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Exposition: Proverbs 10:1-32


Here begins the second division of this book which runs through 22:16. Whereas in the past the discourse has been pretty much connected, in this section most verses are unrelated to one another. “Hitherto we have been in the porch or preface to the proverbs; here they begin. They are short but weighty sentences; most of them are distichs, two sentences in one verse, illustrating each other,” [M. Henry]. “There are 376 proverbs in this collection and the parallelism is generally antithetic,” [Carroll]. This section begins in exactly the same way as the first did, (Prov. 1:1).

Proverbs 10:1 “The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother.” Solomon signs his writings in the very beginning, for he is not ashamed of this heavenly wisdom that he teaches. He shows the results upon the parents both of good and evil done by children. “The comfort of parents, natural, political, and ecclesiastical, depends upon the good behavior of those under their charge,” [M. Henry]. This proverb teaches the responsibility of both parents and children alike.

Proverbs 10:2 “Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death.” “Profit nothing” in the day of death, as the parallelism suggests, for all of one’s worldly goods are left behind when the death angels summon one. So it was with the rich man in Luke 12:19-21, and a number of other biblical examples of this could be cited. “We often see that scattered by the justice of God which has been gathered together by the injustice of men,” [M. Henry]. But to live righteously promotes long life, for there will be no cause for judgment to fall upon the individual.

Proverbs 10:3 “The Lord will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish: but he casteth away the substance of the wicked.” This does not promise that the righteous will never hunger physically, for saints have hundred at times, (1 Sam. 21:3; 1 Cor. 4:11; 2 Cor. 11:27; Heb. 11:27). However, the Lord’s promise is that they will not utterly starve, (Ps. 37:25-26). However, the primary thought here is that one shall not spiritually starve, for the righteous possess both the bread and water of life, (John 6:35, 48-51). But just as God works for the good of the righteous, He works against the good of the wicked. Wickedness can never be allowed to be permanently profitable, for that would teach men to be evil.

Proverbs 10:4 “He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.” Let none think that God’s promised provision is meant to encourage sloth and idleness, for diligence in our labor is God’s means of giving us our needs. Someone has wisely observed that God generally gives most to the most diligent and most faithful workers. Parallel teaching is found in Proverbs 13:4 and 19:15. Hard labor has been man’s decreed lot since he sinned in Eden, (Gen. 3:17-19), but it can be blessed to the enrichment of man by the Lord, where a man’s ways please the Lord. All attempts to get rich without honest labor are simply man’s denial of his sinfulness, and his attempt to bypass the curse. Labor is meant to remind man of his sinfulness.

Proverbs 10:5 “He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth same.” One of the characteristics of the wise son that makes glad his father, (v. 1), is his diligence in the time of opportunity. In the land of Israel, summer was the chief time of harvest, for both wheat and rye were reaped then. This is also a recurring theme throughout this book, (6:6; 30:24-25). While this is meant to primarily illustrate natural things, yet “summer” also has a spiritual meaning of the opportunity for salvation, as Jeremiah 8:20 shows. No one lives unto himself, and the child that causes shame, not only is dishonored himself, but he also dishonors his parents who have taught him.

Proverbs 10:6 “Blessings are upon the head of the just: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked.” “Blessings shall be on their head as a coronet to dignify them and as a helmet to protect them,” [M. Henry]. Several things are suggested by this first statement: (1) The head being the place of thought, it suggests that God’s blessings shall give peace. (2) God’s blessings shall be a crown to the just. (3) The head being also the motive center, it suggests that God’s blessings shall guide the just in their activities. (4) Christ being the Head of His justified ones, perhaps there is in this a prophecy of the Father’s blessings upon His Son during the millennium. For the wicked, there will be violence instead of blessings, and his mouth, by which he dishonored God, shall be silenced.

Proverbs 10:7 “The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot.” “Both the just and the wicked, when their days are fulfilled, must die. Between their bodies in the grave there is no visible difference; between the souls of the one and the other, in the world of spirits, there is a vast difference,” [M. Henry]. Many godly people have lived and died without a fitting memorial of them being preserved by man, but God has a book of remembrance containing the names and deeds of all His people, (Mal. 3:16-18). Often wicked people think that their fame will live on forever, but how quickly people forget the deeds of men even when they are great. In the day of judgment, instead of their names being honored, the sinful deeds they have done will cause their names to be execrated as those of rotten sinners.

Proverbs 10:8 “The wise in heart will receive commandments: but a prating fool shall fall.” Some people are wise in profession and pretense who are not truly wise in heart. But real wisdom is practical: it will be seen in its obedience to God’s revealed will. He who refuses to obey God’s commands shows his real character, whatever his profession may be. Their very rebellion, while it may flatter their proud hearts, will be against their own best interests. “Prating fool” is literally, “a fool of lips” (“prate” one who talks idly and at great length). “The fool’s lips, which are his prominent characteristic, are opposed to the wise man’s heart, which is his characteristic,” [Faussett]. The fool lacks heart, (6:32, margin), and so he does not understand, but continually mouths off about things he knows not of; but his folly shall ultimately be known, (2 Tim. 3:7-9). A person manifests his character by his response to God’s Word.

Proverbs 10:9 “He that walketh uprightly walketh surely: but he that perverteth his ways shall be known.” The upright walk is the sure walk because it is pleasing to the Lord, and so is blessed by Him. “Walk” suggests the daily life and way of a person, while “upright” means “in perfection” or “with integrity,” as in Genesis 20:5-6 and 1 Kings 9:4, etc. The upright walk is the daily life that is characterized by right living as regards both man and God. It is the life that is in harmony with the Lord’s commandments, (v. 8), which are His standards of right and wrong. “Perverted” has to do with that which is crooked or twisted. “Hypocrites are in continual danger, and are in fear, of their secret wickedness becoming ‘known,’” [Faussett].

Proverbs 10:10 “He that winketh with the eye causeth sorrow: but a prating fool shall fall.” Winking in the O.T. is always associated with doing evil to someone, (Job 15:12; Ps. 35:19; Prov. 6:13; 10:10). It is uncertain whether this act had the same significance then as it now does in our part of the world. Perhaps then as now, it was a sign to a confederate of deceit of a victim. In any case, its results were sorrow to the victim. Here, as in verse 8, “a prating fool” means “a fool of lips”. If men could but learn to control their mouths how much sorrow they could avoid, but the rash tongue will always be punished. “The connection of the clauses is, To speak feignedly, and to speak rashly, are both alike dangerous: to do the former hurts others, to do the latter hurts one’s self,” [Faussett].


In this section of this chapter, a great deal of emphasis is placed upon the mouth, and its right or wrong use. The character of the tongue is traced back to the character of the heart. It is shown that a person often reveals what he is by what he says. Few people realize the deep hurt that a loose tongue can inflict.

Proverbs 10:11 “The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked.” “It is striking how often Solomon dwells upon sins of the tongue; no member is so hard to control, none more surely indicates the man,” [Faussett]. James 3 is a fitting commentary on this verse. Solomon emphasizes the fact that the character of a man will be shown by what proceeds from his mouth: the foul-mouthed, slanderous and blasphemous person shows that he has a heart that is defective toward God and man. On the other hand, he who regularly speaks the Word of life, shows a heart controlled by the Spirit, and desires to do good to man. “Violence,” i.e., violent words, will be the characteristic of the wicked.

Proverbs 10:12 “Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins.” Hatred in the heart is the source of the violent words that issue from the mouth of the wicked. Christians ought to diligently guard their mouths lest any unchristian utterances should belie their profession, for our mouths are to be the instrument of building up, not tearing down, (Eph. 4:29). Hatred and love are contrasted as to their consequences. “The great mischief-maker is malice. Even where there is no manifest occasion of strife, yet hatred seeks occasion and so stirs it up,” [M. Henry]. Hatred stirs up where there is quiet: but love soothes and quiets where there is uproar. Our love to others is no atonement for our own sins, as some think, but our love for others will effectively cover their sins in our eyes, so that we will not be offended by them. This does not mean that we are to condone others sins, which are to be rebuked, (Lev. 19:16-18), but it is to be done in love, (Matthew 18:15; Eph 5:11).

Proverbs 10:13 “In the lips of him that hath understanding wisdom is found: but a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding.” “He who will not be taught understanding by words must be taught it by the ‘rod.’ The wise man carries the ornament of his wisdom in his ‘lips;’ the fool shall bear the disgrace of his folly on his ‘back,’” [Faussett]. Man’s lips were made to proclaim Divine Wisdom to others, but the fool, because he is “void of heart,” (margin), uses his lips rather for slander, stirring up strife, lying, blaspheming God’s name, etc.. Because of his misuse of the lips, he must be punished by the Lord. A “rod,” i.e., punishment is “for,” i.e., ordained, for the back of him who has not understanding. Hence it is both wise and profitable to learn spiritual knowledge.

Proverbs 10:14 “Wise men lay up knowledge: but the mouth of the foolish is near destruction.” It is part of true wisdom to be able to distinguish between true treasure, and mere junk. So many are treasuring up earthly wealth, and other things of this world which are to pass away, (Matthew 24:35; 1 John 2:15-17), which they ignore the true treasure of Divine wisdom which is to endure eternally. This refers to the mind, which is the storehouse of knowledge; the lips, (v. 13), are but the setters forth of this knowledge, and they cannot bring forth what has not been laid up in mind. The mouth of the foolish is near to destruction because it so often sets forth and causes destruction by what it says. “It is a considerable part of wisdom to know when to speak, and when to be silent,” [Faussett]. Even right words can be spoken at wrong times, and so can do great harm.

 Proverbs 10:15 “The rich man’s wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty.” Evidently this refers to the individual estimates of each of these, for the rich man certainly trusts in his riches generally, and the poor often think their poverty to be a degree of destruction. However, both are mistaken, for no one’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions, (Luke 12:15), for it takes the same amount of food to sustain life in each person, generally speaking, and the rich do not have more life than the poor; but often the rich man’s riches become a snare to his spiritual growth, (1 Tim. 6:6-10). Generally speaking, poverty has done more to keep people humbly trusting the Lord, than wealth has, which is often substituted for faith.

Proverbs 10:16 “The labor of the righteous tendeth to life: the fruit of the wicked to sin.” “This contrast with men’s false view of riches being a stronghold and poverty ‘destruction’ (v. 15) – the true view of what brings life and what brings destruction.” –[Faussett]. Both labor and fruit have to do with the produce of the respective ruling dispositions: if one’s ruling disposition has not been changed by grace, he will continue to produce only sin, but once he has been changed, the new man of the heart will produce that which is in harmony with the indwelling life. The produce of the wicked, because it is sin, tends only to death instead of to life, as the labor of the righteous does. Hence we read of “dead works”, (Heb. 6:1; 9:15), i.e., the works done by one who is yet spiritually dead, and so characterized by death because they not only spring from, but tend to, death.

Proverbs 10:17 “He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction: but he that refuseth reproof erreth.” As has been often in Proverbs, “instruction” has to do with disciplinary instruction = correction, chastisement. He who desires instruction in theory only, without its corrective force, is not in the way of life, but is deceived. The way of life is that which teaches one with a discipline that corrects the faults of his life. Alas, how many rejected all such instruction simply because they have no desire to be corrected. “They will not be taught their duty because it discovers their faults to them,” [M. Henry]. “To ‘keep disciplinary instruction’ is to admit it willingly into the ears, weigh it well in the heart, and show approval of it by obedience,” [Faussett]. “Erreth” is rather transitive—“cause to err.” One’s refusal to be corrected often affects others as well—family, friends, acquaintances, etc. Just as no one lives unto himself, so no one sins unto himself.”

Proverbs 10:18 “He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool.” Hatred is often cloaked under lies, and one pretends to be a friend when he is really the bitterest of enemies. This is hypocrisy. Sin is always gregarious—it gathers other sins. Hypocrisy, lying and hated were Cain’s sins, (Gen. 4:3-10). “Lying lips are bad enough of themselves, but have a peculiar malignity in them when they are made a cloak of maliciousness,” [M. Henry]. “Fool” suggests, not only impiety, but also self-sufficiency. Such is characterized by hatred, lying and slander. How many people regularly practice such sins, yet still flattered themselves that they are saints. He attempts to hide his hatred for others, but his hatred often breaks out as slander.

Proverbs 10:19 “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin: but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” More people sin in speaking too much than in not speaking enough. “I have been sometimes sorry that I spoke; I never have been sorry that I was silent,” [Xenocrates]. “Wanteth” has the old English meaning of to lack; hence, this is another way of saying there will be sin in the multitude of words. “Refrain” suggests the idea of putting a bridle on a beast. To bridle the tongue is the needed thing, (James 3:2-3). “Usually, those that speak much speak amiss, and among many words there cannot be many idle words,” [M. Henry]. Even idle words are accountable, (Matthew 12:34-37), for idle words are often sinful words. It is a wise human proverb which says: “Better to be silent and to be thought a fool, than to open one’s mouth and to confirm the fact.”

Proverbs 10:20 “The tongue of the just is as choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worth.” The heart is the fountain of man’s speech, and his speech will reveal his heart’s condition, (Matthew 12:34), which also explains why the speech of the wicked is so profane: it comes from the profane and wicked heart. The tongue of the justified man is valuable because it is the instrument of praise to God and the preaching of the gospel. It is good because it is directed away from self: it is used for the glory of God and the good of man. The wicked man’s tongue is used wholly for self, for his heart is yet wholly bound up with his own purposes.

Proverbs 10:21 “The lips of the righteous feed many: but fools die for want of wisdom.” Here again there is a contrast: the righteous, not seeking just for selfish gain, feed others, for they bear witness of the true Bread of Life, for they, being heavenly, speak heavenly things. But the unrighteous do not understand heavenly things, (1 Cor. 2:14), for they are carnal and earthly, and so they speak only earthly things, (John 3:31), and so they not only do not feed others with spiritual truth, but even they themselves die spiritually for lack of this heavenly wisdom. Better to be a fool in the world’s eyes because we believe and follow heavenly wisdom, than to be worldly wise, yet reject the true wisdom that gives us eternal life.

Proverbs 10:22 “The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it.” True riches consist in having the blessings of the Lord, for there is no sorrow attending the Lord’s enrichment. But often the riches of the world are accompanied by great sorrow because they may: (1) Have been obtained in a wrong way. (2) Have become a source of idolatrous trust. (3) Cause one to lust after forbidden things. (4) Become the cause of erring from the faith, (1 Tim. 6:6-10). (5) Cause one constant anxiety lest he lose them, (1 Tim. 6:17). Wealth is not the key to happiness, contrary to what many think, for most of the most desirable things in life cannot be purchased by wealth—salvation, peace of mind, health, happiness, heaven, etc., but these are all the gifts of God, who gives more to us while we are sleeping than we can earn ourselves, (Ps. 127:2) (Literally: “for so he giveth to His beloved sleeping”, or “In sleep”).

Proverbs 10:23It is as sport to a fool to do mischief: but a man of understanding hath wisdom.” The Hebrew for “mischief” is stronger than our English word, and suggests premeditated and heinous wickedness. It is more commonly rendered “wickedness”, (Lev. 19:29), or “lewdness”, (Judges 20:6). “He makes a laughing matter of sin. When he is warned not to sin, he makes a jest of the admonition,” [M. Henry]. One of the deceptions of Satan is to get people to treat sin lightly, for thereby they lose their fear of it, and are easily ensnared by it. Man’s responses to sin are generally in the following stages: (1) Revulsion. (2) Curiosity. (3) Amusement at it. (4) Cautious trying of it. (5) Wholehearted yieldedness to it. (6) Justification of it and persecution of all who speak against it.

Proverbs 10:24 “The fear of the wicked, it shall come upon him: but the desire of the righteous shall be granted.” Basically, this teaches that the righteous shall be blessed by the Lord, but He will cause evil to come to the wicked, and though the wicked may make a joke of sin and its consequences, (v. 23), yet those hidden fears which are prompted by a guilty conscience, shall one day be fully realized, his own conscience bearing witness against him in that day that he had known his deeds were evil, yet quenched that testimony. “It shall be as ill with the wicked as they can desire,” [M. Henry]. (Ps. 37:4). No one can lose serving the Lord, and no one can win while rebelling against Him: it is that simple.

Proverbs 10:25 “As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous is an everlasting foundation.” (Prov. 1:27). The suggestion is: (1) The brevity of the wicked. (2) The destructive course of his life. But (3) the righteous not only endure eternally, but they are a foundation upon which right can be built. “Whirlwind” refers to tornadoes. “No wind is more violent or lest lasting. So the wicked, the more violent and mischievous they are, the more quickly they fall,” [Faussett]. The everlasting stability of the righteous is due to their relation to the Lord: by faith they are partakers of the Divine nature, (2 Pet. 1:3-4), and as this cannot perish, so neither can they, and being of this nature, they are a fit foundation.

Proverbs 10:26 “As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so is the sluggard to them that send him.” Vinegar sets the teeth on edge, and smoke hurts the eyes; so the sluggard or lazy and slothful person to his employer. Note the characteristics of the sluggard: (1) Ignorant, (6:6). (2) Lazy, (6:9). (3) Unprofitable, (10:26). (4) Impoverished through his laziness, (13:4). (5) Concerned only about creature comfort, (20:4). (6) Egotistical and conceited, (26:16). “The sluggard, as a messenger, causes detriment to his employer by either not executing his commission at all, or else executing it badly,” [Faussett]. Employees owe their employers an honest day’s labor.

Proverbs 10:27 “The fear of the Lord prolongeth days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened.” (Prov. 9:11; Ps. 55:23). Righteousness, which comes about through a reverential fear of the Lord, always has a tendency to lengthen life, for it leads men to practice right principles. Sin, on the other hand, because it is the practice of things detrimental to health as well as to holiness, tends to shorten life, because some of them involve capital crimes, while others are simply detrimental to health, and yet others, being detrimental to holiness, must be punished so that men will realize that it is costly to sin. The sinner’s days may seem to be prolonged at times, but they are still but as a shadow—unsubstantial and fleeting, (Eccl. 8:12-13).

Proverbs 10:28 “The hope of the righteous shall be gladness: but the expectation of the wicked shall perish.” Many blessings in the present time are the lot of the righteous, yet their chief portion lies in the future, and so it is a “hope,” (Rom. 8:24-25). Eternal gladness awaits all the saved, regardless of what the present life has given them, (Isa. 35:10). On the contrary, the wicked shall have only frustration for all of his expectations. This is what hell shall chiefly consist of—eternal frustrations without hope of relief. As wicked man, by his rebellion, frustrates God’s purpose in his life, so God shall frustrate all the hopes of good of the wicked.

Proverbs 10:29 “The way of the Lord is strength to the upright: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.” While at this stage in God’s revelation to man, “the way of the Lord” had reference only to the practice of holiness, which indeed is strength to anyone, yet God’s fuller revelation shows that Christ is the “Way,” (John 14:6), and so is the true, spiritual strength to all the righteous. Curiously, and surely not accidentally, the name given to the angel of the bottomless pit (Abaddon in the Hebrew and Apollyon in the Greek), (Rev. 9:11), signifies destroyer. As men will not receive God’s Way, they are left unto the Destroyer. The choice has always been simple: God or the antigod, Satan.

Proverbs 10:30 “The righteous shall never be removed: but the wicked shall not inherit the earth.” This is a very common theme throughout all of the Bible, (Ps. 37:9, 11, 22, 29, 34; 25:13; Isa. 6:21; Matthew 5:5; Rom. 4:13; Rev. 21:1-7). The stability of the righteous is because his righteous is not his own, but it is the imputed righteousness of Christ which can never fail, (Rom. 4:3-5, 22-24; Isa. 61:10). It is on the basis of this that God’s people are promised an inheritance that fades not away, (1 Pet. 1:3-5). But the wicked, because all his righteousness is a self-righteousness, which is polluted, (Isa. 57:12; 64:6), has no part in the new, sinless heaven and earth that is to descend from God to be the eternal home of the saved.

Proverbs 10:31 “The mouth of the just bringeth forth wisdom: but the froward tongue shall be cut out.” “It is not by one or two good words that the righteousness of a man is to be estimated, but by continual usage, when one habitually cultivates purity of speech from love of and zeal for the truth,” [T. Cartwright]. James 3:9-11 likens the mouth to a spring which is known by its outflow. Truth must be the produce of the mouth of the righteous, and those whose mouths produce only evil shall be silenced. Anciently, rulers would sometime cut the tongue out of one who had spoken something they did not like. Though the wicked now may do much rebellious boasting, yet the time will come when the law of God will silence every mouth, (1 Sam. 2:9; Rom. 3:19; Ps. 107:42). Note the silence of man in Revelation 20:11-15 at the great white throne judgment. See also Revelation 8:1 just before the judgment trumpets begin to sound.

Proverbs 10:32 “The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable: but the mouth of the wicked speaketh frowardness.” “It is both the proof and the praise of a man’s wisdom and goodness that he speaks wisely and well…It is the sin, and will be the ruin, of a wicked man, that he speaks wickedly,” [M. Henry]. It is, technically speaking, not the province of the lips to “know” anything, for that is the province of the mind. But in a truly righteous person, the lips will automatically speak right, and restrain wrong just as if they had a knowledge of what is acceptable. They do so because they are controlled by the spiritual man of the heart. In like manner, the lips of the wicked speak evil because of the abundance of evil in the heart, (Luke 6:45). Generally speaking, a man’s own mouth will tell what he is in heart.

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