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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Proverbs 11

 

 

Verses 4-8

The Triumph Of Righteousness And The Sad End Of Unrighteousness (Proverbs 11:4-8).

These next five verses lay great emphasis on the advantages of righteousness (obedience to YHWH’s requirements). Righteousness delivers from death and judgment (Proverbs 11:4), it directs men in the right way (Proverbs 11:5), and it delivers them out of trouble (Proverbs 11:6). In contrast the unrighteous face the day of wrath (Proverbs 11:4), will fall by their own evildoing (Proverbs 11:5), will be taken captive by covetousness (Proverbs 11:6), and will discover that their expectations are groundless (Proverbs 11:7) They will experience the day of trouble.

The subsection is closely connected with the previous one (note the upright in 3a, 6a, and the treacherous in 3b, 6b), and focuses on being ‘delivered, snatched away’ (natsal) from death (4b, 6b). It is also connected with the following subsection by reference to ‘deliverance’ (chalats) in Proverbs 11:8 a, 9b.

The subsection can be presented chiastically:

A Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death (Proverbs 11:4)

B The righteousness of the blameless will direct his way, but the wicked will fall by his own wickedness (Proverbs 11:5).

B The righteousness of the upright will deliver them, but the treacherous will be captured by covetousness (Proverbs 11:6).

A When a wicked man dies, his expectation perish, and the expectation arising from strength perishes (Proverbs 11:7).

Note that in A the righteous man is delivered from death, but riches do not profit in the day of wrath, whilst in the parallel the expectation of the unrighteous proves useless and perishes. In B the righteousness of the blameless will direct his way, whilst the unrighteous will fall as a result of their own evildoing, whilst in the parallel the righteousness of the upright will deliver them, whilst the treacherous will be enslaved by covetousness and will take the place of the righteous, presumably in death.

Proverbs 11:4

‘Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,

But righteousness delivers from death.’

This verse puts Proverbs 10:15 into perspective. ‘Riches do not profit in the day of wrath.’ It is thus not the wealth of the wise man which is his fortress city, it is his righteousness. It is the fact that he walks in accordance with God’s wisdom. In Proverbs 10:15 his wealth was simply a sign that he had so responded to God’s wisdom.

It will be noted that the riches mentioned here are more general. They apply both to the unrighteous (Proverbs 1:13 where they are hoped for riches; Proverbs 6:31) and the righteous (Proverbs 8:18). Such riches are of no profit to anyone on the day of wrath, the day when troubles come on men from YHWH as illustrated in Proverbs 1:26-31; Proverbs 2:22; Proverbs 3:25; Proverbs 6:15; Proverbs 7:22-23; Proverbs 7:26-27; Proverbs 8:36 b; personalised in Proverbs 6:34. In that day wealth will be of no value. Men’s expectations will die with them (Proverbs 11:7). The only thing that will matter in that day will be the protection of YHWH. For the assumption is being made that YHWH will watch over the righteous and deliver them from death.

Solomon thus puts riches into perspective. There are the riches which abound to the righteous because they walk wisely with God, which are a by-product of their righteousness, and there are the riches which are obtained by wresting them from others (Proverbs 1:11-19) or by using false balances (Proverbs 11:1). In the latter case they are their main aim in life, not simply a by-product of living wisely. But in neither case will those riches benefit them in the day of wrath. God will then look at their hearts and see if they have walked with Him. It was this paradox that caused the disciples such problems in the case of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:23-31).

Proverbs 11:5-6

‘The righteousness of the blameless will direct his way,

But the wicked will fall by his own wickedness.’

The righteousness of the upright will deliver them,

But the treacherous will be captured by covetousness.’

These two parallel verses describe the two different kinds of people who will face the day of wrath, and explains why each will be treated in the way they are. The blameless and upright will be guided by their righteousness in the right way and will be delivered, not by their riches, but by the One Who upholds the righteous. In contrast the evildoer (wicked) and the treacherous will fall as a result of their own evildoing. They have nothing by which to direct their way and find themselves stumbling and falling in the by-paths in which they find themselves (compare Proverbs 7:26; Proverbs 3:23; Proverbs 4:12; Proverbs 4:19; Proverbs 2:13-15). Furthermore they will be taken captive as a consequence of their own greed and covetousness (compare Proverbs 1:11-19; Proverbs 11:1). Their greed has taken them over, and they will have brought the wrath upon themselves.

Proverbs 11:7

‘When a wicked man dies, his expectation perish,

And the expectation arising from strength perishes.’

The unrighteous (‘wicked’) man is now brought into the foreground. He lives in expectation of good things, and especially so if he is strong and wealthy, but he will die and his expectations will perish, whatever prompts them. In that day all his vaunted strength will be of no avail. His riches will do him no good (Proverbs 11:4).


Verses 8-14

Neighbours And Fellow-Citizens (Proverbs 11:8-14).

Solomon now deals with contrasts between the righteous and the wicked with regard to their neighbours and fellow-citizens. The first two verses in the subsection are connected together by the deliverance of the righteous, and can be seen together. The final two are connected by the damage caused by the despiser of his neighbour, who is a talebearer, and by the wisdom of the man of understanding who seeks to counter such tale-bearing. It will be noted that there is throughout an emphasis on speech. The godless man destroys his neighbour with his mouth (Proverbs 11:9). When it goes well with the righteous the city rejoices, whilst the decline of the wicked is greeted with shouting (Proverbs 11:10). The city is often overthrown by the mouth of the wicked (Proverbs 11:11). He who despises his neighbour (Proverbs 11:12) clearly does so with his mouth, for in the parallel the righteous holds his peace. The tale-bearer spreads his tales by mouth (Proverbs 11:13). Wise guidance and counsel is given by mouth (Proverbs 11:14). So out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

The subsection can be presented chiastically:

A The righteous man is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked takes his place (Proverbs 11:8).

B With his mouth the godless man destroys his neighbour, but through knowledge the righteous will be delivered (Proverbs 11:9).

C When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish, there is shouting (Proverbs 11:10).

C By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked (Proverbs 11:11).

B He who despises his neighbour is void of wisdom, but a man of understanding holds his peace. He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter (Proverbs 11:12-13).

· Where no wise guidance is, the people fall, but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14).

Note that in A the righteous man is delivered from trouble by the knowledge given to him by God, whilst the godless man steps right into trouble (takes his place) and destroys his neighbour with words, and in the parallel the guidance of many counsellors (giving true knowledge) provides safety, whilst people without guidance fall. In B the godless man destroys his neighbour with his words, whilst in the parallel the man who despises his neighbour and is a talebearer revealing secrets also clearly seeks to destroy his neighbour with is words. In C the city rejoices when it goes well with the righteous whilst in the parallel the city is exalted when the upright are blessed.

Proverbs 11:8-9

‘The righteous man is delivered out of trouble,

And the wicked takes his place.

With his mouth the godless man (or ‘base deceiver’) destroys his neighbour,

But through knowledge the righteous will be delivered.’

We have noted in previous verses how those who were in contrast with the righteous have been described. Apart from the regular ‘the wicked/unrighteous’, we have ‘the foolish’ (Proverbs 10:21); ‘the sluggard’ (Proverbs 10:26); ‘the workers of iniquity’ (Proverbs 10:29); ‘the perverse’ (Proverbs 10:31); ‘the treacherous’ (Proverbs 11:3; Proverbs 11:6). These help to sum up the varieties of ‘unrighteous’ persons. Now we have here some who are described as ‘godless men’, (or, taking an alternative meaning, as ‘base deceivers’). These godless men and base deceivers are responsible for destroying their neighbours with their words.

It will be noted initially that the first line is explained by the fourth line. The righteous man is delivered out of trouble because of his ‘knowledge’, that is, his knowledge of God and His wisdom (Proverbs 1:4; Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 2:5-6; Proverbs 1:22; Proverbs 2:10). He thus avoids the traps into which the evildoer plunges headlong (taking his place), and is himself delivered from trouble. (And through his wise guidance along with others, he can guide others into a place of safety (Proverbs 11:14))

The evildoer meanwhile also ‘takes his place’ by using his mouth to destroy his neighbour, instead of giving him the good guidance that would help him (Proverbs 11:14). With his deceptive mouth he destroys his neighbour, who is presumably one of the naive, or a fellow-evildoer. For where there is no wise guidance the people ‘fall’ (Proverbs 11:14). It is a reminder that we need to beware whom we listen to. The evildoer acts on his own. He does not have the wisdom to restrain himself from malicious gossip and rumour. He thus runs headlong into ‘trouble’ (Proverbs 11:8). And he has no wise guidance to offer (Proverbs 11:14). Talebearing (Proverbs 11:13) was specifically forbidden in Leviticus 19:16, something of which Solomon appears to have been aware. Thus by his actions the talebearer was defying God. He truly was a godless man.

The idea that the evildoer ‘takes the place’ of the righteous man, by going headlong into trouble (something which is assumed from the fact that the righteous man is delivered from it) may be intended to emphasise that not all can escape the inevitable coming wrath (Proverbs 11:4). If some are to be spared by their ‘knowledge’ and wisdom then others must ‘take their place’. For in the end sin has to be paid for, it cannot be ignored. And the sacrificial system has failed because the sacrifices of the unrighteous are an abomination to God. So if the nation is under wrath, then that wrath must at least partially be propitiated by the sufferings of that part of the nation which has not responded to God, whose sacrifice have been unacceptable. This statement is not unique. We can compare Proverbs 21:18 where, ‘the wicked is a ransom for the righteous, and the treacherous in the place of the upright’. The believing remnant of the people escape, but the unresponsive remainder pay for the sins of the nation which have not been covered by acceptable sacrifices (compare Romans 9-11). And this was certainly patterned in the future history of Israel.

Alternately we may see the verses as signifying that the righteous man will be delivered through his wisdom (and therefore manner of life) from the trouble into which the evildoer seeks to drag him by his lying rumours. But that is to ignore the fact that ‘the neighbour’ is said to be destroyed. Thus the neighbour is not the righteous man, for the righteous man is delivered. It is rather the evildoer’s naive ‘neighbour’ who is destroyed. In order, therefore, to interpret it like this we would have to paraphrase as, ‘seeks to destroy’.

What has been said above leaves hanging in the air the question as to how the sins of some could be placed on others who were even more sinful? How could the evildoer take the place of the righteous? One answer is to be seen in the fact that the gap was being made up by the offerings and sacrifices of the righteous. Thus Israel, seen as one nation, had had a partial atonement made for them. But how was the remainder to be paid for Israel as a whole? The answer is given here, by the deaths of those whose sacrifices had been unacceptable. This would be seen in that in the future both righteous and unrighteous would be carried away into exile, with Israel as a whole under the curse. Thus if the righteous were to be delivered the atonement for the whole of Israel would be paid for by the deaths of the unrighteous, making up for what was lacking in the sacrifices. They would take the place of the righteous.

But as the writer to the Hebrews accurately said, ‘how could the blood of bulls and of goats take away sins?’ We are therefore left with the problem of ‘partial satisfaction’. The final answer, of course, lies in the New Testament, for the verse is in interesting contrast with 1 Peter 3:18, where ‘the Messiah also suffered for sins once, the Righteous One for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.’ It was in the end because He died as the Righteous One that the unrighteous righteous can be brought to God and delivered from trouble. As both God and representative man He provided full satisfaction. It is the divine paradox that it was finally not evildoers, but the One Who was wholly perfect, Who took our place.

Proverbs 11:10

‘When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices,

And when the wicked perish, there is shouting.

We now have two proverbs centring on the relationship of the righteous to city dwellers. The city rejoices when it goes well with the righteous, that is when the righteous prosper, because it means that times are good and pleasant. It means that justice is being maintained, and that wrongdoing is being dealt with. It means that life is pleasant and fruitful (Proverbs 1:33; Proverbs 3:10; Proverbs 3:16-18; Proverbs 3:35; Proverbs 8:13-19). The verb ‘rejoices’ always indicates rejoicing because YHWH is triumphing.

And when evildoers are dealt with there are shouts of joy. For that too will result in the triumph of YHWH (compare the use in Psalms 118:15, ‘Listen, the sound of the victory shout in the tents of the righteous’). The thought is not of vindictiveness against individuals, but of joy because a general trend of evildoing has been thwarted. True Christians do not gather to watch people being put to death in order to enjoy the spectacle. But they do rejoice when evil is properly judged and dealt with.

Proverbs 11:11

‘By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted (built up),

But it is overthrown (torn down) by the mouth of the wicked.’

‘The blessing of the upright’ could indicate either their being blessed by YHWH, or their blessing the city as they worship and pray. The parallel with ‘the mouth of the wicked’ suggests the latter. The idea of the former has already been upheld in Proverbs 11:10. Thus when God’s people pray and worship truly, lifting up the city before God, it is ‘built up’. It is made strong and vibrant. But when the mouth of the wicked prevails it is ‘torn down’. Such people have no wise guidance to give (Proverbs 11:14). Evil words and evildoing destroy the very fibre of the city. When the wicked prevail, injustice also prevails, and wrongdoing triumphs.

Proverbs 11:12

‘He who despises his neighbour is void of wisdom,

But a man of understanding holds his peace.

We now have two verses which apply the general thought in Proverbs 11:11 b to personal situations. Men are seen to be responsible for both their cities and their neighbours. These two verses are then followed by a third verse illustrating the fact that the despiser of his neighbour as one who acts on his own, has no wise counsel to give, and contrasting him with the man of understanding who agrees together with his fellows and can therefore give safe counsel.

The basic idea of this verse is that a man who shows that he despises his neighbour by what he says about him (unlike the righteous he does not hold his peace) demonstrates his own lack of wisdom. Whether he does it by lying rumours, false testimony, or inciting dissension (the traits of the worthless man in Proverbs 6:16-19), he is destroying the very fabric of society and demonstrates that he has no wise counsel to give. Indeed multiplied his attitude will result in Proverbs 11:11 b. In contrast the man of understanding, the righteous man, refuses to stir up trouble with his words. He holds his peace and seeks quietly to give counsel and remedy matters, so that wellbeing will triumph.

Proverbs 11:13

‘He who goes about as a talebearer/slanderer reveals secrets,

But he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.’

And Proverbs 11:12 is true because gossipers, talebearers and slanderers reveal secrets which would be better not stirred up. They cause dissension and bitterness (Proverbs 6:14 b, 19b). There is no one more devastating than the one who passes on confidences, often in order to stir up trouble. But the one who has a faithful and loyal spirit tries to settle things without raising a fuss. He does not bring things out into the open unless it is necessary. He can be trusted with confidences, and he takes counsel with others (Proverbs 11:14). He settles things quietly thus maintaining harmony. Notice the contrasting attitudes of mind. The talebearer reveals that he ‘despises’ his neighbour (Proverbs 11:12 a). His very motives are wrong. He forgets that God is the Maker of them all (Proverbs 14:31; Proverbs 17:5; Proverbs 22:2). But the man of understanding has a loyal spirit. He is concerned for the good of all. He is true and reliable, and therefore trusted by all.

Proverbs 11:14

‘Where no wise guidance is, the people fall,

But in the multitude of counsellors there is victory.’

The situations described above are now summed up by indicating why the city and the neighbour can only find help from the righteous and upright, and should certainly not depend on evildoers. It is because it needs the combined help of wise counsellors.

The evildoer destroys his neighbour (Proverbs 11:9) or his city (Proverbs 11:11), because by his words he causes disharmony and injustice. He has no wise guidance to give (Proverbs 11:14), and therefore the people fall. For he despises them and is too busy passing on his tales and slandering people (Proverbs 11:13) to have time for anything else, with the result that the city is divided and weak. He is thus not to be trusted.

In contrast the righteous are delivered though ‘knowledge’, that is, the knowledge of God and His ways (Proverbs 11:9); they are a sign, when flourishing, that all is well (Proverbs 11:10); by their true prayer and worship they make the city strong (Proverbs 11:11); they are wise concerning what they bring into the open (Proverbs 11:12); and because they are faithful in spirit prevent the spread of rumours and slander (Proverbs 11:13). They are thus suited to offer wise guidance as a group, making the city strong and safe (Proverbs 11:14).

The special lesson of this verse is that it is better to rely on a group of wise counsellors, than it is to listen to an individual. For it is more likely that they, acting in unison, will come to a safe conclusion. A committee may be cumbersome, but it guards against the dangers of individualism, and especially against the danger of one person causing trouble for all as a consequence of vindictiveness or self-conceit.


Verses 15-23

Further Contrasts Between The Righteous And The Unrighteous (Proverbs 11:15-23).

In this subsection we again have the continual contrast between the righteous, the gracious, the merciful and the blameless on the one hand, and the unrighteous, the violent, the perverse and the indiscreet on the other.

The righteous hates suretyship (Proverbs 11:15), obtains honour (Proverbs 11:16), does good to his own inner self (Proverbs 11:17), sows righteousness and has a sure reward (Proverbs 11:18), will attain to life (Proverbs 11:19), is a delight to YHWH (Proverbs 11:20), will be delivered (Proverbs 11:21), and desires only good (Proverbs 11:23). The unrighteous acts as a surety and will smart for it (Proverbs 11:15), obtains ill-gotten riches (Proverbs 11:16), troubles his own flesh (Proverbs 11:17), earns deceitful wages (Proverbs 11:18), pursues evil to his own death (Proverbs 11:19), is an abomination to YHWH (Proverbs 11:20), will be suitably punished (Proverbs 11:21), and can only expect wrath (Proverbs 11:23).

Note that for the first time since Proverbs 10:1 women are directly brought into the equation (Proverbs 11:16; Proverbs 11:22). We must, however, recognise that, whilst Solomon appears to direct his word towards men as those most directly involved in life and politics, he would also include women as having a responsibility to respond to wisdom. Both ‘man’ and ‘he’ can regularly include both sexes. (In Genesis 1:27 ‘man’ (adam) included both male and female). Indeed, he depicted Wisdom as a woman. Consider, for example, how he firmly sees the wise mother as having responsibility alongside the wise father (Proverbs 1:8-9; Proverbs 4:3), which could only be because she had absorbed wisdom and the Torah.

The subsection can be seen chiastically:

A He who is surety for a stranger will smart for it, but he who hates suretyship is secure (Proverbs 11:15).

B A gracious woman obtains honour, and violent men obtain riches (Proverbs 11:16).

C The merciful man does good to his own inner self, but he who is cruel troubles his own flesh (Proverbs 11:17).

D The wicked earns deceitful wages, but he who sows righteousness has a sure reward (Proverbs 11:18).

D He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, and he who pursues evil does it to his own death (Proverbs 11:19).

C Those who are perverse in heart are an abomination to YHWH, but such as are blameless in their way are his delight. Though hand join in hand, the evil man will not be unpunished, but the seed of the righteous will be delivered (Proverbs 11:20-21).

B As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman who is without discretion (Proverbs 11:22).

A The desire of the righteous is only good, but the expectation of the wicked is wrath (Proverbs 11:23).

As Proverbs 6:1-5 has suggested Solomon saw suretyship as an evil. This was because in the Torah (Law of Moses) God had exhorted that loans be given freely to the poor without strings attached (Deuteronomy 15:7-8). Thus as with the payment of interest (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36-37), to take commission from either an Israelite or a stranger dwelling in the land (Leviticus 19:34), for acting as a surety, was frowned on. The one who gives surety for a stranger would only do so for reward, thus Solomon sees him as a fool, because of the risk he takes, and unrighteous, because it went against God’s requirements. In contrast those who hated suretyship were the righteous and upright. So in A the unrighteous will smart for what they have done (they will in the parallel come under God’s wrath), whilst the righteous, who hate suretyship, are secure. In the parallel the desire of the righteous is only for good (they thus reject suretyship), while the wicked expect wrath. In B the gracious woman who obtains honour is contrasted with the fair woman who is without discretion. In C the merciful man thereby does good to himself, whilst the cruel are headed for trouble, and in the parallel the seed of the righteous will be delivered, (because their father is merciful and has done good to himself) whilst the evil man will not be unpunished. Centrally in D are three verses which demonstrate that the righteous and upright will gain by it for they are a delight to YHWH, whilst the unrighteous, the pursuer of evil and the perverse in heart will receive their reward.

Proverbs 11:15

‘He who is surety for a stranger will smart for it,

But he who hates suretyship is secure.’

The one who acts as surety for a stranger, that is, someone who was not related, ‘will smart for it’. He will come under God’s judgment and be punished. For the righteous man hates suretyship and he will thereby be kept secure by God. Note that the one who acts as surety is paralleled with ‘violent men’ (Proverbs 11:16 b), ‘one who is cruel’ (Proverbs 11:17 b), and ‘the unrighteous’ (Proverbs 11:18 a). In contrast the one who hates suretyship is paralleled with ‘a gracious woman’ (Proverbs 11:16 a), ‘the merciful man’ (Proverbs 11:17 a), and ‘the one who sows righteousness’ (Proverbs 11:18 b).

It is quite clear from Proverbs that Solomon saw suretyship as something disapproved of by God, although not as putting the surety beyond the pale (he provides a way out for him). In Proverbs 6:1-5 he had urged ‘his son’ not to act as a surety, and to have himself released from its obligations at all costs. Now he makes clear that to act as surety for a stranger will have bad consequences, presumably because God frowns on it, whilst the one who hates suretyship is secure. He is doing what is pleasing to God.

This is only understandable in the light of the teaching of the Torah (the Law of Moses). There loans were to be made on compassionate grounds (Deuteronomy 15:7-8) and without charging interest (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:35-37). Offering suretyship for a commission would therefore have been frowned on. Apparently it was acceptable for a poor man to offer his cloak as security, but that was seemingly short term so that he could buy food, for it had to be restored at sunset so he could sleep in it (Exodus 22:26). Presumably he could by that time have worked the debt off. This last, however, was not what was in Solomon’s mind for he was thinking of suretyship that could ruin a man.

And these instructions were not only as regards Israelites, but were equally to be applied to strangers living among them (Leviticus 19:34). The only distinction was that the stranger did not benefit by the seven year release (Deuteronomy 15:3). He was not a holder of land in perpetuity. In Solomon’s day his whole kingdom may well have been seen as the area in which the laws applied, although in some matters he did distinguish between Israelites and non-Israelites (1 Kings 9:20-22).

So being a surety is here seen as the act of an unrighteous man, a fool, whilst refusing to act as a surety was seen as the act of a wise man, a righteous man. It is paralleled in the chiasmus with the desire of the righteous man which is good (among other things he does not act as surety), and the expectation of the unrighteous which is wrath. He can expect to smart for what he has done.

Proverbs 11:16

‘A gracious woman obtains honour,

And violent men obtain riches.’

Women are not prominent in the Book of Proverbs, but nor are they excluded, a balance which we might have expected in those days. In the Prologue Wisdom was regularly depicted as a woman, and the influence of the mother was seen as important (Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 4:3; Proverbs 6:20), whilst the faithful wife was to be enjoyed and treasured (Proverbs 5:15-20). And this continues to be the case (Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 12:4; Proverbs 14:1 a; Proverbs 18:22). It may well have been his acknowledgement of the influence of good women on growing children (experienced by him as a child - Proverbs 4:3 b), which made him depict wisdom as a woman. This counters the fact that adulterous and immoral women were regularly depicted as a source of men’s downfall (Proverbs 2:16-20; Proverbs 5:3-14; Proverbs 7:5-27; Proverbs 9:13-18), and that foolish and contentious women were seen as able to destroy a home (Proverbs 14:1 b; Proverbs 21:9). He saw both sides of the question.

Here in this subsection we have a contrast between such women. On the one hand there is ‘a gracious woman’ (Proverbs 11:16 a) and on the other ‘a fair woman who is without discretion’ (Proverbs 11:22 b). The former resembles the wise mother and good wife, the latter the indiscreet, foolish and contentious woman who simply stirs up trouble. Solomon is bringing out that in women graciousness is more important than beauty (compare Proverbs 31:30). The distinction in the context of Proverbs reminds us of Paul’s exhortations in 1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Timothy 3:11; 1 Timothy 5:13-14; 2 Timothy 3:6; Titus 2:4-5.

The woman who is gracious is honoured by all who know her, and is well thought of in society. She is well valued, and is of those who are righteous and wise. She is gracious and gentle and clearly depicted in Proverbs 31:10-31. In direct contrast are violent and forceful men. They may become wealthy, but they do so at the expense of honour and reputation. They are of those who are unrighteous and foolish. Their riches will not profit them in the day of wrath (Proverbs 11:4), and meanwhile they are dissatisfied within themselves (Proverbs 11:17 b). Macho man is as nothing compared with virtuous woman.

The same contrast was found in Proverbs 1:11-33 between violent men, who sought to entice the naive into sin, and woman Wisdom who guided the naive in the right way. Solomon lays great emphasis on the influence of good women. Whilst the violent and forceful often shape society from the outside, to its detriment, gracious women shape society from the inside. It is, of course, ironic that Solomon was the perfect example of the former with his forced levees and high taxes which would have caused hardship to many families.

Proverbs 11:17

‘The merciful man does good to his own inner self,

But he who is cruel troubles his own flesh.’

In contrast to the violent and forceful in Proverbs 11:16 is the merciful and kind man (so not all men are to be written off). He is the man of chesed (‘covenant love’). He not only benefits others by his compassion, but he also does himself a great deal of good. ‘He does good to his own inner self’. He enjoys peace and contentment and a sense of wellbeing.

The cruel man, on the other hand, may, like the violent, become wealthy, but he does so at the expense of his own inner peace. He ‘troubles (disturbs) his own flesh’, making himself uneasy and dissatisfied and morally discontent. The contrast with ‘does good to his own self’ suggests that ‘troubling his own flesh’ also refers to his own personal inner experience. But it may also be seen as including the fact that he can bring violent repercussions on himself and on his family.

For the idea of ‘troubling his own flesh’ compare Ahab’s words to Elijah, ‘Is it you, you troubler (disturber) of Israel’, to which Elijah replied, ‘it is not I who have troubled Israel, but you --’ (1 Kings 18:17-18). Achan had also troubled Israel (Joshua 7:25). In these cases to ‘trouble’ meant to bring devastating repercussions on.

The contrast between the inner self and the flesh used in the same context is interesting, suggesting a significant difference spiritually between the truly righteous and the unrighteous, indeed almost, but not quite, in terms of spirit and flesh. One is ruled by his inner self which is at peace, the other by his outer flesh which is ever discontented. That we are not to apply the terms too literally comes out in the next verse. Solomon is dealing in metaphors.

Proverbs 11:18

‘The wicked earns deceitful wages,

But he who sows righteousness has a sure reward.’

The violent, the cruel, and the unrighteous not only ‘trouble their own flesh’, but they also earn for themselves ‘deceitful wages’. They gain nowhere. They may appear to be achieving value, but in the end their ‘wages’ are revealed as unsatisfying and not worth what they have cost. The deceitful wages are, of course, representative of all that the unrighteous obtain for themselves. They may think that they are doing well by their behaviour, but they will learn that it has all been an illusion. The deceivers are deceived about what they will receive.

Meanwhile the merciful man sows righteousness, and eventually receives a sure reward. Sowing involves scattering widely, it depends on God for increase, and where successful it achieves great returns. So does the man of righteousness sow his righteous acts and behaviour widely, look to God for any increase, and have confidence that he will have great returns.

Note the interesting contrast between the quick returns coming to the unrighteous, ‘wages’ which would be paid at once by men, and the slower but more certain returns of the righteous who sow and then wait for God to give the increase, an increase which may be slow, but is sure and well founded. Man looks at the short term. God looks at the long term.

Proverbs 11:19

‘He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life,

And he who pursues evil does it to his own death.’

And in the end those issues are ones of life and death. The one who is steadfast in righteousness attains to life (compare Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 4:4; Proverbs 10:16-17; Proverbs 10:27). He finds prosperity, peace, wellbeing and security (Proverbs 1:33; Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:16-18; Proverbs 3:35; Proverbs 4:18; etc.). And the continual contrast with death suggests that Solomon saw life as going on beyond the grave (compare Proverbs 15:24; Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 23:6). In the words of Jesus, those who believe in Him will obtain good things in this life, and will inherit eternal life (Matthew 19:29).

In contrast those who pursue evil do so ‘to their own death’. They ‘die’ in this life, losing the wholesomeness of life (Proverbs 11:17 b, 18a), and then finally sink to the world of the grave, to eternal death (Proverbs 2:18-19; Proverbs 5:5; Proverbs 7:27; Proverbs 9:18); Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 11:7).

An alternative translation is, ‘Behold the righteous attain life.’ But it makes little difference to the sense.

Proverbs 11:20-21

‘Those who are perverse (twisted) in heart are an abomination to YHWH,

But such as are blameless (straight) in their way are his delight.

Though hand join in hand (literally ‘hand to hand’), the evil man will not be unpunished,

But the seed of the righteous will be delivered.’

These two proverbs are to be seen together. The perverse (twisted) in heart are an abomination to YHWH and will not go unpunished, those who walk blamelessly (straightly) are His delight, and their seed will be delivered. Thus as so often in Proverbs God is seen to divide mankind into two. On the one hand are the perverse in heart, always at cross-purposes with God and His ways, and seeking to please themselves. And it is not a temporary blip, but an attitude of heart. On the other are the blameless, those who walk in His wisdom and seek to please Him. They walk in a way that fills Him with delight. What they are comes out in their walk. So the one are a hateful thing to Him, the others are His delight.

Note also how the unrighteous go on their way ‘hand to hand’. They are all in agreement about their attitude towards God’s wisdom. They combine their forces against God. They are all in it together (compare Proverbs 1:11-19). And they will all be punished together. In contrast the blameless saves not only himself but his seed. His whole family will be blessed. Godly families have always been the foundation on which godliness has flourished. They perpetuate godliness from one generation to another even when times are evil (although, of course, not unfailingly). The evil man finds his ‘family’ in terms of those who unite with him in evil. In contrast the family of the righteous (his seed) are close knit and support each other in godliness.

Proverbs 11:22

‘As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout,

So is a fair woman who is without discretion.’

The ring of gold was a nose ring of a kind regularly worn by women in the Ancient Near East. Eliezer, Abraham’s steward, gave one to Rebekah (Genesis 24:22). The ring would have a small breach in it with two pointed ends, and would fit on the nose. It was a sign of wealth. The pig, of course, was seen as an ‘unclean’ animal. And the point is that you can put such an expensive gold ring in a pig’s snout, but it is totally incompatible. It will not remedy the pig’s defects or make it clean. You cannot turn a pig into a beauty. What could have been so beautiful in the right surroundings (for example on the woman’s nose) has been debased. No one will stop to admire it. People will only wonder at the waste. (Incongruously there are some today who would put a gold ring in a pet pig’s snout, but that simply reveals their extravagance. The pig does not appreciate it in the least).

In the same way a beautiful woman is a contradiction to herself if she is not beautiful at heart. If she is ‘without discretion’, in other words does not behave wisely, her beauty counts for nothing. Her outward form is like the gold ring, but her inward heart is like the pig’s snout. The two are incongruous. Many a beautiful woman has spoiled herself by her bad temper, her wilfulness, and her total selfishness. Not all the beauty in the world can make up for such traits. In the end they will only disgust. What a contrast this woman is with the gracious woman of Proverbs 11:16 a who is honoured by all.

Proverbs 11:23

‘The desire of the righteous is only good,

But the expectation of the wicked is wrath.

This verse parallels to some extent Proverbs 10:28, ‘the hope of the righteous will be joyfulness, and the expectation of the wicked will perish,’ but now instead of expressing the hope of joyfulness to come, it expresses the desire for what is good, and instead of expectation perishing, it results in wrath (compare Proverbs 11:4).

So this subsection comes to an end with a summary of the situation for the righteous and the unrighteous. The righteous desire only what is good. Their hearts are set on goodness. In consequence their expectation is also good. They are honoured by men (Proverbs 11:16 a), satisfied at heart (Proverbs 11:17 a), will receive a sure and abundant reward (Proverbs 11:18 b), attain to life (Proverbs 11:19 a), and are a delight to God (Proverbs 11:20 b). They know that they will finally be delivered (saved), along with their families (Proverbs 11:21 b).

In contrast are the unrighteous. Their only expectation is the wrath of God (compare Proverbs 11:4). They may obtain riches (Proverbs 11:16 b), but these will bring them no lasting joy (Proverbs 11:17 b). What they will earn by their ways is in fact deceptive, it is not as good as it at first seems (Proverbs 11:18 a), whilst the consequence of their behaviour is death (Proverbs 11:19 b). Indeed, they are an abomination to YHWH (Proverbs 11:20 a), are destined for punishment (Proverbs 11:21 a), and are like a gold ring in a pig’s snout (Proverbs 11:22 a), which is where they belong. They are ostentatious and misplaced. Their expectation can only be wrath, in other words, the wrath of God.


Verses 24-26

Generosity Of Spirit Will Bring Blessing And Plenty, But Niggardliness Will Bring Want And Cursing (Proverbs 11:24-26).

We now have three proverbs in a minimal chiastic form which deal with the question of generosity and niggardliness. Those of a generous spirit will prosper and be blessed. Those who are niggardly will themselves suffer want and be cursed.

This can be presented chiastically:

A There is that scatters, and increases yet more (Proverbs 11:24 a),

B And there is that withholds more than is meet, but it tends only to want (Proverbs 11:24 b).

C The liberal soul will be made fat (Proverbs 11:25 a).

C And he who waters will be watered also himself (Proverbs 11:25 b).

B He who withholds grain, the people will curse him (Proverbs 11:26 a)

A But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it (Proverbs 11:26).

Note that in A there is one who generously scatters his kindness, with the consequence that he becomes even better off, and in the parallel there is the man who sells his grain at a time of want rather than keeping it in the family. In B the one who withholds more than is necessary will find that his parsimonious attitude results in want for himself, and in the parallel the one who withholds grain at a time of hunger will find himself cursed. Centrally in C the one who is liberal will become wealthier, and in the parallel the one who ‘waters’ others will himself be ‘watered’.

Proverbs 11:24

‘There is that scatters, and increases yet more,

And there is that withholds more than is meet, but it tends only to want.’

There is a connection here with Proverbs 11:23 where the desire of the righteous is only for good. This is now expressed in more concrete form. The picture is of a man of generosity and compassion who liberally dispenses his kindness towards others without restraint, and the consequence of this is that he finds himself even wealthier. We can compare the proverb, ‘cast your bread upon the waters for you will find it after many days’ (Ecclesiastes 11:1). The thought is not of profligacy (it is not true of all who scatter) but of open-hearted generosity. ‘Withholding more than is meet’ in the second part suggests that public duty is in mind. In Israel the wealthy were seen as having a responsibility to the poor. Thus this man goes well beyond his public duty. In contrast is the one who is tight-fisted, and clings on to all that he has. He fails to fulfil his public duty. As a consequence he may well later find that he himself is in want. Note that he is not being called on to give sacrificially. He rather withholds more than can be considered reasonable given his circumstances. He is niggardly. Thus when he himself is in need no one is concerned for him or can be bothered with him.

Proverbs 11:25

‘The liberal soul will be made fat,

And he who waters will be watered also himself.

The central point in the chiasmus expresses a similar idea in two different ways. The one who is liberal (one who bestows blessing) will find that he himself will enjoy ‘the fat of the land’ (Genesis 45:18). To be ‘made fat’ is to enjoy ample provision, to enjoy the very best, to prosper greatly (compare Deuteronomy 31:20).

‘He who waters’ may refer to the wealthy landowner who uses his irrigation resources in order to supply water to the land of those who are not blessed with his resources, or who opens his springs to others so that they and their herds can refresh themselves at them (it was quite common for ample springs to be privately owned and limited to the use of the owner(s)). Or it may have in mind the watering of the parched in Israel, that is ‘the poor’ (compare Isaiah 41:17). Whichever way it is, the idea is that his efforts will be rewarded by himself prospering and being refreshed. What he dispenses will return to him. Generosity will be rewarded. We are reminded of the words of Jesus, ‘with what measure you mete it will be measured to you’ (Matthew 7:2 b)

Proverbs 11:26

‘He who withholds grain, the people will curse him,

But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.’

The thought here is of the wealthy man or trader who has filled his barns or his storage cisterns (huge grain pits have been discovered at Gibeon and Megiddo) only for a time of want to come along. Those less fortunate find themselves short of food and look to those more fortunate to sell them grain from their own ample resources. The one who withholds grain in those circumstances will find that the people who are starving will curse him, especially if he does it with the hope of increasing the price. But on the head of the one who willingly sells grain will come blessing, which includes the thought of increasing prosperity in the future.

It is noteworthy that both men cause people to look to God, but on the one hand those who are deprived do so by calling down curses because of the inhumanity of the person involved (thus wishing want and hunger on him), whilst on the other hand those who are provided for call down blessing because of the man’s humanity (thus wishing that he will be prospered in future).

One good example of this was Joseph who on behalf of Pharaoh stored ample grain in times of plenty, in order, when the time of want came, to be able to sell it to those who were without grain because of famine (Genesis 41:46; Genesis 42:4).


Verses 27-31

The Righteous Seek What Is Good, Flourish Because They have True Life, Producing Its Fruit, And Will Be Recompensed on Earth. The Unrighteous Search After What Is Bad, Trust in Riches, Are Brought Low, And Also Receive Their Due Recompense (Proverbs 11:27-31).

The ‘the one who --’ of Proverbs 11:26 now spurs a series of ‘the one who --’ statements (in translation). ‘The one who diligently seeks good’ (Proverbs 11:27 a), ‘the one who searches after evil’ (Proverbs 11:27 b), ‘the one who trusts in his riches’ (Proverbs 11:28) and ‘the one who troubles his own house’ (Proverbs 11:29), followed by a secondary ‘the one who is wise captures hearts’. Thus there are two positives and three negatives in chiastic form We could put them together and note that the one who diligently seeks good captures hearts, and the one who searches after evil and trusts in his riches troubles his own house. Both sentiments are true. Seeking good has positive benefits, searching after evil and trusting in riches has negative consequences.

These verses are presented chiastically:

A He who diligently seeks good, seeks favour, but he who searches after evil, it will come to him (Proverbs 11:27).

B He who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like the green leaf (Proverbs 11:28).

C He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind (Proverbs 11:29 a).

C And the foolish will be servant to the wise of heart (Proverbs 11:29 b).

B The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who is wise captures hearts (nephesh - men’s inner man) (Proverbs 11:30).

A Behold, the righteous will be recompensed in the earth, how much more the wicked and the sinner!’ (Proverbs 11:31)

Note that in A the diligent doer of good seek favour, while the searcher after evil finds evil, and in the parallel the righteous will be recompensed, as will the doer of evil. In B the righteous flourish like a green leaf, and in the parallel the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life. Centrally in C the one who troubles his own house inherits nothing, and in the parallel he becomes a servant.

The contrasts here all connect with each other. On the one hand the righteous, the wise, diligently seek what is good (wholesome and morally right), they do not trust in riches but flourish because they have abundant life, they enjoy prosperity (they hire bondsmen), they bring blessing to everyone (their fruit is a tree of life), and they will be recompensed on the earth. In contrast are the unrighteous, the unwise, who search after evil (what is unwholesome and morally wrong), they trust in riches rather than YHWH, they bring down trouble on their own house, and lose what they have and themselves become bondservants, and they receive their due recompense.

Proverbs 11:27

‘He who diligently seeks good, seeks favour,

But he who searches after evil, it will come to him.’

This proverb can be compared with Proverbs 11:23, ‘the desire of the righteous is only good, but the expectation of the wicked is wrath’. But here the desire has turned into action, he not only desires ‘only good’ (in contrast with those whose motives are dubious), but diligently seeks ‘good’, a good which has more reference to positive public good (compare Proverbs 3:27), for he is seeking the welfare of others in contrast with the one who seeks to harm others. Furthermore he here obtains a benefit, the favour of YHWH. The idea of the latter is not that he is diligently seeking good in order to obtain favour, but that by diligently seeking good he is, as an unsought consequence, seeking favour. God is such that his seeking good necessarily means that he is seeking favour with God. He is bringing himself under His good pleasure.

In contrast the one who searches after evil, looking for evil things to do (compare Proverbs 1:16) will discover that evil comes to him. Instead of receiving the favour of God he will come under His approbation, and in some way suffer accordingly. His name will rot (Proverbs 10:7), he will fall (Proverbs 10:8; Proverbs 10:10; Proverbs 11:5), he will experience his worst fears (Proverbs 10:24), calamity will come on him and he will be no more (Proverbs 10:25), his expectation will perish (Proverbs 10:28), he will be destroyed (Proverbs 11:3), he will die (Proverbs 11:19), he will experience wrath (Proverbs 11:23).

Proverbs 11:28

‘He who trusts in his riches will fall,

But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.’

Here the one who trusts in riches is paralleled with the one who searches after evil (Proverbs 11:27) and the one who troubles his own house (Proverbs 11:29). Part of his search after evil (wrongdoing, what is not good and wholesome) is in order to build up illicit riches (illicit because he is contrasted with the righteous). Compare Proverbs 1:11-19. And like the one who searches after wrongdoing he will fall by his own wickedness (Proverbs 3:5). The context may suggest that, unlike the green leaf, he falls as an autumn leaf that has crinkled and died. Or the reference might be to the fall of him and his house (Proverbs 11:29), or to falling by the sword, or to a building collapsing, or to falling to one’s death from a mountain pathway.

Like so many he thought that if he could become rich his position would be secure. But he was sadly wrong. And by his activities in search of riches he has troubled his own house. His own family will be involved in the consequences of what he has done (compare Proverbs 11:17).

In contrast the righteous will flourish like the green leaf, the leaf which is attached to the tree and receives full life from it. They will remain a vital and life-producing part of the fruitbearing tree which is true Israel (compare Jeremiah 11:16). And they will do this because they heed the word of God, ‘His leaf will not wither and whatever he does will prosper’ (Psalms 1:3).

(Whilst leaves are never elsewhere said to fall (naphal), but rather to wither (nabal) there is a reference to ‘falling’ figs in Nahum 3:12 (naphal); compare also Revelation 6:13. Elsewhere falling leaves and falling figs are both described in terms of nabal (Isaiah 34:4). So the two can be used synonymously. Thus there is nothing unlikely in the idea of this signifying leaves falling. Whilst normally leaves are said to wither and die, the emphasis here is not on the leaf withering, but on it losing connection with the its source of life (the tree)).

Proverbs 11:29

‘He who troubles his own house will inherit the wind,

And the foolish will be servant to the wise of heart.’

The one who ‘troubles his own house’, by searching after evil (Proverbs 11:27) or trusting falsely in riches rather than in YHWH (Proverbs 11:28), will inherit absolutely nothing. To inherit the wind is to inherit what is insubstantial and disappears as quickly as it comes. It is to inherit nothing substantial. To ‘trouble’ is ‘to bring down disasters on’. Ahab claimed that Elijah was a troubler of Israel in consequence of the drought, and Elijah replied that it was rather he who had troubled Israel (1 Kings 18:17-18).

In those days, when men sank into dire poverty, the only way in which they could survive was by selling themselves into bondage. Thus as a consequence of disasters they could lose their wealth and descend from being landowners to bondsmen. That is the picture here. They (the fools, the unrighteous) have, with their false wisdom, lost everything and have become the servants of others (the wise, the righteous), those truly wise of heart, whose house is, of course, untroubled.

Proverbs 11:30

‘The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,

And he who is wise captures hearts (nephesh -the breath, the inner man).’

The crowning blessing of the righteous is that they become a blessing to others. Their fruit is a tree of life, a lifegiving tree. By their lives, the ‘natural’ product of their walking in wisdom with God, they are a source of life and wellbeing to others. Through their wisely lived lives they win the hearts of men. We translate ‘hearts’ because that gives the sense. It does not strictly mean ‘winning souls’ in an evangelistic sense, although that is undoubtedly one of its outcomes. If we would ‘win men’s souls’ we must first win men’s hearts. Nephesh indicates the inner man, the ‘breath of life’. Jesus may well have been taking up this thought when He said to His disciples, ‘from now on you will catch men’ (Luke 5:10).

The reference to the tree of life indicates that God’s purpose for the spiritually wise, who follow God’s wisdom, is that they will play their part in restoring what has been lost by the fall. And they do it by attracting others to God’s way of wisdom. It is part of the process of restoration. We too are to be a tree of life to men and women as we attract men to Christ by the beauty of our lives, and of course by proclaiming His wisdom.

Proverbs 11:31

‘Behold, the righteous will be recompensed in the earth,

How much more the wicked and the sinner!’

The subsection ends with an assurance that all will be recompensed, whether for good or ill, because of what they reveal themselves to be. The righteous are not recompensed because somehow they have deserved a reward for their goodness. They are recompensed because having responded to God and His goodness and His wisdom, He has made them good. It is because they have ‘found favour’ (Proverbs 11:27). It is because their trust is in Him rather than in uncertain riches (implied in Proverbs 11:28; compare Proverbs 3:5-6). It is because their lives have become fruitful (Proverbs 11:30). God will therefore respond by giving them wholesome lives, prosperity and a life to come (Proverbs 3:16-18).

There may, however, also be included here the idea that even the righteous man falls short and requires chastening. See for example Proverbs 3:11-12. This would explain even more fully the ‘how much more’. If the righteous man has to be chastened, how much more will punishment fall on the unrighteous. This verse is cited from LXX in 1 Peter 4:18, ‘if the righteous scarcely be saved, where will the ungodly and sinner appear?’

In contrast the wicked and sinner will also be recompensed, and the details of that recompense have been out lined above, ending inevitably in death. It is even more certain that the unrighteous will receive their due recompense, for that is rooted in the very moral fabric of creation. To deliberately partake of evil is to come under sentence of death. Life is God’s gift, but death is man’s deserts.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 11:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/proverbs-11.html. 2013.

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Wednesday, May 22nd, 2019
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