1 A gentle answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.
When somebody is trying to get a rise out of us, we fall right into their trap if we react with a quick temper, with violence, or with an angry outburst. A harsh word in response to a person who likes to pick fights only stirs up anger by adding fuel to the fire. We are better off giving a gentle answer to show that a person is better off picking a fight with somebody else who will make a better sparring partner. Other times, we are best to just walk away or say nothing.
2 The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable,
But the mouth of fools spouts folly.
Part of wisdom is trying to convince and reason with others to show them what is good and right. Sinful people are blinded toward the truth of Scripture, and there is a time to reason with them according to wisdom so that they can discern knowledge by the grace of God. They need to see that what they are saying against God and His Word is plain folly and that it indicts them as being foolish. The commandments of God are given to show the fool the exceeding sinfulness of his sin and the error of his ways (Romans 7:13). Wisdom comes as people come to see the truth, fear God, and seek His forgiveness.
3 The eyes of the Lord are in every place,
Watching the evil and the good.
God sees all and will render to each according to his deeds at judgment time. He will also support in this life those whose hearts are wholly His. He will enable them to bear abundant fruit to His glory. God keeps account of all the evil that evil people commit, and they will face His wrath one day. The righteous will not face God’s wrathful judgment for their sin because Christ paid the penalty for it (1 Thessalonians 1:10, 2 Thessalonians 1:9-10). Christians will be judged at the judgment seat of Christ on the basis of their faithfulness and stewardship (2 Corinthians 5:10, 1 Corinthians 3:10-15), while unbelievers will be cast into the lake of fire upon facing sentencing at the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). There is wrath to come for the unsaved.
4 A soothing tongue is a tree of life,
But perversion in it crushes the spirit.
Those who speak the truth encourage, equip, correct when necessary, and empower with words of life (Hebrews 3:13, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 4:6). Truth and the promises of God are like soothing ointment to a confused mind or wounded heart. Those who speak lies and deceit, who are devoid of wisdom, or who just have nothing of value to say discourage those who could use a good word (Proverbs 12:25).
5 A fool rejects his father’s discipline,
But he who regards reproof is sensible.
Wisdom is proven by one’s ability to respond humbly and obediently to training in righteousness and to the truth of God’s Word. Loving fathers who fear God will teach and train their children according to the commands and ways of God (Deuteronomy 6:7, 11:19). A foolish child will spurn that teaching, but a wise young person heeds sound doctrine (Ephesians 6:1).
6 Great wealth is in the house of the righteous,
But trouble is in the income of the wicked.
The righteous will store up treasures in heaven and eternal rewards, but the wicked will suffer great loss and spend eternity in hell. No amount of wealth can outweigh the trouble that evil brings, particularly in light of incurring God’s wrath. Believers, even if they are poor in this life, have great eternal riches in Christ and every spiritual blessing (Psalm 16:11, Ephesians 1:3).
7 The lips of the wise spread knowledge,
But the hearts of fools are not so.
Wise people want others to understand wisdom because they recognize that its value is far beyond anything this world has to offer. They want others to have the joy and hope that they have. They want to teach others the ways of God and how to follow Him. Fools could care less about following God and about wisdom. Full of selfishness and delight in their sin, they could care less about the welfare of others. Fools are unable to offer others the help of valuable knowledge and insight even if they wanted to because they do not know wisdom in Christ.
8 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
But the prayer of the upright is His delight.
God delights in obedience more than sacrifice because to Him it is the heart that matters (1 Samuel 15:22). Any person can perform some religious ritual to attempt to externally cleanse himself or to impress God, but God wants to clean up the inside of a person by regenerating his heart. Thus, those who perform empty religious acts by maintaining a form of godliness while still denying the power of God (2 Timothy 3:5) to change their hearts make God very angry. What people think is a checkmark in the column of goodness in their file of hoping to earn enough points to get into heaven is actually an abominable act before God. Even the righteous sacrifices of a fallen heart are displeasing to God and like filthy rags before Him (Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:23). Only the cleansing of the blood of Christ can please a holy and perfect God. He desires to give grace to the humble, but the proud who are confident in their self-generated and self-aggrandizing deeds must be brought low. God delights in the prayer of those who are upright in heart because Christ intercedes for them and allows them to bring their requests before God (Hebrews 4:15-16). God looks forward to hearing them cast their cares upon Him, for He cares for them (1 Peter 5:7, Philippians 4:6-7). In their humility, they seek God’s help, while the arrogant choose not to depend on God for anything. Even prayer from a wicked person is a repulsive thing to God. If an entire country started going to church, praying, and doing some good deeds, it wouldn’t please God if their hearts did not belong to Him. A true gospel is everything because only the gospel can change a people from the inside out and make their good works pleasing to God because they will be generated by the Spirit and not by some selfish, pride-filled motive. Only the heart that has freely received of God’s freely given grace can freely give such grace and love to others (1 John 4:7-8). Obedience to the gospel is what counts, not vain religion.
9 The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord,
But He loves one who pursues righteousness.
There are two distinctions throughout Proverbs and throughout the Bible. On one side is the righteous, wise person who is loved and accepted by God on account of his faith in Christ. On the other hand is the foolish, wicked person who continues to store up God’s wrath for himself. One lives a life of abomination, and the other pursues righteousness by the grace of God which is at work in his heart. There is no in between category of a person that is basically or mostly good, for these people still fall into the category of being abominable. When man comes to see that he is so far short of God’s standards and grace and that his very life is an affront to God, then maybe he will be motivated to value the cross and respond in faith. The proud must see the sinfulness of their sin so that they fall upon the grace of God (Romans 7:13).
10 Grievous punishment is for him who forsakes the way;
He who hates reproof will die.
Those who hear the truth of the gospel and yet reject it will find an eternity in hell. The only unforgiveable sin is to reject the call of the Holy Spirit by blaspheming Him with hard hearts that love sin and spurn the grace of God (Luke 12:10). Those who do not respond in faith and humility to the revelation of God to man (God has revealed Himself through the conscience (Romans 1:32), through Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17), through Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2), and through the creation (Psalm 19:1-2, Romans 1:18-21)) will pay, for they have made a mockery of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Those who are unwilling to respond to the truth when it hits them squarely in the face will suffer and pay the penalty. On the other hand, those who seek the truth and practice it will find the Light in Christ (John 3:21).
11 Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the Lord,
How much more the hearts of men!
God has the power to cast into hell, and thus the wicked need to learn to fear Him and turn from their sins (Luke 12:5). He alone has the power over death, yet man thinks very little about life after death. He sees the real state of all people’s hearts, for they lie open before Him. It is foolishness to believe that God cannot see or that God is irrelevant or absent. Nothing escapes His notice, and those who are sensitive to His Word will respond humbly and obediently to seek His forgiveness. People must understand that Satan doesn’t rule over hell like some sort of crime boss, but he will be sentenced to suffer in it along with those whom he has deceived (Revelation 20:10). It is God Who has the power to cast into hell, for hell is the way He will pour out His wrath on unbelievers.
12 A scoffer does not love one who reproves him,
He will not go to the wise.
The fool scoffs at truth and hates to be confronted with correction. He is not going to seek out wisdom from the Bible or from people who could share with him wisdom from the Bible. He enjoys his folly and error and the company of other scoffers and mockers of truth.
13 A joyful heart makes a cheerful face,
But when the heart is sad, the spirit is broken.
It is possible to force a smile even when the heart is sorrowful, but a joyful heart leads to a true, full, and genuinely happy and uplifted countenance (Genesis 4:7). A sad heart breaks the spirit by sapping energy, hope, and passion. There is a time to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep so that they can be comforted and encouraged to press on. It is not wrong to be sad as a Christian or to feel discouraged at times. It is how we respond when we are in the valleys of life that counts. We need to remember that Jesus traverses the valleys of death with us and comforts us with His presence (Psalm 23:4-6). It is by His strength that we can endure, His mercies are new every morning, His faithfulness is great (Lamentations 3:22-25), He does exceedingly beyond all that we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), and He is an expert at turning sorrow into gladness and weeping into joy (Esther 9:22).
14 The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge,
But the mouth of fools feeds on folly.
A high intelligence doesn’t equate to having true knowledge, just as a fast processor on a computer doesn’t equate to having lots of data stored on the hard drive. Real knowledge comes by those who study the world with Scripture as a foundation and faith as a magnifying glass. Many very smart people end up saying very dumb things and creating foolish theories because they lack wisdom. They hate God enough that they try to reason Him away, and they ignore the Bible enough that they come up with some ideas that are actually useless and even sometimes harmful. Their foolish hearts cause them to want to feed on error, so they study other people’s error and further advance error. Thinking they are wise, they have become fools (Romans 1:22), for they loved the wisdom of the world which is foolishness before God (1 Corinthians 1:20). They preferred the approval of man rather than the approval of God.
15 All the days of the afflicted are bad,
But a cheerful heart has a continual feast.
Jesus said that we will have trouble in this world. Some Christians spend much of their life in pain, in prison, or with some form of suffering. Much that is bad characterizes their lives. Yet, even so, their hearts can have a continual feast and celebration that this life is not all that there is, that they have been counted worthy to suffer shame for the sake of His name, and that hope fast approaches with heaven promised to them. The believer has Jesus Himself in his heart in Whom there is fullness of joy and eternal pleasures and treasures. What is earthly affliction compared to that? In the heat of the battle and in the depth of affliction, that may be tough to remember, but we must recall it to mind so that we can endure and worship God until our final breath.
16 Better is a little with the fear of the Lord
Than great treasure and turmoil with it.
Great treasure is eternal treasure, and it is better to lack the resources of the world and to still have that treasure than to have all the resources of the world but have nothing after death. Eternal treasure far outweighs and outranks the treasures of this world. The stuff wicked people put their hope and confidence in will one day burn when God creates a new heaven and earth, but eternal treasure will exist forever. Even on earth, one can find greater joy with fewer possessions but with the abundant life of Christ than with all that the world has to offer but without He Who alone satisfies the soul.
17 Better is a dish of vegetables where love is
Than a fattened ox served with hatred.
It is better to lack the luxuries of life and have loving friends and family than to sit at the table of rich fools who hate each other, you included, and the poor.
18 A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,
But the slow to anger calms a dispute.
This verse corresponds to verse 1 by emphasizing that those who are quick to anger add fuel to the fiery rampage of violent men. Those who don’t get worked up quickly and easily because they don’t like fighting and prefer to be peacemakers tend to calm disputes and help leveler heads prevail. Christians are to do whatever they can to live peaceably with others, not to stir up strife (Romans 12:18).
19 The way of the lazy is as a hedge of thorns,
But the path of the upright is a highway.
Walking into a hedge of thorns hurts, but being able to journey down a cleared highway is much smoother. A lazy person’s life is unproductive and held back by sin from bearing fruit for the kingdom. Sadly, too many like this are content with thorns because they view a highway as too hard, too much work not worth their while, and not valuable enough. The righteous are filled with the Spirit and operating by the strength and power of God to advance the church. God has cleared a way for His gospel such that the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18), and He opens doors for the effective furtherance of the gospel (1 Corinthians 16:9). He will not be thwarted, and those who are wise travel His highway with the pedal to the metal (1 Corinthians 9:24). (see also Proverbs 16:17)
20 A wise son makes a father glad,
But a foolish man despises his mother.
For parents that have any sense, having a child that grows up to love the Lord is a great joy, and there would be little to compare to the sorrow that would accompany seeing one’s child reject the gospel.
21 Folly is joy to him who lacks sense,
But a man of understanding walks straight.
Fools like their sin and doing dumb things. They like to try to get others to approve and validate their spiritual idiocy. Their passion and desire are for dysfunction, sinful pleasure, and destruction. Those who have understanding hate sin, error, and the devastating effects of sin because they know it grieves God’s heart and saps their joy. They long to see others fear God also and begin to take His Word seriously. But fools enjoy the error of their ways, and it is very difficult to make a person who is happy being stupid see joy in being wise.
22 Without consultation, plans are frustrated,
But with many counselors they succeed.
The number of counselors is futile unless wisdom is present in their hearts. As many who know and love God get together, pray together, and dissect His Word together, wise decisions can be made that benefit all and honor God. When planning, it helps to have those who can offer wisdom and insight so that plans, choices, and actions can be most reflective of what God would want. That defines true success (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
23 A man has joy in an apt answer,
And how delightful is a timely word!
Wisdom enables a person to give sound advice and encouragement when it is needed, and it is life and joy to those who are humble enough to receive it (Ephesians 4:29, Colossians 4:6, Proverbs 12:25).
24 The path of life leads upward for the wise
That he may keep away from Sheol below.
Those who are wise believe the gospel and seek to bear abundant fruit for the kingdom. They keep persevering in righteousness and growing up to maturity in the truth. The fear of God motivates them to love Him, and the love of God for them motivates them to rest in His embrace all the more (2 Corinthians 5:14). God’s kindness leads them to keep repenting and growing (Romans 2:4), and they are thankful that God has saved them from the fire of hell. The fear of God is the beginning point for wisdom, and it starts when fools fear the God Who has the authority to cast their souls into hell. The gospel takes a life that is in a downward trajectory in regard to eternity, and it redirects its vector in an upward direction through faith in Christ. Paul said that it was his goal to keep pressing on according to the upward call in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14). We should want to keep growing in how we mirror His likeness and bring Him glory.
25 The Lord will tear down the house of the proud,
But He will establish the boundary of the widow.
Widows, like orphans, tend to get neglected and forgotten. Women’s property rights like many of their rights were easily violated if they even existed at all. Proud, wicked people could and would try to take their possessions and even their land. But God will one day make the proud, violent, and oppressive people pay, and a widow that fears God will be highly exalted in heaven even if considered low on the food chain on earth.
26 Evil plans are an abomination to the Lord,
But pleasant words are pure.
It is an offense against God to ponder wrong thoughts and start plotting evil deeds. Rather, we should meditate and reflect upon the pleasant words of Scripture, for they will help us to purify our hearts and not be double-minded (James 4:8). Christians are to think on what is good, noble, right, and pure, not on what will defile our minds and consciences (Philippians 4:8). From a pure heart come good and edifying words that please God.
27 He who profits illicitly troubles his own house,
But he who hates bribes will live.
Those who gain by illicit means will often suffer as a result. Obviously, there are eternal consequences, but when committing crimes and cheating people out of money, one should not underestimate the wrath of other evil people. Even family and loved ones can be harmed on account of taking shortcuts and stealing. Taking a bribe means entering a world of deception, lying, and looking the other way when evil is committed. If somebody thinks that the bond of secrecy is broken, it might cost a person his life. Wickedness doesn’t pay, even if people get away with it in the short run. It is not a peaceful way to live, but it is a life of fear, bondage, and looking over one’s shoulder.
28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
Being a wise person doesn’t mean that we always have the answer right away. It may mean that we need to slow down, meditate on God’s Word, and think through what God has to say on a matter. A fool is quick to open his mouth and give dumb advice that will in all likelihood have some rather adverse consequences. Sometimes we need to keep searching things out according to the Scripture until we know for sure what we must do. God promises to give wisdom to His children who ask Him in faith without doubting. God will never hold back wisdom from those who need it and ask Him for it (James 1:5-7). He wants us to know what we should do, but sometimes we must be patient.
29 The Lord is far from the wicked,
But He hears the prayer of the righteous.
Those who are not washed in the blood of Christ cannot approach the presence of God because of His holiness. But those who have been redeemed can boldly approach the throne of grace to offer their requests in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). God hears the prayers of His children because He sees them in the righteousness of Christ. The wicked cannot ask anything of God until they ask for His forgiveness. Until then, they are enemies with God and separated from Him on account of their sin.
30 Bright eyes gladden the heart;
Good news puts fat on the bones.
True joy is contagious, and people who are encouraged in the Lord are the best encouragers of others. Being a Christian is not about the power of positive thinking and just trying to always put a rosy spin on life. Joy is sourced in truth and the promises of God, and it is the gospel, the Scripture, and the testimony of believers as they have seen God deliver on His promises that provides the best encouragement (Psalm 32:11, 35:9, Philippians 4:4).
31 He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof
Will dwell among the wise.
Those who are humble enough to have ears to hear the wisdom from God will turn from their sins, love Jesus, and seek to grow in wisdom according to His Word (John 10:10).
32 He who neglects discipline despises himself,
But he who listens to reproof acquires understanding.
Wise people respond to the teaching of Scripture and to the godly discipline of godly parents and teachers. To refuse to humble oneself before God’s Word and His authority is not just to hate God but to hate oneself because sin always destroys. The result of heeding sound teaching and reproof is growth, joy, wisdom, and understanding so that a person can be ready for every good work that God has for him to do (2 Timothy 3:16-17, Ephesians 2:10).
33 The fear of the Lord is the instruction for wisdom,
And before honor comes humility.
The fear of the Lord motivates a person to get his soul right before God by receiving the gospel, and it encourages the believer to live a life pleasing to God so as not to be ashamed at Christ’s coming (1 John 2:28). The Christian doesn’t have to fear the fire of hell, but he will suffer regret and sorrow if at the judgment seat of Christ he has little that endure the fiery test (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, 2 Corinthians 5:10). God will honor those who honor Him (1 Samuel 2:30) with their lives by faith and because of their transformation through Jesus Christ. Seeking to order one’s life in a way to honor God is evidence of a humble heart. This stands in contrast to the wicked heart that hates correction, truth, and the commands of God. In pride it stands in scoffing defiance against God, and destruction will be its end.