proverbs 12:1). Once more we note that the father (along with his wife) was to be the prime instrument for imparting wisdom (Proverbs 1:8-9; Proverbs 4:1; Proverbs 4:3; Proverbs 6:20; Proverbs 10:1). In contrast the scoffer refuses to listen to rebuke. ‘He does not love to be reproved’ (Proverbs 15:12). He hates it (Proverbs 15:10).
‘From the fruit of the mouth of a man he (or ‘one’) eats good,
But the soul of the treacherous will eat violence.’
In Proverbs 13:1 a wise son benefits by the words of his father, whilst here a man benefits, either from his own words or from the words of another, and ‘eats good’. The two ideas are in parallel. In contrast the one who would not listen to rebuke (Proverbs 13:1) ‘eats violence’.
The first clause is almost a repetition of Proverbs 12:14 a, ‘from the fruit of a mans mouth he (or ‘one’) will be satisfied with good’, and it conveys the same idea, whilst the idea of fruit reminds us of Proverbs 11:30, ‘the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life’. It is fruit that is ‘better than gold’ (Proverbs 8:19). There is a reminder here of the importance of listening to those who impart God’s wisdom. And it is a reminder also that to all who follow God’s wisdom what it says is important. We have to ensure that men eat good from it.
But the contrasting clause supports the idea that the one who benefits from the fruit of his mouth is himself (just as the treacherous ‘eats (his own) violence’). In other words those who speak what is good also benefit from it themselves. Because of what they say they have an appetite for good. How we talk makes a difference to what we are. In the parallel clause ‘the inner life, appetite’ (nephesh) of the treacherous itself eats violence, in other words the treacherous man has an appetite for violence which comes from deep within him, and he enjoys participating in it. Consequently he will ‘eat the fruit of his own ways’ in the end (Proverbs 1:31).
‘He who guards his mouth preserves his life,
But he who opens wide his lips will have destruction.
In Proverbs 12:28 we learned that ‘in the way of righteousness is life.’ In other words that those who walk in that way will experience abundant life, a life that will endure. And in Proverbs 11:2 we learned that a man ‘eats good from the fruit of his mouth’. He benefits himself, and fashions his character, by what he says. Now the two ideas are put together. To walk in the way of righteousness involves being careful of what we say, for ‘he who guards his mouth preserves his life.’ Once again the idea is that what we say not only reveals what we are, but actually affects what we are. We should therefore guard our mouths because, ‘in the multiplicity of words sin is not lacking’ (Proverbs 10:19). In consequence it is of great importance that we do guard our mouths, ensuring that nothing slips from them which will grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:29-30). By this means we will preserve whole and intact the life that God has given us. On the other hand the one who ‘opens wide his lips’, speaking without restraint or thought, will ‘have destruction’. He will bring retribution on himself. For by our words we will be revealed as righteous, and by our words we will be condemned (Matthew 12:37),
‘The soul of the sluggard desires, and has nothing,
But the soul of the diligent will be made fat.’
There is a general principle here that lazy people want things in their ‘inner man, appetite’ (nephesh), but often don’t get them because of their laziness. They lie in bed and let the years slip away (see Proverbs 6:6-11). In contrast diligent people set about things, and get what they want and more. Thus their ‘inner men’ will be ‘made fat’, that is, will prosper and enjoy prosperity.
But in the context of guiding and listening, and of solid teaching (see introduction to the subsection) there is here special reference to the gathering of wisdom and truth. The lazy person wants to have wisdom and understanding, and every now and then he wants to know God and His word, but he never gets round to seeking them. Thus he ends up spiritually poor. Indeed he ends up with nothing that is worthwhile. But the one who from his heart (his inner person) diligently seeks, and makes an effort to understand, will not only find, but will grow and enjoy fullness of blessing. What such people receive they will ‘roast’, in other words, will take time and effort over it in order to enjoy it to the full (Proverbs 12:27). They will enjoy what is most precious in the earth (Proverbs 12:27).
‘A righteous man hates lying,
But a wicked man is loathsome, and comes to shame.’
As in Proverbs 12:26 we now have a contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous. There the righteous man ‘spied out’ his friends, like Joshua’s men spied out Canaan, in order to ensure that they were worthy friends, so that he would not be led astray by them (compare Proverbs 1:11 ff.). Here the righteous man hates lying (as does God - Proverbs 6:17; Proverbs 6:19; Proverbs 12:22). He searches out the truth. He cannot abide anything that smacks of deceit. He will therefore obtain a reputation for being honourable and trustworthy (he does not come to shame). In contrast the unrighteous man is loathsome before both God and man, for his way is that of deceit (Proverbs 11:20). He has the lying lips which are an abomination to God (Proverbs 6:17), and to honest men. He cannot be trusted, even with a confidence, and he destroys other people’ s reputations or wealth. And in the end his deceit will bring him into being shamed.
‘Righteousness guards him who is upright in the way,
But wickedness overthrows the sinner.’
The subsection ends with a summarising verse. The one who is walking uprightly in the way, listening to disciplinary instruction and responding to it, is guarded by his righteousness. ‘In the way of righteousness is life’ (Proverbs 12:28). His life is thus secure, and he walks with confidence without stumbling (Proverbs 10:9). For he who walks uprightly in the way is a delight to YHWH (Proverbs 11:20), and YHWH is a shield to him (Proverbs 2:7). In contrast is the sinner who is overthrown by his evildoing. His hope is not life but death. He will ‘have destruction’ (Proverbs 13:3). He is loathsome to YHWH (Proverbs 13:5).
‘Him who is upright in the way’ takes us right back into the atmosphere of the Prologue, where being, or not being, ‘in the way’ is a constant theme (Proverbs 1:15; Proverbs 2:13; Proverbs 2:15; Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 2:20; Proverbs 4:11; Proverbs 4:14; Proverbs 4:18-19; etc.).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 12". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20