Proverbs

PRO 1-32  •  1.2 hr. read  •  grade level: 7
Introduction
The book of Proverbs occupies a unique place within the canon of Scripture; there is no other book quite like it. Ecclesiastes may appear to be of a similar nature, but it considers a very different subject. Ecclesiastes is occupied with man’s search for meaning in this world; Proverbs, on the other hand, gives us God’s wisdom for our earthly pathway. In Ecclesiastes, the speaker acknowledges God, yet there is no known relationship with Him. In Proverbs, God is known in covenant relationship as Jehovah. Ecclesiastes is a gloomy book with little to lift our spirits; conversely, Proverbs offers happiness to the one who heeds its lessons. “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding” (Prov. 3:13). Ecclesiastes concludes with, “Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13). Proverbs begins with, “The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). Morally, Proverbs follows Ecclesiastes. Interestingly, however, Proverbs appears to have been written early in Solomon’s life, whereas Ecclesiastes is the sum of his earthly experiences.
Although Solomon received wisdom from God and was the wisest of men (1 Kings 4:29), he had to come into the good of it the same way we do. In many instances Solomon failed to live up to that wisdom. We do well to learn from Solomon and his mistakes. “He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding” (Prov. 15:32). One raised in a Christian home does not simply inherit Christian virtues; he or she must come into the good of them through faith in God — if not, they become legal bondage. Many are under bondage because they have never bought the truth (Prov. 23:23); others have simply thrown off restraint: “Where there is no vision the people cast off restraint” (Prov. 29:18 JND).
Although Jehovah is God’s name of covenant relationship with His earthly people, we should not limit Proverbs’ lessons to Israel. It is only when we take a letter addressed to another and reinterpret it as if it were to ourselves that we run into problems. However, when we recognize to whom a letter is written, we can learn much from it without misapplying those things specific to the recipient. Remembering this will be helpful when interpreting certain proverbs.
Proverbs is not a book of laws; however, many of its maxims represent moral principles that can no more be escaped than the law of gravity can be defied. Proverbs considers God’s government, which, though not always evident, will ultimately be made good in righteousness. Proverbs touches upon all men and their conduct, whether they accept it or not. It is, however, especially addressed to those known to God. It leaves no aspect of life untouched; it speaks of personal conduct, relationships, money, neighbors, business dealings and governments.
In a short booklet such as this, it is not possible to provide a commentary on the entire book, but, rather, it is the author’s intent to examine major themes within the framework of a general outline.
General Outline
We receive the book of Proverbs as the Word of God; it is not a book of man’s philosophy, as, say, the writings of Confucius. While Solomon is the author of much of the book, the instruction given by Agur the son of Jake in chapter 30 does not appear to have been from his pen. It is also clear that it was not formed into the collection that we have today during Solomon’s reign. In chapter 25 we find a supplement to the proverbs of Solomon added at the direction of King Hezekiah: “These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out” (Prov. 25:1). In no way does this detract from its divine inspiration.
At first glance the book of Proverbs may seem to contain little structure — just one proverb after another. This makes its material rich and very accessible; a verse can generally be read and enjoyed without specific reference to context. However, the book is not entirely without structure; there are five clearly marked divisions.
Prov. 1-9 “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David ... ”
Prov. 10-24 “The proverbs of Solomon ... ”
Prov. 25-29 “These are also proverbs of Solomon ... ”
Prov. 30 “The words of Agur the son of Jake ... ”
Prov. 31 “The words of king Lemuel ... ”
The divisions have their own unique character and each have further groupings within them. While much of the book does not take the form of a continuous narrative, the first 9 chapters do. Recognizing this and reading them as a whole, enhances our understanding of this portion.
Solomon’s Preface
The first chapter begins with an introduction; it is a preface to the whole book and presents the desired outcome for those who study and meditate on its contents.
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;
To know wisdom and instruction;
To perceive the words of understanding;
To receive the instruction of wisdom,
Justice, and judgment, and equity;
To give subtlety to the simple,
To the young man knowledge and discretion.
A wise man will hear, and will increase learning;
And a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:
To understand a proverb, and the interpretation;
The words of the wise, and their dark sayings.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge:
But fools despise wisdom and instruction (Prov. 1:1-7).
Notice the reference to “the young man” in verse four; it is because of this that Proverbs is often called the young man’s book. There is also, however, plenty of instruction for the young woman; much is said concerning women and their roles.
It is helpful to distinguish the different terms used in this preface; they are not merely a clever repetition or shades of the same thoughts.
Instruction: to learn through correction; from chastisement.
Understanding: to distinguish things that differ; from perceive.
Instruction of wisdom: intelligence; circumspection.
Justice: righteousness.
Judgment: the ability to arrive at a verdict.
Equity: evenness; to judge without bias.
Subtlety: discernment; ability to recognize subtlety in others.
Simple: lacking the powers of soul and mind; easily persuaded.
Knowledge: known things.
Discretion: to think through something.
Learning: receiving something with the mind.
Wise counsels: guidance.
Interpretation: an allegory or satire.
Dark sayings: a puzzle or riddle.
Proverbs is not about knowing; rather, it is about the application of wisdom to knowledge, thereby opening the eyes of our understanding. Many times the book contrasts the wise with the simple; a simple person is not one that lacks intelligence, but rather, one who lacks perception. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “simple” comes from a word meaning “to open.” We are often encouraged to have an open mind; generally this means little more than “don’t form a judgment.” God would have us to do quite the opposite: to see and perceive. If we simply open our minds to all the nonsense the world has to offer, we will be easily misled. Judging and forming a judgment are somewhat different. When we measure something according to the Word of God, we can form a sound judgment; that does not mean to say, we execute judgment against it. In many instances God already has or soon will. The work must begin with ourselves: “make straight paths for your feet” (Heb. 12:13). Much destruction has resulted from individuals trying to set another’s feet straight.
Twelve Discourses
In the first 7 chapters we find twelve discourses between a father and a mother and their son; each begins with “My son.” As we move through them, we will find a progression in the maturity of the subjects addressed and in the age of the son. There are also various themes. We read of the evil man characterized by violence; there is also the strange woman, a picture of corruption — especially moral corruption. Wisdom is also presented in the feminine form, openly crying out, demanding the heart’s affections. Two paths are described: the one path that goes downward leading to death, and the other, a path of life that is above.
First Discourse 1:8 — Filial Obedience
A child first finds itself within the sphere of parental authority; submitting to that authority is crucial to the right and proper development of the child. We find it under law: “Honor thy father and thy mother” (Deut. 5:16), and we find it repeated under grace: “Honor thy father and mother” (Eph. 6:2). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; due reverence to God is the hallmark of a walk of faith, but we cannot pretend to reverence God if we do not first honor our parents. Disobedience to parents is one of the characteristics of the last days (2 Tim. 3:2).
Second Discourse 1:10 — Companions
With filial obedience established within the family circle, the parent next warns the child as to their choice of companions. “My son if sinners entice thee, consent thou not” (Prov. 1:10). The subtle “come with us” is hushed in secrecy, lending a mysterious and alluring air to their purpose. These urchins, however, are up to no good; violence characterizes their conduct. Riches are promised to those who will throw in their lot with them, but they are governed by covetousness and will stop at nothing (vss. 10-16). Don’t deign even to walk with them, for “their feet run to evil” (v. 16).
This is not an outdated admonition; nothing better describes the allure and behavior of modern day gangs. While one may scoff at the thought of joining such, when egged on by others, the collective behavior of people often differs little in substance. It does not surprise us to read in the news of seventh graders terrorizing a woman old enough to be their grandmother. When children, young people, or adults get together, and someone gives the “ok,” man does terrible things — witness Armenia, Nazi Germany, or Bosnia.
A bird will flee when it sees the net spread before it; not so man! God warns of judgment to come, but man ignores it. In reality, sinners lie in wait for their own blood; their actions will ultimately come down upon their own heads (vss. 17-19).
In contrast, Wisdom openly cries in the streets and in the openings of the gates, “How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity?” (v. 22), but, “I have called, and ye refused” (v. 24). How serious! There are very clear consequences for the one who delays responding to God’s cry of “How long.” Things must come to a close, and then man will “call upon Me, but I will not answer” (v. 28); they shall “eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices” (v. 31).
These verses, properly speaking, do not refer to the Gospel. There was nothing under law that answered to that grace which has now been extended to all men. Nevertheless, it is God’s wisdom, as expressed in the Gospel, which presently makes its voice known to man.
“Come!” for angel hosts are musing
O’er this sight so strangely sad;
God “beseeching” — man refusing
To be made for ever glad!
From the world and its delusion
Now our voices rise as one;
While we tell God’s invitation,
Heaven itself re-echoes — “Come!”
God’s government applies no matter the day. It is summed up in the verse “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man shall sow, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Grace has not diminished God’s standard. It is true that our place before God is no longer as a criminal before a judge, but our position is now ever so privileged; it is as a child with the Father. “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth ... we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Heb. 12:6,9). There are both negative and positive consequences to our behavior; let us conclude with this encouraging word: “whoso hearkeneth unto Me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil” (Prov. 1:33).
Third Discourse 2:1 — Schooling
This world seeks to educate the child in its wisdom, a wisdom that is at variance with God. “The world by wisdom knew not God” (1 Cor. 1:21). It is only natural that a child should be curious and desire to learn; his or her search should be directed towards the wisdom and knowledge of God. “If thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God” (vss. 1-5). It takes energy of faith to know God’s wisdom — notice the action words in the above verses: receive, hide, incline, apply, cry, lift up, seek, and search.
We must not only read God’s Word, but we must also be ready to listen to it (vss. 1-2). Furthermore, it must be received in dependence marked by prayer (v. 3). “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). Man goes to great lengths to mine silver, gold and precious stones (v. 4; Job 28), but is he as motivated to seek God and His wisdom? If so, he will not go unrewarded (vss. 5-6).
God gives wisdom, knowledge and understanding (v. 6); however, such wisdom must be accompanied by a suited walk (v. 7). God’s schooling never results in mere head knowledge; He desires truth in the inward parts (Psa. 51:6). “When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee” (vss. 10-11).
God’s wisdom and knowledge preserves us from the evil man and his violent ways — his path is marked by pride and independence from God and typifies this world and its rationalism. The wisdom of God also delivers us from the snares of the strange woman and her corrupt ways. She bears a cloak of religion, but “forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God” (v. 17). The religions and superstitions of this world may look attractive, and there may even be a basis of truth with them, but their paths lead to death (v. 19).
Fourth Discourse 3:1 — Wise in Our Own Eyes
As children grow older and gain knowledge, it is not unusual for them to develop an exalted opinion of their own abilities. There is a right and proper time for a child to make decisions, but these should not be made in a vacuum. This fourth admonition is most timely. “My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments” (v. 1). While parents may fail, God does not. If we say we love Him, then we should keep His commandments (John 14:15).
Our lives should be adorned by loving kindness and truth, but it cannot be a mere ornament — “write them upon the table of thine heart” (v. 3). “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil” (vss. 5-7).
As we begin to contemplate an occupation, that which will occupy our time and provide our necessary wants (Luke 19:13; Titus 3:14), it is important that we seek God’s glory in all things, and not to blindly pursue our own ambitions and desires (v. 9).
If we wholly commit our ways to God and honor Him with all our substance, then God will prove to us that He is no man’s debtor. We do not have a stingy God (v. 10). The Apostle Paul proved this in his life, when from prison he could write: “my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).
Fifth Discourse 3:11 — Happiness
“God wants me to be happy.” Yes, and so He does! However, we cannot expect to be happy when we are left to our own devices. We cannot use this as an excuse to justify a willful walk. Furthermore, there is something more that God wants. He wants us to know Him; He desires a personal relationship with us, and He wants us to be like His Son. This alone can fill the void in our hearts (Eccl. 3:11) and bring true happiness.
“For whom the LORD loveth He correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth” (v. 12). Discipline is important, whether it be corrective or preventative. So often we equate chastening only with correction, but what about the discipline of an individual seeking mastery of some sport? The coach does not stand idly by and let his protégé live as he or she pleases. No, there is active involvement and a well structured regime for the life of the athlete. Why should we expect anything less from our loving God and Father?
The end result is true happiness: “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.  ... Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her” (vss. 13,17-18).
When my children were little, they were fascinated by a video from the library called “Manners.” Today, manners are considered old fashioned and grossly overrated, and yet, this video was prepared by a woman who taught manners to children in preparation for important events — she even trained those scheduled to dine at the White House. Manners, she said, were the “happy way of doing things.” They may seem so arbitrary, so unnecessary, but they make for a happy experience for all involved. God’s wisdom and commandments are no less important to our happiness.
Sixth Discourse 3:21 — Impulsiveness
and Selfishness
The sixth discourse begins with the exhortation: “Keep sound wisdom and discretion” (v.  21). Four different words are translated “wisdom” in the book of Proverbs; here “sound wisdom” has the sense of “true counsel” or, “that which is sound.” “Discretion,” as noted earlier, is thinking through something, to reflect upon it. In our youth we are apt to make rash decisions. However, if we are guided by sound wisdom and discretion, “then shalt thou walk in thy way safely, and thy foot shall not stumble” (v.  23). Impulsive decisions often lead to things to be regretted and a bad conscience; an un-judged conscience leaves one afraid before God. Conversely, “if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God” (1 John 3:21). “The LORD shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken” (v. 26).
The son is no longer a child; his sphere of activity extends beyond the family home to the neighbors. When we read of neighbors, it reminds us of the story of the Good Samaritan; a story prompted by a self justifying question, “who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:27). We, too, can excuse our behavior toward others with a shrug, “Well, I’ll never see them again.” By nature we are selfish beings, but God does not want us to behave in this way. Proverbs has much to say about neighbors — those with whom we interact.
It is wrong to withhold from our neighbor that which we owe them, when it is in our power to help. This could be a monetary debt, or it could have nothing to do with money. “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8). Under grace, the admonition goes further than Proverbs; it is no longer a question of giving what is due, but rather, “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (James 4:17). The financial application is, however, important. We ought not to use credit for those things we desire, just so we can continue to live the good life on our income. If we owe money, our priority should be to pay it back. Better yet, save! It is worth making sacrifices for those items that we really value.
We are not to devise evil against our neighbors nor strive against them without cause. Once again, grace takes us far beyond Proverbs; in the Sermon on the Mount the Lord tells us not to strive at all! “Resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt. 5:39).
Our neighbors may not be Christian; we are not to envy their prosperity or way of life (vss. 31-35). The psalmist wrote: “I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men” (Psa. 73:3-5). His envy, however, did not last long! “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end” (Psa. 73:17).
A Loving Appeal 4:1
Between the sixth and seventh discourses, falling exactly in the middle of the twelve, we have a loving appeal to the son from the father. “I was my father’s son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live” (vss. 3-4). We want our children to be independent and to be able to walk on their own with the Lord. If a child always requires the father’s hand to steady the bicycle, then the father has failed in his instruction. However, as we sense from the earlier discourses, a child often becomes wise in his or her own eyes and shuns advice, makes rash decisions and is selfish. None of these things reflect the independence of the mature Christian. Like one learning to ride a bicycle, when the father’s hand is removed, the child wobbles — too far one way and then too far the other. Whereas crashing one’s bicycle is usually not serious, making bad life choices very often is. The father directs the child to the wisdom of God for that stabilizing influence, and for their preservation and guide (v. 6).
“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honor, when thou dost embrace her” (vss. 7-8). With all their learning, the parent desires that the child will get wisdom and understanding. There is nothing more frustrating than an adult that lacks what we call common-sense. Life is hard. We can make it much harder by being foolish!
Seventh Discourse 4:10 — Running
Without Stumbling
“Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many” (v. 10). When I had learned to read, my grandfather gave me a Bible; inside, he had inscribed this verse. As a child it puzzled me. Why did my grandfather want me to live for many years? In time I realized that there was both a spiritual application and a practical one.
In the Bible we find the only source of eternal life, for it speaks of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:39). Christ and that which concerns Him, form the grand theme of all Scripture. Another has said, “He is the center of all revelation and the burden of all Scripture.” There are two paths: one path to life and the other to death. If we receive the Word of God, then we find salvation and eternal life; if we reject it, death and eternal damnation lie before us.
On the practical side, we are preserved from the worst violence and destruction of sin if we follow God’s precepts. We can depend upon them to teach us the way of wisdom and to lead us in right paths (v. 11).
The son, now a young man, is given instruction not unlike the first discourse. However, he is no longer learning to walk, so to speak; he is running. “When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble. Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life” (vss. 12-13). The word “strait” means “narrow”; when we take God’s path — the path of life — then our steps are not narrowed, for God opens the way up before us.
There are also warnings. “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away” (v. 14). Life consists of choices, and like a journey, bad choices lead to unwanted detours, or worse still, losing one’s way completely. Imagine being in a city where there are many streets to attract the attention. A particular avenue looks very appealing, but there’s a large excavation in the middle of it. We can learn the hard way and fall into the hole; sadly, we may do this many times and never learn. We could try the other side of the street, supposing that we can avoid the pitfall. Wisdom, however, tells us to take a different path altogether: “pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away” (v. 15).
If a bird flies into a room, attempting to chase or capture it results in chaos and failure. The simplest way to free the bird is to darken the room and open the door; the bird will fly towards the light. If only we were so directed! “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light” (Matt. 6:22). “The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day” (v. 18).
Eighth Discourse 4:20 — the Body in Subjection
The eighth discourse is brief but important. The young man is to keep his entire body under subjection — both physically and spiritually. This is not something that ceases to be necessary with age; the Apostle Paul wrote: “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” (1 Cor. 9:26-27).
The father begins by urging his son to listen: “incline thine ear”; the eye is also to be engaged, “let them not depart from thine eyes,” and finally the heart, “keep them in the midst of thine heart” (vss. 20-21). By these members the entrance of God’s Word is made good to us; it is not sufficient to simply listen or read, but we must also keep God’s Word in our hearts. “Blessed are they that observe His testimonies, that seek Him with the whole heart” (Psa. 119:2 JND).
Seven parts of the body and their activity are mentioned. This list begins with the heart, followed by the mouth, the lips, the eyes, the eyelids, the feet, and the foot. Each is to be held in subjection to that single focus and direction given in the previous discourse else we will be turned aside.
The heart is the seat of affections, and a young man or woman’s heart is easily pulled in the wrong direction by the natural desires of youth. It is critical, therefore, that we: “Keep thy heart more than anything that is guarded; for out of it are the issues of life” (v. 23 JND). The affairs of the heart are the most hurtful and wounding that a person will encounter. A leg may break, but it will heal; only God can heal the brokenhearted: “He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted” (Luke 4:18).
Love relationships should not be entered into lightly. They should not be contemplated when such love is forbidden or may not be carried to an appropriate conclusion. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14). “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). Casual liaisons may be popular in this world today, but they run counter to Scripture. When they result in sexual activity, they are outright sinful. Never forget, when one engages in such behavior, more than two lives are at stake. Man in his cleverness has found a way to prevent pregnancy, thereby reducing physical intimacy to mere self-gratification, and when that fails, man in his wickedness takes the life of the unborn. God knows our frame; He created us. He knows how to bring true happiness and pleasure to His children in a loving relationship, and the life that springs from such a union is a blessing to all. “Children’s children are the crown of old men; and the glory of children are their fathers” (Prov. 17:6).
Solomon, of all men, should have understood — perhaps he had heard and received this admonition from his father, David (Prov. 4:4; read 2 Sam. 11-12). Sadly, he didn’t heed it.
We should not overlook the spiritual application of this verse either. This world has something for every taste, but it has no concern for our hearts or eternal things. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he presents the Christian’s armor as our defense against spiritual wickedness: “having on the breastplate of righteousness” (Eph 6:14). In his letter to the Thessalonians, where the Christian’s proper hope and corresponding character is given, the Apostle presents things a little differently: “putting on the breastplate of faith and love” (1 Thess. 5:8). The heart is to be guarded by righteousness, faith, and love. If we know God’s love for us, we will not so easily succumb to the world’s illicit offers of love.
Ninth Discourse 5:1 — How Not to Find a Wife
In the ninth discourse we again find both a physical application and a spiritual one. Of the former, we might title the lesson “How not to find a wife.” “The lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: but her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell” (vss. 3-5). To be loved and to love in return is surely the most wonderful thing that any human can experience. Both men and women crave it, and yet how few really seem to find it — hence the escapist world of the romance novel and movie. Many men and women fall for flattering words because they desire to be loved. The other party, however, has no thought but the fulfillment of their own lusts and desires. Unfortunately, a relationship once entered into is not so easily broken. “Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house: lest thou give thine honor unto others, and thy years unto the cruel” (vss. 8-9). There will be plenty of time to mourn when it is too late (v. 11). Such errors do not spring out of nowhere; very often they result from a rebellious heart: “How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof” (v. 12).
The father does not leave the son with a negative view of marriage; he exhorts his son to enjoy the virtues of sanctified, wedded love. “Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth” (v. 18).
God sees and knows all of man’s doings; nothing is hid from Him, not even the affairs of the heart (v. 21). Man’s own sin binds him; it is not God that withholds (v. 22; consider Gen. 3:1-19).
The strange woman may also be viewed as a picture of false religion. There is much in the ceremonies, mystery and religiosity of the systems of men to attract the human spirit. However, it is all utterly false and leads to spiritual death (v. 5).
Tenth Discourse 6:1 — Business
God would have us to be discerning and to show forethought in our business dealings. Striking hands with another — who may even be a friend — and becoming surety for an obligation shows a lack of wisdom. If such an agreement is ever entered, we are urged to humble ourselves and seek deliverance from the trap we’ve entangled ourselves in (vss. 1-5). To form a business partnership with an unbeliever is contrary to the Word of God: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Cor. 6:14).
Laziness is not a virtue! The ants set us an example; though they have no visible leader, overseer or ruler, they nevertheless gather during the time of abundance and set aside for the lean winter months (vss. 6-11). Likewise, we are to be diligent in temporal things when God gives opportunity; the rainy day will come when we have need of those things that we have laid up for the occasion.
Faith is not to be confused with gullibility. The man of the world with the perverse mouth, who winks with his eyes, speaks with his feet, and teaches with his fingers, is not a man to be trusted (vss. 12-15). Seven things God hates: “a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren” (vss. 17-19). God would have us recognize these characteristics in others and we should judge them in our own lives; the Lord Jesus is our example.
Of Satan, we read: “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God” (Isa. 14:13). He deceived Eve into believing, “in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods” (Gen. 3:5). However, concerning the Lord, Paul writes: “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:6-8 JND). There was never a proud look with Him.
The Lord Jesus always told the truth, for He is the truth (John 14:6), and yet, because He spoke the truth, they would not believe Him (John 8:45). “His mouth is most sweet: yea, He is altogether lovely” (Song of Solomon 5:16).
The Lord healed the sick with His hands, raised the dead and blessed the little children, and yet men pierced those hands with nails. “Yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands (Isa. 49:15-16).
The Lord’s heart was always in communion with the Father: “I do always those things that please Him” (John 8:29), and “the counsel of peace shall be between them both” (Zech. 6:13). There never was an evil thought or imagination, for He “knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). “In Him is no sin” (1 John 3:5), and He “did no sin” (1 Pet. 2:22).
His feet wearied with travelling — “Jesus therefore, being wearied with His journey, sat thus on the well” (John 4:6) — but it was at those feet that the tired sinner found peace (Luke 7:36-50).
Although the chief priests sought false witnesses whereby they might find something to accuse Jesus of, His testimony was always true: “My record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go” (John 8:14).
The disciples endlessly strove amongst themselves sowing discord, and yet the Lord Jesus loved them unto the end (John 13:1), and of them He graciously says: “Ye are they which have continued with Me in My temptations” (Luke 22:28).
Eleventh Discourse 6:20 — Adultery
In the ninth discourse, the parents warn against making bad decisions when choosing a wife, but in the eleventh, they address the subject of adultery within marriage. “Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids. For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adulteress will hunt for the precious life. Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?” (vss. 25-27). It is a reproach that cannot be wiped away (v. 33).
Once again, what we find under Christ goes much further than the statues of the Mosaic Law: “whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).
God, however, does not limit His principles to the physical world. “Ye ask and receive not, because ye ask evilly, that ye may consume it in your pleasures. Adulteresses, know ye not that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore is minded to be the friend of the world is constituted enemy of God” (James 4:3-4 JND). These are strong words; however, the world and its pleasures are quite at variance with the new life we now possess. Indeed, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” (1 John 2:15-16).
Twelfth Discourse 7:1 — the Chambers of Death
This twelfth discourse is one of the most explicit of the entire book. There is no escaping its meaning! The young man from the security of the home looks out from the window into the world beyond (v. 6). There he sees the simple ones — “I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding” (v. 7) — entering the house of the harlot.
At this point in the young man’s life, it is of the utmost importance that the teachings of God are the apple of his eye, his sole focus, and that he has made Wisdom his sister and intelligence — his kinswoman (vss. 1-4). If these occupy our affections they will provide a safeguard against false love.
There is no reason why we should not take verse four somewhat literally. A young man does well to develop an appropriate, loving and kind relationship with his sister. The way he treats her says much about the way he will treat women in general, and especially his wife. On the other hand, a faithful and wise sister can provide guidance to the brother concerning the behavior of other girls.
The harlot flatters the young man and makes him feel wanted — “therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee” (v. 15; also 21). Her charm hides her deceit. Her conduct is a good guide as to how a girl should not behave. This is not love; this is lust. “Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning” (v. 7:18). The word used for “love” here, means to “boil” — it speaks of dissolute passion.
Like a sticky piece of fly paper, this impudent hussy attracts the simple. And as an ox to the slaughter, the vain young man falls for the trap. “Hearken unto me now therefore, O ye children, and attend to the words of my mouth. Let not thine heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her paths. For she hath cast down many wounded: yea, many strong men have been slain by her. Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death” (vss. 24-27).
Everything that has already been said, as to the allure of false religion and the charms of this world, once again apply and need not be repeated. It should again be noted, however, that the harlot has an aura of spirituality — “I have peace offerings with me; this day have I payed my vows” (v. 14) — however, religion and superstition should never be confused with faith; they are poison to the soul. When we think of religion, perhaps our thoughts jump to the ceremonies and robes of Catholicism, or of the Episcopal Church, or any of the other older, established sects. Worse than this, however, and certainly much more to be feared, are the New Age philosophies that permeate today’s music and entertainment.
The 12 discourses are now complete; the young man stands at the crossroads. “Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding give forth her voice? On the top of high places by the way, at the cross-paths she taketh her stand” (vss. 1-2 JND).
Wisdom’s call is also to the simple and the fool, but the eighth chapter stands in sharp contrast to the seventh; nothing is subversive or hidden with Wisdom’s ways. She is “at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors” (v. 3) — right there, no matter the circumstance. Do we avail ourselves of her many qualities, or do we obstinately persist in our own ways?
Three Hebrew words are used for “fool” in Proverbs; this adds nuances missed by the English reader. In this instance (v. 5) the word means “fat” — it has the sense of obstinance, not moved by reason, stupidity.
Five attributes characterize the wisdom of God — this reminds us of David’s five smooth stones; they are giant slayers! When wisdom speaks, it is of excellent and right things, they are truth and righteousness, and her words are plain to him that understands. The last may appear to be a tautology — if we understand, then of course something is plain — but if we recall that “understand” comes from “perceive” (Prov. 1:2) then the difficulty vanishes. Often, however, we are in need of God’s eye-salve because we are so blinded by our own conceit that we cannot see (Rev. 3:17-19).
“The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate” (v. 13). Evil, pride (self-glorification) and arrogance (self-confidence) characterize man, whereas to hate evil is evidence of the fear of God.
Man desires money over instruction, knowledge and wisdom (vss. 10-11). If, however, we respond to Wisdom’s cry, we will find that: “Riches and honor are with me; yea, durable riches and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, yea, than fine gold; and my revenue than choice silver. I lead in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment: that I may cause those that love me to inherit substance; and I will fill their treasures.” (vss. 18-21). Do we desire blessing in the life choices we make? If so, following our own hearts is a sure recipe for disaster. Wisdom cries; love her, embrace her.
The latter half of chapter 8 presents Christ as the wisdom of God. Creation was guided by the power and wisdom of God; all was according to the perfectness of His ways. But it is in Christ that the wisdom of God finds its expression. He was with Jehovah from eternity past. “The LORD possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water” (vss. 22-24). More than this, He was the object and delight of the Father’s love (v. 30), and, marvel of marvels, His delights were with the sons of men and the earth they inhabit (v. 31).
The chapter does not bring in Christ’s rejection nor our redemption. It clearly does not touch on the church, the bride of Christ, whose place and portion is heavenly. It does, however, tell of God’s counsels towards man quite outside of Israel’s election. It anticipates the coming of the Son of Man. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good pleasure in men” (Luke 2:14 JND). However, it is not until Christ takes possession of the earth during the Millennium do we find this in the fullness of its expression.
Outside of the wisdom of God [Christ], there is no blessing for man. “Whoso findeth Me findeth life, and shall obtain favor of the LORD” (v. 35). Conversely, to reject the instruction of God is the way of sin and leads to death (v. 36).
Proverbs 9 — Two Homes
In the 9th chapter — the final in this section of Proverbs, and the concluding lesson for the young man — two houses are presented. The home built by wisdom provides a feast for all who dwell there; God will not be any man’s debtor. He provides both bread and wine (v. 5) — bread to strengthen man’s heart and wine to make it glad (Psa. 104:15). For any young man desiring to build a home, unless Christ is present as that living bread, true joy will be absent. Elsewhere, Proverbs speaks of the happy home where the Lord is present, even when there is little to commend it materially. “In the house of the righteous is much treasure: but in the revenues of the wicked is trouble ... Better is little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble therewith. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith” (Prov. 15:6, 16-17).
The chapter is broken by a parenthesis — a warning! The scorner is unreproveable (vss. 7-8). It is a most serious thing to be found in this position. Those who derided the Lord were shut out of the house and put away from His presence (Luke 8:53). In contrast, “Rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning” (vss. 8-9). A wise man does not believe he knows everything but is always ready to learn. God does not instruct us for His benefit, though undoubtedly He takes pleasure in the righteous; it is for our blessing. The scorner ultimately will bear his position alone, just as the wise will enjoy the benefits of his God-given wisdom (v. 12).
The second house is that of the foolish women. There is no feast there; the only water and bread present has been stolen. It is true that “stolen waters are sweet, and the bread of secrecy is pleasant” (v. 17), just as there is passing pleasure in sin (Heb. 11:25), but the end is death (v. 18). These things appeal to the dark recesses of man’s unregenerate heart. Unchanged by God, man flees from His light and rejects His wisdom. A household in such darkness can only bring forth misery. Those of us who have had the sorrow of knowing such a home — where things that are unclean and defiling have been freely allowed and fed upon — have witnessed the destruction, especially to the children raised in such a horrible environment.
Proverbs 10-29 — the Proverbs of Solomon
Rather than reproduce an outline of the book of Proverbs, let us consider some of the key subjects addressed by Solomon. Proverbs has much to say about wisdom and righteousness; it also speaks of the tongue and relationships. Marriage and the family are also touched upon. Proverbs addresses itself to man’s heart and its inner workings — sorrow and joy, pride and humility, fear and trust. These lists are by no means exhaustive; furthermore, we will find them to be intertwined.
As others have noted, the book gives us divine wisdom for an earthly pathway. The matters addressed relate to our conduct in this world, God’s observation of them, and His response to them.
Before we consider a few of these topics, let us look at the structure of a proverb. Two devices are frequently employed: contrasting and complementing parallelisms. In each instance two parallel statements are made. In the first, they are contrasted to emphasize a point. “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins” (Prov. 10:12). This form is especially used in chapters 10-15. In the second, complementing statements are used; often an action followed by the consequence: “Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established” (Prov. 16:3). While I would like to keep things positive, often both positive and negative consequences are coupled together. God is always faithful to warn us; He is never capricious.
Wisdom and Folly
Not surprising, the book of Proverbs has much to say on wisdom and foolishness. Wisdom is not always what we know, but knowing what we don’t know! “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise” (Prov. 12:15). The wise are not offended by criticism. “The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise. He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.” (Prov. 15:31-32). Granted, not all criticism is constructive, but the wise will seek to learn whatever they may from it. We should avoid taking things personally; when we do so, whether we mean it or not, we make ourselves the reference point and judge according to our emotions (James 4:11-12). It is always good to seek God’s perspective on a situation.
The wise man will seek counsel and guidance. “Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established” (Prov. 15:22). “Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end” (Prov. 19:20). Our first and last resource, however, should always be the word of God; let it be our standard. Sound teachers and wise counselors are to be valued and consulted, but their advice should be measured against the word of God. “There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD” (Prov. 21:30). No true wisdom will run contrary to the word of God, and neither will God’s wisdom ever be defeated.
Wisdom must have something to work with — knowledge. Knowledge alone puffs up (1 Cor. 8:1), but wisdom plus knowledge gives us understanding. “The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.” (Prov. 18:15) Knowledge enters through the head, but it must affect the heart. In this vein, we should choose companions that lift us up and not drag us down, who will be a help and not a hindrance. “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed” (Prov. 13:20). “It is as sport to a fool to do mischief: but a man of understanding hath wisdom” (Prov. 10:23).
In the New Testament we read, “charity vaunteth not itself” (1 Cor. 13:4). Without confusing the two thoughts, this is also true of wisdom. Wisdom does not boast; only fools tell everyone how wise they are. Wisdom rests in the heart of the wise and gives them confidence, and, when wisdom speaks, others are edified (Rom. 14:19). “Wisdom resteth in the heart of him that hath understanding: but that which is in the midst of fools is made known” (Prov. 14:33). “The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning” (Prov. 16:21).
Righteousness and Wickedness
Many verses in Proverbs take the form: “The LORD will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish: but He casteth away the substance of the wicked” (Prov. 10:3). Naturally, we might wonder, when? After all, the wicked seem to do just fine! Asaph mused over the same paradox: “I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psa. 73:3). It wasn’t until Asaph entered the sanctuary of God that he understood their end (Psa. 73:17). “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12). There will be a time of reckoning; we do not take things into our own hands: “Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and He shall save thee” (Prov. 20:22). “Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the LORD all the day long” (Prov. 23:17).
If there are negative consequences associated with God’s government, there are also positive ones as well. “The fear of the wicked, it shall come upon him: but the desire of the righteous shall be granted” (Prov. 10:24). “Delight thyself also in the LORD; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Psa. 37:4). This does not mean that we are granted all our selfish wishes — we have a Father who loves us too much to do that — but rather, we have a God who knows our true needs. When He satisfies those desires, we become a channel of blessing to others: “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and the wise winneth souls” (Prov. 11:30 JND). Again, “Fools make a mock at sin: but among the righteous there is favor” (Prov. 14:9). “The LORD is far from the wicked: but He heareth the prayer of the righteous” (Prov. 15:29).
The righteousness spoken of in Proverbs is that practical righteousness expressed in our lives; it is not the means whereby we are justified before God — that can only be had in Christ. Nevertheless, God works a work in our lives to make righteousness shine for Him. “The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD trieth the hearts” (Prov. 17:3). “Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer” (Prov. 25:4).
The Tongue
“The tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” (James 3:5). By words, wars have started and wars have ended. It should not surprise us to learn that many proverbs address the tongue.
A Righteous and Wise Tongue:
A righteous tongue is greatly to be valued. “The tongue of the just is as choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worth” (Prov. 10:20). To be able to say the right thing at the right time is a great skill and something we should work at. “The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable: but the mouth of the wicked speaketh frowardness” (Prov. 10:32). If we understood the blessing it brings, not to the hearer, but to the speaker, we would be more diligent to study what we say. “A man shall eat good by the fruit of his mouth: but the soul of the transgressors shall eat violence” (Prov. 13:2). Invariably we lash out, because, “they need to hear it!” Rather than addressing the matter, things explode. Conversely, “whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles” (Prov. 21:23).
The Healing Tongue
We should not underestimate the power of the tongue: “death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Prov. 18:21). We may turn another towards the gospel of salvation, or, we may turn them away. In our daily conversations, we can wound or heal. “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health” (Prov. 12:18). It may be that a faithful word must be spoken (Prov. 27:6), but let us remember “a soft tongue breaketh the bone” (Prov. 25:15). Then again, a kind word to one with a heavy heart can lift the sprit. “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad” (Prov. 12:25).
A little consideration for others goes a long way. We may be “on top of the world” in the morning; others may be a little slower coming around. “He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him” (Prov. 27:14). These proverbs all speak for themselves; there is no difficulty in understanding them. Ceasing to justify our own words is considerably more difficult. “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Prov. 16:24) “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Prov. 25:11).
An Incessant Tongue
The tongue that runs on and on suggests a mind that’s not engaged. A prating tongue is not characteristic of the wise. “In the multitude of words there wanteth [lacks] not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise” (Prov. 10:19). “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness” (Prov. 15:2). Being always ready with a quip or some clever saying is simply a device to draw attention to oneself and often leads to that which is in poor taste. These things are inappropriate for the Christian: “let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient [proper]: but rather giving of thanks” (Eph. 5:4). To blurt out the first thing that comes to mind doesn’t make one appear wise; quite the opposite, it can leave one looking foolish. “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding” (Prov. 17:28).
Angry Words
Proverbs does not have one good thing to say about anger. There is such a thing as righteous anger, and the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, writes: “be ye angry, and sin not” (Eph. 4:26). However, I would suggest that the anger spoken of is nothing like the unrestrained passion we are familiar with. Invariably, one justifies their anger by calling it “righteous” with little regard to its true source or nature.
Everything Solomon writes on the subject confirms this. He readily acknowledges the difficulty in restraining that angry spirit that boils up inside. “He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city” (Prov. 16:32). The least we can do is acknowledge our failure; better yet, when that feeling arises, let us walk away holding our tongues!
It is an honorable thing to avoid anger. “The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression [offence]” (Prov. 19:11). Sadly, we frequently fall into the error of supposing that we are defending honor by becoming angry! Anger never results in anything good; typically it will elicit a backbiting retort. “The north wind bringeth forth rain, and the angry countenance a backbiting tongue”   (Prov. 25:23 JND). There is, however, something worse than anger! “Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?” (Prov. 27:4). “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work” (James 3:16).
Lying, Slander and Flattery
Lying and slander differ little in purpose. Certainly, lying is telling a falsehood, whereas slander may speak of something that is perfectly true; however, the motive in both is to injure another. In God’s sight, they are equally condemned: “Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight” (Prov. 12:22). “An ungodly man diggeth up evil: and in his lips there is as a burning fire” (Prov. 16:27). Sadly, slander is easily justified — “I needed help on the matter,” “how can we pray intelligently, except the thing be made known?” It may be necessary to seek advice; but if done honestly, few will be taken into confidence, and those we entrust with the matter may be counted upon to let it go no further. “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Prov. 11:13). “Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth” (Prov. 26:20).
Flattery is first-cousin to lying; both involve falsehoods: the one to hurt, the other to gain mastery. “A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin” (Prov. 26:28).
God is equally condemning of those who listen to lies and evil gossip. One person simply pouring out their vitriol does not require us to listen. Sadly, human nature readily falls prey to the seduction of juicy details! “A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue” (Prov. 17:4).
The Contentious Tongue
“As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife” (Prov. 26:21). Contention and strife go hand-in-hand; it is neither a sign of intelligence nor wisdom to be contentious. “A fool’s lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for strokes” (Prov. 18:6). It is best to leave off talking with a contentious person, for nothing is to be gained except a great flood of trouble. “The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water: therefore leave off contention, before it be meddled with” (Prov. 17:14).
Friends and Neighbors
As the prodigal discovered, money buys many fair-weather friends, but when the crisis came, he found he had none. “Wealth maketh many friends; but the poor is separated from his neighbor” (Prov. 19:4). A true brother will stick with us, even through adversity. “A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17). Regardless, friends will let us down and a man that depends on others to carry him through will ultimately be disappointed. We do, however, have a friend in the Lord Jesus who sticks closer than a brother; He never disappoints. “A man of many friends will come to ruin but there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24 JND).
Proverbs has much to say concerning the destitute. Like the priest and Levite we can pass by on the other side (Luke 10:31-32), or we can show them kindness as unto the Lord (Matt. 25:35-40). “He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will He pay him again” (Prov. 19:17).
Hatred will seek to expose the sin or weakness of others; love avoids such strife. “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins” (Prov. 10:12). Love, however, is neither foolhardy nor blind; we do not form friendships indiscriminately. “Make no friendship with an angry man; and with a furious man thou shalt not go: lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul” (Prov. 22:24-25). “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished” (Prov. 22:3; 27:12).
There’s a fine line between showing care and being meddlesome; a good neighbor respects other’s boundaries. “Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbor’s house; lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee” (Prov. 25:17). To insert ourselves into strife is foolishness; it is often a matter of pride, supposing we can fix the matter. “He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears” (Prov. 26:17). It is honorable to avoid strife and meddling. “It is an honor for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling” (Prov. 20:3).
The Lord will take care of His own, and if He brings sorrow into the life of another, we do not rejoice at their downfall; God’s anger may well turn towards us! So often we are the hindrance in the Lord’s work with others. It is not our place to cheer or jeer from the sidelines; in so doing we judge God. “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: lest the LORD see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him” (Prov. 24:17-18). Conversely, “when a man’s ways please the LORD, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him” (Prov. 16:7).
We do not devise evil against our neighbors (Prov. 3:29) nor do we deceive them — even in jest. “As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, so is the man that deceiveth his neighbor, and saith, Am not I in sport?” (Prov. 26:18-19). The humor in a practical joke is often limited to those observing. To derive pleasure from another’s embarrassment or hurt is cruel. Before playing such games, make sure the other person is party to it, lest you should make them angry.
“Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend” (Prov. 27:17). While this verse has a wonderful, positive application, if our acerbic remarks are causing pain in the faces of our brethren, then this is neither friendly nor kind. Such abrasiveness only serves to dull and does not sharpen the senses of others. We should not excuse such behavior with a verse like this.
The Heart
Others may empathize, but no one can know our hearts. “The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy” (Prov. 14:10). Too often we feel let down by others because we expect more than they can possibly give. When we do have opportunity to encourage someone, listen! Don’t fix them! It simply depreciates their feelings. “As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather, and as vinegar upon nitre, so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart” (Prov. 25:20).
The person that has everything finds pleasure in nothing! “The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet” (Prov. 27:7). We will be equally disappointed with this world’s hollow laughter. “Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness” (Prov. 14:13). Happiness must come from within; it will not be found in circumstances without. “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken” (Prov. 15:13). I do not mean to suggest that we look for “inner strength”; God alone is our resource. When all is dark, He is the light which lightens the eye: “The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart: and a good report maketh the bones fat” (Prov. 15:30). Joy and rejoicing are constant themes of Paul in his letter to the Philippians; despite being in prison, the Apostle had learned contentment (Phil. 4:11).
We may propose, but it is the Lord who directs our steps. “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps” (Prov. 16:9). It is not wrong to plan, but it must be, “If the Lord will” (James 4:15). Truly we can be thankful that this is so, for others may plot and scheme, but we have this confidence that God’s counsel can never be thwarted. “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand” (Prov. 19:21). Our place of hope and trust is in the Lord. “In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge” (Prov. 14:26). If we are pursuing our own wills, however, all will be fearful and uncertain. “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Prov. 28:1).
The Lord wants us to give Him our hearts: “My son, give me thine heart, and let thine eyes observe my ways” (Prov. 23:26). He has placed eternity in our hearts, and He alone can fill them (Eccl. 3:11 margin). Only God can know our hearts. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts” (Prov. 21:2).
Marriage
“Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the LORD” (Prov. 18:22). If this is true, then why do so many marriages end in divorce? Between 40% and 50% of marriages contracted in 2012 will fail. Being a nominal Christian does not change anything; in fact, for those who label themselves as conservative Protestants, the number is even higher! The data is better for couples that outwardly “walk the talk” — but that’s as far as statisticians can take us.
As we’ve already observed, humans are selfish creatures. Most marriages are entered into with a single thought in mind, “What is my partner going to do for me?” When the spouse fails to meet that expectation, the marriage begins to fall apart. God created the woman to be a help meet — that is to say, the man’s perfect counterpart — not a helpmate. Both the husband and wife have God-given roles, and when they work together, each meeting the need of the other, then a happy marriage ensues — though not without trouble in the flesh (1 Cor. 7:28).
The verses we find in Proverbs are especially directed to the man — his role and what he is to look for in a wife. The young man is to first establish himself; as the primary bread-winner he should be able to provide a stable income for his family. “Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house” (Prov. 24:27).
Paul in writing to the Corinthians confirms that marriage is good, but only in the Lord (1 Cor. 7:39). If we look to the Lord to provide a wife, then we can be sure that He will provide a prudent wife. “House and riches are the inheritance of fathers: and a prudent wife is from the LORD” (Prov. 19:14). Too many young men only look on the outside and never go beyond the superficial. The word prudent takes in a number of attributes — wise, intelligent, skillful. “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones” (Prov. 12:4). Clearly for many, this discovery is made too late! In the last chapter of Proverbs we have God’s description of a virtuous woman; He does not leave us without a guide.
The man is to provide for his family (1 Tim. 5:8), for necessary wants plus a little to share (Titus 3:14), but when riches and material things become the focus, happiness will be missing. “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith” (Prov. 15:17). “Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is established: and by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious and pleasant riches” (Prov. 24:34). The husband is responsible to provide food for the body and spiritual sustenance for the soul. To neglect or abandon that responsibility is like a bird abandoning the nest. “As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place” (Prov. 27:8).
The task of building a home is a joint one. “Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands” (Prov. 14:1). If there aren’t shared goals and values, then each will be pulling in a different direction and destruction will result (Eccl. 4:912). There are five verses that speak of the nagging, contentious, angry, brawling woman. “A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike” (Prov. 27:15). As others have observed, a happy wife makes for a happy home. Clearly the responsibility for a happy home does not fall entirely to the wife, but her demeanor has a significant impact upon the mood of the family.
Children
“A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish man despiseth his mother” (Prov. 15:20). It is not that a wise son doesn’t make a mother glad (see Prov. 23:25), but sons have a tendency to despise the instruction of their mothers. Clearly there are adjustments to be made in the relationship as the son grows into a young man, but to despise a mother’s care is foolishness. Timothy was one who valued both his mother and grandmother and learned from them (2 Tim. 1:5); as a result he grew into a godly, caring young man (Phil. 2:20). Sadly, Solomon did not seem to profit from his mother’s advice (Prov. 31:13).
“Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old. Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding. The father of the righteous shall greatly rejoice: and he that begetteth a wise child shall have joy of him. Thy father and thy mother shall be glad, and she that bare thee shall rejoice” (Prov. 23:22-25). All can be set before the child — as food on a plate — but unless it is valued and digested, it will never be appropriated. There comes an age when a child must feed itself; he or she must buy the truth and hold fast to it.
Seven verses in this section of Proverbs speak of chastening. “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying” (Prov. 19:18). Corporal punishment is considered barbaric, and in some countries it is outlawed. Man sets his wisdom above God’s. Statistics that speak of a violent home leading to violent children aren’t necessarily wrong; but this is not what Scripture speaks of. Godly discipline is to be exercised in love before the Lord, with the child’s welfare in view. It may involve the rod, but it should never be carried out in anger. “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
Business and Finances
A considerable number of proverbs address the subject of business and finance. Of this large number, more than 20 verses are devoted to laziness! The principle is quite simple: if we are lazy, we will be the loser for it. “The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat” (Prov. 13:4). The slothful man is full of vain, empty talk: “In all labor there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury” (Prov. 14:23); and yet, at every turn, he finds a reason to give up: “The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets” (Prov. 22:13). The lazy man is also a great waster (Prov. 18:9), lacks foresight (Prov. 20:4), is devoid of understanding (Prov. 24:30-34), and is wise in his own conceit (Prov. 26:16).
On the positive side, there are proverbs that address diligence and the wisdom of foresight. “He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame” (Prov. 10:5). The wise businessman invests in his operation and will take care of his equipment (Prov. 14:4; 12:10). Though riches may fail, providing he hasn’t squandered his capital (in this instance his livestock and property) the diligent man can feed and clothe his household. “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. For riches are not for ever: and doth the crown endure to every generation? The hay appeareth, and the tender grass sheweth itself, and herbs of the mountains are gathered. The lambs are for thy clothing, and the goats are the price of the field. And thou shalt have goats’ milk enough for thy food, for the food of thy household, and for the maintenance for thy maidens” (Prov. 27:23-2723Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. 24For riches are not for ever: and doth the crown endure to every generation? 25The hay appeareth, and the tender grass showeth itself, and herbs of the mountains are gathered. 26The lambs are for thy clothing, and the goats are the price of the field. 27And thou shalt have goats' milk enough for thy food, for the food of thy household, and for the maintenance for thy maidens. (Proverbs 27:23‑27)). This important principle has been popularized in tales such as Aesop’s about the “goose that laid the golden egg.” If you eat the goose, you’ll never get another egg! Another way of looking at it is expressed in the saying: “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”
Riches, whether obtained honestly or through deceit, do not of themselves bring blessing or happiness (Prov. 15:6; 15:16; 20:21, etc.). Often they have quite the opposite effect. Riches do offer a sense of security, but even this is false (Prov. 11:28; 18:11). However, when the Lord makes us rich, there are no sorrows added to it: “The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow with it” (Prov. 10:22; also 15:6). Of course, these riches may not be monetary.
God soundly condemns those that use deceitful means to gain riches (Prov. 11:1; 20:14; 21:6; 22:28, etc.). While the end may be achieved, it leaves us in misery. “Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel” (Prov. 20:17). The righteous man will be honest and transparent in all his dealings with others.
That there will always be haves and have-nots goes without saying. The Lord said, “the poor always ye have with you” (Prov. 12:8). The apostles instruct us to “remember the poor,” of which Paul could say: “the same which I also was forward to do” (Gal. 2:10). If we wait until we have enough to give, we never will; but if we give, then God sees that there is sufficient to go around. “There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty” (Prov. 11:24; also 11:25-26). “He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack: but he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse” (Prov. 28:27). We do not give, however, to get a blessing; rather, it should be an expression of the love of God. “Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17). On the other hand, Scripture does not contemplate a welfare state: “if any man does not like to work, neither let him eat” (2 Thess. 3:10 JND).
Proverbs 30 — the Words of Agur
In Agur we find a man who recognized his own feebleness and lack of intelligence. Here was one who saw that man, in and of himself, cannot know God. “I neither learned wisdom, nor have the knowledge of the Holy” (v. 3). What a perfect starting point for one to receive the wisdom of God.
God’s wisdom, as expressed through His word, is our perfect resource. Man cannot add nor subtract anything from it without proving himself a liar. “Every word of God is pure: He is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him. Add thou not unto His words, lest He reprove thee, and thou be found a liar” (vss. 5-6). On numerous occasions the critics have tried to discredit the Bible, only to prove that they are the ignorant ones.
Man is always striving for something. Agur desired just two things: he asked that his iniquity be removed far from him, and he wanted neither riches nor poverty, but rather, the simple meeting of his daily needs (vss. 6-7). What more could we ask for? Agur never had the assurance of these things; we do! We can say with absolute confidence, “the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7), and, as we’ve already noted, “God shall abundantly supply all your need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19 JND).
In the verses that follow, Agur gives us the true character of this world and our pathway through it. “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness” (v. 12). Here, as elsewhere in Scripture, the word generation describes a moral class. It is used habitually in this sense in the Gospels, and especially Matthew and Luke.
Man is never satisfied; like the grave, the childless women, the earth scorched by drought, and the raging fire, nothing satisfies; he can do nothing to fill the void in his heart (vss. 15-16). The development of evil in this world, and especially within Christendom, has been an insidious one (v. 19). The eagle soars majestically upon invisible air currents, but then it plummets towards its prey. The deadly serpent slithers across the rock and no one knows where it’s been. A ship on the sea leaves no trail, but the plunder in its hold belies its innocence. By false promises of love, a man seduces a woman to her ruin. And so it is also true of this world, and especially the religious world; she sits as the adulteress and says, “I have done no wickedness” (v. 20). There is, however, a day coming when all things will be manifest and set right, but for now we see many things contrary to wisdom and nature (vss. 21-23).
Faith, however, looks beyond circumstances. The ants are not strong and yet they prepare their meat in the summer (v. 25). There is something beyond this temporal scene for which we, too, should be preparing. “As fellow-workmen, we also beseech that ye receive not the grace of God in vain: ... now is the well-accepted time; behold, now the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:12 JND). Typically, this verse is directed towards the sinner; it is actually for the saint. What are we doing with our lives; is there any eternal profit in the things we do? The conies make their homes in the rock (v. 26); are we hiding in the shelter of the Rock and building on that foundation which is Christ? (Matt. 7:24-27; 1 Cor. 3:11). The locusts are guided by an unseen leader, as we also should be (v. 27). The oneness of the church was to be a powerful testimony to this world. Instead, the confusion introduced by man, and the rejection of Christ as our head in heaven, has resulted in the exact opposite. As the gecko invisibly clings to walls of the king’s palace, so we cling to the promises of God by faith (v. 28).
Despite the state of this world, the Christian has every reason to be stately and comely in his going. Four examples are given as encouragement: a lion for its boldness, a horse for its fearless strength (Job. 39:19-25), a goat because it overcomes obstacles, and a king who is uncompromising in his standards (vss. 29-31).
These things cannot be forced upon the world; this ends in bloodshed and strife as Christendom has proven time and time again throughout her sad history. It is a work that must begin in our hearts and walk (vss. 32-33).
Proverbs 31 — the Words of King Lemuel’s Mother
The last chapter of Proverbs is widely known for its description of the virtuous woman. Rather than revisit this well-known portion, I would simply offer the following summary of the advice given to the king by his mother.
The young prince was warned against giving his strength to a woman (v. 3). This was not merely the opinion of a mother, for the story of Samson must surely have been a familiar one.
Wine takes away the acumen of a man (vss. 4-7). Alcohol is the most widely-abused mind-altering drug available, and yet it is treated so lightly. Alcohol’s rightful place is amongst the pharmaceuticals as emphasized here, and as the Apostle Paul confirms to Timothy (v. 6; 1 Tim. 5:23). This is not the only portion in Proverbs that treats of wine and women; a detailed description is also found in chapter 23 (Prov. 23:19-25).
The mother’s heart also extended to those so often left unprotected. A king is in a position to make a difference, and she desired that her son would plead the cause of those left desolate, and to administer righteous judgment towards the afflicted and needy (vss. 8-9). To the degree that we can also make a difference, we should not be neglectful to do good (Heb. 13:16). “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
The book closes with an acrostic description of the virtuous woman. The verses begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet (vss. 10-31). There are several portions within the Word of God restrained by such an arrangement. One might wonder why God would use such a device. At the very least, it provides a helpful memory aid. Perhaps the mother hoped that some of the qualities embodied in her alphabetic description would be remembered by her son.
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