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Proverbs—Pithy Sayings for Practical Living
Touching on just about any topic you can think of, Proverbs provides quotable guidelines for a profitable lifestyle. The book uses poetry, parables, riddles, short stories and two-line zingers to get its point across. Comparison and contrast between wise and foolish behavior are frequently offered, along with the personification of Wisdom and Folly.
Although the first verse of this book credits “Solomon the son of David, king of Israel” as its author, Proverbs also contains writings from at least two unknown individuals, named Agur son of Jakeh (Prov. 30:1) and King Lemuel (Prov. 31:1). 1 Kings 4:32 tells us King Solomon spoke 3,000 proverbs—about 800 of which are preserved in this book. According to Ecclesiastes 12:9, he also collected other people’s proverbs. 1 Kings 4:34 says prominent men and women traveled from all over the world to hear Solomon’s wisdom. This exchange of ideas would explain the diversity within the book and the reason it closely resembles the writings of other ancient sages—including the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, and Egyptian wise man, Amenemope. [Nelson’s Complete Book of Bible Maps & Charts, p. 185]
As with the book of Psalms, the bulk of the content within Proverbs was written by the author to whom it is attributed, but it was apparently compiled later by another—in this case, King Hezekiah and his scribes (See Prov. 25:1). The frequent words of advice from father to son would seem to indicate Solomon wrote many of these sayings early in his administration, while he still adhered to YHWH as his God and the source of true wisdom.
It is interesting to note that there are 31 chapters in this book. Consequently, I have met many individuals who have used Proverbs as a sort of daily devotional—reading the chapter coinciding with the day of the month as a means of programming their minds and hearts with God’s wisdom.
Proverbs Chapter 1
As previously stated, this book starts out by identifying its primary contributor, King Solomon (Prov. 1:1). The next several verses provide the mission statement, or thesis, of the book. According to Proverbs 1:2-6 in the New Living Translation, the writer’s intent was to:
- teach people wisdom and discipline
- help them understand wise sayings
- provide instruction in discipline, good conduct, and doing what is right, just, and fair
- make the simple-minded clever
- give knowledge and purpose to young people
- increase the wisdom of the wise
Verse 7 is a classic statement, and quite possibly could serve as the foundation upon which all of Solomon’s early understanding was built: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
The next section is introduced as wise counsel from father to son:
My son, hear the instruction of your father,
And do not forsake the law of your mother;
For they will be a graceful ornament on your head,
And chains about your neck. (vv. 8-9).
Better than any gold or silver jewelry, good advice from one’s parents is to be cherished.
In verses 10-19, Solomon warns his offspring to avoid violent fellows, who lie in wait to shed innocent blood and steal what belongs to the unsuspecting. While they may promise you’ll all share the wealth, the only thing you can count on is that their own devices will backfire and everyone in the group will suffer self-destruction.
The rest of this chapter depicts Wisdom as a woman calling out from various locations in the city (20-21). She asks, “How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?” (Prov. 1:22, NIV). In the Hebrew, this verse is actually introducing three types of fools:
- pethi—naïve or simple-minded people
- lits—scoffers, mockers, people who make fun of everyone and everything
- kesil—stupid, slow-witted, ignorant people
If they will accept her correction, wisdom promises to dispense her spirit to them and help them know and understand her words (v. 23). If they continue to ignore her invitations, rejecting her counsel and rebuke, she will laugh when the calamity, terror, destruction, distress and anguish they deserve comes upon them like a whirlwind (24-27).
How quickly these fools change their attitudes when trouble strikes:
“Then they will call on me, but I will not answer;
They will seek me diligently, but they will not find me.
Because they hated knowledge
And did not choose the fear of the LORD” (28-29).
Having missed their opportunity to receive counsel and correction, “they shall eat the fruit of their own way”—they’ll suffer the consequences for their behavior and be destroyed by their own complacency and rebellion (30-32). In contrast, she says, “…whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil” (33).
Proverbs Chapter 2
Solomon tells his son that, if he receives his father’s instruction and actively seeks out and listens to wisdom—regarding it as valuable treasure—this will lead to a proper fear of and relationship with God (Prov. 2:1-5). He cites YHWH as the source of wisdom, knowledge and understanding (6). He is also a shield and protector of His saints who choose to walk in God’s ways (7-8). Through a right relationship with Him, we gain an understanding of righteousness, justice, equity “and every good path” (9). Verses 10-12 tell us the presence of these qualities in our life are a defense:
When wisdom enters your heart,
And knowledge is pleasant to your soul,
Discretion will preserve you;
Understanding will keep you,
To deliver you from evil…
The characteristics of evil people referred to in the rest of this chapter include:
- men with perverse speech
- those who depart from righteousness to walk in the ways of darkness and enjoy doing wicked things
- crooked, devious people
- immoral women, who forget their vows, abandon their husbands, and seduce unsuspecting men.
Verses 18-19 warn that, while a man may think a wayward woman will result in pleasure, her paths actually lead to death. Those who “keep to the paths of righteousness,” however, “will dwell in the land” for a long time, while the wicked will be cut off and uprooted from the earth (20-22).
Proverbs Chapter 3
Quite likely thinking of the promise connected with the Fifth Commandment (Exodus 20:12 & Deuteronomy 5:16), Solomon tells his son he’ll enjoy long life and peace, if he keeps his father’s commands (Prov. 3:1-2). He poetically adds that mercy and truth will win him favor and high esteem in the sight of God and men (vv. 3-4).
The next several pairs of verses are some of the most quoted Proverbs:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths (5-6).
In other words, trusting in God, rather than relying on yourself, takes you in much more desirable directions.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
Fear the LORD and depart from evil.
It will be health to your flesh,
And strength to your bones (7-8).
Being teachable and avoiding things the Lord disapproves keeps you healthier.
Honor the LORD with your possessions,
And with the firstfruits of all your increase;
So your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine (9-10).
Under God’s economy, you end up with more to enjoy, as you give faithfully what belongs to Him.
My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD,
Nor detest His correction;
For whom the LORD loves He corrects,
Just as a father the son in whom he delights (11-12).
This passage is quoted in Hebrews 12:5-6, where the author expounds on the idea that God’s discipline actually proves His love for His children.
Verses 13-15 tell us wisdom is more valuable than silver, gold or the most precious gems on earth; “nothing you desire can compare with her” (Prov. 3:15, NIV). One of the most reverent worship choruses I have ever learned takes these words and applies them to God Himself. In 1982, Lynn DeShazo wrote “More Precious Than Silver.” You can hear her sing the song and read the original lyrics at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HWf8YpH-3Q. The composer has also written a book about how she came to arrange this and other popular tunes in a book by the same title, which you can learn more about at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wQKxddry48Q.
Verses 16-18 tell us the benefits of wisdom, including: long life, riches, honor, pleasant paths, peace and happiness. Wisdom was involved in the creative process: “The Lord made the earth, using his wisdom. He set the sky in place, using his understanding. With his knowledge, he made springs flow into rivers and the clouds drop rain on the earth” (Prov. 3:19-20, NCV).
Again, the writer of Proverbs tells us to wear “sound wisdom and discretion” like a necklace (vv. 21-22). He says they will bring life to our souls, keep us safe, help us sleep and keep us away from fear and trouble (22-25). “For the LORD will be your confidence, and will keep your foot from being caught” (26).
Next we receive some practical advice: When you are able to help someone financially, you should not hesitate to do so right away (27-28). Don’t do anything to alienate your neighbor, since you might need him to come to your rescue someday (29). Don’t pick a fight with someone for no reason (30). We should not to be envious of or imitate those who oppress others, since God can’t stand these kinds of people (31-32).
The chapter ends by comparing and contrasting God’s treatment of the bad and the good. “The curse of the LORD is on the house of the wicked, but his blessing is on the home of the upright.” (Prov. 3:33, NLT). The Greek Septuagint translation of verse 34 is quoted in both James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5—“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Glory is the inheritance of wise people; while shame is the legacy of fools (Prov. 3:35).
Proverbs Chapter 4
The opening line of this chapter is addressed not just to a son, but urges all the king’s children to listen to and obey his teachings (Prov. 4:1-2). He then relates how his father once taught him the same way, promising wisdom and understanding would protect him (vv. 3-6). “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom,” David is supposed to have said (7). He also urged Solomon to get understanding, saying these two attributes would bring him promotion, honor, grace and glory (7-9).
Verses 10-13 again stress that wisdom is our source of life and right pathways. We are warned in verses 14-16 to avoid the path of the wicked, since they cannot sleep until they trip someone up. “For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence” (17). The path of the righteous gets brighter and better all the time; while the way of the wicked is so dark, he doesn’t even perceive what trips him up (18-19)!
Verse 23 is another oft-quoted passage: “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” Whether good or bad, your heart is the source of everything you say, do, think or feel. That’s why it’s so important to be careful how you program it. Like the saying from the 80’s—“Garbage in; garbage out”—so your life will manifest whatever you allow to enter into your heart.
Deceit and perversion should be eliminated from our speech (24). We need to keep our eyes on the path God has set for us, taking care that we do not deviate to one extreme or another, so that our ways are established (25-27).
Proverbs Chapter 5
In this chapter Solomon provides more warnings against infidelity and encourages his son to be faithful to his wife. It says the speech of an immoral woman may seem as sweet as honey or smooth as oil, “but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword” (Prov. 5:3-4). He comes right out and says such women are unstable and headed straight to hell (vv. 5-6). It’s best to avoid their neighborhoods altogether (8)!
He talks about the financial ruin and trashed reputations awaiting those who engage in sexual immorality (9-10 & 14). Solomon even hints at venereal disease, saying “And you mourn at last, when your flesh and your body are consumed…” (11). There are also the regrets of realizing, too late, that those who warn against sexual sin really do know what they are talking about (12-13).
The best thing to do to avoid all of that is to be content with what you have. “Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well” is a euphemism for enjoying sex with your own spouse (15). The question that follows refers to a man indiscriminately having sex with other women (16). Instead, Solomon urges his son to reserve those activities for the woman he married, to “rejoice in the wife of your youth,” and to be satisfied with her breasts and her love alone (17-19). That word translated “ravished” in the old King James Bible, “enraptured” in the new, “captivated” in the NIV and New Living translations, and “exhilarated” in the New American Standard Bible, literally means “intoxicated” (19). In other words, your greatest high should be making love to your own spouse!
Why should a young man go looking for that in the arms of an unfaithful woman (20)? One other reason not to engage in illicit sex is that God sees what you’re doing (21). The man who ignores godly instruction will find himself trapped by his own sin (22-23).
First, he warns not to co-sign a loan—even for a friend. If you do find yourself thus “snared by the words of your mouth,” having entered into such an agreement in behalf of a friend or stranger, Solomon urges his son to immediately go and humble himself and beg the friend to release him from that obligation and pay the debt (Prov. 6:1-5). He counsels the young man not to rest, until he has rescued himself from this precarious situation.
Next, he talks about the folly of laziness. Holding up the lowly ant as an example, Solomon says without the direction of a king, she stores up food throughout the summer and fall to make it through the winter (vv. 6-8). Then he comes right out and rebukes the “sluggard” for dozing off when he should be working:
A little sleep, a little slumber,
A little folding of the hands to sleep–
So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler,
And your need like an armed man. (10-11).
Hard times are inevitable, unless you do your part to fend them off!
Solomon’s third topic of concern in this chapter are troublemakers. He describes the various ways a worthless man will signal his evil intentions—winking eyes, shuffling feet and pointing fingers (12-13). A person who causes discord will find himself overtaken by sudden calamity, “broken without remedy” (14-15). Then in verses 17-19, he lists seven things God can’t stand, including:
- A proud look,
- A lying tongue,
- Hands that shed innocent blood,
- A heart that devises wicked plans,
- Feet that are swift in running to evil,
- A false witness who speaks lies,
- And one who sows discord among brethren.
These are the kind of folks you don’t want to hang around with, and you don’t want to behave like them, either.
Solomon compares a parent’s rules to lamps that illuminate wise paths (20-23). He says they will keep his son from falling for the flattery of a seductress (24). No matter how attractive she may seem, he warns not to get caught up in lust after an immoral woman, since she’ll reduce him to poverty (25-26). I love what he says in verses 27-28:
Can a man take fire to his bosom,
And his clothes not be burned?
Can one walk on hot coals,
And his feet not be seared?
A man is playing with fire when he gets involved with another man’s wife (29)!
People don’t think too badly of a thief who steals to feed himself or his family—although he will be required to pay back with interest what was taken (30-31). But the adulterer is plain stupid, since he’s just asking for a beating and a bad reputation at best (32-33). A jealous husband is not going to be appeased by some financial compensation; he wants revenge against the man who stole his wife (34-35)! Solomon doesn’t mention it, but the Law said an adulterer and adulteress were supposed to be killed if they were caught (See Leviticus 20:10).
guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.
Bind them on your fingers;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
and call understanding your kinsman;
they will keep you from the adulteress,
from the wayward wife with her seductive words (Prov. 7:1-5, NIV)
He then told a story about a young fool he spotted from a palace window one day (vv. 6-7). This fellow lacked the sense to stay away from a wicked woman’s house one night and was intercepted by this gal (8-10). She was sneaking around the city in immodest clothing, looking for an unsuspecting victim (10 & 12). Solomon described her as “loud and rebellious,” with feet that “would not stay at home” (11).
Right out on the street, she grabbed the young man and kissed him (13). Then she had the audacity to say she had performed her religious duty [probably having just fulfilled the purification rites that were to follow a woman’s menstruation] and had come looking specifically for him (14-15). She said her bed was draped with Egyptian sheets and lovely tapestries, perfumed with various spices, just waiting for the two of them to enjoy it all together (16-18). Her husband was conveniently gone on a long business trip, so there was nothing to stop them (19-20).
At first the young man offered some resistance, but she managed to sweet-talk him into it eventually (21). Like some dumb animal being led to slaughter or confinement, he blundered after her—having no clue it would cost him his life (22-23).
In verses 24-27, Solomon flat-out told his kids,
Do not let your heart turn to her ways
or stray into her paths.
Many are the victims she has brought down;
her slain are a mighty throng.
Her house is a highway to the grave,
leading down to the chambers of death.
Proverbs Chapter 8
Continuing his personification of Wisdom, Solomon depicts her as standing at the tops of hills, at the crossroads at the city gate and other places where a large number of people will hear, offering a public invitation to receive the prudence, understanding and other good things she has to offer (Prov. 8:1-6). Truth is all you will hear from Wisdom, since “Wickedness is an abomination” to her lips (v. 7). There is not a hint of crookedness or perversion in what she says; it makes perfect sense to those who have any understanding or knowledge (8-9). Again, we read that wisdom is more valuable than gold, silver, rubies or anything else a person could desire (10-11). This idea, originally introduced in Proverbs 3:13-14, is also repeated in 16:16.
Wisdom claims to live with Prudence; she finds out knowledge and discretion (12). Remember how the first chapter told us the fear of YHWH is the beginning of knowledge/wisdom? Verse 13 tells us “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil;” and then Wisdom says she can’t stand pride, arrogance, wickedness and perverse speech.
Wisdom claims to possess counsel, success and strength—all of which kings, rulers, noblemen and judges need to govern well (14-16). She loves those who love her and promises to reveal herself to those who seek her (17). Finding Wisdom is to acquire riches, honor, righteousness, justice and other rewards worth more than any material wealth or treasure (18-21).
Wisdom was a companion of the Lord when He created the universe (22). As timeless as He is, she existed before He formed the earth, the seas, the heavens or even the very elements from which everything else was fabricated (23-29). “I was beside Him as a master craftsman;” she claims, “and I was daily His delight” (30). You can almost see her jumping up and down, clapping her hands, as the Lord molded the first man and woman, gave them life and set them in the garden (30-31)!
She urged human children to listen to her, to “Hear instruction and be wise,” so they could enjoy the blessings of those who diligently sought an audience with her (32-34).
“For whoever finds me finds life,
And obtains favor from the LORD;
But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul;
All those who hate me love death.” (35-36).
Proverbs Chapter 9
This chapter continues the personification of Wisdom and then describes Folly in comparison. Wisdom has built a sturdy house with seven pillars (Prov. 9:1). Her banqueting table is spread with meat, wine and other delicacies (v. 2). She dispatches her servant girls and goes back into the city herself, inviting the naïve and those lacking understanding to come enjoy the meal she has prepared (3-5). “Forsake foolishness and live,” she cries, “and go in the way of understanding” (6).
It’s no use to correct scoffers or wicked men—they’ll only resent it. A wise person, however, will appreciate the effort and will increase in knowledge and wisdom (7-9). In words akin to Proverbs 1:7, verse 10 of chapter 9 tells us, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” We can’t have true wisdom without a relationship with God, the source of that wisdom! Our lives are enriched and lengthened by wisdom; while scoffers have no support system at all (Prov. 9:11-12).
Folly is personified in much the same fashion as the immoral woman. She’s loud, stupid and brazen (v. 13). She doesn’t go looking for others, but waits for them to pass by, then invites them to come over (14-16). To the naïve, she says, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (16-17). He has no idea that her lies will lead him straight to the pits of hell (18)!
|Verse||The Righteous||The Wicked|
|1||Makes his/her father glad||Grieves his/her parents|
|2||Is delivered from death||His/her wealth cannot help.|
|3||Is fed by God||Doesn’t get what he/she really wants|
|4||Gets rich because of his/her diligence||Becomes poor, due to his/her laziness|
|5||Gathers food in summer; is a good son||Sleeps through harvest; brings shame|
|6||Blessed||Lies to conceal violence|
|7||Their memory is blessed.||Their reputation rots.|
|8||Is wise and accepts orders||Chatters incessantly and will fall|
|9||Conducts him/herself with integrity and is secure||Is corrupt and will fall|
|10||Are sneaky and cause trouble for themselves and others|
|11||Their mouth is a source of life.||Their mouth is full of violence.|
|12||Covers up offenses||Is hateful and stirs up strife|
|13||Says wise and understanding things||Deserves a beating for his/her lack of understanding|
|14||Stores up knowledge||Says destructive things|
|16||The earnings of the godly enhance their lives (NLT).||Blow their earnings on sin.|
|17||Follows instructions and sticks to the path of life||Refuses correction and goes astray|
|19||Is wise enough to keep quiet||Talks too much and causes offenses|
|20||His/her words are as valuable as fine silver.||What’s in his/her heart is worth very little.|
|21||His/her words provide food for thought.||Are fools who die for lack of heart/sense|
|23||Is understanding and wise||Finds sport in doing evil|
|24||Is granted what he desires||Is overtaken by what he fears|
|25||Has a solid, long-lasting foundation||Is wiped out by disaster|
|27||Enjoys long life, due to fear of YHWH||His/her lifespan is shortened|
|28||Their hope is gladness||Their expectations perish|
|29||Finds strength in the way of YHWH||Are overcome by destruction when they do evil|
|30||Won’t be removed||Won’t last long on the earth|
|31||Gives good advice||Their perverse speech provokes others to want to cut out their tongues!|
|32||Knows how to say the right thing||Only speaks perversion|
Verse 15 tells us a rich man considers his wealth a defense like a fortified city, while a poor man’s poverty is his downfall. Verse 18 says the person who hides his hatred has lying lips, and fools spread slander. Verse 26 compares the lazy person to the bitterness of vinegar or the irritation of smoke in the eyes.
I love verse 22: “The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it” (Prov. 10:22, NIV). When God makes you rich, it comes without headaches!
God hates dishonest scales, but delights in standardized weights (Prov. 11:1). This idea, first introduced in the Mosaic Law (Leviticus 19:35-36 & Deuteronomy 25:13-16), is repeated several times throughout this book (Prov. 16:11, 20:10 & 23).
Pride brings shame; the humble are wise (Prov. 11:2). Riches won’t save you; but righteousness may (v. 4). Righteousness will keep you on the right track and help you avoid trouble; while the lust of the wicked leads them right into the thick of it (5. 6 & 8). A hypocrite can ruin somebody’s reputation, but through knowledge a good person will rescue himself (9).
Everybody celebrates when the good are rewarded, as well as when the wicked are destroyed (10). “Upright citizens bless a city and make it prosper, but the talk of the wicked tears it apart” (Prov. 11:11, NLT). Only an idiot despises his friends and shares all their secrets; while the wise person keeps things to himself (vv. 12-13).
It’s to your advantage to seek advice from several people; without it, you’re more likely to fail (14). This idea is repeated in Proverbs 15:22 and 24:6.
Anyone who co-signs a loan for a stranger is asking for trouble, while the person who refuses to co-sign for anyone is safe (15). The folly of co-signing is a common theme in Proverbs 17:18, 20:16 & 22:26-27.
Verses 16-19 tell how the godly gain honor, reward, life and other benefits for themselves, while the wicked bring all sorts of trouble to themselves and others. The next verse comes right out and says, “The LORD hates people with twisted hearts, but he delights in those who have integrity” (Prov. 11:20, NLT). We can count on the wicked eventually being punished, while the righteous will go free (v. 21).
A beautiful woman who lacks discretion makes as much sense as putting a gold ring in a pig’s nose (22)! I wonder if anyone ever told Marilyn Monroe this verse. Sadly, there are a lot of women in Hollywood and Nashville today who fit this profile, as well. Girls, you’re more attractive when you show the self-respect to cover up and wait for Mr. Right to say, “I do,” before you give yourself to him!
There are some people who give extravagantly, yet always have plenty; while there are stingy folks who never have enough (24). Have you ever heard the saying, ‘What goes around comes around’? I think Solomon thought of it first and said it this way: “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” (Prov. 11:25, NIV). People curse those who are stingy, but bless the generous (v. 26).
You find what you’re looking for: If you expect good from people, you’ll find favor; if you nit-pick, you’re just asking for trouble (27). If you trust in wealth, you’ll be disappointed (28). The person who wins souls is wise (30). You can be sure both the righteous and ungodly will get what they deserve (31)!
Regarding relationships: “A worthy wife is her husband’s joy and crown; a shameful wife saps his strength” (Prov. 12:4, NLT). If we want a happy, energetic husband, we’ll try to do what pleases him! “A man will be commended according to his wisdom, but he who is of a perverse heart will be despised” (v. 8). A good man should choose his friends carefully, since the wicked will lead you astray (26).
Concerning one’s socioeconomic standing: It’s better to have people think you’re nobody, but have hired help, than to sing your own praises and have nothing (9). A good man looks after his livestock, but the wicked abuse and neglect them (10). If you want to eat, you’ll work to make it happen; it’s a waste of time to chase after pipe dreams (11). The wicked want what others have; the righteous are productive (12). The hard-working man will be put in charge, while the lazy will be put to forced labor (24). A lazy man doesn’t even bother to cook what he catches (27). Ew!
Concerning our speech: The wicked make trouble with their words, but the righteous get through it (13). “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice” (Prov. 12:15, NIV). The fool flies off the handle immediately, while the wise man overlooks and insult (v. 16). Some insensitive people verbally slice and dice others, while wise individuals speak words that heal (18). “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal truthfully are His delight” (22). A wise man conceals what he knows, while a fool spouts all his nonsense (23). “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up” (Prov. 12:25, NIV).
Speech: “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin” (Prov. 13:3, NIV). Like God, the righteous man hates lying (v. 5).
Socioeconomics: The lazy man wants all sorts of things, but has none of them; while the hard-working fellow is satisfied (4). “One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth” (Prov. 13:7, NIV). A rich man may be able to pay his ransom, but the poor man doesn’t have to worry about being kidnapped in the first place (v. 8)! “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow” (Prov. 13:11, NIV). Poverty and shame comes to those who refuse correction; while those who accept advice are honored (v. 18). A good man leaves an inheritance to his grandchildren; but a sinner is only storing up his wealth for the righteous to enjoy when he’s gone (22). “A poor man’s field may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away” (Prov. 13:23, NIV). The good man eats as much as he needs, but the wicked man never gets enough (v. 25).
Relationships: Pride breeds conflict (10). If you hang out with wise people, they rub off on you; hang out with fools, and you’ll be sorry (19). If you refuse to spank your child, you show you really don’t care about him/her, but a loving parent disciplines them promptly (24).
Relationships 101: “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears hers down with her own hands” (Prov. 14:1, NLT). With our words and actions, we can build up our families, or we can destroy them; increase our social standing and wealth, or diminish them. You’ve heard the expression, ‘laughing on the outside, crying on the inside’? That idea, no doubt, comes from verse 13. Nobody likes a person will evil intentions (17). Envy rots the bones (30).
Religion 101: The person who lives right shows respect for God; the person who’s crooked shows complete disregard for the Lord (2). Here is a seeming contradiction: “Those who fear the LORD are secure;” we and our children find a refuge in Him (Prov. 14:26, NLT). He is a source of life and turns us away from the traps that can end in death (v. 27). The person who mistreats the poor shows contempt for the One who made them; while the person who helps them out honors God (31).
Economics 101: Without an ox, you may not have to muck a stall, but they sure help get a lot of work done on a farm (4). Evil men will bow to the good eventually (19). Nobody wants to hang out with a poor man [probably because they don’t want him asking for a hand-out], but everybody wants to be a rich man’s friend [in hopes that he will share his good fortune with them] (20). It’s sin to disregard a neighbor in need, but the person who is kind to the poor is happy (21). You work hard, you do well; you stand around and talk, you get nowhere fast (22). [Boy, would I like to impress this on some sweet, but overly-chatty coworkers!]
Wisdom 101: Someone who makes fun of everyone and everything looks for wisdom but never finds it, while the understanding finds it easy to spot (6). Once you figure out he has nothing worthwhile to say, it’s best just to get away from a fool (7). A wise man can see where he’s going, but a fool is self-deceived (8). Fools laugh at sin (9). The naïve believes whatever he’s told, while the prudent considers his steps carefully (15). A wise person is afraid of evil and runs from it; while the self-confident fool blunders right into it (16). A quick-tempered man is foolish (17). A patient person exhibits understanding; while a quick-tempered or impulsive person proves himself a fool (29).
This verse is a classic: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 14:12, NIV). It’s also stated in Proverbs 16:25. Although it can apply to almost any subject, I think it most describes man-made religions. While all roads may seem to lead to God; only one will actually get you there—Jesus Christ. All the others are scenic highways to hell. For more on this topic, see Matthew 7:13-14, John 14:6 & Acts 4:12.
The first verse is vital in diffusing tense situations: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger” (Prov. 15:1, NLT). The best way to get people to calm down is to get the tension out of your voice and talk sweet—whether it’s a customer service issue, a domestic disagreement, a traffic violation or whatever. The minute you let anger, accusation or other negativity creep into your voice, you just escalate the conflict.
The first part of verse 2 is a gem, as well—especially in the New American Standard Bible: “The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable.” Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it that makes a difference. As we say in the retail world, “Presentation is half the sale.” If you want people to pay attention to your words of wisdom, you’ve got to frame them in a way that is appealing to your audience.
Verse 4 tells us that healing words can bring life to others; while perversion and double-dealing can crush their spirits. “The lips of the wise disperse knowledge” (7). An angry person stirs up disagreements, while a person who is self-controlled calms everyone down (18). “Everyone enjoys a fitting reply; it is wonderful to say the right thing at the right time!” (Prov. 15:23, NLT). A godly person carefully considers his words and their impact before speaking, while a wicked person blurts out evil (v. 28). “A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones” (Prov. 15:30, NIV).
Other topics in this chapter include:
- God’s omniscience—“The LORD is watching everywhere, keeping his eye on both the evil and the good” (Prov. 15:3, NLT). God is unimpressed by the sacrifice offered by an unrepentant person, but He delights in the prayer of the righteous (v. 8). He hates the path of the wicked, but “loves him who follows righteousness” (9). Since God sees into the depths of hell, how much more aware is He of the state of a human heart (11)! God is disgusted by the very thoughts of the wicked, but “the words of the pure are pleasant” (26).
- Wisdom vs. folly— Being unteachable is a death sentence (10). Scoffers don’t appreciate those who take it upon themselves to correct them, nor will they make themselves accountable voluntarily (12). An understanding person wants to know more; a fool just fills his mind with the same stupid stuff (14). The undiscerning are entertained by folly, “but a man of understanding keeps a straight course” (Prov. 15:21, NIV). A wise person chooses the high road, which takes him away from hell (v. 24) Those who accept correction grow wise; those who reject it only hurt themselves (31-32). “The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor” (Prov. 15:33, NIV).
- Righteousness vs. wickedness—“The LORD will destroy the house of the proud, but He will establish the boundary of the widow” (25). A greedy person invites trouble on his own family, while the man who hates bribes protects himself and them (27). YHWH distances Himself from the wicked, “but He hears the prayer of the righteous” (29).
- Perspective—A happy heart shows up on your face, but a sad heart breaks the spirit (13). I’m reminded of the character, Eyore, when I read verse 15: “When a man is gloomy, everything seems to go wrong; when he is cheerful, everything seems right!” (Prov. 15:15, TLB). It’s better to have just a little and eat a simple meal of vegetables where love and the fear of the Lord are, than to have everything and feast on gourmet food but live with trouble and constant bickering (vv. 16-17).
God’s omniscience: To ourselves, we seem okay, but God sees our motivation (Prov. 16:2). Men may roll the dice, but God determines the outcome (v. 33).
God’s sovereignty: “The LORD works out everything for his own ends—even the wicked for a day of disaster” (Prov. 16:4, NIV). You can’t gang up against God; He’ll make sure the proud get what they deserve (v. 5). I can’t help but think of the men at the tower of Babel, who banded together to build a tower in defiance of God’s order to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth,” but found their language confused, as He thwarted their grandiose scheme (See Genesis 9:7 & 11:1-9). Variations of the idea expressed in Proverbs 16:9 are also found in 19:21 and 21:30—Men may make their plans, but God determines whether or not they succeed.
Benefits of godliness: Sounding a lot like Psalms 37:5, Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit your work to the LORD, and then your plans will succeed” (NLT). Verse 6 says a proper fear of God makes us turn away from evil. Verse 17 says by departing from evil, a good man preserves his soul. Here’s a great promise: “When a man’s ways please the LORD, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him” (7). The person who trusts YHWH is happy (20). Hunger motivates a person to work hard (26). A self-controlled person is better than a mighty man, or one who captures a city (32).
Drawbacks of wickedness: The idea that pride precedes destruction is found in verse 18, but also occurs in Proverbs 11:2, 18:12 & 29:23. It’s better to be a humble nobody than a proud conqueror (Prov. 16:19).
Government: Representing God, it’s important that a king make good judgments (10). It’s not appropriate for kings to do evil, because a throne is founded on righteousness (12). A good king is going to be pleased with those who say what’s right (13). If a king is angry, heads can roll, but a wise man knows how to diffuse that anger (14). Good things happen when the king is happy (15).
Speech: Pleasant words enhance our learning experience (21). The heart of the wise is expressed in his speech (23). “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Prov. 16:24, NIV). An ungodly person digs up evil and ignites trouble with inflammatory words (v. 27). Some twisted people plant division like seeds and separate the best of friends by whispering about others behind their backs (28). Violent men entice the unsuspecting and lead them to self-destruction (29).
Modern hair-dressers and dye-makers would go out of business, if more people grasped the truth of verse 31: “Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life” (NIV). The idea of gray hair being a glorious thing is repeated in Proverbs 20:29.
Proverbs Chapter 17
Most of the verses in this chapter follow the pattern of the previous one, building on the concept presented in the first line each couplet, rather than presenting any contrast. It starts by sounding a lot like Proverbs 15:16-17, saying that it’s better to have a crust of dry bread with peace and quiet than a feast in a house divided (Prov. 17:1). Here are more thoughts on the usual topics:
Good vs. bad—A faithful employee is likely to be promoted over an incompetent son, and he may win a share of a man’s holdings, if his sons don’t demonstrate their worth (v. 2). Evildoers listen to lies and are swayed by them (4). Like Proverbs 14:31, Proverbs 17:5 says the person who makes fun of the poor is actually reproaching his Maker; the one who celebrates someone’s misfortune is going to find himself in trouble. It makes as much sense for a fool to say something brilliant as it does for a ruler to stoop to lying (v. 7). The person who overlooks an offense desires a relationship; while someone who keeps bringing it up destroys a friendship (9). You’re bringing trouble on your own family, when you do something evil to someone who’s done something good (13). When you lie to yourself, you can’t see any good; lie to others, and you’ll get into trouble (20). Echoing Exodus 23:8, Proverbs 17:23 tells us that wicked men accept bribes to pervert justice. It’s wrong to punish the righteous (26).
God’s sovereignty—As a crucible refines silver, and a furnace purifies gold, so YHWH tests men’s hearts to see what we’re made of (3). God won’t stand for the person who acquits the guilty or condemns the innocent (15).
Wisdom vs. folly—“A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool” (Prov. 17:10, NIV). It’s better to meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs than a fool in pursuit of his folly (12). The parents of a mocking or foolish child are miserable (21 & 25). Wise men are practical, focused on what is attainable; fools strive for goals far beyond their reach (24). The smart person uses few words and stays calm (27). Even an idiot is considered enlightened when he keeps his mouth shut (28)!
Miscellania—Grandchildren are the crown of old men, while children take pride in their fathers (6). A gift opens doors for the giver (8). A quarrel is harder to stop than the water rushing from a broken dam, so don’t even let a disagreement go that far (14). “A friend is always loyal, and a brother is born to help in time of need” (Prov. 17:17, NLT). A cheerful heart is the best medicine; but a broken spirit makes a person sick (22).
Proverbs Chapter 18
This chapter has a lot to say about the consequences of negative behavior. The first verse talks about how foolish it is to live as a recluse. The next verse is convicting: “Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions” (Prov. 18:2, NLT). That same version of the Bible expresses verse 4 well, also: “When the wicked arrive, contempt, shame, and disgrace are sure to follow.”
Fools just ask for arguments and fistfights; their mouths constantly get them into trouble (vv. 6-7). It’s hard not to swallow the tempting morsels that gossips say about others; it’s harder, still not to be affected by the things they say (8). A lazy man is as counterproductive as a one-man demolition crew (9).
Verse 10 is a great promise: “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.” Do those words remind you of a worship chorus—maybe one you may have heard and sung in the early 90’s? To see a video of a live worship band leading a congregation in singing Clinton Utterbach’s song, “The Name of the Lord,” go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0ZsgR_ANEs&feature=related. You can see the lyrics at http://www.kidung.com/en/b/blessed_be_the_name_of_the_Lord.htm.
Verse 11 says rich men perceive their wealth as their protection. According to verse 13, it’s stupid to answer someone before you hear all they have to say. “The will to live can get you through sickness, but no one can live with a broken spirit” (Prov. 18:14, NCV).
Verse 16 is a great one to remember when you are seeking to evangelize a new area—especially one with a tribal government: “A man’s gift makes room for him, and brings him before great men.” Trial lawyers will tell you the following is true: The first person to plead his case seems right, until someone comes and cross-examines him (17). Casting lots is a good way to settle a dispute (18).
Here’s another saying that’s sadly true: “It’s harder to make amends with an offended friend than to capture a fortified city. Arguments separate friends like a gate locked with iron bars” (Prov. 18:19, NLT). Verse 21 tells us the tongue has the power to bring life or death. A poor man begs, but the rich man answers harshly (23).
On a positive note: “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD” (Prov. 18:22, NIV). While a man with too many acquaintances may come to ruin, “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (v. 24). The One who best fits that description is Jesus!
It’s better to be a poor man living a life of integrity than someone who’s a corrupt fool (Prov. 19:1). Sin happens when you rush into something without having all the facts (v. 2). A person’s foolishness gets him in a bind, but he blames God for his trouble (3). Everybody wants to be friends with a rich man or someone in the habit of giving gifts, but they run and hide when a poor person comes along (4-7). There’s something wrong when a fool enjoys luxury or when a servant rules over princes (10). A smart man keeps his cool and overlooks an offense (11).
A man may inherit lands and houses from his dad; but a good wife is a gift of God (14). The person who gives to the poor lends to the Lord, and He pays great dividends (17)! Discipline your kids while there’s still time; don’t doom them to destruction from abuse or negligence (18).
A hot-tempered man asks for punishment; if you bail him out once, be sure it’ll happen again (19). A lazy man doesn’t even bother to feed himself (24)! If you smack a smart-Alec, others will realize that’s not acceptable behavior (25). Proverbs 21:11 says something very similar. The minute you stop listening to instruction, you start to stray from the right path (Prov. 19:27). “Judgments are prepared for scoffers, and beatings for the backs of fools” (29).
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov. 20:1). If you consume any alcoholic beverage to excess, you’re more likely to say and do stupid stuff—stuff that will embarrass and get you into big trouble! Do yourself a favor and stay away from it.
If you make somebody in charge mad, you sin against your own life (v. 2). Any idiot can pick a fight; it takes a real man (or woman) to stop one (3). We all like to think we’re honest, but it’s hard to find a truly faithful fellow (6). “The good people who live honest lives will be a blessing to their children” (Prov. 20:7, NCV). Who can validly claim to be without sin (v. 9)? You can tell a lot about a child’s character by his/her behavior (11).
Echoing Exodus 4:11, Proverbs 20:12 says YHWH has made both the hearing ear and the seeing eye. If you love sleep too much to work, you’ll become poor (v. 13). Solomon must’ve seen some pretty amazing hagglers at work when he wrote this next verse: “‘It’s no good, it’s no good!’ says the buyer; then off he goes and boasts about his purchase” (Prov. 20:14, NIV).
You may as well claim the collateral of the man who co-signs for a stranger—especially if there’s a slinky lady involved (Prov. 20:16; see also 27:13)! A dishonest deal may seem sweet at first, but it’ll lose its appeal before long (17). Don’t hang out with someone who flatters you; chances are, he’ll repeat what you say to others later (18). Gaining an inheritance too early will not be such a blessing over time (21). Don’t try to get even; give God time to right the situation (22).
“It’s dangerous to promise something to God too quickly. After you’ve thought about it, it may be too late” (Prov. 20:25, NCV). A great example of the truth in that statement is found in the story of Jephthah, in Judges 11:29-39. His rash vow cost the life of his only daughter.
A wise king sorts out the wicked from the righteous, like a farmer separating chaff from wheat (Prov. 20:26). A good thrashing hurts, but it cleans the crud out of a person’s heart (v. 30).
Proverbs Chapter 21
Here’s another chapter that focuses on the consequences of bad behavior. It starts out revealing God’s sovereignty over kings and His perception of the true motives of men’s hearts (Prov. 21:1-2). With words closely resembling what the prophet Samuel told King Saul, verse 3 says, “To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice” (Prov. 21:3, NIV).
“Proud looks, proud thoughts, and evil actions are sin” (Prov. 21:4, NCV). Formulate your plans and make them happen, and you’ll have plenty; but haste leads to poverty (v. 5). Accumulating wealth through dishonesty is a deadly dream (6). “The violence of the wicked will destroy them…” (7).
Here’s a convicting verse for any nagging woman: “It is better to live in a corner on the roof than inside the house with a quarreling wife” (Prov. 21:9, NCV). Proverbs 25:24 says almost the same thing, while Proverbs 21:19 says it’s better to live out in the middle of nowhere than with a quarrelsome woman! Ouch! Ladies, let’s not make our husbands miserable enough to want to move out.
A wicked man is so bent on evil, even his neighbor suffers (Prov. 21:10). If you ignore the poor in his time of trouble, you’ll be ignored when you’re in need (v. 13). Good people enjoy doing what’s right; bad people will eventually suffer (14). The man who wanders from the right path winds up dead (16).
Party animals don’t get rich (17). The wise man has all sorts of treasure stored up in his home; the fool spends every penny he gets (20). “He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor” (Prov. 21:21, NIV). “If you keep your mouth shut, you will stay out of trouble” (Prov. 21:23, NLT). “The desires of lazy people will be their ruin, for their hands refuse to work. They are always greedy for more, while the godly love to give!” (Prov. 21:25-26, NLT).
You can’t outsmart God (30). Train yourself and your horse for the day of battle, but God’s the one who saves you (31).
Proverbs Chapter 22
The first half of this chapter is more of the same kind of proverbs found in the previous twelve. Starting in verse 17, the style changes from couplets to four or more lines of related content.
“A good name [or reputation] is more desirable than great riches…” (Prov. 22:1, NIV). God made both the rich and the poor (v. 2), so both are equally valuable. A smart person foresees trouble and avoids it, while simple-minded people plunge on ahead (3).
Verse 6 is one of the most often quoted and misinterpreted proverbs in the Bible: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” Many people take it as a guarantee that if you send your kids to Sunday school, do your family devotions, spank them regularly and so on, they may rebel during the teen years, but they’ll surely get back on track when they become adults.
Years ago, I heard Chuck Swindoll teach on this passage in a series entitled, You and Your Child, on his Insight for Living radio program. When he took this verse apart, here’s what he said:
The Hebrew word hanakh (train) means “to dedicate” or “to consecrate.” It’s used only four times in the Old Testament, three times in reference to dedicating a building and once of a child in Proverbs 22:6. …An Arabic verb, a very close cousin to hanakh (train), pictures the custom of a midwife dipping her finger into a pool of crushed dates in order to massage the palate and gums of a newborn. This encouraged the baby’s sucking instinct so that nursing could begin as soon as possible. In other words, she stimulated the baby’s gums in order to encourage the kind of behavior that would benefit the child. She wisely and deftly utilized the baby’s natural instinct to guide him toward what is best.
Furthermore, the phrase translated “in the way he should go,” actually means “according to his way/bent.” In other words, we don’t mold them according to a ‘one size fits all’ mentality, but we study our kids and see how God intended for them to operate. Our training is adapted to fit the way that boy or girl is ‘wired,’ so-to-speak. Then we maximize the potential that the child will stick to the course we and God have set as the young man/woman matures. A related verse is found in verse 15: “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child;” but a good spanking drives it out of him/her.
Here’s another powerful truism: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Prov. 22:7). When you owe someone money, you’re not working for yourself anymore; you’re working to pay that person or institution back. If you want to be a free man or woman, take the time to save up for what you want/need, and buy it with cash. Then you don’t have to owe or serve someone else to get it!
The law of the harvest: You plant seeds of sin; you reap a harvest of sorrow (v. 8). Get rid of a scoffer, and you’ll find that fighting, quarrels and insults go right out with him/her (10)! The person with a pure heart and gracious speech may find him/herself the friend of a king (11). God preserves knowledge [The Bible is a great example of that!], but He overthrows the words of the faithless (12). A lazy man will use any excuse to keep from doing what he needs to (13). The words of a seductress are a deep pit; the man who has offended God will fall into it (14). The person who abuses the poor to get rich or who gives to those who already have more than they need will make himself poor (16).
The next few verses encourage the reader/listener to listen carefully to the words of the wise, to make an effort to understand, remember and repeat what was said, “so that your trust may be in the Lord;” and you’ll have a good answer to give others (17-21).
Verses 22-23 warn us not to take advantage of the poor or afflicted, because God will defend them at the oppressor’s expense! Don’t hang out with a hot-tempered man, or his bad habits may rub off on you and get you in trouble (24-25). Reinforcing Deuteronomy 19:14 & 27:17, verse 28 says not to mess with an ancestral landmark.
And I love verse 29: “Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings; He will not stand before unknown men.” If you do good work, you’re going to stand out from the crowd. It won’t just be ordinary folks who notice, but you’re going to come to the attention of great men!
Proverbs Chapter 23
These sayings are longer than Solomon’s proverbs in previous chapters. The first three verses talk about being careful not to eat too much when you’re dining with a ruler (Prov. 23:1-3). The next two urge the reader not to work too hard to get rich, since money tends to sprout wings and fly away (vv. 4-5). Don’t be fooled if a miser invites you to dinner—even though he pretends to want you to enjoy yourself, he’s really got an ulterior motive in mind (6-8). Don’t bother to speak to a fool, he won’t appreciate one word of wisdom (9). If you mess with the boundaries of an orphan, you will have God to contend with (10-11)!
When you properly discipline a child, you save him/her from hell (13-14). Don’t be envious of sinners, but remember the fear of the Lord, which will preserve you for the afterlife (17-18). Don’t associate with drunkards or gluttons, because they will eventually eat and drink themselves to poverty (19-21).
Wayward women are again described as a deep pit to be avoided (26-27). Verse 28 says they lie in wait for their victims and add to “the unfaithful among men.”
The rest of this chapter gives a vivid and accurate description of the alcoholic. It starts out in verse 29 with a series of questions that ask: Who has woe, sorrow, contentions, complaints, wounds and red eyes? “Those who linger long at wine” and mixed drinks (30). Red wine looks so smooth and sparkling, but it bites like a poisonous snake (31-32). Verse 33 talks about alcohol-induced hallucinations and lack of proper inhibitions. Then we get to the nausea, dizziness, dulled senses and black-outs caused by too much strong liquor (34-35). The alcoholic lives only for another drink.
Proverbs Chapter 24
This chapter opens with a four-line admonition not to envy or hang out with evil men, since all they want to do is hurt people and cause trouble (Prov. 24:1-2). Verses 3-4 paint a lovely picture in contrast to the first two: “Through wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.” Verses 5 & 6 talks, not about strength in large numbers of soldiers, but in gathering many good counselors to help you strategize for war.
Fools know what’s discussed at the city gate is way over their heads, so they have nothing to contribute (7). Scheming, plotting and “devising of foolishness is sin” and will make you a persona non grata in most circles (8-9). “If you give up when trouble comes, it shows that you are weak” (Prov. 24:10, NCV).
We frequently referred to verses 11-12, when I was involved in the pro-life movement:
Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay each person according to what he has done? (NIV).
Whether you are referring to someone stumbling into sexual perversion, to have someone kill her baby, drug abuse, alcoholism, violence, or whatever, anyone aware of what’s going on has a moral obligation to do something to stop that person from destroying his/her life or that of those around him/her. God knows your heart and will call you into account later—especially if that person does indeed perish in his/her sin!
Verses 13-14 compare the pursuit of wisdom to eating honey fresh from the comb.
The wicked are warned not to lie in wait to plunder the home of the righteous, “For a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again, but the wicked shall fall by calamity” (15-16). We are not to get too excited when something bad happens to our enemy, lest God turn away His wrath from that individual and focus attention on us, instead (17-18)! We’re not to associate with those who plot rebellion, out of fear of God and the king, who may both retaliate on the troublemakers and everyone associated with them (21-22). People curse the man who shows partiality in judgment and acquits the wicked, but they bless the man who rightly rebukes wrong-doers (23-25).
Verse 27 advises property owners to work their fields and plant a crop before they try to build a house. We should never falsely accuse a neighbor, trying to get even for some imagined offense (28-29). You can spot a lazy man’s property from miles away—all overgrown with weeds, untended and with a wall that’s broken down (30-31). It just goes to show that too much rest can make a person poor in a hurry (33-34).
The chapter starts out with this great statement: “It is God’s privilege to conceal things and the king’s privilege to discover them” (Prov. 25:2, NLT). Verse 3 asserts that a king’s heart is unsearchable.
Quite likely Jesus was thinking of Proverbs 25:6-7 when He told the Pharisees to take a lower seat at a wedding feast (See Luke 14:8-10):
Do not exalt yourself in the presence of the king,
And do not stand in the place of the great;
For it is better that he say to you,
“Come up here,”
Than that you should be put lower in the presence of the prince…
Verses 8-10 warn against going hastily to court or complaining about someone behind their back, so you aren’t humiliated in public.
Wise words spoken in a timely manner are compared to fine gold and silver jewelry (11-12). Someone who delivers a message correctly is like the refreshment of snow after the harvest to those who sent him (13). A person who promises but does not deliver is like clouds and wind that don’t bring rain (14).
Even the sweetness of honey should only be enjoyed in moderation (16). Likewise, you should visit friends only once-in-awhile, so you don’t wear out your welcome and make them sick of you (17).
Lying about someone is as bad as taking a club, a sword or sharp arrows after him (18). Trusting in an unreliable person is like dealing with a toothache or trying to walk on an injured foot (19). Singing happy-go-lucky songs to someone who is depressed is as irritating as taking their coat on a cold day or pouring vinegar on baking soda (20).
Romans 12:20-21 quotes Proverbs 25:21-22 and calls it repaying evil with good:
If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat;
And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;
For so you will heap coals of fire on his head,
And the LORD will reward you.
Sometimes, acting in a manner totally different than expected like this is a far more effective strategy than retaliation for dealing with abusive people! We call it “killing them with kindness.”
As surely as a north wind brings rain, so a backbiting tongue causes scowling faces (23). Like cold water to a thirsty person is good news from a distant land (25). Just as it’s not good to eat too much honey, so it’s no good to seek your own glory (27). A man who can’t control his emotions is as defenseless as a city with no walls (28).
Proverbs Chapter 26
This chapter is a mixture of couplets and longer passages focusing primarily on foolish behavior. It starts out by asserting that honor is no more fitting for a fool than snow is for summer or rain is at harvest time (Prov. 26:1). The next verse says, “an unfair curse will not land on its intended victim” (Prov. 26:2, NLT). Verse 3 prescribes a rod for a fool’s back, just as one would use a whip or bridle to get a horse or donkey to do what it’s supposed to.
In a seeming contradiction, verse 4 says not to answer a fool according to his folly, “lest you also be like him;” while verse 5 says you should answer a fool according to his folly, “lest he be wise in his own eyes.” My guess is that the sage means that you shouldn’t stoop to the level of a fool, but you should communicate that he has gone too far with his behavior.
Sending a message by way of a fool is like shooting yourself in the foot (6). A proverb in the mouth of a fool is utterly ineffective (7 & 9). 2 Peter 2:22 uses the graphic image from Proverbs 26:11 to illustrate the stupidity of apostasy: “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” Yet there is more hope for a fool than for someone who is “wise in his own eyes”—and therefore unteachable (v. 12).
This word picture is great: “As a door turns on its hinges, so does the lazy man on his bed” (14). Verse 16 tells us a lazy man considers himself wiser “than seven men who can answer sensibly.” Getting involved in a quarrel you have nothing to do with is as stupid as grabbing a strange dog by the ears (17). Lying to someone and then saying you were only joking is like randomly tossing burning sticks, arrows and other deadly weapons and expecting no harm will be done (18-19).
As a fire dies down without fuel, so tension breaks when gossip stops (20). On the other hand, a contentious man will kindle strife, just like adding charcoal or wood to a fire (21).
Don’t be fooled when a hateful man tries to hide his true feelings with kind words; eventually the seven abominable spirits in his heart will be exposed for all to see (24-26). “[A] flattering mouth works ruin” (28).
Proverbs Chapter 27
This chapter offers good advice in couplets and passages of varying length. Perhaps the author of James 4:13-16 had the following passage in mind, when he warned believers not to get too carried away with their plans for the future: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Prov. 27:1). In modern vernacular, we might paraphrase verse 2 as: Don’t blow your own horn, let someone else recognize your achievements. Fury is cruel, and anger is uncontrollable, but jealousy is worse than either one (4).
Verses 5 and 6 are like bookends:
Open rebuke is better
Than love carefully concealed.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
When you’ve had plenty to eat, honey is not appealing; but even something bitter seems sweet to someone who’s starving (7). Heart-to-heart counsel from a good friend is as pleasant as perfume (9). Cultivate good relationships with your neighbors, because it’s better to get help from a friend close by than a relative far away when you are in need (10).
I learned the truth of this verse as an early-riser at youth camp: “If you shout a pleasant greeting to your neighbor too early in the morning, it will be counted as a curse!” (Prov. 27:14, NLT). Fortunately, I only got a few groans and dirty looks sent my way for this deliberately irritating behavior. An argumentative woman is as irritating as a constant dripping on a rainy day, and trying to get her to shut up is like attempting to hold oil in your bare hands (vv. 15-16). Maybe occasionally ‘rubbing each other wrong’ isn’t such a bad thing, considering verse 17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (NIV).
According to verse 20, contentment is an illusive thing: Just as Hell and Destruction [Hebrew Sheol and Abaddon] are never full, “so the eyes of man are never satisfied.” The compliments of others reveal the metal of your character (21). You can’t separate folly from a fool (22). Verses 23-27 advise farmers to keep a close eye on the condition of their flocks and herds, so they’ll be sure to have plenty of milk, meat and clothing for their households.
Proverbs Chapter 28
This chapter contains quite a few couplets comparing and contrasting good and bad behavior. Proverbs 28:2 was proven in the later history of Israel: “When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order” (Prov. 28:2, NIV). A poor man who mistreats fellow beggars is like a driving rain that wipes out the crops (v. 3). Those who don’t follow God’s law praise the wicked, while those who obey oppose them (4). Evil men don’t understand justice; people who seek YHWH understand everything (5).
I’d like to impress some credit card companies and loan sharks with the truth of this proverb: “He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest amasses it for another, who will be kind to the poor” (8). It’s no use praying, if you don’t pay attention to God’s word (9). The rich man thinks he’s so smart, but a wise poor fellow will figure him out (11). Everyone is happy when good men succeed; but people hide when the wicked rise to power (12). Concealing your sin is no good, but the one who confesses and turns away from wrong-doing finds mercy (13). A reverent man will be happy; a hard-hearted person falls into calamity (14). Oppressive rulers lack understanding; those who refuse to grasp at what belongs to others will enjoy a long and prosperous reign (16).
Plow your fields and you’ll eat; pursue pleasure and you’ll have nothing (19). An honest fellow is blessed; those who concoct get-rich-quick schemes will be disappointed (20).
In the long run, a man who rebukes a friend will be more appreciated than someone who constantly flatters other (23). Stealing from your own parents and thinking it’s okay is asking for destruction (24). Proud people stir up trouble; those who trust in YHWH will prosper (25).
Proverbs Chapter 29
We find still more couplets in this chapter. Those who constantly resist correction will be suddenly destroyed without remedy (Prov. 29:1). When godly leaders are in charge, people rejoice; when the wicked rule, they groan (v. 2). The patron of prostitutes wastes his money (3). Scoffers inflame a city; while wise men diffuse conflict (8). Don’t bother to argue with a fool—you can’t win (9). Bloodthirsty men hate honest people, but god-fearing individuals try to help them (10). If a ruler listens to lies, all his servants will become corrupt (12).
Here’s something I’d like to impress upon the so-called “experts” in child psychology: A spanking and rebuke give wisdom, “but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (15). If you correct a child, you’ll eventually enjoy rest and delight (17). “When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is happy” (Prov. 29:18, NLT).
There’s more hope for a fool than for someone who is too quick to speak (20). Angry men stir up disagreements and are bound to sin (22). You bring trouble on yourself when you aid and abet a thief (24). “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe” (25). You may seek a ruler’s favor, but YHWH is the One who delivers justice (26). Good guys can’t stand bad guys; and the feeling is mutual (27).
Proverbs Chapter 30
This chapter contains the words of an unknown man named Agur (Prov. 30:1). It starts out with an unlikely endorsement of his advice—with the man actually claiming to be more stupid than anyone, never having gained wisdom or “knowledge of the Holy One” (vv. 2-3).
Verse 4 asks the identity of the One who has gone up and down from heaven, “gathered the wind in His fists,” established the boundaries of the waters and designated the ends of the earth. Interestingly, it inquires the names of both this individual and His Son.
Then the author gets into some real spiritual meat:
Every word of God is pure;
He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.
Do not add to His words,
Lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar (5-6).
Agur desired that the Lord keep him honest and give him only what he needed each day (7-8). Why? He was afraid that if he got too rich, he’d become self-reliant and deny God; if he became poor, he might be desperate enough to steal and bring disgrace on God (9).
One should never malign a fellow employee to his boss, lest they find out and you get in trouble (10). Verses 11-14 are an indictment against our generation, which:
- disrespects our parents
- thinks we’re okay, yet we’ve not been washed from the filthiness of our sin
- is extremely proud
- slices and dices one another verbally
- exploits those less fortunate.
The person who scoffs at his parents will be food for the birds (17). An adulteress indulges herself and sees nothing wrong with what she’s done (20).
Agur gives several lists of four in this chapter:
- Verses 15-16 tell us there are four things that are never satisfied: the grave, a barren womb, the earth that drinks the rain and fire that devours all in its path.
- Four things he doesn’t understand: how an eagle flies, how a snake slithers, how a ship floats and how a man woos a woman (18-19).
- Incongruous things: a servant in charge, a fool making a living, a hateful woman who is married, and a servant girl who usurps her mistress (21-23).
- Four things that are small but wise: ants which gather food in the summer, hyraxes that make their homes in the rocks, locusts which move in orderly ranks, and spiders that make their webs in palaces (24-28).
- Four majestic creatures: a fearless lion, a strutting rooster, a male goat and a king surrounded by his army (29-31).
He concludes by saying a person who has exalted himself and planned evil should beware, for “As the beating of cream yields butter, and a blow to the nose causes bleeding, so anger causes quarrels” (Prov. 30:33, NLT).
Proverbs Chapter 31
This final chapter starts out with the words of another unknown individual, by the name of King Lemuel [whose name means “by/for God”], as handed down from his mother (Prov. 31:1). She warned him, first of all, not to give his strength to women, who destroy kings (v. 2). She also advised that no ruler should drink too much intoxicating wine or liquor, for fear that they should blank out on what the law says and pervert justice (4-5). The only person she prescribed strong drink for was the dying man or those who were so miserable they needed to forget (6-7). She urged her son to speak for the speechless and take up the cause of the condemned, to judge rightly and plead the cause of the poor and needy (8-9).
The last 22 verses of this chapter are an acrostic poem, listing a virtue of a good wife for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. How many times have we heard this chapter preached as a sermon for women or tackled it in a ladies’ Bible study? How many gals feel intimidated and condemned, because we lack so many of these seemingly unattainable traits? What’s interesting to me is that it was not a man who came up with these criteria, but a woman who prescribed them to help her son find the very best life partner possible. It was never intended to be used against those of us who have not yet achieved this level of perfection. It is meant as a shopping list of desirable traits for a man to find an excellent wife. So, take heart, ladies! All hope is not lost.
It starts out indicating that a good woman is as rare as precious rubies (Prov. 31:10). That tells us, right off the bat, that not every woman is going to reach this level of excellence. A good woman is:
- Trustworthy—Her husband can count on her doing good and not evil “all the days of her life” (11-12).
- Industrious—She gathers raw materials to make hand-crafted items and sells them (13 & 24).
- A good provider—She purchases the food her family needs, and has it ready for them when they wake up in the morning (14-15).
- Shrewd—She makes her own business deals to acquire land to grow food for her family (16).
- Strong (17).
- Hard-working—She stays up to finish her projects and makes sure they are done right (18-19).
- Generous—“She extends her hand to the poor” and provides for the needy (20).
- Prepared—She makes sure everyone in the household is properly clothed for cold weather (21-22).
- Supportive of her husband—A good woman does not promote herself, but “Her husband is known in the gates,” where business and government were carried on in a city. He is respected, like one of the elders (23).
- Honorable, upbeat, wise and encouraging (25-26).
- Attentive and active—“She watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness” (27).
Such a woman is worthy of praise, appreciated by her husband and children (28-29). Lemuel’s mother wisely concluded, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the LORD…shall be praised” (30). A man worthy of such a woman should let her enjoy the things she makes and applaud her in public (31).
In almost every culture you find proverbs in use—those pithy sayings that communicate some sort of truism in a memorable way. Some of them sound so similar to the writings of Solomon that Bible critics say he plagiarized from other ancient sages—Confucius, for example. While Scripture itself says Solomon interacted with leaders from all over the world, the fact of the matter is, these people sought him out for his wisdom—not the other way around (1 Kings 4:32-34). During his early days, Solomon was endowed with God-given insight that exceeded that of any other man, so we do well to heed what he took the time to record for the benefit of his children and others.
Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise…” As previously mentioned, many people have increased in wisdom by daily reading from the book of Proverbs.
One caution I might offer, however, is the importance of understanding the difference between a proverb and a prophecy. Proverbs state a principle that is generally true, while a prophecy is a bona fide promise from the Lord that you can count on being fulfilled. While it is fine to memorize Proverbs and use them as guidelines for godly living; don’t fall into the trap of building doctrine on these statements or expecting them to work as formulas for sure-fire success in life.
Generally speaking, people who do what is right prosper, while rebels suffer—according to the cause-and-effect logic of Proverbs. But sometimes bad things happen to good people (e.g.—Job), and children brought up in the way they should go do turn against everything their parents taught them. Our best bet is to learn from all of Scripture and to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us in its daily application.
Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version of the Bible—© 1982, by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
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