The wicked flee when no one is pursuing,
But the righteous are bold as a lion.
The wicked person must live in fear because there will be many risks to him on account of the wrongs he has done to many people. Even when no one is actually threatening him, he will always have to wonder and look over his shoulder. The righteous do not have to live in fear because they have sown seeds of peace, love, and righteousness. If somebody wants to harm them on account of that, even their persecution for Christ’s sake is a blessing to them. God upholds them with His righteous right hand, and they need not fear on account of His provision, His strength, His grace, and His help. The righteous can still expect trouble in this life, but they can face anything with confidence and boldness in Christ. The wicked have no divine help, but the righteous have in Christ the ability to rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 By the transgression of a land many are its princes,
But by a man of understanding and knowledge, so it endures.
Where sin and wickedness multiplies, division and destruction is sure to follow. But a person who loves wisdom and knowledge according to the commands of Scripture will be best able to create unity, commonality, and an attitude of peace, forgiveness, and hope. He will not lie to his people or sell them false theories of hope, but he will live out and put into practice the truth that he believes in. The church is the pillar and support of the truth, and a godly leader points people to truth. Only righteousness can preserve and unify a people, and only truth can set them and keep them free.
3 A poor man who oppresses the lowly
Is like a driving rain which leaves no food.
A strong wind and rain that destroys crops is devastating and likely to cause a food shortage. This is a metaphor for a person who keeps back from those who need food or other provisions. A poor person keeping back good from other needy people is downright shameful. It is never God-honoring to oppress others for one’s personal gain, but the command of Christ is to think of the interests of others above one’s own (Philippians 2:3-4).
4 Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,
But those who keep the law strive with them.
Those who refuse to follow the commands of God by their disobedience glorify evil people. They, by imitating their evil ways, praise wickedness, treachery, and abominations. But those who obey the commands of God show them a better way, and they keep calling to them to repent and believe the gospel.
5 Evil men do not understand justice,
But those who seek the Lord understand all things.
Evil men pervert justice because their selfishness, greed, and corrupt view of morality inhibits their ability to delight in righteousness, to even define holiness, and to believe in truth. But those who love Christ and walk in obedience toward Him understand what ultimately matters, that Jesus is truth and that His Word is truth and where life is found. They don’t know everything that God knows, for some things He keeps secret (Deuteronomy 29:29). But in all things pertaining to life and godliness (1 Peter 1:3), believers have no lack, for they have the mind of Christ to be able to see the world as He sees it through the same grid of truth, righteousness, and justice (1 Corinthians 2:16).
6 Better is the poor who walks in his integrity
Than he who is crooked though he be rich.
It is better to be poor but to know Christ and have eternal life than to have all the world’s goods and be corrupted and destined for hell. The joy of Christ and the wisdom He gives are more valuable than anything money can buy.
7 He who keeps the law is a discerning son,
But he who is a companion of gluttons humiliates his father.
Those who know the commands of God and by faith keep them demonstrate that they have wisdom and discernment. The more they study God’s Word, the more their discernment and wisdom can and will increase. But those who reject God’s Word and choose to be a companion of scoffers, mockers, gluttons, and other fools demonstrate that they reject the teaching of wisdom that their parents gave them and bring humiliation to them and great grief and disappointment. Being unable to evaluate character and being unbothered by associating with those who have a clear negative influence is a sign of a profound lack of discernment.
8 He who increases his wealth by interest and usury
Gathers it for him who is gracious to the poor.
The Law condemned charging interest to fellow countrymen (Deuteronomy 23:19, Nehemiah 5:7), and it certainly condemned lying and stealing and other forms of unjust gain. Those who wanted to make money by creating oppressive terms for borrowers and who enjoyed harming their own fellow countrymen violated the commands of God. Rather than being generous to the poor, they were further impoverishing people and leading them into perpetual debt servitude. Yet somehow, according to this verse, God would find a way so that those who were gracious to the poor would have the opportunity to demonstrate their generosity. Perhaps this is a hint at the parable of the talents in which the wicked servant who hoards his talent is punished and forced to give it to the one with ten talents already (Matthew 25:27-29). God will faithfully open opportunities for service for those whose hearts are devoted to Him, and He will reward them for their faithfulness.
9 He who turns away his ear from listening to the law,
Even his prayer is an abomination.
Those who do not obey God cannot impress or please Him with religious ritual and sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). Even his prayers will repulse God because the heart is far from Him (Proverbs 15:8), and that is what matters to God, not some articulate oratory littered with religious jargon. Even believers need to repent of any outstanding sin issues before God will hear and answer their prayers (Psalm 66:18).
10 He who leads the upright astray in an evil way
Will himself fall into his own pit,
But the blameless will inherit good.
It makes God very angry to see people trying to lead His children astray (Matthew 9:42). The reality is that deceivers cannot keep the true believer from inheriting eternity, nor can he stop God from being good and merciful to His own. The deceiver will come to his eternal doom, and he who tries to create trouble for others will find it returned to him. Injustice on earth will be settled once for all in eternity.
11 The rich man is wise in his own eyes,
But the poor who has understanding sees through him.
Rich people really have trouble entering the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:23), and they tend to boast in their wealth as if they are so wonderful, powerful, and deserving. But a poor man who has wisdom and understanding is able to see the foolishness that is really there because he knows the truth of Scripture. He knows that being poor doesn’t make somebody stupid and that being rich doesn’t mean that one is wise. He understands that true wisdom is more valuable than all the world’s riches combined, and he rejoices in that fact.
12 When the righteous triumph, there is great glory,
But when the wicked rise, men hide themselves.
It makes the world far more unjust and dangerous when wicked people rule, commit violence, love injustice, and oppress those they have conquered. But when righteous people come to power, righteousness can be praised, good can be done in freedom, and justice can be carried out. (see also verse 28 and Proverbs 29:2, 4)
13 He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.
Those who sin and hide their sin will find misery in their souls (James 5:16) and pain even in their bodies (Psalm 32:3-4). They need to confess their sin to God Who is faithful and just to forgive (1 John 1:9), and they need to confess their sin to those whom they have wronged. Christians must always be willing to forgive others who in repentance seek forgiveness for their wrongs. Christ showed us compassion by loving us before we loved Him, and we need to be ready and willing to forgive and be compassionate also. However, it is not enough just to say one is sorry, but confession must be met with the forsaking of the sin. True repentance is proven by real and actual life change (2 Corinthians 7:10-11). Once the sin is confessed and forsaken, healing and restoration can begin.
14 How blessed is the man who fears always,
But he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom as we recognize that God alone has power to cast the soul into hell. The fear of God means recognizing sin for what it is and wanting to be on the right side of God’s judgment. Once a person has repented and trusted Christ for salvation, he comes to know God’s perfect love which casts out the fear of punishment in hell. However, this doesn’t mean that he will stop revering God and being mindful of His absolute holiness and hatred of sin. Those who know that they are loved by God also honor Him with their lives and recognize Him as Lord and Master and the One Whom they will stand before when they are judged based upon their faithfulness as believers (2 Corinthians 5:10). The fear of God for the Christian is not fear of wrath, but it is a serious recognition of one’s stewardship before the Master Who deserves full worship, devotion, and obedience. Those who harden their heart and reject Christ will find disaster and eternal catastrophe as they are judged at the Great White Throne and sentenced to hell.
15 Like a roaring lion and a rushing bear
Is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
As in verses 12 and 28, wicked rulers are frightening to a people, particularly one that they have conquered, oppressed, and impoverished in order to keep them enslaved and subdued. They must live in dread and humiliation and a constant fear of danger. This kind of government is lacking understanding (v. 16).
16 A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding,
But he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days.
The oppressive ruler will be hated by those whom he oppresses, for he will exploit them for his gain and treat them terribly. This is traditional worldly wisdom, but it actually lacks understanding, for, if the people ever have a window of opportunity, they will fight back and take him out. The leader would be better off creating a valuable partnership and ally by being just and fair even while in a position of authority. This would earn the respect of the people, and they could serve him readily and not under compulsion or fear of his wrath. That is how he could prolong his days as king.
17 A man who is laden with the guilt of human blood
Will be a fugitive until death; let no one support him.
A murderer who has run from the law must not be aided or abetted by people, for he deserves to be punished and kept from being able to harm others again. Once one has murdered once and that line has been crossed, it makes doing it again that much easier and thus makes the person that much more dangerous.
18 He who walks blamelessly will be delivered,
But he who is crooked will fall all at once.
The blameless will be honored in due time by the Lord. Perhaps they will receive some honor and vindication in this life, but perhaps not. Perhaps they will be thought of as scum as Paul and the early Christians were (1 Corinthians 4:13), but what is sure is that in eternity God will honor and reward those who have lived to honor Him (2 Corinthians 5:10). Part of faith is believing in a God Who is a rewarder of those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). The evil and corrupt will likely create trouble for themselves on earth, but some may seem to prosper. Regardless, their eternity will be misery forever in hell, and the sentence will come quickly, sternly, justly, and all at once.
19 He who tills his land will have plenty of food,
But he who follows empty pursuits will have poverty in plenty.
Those who waste their time and do not work hard will not have money or resources to take care of themselves or even feed themselves. Those who do not work the land cannot expect crops to magically appear. Harvest time is a good time for those who have sown, watered, and cared for their crops. Those who sow seeds of life will have a glorious harvest with abundant spiritual fruit leading to abundant spiritual rewards (Galatians 6:6-10).
20 A faithful man will abound with blessings,
But he who makes haste to be rich will not go unpunished.
Those who try to take shortcuts to get rich often get themselves into trouble, and it often requires them to steal, lie, and cheat. The wrath of God is not worth any amount of riches, but a faithful man will have an abundance of blessings. He may not be rich in terms of money or possessions, but he is privy to every spiritual blessing in Christ and all the eternal riches that belong to Him. (see also verse 22)
21 To show partiality is not good,
Because for a piece of bread a man will transgress.
Partiality leads to anger, bitterness, jealousy, and envy, even if the matter of favoritism is over something as small as a piece of bread. Our God is not partial, and Christians must not show personal favoritism.
22 A man with an evil eye hastens after wealth
And does not know that want will come upon him.
Those who have evil intentions in their hearts and who have lust in their eyes for money will do anything and everything even if corrupt and immoral and at the expense of others in order to get rich. They will face God’s judgment for their evil deeds, and they may find that even in this life their wickedness catches up to him (Proverbs 13:21). (see also v. 20)
23 He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor
Than he who flatters with the tongue.
Flattery is a flat out lie. It might be a nice saying to make somebody feel good, but it is untrue. Therefore, it has no value, meaning, or actual ability to help. A person needs the truth to help him change, grow, and learn (John 17:17), and those who experience the fruit of righteousness after having responded to reproof will be grateful to those who pointed out the error of their ways (Hebrews 12:11).
24 He who robs his father or his mother
And says, “It is not a transgression,”
Is the companion of a man who destroys.
Stealing from one’s parents is a terrible crime, and saying that it is not a sin is just plain foolish and completely undiscerning. This person is to be counted among those who enjoy ruin and destruction and who definitely do not fear God.
25 An arrogant man stirs up strife,
But he who trusts in the Lord will prosper.
Those who boast in their own resources, looks, intellect, or abilities enjoy pointing out the weaknesses of others and proving themselves to be strongest, smartest, and better than others. They enjoy putting people down and creating strife and a spirit of competition and cruelty rather than of peace and harmony. Those who trust in the Lord and boast in Him because they know that strength is found only in Him seek peace with others and are not trying to paint themselves in a better picture so as to make others feel worse. This is a better way to go through life as the other is repulsive and not indicative of Christ’s character. It also carries with it the benefit of eternal rewards.
26 He who trusts in his own heart is a fool,
But he who walks wisely will be delivered.
Every person is born with a wicked and deceitful heart (Jeremiah 17:9), and only in Christ can they be remade from the inside out (2 Corinthians 5:17). The heart in its natural state cannot be trusted until it is transformed by Christ and made new and able to be clean, pure, and in alignment with the desires of God (Psalm 24:3-4, 37:4). Those who walk wisely will trust God to change them and keep changing them from the inside out, and they will be delivered from sin and its consequences.
27 He who gives to the poor will never want,
But he who shuts his eyes will have many curses.
Those who remember the poor and give to them as they are able demonstrate that they have the love of Christ in their hearts. God promises to meet the needs of His people (Philippians 4:19), and He asks them only to seek first the kingdom of God and to trust Him to meet their needs (Matthew 6:33). Even if one is suffering persecution and dying of starvation or disease in a prison cell, the needs of the soul have been met in Christ and blessed forevermore. The soul will have been satisfied by the Bread of Life and the Living Water of Christ. Those who hate Jesus and do not show love to Him by loving those in need will end up cursed in hell. Their hoarding mentality will not make them happy but miserable, and those who hold too tightly to money will find it has a way of eluding their grasp (Proverbs 27:24). The best investment to make is to give to the Lord and store up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20).
28 When the wicked rise, men hide themselves;
But when they perish, the righteous increase.
It is a frightening proposition to see wicked people in positions of power, and it may make even righteous people have to conduct their affairs in secret. But, when the wicked perish, the righteous can be free to do good, to advance their cause, and to be sure that justice is served. It encourages more people to do what is right when righteousness is not a danger but a positive. (see also verse 12 and 29:2)