A man who hardens his neck after much reproof
Will suddenly be broken beyond remedy.
The fool is reproved for his error, but he doesn’t listen, humble himself, or change his ways. Even after a great deal of correction, teaching, and training, he continues to do evil and to go his own way. The wages of sin is death, and eternal hell awaits those who harden themselves in their sin. Eventually, there will no longer be any chance for repentance, for time will have run out as judgment will have begun (see also Romans 1:24, 26, 28).
2 When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
But when a wicked man rules, people groan.
As in Proverbs 28:12, 28, a righteous ruler brings hope, peace, and justice to a people, which is a source of comfort and protection for them. A wicked ruler can be bought off, he will show favoritism, he will oppress, and he will not uphold justice. This is not a safe or joy-filled existence for those under his rule, but it is a reason to groan.
3 A man who loves wisdom makes his father glad,
But he who keeps company with harlots wastes his wealth.
A son who grows up loving wisdom and who chooses to order his life based upon the commands of God is a joy to a parent who loves the Lord and His ways. But a son who wastes what he has earned and been given on frivolous and sinful practices will dishonor God, himself, and his family.
4 The king gives stability to the land by justice,
But a man who takes bribes overthrows it.
An unjust ruler will lead to a loss of trust from his people and a prevalence of corruption and oppression, thereby destabilizing a land and his kingship. Justice will help a kingdom endure, and it will lead to peace and stability.
5 A man who flatters his neighbor
Is spreading a net for his steps.
Flattery is not a true compliment, for it is self-seeking in nature and without the best interests of others in mind. It may even be part of a scheme to trick, trap, use, and exploit a person for one’s own evil agenda. It is better to keep company with those who will speak the truth even if it means that one has to change than to be lied to by those who will say anything to protect themselves and preserve their own welfare (see also Proverbs 27:6).
6 By transgression an evil man is ensnared,
But the righteous sings and rejoices.
Solomon has already said the righteous should not rejoice in their enemy’s adversity (Proverbs 24:17), but there is great joy, hope, and satisfaction in seeing justice meted out. When a person who is trying to do evil or harm somebody is caught as a result of his actions, the consequences are just. Justice is always something the righteous should rejoice in, for it stabilizes a society and it reflects the nature of God. The fruit of the wicked is destruction, but the fruit of the righteous is joy, life, and singing of praise to God.
7 The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor,
The wicked does not understand such concern.
Part of upholding justice is making sure that the poor are not treated unfairly. The wicked person adores the high and noble of this world, and he looks down upon those who are of little repute, of low status, and with little money. The wicked don’t understand why they should bother to care, and they are confounded by people who do. They see nothing in such sacrificial and selfless acts for themselves, and they think it is foolish to look out for others ahead of themselves. They enjoy when justice favors them, and they prefer to waste their resources on sinful practices than to give it to those in need.
8 Scorners set a city aflame,
But wise men turn away anger.
People who show others extreme disrespect and taunt and insult them provoke them to anger. The result of this antithesis of kindness, peace, love, and grace is fighting, animosity, and even war. Wisdom doesn’t get provoked so easily, and it seeks out peace (Proverbs 15:1). Some conflicts cannot be prevented because self-defense may become necessary and the rights of the innocent may need to be fought for, but wisdom is always looking for peace gently and without an eagerness to fight.
9 When a wise man has a controversy with a foolish man,
The foolish man either rages or laughs, and there is no rest.
A fool is only interested in nonsense, division, ruin, animosity, and his own selfish feelings, gain, and agenda. He is not interested in coming to a reasoned solution, and he only further provokes a righteous person along the way. There can be no peace or rest when a fool isn’t actually interested in peace, rest, or actual problem-solving.
10 Men of bloodshed hate the blameless,
But the upright are concerned for his life.
Righteous people value the human life from conception to death, but wicked people are more concerned about money and power than about human dignity. The wicked enjoy violence and bloodshed, for they do not think of the souls of those whom they seek to harm. There is no fear of God in their hearts to restrain them from killing even if only for a loaf of bread.
11 A fool always loses his temper,
But a wise man holds it back.
A fool has no discretion or self-control, and he is quick to lose his temper. A wise person can feel angry and yet not lash out at others. He can trust God to help him be peaceful, to walk away when necessary, and to speak gently and graciously even when provoked. He knows that God will avenge wrongs suffered. He is able to control himself and his words and responses because he wants to honor God and be a testimony of love rather than of a personal vendetta of hate.
12 If a ruler pays attention to falsehood,
All his ministers become wicked.
When wicked people see that a ruler can be bought, that he will listen to terrible advice without calling it terrible, and that he is willing to bend the rules a little for appearance’s sake, then the whole culture of his servants and advisers tends to get corrupted. Good people don’t want to work for a person who is corrupt and who requires them to lie, but a wicked ruler will attract people who enjoy scheming and twisting things.
13 The poor man and the oppressor have this in common:
The Lord gives light to the eyes of both.
God has made both the poor and the one who oppresses the poor, yet too often the wicked treat the poor unjustly and unfavorably as if they are less valuable. But God made them both and loves them both, and those who fear Him and think through the world from His perspective will recognize that it is abominable to discriminate and treat the poor unfairly. (see also Proverbs 22:2)
14 If a king judges the poor with truth,
His throne will be established forever.
This verse essentially combines what was previously said in verses 4 and 7 by emphasizing that a king can rule and pass on a kingdom of peace and stability if he is just and fair to everybody, including the poor.
15 The rod and reproof give wisdom,
But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.
Contrary to what the world says, there is no glory in letting a child follow the sinful and rebellious instincts of his heart and call it imagination, exploration, or creativity. It will not harm a child’s self-worth by disciplining him, but it will actually help him grow in wisdom and make better decisions. Walking in wisdom is a path of greater usefulness, creativity, and blessing to others, and in Jesus alone can one’s identity and worth be realized (Galatians 2:20). Parents who do not train their children to obey should be ashamed of themselves, and children who do not obey shame their parents. God has given them a command to obey their parents in the Lord, for this is right (Ephesians 6:1). This is a blessing and honor to parents, and it pleases the Lord as well.
16 When the wicked increase, transgression increases;
But the righteous will see their fall.
Wicked leaders lead to wicked advisers and servants and to wickedness propagating throughout an entire kingdom. When sin is glorified, it increases, and, when it is tolerated and even celebrated, it is practiced all the more. The righteous will one day see the wicked pay for their sins, and the righteous will inherit eternal life.
17 Correct your son, and he will give you comfort;
He will also delight your soul.
This verse emphasizes that discipline is a good, healthy thing that demonstrates love and security to children. It will teach them to be respectful and to obey parents and God, and this will bring joy and peace to a home and to a family. When children are not trained to obey or given teaching as to what God wants of them, their sin nature will carry them into all sorts of rebellious and selfish behavior. The result will be misery for all around them, but those who train their children faithfully and lovingly can expect to see good and blessing result.
18 Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained,
But happy is he who keeps the law.
A proper vision of life involves ordering one’s steps according to the commands of Scripture, but, when the Bible’s commands and authority are removed from society, chaos is free to reign. A proper vision is not just bringing people into order and with a common goal, but it is teaching them how to restrain the lusts of the flesh and how to fear God.
19 A slave will not be instructed by words alone;
For though he understands, there will be no response.
From verse 21, it is clear that God’s will is not that anybody, including slaves, are treated poorly. In fact, owning slaves in the oppressive sense doesn’t square with the Bible at all (Proverbs 28:16, Romans 13:8). However, in the context of history, when a nation overtook another nation and marched its captives off to enslavement, that slaves were going to be in existence was a political reality. It would often take more than just words to coax a defeated soldier into serving a foreign power. Some would likely resort to whipping and intimidation. This is not God’s way (see Proverbs 28:15-16), however, for love for enemies is His way (Matthew 5:44). It is possible to treat all people with dignity even in less than desirable political circumstances. Through words and a godly testimony perhaps slaves could be won to Christ, but those who oppress them demonstrate a lack of love and a wicked desire. A response of faith in the Lord should be more important to a Christian than anything else even if it means going against the common practice of the day.
20 Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Wisdom thinks through what one will say before the words come out, and it takes the thoughts and puts them through the filter of God’s Word. Those who are quick to run their mouths without thinking reveal a heart attitude that is antagonistic to truth and the fear of God. A naïve person who lacks knowledge has a better chance of coming to saving faith in Christ than a person who is proud to be a scoffer and a mocker and who refuses to think deeply about the world.
21 He who pampers his slave from childhood
Will in the end find him to be a son.
The Bible does not glorify ill-treatment of anybody, and even those who had servants could honor Christ by treating them like a son or daughter. This would infer a more employer-employee relationship as well as a parent-child relationship and nothing abusive, demeaning, dehumanizing, discriminating, or oppressive. In fact, it speaks of love, generosity, and being like family.
22 An angry man stirs up strife,
And a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression.
One mark of a fool is the love of anger and being easily provoked and enjoying provoking others. Those with a hot and quick temper will find that their lives abound in all kinds of evil and sin because being led by unrighteous anger is being led by the devil’s impulses.
23 A man’s pride will bring him low,
But a humble spirit will obtain honor.
Those who are prideful and arrogant may be successful in worldly terms in this life, but they will be brought low before the throne of God for refusing to have humbled themselves and repented of their sin. Those who do bow the knee to Jesus now will be exalted later, but those who shake their fists at God in rejection, spite, and anger now will, on account of their arrogance and self-glory, be given the ultimate dishonor of eternity in hell. Humility pleases God in the life of the Christian, and God will use those who are contrite and who tremble at His Word (Isaiah 66:2).
24 He who is a partner with a thief hates his own life;
He hears the oath but tells nothing.
Those who join forces and create partnerships with other evil people do so at their own risk. People who are willing to steal from others are not trustworthy and will steal or kill just to get more for themselves. The promise that is made between liars is absolutely unreliable, for liars will lie, cheat, steal, and destroy each other.
25 The fear of man brings a snare,
But he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.
Those who live seeking the approval of people will struggle to love the Lord above all and with all of their hearts. No one can serve two masters, and those who live fearing man and what people might do to them will find that their fear keeps them from seeking, obeying, and trusting God like they should. Those who refuse to fear man and instead keep obeying God by faith can expect to receive honor from God in due time. Being bold and courageous is the call of the Christian. As Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.”
26 Many seek the ruler’s favor,
But justice for man comes from the Lord.
People in general enjoy trying to get an inside track with people in positions of power. They like to grease palms, give gifts, and flatter rulers in order to get favorable treatment. The reality of life on earth is that people make mistakes in judgment, and justice too often gets perverted. But God will judge the world in righteousness, rendering to each according to his due. He will vindicate the righteous and punish the wicked. All that was unfair on earth will be made right before the Almighty Who sees all and knows all.
27 An unjust man is abominable to the righteous,
And he who is upright in the way is abominable to the wicked.
A righteous person should abhor what is evil and cling to what is pure (Romans 12:9). Love rejoices with the truth (1 Corinthians 13:6), but evil people reject truth, hate Jesus, and hate those who love Him (John 15:18). This doesn’t mean that Christians should hate sinners, but they should hate everything that they stand for, practice, and represent.