Proverbs 10:11-21

Proverbs 10:11‑21  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 7
In the verses that immediately follow, “the mouth” has a predominant place for good will, though labor or its fruit is noticed by the way, no less than heed to instruction, as in vers. 15-17.
“The mouth of a righteous one [is] a fountain of life; but the mouth of the wicked covereth violence.
Hatred stirreth up strifes; but love covereth all transgressions.
In the lips of one intelligent wisdom is found; but a rod [is] for the back of him that is void of understanding (or, heart).
The wise lay up knowledge; but the mouth of the fool [is] near destruction.
The rich one's wealth [is] his strong city; the poor's destruction [is] their poverty.
The labor of righteousness [tendeth] to life, the revenue of wickedness to sin.
Keeping instruction [is] life's path; but he that forsaketh reproof erreth. He that covereth hatred hath lying lips; and he that uttereth slander [is] a fool (or, vile).
In the multitude of words there wanteth not transgression; but he that restraineth his lips doeth wisely.
The tongue of the righteous [is as] choice silver; the heart of a wicked one [is] little worth.
The lips of the righteous feed many; but fools die for want of understanding” (vers. 11-21).
The mouth has a widely different intent and character in man from the beast, where it expresses animal need, innocuous or baneful to others. Man's mouth has a nobler purpose and unique, as the means of expressing his inner nature in relationship, not with the realm of nature which he is set to rule, but, in subjection, with God Whom he represents, or alas! misrepresents. Here it is the mouth of a righteous man, and is said to be a fountain of life; for this is the divine mind as to such a one in the desert world. He is not merely seen of God providentially as Hagar by a fountain of water in the wilderness, which was called accordingly. He endures as Seeing Him Who is invisible. He becomes thereby an active source of blessing to others, and of blessing toward that nature which has in it now the taint of death through the sin of man, its first typical head, before the Second Man (the unfailing and true Head) restore all things as He surely will in due time. Meantime the righteous man's mouth by grace is a fountain of life. He is a witness of God in Christ; and as he believes, therefore so he speaks. With the wicked it is wholly otherwise. His mouth not only utters the violence of self-will and ungodliness, but does yet worse in covering the violence he feels, which if disclosed might lead to wholesome caution or restraint and solemn warning.
“Hatred” is next brought before us, the precise reverse of God in His love, the transcript of Satan in his malice. So evident is its association that it is needless to state its parentage; it is “as Cain,” who was of the evil one, and slew his brother. But, even if in its lightest form, it “stirreth up strifes,” resenting all interference with man's will, as God is nowhere in its thoughts. “But love covereth all transgressions.” Such is the deep feeling of the divine nature in a man of God. Personal resentment is far from the heart. He is pleased to forgive and forget. So the apostle repeats (1 Peter 4:88And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)) that love covers a multitude of sins, as James similarly concludes his Epistle. Yet even Israel, not Christians only, were to be holy; and if a false witness rose up and was convicted, when both stood before Jehovah, then, instead of covering, they were bound to do to him as he meant against his brother, and so put the evil away from among them. Any other course is Satan's work by setting one scripture to annul another, instead of obeying all. To bring human feeling into such a case is as contrary to the gospel as it was to the law. “Do ye not judge them that are within?” “Holiness becometh thy house, O Jehovah, forever.” This is as inalienable as love's privilege to cover all transgressions personally. When our Lord on the mount taught His disciples not to resist evil (Matt. 5:38-4238Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. 41And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. 42Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away. (Matthew 5:38‑42)) according to the law of retaliation, it was for Christian life in its individual walk. The same Lord insisted on unsparing judgment of evil in the church. So we all know how wrong it is to efface 1 Cor. 5 in practice by forbidding the uprooting of the tares in Matt. 13:2929But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. (Matthew 13:29). How unintelligent and blind!
Again, we are told that “in the lips of one intelligent, wisdom is found; but a rod is for the back of him that is void of heart” (or, understanding. How true is this and evident experimentally! It is not only that every intelligent man has wisdom, but in his lips it is found. How self is betrayed in seeking it otherwise! Who would look for wisdom elsewhere unless he (perhaps unconsciously) wanted his own way? On the other hand, he that lacks heart in the moral sense deserves the rod for his own chastening. If his eye were single, he could not want light.
Another blessing comes to wisdom. It does not lose what it has, but grows by grace. “The wise lay up wisdom.” Acuteness or originality may not and often does not turn to profit the most brilliant and even useful ideas; but wisdom keeps and uses what is given from above. Just as the fool's mouth, however voluble, utters nothing of real value, but has ever at hand ample elements for mischief and “near destruction.”
The next couplet seems to state this simple fact, and not without irony. “The rich man's wealth is his strong city; the destruction of the poor is their poverty.” So they think, and others say; yet riches have wings and may fly away; as the poor, if godly and content with the will of God, have great gain.
Compared with the rich, we have now “a righteous man's labor,” which has the stamp on it of tending “to life.” On the other hand, “the revenue” (it is not said, the labor) of a wicked man tendeth “to sin.” How cheering for him who accepts the portion, though it be in a ruined world, of eating bread in the sweat of his face! and how sorrowful is the course of a revenue, were it ever so abundant, flowing into sin!
Then follows the practical test: “Keeping instruction is the path of life,” as surely as “he that forsaketh reproof erreth.” For not to hear only, but to keep instruction, is of great price; whereas to dislike, and so forsake, the “reproof” of our manifold faults, is the way to go astray, one knows not how far.
Next, we hear the yet more solemn warning against hypocritical its character and natural issue, and God's judgment of it, whatever men say. “He that covereth hatred hath lying lips; and he that uttereth slander is a fool.” So He says Who searcheth reins and hearts, which we cannot do and so need to profit by His word. Malevolent lies, when laid bare, thus prove hatred that was covered up, and the sending forth of slander evinces the fool. The divine oracle does not stoop to the deceiving politeness of society, but speaks out that all saints may hear whether for comfort or for admonition.
Further, we are cautioned against overmuch speaking, as our Lord denounced vain repetitions in prayer like the Gentiles, and long prayers in public like the Jews. It is well at all times to watch and refrain, save in peremptory duty. “In the multitude of words there wanteth not transgression; but he that restraineth his lips doeth wisely.” Let us not fail then to ask the Lord to set a watch before our mouth, and keep the door of our lips, as in Psa. 141:33Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3). Our evil nature is too ready to watch our neighbor's mouth to the shame of faith and love.
The tongue of the righteous, as we are told in ver. 20, is as choice silver. This is apposite and suggestive. We might have thought other metals might have suited not less well. Many a tongue that is not righteous cuts like the brightest and sharpest steel. But as silver in sanctuary associations pointed to grave, and gold to righteousness divine, so in usage among men silver is specially adapted for probing wounds without corrosion or festering. So is the tongue of the just, always with grace, seasoned with salt. Hence the apostolic call on “the spiritual” to restore one overtaken in any trespass: the unspiritual is apt to be severe, the carnal would be careless and resent true judgment.
The following verse (21) pursues and defines the positive blessing. “The lips of a righteous man feed many.” On another side we hear, “but fools die for want of understanding.” The bread which Jesus made and gave through His disciples fed the multitude, with more at the end than at the beginning; and this is what the righteous soul finds in Him for many in their many wants and in a thousand ways. Him they are called to testify, and their “lips” will as certainly “feed many.” Just as certainly do fools who believe not in Him though they may hear with their ears, “die for want of understanding.” His flesh, which the Son of man gave us to eat, and His blood to drink, is the most precious grace on His part, and the most needed truth on ours; but upon this many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him. How true and sad to say, that “fools die for want of understanding!” It is the perverse heart, insensible alike to its own sinfulness, and to the goodness of God, Who in Christ went down to all depths to save the lost at all cost.