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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Proverbs 15

 

 

Verse 1

1. A soft answer turneth away wrath — Some imagine a literal translation to be the best. We give a specimen on this verse, divesting the words of their tropical, and restoring their physical, sense. Literal translation: A soft return causeth heat to turn; but a word of pain causes the nose to go up. The tropical sense of these several words amounts to about the same as those in our version; for example: “return” — in discourse an answer, or that which is returned; “soft” — gentle, kind; “heat” — passion, anger, wrath; “causes to turn” — turns it back or aside; “a word of pain” — that is, one causing pain, or unpleasant feelings; “the nose” — or, nostrils; “causes to go up” — shortens or contracts it, as is supposed to be the case in a fit of anger. The word rendered “answer,” in the text, applies to any words, whether those first spoken, or the reply to them. Every one’s observation and experience furnishes a sufficient commentary on this proverb. The power of gentle, good humoured words is often wonderful in subduing angry passions, while those which are sharp and cutting are as apt to excite them. Compare Proverbs 14:29; Proverbs 25:15.


Verse 2

2. Useth knowledge aright — Makes it grateful, attractive, edifying. A wise man knows when to speak and when to keep silent, and how to make his words both useful and acceptable.

Foolishness — Which, as implied, can neither be profitable nor grateful to the hearers. The fools are mere babblers. Comp. Proverbs 12:23; Proverbs 13:16; Proverbs 15:28.


Verse 3

3. Beholding the evil (the wicked) and the good — In order, as is implied, to judge accurately of their character and conduct, and to reward and punish accordingly. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

Genesis 18:21; Genesis 18:25; Proverbs 5:21; Proverbs 15:11; Job 34:21; Psalms 33:13; Psalms 90:8; Psalms 139:1-12; Jeremiah 16:17; Jeremiah 32:19; Hebrews 4:13; 2 Chronicles 16:9.


Verse 4

4. A wholesome (or healing) tongue — Or, mildness or quietness of tongue; that is, a gentle and quiet manner of speaking.

Is a tree of life — A favourite figure in this book. (See Genesis 2:9; Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2; Revelation 22:14; Proverbs 3:18; Proverbs 11:30; Proverbs 13:12.) It is a source of life and health:

heals differences, makes peace, comforts the distressed, and spreads a thousand blessings around.

But perverseness therein — Or, transgression; some render slipperiness.

Is a breach in the spirit — A breaking or hurt of the spirit. In Isaiah 65:14 this is rendered vexation of spirit. Such a tongue makes great mischief. A good tongue is healing; a bad tongue is wounding.


Verse 5

5. A fool despiseth… instruction — The sense is: He that rejects the restraint placed upon him by his father, who loves him, is a fool.

But he that regardeth reproof is prudent — Acts discreetly. Comp. Proverbs 10:1.


Verse 6

6. Treasure — Perhaps our word ability would more nearly express the original; great ability of means; great wealth. The word, however, is not to be taken in its usual sense of great riches; but, rather, in the occult signification of what he has, be it much or little, being a source of comfort to the family. This idea is elsewhere more clearly set forth. (See Proverbs 15:16.) The prosperity of the righteous is a blessing; the gain of the wicked is trouble.


Verse 7

7. Disperse (or diffuse) knowledge — Communicate to others for their good the knowledge which they possess.

The… foolish doeth not so — Has no useful knowledge to impart. This is not a contradiction of Proverbs 14:33. That is an implied censure of an ostentatious display of knowledge; this a commendation of the benevolent diffusion of it. It should be observed, however, that the verb יזרו, (yezaru,) rendered “disperse,” also signifies to winnow, as in separating the chaff from the wheat; also, to search out, to investigate, so distinguishing between that which is valuable and that which is worthless. This meaning of the verb is preferred by some, and gives a very good sense. The lips of the wise winnow their knowledge, that is, their instructive utterances, carefully distinguishing what is useful for edification and imparting only what is valuable; but the heart of fools does not so; they do not distinguish, but give chaff and wheat together. Some render: “The heart of fools is not right.” Others: “Not stable.” Stuart: “What is not sound.” Noyes refers to the same expression in 2 Kings 17:9; Isaiah 16:6; Jeremiah 23:10, where it is supposed to have this meaning. The ancient versions are divided. The Chaldee and Vulgate agree with our Authorized Version. The Septuagint, however, has: “The lips of the wise are bound by discretion.”


Verse 8

8. The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination — This is one of the most important sayings in the book. “Sacrifice,” as it was the chief of ceremonial observances under the old dispensation, here stands for the whole of them; and this proverb is as much as to say, that no ceremonial observance of a wicked man can be acceptable to God; nay, more, they are abomination in his sight. Of course, it is implied that the man is a sinner in the proper sense of that word; not a penitent, seeking forgiveness, but one who, notwithstanding his ceremonious worship, adheres to sin in his heart, and practices it in his life; moreover, that he offers this external worship as sufficient in itself for acceptance, instead of moral qualities of heart and life. All such substitution of ceremonials for moral qualities, for purity of heart and righteousness of life, are an abomination to Jehovah. So he has declared over and over again by his prophets in the old, and by his Son and his apostles under the new, dispensation. However pleasing such sacrifices may be from a man of pure heart and upright life, or from one hungering and thirsting after righteousness, they are as the oblations of Cain and Balaam when unaccompanied with purity or penitence. But the prayer (worship) of the upright is his delight

Vainly we offer each ample oblation;

Vainly with gifts would his favour secure;

Richer by far is the heart’s adoration;

Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Comp. Proverbs 21:27; Proverbs 28:9; also Proverbs 15:9 below; Isaiah 1:11; Isaiah 1:15; Isaiah 61:8; Isaiah 66:2. et seq.; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6; Micah 6:8; Jeremiah 6:20, et seq.; Jeremiah 7:21; Psalms 40:6-7; Psalms 51:16; Amos 5:22; and on second clause, Luke 18:11, et seq.


Verse 9

9. Way of the wicked… abomination — This proverb is kindred to the preceding, but not the same; expressed in different words. It is here the “way of the wicked” in general that is an “abomination,” not specially his worship, as in the preceding.

Followeth after righteousness — Or, who earnestly pursues it, is studious to be right and to do right. Compare Proverbs 12:21; Psalms 34:14; Deuteronomy 16:20; Isaiah 51:1; Isaiah 51:7; Hosea 6:3; 1 Timothy 6:11.


Verse 10

10. Correction Musar, restraint, discipline. (See on Proverbs 1:2 for this word.)

Is grievous — Or, evil; that is, it seems evil to him that forsaketh the way, the way by eminence, the right way, the way of virtue and peace. Compare 1 Kings 18:17; 1 Kings 21:20. But many of the best critics prefer to translate, substantially. There is a sharp correction for him that forsakes the way; so Zockler, Stuart, Conant, Noyes, Speaker’s Commentary. etc.

He that hateth reproof shall die — Prematurely; may be expected to come to a bad end. Such is probably the spirit of the proverb; but whether something beyond this life be not implied is a question worthy of consideration. It is probable that Solomon and his contemporaries had more correct ideas of a future life than we credit them with. It did not come within the plan of this book to draw motives of actions largely from the life beyond: yet a future state of rewards and punishments may nevertheless be implied in such passages as the above. Compare Romans 8:13.


Verse 11

11. Hell and destruction Sheol and abaddon, the under world, the infernal regions. The Hebrew sheol corresponded somewhat to the Greek hades, which word is generally used for it is the Septuagint. It here denotes the receptacle of departed spirits, conceived of, probably, as a vast subterranean region, dark and invisible to mortal eyes, and invested with more or less of horrible imagery — “the dreary regions of the dead.” It was, perhaps, not thought of at first as the abode of the wicked exclusively; nevertheless, it is plain that it came eventually to be associated more particularly with the state of wicked men after death; while to the righteous was assigned a happier sphere, at first probably thought of as a favoured portion of the under world, but in time transferred to the regions above — the heavens. Among the Jews, in later times, this was called paradise, Abraham’s bosom, etc. This was regarded as the place where there were “fulness of joy” and “pleasures for evermore.” The point in the proverb is this: As the invisible under world is open and conspicuous to the eyes of Jehovah, how much more, or certainly, the hearts of the children of men. Compare Job 26:6; Job 28:22; Psalms 18:12; Psalms 55:23; Psalms 139:8; Proverbs 27:20. On the latter clause, see Jeremiah 17:10; Hebrews 4:3; Revelation 9:11.


Verse 12

12. A scorner — Our term, a profane man, one who scoffs at sacred things. Such a one avoids the company of the wise and virtuous lest they should administer reproof to him. Indeed, their whole life and character should be a perpetual reproof. Comp. Proverbs 13:1; Proverbs 13:20.


Verse 13

13. A merry (or joyful) heart maketh a cheerful countenance — Literally, does good to the face; makes it comely.

Spirit is broken — Or, dejected. Grief, also, will show itself in a corresponding expression. Emotions of joy and sorrow show themselves in the external appearance.

Comp. Proverbs 19:22. “The breath is oppressed.” — Speaker’s Commentary.


Verse 14

14. Seeketh knowledge — As a hungry man does food. Feedeth on (or relishes) foolishness — Only frivolous, vain, and unprofitable discourse. Zockler renders, from the various readings, “face of fools feedeth.” etc.


Verse 15

15. Are evil — Sad, discouraging, or distressed.

A merry heart שׂוב לב, (tobh-lebh,) a good heart; some think it means a good conscience. It is probable that our expression of good heart, nearly hits the sense. He that keeps up good heart does not give way to despondency and discouragement; but is full of hope and faith, and has a continual feast. A good conscience is, doubtless, a very important element in this cheeriness of heart that furnishes the perpetual banquet.


Verse 16

16. Trouble — Torment, confusion. It refers to that anxiety, vexation, and solicitude which usually accompany the possession of riches. Piety with little is better than wealth with trouble. Psalms 39:6; Matthew 6:33.


Verse 17

17. A dinner of herbs — A portion or ration of greens.

A stalled ox — Stall-fed, highly fattened. A ration of vegetables where love is, is better than roast beef with hatred. The force of this proverb is pre-eminently felt in the family circle.

A stalled ox was, by the Hebrews, as by other ancient peoples, reckoned among the noblest of entertainments. It is mentioned among the provisions for the table of Solomon and of Nehemiah. In the New Testament, the marriage supper which the king made for his son consisted, in great part, of oxen and fatlings, (Matthew 21:4;) and the fatted calf was brought forth to entertain the returning prodigal. Luke 15:23. It has been observed, also, that Homer never sets any other repast than this before his heroes at the great feasts. The moderns, especially of the Anglo-Saxon stock, have by no means lost their appreciation of its savour. But without love, alas! even a stalled ox is unpalatable. “Bread, fruits, and vegetables form the usual diet of the masses of Western Asia and of Southern Europe. The necessity for daily animal food is not felt as in more northern climes.

At the same time, animal food is highly relished in the East, though rarely met with except at the tables of the opulent. (Muenscher.) Vegetables represent simpler fare. Flesh is holiday fare. Compare Daniel 1:12.


Verse 18

18. A wrathful man — Hebrew, a man of wrath.

Slow to anger Long of nostril. (See note on Proverbs 14:17.) Anger makes quarrels; good nature quells them. Compare Proverbs 15:1; Proverbs 26:21; Proverbs 28:25; Proverbs 29:22.


Verse 19

19. The way of the slothful man is as a hedge of thorns — That is, seems so to him; a barrier that he cannot get over.

Made plain — Rather, is cast up; a plain highway. Culpable indolence sees an insurmountable obstacle where honest effort finds only a highway. Compare Proverbs 6:10; Proverbs 10:26; Proverbs 10:28; Isaiah 40:3.


Verse 20

20. Maketh… glad — Gladdens. This is much the same as Proverbs 10:1, where see note.

Despiseth his mother — The original is very forcible, and might be rendered, But a fool of a man is hev who treats his mother with contempt, by neglecting her affectionate counsels.


Verse 21

21. Destitute of wisdom — Hebrews, lacks heart; that is, understanding or intelligence.

Walketh uprightly — Literally, makes straight going. The one commits absurdities and follies, as if for the mere pleasure of it; the other conducts himself in a regular and orderly manner.


Verse 22

22. Without counsel — Or, where there is no consultation. The sentiment of this proverb is similar to Proverbs 11:14, (where see note,) but a number of the words are different.

Purposes (or plans) are disappointed — Frustrated, broken; that is, are more likely to be; but in the multitude of counsellors, or the greatness of the counsellor, they are established, literally, it shall stand. Compare 1 Chronicles 27:32; Isaiah 1:26; Isaiah 19:11.


Verse 23

23. This proverb may bear some reference to the preceding, and to the ability to speak well and readily in the divan or council. But in general it is a great pleasure to a man to be able to speak profitably to others, and especially to speak a word so seasonably as to effect some good which, without that word, would have been left undone. The Orientals have a high appreciation of ready and appropriate answers. Comp. Matthew 12:28; Proverbs 10:20-21; Proverbs 10:31-32; Proverbs 25:11.


Verse 24

24. The way of life is above (or upward) to the wise — Or, prudent.

That he may depart — Or, because of his departing.

From hell beneath Sheol, from the infernal world. The path of life to the wise is upward in order to avoid the under world, but if sheol means only the grave, or the state of the dead, how could the wise man, any more than the fool, avoid it? For this one event happeneth to them all; for “how dieth the wise man as the fool?” Ecclesiastes 2:15-16. See also Proverbs 11:7; Proverbs 14:32.


Verse 25

25. The Lord will destroy — Pluck up, root out.

The house (family) of the proud — Insolent one.

But he will establish the border — Settle the boundary landmark of the widow. The word גאים, (geim,) proud, haughty; generally includes the super-added idea of wickedness, iniquity.

Comp. Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalms 48:5.


Verse 26

26. Thoughts of the wicked — Or, wicked devices, plans.

Words of the pure are pleasant — “Words of kindness are pure or gracious words.” So Conant and Zockler. The ideas are derived from the Hebrew ritual of things clean and unclean. The wicked and their devices are unclean, and an abomination to Jehovah; the righteous and their words are clean, and acceptable to him.


Verse 27

27. Greedy of gain בוצע בצע, (botsea’h batsa’h.) We have no English phrase exactly equivalent. See note on Proverbs 1:19. It is applied to the extortion of kings and nobles who. despoil a people, (Jeremiah 22:17; Ezekiel 22:13;) to robbery by freebooters, (Proverbs 1:19;) and also and especially to the gain from bribes and other unlawful means. Bribery, direct and indirect, is the bane of public men and the curse of a country. But let those who thus make the most of their position for their own pockets — who make laws and administer them for their own selfish ends — remember the words of Jehovah, that they are laying up trouble for their own families. It is the hater of iniquitous gain that shall live in fame, and his family after him. The proverb has had some remarkable illustrations in our own time and land. Compare Proverbs 1:19; Proverbs 11:29; Proverbs 20:21; Proverbs 28:16.


Verse 28

28. Studieth — Meditates to answer. He does not answer an inquiry without thought, because he is solicitous to speak only what is correct and useful.

Poureth out evil things — Belches forth malignity.


Verse 29

29. Far from the wicked — Far from them in disposition and approval, therefore answers not their prayers; but he approves the righteous, and therefore answers their petitions. Compare Proverbs 15:8; Psalms 18:41.


Verse 30

30. The light of the eyes, etc. — מאור, (meor,) is properly a luminary or means of light, but is used here for light itself. עצם, (hetsem,) bone, singular collective, is used for the body, or the person himself. So the older commentators. But Zockler renders, “light of the eyes,” a friendly look; that is, the cheerful beaming of a friendly eye; which makes a good sense. Bright eyes make others happy. Compare for the sentiment Proverbs 16:15.

Maketh… fat — Comp. Proverbs 13:4; Proverbs 16:24.


Verse 31

31. The reproof of life — Life-giving; such as tendeth to life. Some think, however, that it may mean sharp, strong, or vigorous reproof, one that bears sharp reproof of his faults.

Abideth (shall dwell) among the wise — Shall be one of them. Comp. Proverbs 6:23; Proverbs 13:20.

Ear — The person who hears.


Verse 32

32. Despiseth his own soul — Or, his life, or himself; meaning, acts as though he did, and does so in effect. Proverbs 8:36.

Getteth understanding — Hebrew, possesseth a heart; that is, intellect. As an illustration of the first clause, we give the following passage from Butler’s Analogy, chap. ii: “We may, by rashness, ungoverned passion, wilfulness, or even by negligence, make ourselves as miserable as we please. And many do make themselves extremely miserable; that is, they do what they know beforehand will render them so: they follow those ways, the fruit of which they know by instruction, example, and experience, will bring disgrace, poverty, sickness, and untimely death.” Comp. Proverbs 16:16; Proverbs 19:8.


Verse 33

33. The instruction (or discipline) of wisdom — The pre-requisite to wisdom — reverence for Jehovah, his character and his law, and the disposition implied in this — are necessary to the attainment of true wisdom. This reverence implies submission and humility; and as the fear of the Lord comes before wisdom, and is the stepping stone to it, so humility must precede honour, as the qualification for it. “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Matthew 23:12. On first clause comp. Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10; on last clause, Proverbs 18:12; Acts 14:22.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Proverbs 15:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/proverbs-15.html. 1874-1909.

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Monday, September 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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