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Proverbs 12:1-28


This chapter continues the miscellaneous proverbs begun in Chapter 10. Several subjects that have been previously dealt with occur here, but there is no continuity of subject matter beyond two or three verses length. The main idea is the contrast between the righteous and the wicked.

Proverbs 12:1 “Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth reproof is brutish.” “Instruction” here as in Proverbs 1:2 and other places, means “discipline” or “chastisement,” so that it is shown that knowledge consists in more than mere theoretical, or “book” learning: it involves the development of practical “horse sense” in holy living. No discipline is loved for itself, for it is unpleasant, but a saved person will love it for its fruit—development in holiness, (Heb. 12:11). The unsaved person, like an animal, looks no further than the feelings of the moment, and so he hates anything that hinders his lusts…All Biblical reproof is designed for our good, and should not be despised.

Proverbs 12:2 “A good man obtaineth favor of the Lord: but a man of wicked devices will be condemn.” No one loses anything by being kind and good to others: God Himself will see to it, for His very nature obligates God to reward the doer of good, so that good may be promoted. This does not mean that anyone can ever earn the grace (favor) of God, but it does mean that every truly good deed will be blessed by the Lord. Sometimes, however, our “good” deeds are done only for selfish reasons, in which case, they are their own reward, and God will not reward them, (Matt. 6:1-2, 5, 16). By the same token, God must condemn all wickedness so that it will appear to men that He hates evil, in whatever form it may be. Note that not only does He condemn the wicked devices, but also the man who devises them.

Proverbs 12:3 “A man shall not be established by wickedness: but the root of the righteous shall not be moved.” “Though men may advance themselves by sinful arts, they cannot by such arts settle and secure themselves,” [M. Henry]. Many people live their whole lives out by wickedness and gather much material possessions, but in the end, they must die and face the judge of all and give an answer for their deeds. For any person to try to live by his own wits is an admission that he does not trust in the benevolence of God. The following texts suggest the importance of being rooted in righteousness, (Matthew 3:10; 13:6, 21; 15:13; Eph. 3:7; Col. 3:7). Both wickeness and righteousness result from a corresponding “root” in the heart. What a person does results from what he is in the heart.

Proverbs 12:4 “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones.” From discussing good and bad men, Solomon turns to the discussion of good and bad women. A virtuous woman (Ruth 3:11; Prov. 12:4; 31:10, 29) is always the chief ornament of a husband, and so is considered a favor from the Lord, (Prov. 18:22). “Husband” is literally “lord,” emphasizing the divine order of the sexes, which the Bible teaches throughout. This in no way justifies the abuse of a woman by a man, for the husband is always to love his wife as Christ loved the church—with a deep, self-denying, sacrificial love, (Eph. 5:23-29). There are many ways in which a wife may make her husband ashamed, but they are all like a disease in the bones, one of the hardest diseases to cure, and one that most debilitates a person.

Proverbs 12:5 “The thoughts of the righteous are right: but the counsels of the wicked are deceit.” (Prov. 23:7a). One’s thoughts are the index to his character. “We mistake if we imagine that thoughts are free; they are under the divine cognizance. A good man may have in his mind bad suggestions, but he does not indulge them and harbor them,” [M. Henry]. “Right” is literally “judgment”; i.e., in harmony with justice; the counsels of the wicked, on the contrary, are deceitful in order to achieve the wicked person’s ends.

Proverbs 12:6 “The words of the wicked are to lie in wait for blood: but the mouth of the upright shall deliver them.” (Prov. 1:11,18). The words as well as the thoughts of men will manifest the true character of them. The words of the wicked are their plottings against others whose blood they plan to shed violently. “Them” may refer either to the upright, or to those whom the wicked plot against. The “mouth,” i.e., the wise counsel, will deliver both.

Proverbs 12:7 “The wicked are overthrown, and are not: but the house of the righteous shall stand.” (Ps. 37:35-36; Prov. 10:25). “House” often refers to the descendents of a person and the intimation is that whereas the judgment of God will overthrow the wicked in due time, (Deut. 32:35), yet the righteous shall be prolonged through several generations, because one generation will teach the next the truth. The only way to be sure that our children will live right is to train them up in the right ways, (Prov. 22:6).

Proverbs 12:8 “A man shall be commended according to his wisdom: but he that is of a perverse heart shall be despised.” Not the outward, worldly success will commend a person, but obedience to the divine wisdom. Nor does this refer to the wisdom of this world, which sets itself against Christ, but the wisdom here meant is that simple wisdom of the gospel and its doctrines, (1 Cor. 1:19-31). A perverse heart is a wicked, unregenerate heart, which, though it may have great worldly wisdom, yet, because it is in rebellion against the Savior, shall be despised in the day of judgment.

Proverbs 12:9 “He that is despised, and hath a servant, is better than he that honoreth himself, and lacketh bread.” “Despised” here is a different Hebrew word than in verse 8. “Here, the references is to low estimation not through faultiness, but from absence of worldly display: as David calls himself (1 Sam. 18:23) ‘a poor man, and lightly esteemed’ (the same Hebrew as here): in verse 8 the reference is to contempt well grounded, because of perversity,” [Faussett]. Some men try to make themselves to be great when they possess nothing: it would be better to be thought light of, yet possess enough to own a servant than to vainly praise oneself.

Proverbs 12:10 “A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” (Deut. 25:4). Lordship over the brute creation does not give anyone the right to mistreat them. A righteous man, because he has become righteous through an act of mercy on God’s part, is also obligated to show mercy—even to soulless beasts. But even what the wicked considers to be tender mercies are, by right standards, still cruel. Balaam was rebuked for mistreating his ass, (Num. 22:28).

Proverbs 12:11 “He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread: but he that followeth vain persons is void of understanding.” Diligent labor shall be satisfied by the fruits of labor—a sufficiency of food. But no promise is given to the idler and loafer, nor he who follows such. Every community has some who are lazy and who expect others to take care of them. Sometimes these desire to become leaders, and may gain a following of others. But he who cannot take care of his own household has no business trying to lead others. He who follows such persons reveals his own lack of understanding.

Proverbs 12:12 “The wicked desireth the net of evil men: but the root of the righteous yieldeth fruit.” “Net” may also be rendered “fortress” (margin), (Ps. 18:2) or “bulwark,” (Eccl. 9:14). Perhaps it means that he desires the cunning of evil men whereby they are able to ensnare men. Or it may mean, as some think, that he desires the fortress or defense of evil men. But the righteous, so far from taking from others, produce fruit for others. “Thus, the righteous yielding their own fruit, for the good of others as well as themselves, stand in contrast to the wicked desiring to entrap in their net other evil men, so as to gain their goods. The wicked seek their good from without; the righteous have it within, their own root, deep and firmly sunk, supplying it,” [Faussett].

Proverbs 12:13 “The wicked is snared by the transgression of his lips: but the just shall come out of trouble.” “Many a man has paid dearly in this world for the transgression of his lips, and has felt the lash on his back for want of a bridle upon his tongue,” [M. Henry]. A man sins quicker with his lips than in almost any other way, (Jam. 3:2, 8). One who is careless in his talk will almost certainly ensnare himself sooner or later. He will go into detail about lying late in the chapter. But the just shall be delivered, (2 Pet. 2:9). We need not human wisdom to escape if we are the Lord’s: He will deliver us, (Ps. 50:15).

Proverbs 12:14 “A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth…unto him.” He who speaks the truth can be satisfied with it, and will not need to constantly tell different stories. The sad thing about liars is that they must constantly revise their stories to make them harmonize with other lies they have told. A liar must have a good memory so that he will not contradict his own words. By a man’s words he will either be justified or condemned, (Matthew 12:34-37). There is a fitting recompose for all that one says or does. This is the Divine law of sowing and reaping.

Proverbs 12:15 “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.” This is why the fool is always so argumentative: he thinks he cannot be wrong, and so that he must defend his every statement to the death. Sad is the case of such, (Isa. 5:21), for they make learning almost an impossibility by their proud assumption that they are always right. On the other hand, the wise man does not feel he must immediately defend his own views, but he listens to others, and so is teachable. “None is so wise as not to need good counsel, especially in the concerns of the soul. We have one great ‘Counselor,’ Messiah, who is made unto us ‘wisdom’ (Isa. 9:6; 1 Cor. 1:30),” [Faussett].

Proverbs 12:16 “A fool’s wrath is presently known: but a prudent man covereth shame.” “Presently” is literally “in that very day,” or immediately. Anciently, the English “presently” meant immediately or instantly. A fool makes his wrath known immediately by speaking out every time anyone seems to contradict his ideas, but the wise man, in refraining from getting into an argument, keeps from making himself ashamed by speaking unwisely. James 1:19-20 is wise counsel. A proud unwillingness to learn always brings shame, (Prov. 11:2; 13:18; 18:13). Shame is the one thing of all others that the proud man does not want, yet it is the thing that pride most surely brings about. God always makes the punishment correspond to the sin.

Proverbs 12:17 “He that speaketh truth sheweth forth righteousness: but a false witness deceit.” “Speaketh” is literally “breatheth,” suggesting that this is a continual, natural way of life to him. A person reveals with his mouth what his heart condition is, (Mark 7:20-23; Matthew 12:34-37). Thus, the man who continually breathes out truth shows that he is a righteous man, while the false witness will show his true character by the deceit that he speaks. The mouth is truly the index of the heart.

Proverbs 12:18 “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.” As verse 17 shows the condition of the heart by the workings of the mouth, so here the working of the mouth in the cases of the righteous and the wicked is seen in its results upon others. The one speaks cutting words: the other curing words. “The tongue is death or life, poison or medicine, as it is used. Slanders, like a sword, wound the reputation of those of whom they are uttered,” [M. Henry]. To be only a boneless member of flesh, it is amazing how sharp and cutting the tongue can be if it is not kept under control.

Proverbs 12:19 “The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” Here the contrast between truth and falsehood is seen in their continuance: the truth is unchangeable, and so it is enduring, never being succeeded by anything else; but falsehood endures only momentarily before it is revealed to be falsehood, and then passes away. Men may twist and distort facts in an endeavor to establish a lie, but it cannot be permanent; sooner or later the refuge of lies will be swept away, (Isa. 28:17). Since truth cannot long be eclipsed, nor falsehood long be established, how wise it is to build solely upon the enduring foundation of eternal truth.

Proverbs 12:20 “Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil: but to the counselors of peace is joy.” Since evil cannot establish itself by truth, it always resorts to deceit in an attempt to do so. It has long been one of Satan’s lies that “The end justifies the means,” and so, those who imagine evil conclude that any sort of deceit is justified to accomplish their desired end. However, evil always tends to sorrow, as the contrasting statement suggests. To those who counsel peace instead of devising evil, there is joy, for joy is the fruit of real peace.

Proverbs 12:21 “There shall no evil happen to the just: but the wicked shall be filled with mischief.” Momentary evils often happen to the just, but this rather means that no permanent evil shall befall them, and that they shall ultimately triumph through faith in the Lord, (1 John 5:4-5). One’s inward character shall determine whether or not evil comes to him, and this inward character, if it is good, comes from the Lord. To the evil, not only will evil come, but he will be filled with it. Sin is always permeative— it grows and spreads and takes over.

Proverbs 12:22 “Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are his delight.” God, Who is Truth, cannot tolerate lying, and all liars shall be shut out of His presence, (Rev. 21:8, 27; 22:15.) Every lie originates from Satan, who is the father of lies (John 8:44). Lying is one of the seven abominations of Proverbs 6:16ff. In the light of this teaching, how can anyone think to prosper through lying, unless he is atheistic and thinks there is no God, (Ps. 53:1)? Lying lips lead to lying deeds, just as those who deal truly do so because they also think and speak truly.

Proverbs 12:23 “A prudent man concealeth knowledge: but the heart of fools proclaimeth foolishness.” “He that is wise communicates his knowledge when it may turn to the edification of others, but he conceals it when the showing of it would only tend to his own commendation,” [M. Henry]. The fool, in an endeavor to appear wise, continually babbles out what he thinks he knows, but instead of impressing people with this wisdom he only reveals his foolishness and becomes known as a man of many words, (Prov. 29:11). Those who hold their peace, through fools, will be counted wise for their silence, (Prov. 17:28). “Better to keep silence and be thought a fool, then to open one’s mouth and confirm it.”

Proverbs 12:24 “The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute.” Diligence is the way to success in almost any realm, for it is approved of by both God and man. “Slothful” is more commonly rendered “deceitful” or “deceitfully,” as in Jeremiah 48:10. Often the slothful use deceitful practices in order to circumvent honest and diligent labor, but this is never permanently successful, for God’s curse must be on all that is not honest and upright. “Knavery is the way to slavery,” [M. Henry]. So long as the slothful tires to defraud others, he will find himself under a debt to others.

Proverbs 12:25 “Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.” Despondency and discouragement do more to stop the work of the Lord than almost any other things, for these strike at the very motive center of a man. How little it sometimes takes to cheer up a heavy heart: it does not say “a good sermon,” nor “a good speech,” but only “a good word.” How easy it would be for us to cheer up the heavy hearted around us. Alas, too often we are guilty of rather adding to their sorrows than lessening their load. Lifting burdens is the way to fulfill the law of Christ , (Gal. 6:1-2). This was Christ’s ministry, (Isa. 50:41; 61: 1-2).

Proverbs 12:26 “The righteous is more excellent than his neighbor: but the way of the wicked seduceth them.” “Excellent” is rendered “abundant” by some. The righteous have an abundance about them by grace that even they do not fully comprehend, but this abundance moves them to generosity with others. “There is a true excellency in religion; it ennobles men, inspires them with generous principles,” [M. Henry]. We receive an abundance of grace, (Rom. 5:17), and we are to share abundantly with others, (2 Cor. 8:1-3). Men generally do not follow the way of the righteous because the wicked lead them astray by appealing to the lusts of the flesh. But time will reveal that the way of the wicked is the way of death.

Proverbs 12:27 “The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting: but the substance of a diligent man is precious.” The slothful seems to enjoy hunting just for the sport of it, and then does not use what he has killed, but just lets it spoil. Wastefulness is a characteristic of the wicked. However, the righteous considers whatever substance he has a precious, and as a stewardship from the Lord to be used wisely. It is by divine knowledge, not by folly, that anyone gains precious substance, (Prov. 24:4). The righteous have the true riches, even godliness, which is eternal, (1 Tim. 6:6, 17). We may freely use the things of this world so long as we do not abuse them, nor let them abuse us, (1 Cor. 7:31). The world and all its substance is to pass away: only spiritual riches will abide, (1 John 2:17).

Proverbs 12:28 “In the way of righteousness is life: and in the pathway thereof that is no death.” “Pathway” means a narrow footpath as distinguished from a cart-path, which is wider. Our Lord Himself spoke of the narrow way that leads to life and the broadway that leads to destruction, (Matthew 7:13-14). He who walks in the path of righteousness shall never die because by this he becomes a possessor of Christ Who is Life, (John 8:51; 14:6). This is the pathway so plain that even fools, if they will walk therein, shall not err (Isa. 35:18). Jesus promised that those who live and believe in Him shall never die, (John 11:26), for this is to be possessed of the life of God Who cannot die.

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