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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Proverbs 12

 

 

Verses 1-11

The Discipline of Knowledge, Etc.

Proverbs 12:1-11

The literal translation Isaiah , "He that loveth knowledge loveth discipline;" he is aware that nothing can be done in life except under disciplinary regulation; he accepts the bit and the bridle, because they are necessary to his proper control: the wiser a man becomes the less conceited he is of his own information; the larger a man"s knowledge the larger will be his Wisdom of Solomon , unless indeed he has quenched the aspirations of his own heart, and thus has proved that his love of knowledge is only a love of words. He that hateth reproof, or discipline, is brutish. The ox never takes kindly to the yoke in the first instance. The bullock unaccustomed to the yoke chafes and plunges, and in every way opposes efforts to curb and utilise him. It is no proof of independence or superiority that a man should reject hours, and methods, and stipulations, and contracts, under the pretence that they limit his liberty; all this is brutish-ness, and not civilisation. Wisdom is always prepared to hear any well-meant correction of its mistakes, and is always prepared to suffer for others if by so doing others can be really benefited.

"A good man obtaineth favour of the Lord: but a man of wicked devices will he condemn" ( Proverbs 12:2).

By a "good" man we are to understand a benevolent man; that Isaiah , a man who always wills happiness to others, and carries forward his benevolence into the active form of beneficence. Jesus Christ himself "went about doing good;" the Apostle Paul says that "for a good man some would even dare to die." The good man is not an intellectual fop, or a moral phenomenon, but is well disciplined, thoroughly chastened, adjusted in all his faculties, and sometimes concealing exceptional excellences under a general average of fine nature; that is to say, instead of living in his eccentricities, and making a reputation out of his occasional excellences, he brings down these mountains and irregularities, and smooths them, so as to consolidate a general average of true worth. Whoever does good is an ally of God; he is in immediate co-operation with heaven: even though he may not have a technical relation to Christian bodies, yet his goodness should be recognised as part and parcel of the very issue which such churches are established to realise. A man of wicked devices has no favour from above, and what favour he has from below Isaiah , as we have often said, but temporary: he is always suspected; detectives are continually upon his track; society is saying that such a man will presently reveal himself, and when he is revealed the people who nominally trusted him will be the first to deride his claims and bring into contempt all that he has done. The wicked man must not imagine that anybody will have favour to show him at the last; indeed, he will feel that the less favour is shown to him the better it is for himself, because he well knows that his hypocrisy has been fully understood, and that he is realising what is richly due to a life of sham and pretence and selfish vanity.

"A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones" ( Proverbs 12:4).

The moral element is not excluded from this term "virtuous," but it is latent and assumed rather than active and pronounced. It must be understood that the moral element is indeed essential; yet that does not impair the true etymology of the term. By "virtuous" we are to understand a woman of power,—so to say, a virile woman; a woman of great capacity and faculty, of penetrating sagacity, and of ability to manage household and other affairs. She is a high-minded woman, giving the very best help to her husband in all the difficulties of life, crowning him with grace and with light; such a woman as he can trust in perplexity and exigency of every kind. She will not be less an intellectual woman, or a woman of strong mind, because she is morally pure, spiritually sympathetic, and religiously tender. She will not be less a philosopher because she is a true child of God. The Bible is not only a people"s book, and a family book, but in very deed it may be called a woman"s book: it always speaks in the interests of women; it unhesitatingly pronounces the justice of their claims, and fearlessly asserts their right to social status. The Bible is the book of the mother and of the wife—of woman indeed in all her aspects and relations. If she is weak it is more than ever hers; if she is strong it commends her strength and shows her how it can be nourished and consolidated. The foolish woman brings distress upon her husband, perplexes her husband, mars his usefulness, loosens all his relations to society in general, and makes him blush where he ought to feel a sense of honour and glory in society. How just the Bible is! how true to all aspects and sides of life! It will yield nothing to wealth, nor will it abate its high moral tone in presence of poverty; it speaks the right, and declares the just, and calls for even balances and upright standards under all circumstances, and is therefore the book to be trusted and relied upon with entirest confidence in all times of personal, social, and national danger.

"A man shall be commended according to his wisdom: but he that is of a perverse heart shall be despised" ( Proverbs 12:8).

By his "wisdom" we are to understand his intelligence, his sagacity, his perception of things: in the long run every man"s title to confidence is proved by events; a word may appear to be very wise and timely, but as circumstances unfold the wisdom and the timeliness of the word may be entirely disproved. We are to judge the prophecy not by the eloquence of its language, but by the completeness of its realisation. It is here the Bible proverbs take their stand, and have never been displaced by rivals. All history has shown the infinite value of Christianity, for wherever it has been received and reduced to practice it has made new creatures, new lives, new functions, new relations, and new destinies. Never once has it failed to do so. Even where it has nominally failed the failure has been exclusively nominal, and it has always been because the spirit of Christianity has not been understood, received, and exemplified. Not one word that Jesus Christ ever spoke has been disproved by after history. Christianity must claim this aspect of its own evidences, and insist upon it in the spirit of justice. When men are commended according to their wisdom none can begrudge their just fame. To commend a man according to his wealth is to give way to the meanest form of idolatry; or to commend him even on account of intellectual gifts is rather to pay an indirect tribute to one"s own appreciation of genius; but to recognise a man"s Wisdom of Solomon , in the highest moral sense of that term, as well as in its purest intellectual aspects, is to be just to the man. The time will come when monuments need not be built, and will not be built, to destroyers, warriors, men of great power of opposition; but marble will be wanted, and brass will be needed, to memorialise men who have been patriotic, independent of fear or favour, and religiously devoted to all the deepest interests of the people. The perverse or wicked heart shall be despised: it never had any great thought for the benefit of the community; it never escaped the baneful influence of its own eccentricity; it was always thinking how best to help itself, and the only heaven to which it can ever come is a heaven of intelligent and eternal contempt

"A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel" ( Proverbs 12:10).

This verse might be rendered—A righteous man knows the feelings of beasts. He gives them credit for feelings; he does not look upon them as merely so much animated matter, but as standing in some relation to himself, and the more complete his ownership the more considerate ought to be his treatment even of the beasts he owns. Even when the wicked man supposes himself to be merciful there is cruelty in his tenderness. Men may become so debased as to lose all sense of moral distinction, and not to know when they are tender and when they are cruel; yea, rather, they may lose all sense of tenderness, and may sink into the utterest severity and cruelty of nature. A wicked man cannot be gentle. Men should remember this, and distrust all the gentleness which is supposed to attach to men who are without conscience. The tenderness of such men is an investment, is a political trick, is a bait by which to catch the unwary, is an element of speculation. Rowland Hill used to say in his quaint way that he would not value any man"s religion whose cat and dog were not the better for his piety. This is but a new translation of the text. This is the beauty of the Christian religion: it flows throughout the whole life, it ramifies in every department of the existence, and carries with it softness, purity, sympathy, kindness. The good man cannot be self-neglectful: his very goodness makes his self-discipline the more complete; and the more complete his self-discipline the larger will be his charity to those who are looking on, and who are not blessed with the same favourableness of circumstances. So then the Bible is not only a people"s book, a household book, a woman"s book, but it would also seem to be the book of the very beasts of the earth. "Doth God care for oxen?" "Not a sparrow falleth to the ground without your Father." The young lions roar, and seek their meat from God. The universe must be looked upon as a great household, belonging to the Almighty, regulated by his power and his Wisdom of Solomon , and intended to exemplify the beneficence of his providence. In our Father"s house are many mansions. All life must be most precious to him who created it. Life is a mystery which remains unsolved, bringing with it claims which none can safely or religiously set aside.

"He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread: but he that followeth vain persons is void of understanding" ( Proverbs 12:11).

The wise man here lays down what ought to be the law of cause and effect, and what indeed is that law in the great majority of instances. Only he that tills his land should be satisfied with bread; he for whom the land is tilled without any exercise of forethought or prudence on his own part should have but little to eat. By tilling the land one branch of industry alone is not to be understood; the wise man is praising thriftiness, energy, care, and regard to opportunity for making solid and healthy progress. It is one man"s business to till his brains; another to till the soil; another to engage in adventure; and so on, according to the endless variety of human gift. Whoever gives an equivalent for his bread will enjoy that bread all the more: he can have but poor satisfaction in his food who never worked for it, and who is indolently availing himself of the activity and enterprise of other men. The man who follows shallow persons proves his own mental quality. The wise man cannot follow vain persons, simply because he is wise, and their company would be an offence to him; he could not understand their language; he could not enter into their pursuits; he could not reciprocate their sympathies: he lives in another and upper universe. We may know what a man is by the company he keeps. The sober man cannot enjoy the society of drunkards. An honest man can find no home among thieves. You may not know the man himself, but if you know his company you know him also; find one in the company of vain, shallow, worldly persons, and, without even knowing so much as his name, you may describe him as "void of understanding."

Note

"The most salient point of contrast in the usages of ancient as compared with modern Oriental society was the large amount of liberty enjoyed by women. Instead of being immured in a harem, or appearing in public with the face covered, the wives and maidens of ancient times mingled freely and openly with the other sex in the duties and amenities of ordinary life. Rebekah travelled on a camel with her face unveiled, until she came into the presence of her affianced ( Genesis 24:64-65). Jacob saluted Rachel with a kiss in the presence of the shepherds ( Genesis 29:11). Each of these maidens was engaged in active employment, the former in fetching water from the well, the latter in tending her flock. Sarah wore no veil in Egypt, and yet this formed no ground for supposing her to be married ( Genesis 12:14-19). An outrage on a maiden in the open field was visited with the severest punishment ( Deuteronomy 22:25-27), proving that it was not deemed improper for her to go about unprotected. Further than this, women played no inconsiderable part in public celebrations: Miriam headed a band of women who commemorated with song and dance the overthrow of the Egyptians ( Exodus 15:20-21); Jephthah"s daughter gave her father a triumphal reception ( Judges 11:34); the maidens of Shiloh danced publicly in the vineyards at the yearly feast ( Judges 21:21); and the women feted Saul and David, on their return from the defeat of the Philistines, with singing and dancing ( 1 Samuel 18:6-7). The odes of Deborah (Judg. v.) and of Hannah ( 1 Samuel 2:1, etc.) exhibit a degree of intellectual cultivation which is in itself a proof of the position of the sex in that period. Women also occasionally held public offices, particularly that of prophetess or inspired teacher, as instanced in Miriam ( Exodus 15:20), Huldah ( 2 Kings 22:14), Noadiah ( Nehemiah 6:14), Anna ( Luke 2:36), and above all Deborah, who applied her prophetical gift to the administration of public affairs, and was so entitled to be styled a "judge" ( Judges 4:4). The active part taken by Jezebel in the government of Israel ( 1 Kings 18:13; 1 Kings 21:25), and the usurpation of the throne of Judah by Athaliah ( 2 Kings 11:3), further attest the latitude allowed to women in public life. The management of household affairs devolved mainly on the women. The value of a virtuous and active housewife forms a frequent topic in the Book of Proverbs ( Proverbs 11:16; Proverbs 12:4; Proverbs 14:1 Proverbs 31:10, etc.)."—Smith"s Dictionary of the Bible,


Verses 12-24

The Root of the Righteous, Etc.

Proverbs 12:12-24

The wicked man would prosper according to the law of evil. He would take evil men in his net, and make a profit of them if he could; or he would borrow the net of an evil man with which to ensnare the good: he lives by what he calls his wits; being devoid of morality he is exempt from discipline, and so he lives the wild, loose life that is uncontrolled and all but irresponsible. The root of the righteous yieldeth fruit: the fruit is in the man himself; the stem may be feeble, the branches may be exposed to rough and cruel weather, but in the root there are juices that must by-and-by reveal themselves in abundant fruitfulness. The wicked man"s possessions are all external; they can be held in the hand; they can be carried to the marketplace and disposed of for an equivalent in gold and silver: the treasures of the righteous are in the root; they are hidden, deeply down, where they drink the juices of the earth, and receive the light of the sun, that by the chemistry of nature they may express themselves in due time in leaf and blossom, in bud and flower and fruit. It is fruit which is yielded by the root of the righteous; though the word fruit is in italics in this text, yet it would seem to be the right word, and the only right word. Where only leaves were yielded Jesus Christ pronounced his condemnation; Jesus Christ continually said that his Father was glorified by the bringing forth of much fruit by the branches that were in the vine; he taught that the purpose of pruning was to multiply the fruit: there can be, therefore, no difficulty in adopting the word "fruit" in this instance as the right word. We are not to bring forth leaves only, or blossoms only, nor are we to afford opportunity for birds to build their nests only; all these things may be included, but the supreme object is the bearing of fruit which the husbandman can approve, and which can be turned to high utility by the hungering world.

"There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health" ( Proverbs 12:18).

Some men pride themselves on the pungency of their speech. They delight in sharp answers, keen retorts, quick repartees, and boast themselves when they cut their opponents in two. There are others who are gifted in the expression of complaint, reproach, and criticism against the whole providence of life. They can say sharp and bitter things about God and Prayer of Manasseh , and they can be satisfied because of the edge of their own epigram, no matter against whom or against what that edge is directed. The tongue of the wise man is slower, but healthier; the wise man weighs his words; he is anxious to be associated only with judgments which can be confirmed by experience and illustrated by wisdom. The wise man speaks healthily—that is to say, he speaks out of the abundance of his own health, and he speaks in a way that will double and strengthen the health of others. To come near him is to ascend a mountain and breathe the freshest air of heaven, or to go down by the sea-shore and receive messages across the great deeps, full of vigour, and truth, and strengthening influence. Wise men keep society healthy. But for their presence it would stagnate, and go from one degree of corruption to another until it became wholly pestilential. There are two speakers in the text, and to the end of time there will probably be two speakers in the world—the critical speaker and the judicial speaker; the man all sharpness and the man all thankfulness. The business of Christian discipline is to tame the tongue, to chasten it, to teach it the speech of Wisdom of Solomon , and to instruct it as to the right time of utterance and the right time of silence.

"The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment" ( Proverbs 12:19),

Here, as usual, we have the two sides—truth and falsehood. We know as a matter of fact that truth will be established for ever: it may not be established at first; cruel cross-examination may put it to many shifts, because of a deceitful memory; such an examination may even develop apparent inconsistencies, showing the man of ten years ago with the man of to-day, and triumphing in the discrepancy shown by the contrast. All this is possible, yet "truth will stand when all things fail." Events will occur, it may be long years after, to bring forth the judgment of the righteous as noonday, and to glorify the truth-speaker with the crown which belongs to verity and uprightness. The lying tongue succeeds indeed, but its success is momentary; it flashes and expires; it has a clear, straightforward story to tell, but events come and cross-examine that story, and set it in proper distance and perspective; alliances to which the story owed its consistency are broken up, and evil men begin to divulge secrets regarding one another; piece by piece the story falls asunder, and at the end it is found that it was the fabrication of a malignant genius. Be sure you are true yourselves and have a true purpose in view, and all discrepancies, inconsistencies, and difficulties will ultimately be smoothed down, and men will be brought to acknowledge the integrity of your heart. Be as skilful as you please in the way of telling lies, arrange everything with consummate cunning, hire all your allies, bribe your spies, and make your way clear by abundance of gold, and yet in the long run your very confederates will turn against you, and they to whom you have given most money will be glad to expose your cupidity and falsehood.

"There shall no evil happen to the just: but the wicked shall be filled with mischief" ( Proverbs 12:21).

The next verse may be taken in connection with this—namely, "Lying lips are abomination to the Lord; but they that deal truly are his delight." All history pledges its own spirit in favour of the just and the true and the good. Evil may happen to the just, but the evil shall be but for a moment; it shall be an evil touching circumstances but not realities; affecting the atmosphere, but having no effect on the rock upon which the life is established. When evil does happen to the just it shall be turned to his advantage, sooner or later; if he has been wounded in the fray, it is that he needs rest and will be the stronger for withdrawment from the throng and conflict of life; if he suffer loss of property, it is that he may learn the value of things, and deport himself as a wise and thrifty householder, gathering only such things as are of permanent value, and sitting loosely in reference to everything that is of temporary advantage. The wicked shall have satisfaction, but it shall be mischief; he shall have mischief upon mischief, until he himself groans because of his very success in evil-doing. He will turn the day into night because of evil works, and the night into day, because he will repeat himself in his dreams, and the shadow of the evil one shall overpower him, darkening the very noontide, and the voice of evil spirits shall haunt his ear, and trouble him with whispering and suggestion full of the deepest malignity. There are evil spirits in the very pillow on which the wicked man rests his head. When he extinguishes light that he may encourage sleep, the darkness is but the cover of numberless wicked ones come to torment the bad man in his repose, and to turn his solitude into a companionship full of sorrow.

"The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute" ( Proverbs 12:24).

The whole world says on hearing this law, Truly this is right and good. It is right that a diligent man should be at the top of society, because where there is true industry there are always innumerable other virtues in association with it; there is forethought, there is punctuality, there is a due regard to others, there is an acceptance of the law of cause and effect, there is vigilance in relation to times, seasons, and opportunities, and there is a desire to give an equivalent for all the advantages that are enjoyed. The slothful man shall always be the servant of the diligent Prayer of Manasseh ,—he shall be under tribute; he will have to pay for his indolence; he seems to be pursuing an easy course, but the ease is in seeming only, and not in reality. The slothful man will be looked down upon, trifled with, mocked, put to confusion, and when he knocks at the doors of others he will be told that he should have knocked at the door of providence, and not at the door of charity. This rule respecting slothfulness applies to indolence in all directions; to the boy at school, to the mother in the household, to the father in the marketplace, to the student in the college, to the agriculturist in the field. "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings." We are urged by the Apostle Paul to be diligent in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord. The diligence that is religious is elevated, unselfish, beneficent; it is not gathering for itself alone, but gathering that it may scatter, so that those who are unable to toil for themselves may be the children of legitimate charity and bounty. By the "slothful" we are not to understand the unhealthy, those upon whom a burden of infirmity has been laid, and who are simply unable, because of physical disability, to perform the duties of life; another law should operate in regard to such—the law of Christian sympathy, charity, and holiest love. The slothful in this text are criminals—men who yield to self-indulgence; men who allow the morning to come and grow into noonday and fall into night without bestirring themselves in any wise and profitable activity. All society says it is right that such should be laid under tribute, and should be made to feel the irksomeness and unprofitableness of neglect and unlawful sleep.

The chapter proceeds in the same tone to the end, indicating on the part of the writer the keenest observation of human nature, and the truest appreciation of human wants. How true it is that "heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop;" burdens it like a weight that cannot be borne; takes out of it all energy and lithesomeness and hope, all spring and fire, and depresses it to the earth with cruelty of weight. How true it is that "A good word maketh the heart glad;" the speaker is looked upon as an apostle from heaven; he is hailed as a friend who is able to drive away the lowering clouds, and turn the desert into a garden: a place for the good word must always be found in life; even the gladdest souls have times of depression; and those who lead the world sometimes fall into the rear, and the song dies upon their lips. The church should be the place where the good word is always spoken,—a word that cheers men, enlivens, elevates, inspires, and ennobles them; the great broad word that comes down from heaven, rich with everything that the human soul can need in all the moments which make a mystery of its existence. How true it also is that "The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour;" has about him a peculiarity of quality; he is not only equal to his neighbour, as wise and generous and genial and kind, but there is a point at which he rises above his merely worldly neighbour; he can go further into the darkness of human life, speak more tenderly to its sorrow, and kindle the light of hope where other men flee away because of a darkness that may be felt. How true it is that "The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting;" as he desired some one else to hunt it for him, so he will permit anybody to roast it for him: all he wants is to enjoy the result; and yet he is deprived of the enjoyment because he took no part in the process. To work for one"s food is to enjoy it when the work is not burdensome; in the very act of going into the field we create an appetite for the enjoyment of what is found there; in this wonderful way has God linked together all the events and sequences of life. How grand is the final word of the chapter, "In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death." Verily, this is the gospel before the time; there is no higher truth of a practical kind in Christianity itself than this. The righteous shall go away into life eternal. To the good man death is abolished. It is never goodness that dies, but always disobedience. Obedience brings life with it—growing life, growing health, growing joy. Happily, all these maxims can be put to the test; they are not mere intellectual ventures, audacious guesses, or wild propositions; they sum up in themselves the experience of the most comprehensive and varied life: they are not anonymous publications, left to be contradicted by any one who may care to call them lies; they have been proved, tested, verified, in innumerable and indisputable instances, by the writers. If any man would show that there is death in the way of righteousness, let him prove it by being righteous himself; then he will show that in the very act of endeavouring to disprove the proverb he magnifies and illuminates its holy truth.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 12:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/proverbs-12.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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