STUDIES ON PROVERBS
This chapter continues the miscellaneous proverbs, as the past several chapters, and though they do not contain a connected discourse, they cover almost every conceivable problem, and give the Divine remedy for it.
Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” Nothing so mollifies anger in a person like presenting a quiet, unresisting answer. But strong words only causes an angry man to feel that he must further defend his position. “Stir up” is literally “make to ascend” and pictures anger, like a fire, being fanned into an even greater fire. Soft words, like an oil on a wound, have a soothing effect. This does not mean that we can never disagree with an opponent, for often truth demands that we do, but we are simply to use words that do not uselessly antagonize him, for if we do this, we lose all opportunity to declare truth to him, for he closes his mind to all we say.
Proverbs 15:2 “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.” Here again is the truth that a man is known by his speech. This also teaches that one may have knowledge, but misuse it. Indeed, in almost all lies, there will be perhaps ninety percent truth to make it believable, and only ten percent falsehood which is the poison. “Pour out” is also rendered “belch out” and suggests the spontaneous, unconsidered babbling out of whatever comes into the mind. “Think twice before you speak once” is good counsel, for “While the word is unspoken you are master of it, but when once it is spoken, it is master of you,” [Author unknown].
Proverbs 15:3 “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” This refers to the omniscience (all-knowledge) of the Lord, for “eyes” are suggestive of knowledge, since so much of our knowledge is gained through the eyes—reading, observing, etc. Many texts speak of this, (Job 34:21; Ps. 94:9-11; John 2:24-25; Heb. 4:12-13). The eyes of the Lord are apparently like a great TV camera, for they not only observe all things, but also record all to be played before each one at the judgment. Solemn!
Proverbs 15:4 “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.” “Wholesome” means sound and healthy. An evil tongue can no more comfort a sorrowing person than a man with a contagious disease could enter into a sickroom to minister to the sick: he would only add to the ills of the sick. A healthy tongue is a tree of life in that it is the instrument of witness, leading the erring back into the way that leads to the tree of life. Wisdom is the tree of life, (Prov. 3:18), and wisdom comes to us by the teaching of someone who has already received wisdom. The marginal reading “the healing of the tongue” suggests the spiritual healing that comes about by the preaching and teaching of the truth, (1 Cor. 1:17-18, 21).
Proverbs 15:5 “A fool despiseth his father’s instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent.” “A father is instanced as representative of monitors of every kind, on account of his special authority, as also because of the love which prompts a father’s ‘disciplinary instruction’ (so the Hebrew),” [Faussett]. Parents should be heeded and obeyed: (1) Because God has given them authority over their children. (2) They generally have from twenty to forty years more experience in life than their children. (3) They are generally better educated than their children, however, the children may think otherwise. (4) Parents generally have only the children’s best interests in mind, while the children are often selfishly motivated in their desires. No one has to prove a fool to be a fool: he will prove himself to be so when he despises discipline and reproof.
Proverbs 15:6 “In the house of the righteous is much treasure: but in the revenues of the wicked is trouble.” Righteousness is true treasure, for it is wealth that will last eternally, being the spiritual gold of God and the characteristic of the new earth, (2 Pet. 3:13). To be born and reared in a godly home is to have a foretaste of the new earth. Those born in a home where righteousness is the chief characteristic are rich, though they may not possess anything of this world’s goods, but those who are rich without being righteous shall have only trouble for the increase of their riches. God can easily make riches to become a curse to those who possess them. Godliness with contentment with what one has is great gain, (1 Tim. 6:6-8, 17-19).
Proverbs 15:7 “The lips of the wise disperse knowledge: but the heart of the foolish doeth not so.” Here is the proper use that is to be made of the lips—they are to be used to sow spiritual truth far and wide. Jesus taught several parables in which the Word of God is likened to seed which are sown by the faithful teaching and preaching of it, (Matthew 13:3ff). It is a prostitution of man’s lips when he does not use them for the high and lofty purpose for which they were created, but rather uses them for purposes which dishonor and degrade God and His truth. The kindest thing that can be said of the foolish is that “he doeth not so” —he is negative concerning all good.
Proverbs 15:8 “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.” Here we see the vanity and worthlessness of the religious exercises of the unsaved: their best efforts are still hateful in God’s sight because they spring from a heart still in rebellion against the Lord. This is why human works can never avail for salvation, though they may be done sacrificially; they are “wicked works” because of their source, because they are done as a substitute for, and in contempt of, the work of Christ, because they constitute a denial of total depravity, being an evidence that one thinks he can serve God acceptably in his own wisdom and strength, and for other reasons. On the other hand, the upright finds not only acceptance but even delight with the Lord, though he make no sacrifice, but only prays. The Bible cuts all ground for self-trust from under man’s feet.
Proverbs 15:9 “The way of the wicked is an abomination unto the Lord: but he loveth him: that followeth after righteousness.” In verse 8 it was the sacrifice of the wicked that is abomination; here, it is his way, and in verse 26 the very thoughts of the wicked are abomination. In nothing can the unsaved please God: it takes a believing heart to please God, (Heb. 11:6). “Way” of course, has to do with the daily walk and behavior. A man’s religious exercises may be hypocritical and not reflect his daily walk, or they might be in harmony with them, but his daily walk might not be a reflection of his heart’s real condition, but his thoughts will reflect his heart, and God knows the hearts of all men. Those who are really saved will have an internal drive to follow after righteousness, for the righteous heart of the saved will pursue its own state and seek to attain to greater righteousness in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Proverbs 15:10 “Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way: and he that hateth reproof shall die.” “Better is ‘correction,’ though ‘grievous’, then ‘death’ eternal, which is the end of him who, through ‘hatred’ or ‘reproof’, ‘forsaketh the way,’” [Faussett]. There is a relation between forsaking the right way and being grieved at reproof and correction, for the further one gets from truth and obedience, the more he will hate reproof and correction, and the more hardened he becomes. Thus he sins against the very remedy to his sin. Sin always has both a hardening and a blinding effect upon the sinner, and the more conviction he feels, the more hardened he becomes. It is like the tempering of metal: the more it is heated and pounded, the harder it becomes. Only the grace of God can break this vicious spiritual circle and enable one to repent and believe, (Acts 11:17-18) (“gave” and “granted” are the same Greek word and this shows that both repentance and faith are gracious gifts to sinners).
Proverbs 15:11 “Hell and destruction are before the Lord: how much more then the hearts of the children of men.” “Hell” here is Sheol, which is equivalent to the Greek Hades which is the unseen world, and “Destruction” is the Hebrew Abaddon, (Rev. 9:11). “That destroyer, though he deceives us, cannot evade or elude the divine cognizance. God sees through all his disguises, (Job 26:6). If he sees through the depths and wiles of Satan himself, much more can he search men’s hearts,” [M. Henry]. Therefore, the argument is that though men may forsake the way, and though they may rebel against corrections and hate reproofs, and though they may try to cloak these sins as if they were other things, yet God sees them in their real character in the heart and will deal with them as they justly deserve. But the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, (Jer. 17:9), deceiving even itself into thinking that it can sin with impugnity.
Proverbs 15:12 “A scorner loveth not one that reproveth him: neither will he go unto the wise.” The whole problem with the scorner is that he is too proud to admit that he is ignorant and sinful, and he hates anyone who speaks so as to reveal this to him. He is sinfully self-satisfied in his present condition. “A scorner is one that not only makes a jest of God and religion, but bids defiance to the methods employed for his conviction and reformation,” [M. Henry]. Thus sin ever operates: it hardens one against the remedy for it and so increases sin by denying the existing sin, hating the one who reveals it, and so not only continues in the original sin, but sins against the knowledge of one’s sinfulness and need to repent. It is a sin against light.
Proverbs 15:13 “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.” It is hard to hide happiness of heart, for it will break forth in smiles. “There is a sympathy between the body and the mind, so that a happy mind is reflected in the happy expression of countenance,” [Faussett]. When the heart is right with the Lord, and He is giving regular evidences of His favor, it is easy to have a cheerful countenance. However, the Lord has never promised an unbroken series of joys in his life: conversely, we are promised tribulation and persecution in this world, (John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Rom. 8:17; II Tim. 3:12). However, blessed by our God, He has promised that we can glory even in tribulation, (Rom. 5:3; 12:12; 2 Cor. 4:17-18). On the other hand, continual sorrow of heart destroys the will to live, as doctors so often have found in patients who had sorrow of heart. Knowledge of the Lord’s promises of final victory for His own promotes optimism—a healer for all ails.
Proverbs 15:14 “The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge: but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness.” The heart, like water, seeks its own level; the renewed heart, having come to know the Lord, hungers after further knowledge of Him, but the unsaved heart, being yet dominated by sin, feeds on the things of sin. “Here are two things to be wondered at: —A wise man not satisfied with his wisdom, but still seeking the increase of it; the more he has the more he would have. A fool well satisfied with his folly and not seeking the cure of it,” [M. Henry]. One generally manifests the condition of his heart by his attitude toward Divine truth: it is one of the laws of the kingdom of God that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled, (Matthew 5:6), which is, as our lesson shows, characteristic of the one who has spiritual understanding.
Proverbs 15:15 “All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.” It is sometimes the lot even of those who are genuinely saved to be afflicted most of their days on earth; we do not always understand why God chooses to allow some to suffer, but when it is for His glory, they will be abundantly rewarded. We should have sympathy for any who are suffering, not self-righteously to set ourselves up as censors and judges of them, for we know not all the facts. But he who is merry of heart will be in continual rejoicing and every day will seem like one of Israel’s national holidays, at which there was much joy and rejoicing and feasting.
Proverbs 15:16 “Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith.” The “fear of the Lord,” which involves salvation, is the supreme treasure, for if one only has “little” of this world’s goods with it, he is still supremely rich in that he is an heir of the world that is to come, and so is rich beyond imagination in things which cannot be taken away. “Riches, so far from averting, bring trouble in acquiring, defending, administering, and losing them,” [Faussett]. “It is therefore far better to have but little of the world, to keep up communion with God, and enjoy him in it, and live by faith, than to have the greatest plenty and live without God in the world,” [M. Henry]. Many, while possessing great riches, are not rich toward God, (Luke 12:21).
Proverbs 15:17 “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.” “Dinner of herbs” refers to a restricted amount of food, (2 Kings 25:30; same Hebrew word), as opposed to all a person might want to eat. Some call it a traveler’s dinner, (Faussett), i.e., a snack. “Stalled” does not mean an ox that one cannot get started, as the English word presently means, but rather refers to “calves of the stall”, (Mal. 4:2; a different word), or fatted calves. Even a poor meal is a feast if there is love there, but even the most sumptuous meal without the fear of the Lord is of no profit, (Luke 16:19, 22-23). The main trouble with people today is that they do not keep things in the proper prospective: they give much care to the body which is to perish after only seventy years or so, but they totally ignore the soul which must eternally exist somewhere.
Proverbs 15:18 “A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.” A “wrathful man” is one who is full of anger, a frustrated, hateful person, and such will continually be the source of strife, stirring it up even where a perfect harmony existed before. We all have to be careful that we do not take out our anger and frustrations on those who are not the cause of them, for life is such that there will always be things to anger and frustrate us, and if we do not have the love of God pervading and sweetening our hearts and lives, we will go about with a continual chip on our shoulders. Slowness to anger is the Christian way, (James 1:19). Hasty words are almost always unwise, ill-timed, inappropriate and enflaming.
Proverbs 15:19 “The way of the slothful man is as an hedge of thorns: but the way of the righteous is made plain.” Anciently fields were fenced with hedges of thorns, which not only were prickly to the touch, but which also were inhabited oftentimes by snakes, (Eccl. 10:8), sometimes even by the deadly asp (cobra). The slothful man sees all sorts of difficulties and dangers to the work that he ought to do, for he looks for excuses not to labor. The way of the righteous, however, shall be made an elevated, even walkway that is easy and safe. God makes all things work together for good to His righteous ones, for He delights to do good for them, and has determined to do so for them. See Proverbs 20:4 and 22:13 for other excuses that the slothful man makes for not performing his work.
Proverbs 15:20 “A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish man despiseth his mother.” A wise son will receive the instruction of his father, and will practice his teachings, and so will make him glad. When children rebel against parents’ teachings, it often makes them wonder if they were wise in ever having children. Proverbs 10:1 shows the result of this malice to the mother, while our lesson reveals the same attitude. “‘A foolish man’ (Hebrew Kesil Adam); rather, as the adjective in Hebrew is not usually placed before the noun, a fool that is a grown man. No age or state exempts children from honoring their parents,” [Faussett]. The Biblical command is not merely to obey parents, which might be done contemptuously and hatefully, but rather is to honor them, which requires respectful obedience to parents.
Proverbs 15:21 “Folly is joy to him that is destitute of wisdom: but a man of understanding walketh uprightly.” “A wicked man sins, not only without regret, but with delight,” [M. Henry]. A saved person often falls into sin, but unless he is terribly backslidden, sin will bother him. Thus, it is not only the acts, but also the attitudes, of men that reveal their condition before God. What kind of a person would joy in folly? Surely not one who knows not the way of the Lord, nor has received the Wisdom of God. By way of contrast, a man of spiritual understanding will live a life of uprightness. Man was originally created upright in behavior, but he has sought out many sinful inventions, (Eccl. 7:29). Salvation enables man to again walk uprightly, but nothing short of a total conversion can do so, and this comes about by knowing the Lord as Savior and Master.
Proverbs 15:22 “Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counselors they are established.” Proverbs 11:14 has already spoken of this. When anyone makes a rash decision without properly considering proper counsel, he will have occasion to repent of his haste. “Counsel” is more commonly rendered “secret” or “secret counsel,” and so seems to refer to one’s inward counsel before making any decision. And it is generally wise to seek the counsel of several others who are qualified to give counsel in the particular matter to be decided. Perhaps there is here also a reference to the folly of the scorner in verse 12, who will not take any counsel from anyone. Even the Almighty God took counsel between the Person of the Trinity before the great purposes were set in motion, (Jer. 23:18; Gen. 1:26; Ps. 33:8-11). Of course, counselors should not be multiplied simply for numbers’ sake, but rather they should be chosen for their wisdom and spirituality.
Proverbs 15:23 “A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!” The joy will be dependent largely upon the character of the answer, for a sharp or bad answer will not receive much joy. But even a right answer, if it is not seasonal, can be bad. “Many a good word comes short of doing the good it might have done, for want of being well-timed,” [M. Henry]. How easy it is to speak without considering well the consequences of that word, yet how far-reaching and sad may be the results of a thoughtless word. Countless reputations and lives have been destroyed in this way. Let us always diligently consider the effects of our speech before we speak, and then not speak if there be any question about its appropriateness.
Proverbs 15:24 “The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath.” Many people expect to get to heaven without being, thinking or acting heavenly, but this is one of the devil’s deceptions. Salvation is not only an instantaneous event, but it is also a way of life which continually tends upward morally and spiritually, and this upward tendency naturally leads one away from hell beneath. The saved person has heavenly citizenship, (Phil. 3:20; the Greek for “conversation” means “citizenship”) and it is both natural and expected that the saved should act heavenly, (Col. 3:1-2).
Proverbs 15:25 “The Lord will destroy the house of the proud: but he will establish the border of the widow.” Pride, being an abomination to the Lord, (Prov. 16:5), will come to destruction, (Prov. 16:18), for it is not a part of the way of life that is heavenly, but is rather that form of life which leads to hell. Tragically, parental pride generally contaminates the whole household so that the whole must be destroyed. Lucifer’s pride, (Isa. 14:12-15), has contaminated the whole universe, but it shall be overthrown. “The proud, by oppression, build a strong ‘house,’ or family, which they are confident will never be overthrown. The widow (Hebrew, almanah, from alam, to be dumb, or powerless against adversaries) seems to the proud a prey that can offer no resistance. But God will destroy the seemingly strong ‘house’ of the proud; and will protect not only the house, but even the extreme ‘border’ of the widow,” [Faussett].
Proverbs 15:26 “The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord: but the words of the pure are pleasant words.” “According as the thoughts are bad or good, so the words are abomination or pleasantness before the Lord. It is a vain excuse for bad words to say, ‘I meant no harm,’” [Thomas Cartwright]. Men may hide their wicked thoughts from men, but God, who knows the thoughts of men, sees all, and hates even the inward thoughts, though no wicked acts may be done. Hence, one who outwardly appears righteous may actually be hated by the Lord because He sees the true condition of the heart. The words of the pure, i.e., the saved, are pure because of the pure heart of the saved from which they come, and they are pleasant to the Lord.
Proverbs 15:27 “He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house: but he that hateth gifts shall live.” This has to do with covetousness, which is always a curse to the individual, and to his household, for he generally conforms all things to his pursuit of material things, and so, often ignores the feelings and needs of his family. To some people material security is a god, which is why covetousness is termed idolatry, (Col. 3:5f). “Gifts” here refer to bribes of some sort, which always tend to pervert justice in those receiving them, (Ex. 23:8). The greedy man’s philosophy, however, is “get all you can from anyone you can in any way you can and save as much of it as you can without starving to death.” But so far from materialism extending life, it has the opposite tendency, (Luke 12:15ff; 1 John 2:15-17; 1 Tim. 6:17).
Proverbs 15:28 “The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.” The contrast here is between the righteous’ well thought out answers and the rash, thoughtless babbling of the wicked man’s case, his mouth is in control. Rashness in speech is always a great evil, (Eccl. 5:1-7). We are always, as God’s people, to be ready to explain the reason for our hope, but only after we have sanctified the Lord in our hearts, (1 Pet. 3:15). Some matters require much thought before an answer is given, and rash speech is often dangerous.
Proverbs 15:29 “The Lord is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.” “God sets himself at a distance from those that set him at defiance. He will draw nigh to those in a way of mercy who draw nigh to him in a day of duty,” [M. Henry]. As the parallel statement suggests, God is far from hearing the prayer of the wicked, but He is always near and hears the prayer of His own, and actually delights in it, (Prov. 15:18; Ps. 34:15-16). What a horrible situation to be in. If God refuses to hear the prayer of the wicked, how then can he be saved? Of course, this refers either to those who have continually rejected the Lord when He called them, (Prov. 1:24-33), or else to the ones who pray for other things, while rejecting the Lord’s salvation and headship.
Proverbs 15:30 “The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart: a good report maketh the bones fat.” This is especially true if it refers to the light of God’s eyes of favor shining upon one, (Ps. 4:6; 36:9). However, our eyes are the avenues through which truth enters into the heart, and this causes rejoicing so that this can be understood either way. In the light of the parallel phrase, perhaps the second idea is the primary thought. Good news of any sort, but especially the gospel, blesses the whole man, giving him hope, and so, causing good bodily health. It is now well known that a hopeless attitude works against one’s recovery of health.
Proverbs 15:31 “The ear that hearteth the reproof of life abideth among the wise.” There are some reproofs which are not unto life. But where shall the hearing ear be found? Only among the spiritually wise, for the rebel against God never has an ear capable of understanding spiritual truth. There must be a willingness to obey before there can be a knowledge of the truth, (John 7:17; the Greek is “if any man willeth to do…he shall know…”etc). Man, in his spiritually dead condition is incapable of willing to do good, (John 6:44). How then can this be accomplished? Only by the omnipotent power of God, (Ps. 110:3). One of the most common phrases in the N.T. is “He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear…” (or its equivalent). It appears sixteen times, and implies that not every one is capable of hearing spiritual truth, (Cf. Prov. 28:27; Rom. 11:8). Rebellion against known truth tends to further deaden one’s ability to hear.
Proverbs 15:32 “He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.” This takes up the thought of the last verse and carries it on. Rebellion against instruction may please the pride, but it is a sin against the soul. It is the trading of things of eternal value for worthless momentary pleasures for the body. “The fundamental error of sinners is undervaluing their own souls: therefore they wrong the soul to please the body,” [M. Henry]. To hear the reproofs of the Scriptures is to gain more spiritual knowledge, and so more spirituality, and to be fitted for God’s blessings. Throughout Proverbs there is continual stress laid upon hearing and receiving truth, for this is the key to all good things.
Proverbs 15:33 “The fear of the Lord is the instruction of wisdom; and before honor is humility.” Here again “instruction” involves the idea of discipline, and it is this discipline of wisdom which promotes the fear of the Lord, and a fear of the Lord will be manifested by submission to this discipline of the Word. “Discipline is the necessary condition of heavenly wisdom—that is, piety; piety, though requiring, on man’s part, humility under discipline, eventuates in honor,” [Faussett]. There is no lasting honor apart from a prior submission to God, i.e., a humbling of oneself; and though the world may give its honors to one who is in rebellion against God, it will not be a lasting honor, but will be a great frustration in the end when great shame comes upon the rebel against the will of God. Which then is better, a momentary worldly honor which is followed by an eternal shame, or humility under God, followed by eternal honor with God, (1 Pet. 5:6).
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