SOLOMON’S WISE SAYINGS Proverbs 10:1–22:16
“The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception” (Prov. 14:8).The pithy sayings of Proverbs apply to moderns as well as to the Israelite of the ancient East. Billy Graham once said he read a psalm each morning to enrich relationship with God, and a chapter of Proverbs each evening to guide his dealings with his fellowmen.
On reading Proverbs. Either of two ways to read the Proverbs—straight through, or by drawing out sayings on a common topic—can be helpful. Either of these two ways is appropriate for devotional reading; each is illustrated in today’s look at the sayings of Solomon. For your reading, choose the approach which feels most comfortable to you.
Each of these chapters contains sayings that share insights into a variety of practical matters. We can draw sayings on a given topic together to develop more complete pictures of such things as a righteous way of life, the values of discipline, or attitudes toward work, laziness, and poverty.
Understanding the Text
“The proverbs of Solomon” Prov. 10:1–32. This first chapter of Solomon’s proverbs touches on many varied facts of life: v. 1. The choices we make necessarily affect others, not just ourselves. vv. 2–3. Wealth gained by wicked means can never provide security. vv. 4–5. Hard work is rewarded—and so is laziness! vv. 6–7. Goodness brings lasting blessing, wickedness does not. v. 8. It’s better to listen than to blither on without paying attention. v. 9. The person with nothing to hide has nothing to fear. v. 10. Any act that harms others is a first step on the road to ruin. v. 11. The spoken word can heal or harm others. v. 12. Our basic character is revealed in the way we treat others. v. 13. Punishment will overtake the man whose judgment is poor. v. 14. Discretion calls for thinking before speaking. vv. 15–16. Wealth provides a measure of security. But wealth unjustly gained provides only disaster. v. 17. The teachable man is the best teacher. v. 18. The problem with hatred is that it corrupts the one who hates. vv. 19–21. Words are important. Be careful how you use them. v. 22. God’s blessing is the only true wealth. (This emphasis is suggested in the grammer of the Heb. construction.) v. 23. What a person enjoys reveals his character. vv. 24–25. The fears and insecurity experienced by the wicked are well-founded! v. 26. How frustrating it is to work with a lazy person. vv. 27–30. The confidence of the righteous is well-founded too! vv. 31–32. The words of a righteous person are both wise and helpful. “The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Prov. 16:33) illustrates how Proverbs reveals a people’s basic attitude toward life. The biblical universe is not ruled by chance, but all lies under the control of the sovereign God. We should read the Proverbs of the Bible with an eye to their underlying as well as obvious meanings. “The plans of the righteous are just” Prov. 12:5. One topic which is given much attention by Solomon is righteousness. The righteous make just, not violent plans (v. 5; cf. 16:27, 30; 21:7), for they truly care about justice (17:23, 26; 18:5; 19:28). Because the righteous are concerned for those in need, the righteous are generous (12:10; 21:25–26). They hate falsehood and dishonesty (13:5), so in all they do the righteous are upright (11:3; 15:19; 21:8). As a result the righteous are delivered from troubles that the wicked bring on themselves (11:8, 21; 12:21; 13:17; 22:5). They rightly feel secure (10:9, 25, 30; 12:3, 7; 14:11, 32), and have hope for the future (10:11, 16; 11:8, 19; 12:28; 16:31; 21:21). The righteous receive what they want; the wicked what they dread (10:24; 11:23). The righteous know joy (10:28; 12:20; 21:15) and are rewarded; the wicked get what they deserve (11:18, 31; 14:14). The dividing line between the righteous and wicked is clear, no matter how a society may attempt to confuse it by calling the corrupt “adult,” and by exploiting violence under the banner of “free speech.” God is never deceived, even though courts and lawmakers may be. We who choose righteousness surely are and will be blessed. Those who reject it will receive what their actions deserve. “He who spares the rod hates his son” Prov. 13:24. The Jewish people were noted for their love of children, and were among the best of parents in the ancient world. Such sayings as this lend no support to an abusive approach to child-rearing, but instead emphasize the necessity of discipline if boys and girls are to freely choose God’s way as adults. Discipline was not harsh, but loving and purposeful: “Discipline your son, for in that there is hope” (19:18), and “folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him” (22:15). Proverbs reminds us that we adults too are subject to discipline: God’s. When God disciplines us, His motive too is loving. The wise person recognizes this and gladly responds, while the foolish man rebels and is punished (10:17; 12:1; 13:1, 18; 15:5, 12, 32; 17:10; 19:16, 25; 21:11). “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty” Prov. 14:23. The proverbs of Solomon often contrast the benefits of hard work and the disaster courted by laziness. The one who works his land produces food, profit, wealth, and high status (10:4–5; 12:11, 24, 27; 13:4; 14:23; 22:29). Whatever his excuses (v. 13), the lazy man will soon lack even necessities (18:9; 20:4, 13).
Blessed Are the Poor?(Selected Proverbs)
In general, the Proverbs seem to take a middle-class attitude and blame poverty on the poor. That view is reflected in such sayings as, “Lazy hands make a man poor” (10:4), “Do not love sleep, or you will grow poor” (20:13), “He who loves pleasure will become poor” (21:17), and, “Drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags” (23:21). At the same time, the Proverbs show that at times the poor are victims of powerful others. “A poor man’s field may produce abundant food,” 13:23 notes, “but injustice sweeps it away.” The reality of injustice is shown in warnings against harming the powerless poor (18:23; 22:16). Indeed, the well-to-do are to offer help: “If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered” (21:13). It’s true that in society the rich are generally lionized and the poor ignored (14:20; 19:4, 6–7). It is also true that wealth protects the rich from dangers to which the poor are vulnerable (10:15; 18:11). Yet wealth is not an unmixed good, nor poverty an evil. After all, “A man’s riches may ransom his life, but a poor man hears no threat” (13:8). No one bothers to kidnap a poor man! Perhaps the most significant saying, however, is found in 19:17. “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will reward him for what he has done.” What is so important about this proverb? It reflects the Old Testament’s conviction that God has a special love for the poor. Society ignores, exploits, or abandons the poor. But God makes the poor an object of His special concern. When we are sensitive to the needs of the poor, we are close to God, for God Himself is on their side.
We are not to assign blame for poverty, but to help the poor.