Wise Words, Reproof And Firm Discipline Uphold The Righteous, Giving Them Suitable Reward, Whilst The Unrighteous Reject Reproof, And Suffer The Consequences (Proverbs 15:4-13).
In this subsection there is a strong emphasis on wise words, reproof and firm discipline (correction) which affect the righteous. Thus we have the healing tongue in Proverbs 15:4; the father’s correction in Proverbs 15:5; the reproof that produces shrewdness in Proverbs 15:5; the lips of the wise dispersing knowledge in Proverbs 15:7; the painful discipline (correction) and reproof in Proverbs 15:10; and the scorner who does not love to be reproved and refuses to go to the wise in Proverbs 15:11. As a consequence the righteous enjoy partaking of the tree of life (Proverbs 15:4); obtain shrewdness (Proverbs 15:5); enjoy much treasure (Proverbs 15:6); are a delight to YHWH (Proverbs 15:8); and have a cheerful countenance (Proverbs 15:13).
In contrast there is also an emphasis on the adverse effects on the sinful who reject reproof. In Proverbs 15:4 they suffer brokenness of spirit; in Proverbs 15:6 they face trouble and ruin; in Proverbs 15:10 they ‘die’; and in Proverbs 15:12 they suffer sorrow of heart and brokenness of spirit.
The subsection is presented chiastically:
A A healing tongue is a tree of life, but perversity in it is a fracturing of the spirit (Proverbs 15:4).
B A fool despises his father’s CORRECTION, but he who regards REPROOF obtains shrewdness (Proverbs 15:5).
C In the house of the righteous is much treasure, but in the revenues of the wicked is trouble (or ‘ruin’) (Proverbs 15:6).
D The lips of the wise disperse knowledge, but the heart of the foolish does not do so (Proverbs 15:7).
E The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to YHWH, but the prayer of the upright is his delight (Proverbs 15:8)
E The way of the wicked is an abomination to YHWH, but he loves him who follows after righteousness (Proverbs 15:9).
D There is painful CORRECTION for him who forsakes the way, and he who hates REPROOF will die (Proverbs 15:10).
C Sheol and Destruction are before YHWH. How much more then the hearts of the children of men!’ (Proverbs 15:11).
B A scorner does not love to be REPROVED, he will not go to the wise (Proverbs 15:12).
A A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken.’ (Proverbs 15:13)
Note that in A there is a healing tongue which is a tree of life, and there is a fracturing of the spirit, and in the parallel there is a glad heart which makes a cheerful countenance and the spirit is broken (fractured). In B a fool despises his father’s correction, and in the parallel a scorner does not love to be reproved and will not go to the wise. In C the revenues of the wicked is ‘ruin’, and in the parallel ‘destruction’ is before YHWH in relation to the hearts of men. In D the lips of the wise disperse knowledge, and in the parallel the one who forsakes the way receives painful correction (the purpose of which is to inculcate knowledge). Centrally in E the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to YHWH, and in the parallel the way of the wicked is the same.
‘A healing (or ‘restorative’) tongue is a tree of life,
But perversity in it is a fracturing (or ‘breaking’) of the spirit.’
The power of words is now brought out in terms of the idea of a ‘healing’ or ‘restorative’ tongue. Such words are a tree of life to those who respond to them. In other words they bring them into long life, wealth and honour, pleasant ways, paths of peace and life before YHWH (Proverbs 3:16-18). The healing tongue clearly speaks words of wisdom and understanding, (it utters knowledge aright - Proverbs 15:2), and as much of this subsection deals with the idea of restoration by reproof and discipline, that may also be partly in mind. Thus the one who walks with God must humbly so speak as to restore men’s lives and reprove them lovingly where necessary, rather than having the perverse tongue which breaks men’s spirits. It is all too easy for the former to turn into the latter when it becomes too harsh. We are reminded of YHWH’s Servant, ‘He will not cry, or lift up, or cause His voice to be heard in the street (denouncing men publicly), the bruised reed He will not break, the smoking flax he will not quench, He will bring forth justice in truth’ (Isaiah 42:3).
In contrast is the perverse tongue. That deals harshly with men. It is not concerned how it affects people, speaking bluntly and carelessly. And it results for its hearers in brokenness of spirit. Such brokenness of spirit is in Isaiah 65:14 paralleled with sorrow of heart. Compare Proverbs 15:13 where sorrow of heart results in brokenness of spirit. It signifies a deep loss of morale, and a broken heart.
‘A fool despises his father’s correction,
But he who regards reproof obtains shrewdness.’
The idea of the healing tongue leads on to the idea of the father’s correction. It was a father’s responsibility as the head of the family to act as mentor to his children. He was responsible to lead, guide and teach them, and if necessary administer discipline in love. But the young person who despised that correction is described as ‘a fool’. The assumption is being made that the father will be inculcating God’s wisdom and God’s Torah (Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 6:20). Thus to go against it is to go against God. And that is the act of a fool. And a fool suffers a fool’s end. ‘He who hates reproof will die’ (Proverbs 15:10).
In contrast is the one who does heed his father’s reproof. He will become shrewd, that is, knowledgeable in the things of God and the ways of God. He will walk with the wise. His father’s reproof will be to him a tree of life (Proverbs 15:4). Thus he loves reproof, in contrast to the one who does not love to be reproved and will not go to the wise (Proverbs 15:12)
‘In the house of the righteous is much treasure,
But in the revenues of the wicked is trouble.’
We are probably to see this as signifying much more than that the righteous become relatively wealthy. Whilst that has also been stated in the Prologue, the Prologue also emphasises that there is a treasure greater than wealth, and that is instruction in wisdom and understanding. It is better far than pure silver and fine gold (Proverbs 3:13-15; Proverbs 8:10-11). Thus in the house of the righteous is found not only wealth, but also wisdom and understanding and truth. That is why they are righteous. We can compare the words of Jesus, ‘the good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things’ (Matthew 12:35). This is the best kind of treasure. And along with it they enjoy pleasantness, peace and fullness of life (Proverbs 3:15-18). All is harmony both with God and with man.
In contrast are the unrighteous. What they earn by being what they are is trouble and ruin. Their house is temporary and unmentioned. Their income results from dishonesty and greed. They are on the road to ruin. The word rendered ‘trouble, ruin’ was used by Ahab of Elijah when he called him ‘the troubler of Israel’. What he meant by that was that he had brought Israel to the edge of ruin by withholding the life-giving rain. And Elijah’s reply was that Ahab was the troubler of Israel, because he had brought them to the edge of spiritual ruin (1 Kings 18:17-18). The same word was used of the ‘trouble, ruin’ that Achan had brought on Israel, which had resulted in their disastrous defeat before the men of Ai-Bethel, which would rebound on his own head as he was stoned to death (Joshua 7:25). It thus refers to trouble of the severest kind. Such ruin/destruction is seen in terms of the grave world in Proverbs 15:11, where it is related to the condition of the hearts of men.
‘The lips of the wise disperse knowledge,
But the heart of the foolish does not do so.’
Good men out of the good treasure of their heart produce good things (Matthew 12:35). Thus the lips of the wise disperse knowledge (the knowledge that comes from God and the knowledge about God). They spread abroad through their words the treasure that is in their house (Proverbs 15:6) and in their hearts. They proclaim truth. Notice that it is expected that they will do so. They have a responsibility to proclaim wisdom when they are in a position to do so.
In contrast evil men out of the evil treasure of their hearts produce evil things (Matthew 12:35). The foolish have no true knowledge of God in their hearts, and their lips are thus unable to convey such knowledge.
‘The sacrifice (zebach) of the wicked is an abomination to YHWH,
But the prayer of the upright is his delight.’
The zebach is a fellowship offering through which worshippers, if genuine in heart, have fellowship with YHWH by their participation before Him in a fellowship meal. A practical example of it is found in Exodus 24:8-11. The ‘adulterous woman’ in Proverbs 7:14 had offered ‘sacrifices (zebach) of peace offerings’, a perfect example of ‘the sacrifice of the wicked. But such sacrifices were at some stage offered by all Israelites when they came up for the main feasts, and by those living in Jerusalem they would be offered even more regularly. No feast was possible in Jerusalem without such sacrifices. Thus they were offered by the righteous and the unrighteous. But here Solomon makes clear that, far from being acceptable, or touching Him in any way, such sacrifices by those who did not walk in accordance with His wisdom were an abomination to him. Man looked at the outward appearance, but God looked at the heart. They enjoyed their fellowship meal, but they ignored the One with Whom they were supposed to be enjoying fellowship. This was an anticipation by Solomon of the teachings of the prophets (e.g. Isaiah 1:11-15; Jeremiah 6:20; Jeremiah 7:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-23; Malachi 1:10). The same was said by Paul of partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion, Mass) (1 Corinthians 11:29).
In contrast the prayer of the upright, those who are straight in their ways, is His delight, for their prayer comes from the heart. This includes petitions, intercession, praise and worship and thanksgiving. If we believed this, and we should, how much more often we would pray. The change from ‘sacrifice’ to ‘prayer’ acknowledges the fact that God does not just desire sacrifices, He desires our prayers as well, which we offer even more often.
‘The way of the wicked is an abomination to YHWH,
But he loves him who follows after righteousness.’
The ‘way of the unrighteous’ is the opposite of the way of righteousness. It is to walk other than in the way of the fear of YHWH. It is to take the by-paths instead of the straight road (Proverbs 2:13; Proverbs 2:15). It is to ‘walk as in darkness, knowing not at what they stumble’ (Proverbs 4:19). Such is an abomination to YHWH. God does not view what we call our peccadilloes lightly. He hates them.
In contrast He loves the person who follows after righteousness. Notice that the proverb does not say that He hates the unrighteous. It is the way in which he walks that He hates. To the heedless sinner He reveals the general benevolence of John 3:16. Nevertheless elsewhere it does say, ‘those who are of a perverse heart are an abomination to YHWH’ (Proverbs 11:20). So there is a balance between benevolence because God is good, and hatred because he hates perversity. In contrast, towards the righteous, those who seek to walk in His wisdom, He has positive love. These are the ones who respond to the healing tongue of Proverbs 15:4; who regard their father’s reproof (Proverbs 15:5); who listen to the lips of the wise and respond to them (Proverbs 15:7); and who offer the prayers of the upright (Proverbs 15:8).
‘There is painful correction (discipline) for him who forsakes the way,
But he who hates reproof will die.’
There is probably a contrast here between the one who suffers painful correction, and the one who hates reproof. In Proverbs 3:11-12 we read, ‘my son, do not despise the chastening of YHWH, nor be weary of His reproof, for whom YHWH loves He reproves, even as a father the son in whom he delights’. And such a father would in love use the cane on his son in order to bring him back into the right way when he had forsaken the way (Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 22:15; Pro 33:13). This could well be seen as ‘painful correction’. Thus we need not doubt that YHWH’s correction of His children can also be painful (compare Proverbs 3:11-12 with Hebrews 12:3 ff).
It is the one who does not respond to this painful correction who thereby demonstrates that he hates reproof. Such a one ‘will die’. Unless words are meaningless this indicates that the righteous will not finally ‘die’, otherwise the threat is pointless (compare Proverbs 15:24).
Note the connection with ‘following after righteousness’ in Proverbs 15:9. That is the way that has been forsaken. And as we have already seen correction and reproof are important themes in the subsection (Proverbs 15:4-5; Proverbs 15:7; Proverbs 15:12).
‘Sheol and Destruction (Abaddon) are before (in front of) YHWH,
How much more then the hearts of the children of men!’
The one who hates reproof will die (Proverbs 15:10). He will descend into Sheol (the grave world) and Destruction. But even there he will not escape the wrath of YHWH. It is where the unrighteous rich who die will face their ‘ruin’ because they obtained their riches dishonestly and used them selfishly (Proverbs 15:6; compare Luke 16:19 ff). For all in that place of shades and of darkness are ‘in front of YHWH’. That mysterious world of emptiness and lostness, so beyond human understanding, is not hidden from Him. How much more then is He aware of the hearts of the children of men (Proverbs 15:3) which are also in front of Him. From Him there is no escape. ‘All things are naked and open to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13). And indeed what He does discern in the hearts of the children of men is made clear in Proverbs 15:8; Proverbs 15:13, and regularly in Proverbs.
For Sheol and Destruction (Abaddon) compare Proverbs 27:20; Job 26:6. For Death and Destruction (Abaddon) compare Proverbs 28:22. In Revelation 9:11 Adaddon is the name of the angel of the Abyss. There are no genuine grounds for seeing it as a portion of Sheol. The two are used in parallel. They are a combined idea.
‘A scorner does not love to be reproved,
He will not go to the wise.’
In Proverbs 15:4 the fool despised his father’s correction, in contrast with the one who took notice of reproof. Now we learn that a scorner also does not love to be reproved. He refuses to go to the wise lest they reprove him. His heart is hardened. He thus awaits the destiny of those who refuse wisdom’s reproof (Proverbs 1:24-30; Proverbs 6:15).
The scorner is the most godless of the three types mentioned in chapter 1. The others were the naive and the fool (Proverbs 1:22). The scorner is probably to be identified with the worthless man in Proverbs 6:12-19, the surety being naive and the sluggard a fool. Whilst the naive goes on his way thoughtlessly, and the fool forgets God in his ways, the scorner is openly scornful of God and of wisdom. He is hostile towards all who try to bring to him the knowledge of God (Proverbs 9:7-8; Proverbs 9:12).
‘A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance,
But by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken.’
The subsection ends as it began with the spirit of the unrighteous being broken (Proverbs 15:4). That is not true of the righteous. The righteous have a glad heart, and as a consequence have a cheerful countenance. But the unrighteous will eventually experience sorrow of heart so that their spirit will finally be broken. Such is the final consequence of unrighteousness.
The Man Of Understanding Overcomes Adverse Circumstances And Enjoys A Life Of Pleasantness Whilst The Fool Continually Experiences Trouble (Proverbs 15:14-21).
This subsection is in an inclusio concerning understanding and folly (Proverbs 15:14; Proverbs 15:21). The understanding seeks knowledge (Proverbs 15:14) and makes straight his going (Proverbs 15:21), the fool feeds on folly (Proverbs 15:14), and enjoys it because he lacks wisdom (Proverbs 15:21). Indeed his folly is the only enjoyment the fool gets for he is afflicted and experiences evil days (Proverbs 15:15); he experiences trouble (Proverbs 15:16); he experiences hatred (Proverbs 15:17); he experiences contention (Proverbs 15:18); his way is strewn with thorn bushes (Proverbs 15:19); and he has family problems (Proverbs 15:20).
In contrast the understanding have a cheerful heart (Proverbs 15:15); fear YHWH (Proverbs 15:16); experience love (Proverbs 15:17); avoid strife (Proverbs 15:18); walk a smooth path (Proverbs 15:19); and enjoy a happy family life (Proverbs 15:20).
Note how the first four verses in the subsection all have to do with eating, either directly or indirectly. Thus the mouth of the fool feeds on folly (Proverbs 15:14); the cheerful heart has a continual feast (Proverbs 15:15); it is better to have a little with the fear of YHWH (Proverbs 15:16); and a dinner of vegetables with love is better than a fatted calf with hatred (Proverbs 15:16), with three of them indicating that the understanding can triumph over their physical circumstances (Proverbs 15:15-17). The next three verses then indicate that the righteous can, as a consequence of righteousness, have a life of pleasantness, one that is void of strife (Proverbs 15:18); is like walking on a highway (Proverbs 15:19); and enjoys glad parenthood (Proverbs 15:20). All this is the difference that having understanding makes.
The subsection can be presented chiastically:
A The heart of him who has UNDERSTANDING seeks knowledge, but the mouth of fools feeds on FOLLY (Proverbs 15:14).
B All the days of the afflicted are evil, but he who is of a CHEERFUL heart has a continual feast (Proverbs 15:15).
C Better is little, with the fear of YHWH, than great treasure and trouble with it (Proverbs 15:16).
D Better is a dinner of herbs, where love is, than a fatted ox and hatred with it (Proverbs 15:17).
D A wrathful man stirs up contention, but he who is slow to anger appeases strife (Proverbs 15:18).
C The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is made a highway (Proverbs 15:19).
B A wise son makes a GLAD father, but a foolish man despises his mother (Proverbs 15:20).
A FOLLY is joy to him who is void of wisdom, but a man of UNDERSTANDING makes straight his going (Proverbs 15:21).
Note that in A the heart of the one who has understanding seeks knowledge, and the fool feeds on folly, and in the parallel the man of understanding makes straight his going (as one who seeks knowledge), whilst the unwise love folly. In B the ‘man of cheerful heart’ is parallel with ‘the glad father’. In C the unrighteous experience trouble, and in the parallel the sluggard meets up with thorns. Centrally in D love and hatred in the first proverb are paralleled by being slow to anger and being contentious in the second proverb.
‘The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,
But the mouth of fools grazes (feeds) on folly.’
In Proverbs 15:11 the ‘hearts’ of men were known to YHWH, and in Proverbs 15:13-14 something about those ‘hearts’ is revealed (note the repetition of ‘heart’). Here now we have a further revelation concerning the heart of man thus connecting this subsection with the last. Here it is the heart of one who has understanding, one who is wise (wisdom and understanding were regularly paralleled in the Prologue). And such a heart seeks the true knowledge of God. The truly wise man will want to know God and His ways, for nothing is more important to a person than this. ‘A man of understanding makes straight his going’ (Proverbs 15:21), that is, walks uprightly in God’s ways, because he has come to a knowledge of God.
In contrast is the fool. The mouth of fools grazes on folly. (The verb is the usual one for grazing sheep). For folly is all that the fool has to talk about. He excludes God from his so-called ‘wisdom’. It may be deep wisdom in the eyes of the world, but it is folly in God’s eyes and with regard to God’s ways. As the parallel passage tells us, the thing that is a joy to those who lack wisdom is folly (Proverbs 15:21). Note the contrast between ‘seeking’, a verb which indicates effort and determination, and ‘grazing’, a verb which indicates a passive response to a situation. The fool grazes on folly because he cannot raise the effort to seek something outside of it.
‘All the days of the afflicted are evil,
But he who is of a cheerful heart has a continual feast.’
It should be noted that the contrast here is not between the afflicted and the unafflicted, but between those who are permanently (all the days) afflicted in spirit and those who are continually cheerful of heart. This must be so because someone who is temporarily afflicted can also be cheerful of heart. The point is that how we view life can make a great difference to our enjoyment of it. Temporary afflictions may weigh us down, but those whose hearts are set on God eventually rise above them. Their trust is in Him.
Take, for example, Paul’s words in Philippians 4:11, ‘I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content’. He was saying that even when he was physically afflicted, his heart was content. Thus the afflicted here are not the physically afflicted but the emotionally afflicted. They are those who are not cheerful of heart. They are those who are not rejoicing in YHWH. We can contrast them with Habakkuk in Habakkuk 3:17-18, where after indicating a total lack in this world’s goods he declared, ‘yet will I rejoice in YHWH, I will joy in the God of my salvation. YHWH the Lord is my strength, and He makes my feet like hind’s feet, and will make me walk on my high places.’ Even though he was physically afflicted he had a cheerful heart. So this proverb parallels that in Proverbs 15:13, ‘A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken,’ which indicates that in the long term the set of our heart determines our enjoyment of life (we all experience sorrows in the short term).
The proverb is thus saying that those who allow themselves to be continually weighed down by the cares of this world will find that they continually have bad days, whilst those who are of a cheerful heart, because they trust in God and in Christ, will find that life is a continual celebratory feast. (Compare 2 Corinthians 4:8; 2 Corinthians 6:9-10). A similar thought is contained in the next two proverbs, which are linked with this one by the use of ‘tob’ (‘good’, therefore, in context ‘cheerful/better’).
‘Better is little, with the fear of YHWH,
Than great treasure and trouble with it.’
The emphasis here is on the fact that our enjoyment of life is not dependent on our circumstances. It is better to have little along with reverently fearing YHWH (and thus on the whole avoiding worry and trouble), than to have great treasure which brings worry and trouble with it. The point is that riches are not everything, but that fearing YHWH is. Compare Hebrews 10:34. Indeed people who get rich quickly have often discovered that it brings trouble with it.
‘Better is a dinner of herbs, where love is,
Than a fatted bullock and hatred with it.’
The thought of Proverbs 15:16 is continued using another example. It is better to have a poor man’s dinner, and be in a house where love is prevalent, than to enjoy a rich man’s dinner, and be subjected to hatred. The ‘dinner of herbs’ would for many families be the norm. It is not indicating poverty. Relatively few could afford a fatted bullock. Their few animals were work animals. The emphasis is rather on how much better it is to live in a loving environment, than in one where hatred is prevalent. Solomon’s point is that being wealthy and enjoying luxuries does not make up for that.
‘A wrathful man stirs up contention,
But he who is slow to anger appeases strife.’
In this proverb the love and hatred of the previous proverb is illustrated. The household where contention is prevalent is compared with the peaceful household. The bad-tempered or quick-tempered man stirs up contention, ‘sowing discord among brothers’ (Proverbs 6:19). He is thus like the worthless man. In contrast the one who can control his temper (the man of understanding) sows peace. He calms down stressful situations. He prevents strife from getting out of hand. He is a wise man.
This is not, of course, limited to households. It is true in life. The bad-tempered man (and therefore foolish man) arouses bad feelings wherever he goes, the self-controlled man (and therefore wise man) constantly calms down bad feelings. It thus applies in every walk of life.
‘The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns,
But the path of the upright is made a highway.’
This proverb may well have in mind the work environment of the two contrasting people. In those days land was divided into strips of arable land, each often having differing ownership, with pathways in between on which to walk so as not to tread down the grain. The thorns which grew on the sluggard’s land unchecked would soon spread to his pathways. The pathway of the upright man, the hard worker, would be constantly trodden and would therefore be like a highway.
Solomon then sees this as depicting the general direction of their lives. The sluggard will constantly come up against thorn bushes, whether literal or metaphorical, because he makes no effort to ensure a smooth life, and no one else will bother to help him. It is one of the consequences of being a sluggard. The upright man, who does all that he can to ensure that life runs smoothly, and has many friends who will help him, will find his way ahead like a prepared highway. Where necessary he or his helpful and loving friends will arrange for the lowering of the mountains and the raising of the valleys well in time so as to ensure a level path (compare Isaiah 40:4; Isaiah 57:14).
That the contrast is between the sluggard and the upright (rather than the hard worker) brings out that there is some dishonesty in being a sluggard. He robs society of the contribution that he should make towards it, and sponges on those who work hard.
‘A wise son makes a glad father,
But a foolish man despises his mother.’
The cheerful heart which has a continual feast (Proverbs 15:15), has prepared the way for this proverb. Here the thought is of a wise son and a glad father. And the father is glad because his son has not turned out to be a fool. His son has heeded reproof and has sought wisdom, and this has maintained harmony in the household (contrast Proverbs 15:16-18) and contributes to the family wellbeing.
In contrast is the foolish man who despises his mother. Note the description ‘man’ instead of ‘son’. He has no filial loyalty and is therefore excluded from the family. He refuses to listen to her instruction in the Torah (Proverbs 1:8 b). He rejects her call to wisdom. It goes without saying that he is a grief to his mother (Proverbs 10:1 b) and that he causes trouble, and stirs up contention in the household (Proverbs 15:16; Proverbs 15:18). He walks the way of all those in the Prologue who reject wisdom (Proverbs 1:11-19; Proverbs 1:24-31; Proverbs 2:12-22; etc.).
‘Folly is joy to him who is void of wisdom,
But a man of understanding makes straight his going.’
This verse forms an inclusio with Proverbs 15:14. There the man who had understanding sought the knowledge of God, here as a consequence he makes straight his going. He takes the straight path and walks in it. But in contrast is the one who is void of wisdom. Folly is his joy. Even what he says leads on to folly (Proverbs 15:14).
Note the contrast between the fools joy in folly and the cheerful heart (Proverbs 15:15) of the righteous. Together with the glad father (Proverbs 15:20) the latter found joy in wisdom and understanding. But the fool’s joy is to be void of wisdom, something which will result in evil days (Proverbs 15:15); trouble (Proverbs 15:16); experience of hatred (Proverbs 15:17); contention (Proverbs 15:18); a way through thorn bushes (Proverbs 15:19); and broken family relationships (Proverbs 15:20).
Proverbs 15:20-21 may be seen as closing the first part of Solomon’s proverbs in an apt way, the first part (Proverbs 15:20) forming an inclusio with Proverbs 10:1.
‘A wise son makes a glad father,
But a foolish man despises his mother,
Folly is joy to him who is void of wisdom,
But a man of understanding makes straight his going.’
Note the chiastic ‘wise son -- foolish man -- folly -- man of understanding.’ A wise son makes a glad father because as a man of understanding his direction of life is straight, whilst a foolish man despises his mother by enjoying folly, and being void of the wisdom which she has striven to teach him. This sums up much of the previous teaching, and brings out the importance of heeding the wise instruction of father and mother.
Proverbs Of Solomon Part 2 (Proverbs 15:22 to Proverbs 22:16).
At this point there is a sudden switch from proverbs which contrast one thing with another, which have been predominant since Proverbs 10:1, to proverbs where the second clause adds something to the first. Whilst we still find some contrasting proverbs, especially at the beginning, they are not so common. This may suggest a deliberate intention by Solomon to separate his proverbs into two parts.
Furthermore such a change at this point would also be in line with seeing verse Proverbs 10:1 and Proverbs 15:20 as some kind of inclusio. The first opened the collection with ‘a wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother’ (Proverbs 10:1), whilst Proverbs 15:20 may be seen as closing it with the very similar ‘a wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish man despises his mother’. Proverbs 15:21 may then be seen as conjoined with Proverbs 15:20 and as a kind of postscript summing up the fool and the wise who have been in mind throughout the proverbs up to this point.
Proverbs 15:22, in fact, provides a particularly suitable introduction to a new section with its emphasis on the need for a ‘multitude of counsellors’, who can partly be found in the authors of the proverbs which follow (Solomon and the wise men).
Introduction To Part 2 (Proverbs 15:22).
The first part of this collection of Solomon’s proverbs commenced with a reference to the father and the mother as being a young man’s guide (Proverbs 10:1). This second part may be seen as commencing with a reference to counsellors who have replaced the father and mother. This may be because in this second part the proverbs are aimed more at the more mature, and include those proverbs which are more political, although the fact that ‘my son’ is mentioned in Proverbs 19:27 may be seen as militating against this. However, as we shall see that is a very specialised use of ‘my son’. An address to ‘my son’ by a wisdom teacher may be no more than a mentor’s address to his protégé, but its use in Proverbs 19:27 probably refers back to the son mentioned in Proverbs 19:26. (It is the only use of ‘my son’ in the proverbs of Solomon from Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16). The inclusion of the more mature at some stage is required by Proverbs 1:5.
The idea behind this proverb is that it is an admonition to heed wise advice. Without proper counsel aims will not be brought to fruition, whilst with plenty of good counsel each aim will be established and will come to fruition. It therefore underlines the need to listen to the wisdom of Solomon and the wise men (Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 22:17 and Proverbs 24:13).
Once again, then, Solomon or the final editor is stressing the importance of wisdom, but now it is a wisdom received from experienced counsellors. In this regard it should be noted that in what follows, at least in the next chapter, there is an increased stress on the importance of YHWH’s involvement in people’s affairs, and an increased reference to the king’s role (a role which up to this point has only been mentioned twice in six chapters). However, as this stress is largely limited to Proverbs 16:4-15 it must not be overpressed.
‘Where there is no counsel, aims are thwarted,
But in the multitude of counsellors each one is established.’
The clear message here is that no man is an island. Even the more mature need the assistance of others in living the life of true wisdom in accordance with God’s requirements. To stand alone with no counsel will be to have our aims thwarted. We will not walk in the way of true wisdom. But if we have a number of counsellors, discussing together and guiding us with their counsel, this will ensure that our aims are fulfilled. The writer may indeed have seen his ‘multitude of counsellors’ as including the wise men of Proverbs 22:17 and Proverbs 24:13, and, if this proverb is the work of the final editor, it could also include the men of Hezekiah (Proverbs 25:1); Azur (Proverbs 30:1), and Lemuel (Proverbs 31:1).
The general principle of the proverb is also clear and that is that if we act on our own in important matters, without advice, our aims will probably not succeed, and that in order to secure the satisfactory fulfilment of our aims, it is important to consult widely with wise counsellors.
The Counsel Of A Wise Man Is Carefully Considered, And Is Therefore A Joy And Useful. It Results In Men Finding Perpetual Life In Contrast With The Devastations Coming On The Unrighteous (Proverbs 15:23-28).
This subsection can be seen as contained within the inclusio of Proverbs 15:23; Proverbs 15:28, which contrast the mouth of the righteous (Proverbs 15:23) with that of the unrighteous (Proverbs 15:28), with Proverbs 15:23 also referring to the response of the mouth of the righteous, and Proverbs 15:28 referring to the response of the righteous man’s heart. Thus the mouth of the righteous causes joy (Proverbs 15:23), whilst the mouth of the unrighteous pours out evil things (Proverbs 15:28). Furthermore the mouth of the righteous causes joy (Proverbs 15:23) because the heart of the righteous thinks carefully before it answers (Proverbs 15:28). And it causes joy because ‘pleasant words are pure’ (Proverbs 15:26).
The consequence of what is described is that the righteous enjoy life beyond the grave (Proverbs 15:24), and will live (Proverbs 15:27), whilst the unrighteous will have their house rooted up (Proverbs 15:25), and will bring trouble on their own house (Proverbs 15:27) because their schemes are an abomination to YHWH (Proverbs 15:26).
The subsection is constructed chiastically as follows:
A A man has joy in the ANSWER of his MOUTH, and a word in due season, how good it is (Proverbs 15:23).
B To the wise the way of LIFE goes upward, that he may depart from Sheol beneath (Proverbs 15:24).
C YHWH will root up the house of the proud, but he will establish the border of the widow (Proverbs 15:25).
C Evil devices are an abomination to YHWH, but pleasant words are pure (Proverbs 15:26)
B He who is greedy of gain troubles his own house, but he who hates bribes will LIVE (Proverbs 15:27).
A The heart of the righteous studies (thinks carefully) to ANSWER, but the MOUTH of the wicked pours out evil things (Proverbs 15:28).
Note that in A there is reference to the mouth (of the righteous) and its product (joy), whilst in the parallel we find reference to the mouth of the unrighteous and its product (evil things). In B there is reference to ‘life’ and in the parallel to ‘living’. In C and its parallel there is a reference to YHWH and His attitude towards pride and evil devices.
‘A man has joy in the answer of his mouth,
And a word in due season, how good it is!’
One again an emphasis is laid on the importance of what men say. ‘A man’ (any man) has joy in the response that comes from the mouth of a wise counsellor (‘his mouth’ referring back to the wise counsellors of Proverbs 15:22; compare also Proverbs 15:28). And this is because a word in season, a word given at the right time, is so valuable. It is especially so when it enables him to ensure the bringing about of (it establishes) his aims (Proverbs 15:22).
The reference to joy connects back verbally with Proverbs 15:20 (the glad father) and 21 (the joyful folly of the fool). The ‘answer of his mouth’ parallels the ‘carefully thought out response’ of the righteous man’s heart in Proverbs 15:28, in other words the response of a wise counsellor.
‘To the wise the way of life goes upward,
That he may depart from Sheol beneath.’
There has been constant reference in the Book of Proverbs to ‘life’ as the destiny of the wise in contrast with ‘death’ as the destiny of the foolish. Here the significance of that is made clear. The righteous is on the upward way of life, and will therefore avoid permanent residence in the grave world. This is a clear reference to the hope of a future life (see introduction), something confirmed by the constant warnings that the grave world awaits the foolish (Proverbs 5:5; Proverbs 7:27; Proverbs 9:18). If Sheol (the grave world) permanently awaits both wise and foolish what is the point of the warnings to the foolish, for the same fate awaits both? The warnings thus suggest that there is something better for the righteous (compare Proverbs 14:27; Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 23:6). This would give new meaning to the words in Ecclesiastes 12:7, ‘and the dust return to the earth as it was, and the spirit return to the God Who gave it’
‘YHWH will root up the house of the proud,
But he will establish the border of the widow.’
In contrast to the glorious hope of the wise (Proverbs 15:24) is the destiny of ‘the proud’ (the worthless man - Proverbs 6:17). For pride goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18). In Proverbs 16:19 the proud are those who seek spoil, in contrast with those who are lowly in spirit. Here we learn that their self-sufficiency will be taken away from them. Their house will be rooted up by YHWH. Their very security will be destroyed. In contrast is His concern for the weak and helpless, the lowly in spirit (Proverbs 16:19), as represented by the widow. Though evil men might move the boundary marks of her land surreptitiously in order to gradually take it over, seen as a heinous crime (Proverbs 22:28; Deuteronomy 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:17; Hosea 5:10) YHWH will restore them and establish them, ensuring the protection of her rights. Such protection of the rights of the needy by YHWH is regularly spoken of in the Torah (Exodus 22:21-24; Deuteronomy 10:18; Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:11; Deuteronomy 16:14; Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Deuteronomy 26:12-13; Deuteronomy 27:19). Righteousness will in the end prevail.
‘Evil devices are an abomination to YHWH,
But pleasant words are pure (to him).’
What is described in Proverbs 15:25 will occur because evil plots and schemes are an abomination to YHWH. In the end, therefore, He will deal with them as such. But in contrast to the evil schemes of the unrighteous are the pleasant and honest words of the righteous. They are acceptable to Him because they are pure in His eyes. They are the words which bring joy to those who benefit by them (Proverbs 15:23). They are the carefully thought out words of the righteous (Proverbs 15:28).
‘He who is greedy of gain troubles his own house,
But he who hates bribes will live.’
The one who is greedy of gain is illustrated by the boundary mover of Proverbs 15:25. But the term covers any dishonest method of obtaining wealth (compare Proverbs 1:11 ff.), including in context the offering of bribes (gifts given in order to influences another, or obtain benefit for oneself). Compare Proverbs 19:6; Proverbs 21:14. This was something forbidden to Israelites (Exodus 23:8; Deuteronomy 16:19) and thoroughly disapproved of (Psalms 15:5; Ecclesiastes 7:7; Isaiah 1:23). By using such methods a man may obtain short term wealth, but he ‘troubles his own house’. He brings catastrophe on it, as both Ahab and Achan (Joshua 7), the ‘troublers’, did on Israel. Such a man will necessarily ‘inherit the wind’ (Proverbs 11:29).
In contrast to the dishonest man is the honest one. He hates both the receiving and the offering of bribes. And because he does so he will ‘live’. He will enjoy the wholesome and fruitful life described in Proverbs 3:16-18. And he will enjoy the future life that is described in Proverbs 15:24
‘The heart of the righteous studies (thinks carefully) to answer,
But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.’
The subsection closes with a contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous. Before he speaks the righteous man thinks carefully in his heart. He studies in his heart what he is going to say before he says it. Thus when he does speak his words bring him joy (Proverbs 15:23). He ensures that what he will say will do good and not harm, will help men rather than hindering them (see Proverbs 15:2). He is ‘slow to speak’ (James 1:19), cautious in his words (compare Proverbs 11:13). But in contrast the unrighteous man ‘pours out evil things’ without thought. He has no self-control and no feelings for others. He cannot be trusted to keep a confidence. He regularly hurts people by what he says.
A Call To Commitment To YHWH And To Recognise His Control Over Our Lives (Proverbs 15:29 to Proverbs 16:3).
Commencing with a mention of YHWH in Proverbs 15:29, YHWH is mentioned five times in this subsection. This includes the opening and closing proverbs which form an inclusio, and four references in the last four verses. He is mentioned a further six time in Proverbs 16:4-11. Thus in sixteen consecutive proverbs He is mentioned eleven times. This may well be seen as confirming the opening of a new section, the intention being to bring home how closely YHWH is involved in wisdom in Israel, and to lay the foundation for what is to follow.
The first four verses in the subsection refer to ‘hearing’. Thus YHWH hears the prayer of the righteous (Proverbs 15:29); good tidings make the bones fat (Proverbs 15:30); the ear of the wise listens to reproof (Proverbs 15:31); to listen to reproof is to obtain understanding (Proverbs 15:32). And they connect together. It is because YHWH hears the prayer of the righteous (Proverbs 15:29) that their eyes are alight with good things and they hear good tidings (Proverbs 15:30). As a consequence they heed His reproof (Proverbs 15:31), and gain more understanding (Proverbs 15:32). These verses are then followed by a minor chiasmus in which the activity of YHWH is enclosed within a ‘response to YHWH’ (fear of YHWH and commitment to YHWH) envelope.
The subsection is presented chiastically:
A YHWH is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous (Proverbs 15:29).
B The light of the EYES rejoices the heart, and good tidings make the bones fat (Proverbs 15:30).
C The ear which LISTENS TO THE REPROOF of life, will abide among the wise (Proverbs 15:31).
D He who REFUSES CORRECTION despises his own soul, but he who LISTENS TO REPROOF obtains understanding (Proverbs 15:32).
D The fear of YHWH is the DISCIPLINARY INSTRUCTION OF WISDOM, and before honour goes humility (Proverbs 15:33).
C The plans of the heart belong to man, but THE ANSWER OF THE TONGUE is from YHWH (Proverbs 16:1).
B All the ways of a man are clean in his own EYES, but YHWH weighs the spirits (Proverbs 16:2).
A Commit your works to YHWH, and your purposes will be established (Proverbs 16:3).
Note that in A YHWH hears the prayer of the righteous, and in the parallel they are to commit their works to YHWH, which will require prayer. In B the light of the EYES rejoices the heart, and in the parallel a man’s ways are clean in his own EYES. In C the ear listens to reproof, and in the parallel the answer of the tongue is from YHWH. Centrally in D there is one who refuses correction (discipline) and another who listens to reproof, while in the parallel we have the disciplinary instruction of wisdom, and deep humility.
‘YHWH is far from the wicked,
But he hears the prayer of the righteous.’
This does not, of course, mean ‘far from’ in distance, but rather ‘far from’ in spiritual experience. In the case of the unrighteous they have no contact with God and no assurance that He will hear their prayers. ‘If I regard iniquity in my heart YHWH will not hear me’ (Psalms 66:18). If they offer sacrifices they are an abomination to God (Proverbs 15:8). No doubt in those days they nearly all of them participated in religious ritual, and in family prayers at meals, but it was all formal. It meant nothing, either to God or to them. It did not, however, relieve them from responsibility. He still ‘weighed their spirits’ (Proverbs 16:2; compare Psalms 11:4). He still took note of their behaviour.
In stark contrast are the righteous, those who respond to God’s wisdom and seek to live by it. In their case God hears their prayers. He weighs their prayers up and responds as He sees fit. Their prayers are a delight to Him (Proverbs 15:8). He is concerned about their welfare (Proverbs 10:3; Proverbs 10:22).
‘The light of the eyes rejoices the heart,
And good tidings make the bones fat.’
It is because the righteous have fellowship with YHWH and He hears their prayers (Proverbs 15:29) that they see and hear good things. The ‘light of the eyes’, paralleling ‘good tidings’, seems to indicate good things that the eyes see, what comes in through the window of the eyes, and this agrees with the idea of ‘the ear which listens’ in the next verse. As Jesus said, ‘the light of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is single (fixed only on what is good and of God) your whole body will be full of light’ (Matthew 6:22).
The parallel with good tidings can be seen as confirming that it is good things which are in mind. Thus we could paraphrase ‘as righteous men look on good things it rejoices their hearts’. They see the heavens, and they speak to them of the glory of God. They see the sky and it speaks to them of His handywork (Psalms 19:1). They read His Law and delight in it (Psalms 1:2; Psalms 19:8 b; Psalms 119:18; Psalms 119:47; Psalms 119:70). They mix with the righteous and delight in seeing their good deeds (Psalms 101:6). They refuse to look on evil things (Psalms 101:3). Whatever is good and honourable and true, they fix their eyes on such things and it brings them joy. In the context of the previous proverb they see YHWH answering their prayers and their heart’s rejoice. Indeed, their eyes are fixed on YHWH Himself and this fills them with rejoicing (Psalms 25:15; Psalms 123:1; Psalms 141:8). Consequently they walk in the fear of YHWH.
And in the same way when the righteous hear a good report or good news it has a wholesome effect on them. It gives them inward strength and inward joy (their bones are made fat). They realise that it signifies that YHWH’s eye is on the righteous (Proverbs 15:3). Good news is always welcome, but especially so when it concerns the prospering of God’s ways. From Solomon’s view point it is because YHWH reigns over the righteous, and imparts to them His wisdom, that such good things occur (Proverbs 15:33; Proverbs 16:1-4; Proverbs 16:7; Proverbs 16:9). Because of this He does not allow the righteous to go hungry (Proverbs 10:3). He blesses them with riches both physical and spiritual (Proverbs 10:22). His way is a fortress to them (Proverbs 10:29). He shows His favour towards them (Proverbs 12:2). No wonder they rejoice.
Many, however, see ‘the light of the eyes’ as signifying the shining in the eyes of inner vitality and joy, in the same way as we would say ‘his eyes lit up’. But in our view that is not so good a parallel. In Psalms 13:3 the lightening of the eyes indicated recovery from a death situation. In Psalms 38:10 the Psalmist had lost ‘the light of his eyes’ because he was exhausted. In Ezra 9:8 it indicates a reviving of life. But all of these could indicate having hope revived by looking on life from a new perspective as a consequence of God’s reawakening, as seeing things in a new way.
‘The ear which listens to the reproof of life,
Will abide among the wise.’
In return His wise ones listen to the reproof which ensures that they will enjoy true life, to the reproof that results in life, to life-giving reproof. They respond to God’s chastening (Proverbs 3:11-12), and in consequence they themselves consort with the wise. They ‘walk with the wise’ (Proverbs 13:20). His people come together and exhort each other and help each other. They share in God’s life together.
‘He who refuses correction despises his own life,
But he who listens to reproof obtains understanding.’
And through listening to reproof they obtain understanding. They learn God’s wisdom and God’s ways. They gain true knowledge. They acquire good sense. Whilst those who refuse correction and reject discipline simply demonstrate by that that they despise their own lives. For they will not enjoy life, but rather death.
‘The fear of YHWH is the instruction of wisdom,
And before honour goes humility.’
Those who listen to reproof obtain understanding (Proverbs 15:32). Either wisdom instructs them in the fear of YHWH, or the fear of YHWH causes them to be instructed in wisdom, an instruction which has intrinsic within it the idea of discipline. Either way the fear of YHWH makes them wise. They see things through His eyes, and from His perspective. Through reproof and instruction in wisdom the righteous learn to walk in a way which is pleasing to Him.
And those who would please Him, if they would be honoured by Him, must first approach Him in humility. In God’s way of working humility must always precede honour. It is he who humbles himself who can be exalted. For no man can be trusted with honour who has not first been humbled, otherwise the honour will go to his head and will do him more harm than good. David’s road to God-given kingship was along the hard road of persecution and humiliation. He learned obedience by what he suffered. Paul in his hugely successful ministry went through the sufferings, persecutions and humiliations that kept him humble. Even our Lord Jesus Christ ‘learned obedience by the things that He suffered’ (Hebrews 5:8). It was because of the hard road that He trod that He knew by experience the cost of obedience, and came through triumphantly. The fear of YHWH and humility go hand in hand. ‘Thus says the High and Lofty One, Who inhabits eternity, Whose Name is Holy, “I dwell in the high and holy place with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, an to revive the heart of the contrite ones’ (Isaiah 57:15).
‘The plans of the heart belong to man,
But the answer of the tongue is from YHWH.’
We might summarise this as, ‘man can plan as much as he wants, but God always has the final word’, or ‘man proposes, but God disposes’. The idea behind the word for planning is ‘setting things in order, making arrangements’. All kinds of men are continually making all kinds of arrangements. That is their privilege as thinking beings. But in the end it is YHWH Who says what will be and what will not be. It is YHWH Who answers with His tongue. ‘So shall my word be which goes forth out of My Mouth, it will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish what I please, and prosper in the way in which I send it’ (Isaiah 55:11). And one of the answers of His tongue is to speak to those who will listen to reproof, thereby gaining understanding (Proverbs 15:32).
And the most wonderful answer of His tongue was when He sent forth His Word (John 1:1-14), by Him bringing life to men and salvation from the guilt and power of sin, contrary to all man’s way of thinking.
‘All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes,
But YHWH weighs the spirits.’
The contrast between man’s planning, and YHWH’s response to it (Proverbs 16:1), now leads on to the idea that men always think that their own ideas are clean’ (right, justified, blameless). They think that what they are doing is right and justifiable. What they see with their eyes rejoices their hearts (Proverbs 15:30) because they are so confident in what they are doing. They see themselves as above criticism. They do not look underneath at their true motives.
But that is precisely what YHWH does do. He weighs their spirits. He considers the deepest thoughts of their hearts. The people in Noah’s day undoubtedly justified themselves, but YHWH saw that ‘every imagination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually’ (Genesis 6:5). Man may express his innocence, ‘if you say, “behold we did not know it”. But the writer replies, ‘does not He Who weighs the hearts consider it? And He Who keeps the inner life, does He not know it? And will He not render to every man according to His works?’ (Proverbs 24:12). For man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), and He continually assesses it.
The metaphor may have been derived from the ancient Egyptian belief that on death a man’s heart was weighed against truth. But if so it has been transformed into the idea of a continual assessment by God as He contemplates man’s behaviour and gets right to the root of the matter (the spirit within).
‘Commit your works to YHWH,
And your purposes will be established.’
So the answer is clear. If you would know that your plans are truly right, and that your way is truly pleasing, ‘commit what you do to YHWH, (literally ‘roll what you do on YHWH’), and your purposes will be established’ (confirmed, brought to fruition). This involves more than just a formal prayer of committal. Men have done such a thing and followed it by the most bestial of behaviour. It involves genuinely examining our ways before YHWH, and seeking His confirmation in our hearts when our hearts and minds are truly open to Him, before we proceed (compare Proverbs 3:6). You cannot ‘roll on YHWH’ what is displeasing to Him. An illustration of the idea, (but not necessarily the way to go about it), is found in 2 Samuel 2:1.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 15". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany