STUDIES ON PROVERBS
This chapter, like the past ones, is made up of diverse subjects, ranging from the care of the home, (vv. 1, 11), to the farm, (v. 4), to public matters such as the courts, (vv. 5, 25), and the government, (vv. 28, 35). Because so much of this section is antithetic proverbs, contrasting good and evil, (v. 12), is almost like a central them for the whole. For convenience in dealing with this chapter, it will be broken up into three parts.
Proverbs 14:1 “Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.” “Buildeth” does not have to do so much with the manual erection of physical buildings as with the moral, spiritual and practical teaching and training of members of the household. In a spiritual sense, “to build a house” always means to edify or to build up in the trust, (Acts 20:32; 1 Cor. 3:10, 12, 14; Jude 20). In a physical sense, “To build or make a house” means to give descendents, (Ex. 1:21; 1 Sam. 2:5; 2 Sam. 7:11, 13, 27, 29; 1 Kings 11:38). However, numerous progeny become a curse if they are not well taught and trained, and a woman’s life is either blessed in her children if they are good, or blighted if they are evil, (1 Tim. 2:15).
Proverbs 14:2 “He that walketh in his uprightness feareth the Lord: but he that is perverse in his ways despiseth him.” “Each man’s religion is to be estimated by its fruits in his life,” [Faussett]. One’s walk is his habitual way of life, and it will reveal his attitude toward God, either as a reverence for Him, or a contempt of Him. “Grace reigning is a reverence of God, and gives honor to him. Sin reigning is no less than a contempt of God,” [M. Henry]. “Perverse” means to depart from accepted standards, and so it suggests that he shows his despite for God by transgressing His commands which are the standard for all men’s conduct, (Matthew 7:16-20).
Proverbs 14:3 “In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride: but the lips of the wise shall preserve them” The fool’s tongue is his rod of pride, for he boasts of his supposed excellencies in an attempt to exalt himself, but this is not to either walk uprightly nor to fear the Lord. But one thing about a fool’s boasting: it recoils back on him, and he is soon known for what he is—a fool of empty words, and so his own boasting becomes a rod of chastisement upon him, for the worst thing that can happen to a proud man is to be humiliated by people finding out what he really is. The wise man’s words, on the other hand, because they are truth, shall preserve him from most troubles.
Proverbs 14:4 “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.” In the eastern world, even to this day, tillage is necessary for food, and oxen are necessary for the tillage, and where there are oxen, a crib will not be a nice, neat place for the dainty. Yet it is all necessary to the increase that comes only from honest labor. Many people want the wealth without the work that is necessary to attain it, and many think that it is beneath their dignity to get a little dirt under their fingernails in common labor. Some people are also so ignorant of how to grow food and are so fearful of lowering their dignity to learn that they could be placed in a perfect garden of good and they would starve to death because no supermarket with prepackaged foods was nearby.
Proverbs 14:5 “A faithful witness will not lie: but a false witness will utter lies.” Witnesses always have a message of some sort which they are obligated to deliver without amplification or diminution. The difference in a faithful and a false witness lies in what he does with his message. An unprincipled man will use his office for his own purposes without regard to whether his message is faithfully delivered or not. “Utter” is literally “to breathe out,” and so refers to his habitual practice of lying; lying is as much a part of life to him as breathing is. God’s view of liars is seen in Revelation 21:8, 27; and 22:15. For a faithful witness one must choose a man who speaks the truth in private, and then it will be a way of life to him.
Proverbs 14:6 “A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not: but knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth.” “The reason why some people seek wisdom, and do not find it, is because they do not seek it from a right principle,” [M. Henry]. That is, they seek it only for the sake of pride, or advancement, or only when in danger, and so in need of it, but never when it is for the glory of God, and that one might honor and serve Him. God is under no obligation to reveal truth to any unless they come as humble and submissive seekers. The scorner is one with a contemptuous attitude toward much spiritual truth, and one who seeks to pick and choose which truth he wants, according as it is profitable to his pride, or position, or for his enrichment. The right attitude makes learning easy.
Proverbs 14:7 “Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge.” Removal from the presence of a foolish person has several purposes: (1) To prevent him from infesting you with his foolishness. Many people absorb foolishness from fools simply because they associate with them regularly. This involves the Biblical doctrine of separation. (2) Removal is a form of reproof of his folly—one of the most effective forms. (3) In the case of the confirmed fool, removal is the only thing left to do, since all the counsel and teaching in the world will not change his mind. “The indication of piety and of impiety is most readily and surely sought from the use made of the tongue, (Matthew 12:37). The proverb says, “Speak, that I may see what you are,” [T. Cartwright].
Proverbs 14:8 “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: but the folly of fools is deceit.” The wise man will apply his wisdom to understand and direct his own way so that it will be acceptable to the Lord; but the unwise person will busy himself about other people’s matters, deceiving himself into thinking that he has been appointed a judge and corrector of other people’s faults. The Bible often challenges the idea that we are appointed as judges over others, (Matthew 7:1-5; Rom. 14:3; 1 Cor. 4:3-5; Col. 2:16; James 4:11). The most tragic thing about a fool is that he deceives himself most of all for he generally wears blinders against any wrong in himself, and trains himself to se only others’ wrongs. We seldom criticize in others what we condone in ourselves, so criticism is often a form of pride and self-righteousness as we magnify others faults which we do not practice.
Proverbs 14:9 “Fools make a mock at sin: but among the righteous there is favor.” Fools mock at (1) The presence of sin by denying it. (2) The power of sin by limiting it. (3) The penalty of sin, by doubting it. (4) The provisions for sin, by rejecting it. “The Hebrew may be also translated, “sin (i.e., when it brings its punishment) makes a mock at fools, even as they mock at sin,” [Faussett]. One’s estimate of Christ is dependent upon his estimate of sin, for one with a low estimate of sin will have a correspondingly low estimate of Christ as to His Deity and deliverance. Especially true of modernists.
Proverbs 14:10 “The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.” American Indians had a proverb: “Do not criticize another’s walk until you have walked two miles in his moccasins.” No one can appreciate nor understand one suffering like the individual himself, (1 Cor. 2:11; Gal. 6:5). “We must not censure the griefs of others, for we know not what they feel; their stroke perhaps is heavier than their groaning,” [M. Henry]. Both the bitterness and the joy is most felt by one’s own innermost being; though we may try, we can never really, fully explain either one to others.
Proverbs 14:11 “The house of the wicked shall be overthrown: but the tabernacle of the upright shall flourish.” “House” refers to a permanent dwelling and “tabernacle” (tent) is in contrast to this, just as is “wicked” and “upright”, and “overthrown” and “flourish.” Though wicked men may have great mansions, and possess much that appears permanent, yet it shall all be overthrown and he shall lose all; and though the righteous have but a frail tent, and seem to be so very temporary in his abode, yet, by the blessing of the Lord, which the wicked have not, he shall grow, develop and multiply. “Let us not be misled or perplexed by the external prosperity of the godless (Ps. 37),” [Faussett].
Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” A general principle, but may be applied in many circumstances; here to the way in which one endeavors to build his house and his life. What is right in our own eyes is not to be the standard, (Deut. 12:8), for this leads inevitably, as it did in Israel, to anarchy, (Judges 17:6) (See context). Because of sin, man never thinks as God does, (Isa. 55:8-9), and so he cannot reason out spiritual truth, but what seems to him to be right—works for salvation, for example—are in reality the ways of spiritual death. Spiritual truth is a mystery; i.e., something not found out by human reason, but divinely revealed to man by God.
Proverbs 14:13 “Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness.” This is not a general principle that applies to all laughter, for some laughter, springing from joy in the Lord, is eternal and carries no sorrow with it. Read in the context, this mirth is doubtless that of the one practicing the way that may seem right but isn’t, v. 12, or that of the backslider, v. 14, neither of which has any real happiness. The demonstrative “that” clearly shows that a specific kind of mirth ends in heaviness. “Already the wise king was beginning to experience what he more fully states in Ecclesiastes 2:2; 7:6,” [Faussett]. “Spiritual joy is seated in the soul; the joy of the hypocrite is but from the teeth outward,” [M. Henry].
Proverbs 14:14 “The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways: and a good man shall be satisfied from himself.” All backsliding is not open and obvious. Indeed, backsliding is always first done in heart before it is ever manifested outwardly, and, for that matter, may never appear outwardly, but it is known to God Who looks upon the heart, (1 Sam. 16:7). Therefore, though a person’s backsliding may never burst forth, yet God may bring his sinful ways upon him even while he appears to be holy and just. This was what Job’s friends assumed was true of him, but in his case, God was simply testing and proving his righteousness. Again we see God’s law of sowing and reaping, both in sin and in holiness, (Gal. 6:7-9). Technically speaking, none but a saved person can backslide, for the unsaved have nothing to slide back from, but the word is commonly used for turning aside from truth and right practices. “Backsliding” is never used in the N.T., but only of Israel. Saved people are maintained in a continual state of acceptance by the intercession of Christ, (Eph. 1:6; Heb. 10:14).
Proverbs 14:15 “The simple believe every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” “‘Charity,’ indeed ‘believeth all things’ (1 Cor. 13:7); but not things that are palpably untrue. It is the truth which it readily believes. It believes all that it can with a good conscience believe to the credit of another, but not anything more,” [Faussett]. To believe everything that one is told is not an act of faith: it is credulity. God’s Word alone is to be believed wholly and without questions, yet even this, we are commanded, is to be searched and rightly interpreted and discerned. If God, who is incapable of error, expects this of us, how much more must we be prudent in our acceptance of the words of sinful man.
Proverbs 14:16 “A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil: but the fool rageth and is confident.” “Rageth” is nowhere else so rendered; more commonly it is rendered “pass” “go on” “transgress”, etc., so that the thought is, that the wise man, through fear of transgressing and offending God, hesitates and so does not come near to evil, but the fool, in his egotism and self-confidence, passes on and falls into the snare of sin. “Holy fear is an excellent guard upon every holy thing, and against everything that is unholy,” [M. Henry]. He who must constantly show that he is not afraid by charging into danger, in reality shows that he seriously questions his own courage and must prove it to himself and others. Sin, above all else, should be feared, for it is the deadliest thing of all. Only a fool does not fear it.
Proverbs 14:17 “He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly: and a man of wicked devices is hated.” (Eccl. 7:9). Hot-tempered people almost always get themselves into trouble and make fools of themselves by too quickly responding in anger to a supposed offence. All anger is not sinful, but one must be careful to not sin through unrighteous anger, (Eph. 4:26), nor to brood over supposed offences, for this leads to hatred and sometimes to murder. The “wicked devices” of our lesson apparently refer to one who, while not manifesting his anger at the time, yet broods over it and plots revenge. “Thus there is danger on both sides, in hastiness, and in deferring anger through malice. The latter is the worst offence,” [Faussett].
Proverbs 14:18 “The simple inherit folly: but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.” The simple are those who are ignorant of God’s Word, (Ps. 19:7), which is the antidote to sin and folly. Those who refuse instruction set themselves up for problems, for all problems come either from ignorance of, or rebellion against the Word of God. To obey is to be blessed, since the Word always leads people into right paths, and so into the way of blessings. Possession of knowledge is actually a crown, glorifying those who have it. “Crown” suggests royal power, so that wisdom is the means of achieving power, both in the spiritual and in the natural realm. It is through knowledge that we partake of God’s power, and so are provided with all needful things, (2 Pet. 1:3). Let us apply ourselves to the Word that we might learn.
Proverbs 14:19 “The evil bow before the good; and the wicked at the gates of the righteous.” This verse carried on the thought of being crowned with royal power, for here the wicked are seen in subjection to the righteous. Of course, this is not often true in the present evil world, where wicked men often persecute the righteous, but this is God’s plan, and shall be fulfilled in due time, for the “meek shall inherit the earth,” one of the most frequent promises in the bible, (Ps. 25:12-13; 37:9; 11, 22, 29, 34; Isa. 45:3; 57:13; 60:21; 65:9; Matthew 5:5; Rev. 21:1, 7). In the ancient East, the gates were places: (1) of Judgment. (2) of Business. (3) of public proclamation and advertisement, and these all have to do with the wicked bowing before the righteous.
Proverbs 14:20 “The poor is hated even of his own neighbor: but the rich hath many friends.” Here is a typical human reaction: in his selfishness, man generally cares nothing for any except those who can benefit him. Whatever his pretense may be, the average person loves things more than people, and so he doesn’t want to involve himself in anything that will cost him personally, but if something can be turned to a profit, he has deep convictions (?) about getting involved in it. “Most are swallow-friends, that are gone in winter. It is good having God our friend, for he will not desert us when we are poor.” –[M. Henry]. It is sad when people will not help the poor, but it is even more heinous when they are neighbors.
Proverbs 14:21 “He that despiseth his neighbor sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.” Respect of persons, simply because of their riches or lack of it, is sin, (James 2:1-9). It seems almost as if James is here giving a commentary on this part of our lesson. Neighbors are to be loved as we love ourselves, (Mark 12:31), not less, not more. God made them the same as the rich, and to despise the poor is to despise God’s handiwork. Our Lord set the example by ministering to the poor most of all, and we are to have the same faith that He had. To do good to the rich is often to seek to put him under obligation, which he may or may not honor; but God has promised to repay that which is done for the poor, and He will honor His commitments, (Luke 14:12-14). This is a paradox—a seeming contradiction—to think that it is more profitable to give to those who cannot repay than those who can, but it is only because God is left out of the reckoning that it seems paradoxical.
Proverbs 14:22 “Do they not err that devise evil? but mercy and truth shall be to them that devise good.” There are some evil individuals who may not have the courage to do evil, but they will devise it, and will encourage others to do it: these also err, just as those who actually do the evil, and they are to be punished as certainly as the actual doers, perhaps more so, for their very fear to do the evil shows their knowledge of right and wrong, and so their devising evil for others to do is a sin against light, and encouraging of others to sin. Mercy is the need of all sinners, and truth is the avenue to that mercy. “Those are that not only do evil, but devise it, think that by sinning by craft and carrying on their intrigues with more artifice than others, shall come off better. But they are mistaken. God’s justice cannot be outwitted,” [M. Henry].
Proverbs 14:23 “In all labor there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.” Labor may be the result of the curse, (Gen. 3:17-19), but it still has a profit in it for man, and is his decreed lot in the present world. The profit is not always immediately discernable, for what seems utterly unprofitable, will teach one patience, human inability and trust in God. But those who talk most often do the least, and talk without labor produces only poverty. Few things are produced by the lips except sin, (10:19), and even in religious exercises, too many words can be sinful, (Eccl. 5:1-7). Perhaps the hardest thing for any of us to learn, is to control that wild beast, the tongue. It cannot be tamed, (James 3:8), but it can be caged and controlled. That’s what the teeth are there for.
Proverbs 14:24 “The crown of the wise is their riches: but the foolishness of fools is folly.” There has been a progression of “crowning” thus far: in 4:9 there was wisdom as a crown of glory to seekers; in 14:18, the prudent are crowned with knowledge; now here riches are added as a crown to those who seek first for divine wisdom and knowledge. This was the very order that these came to Solomon, (1 Kings 3:5-13). Unless there is first wisdom given to one so that he will know how to wisely use what he has, his very riches can be a curse to him. “Foolishness” and “folly” are the same Hebrew word, so that this reveals that the foolishness of sin is its own curse. Whatever the sin may be, it has a reflexive action upon those who commit it—destruction.
Proverbs 14:25 “A true witness delivereth souls: but a deceitful witness speaketh lies.” Cf. v. 5. By his faithful testimony, one delivers those innocent of wrong-doing who may be slandered by evil men for their own profit. The faithful witness will always tell the truth, whatever the circumstances may be; whoever speaks a lie, manifests his own bad character. Why do men lie? Generally: (1) Out of fear of the consequences of telling the truth. (2) Out of a desire for some sort of gain, which they think will not come to them except they lie (truth is not on their side, they feel). Combining verses 5 and 25, we have the faithful and true witness, a title given to Christ, (Rev. 3:14), and a description of His work. He delivers souls by telling them the truth about themselves, sin, God, salvation, etc. Satan, on the other hand, is the great arch-liar, (John 8:44), and the original false witness, (Gen. 3:1ff).
Proverbs 14:26 “In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge.” “The fear of the Lord is here put for all gracious principles, producing gracious practices. Where this reigns it produces security and serenity of mind,” [M. Henry]. “Fear” here means a reverential fear, which only the saved are capable of having, and this reverence in the Lord results in confidence in the Lord, that He will take care of and keep secure what we commit to Him, (2 Tim. 1:12). The Lord’s children always have a place of refuge, for the Lord is their refuge, (Deut. 33:27; Ps. 46:1). This is what promotes boldness in the believer, (Heb. 4:14-16; 12:5-6).
Proverbs 14:27 “The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.” The fear of the Lord involves the “law of the wise,” (Prov. 13:14), for the same things are predicated of both. The truly wise person recognizes that the will of the Lord is the law for his life, and that it will lead him to life eternal, and so he will depart from those things which would ensnare him in sin, which leads to death. This verse clearly shows that this “fear” is not some trembling, quaking experience, for “fountain of life” suggests its enjoyable, refreshing character. This fear involves trust, and promotes confidence, but not presumption, which moves upon a lack of fear.
Proverbs 14:28 “In the multitude of people is the king’s honor: but in the want of people is the destruction of the prince.” A wise ruler, who keeps his nation out of devastating wars, will have many people, but he who gets his nation embroiled in wars will kill off the young men of the nation until it may eventually take away even the king’s son. Some rulers are so interested in increasing the national wealth that no care is taken of the nation’s greatest natural resources—its youth. “Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, where wealth accumulates and men decay,” [Author unknown]. It is bad when an ordinary person loves possessions more than people, but it is much worse when the ruler feels this way. He will be a curse to his nation.
Proverbs 14:29 “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.” It is an act of the greatest wisdom to be slow to anger, for there are so many unseen factors that the hot-tempered never considers, but which have an important bearing on the matter. See further comments on this grace in Proverbs 15:18; 16:32. This Hebrew word appears 15 times, and in all but these places in Proverbs and two others, refers to the Lord’s longsuffering, (Ex. 34:6; Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15). We need to be God-like in this. He who is short-tempered, is not only foolish, but he even exalts folly. Lack of restraint upon one’s temper will soon earn one a reputation which will do not good to him.
Proverbs 14:30 “A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones.” “Sound” means either a healthy or a yielded heart (translated both ways), for to be submissive to God is to be in good spiritual health, whatever the condition of the body may be. “Our health depends on the government of our passions and the preserving of the temper of the mind.” [M. Henry]. Its contrast here with envy suggests a heart that is free from unwholesome attitudes. A bad spirit in a person will often disrupt his physical health – cause tension, headache, upset stomachs, ulcers, sometimes even heart attacks. Anger, envy, bitterness, etc., is each its own punishment, but a spiritually healthy spirit promotes a physically healthy body.
Proverbs 14:31 “He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoreth him hath mercy on the poor.” God both made the poor, and it is because of the lack of His blessing that one remains poor, so that to oppress one simply because of his poverty is to assume that the poor is God’s enemy and that one is justified in mistreating them. Many people forget that this world is now in Satan’s hands, and is used by him to reward his people, (Luke 4:5-6). A poor man is more apt to be a man of God than is a rich man. It is an honor to God when one has mercy on the poor. “It is not enough merely not to oppress, we must also show positive mercy whereby we honor the Lord, who hath commanded the poor to be relieved,” [Faussett].
Proverbs 14:32 “The wicked is driven away in his wickedness: but the righteous hath hope in his death.” Because he lives in wickedness, and death seldom warns of its approach, the wicked will die in his wickedness, and since no sin can stand in the presence of the holy God, the wicked shall be driven away from the presence of God into the only other place in existence for souls—hell, the refuse dump for the spiritually worthless. “This principle is operative in all realms of life. The dead are separated from the living—every cemetery and crematory are arguments for hell. Garbage is separated from wholesome food—every garbage can is an argument for hell. Refuse is separated from the things of value—every rubbish heap is an argument for hell,” [Bancroft]. “Those who refuse life in God become ‘refuse’ in character sooner or later, and in the nature of things must be removed to a place apart, [Dixon]. On the other hand, the righteous has a confidence that a glorious heaven awaits him.
Proverbs 14:33 “Wisdom resteth in the heart of him that hath understanding: but that which is in the midst of fools is made known.” Any merely outward, or even mental wisdom is of little practical value: it must be in the heart in order to move one to right living. “Resteth” suggests tranquility and permanency of this wisdom, while “heart” suggests the spirituality as opposed to a mere superficial or mental wisdom. The second half of the verse presents the fact that the fool also has a deep-seated folly which shall in due time be manifested by his outward actions. A sinful nature cannot long be hidden, for, like cancer, it will eventually break out into the open with other symptoms. The fruit is always the proof of the plant.
Proverbs 14:34 “Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.” “Hebrew, ‘to peoples,’ plural; whereas ‘a nation’ is singular, implying the paucity of the nations observing righteousness, and the multitude of those that nationally sin,” [Faussett]. God honors righteousness wherever it is found, for it is His own produce, and He causes it to exalt the nation that practices it. A righteous nation is one that keeps the truth, (Isa. 26:2), and where truth is not kept there will be no real righteousness. Perhaps this is why our nation is falling away from its former greatness: it has forsaken the truth in its schools, law-making bodies, judicial system, etc.
Proverbs 14:35 “The king’s favor is toward a wise servant: but his wrath is against him that causeth shame.” It is but the natural and the wise thing for a king to reward wise and good servants, for this will promote the stability of his kingdom, and as this is a recognized fact in earthly kingdoms, why is it not recognized concerning God’s kingdom. This verse illustrates the principle upon which verse 24 operates. He who causes shame is a reflection upon his nation and must be punished for his evil, (Rom. 13:3-4). So in God’s greater kingdom, righteous nations, being God’s servants will be blessed, but rebellious nations will be punished.
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