1 Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it
Than a house full of feasting with strife.
Peace and healthy relationships are more valuable than having a lot of the world’s goods. Even being near poverty but with many godly friends and loved ones is better than having great feasts but enmity, hatred, division, and spite. (see also Proverbs 15:17)
2 A servant who acts wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully,
And will share in the inheritance among brothers.
Some masters will be cruel to their servants simply because they are cruel people, but there may be cases where a servant becomes a great friend to a master, even like a son due to his faithfulness, kindness, honesty, and genuine service. He might even end up sharing in the family inheritance, effectively being adopted as a son.
3 The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold,
But the Lord tests hearts.
Just as a refiner’s fire removes the impurities in order to separate gold and silver from the dross, the Lord knows the hearts that are His and those that are wicked. He knows the difference between worthless deeds and God-honoring deeds of faith (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). He will have no trouble separating the sheep from the goats on the last day, for He sees all. It is also true that God works to sanctify believers by continuing to refine, transform, renew, and purify the desires of their hearts. He will allow believers to be tested so that they can see how they need to grow and change and to be able to rejoice when they see victory emerge and spiritual fruit result (Judges 3:4, James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 4:12).
4 An evildoer listens to wicked lips;
A liar pays attention to a destructive tongue.
Those who want to do evil and speak evil and lies use other people’s destructive methods and words as justification and reason for their evil speech and actions. Those who have corrupt desires in their hearts are more susceptible to being led away by the false and misleading teaching of others. Wise people don’t believe folly spewed forth because they pay attention to God’s Word, and they advocate for what is true, right, and good.
5 He who mocks the poor taunts his Maker;
He who rejoices at calamity will not go unpunished.
God cares about all people, and He despises when the downcast and downtrodden are taken advantage of, mocked, insulted, and persecuted. It is evidence of God’s love to care for the needy, the poor, and for orphans and widows in their distress (James 1:27). This does not mean that looking after the needy is more important than the gospel, but it is a way to demonstrate the love of the gospel and have open doors to share it (Matthew 5:16). It is also not loving to laugh at other people’s misfortunes. No one should be happy that wicked people will go to hell. That is a just proposition, but it is not a source of joy for those who have compassion for the masses as Christ did (Matthew 9:36). It is fine to be happy with seeing justice meted out on account of the fact that justice is good, but that is different from delighting in a person’s adversity.
6 Grandchildren are the crown of old men,
And the glory of sons is their fathers.
Old men should be thrilled if their children and grandchildren walk after the Lord, for it is a testimony to God’s faithfulness to honor those who honor Him by being able to see children grow up and walk in the ways of the Lord. It is also true that a godly parent is an honor to a son because it is such a wonderful blessing and resource to have a God-fearing parent to go to for wisdom and understanding. It is a privilege to enjoy God together across generations.
7 Excellent speech is not fitting for a fool,
Much less are lying lips to a prince.
Those who are in positions of authority need to devote themselves to the truth and to speaking honestly, for their example carries a lot of influence and because God holds them responsible for their stewardship of the positions that He entrusts them with (Proverbs 16:10, 12). We should not expect a fool to speak words of wisdom, and even the most eloquent speech if founded upon foolishness is still worthless babble.
8 A bribe is a charm in the sight of its owner;
Wherever he turns, he prospers.
The fool who takes a bribe thinks that he has a charmed life with easy money and prosperity around every corner. In his mind, he has struck it rich because all he has to do is lie about something in order to keep getting money or privilege. He does not realize that his “charm” is a curse that is leading his heart astray. Those who put their hope and confidence in riches do so only in their imagination (Proverbs 18:11), for only God is an anchor and only for the righteous.
9 He who conceals a transgression seeks love,
But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends.
There is a time to be discreet and to keep a confidence out of love and concern for another person. If there is an imminent threat or somebody is going to be in danger because of secret information, then it doesn’t make sense to keep that information hidden even if it costs a friendship. But other things are meant to be kept private, and they are only shared in the first place with that understanding. Those who violate that bond of trust and intimacy are likely to lose that friendship. Love is able to cover a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8) by not keeping records of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5), broadcasting the mistakes of those they care about, and being willing to forgive and through kindness help those they care about to repent and change (Romans 2:4).
10 A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding
Than a hundred blows into a fool.
Fools are so hardened by their love for sin and evil that they can hear the truth a hundred times and not respond to it in the slightest bit. A wise man hears the truth and eagerly applies it the first time.
11 A rebellious man seeks only evil,
So a cruel messenger will be sent against him.
Violence begets more violence, and those who like to flaunt their rebellion and harm others as a result of their evil ways will likely become victims of revenge or the wrath of others. Christians should seek to be peacemakers and those who bring good news, but the wicked stir up strife. There is a strong likelihood that their cruelty will eventually cause them harm in return.
12 Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs,
Rather than a fool in his folly.
Fools don’t receive instruction or rebuke well at all, and a person who seeks to offer truth and correction to a fool is better off facing the wrath of a mother bear after her young have been stolen. One must not cast their pearls before swine lest the swine turn and tear them to pieces (Matthew 7:6).
13 He who returns evil for good,
Evil will not depart from his house.
Never is it right to do others evil, especially if they have done us good. This stores up God’s wrath, and it makes a person gain a lot of enemies on earth.
14 The beginning of strife is like letting out water,
So abandon the quarrel before it breaks out.
Just as a dam has first a small trickle of a leak before the whole thing comes crashing down, so too does strife begin as a few small words that can lead to fighting, war, death, and disaster. Thus, it is better off to make peace quickly before things get out of hand.
15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous,
Both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.
God hates injustice, whether it be justifying the wicked on account of their wickedness or condemning the righteous on account of their righteousness.
16 Why is there a price in the hand of a fool to buy wisdom,
When he has no sense?
Wisdom cannot be bought with the things of this earth, but it is given by God to those who fear Him and seek to know and obey Him (Colossians 2:3, James 1:5-7). Fools prove their foolishness by trying other roads to wisdom besides the only true way in Christ.
17 A friend loves at all times,
And a brother is born for adversity.
A true friend is there not just because good fortune has come to a person, but he is there even during adversity. He is there not to judge as Job’s friends did but to listen and show compassion. A good friend is like a devoted brother, mourning with us when we are sad and rejoicing with us when there is reason for joy.
18 A man lacking in sense pledges
And becomes guarantor in the presence of his neighbor.
Solomon several times in Proverbs makes the point strongly that it is dangerous and foolish to be a co-debtor with another person (Proverbs 6:1-5). If calamity befalls them, then the co-signer is on the hook for all the damages and could lose everything. It is not a wise financial move, and there are other better ways to help a neighbor financially such as by offering a loan or a gift.
19 He who loves transgression loves strife;
He who raises his door seeks destruction.
Those who love sin should expect the strife, pain, and consequences that harming others and acting selfishly entails. Those who associate with evil people and lower down the walls of resistance against the enemies of God can expect to suffer harm. Christians should resist the devil so that he will flee (James 4:7), and we should abhor evil and cling to what is good (Romans 12:9).
20 He who has a crooked mind finds no good,
And he who is perverted in his language falls into evil.
Those who love sin also corrupt their consciences and their thinking. They seek only what is evil, and they have no appetite for what is good. They crave immorality and evil speaking. Their corrupt language reveals the true state of their hearts. They fall into evil because they love it.
21 He who sires a fool does so to his sorrow,
And the father of a fool has no joy.
It brings no joy to a parent who has any sense whatsoever to raise a child who spurns wisdom and loves to be a fool. There is great joy, however, in seeing one’s children grow up to fear God and keep His commandments.
22 A joyful heart is good medicine,
But a broken spirit dries up the bones.
Our spiritual health can and does affect our physical health. If we are broken in spirit from sin or discouragement, it can take a toll on our physical energy, strength, and stamina (Psalm 32:3-4). If we are filled with the joy of the Lord and not living in sin and rebellion against God, then it is like medicine to our bodies (James 5:16).
23 A wicked man receives a bribe from the bosom
To pervert the ways of justice.
A wicked person takes a bribe while trying to keep the act of receiving it a secret. Bribes mean cover-ups and perverting justice.
24 Wisdom is in the presence of the one who has understanding,
But the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.
Fools can search the entire world for wisdom if they wanted to and not find it because they are looking for the wrong thing and in the wrong places. They are blind to the truth, and they might as well stare at the horizon all day. Those who fear God will find wisdom and understanding, for they will see God’s truth revealed everywhere, from the creation, to the conscience, to the Scripture, and to the cross.
25 A foolish son is a grief to his father
And bitterness to her who bore him.
Raising a child takes a lot of work, and even the pregnancy and delivery is an investment and sacrifice. But a child that turns out rotten in heart brings only grief and bitterness, for what pain there must be for a mother and father knowing that their child will spend an eternity in hell. This is why parents must focus on teaching their children wisdom from early on, being careful not to underestimate what they are capable of learning according to the Scriptures.
26 It is also not good to fine the righteous,
Nor to strike the noble for their uprightness.
It is unjust to penalize somebody for doing something good. Laws that promote evil are thus wrong, and leaders who look the other way at evil are doing evil. A wicked person seeks to levy an unjust charge or to slander a righteous person for no reason, and this is not good.
27 He who restrains his words has knowledge,
And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
A wise person evaluates what he is going to say before he says it, and he knows when to keep quiet. He is not easily riled to wrath or anger, and he knows how to keep a cool head in a heated moment. This can lead to problem-solving and peacemaking.
28 Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise;
When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.
A foolish person who doesn’t say anything may be able to fool people for a while that he actually is thinking valuable thoughts or that he has something of wisdom to add to the discussion. Eventually, his heart will root him out, but he may be able to get people to think that he is prudent for a time.