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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 13

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-25



"A wise son heareth his father’s instruction, but a scorner heareth not rebuke."- Proverbs 13:1

“Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth correction, but he that regardeth reproof shall be honored."- Proverbs 13:18

"By pride cometh only contention, but with the well advised is wisdom."- Proverbs 13:10

"Whoso despiseth the word bringeth destruction on himself; but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded."- Proverbs 13:13 This last proverb appears in another form, as, "He that giveth heed unto the word shall find good, and whoso trusteth in the Lord happy is he."- Proverbs 16:20

BY a proud man we mean one who esteems himself better than others; by a humble man we mean one who counts others better than himself. The proud man is so convinced of his intrinsic superiority that if appearances are against him, if others obtain more recognition, honor, wealth than he, the fault seems to him to lie in the evil constitution of the world, which cannot recognize merit; for his own intrinsic superiority is the axiom which is always to be taken for granted; "his neighbors therefore find no favor in his eyes, and he even desires their calamity and ruin," in order, as he would put it, that every one may be set in his due place. {Proverbs 21:10} Meanwhile he is always boasting of possessions, dignities, and gifts which do not yet, but some day will, appear to the public eye. He is like clouds which overcast the sky, and wind which frets the earth, without bringing any wholesome rain. {Proverbs 25:14} If, on the other hand, appearances are with him, if wealth, dignity, and honor fall to his share, he is affably convinced of his own supreme excellence; the proof of his own conviction is written large in his broad acres, his swelling dividends, and his ever-increasing troops of flatterers and friends; and he moves smoothly on to-what?-strange to say, little as he thinks it, to destruction, for "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." {Proverbs 16:18-19} If he only knew he would say, "Better is it to be of a lowly spirit with the meek than to divide the spoil with the proud"; {Proverbs 16:18-19} for "before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honor goeth humility." {Proverbs 18:12} The event shows, if not in this world, yet the more surely in the next, that it is well to "let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips." {Proverbs 27:2}

When our eyes are open to see things as they are, we are no longer in the least impressed by the "proud and haughty man whose name is scorner working in the arrogance of pride." {Proverbs 21:24} We may not live to see it, but we are quite persuaded that "a man’s pride shall bring him low, but he that is of a lowly spirit shall obtain honor." {Proverbs 29:23} "Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? There is more hope of a fool than of him." {Proverbs 26:12}

Now what are the evil effects of pride, and what are the blessings that follow on humility?

First of all, pride cuts a. man off from all the salutary effects of reproof, rebuke, criticism, and counsel, without which it is not possible for any of us to become wise. "A wise son" is the result of "a father’s correction," says the text, and such a son makes his father glad; {Proverbs 13:1, Proverbs 15:20} but the pride in a child’s heart will often prevent him from receiving even the correction of a father, and will lead him to despise his mother. And if the parents have not firmness and wisdom enough to overcome this childish resistance, it will grow with years, and prove more and more disastrous. "He is in the way of life that heedeth correction, but he that forsaketh reproof erreth." {Proverbs 10:17} "If he had loved reproof he would have acquired knowledge, but hating it he becomes brutish." {Proverbs 12:1} It is evident then that this pride is folly. He is a fool that despises his father’s correction, but he that regardeth reproof getteth prudence. {Proverbs 15:8} He that refuseth correction despiseth his own soul, but he that hearkeneth to reproof getteth understanding. {Proverbs 15:32}

When we are grown up, and no longer under the tutelage of parents who love us, pride is still more likely to harden our hearts against criticism and counsel. The word of warning falls on the proud ear in vain, just because it is the word of warning, and often does the willful heart mourn as it suffers the penalty of its stubbornness. A man who refuses correction is a synonym for poverty and shame. {Proverbs 13:17} These words which we in our pride despise might be an incalculable benefit to us. Even the most witless criticism may be useful to a humble mind, even the most unjust attacks may lead us to wholesome self-searching, and to a more careful removal of possible offences. While if the criticism is fair, and prompted by a kind heart, or if the rebuke is administered by one whose wisdom and justice we respect, it is likely to do us far more good than praise and approval. "A rebuke entereth deeper into one that hath understanding than a hundred stripes into a fool." {Proverbs 17:10} "Better is open rebuke than love that is hid." {Proverbs 27:5} If we were wise we should value this plain and honest speaking much more than the insipid flattery which is often dictated by interested motives. {Proverbs 28:23} In fact, praise is a very questionable benefit; it is of no use at all unless we carefully test it, and try it, and accept it with the greatest caution, for only a small part of it is pure metal, most of it is mere dross; and praise that is not deserved is the most dangerous and deleterious of delights. But rebuke and criticism cannot do us much harm. Many great and noble men have been ruined by admiration and popularity, who might have thriven, growing greater and nobler, in the fiercest and most relentless criticism. Donatello, the great Florentine sculptor, went at one time of his life to Padua, where he was received with the utmost enthusiasm, and loaded with approbation and honors. But soon he declared his intention of returning to Florence, on the ground that the sharp assaults and the cutting criticisms which always assailed him in his native City were much more favorable to his art than the atmosphere of admiration and eulogy. In this way he thought that he would be stimulated to greater efforts, and ultimately attain to a surer reputation: In the same spirit the greatest of modern art critics has told us how valuable to him were the criticisms which his humble Italian servant made on his drawings. Certainly, "with those who allow themselves to be advised is wisdom." {Proverbs 13:10} "He that trusteth in his own heart," and cannot receive the advice of others, "is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely he shall be delivered," sometimes perhaps by the humble suggestions of very simple people. {Proverbs 28:26}

Yes, "with the lowly is wisdom": {Proverbs 11:2} they "hearken to counsel," {Proverbs 12:15} and in doing so they get the advantage of many other wits, while the proud man is confined strictly to his own, and however great his capacity may be, it is hardly probable that he will Sum up all human wisdom in himself. The lowly gives heed to the word, no matter who speaks it, and finds good; {Proverbs 16:20} he abides among the wise, because he is always ready to learn; consequently, he becomes wise, and eventually he gets the honor which he deserves. {Proverbs 15:31; Proverbs 15:33} It is in this way that people of lowly station and very moderate abilities often come to the front. "A servant that deals wisely has rule over a son that causes shame, and has part in the inheritance among the brethren." {Proverbs 17:2} To a crafty son no good shall be, but to a servant who is wise his actions shall prosper and his way be made straight. The consciousness of not being clever, and a wise diffidence in our own judgment, will often make us very thankful to learn from others and save us from the follies of willfulness; and thus very much to their own astonishment the humble find that they have outdistanced their more brilliant competitors in the race, and, walking in their humility, unexpectedly light upon recognition, and admiration, honor and love.

This first point, then, becomes very clear in the light of experience. One of the most injurious effects of pride is to cut off its miserable victim from all the vast help and service which rebuke and criticism can render to the humble. One of the sweetest results of a genuine humility is that it brings us to the feet of all wise teachers: it multiplies lessons for us in all the objects Which surround us; it enables us to learn even from those who seem to be too captious to teach, or too malevolent to be even wise. The humble mind has all the wisdom of the ages as its possession, and all the folly of fools as an invaluable warning.

Secondly, by pride comes nothing but strife, {Proverbs 13:10} and he loveth transgression that loveth strife; he that raiseth high his gate, i.e., builds a lofty house, seeketh destruction. {Proverbs 17:19} It is the pride of monarchs and nations which produces war; the sense of personal dignity which is always sudden and quick in quarrel; the feeling of swollen self-importance which is afraid to make peace lest it should suffer in the eyes of men. And in the affairs of private life our pride, rather than our sense of right, usually creates, fosters, and embitters divisions, alienations, and quarrels. "I am perfectly innocent," says Pride; "I bear no resentment, but it would be absurd for me to make the first advances; when those advances are made, I am willing to forgive and to forget." "I think I am innocent," says Humility, "but then I may have been very provoking, and I may have given offense without knowing it; in any case, I may as well make an offer of apology; if I fail, I fail."

Nor is this the only way in which strife grows out of pride, for "by pride comes nothing but strife." All the foolish extravagances of social competition are to be traced to the same source. One man "raises high his gate," builds a fine house, and furnishes it in the best way. He flatters himself that his "little place" is tolerably comfortable, and he speaks with some contemptuous pity of all his neighbors’ houses. Immediately all his neighbors enviously strive to excel him, and pride vies with pride, heartburnings are many and bitter. Then there comes on the scene one who in wealth and ostentation of wealth exceeds them all, and the first man is now racked with envy, strains every nerve to outdo the insolent intruder, suffers his debts to far exceed his assets, and soon incurs the inevitable crash. That is how pride works in one very obvious department of social life. But it is the same in every other department. Who can calculate the miseries which are produced by the grotesque assumptions of poor mortals to be superior to their fellow-mortals? Parents will mar their children’s lives by refusing their consent to marriages with those who, for some perfectly artificial reason, are held to be beneath them; or will still more fatally ruin their children’s happiness by insisting on alliances with those who are held to be above them. Those who prosper in the world will heartlessly turn their backs on relations who have not prospered. Men who earn their living in one particular way, or in no particular way, will loftily contemn those who earn their living in another particular way. Those who dress in the fashion will look in another direction when they pass people who do not dress in the fashion, though they may be under deep obligations to these slighted friends. This is all the work of pride. Then there are the sneers, the taunts, the sarcasms, the proud man’s scorn, like "a rod in the mouth" indeed, {Proverbs 14:3} which falls with cutting cruelty on many tender backs and gentle faces. The overbearing temper of one who "bears himself insolently and is confident" {Proverbs 14:16} will sometimes take all the sweetness out of life for some delicate woman, or shrinking child, or humble dependent, bruising the poor spirit, rending the terrified heart, unnerving and paralyzing the weaker and more helpless nature.

From first to last this haughty spirit is a curse and a torment to everyone, and not least to itself. It is like a cold and biting wind. It is like an erosive acid. It produces more sorrows than the north wind produces icicles. It mars more lives than anyone but God is able to count. It breaks the hearts of the humble, it excites the passions of the wrathful, it corrupts the conduct of the weak. It ruins children, it poisons social life, it inflames differences, and plunges great nations into war.

If it were permitted to enter heaven, it would turn heaven into hell, it would range the hosts of heaven in envious cliques and mutually scornful castes, it would make the meek spirit sigh for earth, where there was at least the hope of death, and would turn the very presence and power of God into a constant object of envy and an incentive to rebellion. It is obvious, then, that pride cannot enter heaven, and the proud man, if he is to enter, must humble himself as a little child.

Third- and this leads us to contemplate the worst result of Pride and the loveliest outcome of Humility-"Every one that is proud of heart is an abomination to the Lord; though hand join in hand he shall not be unpunished." {Proverbs 16:5} "The Lord will root up the house of the proud; but He will establish the border of the widow." {Proverbs 15:25} In a word, Pride is hateful to God, who resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. The proud man, whether he knows it or not, comes into direct conflict with God: he may not intend it, but he is pitting himself against the Omnipotent. That hardening of the face is a sign of evil, just as the patient humble ordering of the way is a sign of righteousness. {Proverbs 21:29} In that high look and proud heart there seems to be something dignified, flashing, and luminous; it is undoubtedly much admired by men. By God it is not admired; it is regarded merely as the lamp of the wicked, and as sin. {Proverbs 21:4} The light, such as it is, comes from hell; it is the same light that burned on the faces of the apostate angels "o’erwhelmed with floods and whirlwinds of tempestuous fire." The proud man dares the thunderbolts of God. He scorns men whom he sees, and in doing so he scorns God whom he has not seen; the men whom he consciously scorns cannot, but the God whom he unwittingly scorns will, take vengeance upon him. He has hardened his heart, he has grown great in his own eyes, he has despised the creatures made in God’s image; he will suddenly be cut off, and that without remedy.

On the other hand, by humility men learn to know and to fear the Lord. God reveals Himself to the humble heart, not as a King of Terrors, but kind and good, with healing in His wings, leading the contrite spirit to implicit trust in Himself, and "whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he." {Proverbs 16:20} When we realize this we cannot wonder that so few people seem to know God; men are too proud; they think of themselves more highly than they ought to think, and consequently they do not think at all of Him; they receive honor one of another, and eagerly desire such honor, and consequently they cannot believe in Him, for to believe in Him implies the desire of no honor except such as comes from Him.

It is a strange truth that God should dwell in a human heart at all, but it is almost self-evident that if He is to dwell in any human heart it must be in one which has been emptied of all pride, one which has, as it were, thrown down all the barriers of self-importance, and laid itself open to the incoming Spirit. If we cling to ever so little of our natural egotism; if we dwell on any imagined excellence, purity, or power of our own; if we are conscious of any elation, any springing sense of merit, which would set us, in our own judgment, on some equality with God, -how could the High and Lofty One that inhabiteth Eternity enter in? That thought of vanity would seek to divide our nature with Him, would enter into negotiations for a joint occupation, and the insulted Spirit of God would depart.

If in ordinary human affairs "before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honor goeth humility"; {Proverbs 18:12} if even in our dealings with one another happiness and success and prosperity depend on the cultivation of a modest spirit, how much more when we come to deal with God must haughtiness appear the presage of destruction, and humility the only way of approach to Him!

It is not possible to think too humbly of yourself, it is not possible to be too lowly, you cannot abase yourself too much in His Holy Presence. Your only attitude is that of Moses when he took off his shoes because the place he stood on was holy ground; or that of Isaiah when he cried out that he was "a man of unclean lips." To those who know you your humiliations may sound excessive, -as we are told the disciples of St. Francis remonstrated with him for his self-depreciation-but not to God or to your own heart. And He, if He has set His love upon you, and purposes to make you a temple for His indwelling, will use method after method of humbling you to prepare for His entrance. Again and again you will say, surely now I am low enough, am I not humbled in the dust? But His hand will still be upon you, and He will show you heads of pride which have yet to be leveled down. In the last humbling you will find that there is rising within you a certain pride in the humility itself. That also will He subdue. And some day, if you are willing, you shall be lowly enough for the Most High to dwell in, humble enough to offer a perpetual incense of praise.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Proverbs 13". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/proverbs-13.html.
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