The One Who Fears YHWH Walks In Uprightness, Is Preserved By What He Says, Enjoys Prosperity, Is A True Witness And Easily Comes To Understanding (Proverbs 14:2-6).
The one who fears YHWH walks in uprightness (Proverbs 14:2); speaks in such a way that his lips and words preserve him (Proverbs 14:3); takes full advantage of the strength of the ox which is God’s gift to man in order to enjoy abundant harvest (Proverbs 14:4); speaks truthfully and is a reliable witness (Proverbs 14:5); and through the understanding that God has given him, easily comes to true knowledge (Proverbs 14:6).
In contrast the one who despises YHWH is perverse (crooked) in his ways (Proverbs 14:2); speaks in foolish pride which will rebound on him (Proverbs 14:3); is sluggardly in his ways (Proverbs 14:4 a); is untruthful in his speech (Proverbs 14:5); and while seeking true wisdom is unable to find it, because it is only found in God (Proverbs 14:6).
The subsection is presented chiastically:
A He who fears YHWH walks in his uprightness, but he who despises him is perverse in his ways (Proverbs 14:2).
B In the mouth of the foolish is a rod (or ‘branch’) of pride, but the lips of the wise will preserve them (Proverbs 14:3).
C Where no oxen are, the manger is clean (Proverbs 14:4 a)
C But much increase is by the strength of the ox (Proverbs 14:4 b)
B A faithful witness will not lie, but a false witness utters lies (Proverbs 14:5)
A A scorner seeks wisdom, and does not find, but knowledge is easy to him who has understanding (Proverbs 14:6).
Note that in A we have the one who fears YHWH, (which is the beginning of knowledge (Proverbs 1:7)), compared with the one who despises YHWH, and in the parallel the one who has understanding and finds knowledge is compared with the one who is cynical and fails to find such knowledge. In B the foolish betray themselves by their mouths, whilst the wise by their lips preserve themselves, and in the parallel the false witness utters lies, while the faithful witness does not lie (and thus preserves himself from repercussions). Centrally in C the foolish avoid having oxen, and thus have an empty, and therefore clean, manger, (on which being foolish they probably congratulate themselves), whilst the wise have a strong ox, (have to clean out their mangers), and thus enjoy good harvests.
‘He who fears YHWH walks in his uprightness,
But he who despises him is perverse in his ways.’
The fear of YHWH is a central feature of Proverbs. Among other things it is ‘the beginning (or first principle) of knowledge’ (Proverbs 1:7). Those who fear YHWH find the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:5) and receive from Him knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6). That is why they walk in uprightness (straightness). Their way is true and right. They walk in the way of righteousness (Proverbs 8:20; Proverbs 12:28). And because the fear of YHWH has given them understanding, true knowledge (the knowledge of YHWH) comes easily to them (Proverbs 14:6).
In contrast the one who despises YHWH and does not fear Him is crooked (‘turns aside’) in his ways. He does not walk in the way of righteousness, which includes obedience to YHWH. Instead he walks in many ways unable to find the right way. As a despiser of YHWH and a scorner he seeks wisdom but does not find it (Proverbs 14:6).
‘In the mouth of the foolish is a rod (or ‘branch’) of pride,
But the lips of the wise will preserve them.’
This could mean that as a consequence of his being perverse in his ways his tongue (the rod in his mouth) is proud and speaks arrogantly, and even falsely (Proverbs 14:5), eventually bringing repercussions on himself. He beats himself with his own rod (tongue). Alternately his tongue can be seen as a ‘flourishing branch’ (compare Isaiah 11:1 for the use of the word) which is full of pride and causes pride in others. The proud look and the lying tongue are two of the abominations which God hates (Proverbs 6:17).
In contrast the lips of the wise preserve them. They do not bring repercussions on themselves by what they say (compare Proverbs 11:12; Proverbs 12:6; Proverbs 13:3). They speak carefully and thoughtfully (Proverbs 10:13; Proverbs 10:32). Nor do they perjure themselves (Proverbs 14:5) bringing on themselves the wrath of the law. Thus they preserve themselves rather than bringing a rod on themselves.
The word for ‘rod’ only occurs here and in Isaiah 11:1 (where it means ‘shoot, branch’), but in Aramaic it indicates a rod for punishment.
‘Where no oxen are, the crib is clean,
But much increase is by the strength of the ox.’
Note that the person in question has a manger for feeding animals. Why then does he not have an ox? It may be that because of his folly he cannot afford an ox, or has had to dispense with it. Or it may be that he does not want to do the work which having an ox would involve. Nor does he want to have to clean the manger. Either way his folly does result in a clean manger, but it also results in no harvest. As a sluggard he has avoided work and will find himself in poverty (Proverbs 6:6-11; Proverbs 10:4-5). As he lies in bed slumbering he may even pride himself on not having to clean the manger like others have to. But not only is his manger clean, so is his grain store, and so is his larder. He is left without a means of survival. This is what his perverse ways have led him to (Proverbs 14:2).
In contrast is the wise man. He has an ox and gathers in an abundant harvest. The ox enables him to multiply the effect of his labours. He obtains ‘much increase’ due to the oxen’s strength. His manger may be dirty, and need cleaning, but his reward is a multiplicity of grain. And the provision of the ox is one of God’s mercies to man. Without the ox man’s toil would be almost unbearable. It is a gift of God.
The whole proverb is a reminder of the fact that if we want our lives to count for anything we must allow them to be disturbed. We must be prepared for interference in our cosy lives if we are to serve our God. If we are not prepared to sacrifice our cosiness, we will never achieve great things, for the things that matter most make great demands upon us. We can compare the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘he who would save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s, the same will save it’ (Mark 8:35). The cross is uncomfortable, but it is essential for those who would experience life.
‘A faithful witness will not lie,
But a false witness utters lies.’
The faithful and true witness does not lie. He is a wise and righteous man. He tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Thus he walks with a satisfied conscience, and without fear of repercussions. He walks uprightly (Proverbs 14:2). He preserves himself with his mouth (Proverbs 14:3). If he testifies in court his witness can be relied on. If he declares something in his community he is believed. Even his enemies believe him. His ‘yes’ is ‘yes, and his ‘no’ is ‘no’, for whatever is more than this is of evil (Matthew 5:37).
In contrast the false witness does lie. He does it because he despises YHWH and His commandments (Proverbs 14:2), and in essence despises justice, as a consequence he comes under the condemnation of both God and man.
‘A scorner seeks wisdom, and does not find,
But knowledge is easy to him who has understanding.’
In Proverbs 14:2 the one who despised YHWH was perverse in his ways. This would often result in false pride (Proverbs 14:3), failure to take advantage of his resources (Proverbs 14:4), and lying in court (Proverbs 14:5). Now we learn that the scorner seeks wisdom and cannot find it. But why can he not find it? It is because he does not look to God. He despises the fear of YHWH (Proverbs 14:2). Thus his search for true wisdom is in vain. He may be worldly wise, he may have great earthly knowledge, but he fails to find true wisdom, which is why he behaves as he does.
In contrast is the one who has understanding. He has no difficulty in finding wisdom because he submits to the fear of YHWH (Proverbs 14:2). He seeks the knowledge of God in the right way (Proverbs 2:5). And because God reveals to him His wisdom (Proverbs 2:6) and gives to him understanding (Proverbs 2:9-11) he finds knowledge easily.
We Are To Follow The Ways Of The Wise And Shrewd, Not The Ways Of The Foolish (Proverbs 14:7-16).
The whole emphasis of Proverbs is on following God’s wisdom. By doing so the shrewd man understands his way (Proverbs 14:8); he finds favour with God (Proverbs 14:9); he will flourish whatever his circumstances (Proverbs 14:11), he will avoid final death (Proverbs 14:12); he will be satisfied from what comes upon him (Proverbs 14:14); he looks well to his steps (Proverbs 14:15); and he fears YHWH and departs from evil (Proverbs 14:16).
In contrast is the worldly-wise fool. He does not speak or hear true knowledge (the knowledge of God) (Proverbs 14:7); he deceives and is deceived (Proverbs 14:8); he mocks at guilt (Proverbs 14:9); his emotions constantly vary (Proverbs 14:10); his house will be overthrown (Proverbs 14:11); he will end up in final death (Proverbs 14:12); he never knows full joy (Proverbs 14:13); he will receive the consequences of his own ways (Proverbs 14:14); he believes what the worldly-wise tell him ( Proverbs 14:15); he is angry with God and totally self confident.
The subsection is presented chiastically:
A Go from the presence of a FOOLISH man, for you will not know in him the lips of knowledge (Proverbs 14:7).
B The wisdom of the SHREWD is to understand his way, but the folly of fools is deceit (Proverbs 14:8)
C A guilt-offering mocks fools, (or ‘every fool mocks at guilt’), but among the upright there is favour (Proverbs 14:9).
D The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not intermeddle with its joy (Proverbs 14:10).
E The house of the wicked will be overthrown, but the tent of the UPRIGHT (yashar) will flourish (Proverbs 14:11).
E There is a way which seems RIGHT (yashar) to a man, but its end is the ways of death (Proverbs 14:12).
D Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of mirth is heaviness (Proverbs 14:13).
C The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways, and a good man will be satisfied from (what comes) upon him (Proverbs 14:14).
B The naive man believes every word, but the SHREWD man looks well to his going (Proverbs 14:15).
A A wise man fears, and departs from evil, but the FOOL bears himself insolently, and is confident (Proverbs 14:16)
Note that in A you will not know in the foolish man the lips of knowledge, and in the parallel the fool bears himself insolently, and is confident. In B the shrewd man understands his way, and in the parallel the shrewd man looks well to his going. In C the fool mocks at guilt but among the upright there is favour, and in the parallel the backslider is filled with his own ways, and the good man is satisfied from what comes upon him. In D the heart knows its own bitterness, and in the parallel the heart is sorrowful and heavy. Centrally in E the house of the unrighteous will be overthrown, and in the parallel the end of the mistaken man is the ways of death.
‘Go (walk) from the presence of a foolish man,
For you will not perceive the lips of knowledge.’
Solomon now warns that when seeking knowledge (the knowledge of God), we are to avoid ‘fools’, those who ignore God’s wisdom, and we are to do it because they will not be reliable guides. We could paraphrase ‘you will not perceive the lips of knowledge’ as ‘you will not find true knowledge in his words’. And this is because, ‘the mouth of fools pours out folly’ (Proverbs 15:2). And they do so because they follow worldly wisdom rather than the wisdom that comes from God.
‘Walk from the presence of a foolish man’. Compare Proverbs 13:20 where Solomon’s instruction was rather to walk with wise men. He was to walk with the wise, and walk away from the foolish. Today we would say the same with regard to those who ignore the Scriptures. They are not reliable guides with regard to the things of God, however clever they might be. In regard to the things of God the wise of this world are fools. We should, therefore, rather look to those who are wise in the Scriptures. He is not saying that we should avoid any contact with such people completely, although we are certainly to avoid their ways (Proverbs 2:12-22), only that we should do so in regard to finding the knowledge of God
As the parallel verse in the chiasmus (Proverbs 14:16) makes clear, this is because the fool is over-confident, and insolent towards God. By his manner of life he ‘despises YHWH’ (Proverbs 14:2), and this is reflected in his thinking. He is thus not a good guide to a true knowledge of God. This proverb also connects back with Proverbs 14:6 where knowledge ‘is easy (and easy to be found) to him who has understanding’, an understanding given to him by God (Proverbs 2:6; Proverbs 2:9; compare Matthew 11:25-27).
We may also see as included here a warning not to discuss difficult questions with the ‘foolish’ unless we are of sufficient calibre to do so. Inexperienced Christians may well find themselves distressed by the arguments of clever atheists. It is better if they give their testimony and then walk away from their presence as the proverb suggests.
‘The wisdom of the shrewd is to understand his way,
But the folly of fools is deceit.’
It is because the shrewd are wise that they will go from the presence of the foolish man. They understand what their way is to be, and thus do not get involved in the way of the fool. For the folly of the foolish man is found in his involvement with ‘deceit’. He is both deceived and a deceiver of others. ‘The god of this world has blinded the minds of those who believe not, that the light of the good news of the glory of Christ may not shine on them’ (2 Corinthians 4:4). Thus such men are deceived themselves and deceive others. But they do not deceive the shrewd because the shrewd man understands (from the wise and from God) what the way is in which he should go. And this is because he ‘looks well to his going’ (Proverbs 14:15). He ensures that it is in accordance with God’s wisdom as taught to him by the wise. He is not like the naive who believe everything they are told (Proverbs 14:15). He rather considers his way in the light of God’s wisdom.
‘A guilt-offering mocks fools, (or ‘every fool mocks at guilt’)
But among the upright there is favour.’
There is a translation problem here in that the word for ‘guilt’ also means ‘guilt-offering’. Thus we can translate as ‘a guilt-offering mocks fools’ or as ‘every fool mocks guilt’. In the first case the idea is that it is useless for a fool (a man who ignores God’s wisdom) to offer a guilt-offering, because it will be of no avail. The guilt-offering will just mock at him, because he is not bringing it with the right attitude of heart (compare Proverbs 15:8; Proverbs 21:27). In the second case the idea is that the fool mocks at guilt. He does not take it seriously. He is insolent and self-confident (Proverbs 14:16). He is filled with his own ways (Proverbs 14:14). In either case, he, as a consequence, does not find favour with God.
In contrast the upright do find the favour of both God and men. For them the guilt-offering is effective and makes them acceptable before God. For they treat their guilt seriously, and they come in repentance. In the same way today we must take our guilt seriously, knowing that we can then come into God’s favour through the guilt-offering of our Lord Jesus Christ Who bore our guilt on the cross (Isaiah 53:10 : 1 Peter 2:24; 1 Peter 3:18).
‘The heart knows its own bitterness,
And an outsider does not intermeddle with its joy.’
In context the point here is that man left to himself is terribly alone. He alone knows the bitterness that is within him. He alone appreciates the joy that he experiences. It is only when he comes to God that he can find Someone who can share the bitterness of his soul, and can enter into his joys.
This proverb goes to the depths of our inner beings. It says that in the end we are only known to ourselves. Only we ourselves know the depths of our own bitterness, and the reasons for it, at times of heartache. Others may surmise, but they can only look at the outward appearance. God alone can look at the heart. Comparing with the previous verse this also includes our guilt. This is something of which only we are aware, and it can be bitter within us. But once we face up to it and come to God in God’s way we can come into God’s favour. And that is what matters. ‘Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged. Take it to the Lord in prayer.’
And in the same way only we can plumb the true depths of our joy. Others may rejoice with us, but the ‘outsider’ cannot fully enter into our joy, nor can he in the end make any difference to it. Our joy is our own. The outsider cannot fully appreciate it or take it away from us. It can, however, be transient. It may soon once again be replaced by bitterness. But for the true believer there is joy that is permanent. Those who joy in God have something which the world cannot affect (Psalms 16:11; Psalms 30:5; Psalms 32:11; Psalms 35:9; etc.). In New Testament terms, when we experience ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory’ through knowing Christ, (1 Peter 1:8) it is beyond the wit of man to affect it.
So both our sorrows and our joys find their solution in God. In the end there is only One Who is fully aware of what we suffer, and how fully we rejoice, and that is God. Indeed, as Proverbs 14:13 makes clear, often our emotions are in conflict. We can experience joy and sorrow at the same time. Even in laughter there may be causes of sorrow in our hearts that others know nothing of. And whatever rejoicing we may experience it is often followed by heaviness of spirit. This is why the shrewd man needs to understand his way (Proverbs 14:8), needs to gain true knowledge rather than false knowledge (Proverbs 14:7), and looks well to his going (Proverbs 14:15). For in the end his life is between him and God.
The ideas in the verse are preparing for Proverbs 14:11 where the house of the unrighteous is contrasted with the tent of the upright. It is not what we live in that is important, but what lives in us.
‘The house of the wicked will be overthrown,
But the tent of the upright will flourish (sprout).’
The unrighteous man may live in a splendid house, and live in it with great confidence, happy that his circumstances are now secure. He is confident that he has succeeded at last. He has nothing to fear. He is at last established. He can say to himself, ‘I have much goods laid up for many years, I can take my ease, and eat and drink and be merry’ (Luke 12:19). What he does not realise is that in the end his house will be overthrown, and indeed it might be that very night (Luke 12:20). His life is not secure at all. And the final overthrowing of it is certain.
In contrast is the upright. He is happy in whatever God has seen fit to give him. He is happy though he has but a tent. He does not pine for outward security. He rather looks for a city which has eternal foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10). And he has reason to be joyful, for his life and home will flourish and grow from its early beginnings, because he walks in God’s wisdom.
The idea behind the tent would be of a nomad’s tent, a kind of bell-tent round a central pole, made of goatskins held down by wooden pegs. It is a reminder that life is transient and that we should be living for things above.
‘There is a way which seems right to a man,
But its end is the ways of death.’
Unrighteous man thinks that he has life worked out. Whilst the upright man (yashar) in Proverbs 14:11 has chosen the straight path, this man thinks that he also has chosen a right and straight path (it seem yashar to him). He is confident that all will go well for him. He builds his house (Proverbs 14:11), establishes his business, and is sure that nothing can go wrong. He lives heedless of God’s wisdom. He is sure that he has chosen the right way. But because he is unrighteous he will discover that, just as the unrighteous man’s house will be overthrown (Proverbs 14:11), so the way that he has chosen, like the differing ways of other unrighteous people, is ‘the ways of death’. He has forgotten to consider his end (Psalms 73:17). He has chosen the broad way to destruction (Matthew 7:14). He is like the wealthy man in Jesus’ parable, self-contained and foolish (Luke 12:16-21). He thinks that he has got it right, but because he leaves God out of account he has not.
‘Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful,
And the end of mirth is heaviness.’
What the unrighteous man forgets is that life is not a smooth ride, except for the very fortunate. Even while people are laughing and enjoying themselves there is that which makes them sorrowful in their hearts, and even whilst they are living it up, black times lie on the horizon. For as Proverbs 14:10 brings out the heart experiences its own bitterness which none can know except itself. And even its joy is personal. And here we learn that it ends in tears. In this is summed up much of the message of Proverbs, that though for the unrighteous life may seem good for a time, it always catches up with them in the end. Without God life goes downward rather than upwards.
In Proverbs 4:12 the end of the man’s way was the ways of death. Here the end of mirth is heaviness. The two are related. In Proverbs 14:12 the man has gone on in his life satisfied with his choice, but ‘his end’ is no fun, it is the ways of death. Here the man lives for fun and mirth, but ‘its end’ is heaviness.
‘The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways,
And a good man will be satisfied from (what comes) upon him.’
In Proverbs 14:9 the fool mocked at guilt, whilst among the upright there was favour and goodwill. Here that mocking at guilt results in him being filled with his own ways. It produces the ‘backslider in heart’, the one who backslides from God’s covenant, and receives the reward that is due to him for his behaviour and attitude. He is filled (repaid fully) with his own ways. There is a dual play on ‘filled’. His mind is filled with his own ways (he thinks only of himself), and as a consequence his own ways come back on him, bringing their own punishment (he is ‘filled’, fully repaid, for his own ways).
The backslider in heart is one who with his mind and will has turned his back on God. He may nominally believe in Him, and outwardly profess Him, such belief was after all part of the social structure, but at heart he ignores him. He is like the fool who says in his heart, ‘there is no God’ (Psalms 14:1).
In contrast the ‘good man’ will be satisfied ‘from upon him’. He will be fully rewarded (and therefore satisfied) from what comes upon him (as a result of what comes upon him). He will not be filled with the consequences of his own ways, but will receive favour from God (Proverbs 14:9).
‘The naive believes every word,
But the shrewd man looks well to his going (steps).’
In Proverbs 14:9 the ‘folly of fools was deceit’ (deceiving and being deceived). Here we learn why some fools are deceived. It is because they ‘believe every word’ that they are told. They are gullible. They swallow the wisdom of the worldly wise who turn their thoughts away from God and His ways. After all it suits them to do so. In contrast the shrewd man ‘understands his way’ (Proverbs 14:9), he ‘looks well to his steps’, because he looks to God’s wisdom and walks in it step by step. He lives by His Word. He ‘walks step by step by the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:25; Psalms 51:10). He says, ‘your Spirit is good, lead me in the land of uprightness’ (Psalms 143:10).
‘A wise man fears, and departs from evil,
But the fool bears himself insolently, and is confident.’
The subsection closes by again distinguishing the wise man from the fool. The wise man ‘fears’. He fears the consequences of evil, but most of all he reverently fears YHWH. Thus he ‘departs from evil’, from all that is ‘not good’. He seeks only what is good. Departing from evil is specifically said to be a consequence of fearing YHWH in Proverbs 3:7, where we read quite explicitly ‘fear YHWH and depart from evil’.
In contrast the fool has no fear of YHWH. He walks insolently, disregarding His word. He ‘shows himself angry’ towards YHWH. He does not like His restrictions. He is fully confident in himself. And this is because he does not have ‘the lips of knowledge (the knowledge of God)’ (Proverbs 14:7). He does not speak or hear what is wise and true, because of his supreme confidence in himself.
The Triumph Of Truth Over Falsehood And Of Righteousness Over Unrighteousness (Proverbs 14:17-25).
The thought of truth against falsehood undergirds this subsection. It commences with the fact that fools deal foolishly and devise evil schemes, and ends with the thought that they even, by their lies, destroy the reliability of the courts. But they do not in the end succeed. For they are hated and in the end have to bow down to the good. They are in contrast with the true. The shrewd are crowned with true knowledge (Proverbs 14:18); the evil will have to bow down to them (Proverbs 14:19); those who devise good will enjoy true covenant love (Proverbs 14:22); the true witness saves lives (Proverbs 14:25). In contrast are the false. They are evil schemers (Proverbs 14:17); they inherit folly (Proverbs 14:18); they have to bow down to the good and the righteous (Proverbs 14:19); they devise evil (Proverbs 14:22); they utter lies in court and cause deceit where there should only be truth (Proverbs 14:25).
Also prominent is the benefit of righteousness and wisdom. The wise and good devise good and not evil (Proverbs 14:22) and will thus not be hated (Proverbs 14:17); they will be recognised as having true knowledge (Proverbs 14:18); in time to come the evil will bow down to them (Proverbs 14:19); they have many friends (Proverbs 14:20); they will be blessed (Proverbs 14:21); they will enjoy true favour (Proverbs 14:22); they will increase in goods (Proverbs 14:23), which will be a crown to them (Proverbs 14:24); and they will save lives in court (Proverbs 14:25).
In contrast are the foolish. They will deal foolishly (Proverbs 14:17); they will be hated (Proverbs 14:17); they will inherit folly (Proverbs 14:18); in time to come they will bow down to the good (Proverbs 14:19); they are hated by their own neighbour (Proverbs 14:20); They sin because the despise their neighbour (Proverbs 14:21); they wander from the true path (Proverbs 14:22); their ways result in poverty (Proverbs 14:23); their folly is folly (Proverbs 14:24); and they destroy the reliability of the courts (Proverbs 14:25).
The subsection is presented chiastically as follows:
A He who is soon angry (the quick tempered man) commits folly, and a man of wicked devices (an evil schemer) is hated (Proverbs 14:17).
B The simple inherit folly, but the prudent are crowned with knowledge (Proverbs 14:18).
C The evil bow down before the good, and the wicked at the gates of the righteous (Proverbs 14:19).
D The poor is hated even of his own neighbour, but the rich has many friends (Proverbs 14:20).
E He who despises his neighbour sins (Proverbs 14:21 a)
E But he who has pity on the poor, happy is he (Proverbs 14:21 b).
D Do they not err who devise evil? But mercy and truth will be to those who devise good (Proverbs 14:22).
C In all labour there is profit, but the talk of the lips (idle chatter) tends only to penury (Proverbs 14:23)
B The crown of the wise is their riches, but the folly of fools is only folly (Proverbs 14:24).
A A true witness delivers lives, but he who utters lies causes deceit (Proverbs 14:25).
Note that in A the evil schemer is hated, whilst in the parallel the utterer of lies causes deceit (by his schemes). In B the simple inherit folly, whilst the prudent are crowned with knowledge, and in the parallel the folly of fools is only folly, whilst the wise are crowned with riches. In C the evil and the unrighteous bow down before the good and the righteous, whilst in the parallel the righteous grow rich, and the unrighteous become poor. In D the rich man has many friends, whilst in the parallel those who devise good receive compassion and truth. Centrally in E the one who despises his neighbour sins, whilst the one who pities the poor is happy.
‘He who is soon angry (the quick tempered man) will commit folly,
And a man of wicked devices (an evil schemer) is hated.’
The subsection commences with a contrast between two types of ‘fool’, the quick tempered man who acts impetuously and in consequence commits folly, and the cool-headed evil schemer who is hated. Quick temper and anger are regularly depicted as resulting in folly. Anger makes men behave foolishly. They lose all sense of proportion (consider Saul in his determination to destroy David). Thus in Proverbs 15:18 a; Proverbs 29:22 a, ‘the angry man stirs up strife’, so that there is more hope for a fool than for a man who is hasty with his words (Proverbs 29:20). In contrast the cool-headed appease strife (Proverbs 15:18 b). As Paul warns, ‘be angry and do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your wrath’ (Ephesians 4:26) for to do so is to ‘give place to the Devil’ (Ephesians 4:27).
In contrast is the evil schemer. He is cool-headed and plans his evil schemes carefully and with forethought. He is a destroyer of lives and of happiness, and is deservedly hated. Such a man will go into court and perjure himself (Proverbs 14:26). He is a totally untrustworthy man in whom there is little that is good. And he is hated by both God (Proverbs 6:18) and man.
‘The naive inherit folly,
But the shrewd are crowned with knowledge.’
Here we learn where the folly of the naive often comes from. They inherit it. It is passed on from generation to generation. All too often they learn it from their parents, or their relatives. We all need to remember this, that our faults are picked up and carried into practise by our children. They mirror our behaviour.
In contrast are the shrewd. They are crowned with knowledge (the knowledge of God). Their knowledge of God decorates their brow and is seen by all. It brings them honour and esteem. This idea was stressed in the Prologue. Compare Proverbs 1:9; Proverbs 4:9. In the parallel Proverbs 14:24 they are crowned with riches (which they have built up through hard labour - Proverbs 14:23), the riches which come from wisdom, whilst all that folly produces is folly.
‘The evil bow down before the good,
And the wicked, at the gates of the righteous.’
And it is because the shrewd are crowned with knowledge that the evil bow down before them. They recognise their quality. Even though they may not admit it, evil men have respect for the truly good. We have here a reminder that good will triumph in the end.
And this is especially so in respect of justice (at least ideally). ‘The gates’ of a city were the places where the courts sat, and judgment was given. Thus those appointed to judge are generally those who have gained the respect of the people by their reliability and honesty, and the unrighteous have to bow down to them. Paradoxically unrighteous people do not want to be judged by unrighteous men (unless they are in a position to bribe them). It is the men who have become well off through their own labours, rather than those who just talk (Proverbs 14:23), in whom men tend to put their trust. They have proved themselves by their actions. Interestingly the idea is that the unrighteous recognise those who are like themselves and do not want to be governed by them.
‘The poor is hated even of his own neighbour,
But the rich has many who love him.’
In Proverbs 14:17 it was the evil schemer who was hated. Here it is the poor. ‘The poor’ can have a number of meanings. It can signify the destitute, many of whom have become destitute though slothfulness (Proverbs 6:6-11; Proverbs 10:4). It can signify the subsistence farmer, who struggles to supply his family with food. It can signify those who labour for others as employees in order to supply their families with food (compare Jeremiah 39:20). And it can signify the relatively poor, who have sufficient for survival and no more. But it is probably not ‘the deserving poor’ who are in mind here. It is probably rather speaking of the poor who are poor because of their slothfulness and neglect, which has been the regular significance of the poor in Proverbs up to this point ( Proverbs 6:6-11; Proverbs 10:4; etc.). These are ‘the poor’ in context also, for Proverbs 14:23 refers to those who are in poverty because they do nothing but talk.
And in that case we can see why their own neighbours despise them. They see them for what they are. For they see the thorns growing on their strips of land and impinging on their own strips of land. And they see what a burden they are on the community. Furthermore they may well fear how they will behave, for it is such men who in the Prologue cause harm to their fellows.
In contrast the man who has worked hard (Proverbs 14:23) and become well-to-do is respected by all (his riches are a crown on his head - Proverbs 14:24). His family flourish. He has many friends. They recognise his worth and rejoice at how well he is doing. This interpretation ties in with the parallel proverb which contrasts the evil with the good (Proverbs 14:22), and with Proverbs 14:23-24 which again demonstrate that ‘the rich’ are the wise (Proverbs 14:24) and the hard working (Proverbs 14:23), whilst the poor are the slothful who do nothing but chat (Proverbs 14:23).
It is, of course possible to interpret this proverb as simply cynically meaning that people hate poor neighbours and love rich ones. But in that case we would have to take it tongue in cheek and put ‘who love him’ in inverted commas. For the fact is that the opposite would probably be the case. The rich may be fawned on, but they are usually not loved by those who are worse off, whereas neighbours tend to have sympathy for those who have become poor through misfortune. Once, however, it means the wise and good who have become well-to-do by hard work, as opposed to the slothful poor who have become poor through laziness, it begins to make sense, especially in Solomonic terms. It is true that at first sight the following proverb might be seen as supporting the second interpretation, but the word for ‘poor’ there is a different one referring more to the lowly than to the destitute (compare Proverbs 3:34; Proverbs 16:19). Thus there is a different emphasis.
‘He who despises his neighbour sins,
But he who has pity on (shows favour to) the poor (lowly), happy is he.’
This verse parallels Proverbs 14:20 in its references to neighbours and the poor. But the meaning of ‘poor’ (a different word from Proverbs 14:20) is probably somewhat wider here. More in mind are those of lowly status. The point here is that it is wrong to despise your neighbour, however high or low he might be, for God commanded, ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18) and ‘you shall not hate your brother in your heart’ (Leviticus 19:17). As a consequence the one who despises his neighbour, whether high or low, transgresses the commandments of God.
Some would argue that in order to balance the two halves the ‘neighbour’ must signify a ‘lowly neighbour’ and ‘the lowly’ must also signify a ‘lowly neighbour’, but that is to ignore the breadth of God’s Law which commands us to love all neighbours, and to show kindness to all lowly people. The emphasis is on the contrast between despising and showing favour, not on the similarity of the recipients. Note how in the next proverb erring does not balance mercy and truth.
In contrast the one who follows God’s Law and ‘has pity on (or shows favour to) the lowly’ (compare Deuteronomy 15:11) will be blessed (God will act towards him in favour). We note that the proverb carefully avoids speaking of a ‘poor neighbour’, and if it stood by itself we would not imply it in the first clause. Here, however, ‘having pity on and showing favour to the lowly’ appears to indicate all lowly people, not just those who can be seen as neighbours. It would include ‘the stranger who lives among you’ (Leviticus 19:33-34). But whatever may be the case, we must not miss the main point which is that we must not despise our neighbour and should have deep concern for the lowly if we would be blessed by God.
‘Do they not err who devise evil?
But mercy and truth will be to those who devise good.’
The words in the first clause cover all types of evil, both physical and moral. Evil basically means anything harmful. And the point is that to devise harm against others in any way is to err, to wander from the straight and true path. Those who ‘devise evil’ are the ‘evil schemers’ of Proverbs 14:17 who are ‘hated’, and no wonder, for they plan to cheat, slander, inconvenience or do violence to their neighbours. Their thoughts are wrapped up in themselves.
In contrast are those who ‘devise good’. They plan for the wellbeing of their fellowman. They think of others. They devise for their neighbours what they would want their neighbours to devise for them (compare Matthew 7:12). And their neighbours will reciprocate, and so will God. Thus they themselves will be treated with compassion and faithfulness by men, and covenant love and faithfulness by God (they will be blessed as in Proverbs 14:21). Even the unrighteous will bow down before them and see them as worthy (Proverbs 14:19). They will win the hearts of all.
‘In all labour there is profit (or plenteousness),
But the talk of the lips (tends) only to penury (or want, need).’
In Proverbs 14:20-21 there has been an emphasis on the poor, and we are now presented with the explanation of that poverty which is typical of Proverbs. In Proverbs 14:22 mention was made of ‘covenant love and faithfulness’ and this is exemplified in the profit that comes from labour. It is God Who supplies the rain and the sun which cause the crops to grow (compare Proverbs 3:9-10).
The point here is that toil is never wasted, it always results in some benefit. There is always gain from it. And hard toil results in plenty. In contrast those who spend all their time chatting (especially about all that they have done, instead of doing it) will end up in poverty and need. Once again the thought is that the wise prosper and the fool becomes poor. That is why the ‘evil’ (the unrighteous) will bow down before the good (the righteous). It is because the good have prospered and the evil tend to be poor (Proverbs 14:19).
‘The crown of the wise is their riches,
But the folly of fools is only folly.’
The hard worker who becomes wealthy and the one who does nothing but talk (Proverbs 14:23) are now described in terms of the wise and the foolish. To the wise their comparative riches are a crown, just as in the parallel their ‘knowledge’ of God is a crown (Proverbs 14:18). They reveal their status and wisdom, for they testify to their diligence and righteousness (compare Proverbs 1:9; Proverbs 4:9; Proverbs 12:4). In contrast fools are just fools. There is nothing more to be said. They have no status. Their status is that of a fool.
A true witness delivers lives,
But he who utters lies causes deceit.’
The subsection, which began with the thought of the evil schemer (Proverbs 14:17), now closes with an affirmation of the importance of truth, especially in relation to bearing witness in court where lives may truly be at stake. In a society where cases were decided mainly on the evidence of witnesses a true witness could make the difference between life and death for an innocent party. His true testimony might thus save a life. Unlike the evil schemer (Proverbs 14:17), he ‘devises good’ because he himself is true, and he will thus himself receive truth and favour (see Proverbs 14:22).
How different is the false witness. He blurs the truth by his lies and replaces truth with falsehood. He makes deceit flourish. By that means he causes falsehood to triumph and may destroy lives. (Consider the false witnesses who bore testimony against Jesus). He is a man of wicked devices (Proverbs 14:17) who is hated by all who know the truth about him.
YHWH Is A Refuge And A Wellspring Of Life To His People Whose Glory Is Revealed, Firstly, When His People Are Self-Controlled And Show Compassion On The Needy And Secondly, By His Providing Them A Refuge In Death (Proverbs 14:26-32).
In this subsection we have the first mention of kingship by Solomon, and it is in contrast to the greatness and supremity of YHWH. YHWH is the One In Whom His people can have confidence’ He is a wellspring of life, and One in Whom they can find a refuge, even in death. They are wholly dependent on Him, whilst He is dependent on no one. In contrast an earthly king’s greatness and splendour is dependent on the quantity of his subjects without whom he can accomplish little. We can compare in this respect Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8:22 ff. in which he brings out the uniqueness and incomparable greatness of YHWH, and his and his people’s whole reliance on Him.
And what does YHWH require of His people in return? It is that they be self-controlled, quiet of heart, and compassionate to the needy.
The subsection is presented chiastically:
A In the fear of YHWH is strong confidence, and his children will have a place of refuge, the fear of YHWH is a wellspring of life, that one may depart from the snares of death (Proverbs 14:26-27).
B In the multitude of people is the king’s glory, but in the lack of people is the terror of the prince (Proverbs 14:28).
C He who is slow to anger is of great understanding, but he who is hasty of spirit exalts folly (Proverbs 14:29).
C A tranquil heart is the life of the flesh, but envy is the rottenness of the bones (Proverbs 14:30).
B He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker, but he who has mercy on the needy honours him (Proverbs 14:31).
A The wicked is thrust down in his evildoing, but the righteous seeks a refuge in his death (Proverbs 14:32).
Note that in A YHWH is His people’s REFUGE, and a wellspring Who saves from the snares of DEATH, and in the parallel the righteous seeks A REFUGE in DEATH. In B a large number of subjects is a king’s glory whilst in the parallel to have mercy on the needy ‘honours’ his Maker (is YHWH’s glory). In C he who is slow to anger parallels he who is tranquil of heart.
‘In the fear of YHWH is strong security (confidence),
And his children will have a place of refuge.’
The ‘fear of YHWH’ has been a major theme of Proverbs. His people are to fear Him like a son fears his father (Leviticus 19:3), with respectful awe and obedience to his commands. In this is the beginning, or prime element, of true knowledge (Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 1:29), and of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). Indeed, we should note how in Proverbs 2:5; Proverbs 9:10 the fear of YHWH is paralleled with the knowledge of God, of the Holy One. The fear of YHWH and the knowledge of God as the Holy One go together. Furthermore those who fear YHWH will depart from evil (Proverbs 3:7; Proverbs 8:13).
And Solomon now tells us that in that fear of YHWH is ‘strong security’. He who fears YHWH can have total confidence, both now and in the future, because in Him he has a place of refuge. YHWH is his protection and his help, his strong security, his sphere of confidence. And this applies not only to the person himself but also to his children. They too will learn to fear YHWH and place their confidence in Him. Note the assumption that the well instructed children will also walk in the fear of YHWH.
‘The fear of YHWH is a wellspring of life,
That one may depart from the snares of death.’
And it is right that they place their confidence in Him and see Him as their strong security, for the fear of YHWH is a wellspring of life, giving them life and enabling them to avoid the snares of death. Experiencing life in Him through His wisdom means that there is for those who fear Him no fear of death (they depart from the snares of death). Wellsprings were literally a source of life in those days. They supplied the water that men and their cattle drank, and the water that would bring life to their vegetation and trees. In the same way does the fear of YHWH bring life to those who fear Him.
This picture of the fear of YHWH as a wellspring of life is a forerunner to the ideas in the New Testament of the Holy Spirit as being a wellspring of life in the lives of believers, ‘he who drinks of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst, for the water that I shall give him will become in him a wellspring of water springing up to eternal life’ (John 3:5; John 4:14; John 7:38-39). The Spirit was active in those who heeded God’s wisdom in Solomon’s day as He is in us (Proverbs 1:23; Psalms 51:10-11; Psalms 143:10).
And as a consequence they will ‘depart from the snares of death’. The contrast between ‘the wellspring of life’ and ‘the snares of death’ is well drawn. On the one hand abundant life, on the other encroaching death which is like a series of traps designed to ensnare its victims. On the one hand long life, wellbeing and honour, pleasantness and peace (Proverbs 3:16-17) with a confidence that death is not the end (Proverbs 15:24; Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15). On the other a living death, ‘she who live in pleasure is dead while she lives’ (1 Timothy 5:6), with final entry into the grave world (Proverbs 7:27; Proverbs 9:18).
Elsewhere in Proverbs ‘the mouth of the righteous is a wellspring of life’ (Proverbs 10:11), for he urges the fear of YHWH, and ‘the instruction of the wise is a wellspring of life, to depart from the snares of death’ (Proverbs 13:14), for the same reason. Note there also the departing from the snares of death. It is difficult to avoid the impression that Solomon does not see death as ending life for the believer.
‘In the multitude of people is the king’s glory,
But in the lack of people is the terror of the prince.’
In this first reference to the king in Proverbs 10:1 ff. he is placed in strong contrast to YHWH. As we have seen YHWH is the place of security and confidence, of refuge from the storms of life, and requires nothing but Himself in order to be so, whilst here the king is dependent for his splendour on the quantity of his subjects, and this will partly be a consequence of him ruling wisely (Proverbs 8:15-16). Indeed, the king’s constant fear is that his subjects will become few, for then his splendour will have gone, and, we may add, he will no longer be able to be a refuge for his people (it is ironic that this is precisely what happened to his son Rehoboam who almost overnight lost a large proportion of his subjects by his own folly and thus became a prey to Pharaoh). The king is thus seen as very much dependent on his people, and requires their goodwill. In contrast YHWH is seen as dependent on no one. No one was more conscious than Solomon of the greatness and uniqueness of YHWH (1 Kings 8:23; 1 Kings 8:27; 1 Kings 8:60).
The contrast is further drawn out by the chiasmus in that here the large numbers of his subjects is what gives the king his splendour, whilst in contrast in the parallel verse what gives YHWH ‘honour’ is His people showing compassion on the needy (Proverbs 14:31). The king’s glory lies in the number of his subjects, he is ‘honoured’ by might, but YHWH, Who is almighty, and Who as man’s Maker has all the subjects He can want, requires no such glory. He is rather honoured by the compassion of His people. If only Solomon had followed his own spoken wisdom, seeking out compassion rather than splendour, he would not have attained the reputation of being ‘the wisest fool in Jewry’.
Solomon may well have intended ‘his son’, those who carefully listened to his instruction, to see in this an indication that if they would be ‘king’ in their own sphere they too could only do so by gaining widespread support. If it was true of a king, it was also true of all. (The isolated nature of the proverb suggests that it is to be seen as referring to more than kings). So the point would be that in order to be a genuine success a man must have good support from his compatriots. No man is an island. Thus those who lose the support of their compatriots will never attain to anything.
‘He who is slow to anger (relaxed of nostrils) is of great understanding,
But he who is hasty of spirit exalts folly.’
There now follow two verses which indicate what YHWH, as the wellspring of His people, seeks in them. The two verses also supply the ways for maintaining support among one’s compatriots. In this initial verse it is the one who is slow to anger (who does not quickly lose control of himself) who demonstrates the greatness of his understanding, revealing himself as a man of God’s wisdom. Self-control contributes towards wisdom. And in demonstrating such wisdom a man becomes beloved of all. In contrast the one who is ‘hasty of spirit’ (quick-tempered and soon angry - Proverbs 14:17) ‘exalts folly’. Either he makes a god out of folly, as his life soon reveals, for quick temper results in folly, or he lifts it up before people’s eyes so that they see what a fool he is. Such a man will soon lose support. It is only the man who makes his decision when his head is cool, and when he is thinking rationally, who makes wise decisions.
The phrase ‘slow to anger’ is more literally ‘relaxed of nostrils’ (and therefore revealing his longsuffering by his face). He controls himself well, not allowing his nostrils to distend in anger, or his face to show anger. And he does this simply because he is always under control. ‘Hasty of spirit’ is more literally ‘short of (a controlled) spirit (i.e. short of temper)’. He snaps quickly.
‘A tranquil heart is the life of the flesh,
But envy is the rottenness of the bones.’
For it is a tranquil heart which enables a man to live truly and fosters the life which God has given him. It is the life of the ‘fleshes’ (besarim - an intensive plural which indicates the totality of a man’s being and behaviour) in contrast with rottenness in the bones. It is what characterises the wise man. Being slow to anger and being of a tranquil heart go together. But the parallel clause suggests that largely in mind here is the one who does not succumb to jealousy and envy. He is calm and quiet. He is not easily aroused by human passions. For it is envy, in contrast with the tranquil heart, which is rottenness in the bones. Nothing eats into a man’s wisdom like envy. It makes a man behave irrationally, and it destroys him inside.
‘He who oppresses (or denigrates) the poor reproaches his Maker,
But he who has mercy on the needy honours him.’
In Proverbs 14:28 the king was honoured because he had many subjects, but here YHWH is honoured because His people demonstrate compassion. For YHWH is man’s Maker, and therefore the poor as well as the wealthy are important in His sight, and indeed are made in the image of God. He made them. Thus to oppress or denigrate the poor is to oppress or denigrate one of YHWH’s creations. In contrast those who treat the needy well by showing compassion to them, by this means honour the One Who made them. This concern for all people, both small and great (including slaves and animals who serve man) comes out in Exodus 20:10; Exodus 23:2; Deuteronomy 5:14).
A similar thought is expressed in Job 31:15, where Job, when realising his own wrong attitude towards his manservant (Proverbs 31:13) says, ‘Did not He Who made me in the womb make him? And did not One fashion us in the womb?’
‘The wicked is thrown down in his evildoing,
But the righteous seeks a refuge in his death.’
And the final consequence for the unrighteous is that they are ‘thrown down’. They have no security, for the life that they have built by their evildoing is not secure. Its foundations are shaky, and it will be brought to ruin when calamity comes upon it (Proverbs 1:27). We can again compare Jesus parable of the foolish man who did not heed His words and thus discovered that his house was built on unstable sand and collapsed when the storm came (Matthew 7:26-27). In the final analysis the unrighteous have no hope. When death comes they are lost.
In contrast is the righteous man. He has a refuge to Whom he can turn in death (Proverbs 14:26). This can only indicate that he has hope beyond death (compare Proverbs 15:4). Such a hope was not spelled out. But it was sure (Proverbs 14:27; Proverbs 15:24; Psalms 16:11; Psalm 17:19; Psalms 23:6). For YHWH is depicted as a wellspring of life who delivers from the snares of death (Proverbs 14:27).
The Eye Of YHWH Is On All, Whether Individual, Nation Or King’s Servant And All Will Be Revealed As What They Are (Proverbs 14:33 to Proverbs 15:3).
The effect of wisdom, or false wisdom, is now considered in respect of individuals (verse Proverbs 14:33), nations (Proverbs 14:34) and royal servants (politicians and civil servants) (Proverbs 14:35), all of whom are seen to be under the watchful eye of YHWH (Proverbs 15:3). And that wisdom is seen as especially revealed, or otherwise, by the activity of the tongue (Proverbs 15:1-2).
This is presented chiastically as follows:
A Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding, but what is in the inward part of fools is made known. Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproof of peoples. The king’s favour is towards a servant who deals wisely, but his wrath will be against him who causes shame (Proverbs 14:33-35).
B A tender answer turns away wrath, but a grievous word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1).
B The tongue of the wise utters knowledge aright, but the mouth of fools pours out folly (Proverbs 15:2).
A The eyes of YHWH are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good (Proverbs 15:3).
Note that in A wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding, in contrast to the fool, in the nation that reveals itself as righteous, in contrast to the unrighteous nation, and in royal servants who deal wisely, in contrast to those who cause shame, and in the parallel all are overseen by the watchful eye of YHWH who keeps watch on the evil and the good. Centrally in B what the caring man says has good effects, whilst a grievous word has bad effects, and in the parallel the tongue of the wise has good effects, while the mouth of the fool pours out folly.
‘Wisdom rests (settles, is stored up) in the heart of him who has understanding,
But what is in the inward part of fools is made known.’
This proverb, along with those in Proverbs 14:34-35 form a combined picture of the activity of wisdom as revealed in individuals, nations, and the highest officials (royal servants/civil servants/politicians). All will then be seen as under the watchful eye of YHWH (Proverbs 15:3).
The word rendered ‘rests’ indicates a kind of permanence. Wisdom settles permanently in the heart of the one who has understanding. It is stored up there. Once a man has truly responded to wisdom the effects are permanent. He walks on in true wisdom, ever growing more wise, with wisdom affecting his mind, will and emotions (his ‘inner heart’). Wisdom is at home in his heart.
In contrast is the so-called wisdom of the fool. That is in his inward parts and soon makes itself known. He is soon revealed as what he is, for it manifests itself in the way he lives. It is a spurious wisdom which is not true wisdom at all. It shouts out the truth about him.
We can compare here Jesus’ parable about the sower. When he sowed his seed some fell on good ground (the wise), and it took root and flourished, and it produced thirtyfold, sixtyfold and a hundredfold. But other seed fell on other types of ground (the fools) and the quality of the ground was soon made known. The seed might appear to grow for a time but it soon died (Mark 4:4-8).
‘Righteousness exalts a nation,
But sin is a reproach to any people.’
And what is true of the individual is also true of the nation. When a nation has wisdom resting in it, it behaves righteously. Justice prevails, honesty abounds, taxation is fair and reasonable, the people are as one. It becomes a just and fair society. And as a consequence it is exalted. It is lifted up in the eyes of those round about. It is admired and respected. People see it as an example. It produces a good and wholesome society.
But when sin takes over, and a society becomes unjust and unfair, and full of dissension, and taxation becomes a heavy burden, these things become a reproach and reproof to that society. It is no longer exalted in men’s eyes, but looked down on and despised. What is in its inward parts is made known. It is seen for what it is.
‘The king’s favour is toward a servant who deals wisely,
But his wrath will be against him who causes shame.’
The ‘servants’ in mind here are the high officials in a land or an empire. They were called ‘the servants of the king’, and many a jar handle has been discovered inscribed as ‘(person’s name), servant of the king’. It is their jurisdiction, together with the response of the wise within that nation, which will determine the righteousness or otherwise of a nation. And the righteous king (or president, or prime minister) who rules by wisdom (Proverbs 8:15-16), and oversees the behaviour of his royal officials (politicians), will show favour to the royal official who deals wisely, and reveal his wrath against the royal official who causes shame.
In the parallel verse (Proverbs 15:3) we are reminded that YHWH also oversees individuals, nations, and His servants, ‘keeping watch on the evil and the good’. These proverbs bring to mind the parable of Jesus concerning the response of individuals and royal officials to the king (Luke 19:12-27).
Thus in all spheres, whether in the case of individuals (Proverbs 14:33), nations (Proverbs 14:34, or high royal officials/civil servants (Proverbs 14:35), response to wisdom will reveal itself and receive its consequences whether for good or ill.
‘A soft answer turns away wrath,
But a grievous word stirs up anger.’
Central to the wisdom, or otherwise, of individuals, nations and high royal officials is the use of the tongue. They can demonstrate their wisdom, or otherwise, by soft answers or grievous words. The soft answer will turn away wrath. It will cause the one to whom it is spoken, who is incensed and set on retaliation, to stop and consider matters again. It is an answer which, rather than giving like for like, seeks to appease and call for calm thought on the matter in question. It accepts that the other might have a point, and calls for a reasoned approach. It is gentle, not inflammatory.
But in contrast is the retaliatory ‘grievous word’, the harsh reply. Pride demands that we respond in a retaliatory and inflammatory fashion. And thus our words stoke up the fires of anger, feeding them and making the anger grow until it has disastrous effects. This is well illustrated in the behaviour of Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, who, when the people brought their grievances, retaliated in like fashion, and thus lost a large part of his kingdom (1 Kings 12:3-20). It is also illustrated in the story of David, Nabal and Abigail (1 Samuel 25:2-35) where Nabal’s ‘grievous answer’ to David nearly brought about the deaths of all his household, whilst the ‘soft answer’ of Abigail preserved them.
‘The tongue of the wise utters knowledge aright,
But the mouth of fools pours out (gushes forth) folly.’
What is said in Proverbs 14:1 is now put in another way. The tongue of the wise speaks the truth, but it speaks it wisely. It ‘utters knowledge aright’. Or to translate more literally, ‘it adorns knowledge’. It makes it attractive and acceptable. The wise want what they say to be heeded and appreciated. Thus they present it in a way that will be convincing to the hearer. But in contrast the mouth of fools ‘pours out folly’. Folly ‘gushes forth’ from it. It speaks without thinking, and its words, however wise they might appear to be, are contrary to God’s wisdom.
‘The eyes of YHWH are in every place,
Keeping watch upon the evil and the good.’
Solomon now reminds us that the wisdom and knowledge that he is speaking of is God’s wisdom and knowledge. It is not only the king who keeps watch over his royal servants and subjects, it is also YHWH. As Creator of the Universe (Proverbs 3:19-20; Proverbs 8:22-31) He has rooted true wisdom and knowledge in the world and calls on men to respond to it. ‘Out of His mouth come knowledge and understanding, He lays up sound wisdom for the upright’ (Proverbs 2:6-7). And as Judge of all men His eyes are in every place observing men response to His wisdom. He keeps watch on all, both the evil and the good. All will be called to account. And the implication is that His favour too will be shown to those who deal wisely, whilst His wrath will be against him who causes shame (see Proverbs 14:35).
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 14". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany