Proverbs 10:11-32

Proverbs 10:11‑32  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 7
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) restores 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 Pet. 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 Corinthians 5 in practice by forbidding the uprooting of the tares in Matthew 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 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 ill will, its character and natural issue, and God’s judgment of it, whatever men say. “He that covereth hatred bath 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 Psalm 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 verse 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 grace, 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, Proverbs 10:2121The lips of the righteous feed many: but fools die for want of wisdom. (Proverbs 10:21), 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.
To the end of the chapter we have the blessing of Jehovah in contrast with the fool, the wicked, and the sluggard, in their respective paths; the fear of Jehovah, and again the way of Jehovah, and the effects compared with the opposed evil.
The Israelites were here called to remember that their God, Jehovah, the only unerring moral governor, is the blesser, and that His blessing makes rich. The day comes when Messiah shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall reign in judgment. In that day, as the rule, false appearances shall not flourish. The vile person or fool shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful. The work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and confidence forever. The very wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad; and no wonder, when He reigns who made all very good, before the sin of man brought in confusion and every evil work. But then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp (or adder), and the weaned child shall put his hand on the viper’s den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain. In that day will it be seen by every eye that the blessing of Jehovah makes rich, and He adds no sorrow to it. But even in this day of man when sin still reigns in death, godliness with contentment is great gain, whatever be the outward circumstances.
On the other hand, the lively pleasure of moral folly is to do wickedness for a little while. What is the end of such sport, but death as part wages, and judgment as full? A man of understanding has wisdom, and the fear of Jehovah is his constant part as well as beginning. Moreover, the fear of the wicked is far from groundless, and if it heed not the goodness of God that leads to repentance, the suspended blow falls, “it shall come upon him.” Just so, even while it is still the evil day, the desire of the righteous shall be granted; for he asks of God what is according to His will, judging himself where, seeking more or otherwise, he yielded to vain thoughts. Why should he doubt care and mercy in any trial from Him whose grace justified the ungodly? No doubt, even now there are hours of exceeding pressure, here compared to a whirlwind. When it passes, where is the wicked? “No more.” The very distress which overwhelms him discloses that “the righteous is an everlasting foundation.” “Sluggishness” may not have the dark character of “wickedness” or of “folly” in the moral sense; but it is a twofold wrong of no small dimensions. It is unworthy in itself, and dishonors the failing man by its purposeless ease; it is as vexatious to others “that send him” “as vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes.” How sad when lack of heed and diligence in a Christian exposes his Master’s name to be ill spoken of!
The Apostle Peter cites a word kindred in substance to Proverbs 10:2727The fear of the Lord prolongeth days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened. (Proverbs 10:27) from Psalm 34, though the form differs. The fear of Jehovah is the source of strength and security for the weak in a world of evil and anxiety and danger. It “prolongeth days” for him who trembles at His word, not at the enemy; as “the years of the wicked” who has no such fear “shall be shortened.” For the same reason “the hope of the righteous is joy” now as well as at the end; whereas “the expectation of the wicked shall perish.” Not only is there the wearing chagrin and worry of disappointment to shorten his days, but he cannot shut out his dread of inevitable judgment; and his mockery of perdition ends in the blackest despair.
In bright light shines out verse 29. “The way of Jehovah is strength to the upright, but destruction to the workers of iniquity.” It is not here His “end” as in James 5:1111Behold, we count them happy which endure. Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy. (James 5:11), but His “way”; though they are alike worthy of Him, and also the reliance and comfort of faith, as His Word reveals both. Oh, what patience and long-suffering in His way, however dark and afflicting it seemed to Job and his friends! But what was the end? Could Satan deny its compassion and mercy? But His way corrected error for the upright, while its forbearance gives occasion to the destruction of such as work iniquity. They shall no more inhabit the earth, than the righteous be removed, in the judgment. They may foam out their own shames now; but “the froward tongue shall be cut out,” as surely as “the mouth of the righteous putteth forth wisdom.” It is the single eye to the Lord that gives the lips to know what is acceptable to God as well as man. The mouth of the wicked speaks frowardness according to the abundance of his heart; the good man speaks out of his good treasure, and this is Christ Himself.