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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Proverbs 13

Verses 1-6

The Righteous Prevail Through Their Knowledge Of Wisdom, Whilst The Unrighteous Go Astray Because They Reject Wisdom (Proverbs 12:25 to Proverbs 13:6 ).

In the first part of the subsection there is an emphasis on guiding and learning. ‘A good word makes (the heart) glad’ (Proverbs 12:25). ‘The righteous is a guide to his neighbour’ (Proverbs 12:26). ‘A wise son listens to his father’s instruction’ (Proverbs 13:1). ‘A man will eat good by the fruit of his mouth (because he has guided people)’ (Proverbs 13:2).

There is also an overall emphasis on diligence as against laziness. The ‘good word’ of Proverbs 12:25 requires effort to apply it to the particular needs of the anxious man, the righteous man ‘searches out’ what is required by his friend (Proverbs 12:26), the diligent man makes full use of what is of benefit to man (Proverbs 12:27), a man has to make fruitful use of his mouth if he is to ‘eat good’, (another metaphor) (Proverbs 13:2), it is the diligent who will prosper and become rich (Proverbs 13:4).

A third emphasis is on the right use of words. ‘A good word makes the heart of man glad’ (Proverbs 12:25), ‘the righteous is a guide to his neighbour’ (Proverbs 12:26), ‘a wise son listens to his father’s instruction’ (Proverbs 13:1), ‘from the fruit of his mouth a man will eat good’ (Proverbs 13:2), ‘he who guards his mouth preserves his life’ (Proverbs 13:3), ‘a righteous man hates lying’ (Proverbs 13:5)

But the prime emphasis is on solid teaching. The good word makes glad (Proverbs 12:25), the righteous searches out in order to guide his neighbour (Proverbs 12:26), the diligent brings forth the valuable wealth of man (Proverbs 12:27), the way of righteousness, as known through wisdom, is the way of life (Proverbs 12:28), the wise son listens to his father’s teaching (Proverbs 13:1), it is the soul of the diligent which will be made fat (Proverbs 13:4), the righteous man, having received wisdom, hates what is false (Proverbs 13:5), righteousness obtained through wisdom guards the upright (Proverbs 13:6).

The subsection is presented chiastically:

A Heaviness (anxiety) in the heart of a man makes it stoop, but a good word makes it glad (Proverbs 12:25).

B The righteous is a guide to his neighbour, but the way of the wicked causes them to err (Proverbs 12:26).

C The slothful man does not roast what he took in hunting, but the precious substance of men is to the diligent (Proverbs 12:27).

D In the way of righteousness is life, and in the pathway of it there is no death (Proverbs 12:28)

E A wise son listens to his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke (Proverbs 13:1)

E From the fruit of the mouth of a man one eats good, but the soul of the treacherous will eat violence (Proverbs 13:2).

D He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips will have destruction (Proverbs 13:3).

C The soul of the sluggard desires, and has nothing, but the soul of the diligent will be made fat (Proverbs 13:4).

B A righteous man hates lying, but a wicked man is loathsome, and comes to shame (Proverbs 13:5).

A Righteousness guards him who is upright in the way, but wickedness overthrows the sinner (Proverbs 13:6).

Note that in A heaviness anxiety a man’s heart STOOP, whilst in the parallel righteousness guards the UPRIGHT. In B the righteous is a true guide to his neighbour, while the wicked causes him to err, and in the parallel the righteous hates lying (and is therefore reliable), and the sinner causes himself to err and therefore loathsome and comes to shame. In C and its parallel the sluggard and the diligent are contrasted. In D the way of righteousness is LIFE and in its pathway is no DEATH, whilst in the parallel he who guards his mouth preserves his LIFE, and he who speaks (unwisely) will have DESTRUCTION. In E a wise son benefits by the words of his father, whilst in the parallel a man benefits by either his own words or the words of another.

Proverbs 12:25

‘Heaviness (anxiety) in the heart of a man makes it stoop (bow down),

But a good word makes it glad.’

The point here is that deep anxiety can bow a man down, but that a good word (sound advice, which in Proverbs is godly advice) wisely presented can restore its gladness. Such sound and godly advice and words, associated with the idea of peace and wellbeing, were a feature of the Prologue (Proverbs 1:2; Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 2:1; Proverbs 2:6-7; Proverbs 2:10-11; Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:15-18; etc.). They are a reminder that the promises and assurances of God are an antidote to anxiety (note Proverbs 3:5-6) and that true godly wisdom can bring a man peace. In the parallel ‘righteousness guards the one who is straight (upright)’ (Proverbs 13:6). Thus there wisdom and righteousness (the knowledge of God) are seen as the preventatives from deep anxiety.

Proverbs 12:26

‘The righteous is a guide to (searches out) his neighbour (bosom friend),

But the way of the wicked causes them to err.’

Strictly speaking the first clause reads literally ‘the righteous spies out/searches out (from/because of) his friend’. Whether there is a preposition min, shown in brackets as ‘from/because’), is questionable. Its presence depends on whether we take the noun for ‘friend’ as merea‘ or rea‘ (both are possible). Thus it could signify that the righteous man searches out (wisdom) because of/on behalf of his friend, thus acting as his guide. This would fit well into the theme of guiding and learning in Proverbs 12:25 and Proverbs 13:1. Alternatively it could signify that he searches out/spies out his bosom friend, because he does not want as a close friend one who is untrustworthy or unreliable (see Proverbs 13:20). This carefulness would tie in well with the carefulness demonstrated in Proverbs 12:27.

In the latter case ‘the way of the wicked causes them to err’ may signify that it is because they are not so careful in choosing their friends (compare Proverbs 1:11 ff.). In the case of the former it may signify that it is because they do not (like the righteous) seek out wisdom, something which is again a continual urging of the Prologue.

Either interpretation could gain support from the parallel verse in the chiasmus, ‘a righteous man hates lying, a wicked man --- comes to shame’ (Proverbs 13:5). The righteous man searches out wisdom because he hates lying and deceit, or he ‘spies out’ his prospective bosom friend for the same reason.

Proverbs 12:27

‘The slothful man does not roast his game,

But the precious substance/wealth of men is to the diligent.’

The word translated ‘roast’ occurs only here in the Old Testament, but the translation has been remarkably supported by a 14th century BC tablet from Ras Ibn Hani, near Ugarit. It need therefore no longer be questioned. The point is that the slothful man is so lazy that rather than roasting his game for full enjoyment, he simply eats it raw. It may, however, be that Solomon wants us to see behind this simple statement and recognise that the same is true of wisdom. It is not just to be accepted as it is without thought and effort, ‘unroasted’, but must rather become palatable by deep consideration. This would tie in with the equal effort of the righteous in Proverbs 12:26, who does not just take things as they are but ‘searches them out’, and that in contrast to the slackness of the wicked man. The suggestion is further reinforced by the wording of the second clause, which while probably referring to the roasting of game, does so in a highly metaphorical form, stressing what is precious to man. It explains also the reference to ‘the inner life of the diligent being made fat’ in Proverbs 13:4.

The first clause concerning the behaviour of the slothful is in contrast to that of the diligent man. Using the translation above and seeing the ‘precious wealth of men’ as being game animals available from hunting once they have been roasted, the parallel is clear. The diligent are better off than the slothful because they enjoy delectable roast meat rather than raw game. They have made proper use of their precious resources. The emphasis here is on the greater benefit resulting from diligence. Continuing the metaphorical interpretation above, this also emphasises that the precious wealth to man of wisdom is also only to be obtained by diligence. This was a constant theme of the Prologue (Proverbs 2:1-4; Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 4:5-6; Proverbs 4:20-23; Proverbs 6:20-22; Proverbs 7:1-4; Proverbs 8:17; Proverbs 8:33-34).

The translation of the second clause is, however, disputed, because the literal translation, keeping strictly to the Hebrew text, is, ‘But the wealth of a valuable (precious) man is diligent’ which may indicate that the big advantage of a valuable man, and what makes him valuable, is that he is diligent (and thus among other things roasts his game and studies wisdom deeply). Among a number of alternative translations the following have also been proposed:

· ‘The diligent (does roast) the precious wealth of man’. The implication being that the diligent are wiser than the slothful.

· ‘A rare treasure of a man is one who is diligent’. The idea in context possibly being how fortunate are those whose hunters or cooks supply their meat roasted, with the emphasis being on the value of the diligent man.

However, what is certain is that the basic message is the superiority of the diligent man to the slothful one, something already brought out in Proverbs 12:24, and underlined in the parallel passage to this in Proverbs 13:4. The diligent man partakes of what is so much better.

Proverbs 12:28

‘In the way of righteousness is life,

And in the pathway of it there is no death.’

The effort of the counsellor in Proverbs 12:25, the righteous man in Proverbs 12:26 and the diligent man in Proverbs 12:27, is all to one end, the propagation of righteousness. And that because the way of righteousness is life. For those who walk in that way there is no death. As always life means wholesome life and life that will be prolonged, untarnished by death. It has already been emphasised in Proverbs 2:19, Proverbs 3:2; Proverbs 3:22; Proverbs 4:13; Proverbs 4:22-23; Proverbs 6:23; Proverbs 8:35; Proverbs 9:11; Proverbs 10:11; Proverbs 10:16; Proverbs 11:4; Proverbs 11:19.

‘In the pathway of it there is no death.’ This could simply mean that the righteous will not meet premature death. But it must have been patently clear to Solomon that that was not true. In the light of Proverbs 14:32; Proverbs 15:25 the greater probability is that here there is the clear hint of immortality, which is strengthened even more if we see the idea of ‘no death’ as an echo of Anath’s promise of immortality in terms of ‘no death’ to Aqhat in the Ugaritic mythology and used as a vivid illustration by Solomon. Such a concept is inherent in the descriptions in the Prologue relating to the fate of the disobedient (Proverbs 2:18-19; Proverbs 5:5-6) and in the promise of the tree of life in Proverbs 3:18. It must also be seen in the light of Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15; Psalms 23:6, and receives some support in Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 10:25; Proverbs 11:4; Proverbs 11:19; Proverbs 12:19; Proverbs 14:32; Proverbs 15:24.

This second clause presents translation problems. It says literally, ‘and a way a path no death’, which we may paraphrase as ‘and a way of a pathway of no death’, which basically says the same as above.

In the chiasmus this verse parallels Proverbs 13:3, ‘he who guards his mouth keeps his life, he who opens wide his lips will have destruction’. Once again there is the promise of preserved life resulting from righteousness (a guarded mouth), whilst the second clause presents a contrast to the ‘no death’ here. The alternative for the wicked is destruction.

Proverbs 13:1

‘A wise son (listens to) his father’s instruction,

But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.’

The themes of teaching and learning, of diligence, and of obtaining a foundation in wisdom and righteousness are now continued. The wise son pays diligent heed to his father’s disciplinary instruction (‘listens to’ is read back from the second clause). Unlike the scoffer he takes note of rebuke (compare Proverbs 1:23; Proverbs 1:25; Proverbs 1:30; Proverbs 6:23; Proverbs 9:8; Proverbs 10:17; Proverbs 12:1). Once more we note that the father (along with his wife) was to be the prime instrument for imparting wisdom (Proverbs 1:8-9; Proverbs 4:1; Proverbs 4:3; Proverbs 6:20; Proverbs 10:1). In contrast the scoffer refuses to listen to rebuke. ‘He does not love to be reproved’ (Proverbs 15:12). He hates it (Proverbs 15:10).

Proverbs 13:2

‘From the fruit of the mouth of a man he (or ‘one’) eats good,

But the soul of the treacherous will eat violence.’

In Proverbs 13:1 a wise son benefits by the words of his father, whilst here a man benefits, either from his own words or from the words of another, and ‘eats good’. The two ideas are in parallel. In contrast the one who would not listen to rebuke (Proverbs 13:1) ‘eats violence’.

The first clause is almost a repetition of Proverbs 12:14 a, ‘from the fruit of a mans mouth he (or ‘one’) will be satisfied with good’, and it conveys the same idea, whilst the idea of fruit reminds us of Proverbs 11:30, ‘the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life’. It is fruit that is ‘better than gold’ (Proverbs 8:19). There is a reminder here of the importance of listening to those who impart God’s wisdom. And it is a reminder also that to all who follow God’s wisdom what it says is important. We have to ensure that men eat good from it.

But the contrasting clause supports the idea that the one who benefits from the fruit of his mouth is himself (just as the treacherous ‘eats (his own) violence’). In other words those who speak what is good also benefit from it themselves. Because of what they say they have an appetite for good. How we talk makes a difference to what we are. In the parallel clause ‘the inner life, appetite’ (nephesh) of the treacherous itself eats violence, in other words the treacherous man has an appetite for violence which comes from deep within him, and he enjoys participating in it. Consequently he will ‘eat the fruit of his own ways’ in the end (Proverbs 1:31).

Proverbs 13:3

‘He who guards his mouth preserves his life,

But he who opens wide his lips will have destruction.

In Proverbs 12:28 we learned that ‘in the way of righteousness is life.’ In other words that those who walk in that way will experience abundant life, a life that will endure. And in Proverbs 11:2 we learned that a man ‘eats good from the fruit of his mouth’. He benefits himself, and fashions his character, by what he says. Now the two ideas are put together. To walk in the way of righteousness involves being careful of what we say, for ‘he who guards his mouth preserves his life.’ Once again the idea is that what we say not only reveals what we are, but actually affects what we are. We should therefore guard our mouths because, ‘in the multiplicity of words sin is not lacking’ (Proverbs 10:19). In consequence it is of great importance that we do guard our mouths, ensuring that nothing slips from them which will grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:29-30). By this means we will preserve whole and intact the life that God has given us. On the other hand the one who ‘opens wide his lips’, speaking without restraint or thought, will ‘have destruction’. He will bring retribution on himself. For by our words we will be revealed as righteous, and by our words we will be condemned (Matthew 12:37),

Proverbs 13:4

‘The soul of the sluggard desires, and has nothing,

But the soul of the diligent will be made fat.’

There is a general principle here that lazy people want things in their ‘inner man, appetite’ (nephesh), but often don’t get them because of their laziness. They lie in bed and let the years slip away (see Proverbs 6:6-11). In contrast diligent people set about things, and get what they want and more. Thus their ‘inner men’ will be ‘made fat’, that is, will prosper and enjoy prosperity.

But in the context of guiding and listening, and of solid teaching (see introduction to the subsection) there is here special reference to the gathering of wisdom and truth. The lazy person wants to have wisdom and understanding, and every now and then he wants to know God and His word, but he never gets round to seeking them. Thus he ends up spiritually poor. Indeed he ends up with nothing that is worthwhile. But the one who from his heart (his inner person) diligently seeks, and makes an effort to understand, will not only find, but will grow and enjoy fullness of blessing. What such people receive they will ‘roast’, in other words, will take time and effort over it in order to enjoy it to the full (Proverbs 12:27). They will enjoy what is most precious in the earth (Proverbs 12:27).

Proverbs 13:5

‘A righteous man hates lying,

But a wicked man is loathsome, and comes to shame.’

As in Proverbs 12:26 we now have a contrast between the righteous and the unrighteous. There the righteous man ‘spied out’ his friends, like Joshua’s men spied out Canaan, in order to ensure that they were worthy friends, so that he would not be led astray by them (compare Proverbs 1:11 ff.). Here the righteous man hates lying (as does God - Proverbs 6:17; Proverbs 6:19; Proverbs 12:22). He searches out the truth. He cannot abide anything that smacks of deceit. He will therefore obtain a reputation for being honourable and trustworthy (he does not come to shame). In contrast the unrighteous man is loathsome before both God and man, for his way is that of deceit (Proverbs 11:20). He has the lying lips which are an abomination to God (Proverbs 6:17), and to honest men. He cannot be trusted, even with a confidence, and he destroys other people’ s reputations or wealth. And in the end his deceit will bring him into being shamed.

Proverbs 13:6

‘Righteousness guards him who is upright in the way,

But wickedness overthrows the sinner.’

The subsection ends with a summarising verse. The one who is walking uprightly in the way, listening to disciplinary instruction and responding to it, is guarded by his righteousness. ‘In the way of righteousness is life’ (Proverbs 12:28). His life is thus secure, and he walks with confidence without stumbling (Proverbs 10:9). For he who walks uprightly in the way is a delight to YHWH (Proverbs 11:20), and YHWH is a shield to him (Proverbs 2:7). In contrast is the sinner who is overthrown by his evildoing. His hope is not life but death. He will ‘have destruction’ (Proverbs 13:3). He is loathsome to YHWH (Proverbs 13:5).

‘Him who is upright in the way’ takes us right back into the atmosphere of the Prologue, where being, or not being, ‘in the way’ is a constant theme (Proverbs 1:15; Proverbs 2:13; Proverbs 2:15; Proverbs 2:18; Proverbs 2:20; Proverbs 4:11; Proverbs 4:14; Proverbs 4:18-19; etc.).

Verses 1-25

A Collection Of Solomon’s Proverbs (Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 29:27 ).

Solomon’s presentation of The Book of Proverbs has followed the pattern of much Wisdom literature. This commenced with the initial heading detailing the details of the author and his purpose in writing (Proverbs 1:1-7), continued with a Prologue which laid the foundation for what was to follow (Proverbs 1:8 to Proverbs 9:18), and was then followed by the body of the work introduced by one or more subheadings. In Solomon’s case this main body comprises Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 29:27. It is usually divided up into four parts:

1) Proverbs of Solomon (Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16), introduced by a subheading ‘The Proverbs Of Solomon’. This may possibly be divided into two sections, Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 15:21, and Proverbs 15:22 to Proverbs 22:16.

2) Words of the Wise (Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:22), introduced by an exhortation to hear the words of the wise. This is in a form comparable with exhortations in the Prologue, but there is no subheading in the text as we have it. It may rather therefore be seen as a third section of The Proverbs of Solomon, but with unusual characteristics.

3) Further Sayings of the Wise (Proverbs 24:23-34), introduced by the subheading, ‘these also are of the wise’.

4) Proverbs of Solomon copied out by the ‘Men of Hezekiah, King of Judah’ (Proverbs 25:1 to Proverbs 29:27), introduced by a specific heading.

The inclusion of the words of the wise within two sets of proverbs of Solomon, the first time without a subheading, suggests that we are to see the words of the wise and the sayings of the wise as also from Solomon, but based in each case more specifically on collections of Wisdom sayings known to him, which he himself, or his Scribes, had taken and altered up in order to conform them to his requirements thus making them finally his work. That does not necessarily mean that his proverbs in section 1 (Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16) were not based on other material. He would have obtained his material from many sources. But once again we are to see them as presented after alteration by his hand.

We should note, for example, the continual references to YHWH that occur throughout the text. Whatever material Solomon may have appropriated, he refashioned it in order to make it the wisdom of the God of Israel, of YHWH their covenant God. This approach of taking what was written by others and refashioning it, while at the same time introducing further ideas of his own, may be seen as following the pattern of modern scholars, each of whom takes the works of others, and then reinterprets them in his own words, whilst adding to them on the basis of his own thinking. The final product is then seen as their own thinking, aided by others. The only difference is that Solomon would have been far more willing to copy down word for word what others had said and written without giving acknowledgement.

Having said that we must not assume that Solomon simply copied them down unthinkingly. As the Prologue has made clear, he did not see himself as presenting some general form of Wisdom teaching. He saw what he wrote down as given by YHWH, and as being in the words of YHWH (Proverbs 2:6). And he saw it as based on YHWH’s eternal wisdom, His wisdom which had also been involved in the creation of heaven and earth (Proverbs 3:19-20; Proverbs 8:22-31). Thus he wants us to recognise that what now follows is not a series of general wisdom statements, but is a miscellany revealing the wisdom of YHWH, the wisdom that leads men into the paths of life.

Verses 7-11

True Riches Are Found Through Responding To God’s Wisdom, Whilst Those Who Ignore That Wisdom Are The Truly Poor (Proverbs 13:7-11 ).

In this subsection genuine ‘riches’ are contrasted with transient and deceptive riches. A man may be poor and yet enjoy true riches, for true riches consist in knowing that one is right with God and in walking in the way of God’s wisdom. They will bring rejoicing to the heart and will be long lasting. In contrast a man may be rich and yet lacking in true wealth. If he does not listen to God’s reproof through those who are wise, he will not become right with God and he will not enjoy true wisdom. Anything that he does have will be temporary and transient.

The subsection is presented chiastically:

A There is who makes himself rich, yet has nothing. There is who makes himself poor, yet has great wealth (Proverbs 13:7).

B The ransom of a man’s life is his riches, but the poor hears no rebuke (threatening) (Proverbs 13:8).

C The light of the righteous rejoices (Proverbs 13:9 a)

C But the lamp of the wicked will be put out (Proverbs 13:9 b).

B Only by pride comes contention, but with the well-counselled is wisdom (Proverbs 13:10).

A Wealth obtained by unsatisfactory methods will be diminished, but he who gathers by hard work will have increase (grow great) (Proverbs 13:11).

Note that in A deceptive wealth is contrasted with true wealth, and in the parallel the same occurs. Furthermore there is a parallel between ‘great (rab) wealth’, and wealth that ‘grows great’ (rabah). In B a man’s true riches lie in his being ransomed by God as a consequence of his response to God’s wisdom, whilst the poor in heart refuse to listen to reproof, and in the parallel, those who listen to counsel are truly wise, whilst those who are proud resist God. Centrally in C is the contrast between the light of the righteous and the lamp of the wicked.

Proverbs 13:7

‘There is who makes himself rich, yet has nothing,

There is who makes himself poor, yet has great wealth.’

It will be noted that this verse connects with Proverbs 13:8 in the use of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’, and with Proverbs 13:11 in the use of ‘riches’ and ‘great/increase’ (rab, rabah). In Proverbs 13:11 great riches come to those who work hard, whilst both this verse and Proverbs 13:11 deal with deceptive wealth which in the end fails, in contrast with genuine wealth which is satisfying. It is interesting that here it is the man who considers himself to be rich who ‘has nothing’, whilst in Proverbs 13:4 it is the desiring sluggard who ‘has nothing’. The rich man would not want to be compared with the sluggard, but because of his failure to see beyond his riches he comes to the same end.

The proverb is ambiguous because of the ambiguity of the verb. It could mean;

1) ‘Falsely makes himself out to be, pretends’. In this case the person in the first clause is putting on a show of being rich in order to gain respect and status, whilst the person in the second clause is making himself out to be poor, even though he is very wealthy, because he wants to avoid tithes, and/or his responsibility to the poor. Both are thus misleading their communities. Both are hypocrites. In our view, while possible, this interpretation is unlikely as it removes the contrast which is suggested by ‘has nothing’ and ‘has great wealth’.

2) ‘Considers himself to be, honestly puts himself forward as’. In the first clause he is someone who considers himself to be rich, but is actually spiritually impoverished, and even physically impoverished in other ways (e.g. his children may be a heartache to him, or he may be in very poor health). In the second clause he is someone who considers himself to be poor but spiritually has great wealth in that he is humble and fears YHWH (Proverbs 22:4), and may also have physical ‘riches’ in that his children are loving and responsive and he is of vibrant health. Compare Proverbs 11:28, ‘he who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like the green leaf’, and Proverbs 22:4, ‘the reward of humility and the fear of YHWH is riches, and honour, and life’. We consider this to be the most likely.

3) ‘Literally makes himself’. In the first clause he struggles hard and attains riches, but in doing so becomes spiritually poor and loses his old friends and all that is worthwhile, and in the second clause he makes himself poor deliberately by his acts of charity and self-sacrifice, or because of his tenacious faith and obedience to God, and in doing so gains riches beyond telling (compareMatthew 6:33; Matthew 6:33; Matthew 19:29). Whilst very apposite in view of the teaching of Jesus, and undoubtedly true, we think it unlikely that Solomon had this in mind.

4) There may be a deliberate play on the possible distinctions in the verb so that it means ‘there are those who think themselves rich but have nothing, there are those who for God’s sake have made themselves poor and thus have great riches’. We can consider here the example of the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:18, ‘you say you are rich, and have obtained riches and have need of nothing, and do not know that you are the wretched on, miserable, poor, blind and naked’, and Jesus’ words to the disciples in Mark 10:29. But this is probably to anticipate New Testament teaching.

In our view the most probable meaning, in line with 2), is that a man can be physically rich, and yet poor in other ways, especially spiritually, and that a man can be physically poor, and yet rich in other ways, especially spiritually. In the Psalms the upright are often seen as the humble and needy (even the king).

Proverbs 13:8

‘The ransom of a man’s life is his riches,

But the poor hears no rebuke (threatening).’

This proverb is again ambiguous. Some see this as saying that a rich man is always in danger of losing his riches by being kidnapped/captured and held to ransom, (as Satan said in Job 2:4, ‘all that a man has he will give for his life’), but that a poor man has no such fear. He and his family are unlikely to receive threatening demands. This would in fact be a good argument for being poor, but such an argument tends to go against what Solomon has said elsewhere. In the Prologue riches were a result of following the way of wisdom, and poverty was a consequence of laziness. Furthermore in Proverbs 10:4 he confirms that this continues to be his view when he says, ‘he becomes poor who deals with a slack hand, but the hand of the hard worker makes rich’. Whilst the word for the poor used here in Proverbs 13:8 does not in its later uses have the necessary connotation of laziness (it does in Proverbs 10:4), it is even then never suggested to be a desirable state. This interpretation also takes the word for ‘rebuke’ in an unusual sense. Elsewhere it always means ‘rebuke’. See especially Proverbs 13:1 where we find the same phrase. Thus we must ideally look for some other interpretation.

An alternative is to see the first clause as meaning that the rich man has the advantage that he can buy himself out of trouble, but that idea does not make a good parallel with the second clause.

A further alternative, however, which balances the two clauses, and ties in with Proverbs 13:7, is that this could mean that a man’s true riches are found in his being ‘ransomed’ (because he has listened to God’s wisdom), whilst those who are poor are so (both physically and spiritually) because they do not listen to rebuke. In other words a man’s true riches lie in his having an assurance that he is acceptable to God and is not subject to death, and this because all that is necessary for his acceptance has been accomplished. These are the great riches which can be enjoyed even by the poor (Proverbs 13:7). In Solomonic terms that would be through heeding God’s wisdom and responding to God (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The idea of ‘a ransom’ links with the idea of redemption. In Psalms 49:7-8 the two are equated, ‘none can by any means redeem his brother or give a ransom for him’, although it is then made clear that a redemption is possible even though that redemption is costly. The impression given is that it could only be by God. Such a ransom was conceived of in Exodus 30:12 where whenever the men were numbered a ransom had to be paid for each one, although it was not a costly one (although the poorer among them might not have felt that). But it did indicate that men had to be continually ransomed before God, otherwise they would die. The idea was expanded in the idea that every firstborn male in Israel had to be ‘redeemed’ by the offering of a substitute, a lamb or goat (Exodus 13:12 ff.; Numbers 18:15). Thus the prospective head of each family had to be redeemed by means of an offering or sacrifice.

This suggests that some, if not all, offerings and sacrifices were seen as ‘ransoms’ and had a redemptive purpose. They made atonement before God. And this was something confirmed in the Gospels where Jesus speaks of giving Himself as ‘a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45) in a context where the guilt offering of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:10 is in mind, and in Hebrews where the redemptive purpose of His sacrifice is made clear (Proverbs 9:12; Proverbs 9:15). Israel were indeed looked on as God’s redeemed people, redeemed by the exertion of His mighty power (Exodus 6:6; Exodus 15:13; Psalms 74:2; Psalms 77:15; Psalms 78:35; Isaiah 43:3). But that was as a nation. And they continued to be so in the offering of offerings and sacrifices, both national and personal. The individuals participated in that redemption by personal response to the covenant and by personal sacrifices. This is constantly brought out in the prophets. That the idea of ransom applied to individuals comes out especially in Job 33:24; Job 36:18; Psalms 49:7-8, whilst the Psalmists continually refer to being redeemed (Psalms 19:14; Psalms 26:11; Psalms 31:5; Psalms 34:22; etc.), where it is clear that some are not. Those who did not genuinely enter into the covenant were cut off from Israel (something which it took the prophets, and a series of catastrophes, a long time to convince the people of).

Thus the recognising by a man that he had been ransomed as a result of his responsiveness to God’s covenant and God’s wisdom, may well have been seen as bestowing on him riches beyond telling.

And this in contrast with the wayward ‘poor’ who ‘hear no rebuke’. Whatever God’s wisdom says to them they continue on in their sluggardly ways (Proverbs 10:4; Proverbs 6:9-11). One advantage of this interpretation is that it gives ‘rebuke’ its common meaning in Proverbs. This would then tie in with Proverbs 13:10, ‘by pride comes only contention’, the poor in their pride having refused God’s rebuke are in contention with Him. And it continues with, ‘but with the well advised is wisdom’, they have responded to God and His wisdom, have been accepted by Him, and they thus enjoy the true riches.

Proverbs 13:9

‘The light of the righteous rejoices,

But the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.’

There is a similar combination of light and lamp in Proverbs 6:23 where ‘the commandment is a lamp and the Torah is a light’ which serves to demonstrate that light and lamp are to be seen as synonymous. The idea here could then be that the light of wisdom of the righteous makes him glad, whilst the false wisdom of the wicked will be snuffed out and vanish. On the other hand in Proverbs 4:18 we read that, ‘the path of the righteous is as the shining light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day’. Taking it in the light of this, ‘light’ indicates ‘a shining life’, a life lived in the light of God’s wisdom.

The idea of ‘the lamp of the wicked being snuffed out’ is found also in Proverbs 20:20; Proverbs 24:20, and may either signify dying, which would equate ‘lamp’ with life, or his losing quality of life. Taking the verses as a whole the former appears to be more likely.

The general idea, however, is clear. The life of the righteous is like a continually shining light, and is one of continual rejoicing. But whatever quality of life the unrighteous have will be snuffed out, probably by death. This would tie in with ‘the ransom of a man’s life’ being ‘his riches’ of the previous verse signifying that the true riches of a man’s life is to enjoy the fact that his life has been ransomed by God.

Proverbs 13:10

‘Only by pride comes contention,

But with the well-counselled is wisdom.’

In the parallel clause ‘pride’ parallels ‘well-counselled’. This suggests that in mind is the pride which refuses to listen to counsel. They rather contend with it. So the idea here is that it is only pride, (which is an abomination to God - Proverbs 6:17), which causes men to contend with wisdom and therefore not listen to rebuke, whilst the truly wise (and humble) heed counsel, which is why they are wise. This parallels the ideas of ‘the poor hearing no rebuke’ (Proverbs 13:8), and a man’s true riches lying in the fact that he has responded to wisdom and has therefore been ransomed by God, in Proverbs 13:8.

Proverbs 13:11

‘Riches obtained by unsatisfactory means will be diminished,

But he who gathers by hard work (literally ‘by hand’) will have increase.’

In the subsection we learned in Proverbs 13:7 of the ‘great riches’ which even a poor man might have, and in Proverbs 13:8 that those riches include the fact that his life has been ransomed by God. In Proverbs 13:9 such riches were a light to the righteous man which caused him to rejoice, and in Proverbs 13:10 resulted from the fact that he had responded to wise counsel. Now this is related to physical wealth by indicating that it is only wealth obtained in the right way which will endure and increase. And there may be the added thought that the same is true of spiritual wealth, for in Proverbs physical wealth and spiritual wealth go hand in hand, see Proverbs 3:13-18; Proverbs 8:11; Proverbs 8:18.

The word translated ‘unsatisfactory means’ has lying behind it the thought of a ‘puff of air’, and therefore something which is insubstantial and temporary. What is gathered in that way will itself be insubstantial and temporary. Some of it will quickly disappear. Such a person will tend not to be thrifty. It is a warning against the desire to ‘get-rich-quick’ either physically or spiritually. Quick fixes tend not to last long. Examples of such are obtaining money by violence (Proverbs 1:11 ff.), robbery or false pretences, by extortion or deceit, or even by gambling which, if successful, (and the gambler always hopes to be successful), involves loss to others..

In contrast is the one who ‘gathers by hand’, in other words by hard effort (contrast ‘the slack hand’ of Proverbs 10:4). His riches will be ‘caused to increase’ (hiphil, which is causative ). For such a person values what he has obtained precisely because it has entailed hard work, and he therefore has a healthy regard for it and reinvests it so that it will increase. The same is true in the spiritual realm. The more effort we put into understanding truth from God’s word, the more benefit and greater certainty we will obtain from it.

Verses 12-19

Those Who Want Their Hopes And Desires Fulfilled Must Respond God’s Wisdom And Understanding, Heeding Those Who Teach Them, And It Will Be To Them A Tree Of Life And Sweetness To Their Inner Being (Proverbs 13:12-19 ).

The connection between the closing verse of the last subsection, and the opening verse of this one, is the thought of diminishment and increase. Deceptive wealth ‘diminishes’, true wealth ‘causes to increase’ (Proverbs 13:11). Hope deferred ‘diminishes’ (makes sick), fulfilment of desire ‘causes increase’ (it is a tree of life).

The subsection itself deals with the impartation of God’s wisdom. When the desire for wisdom is satisfied, it is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12). He who fears the commandment will be rewarded (Proverbs 13:13). The instruction of the wise is a wellspring of life (Proverbs 13:14). Good understanding gives favour (Proverbs 13:15). Every shrewd man acts with knowledge (Proverbs 13:16). A faithful ambassador is health (Proverbs 13:17). He who takes note of reproof will be honoured (Proverbs 13:18). The desire (for wisdom) accomplished is sweet to the soul (Proverbs 13:19).

In the subsection there are a number of recurring ideas. Fulfilled hope is ‘a tree of life’, whilst the instruction of the wise is ‘a wellspring of life’. There is a stress on the importance of ‘the word’ (Proverbs 13:13), ‘the commandment (Proverbs 13:13) and ‘instruction (law)’ (Proverbs 13:14) which will benefit those who respond to them. These words are all reminiscent of the Prologue. Reference is made to the one who ‘fears the commandment’ (Proverbs 13:13), the one who has ‘good understanding’ (Proverbs 13:15), ‘the shrewd man’ who has ‘knowledge’ (Proverbs 13:16), the ‘faithful ambassador’ (Proverbs 13:17), and the one who ‘takes note of reproof’ (Proverbs 13:18), similarly reminiscent of the Prologue. The whole is enveloped in an inclusio concerning desire which ‘comes’ (Proverbs 13:12) and ‘is accomplished’ (Proverbs 13:19).

Thus those who want their worthwhile hopes and desires fulfilled, with that fulfilment being to them a ‘tree of life’, must respond to ‘the word, the commandment and instruction (law)’, which will be to them ‘a wellspring of life’, and thus prove themselves to be shrewd, understanding and responsive to reproof.

The subsection is presented chiastically:

A Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when what is desired comes, it is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12).

B Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who fears the commandment will be rewarded (Proverbs 13:13).

C The instruction (law) of the wise is a wellspring of life, that one may depart from the snares of death (Proverbs 13:14).

D Good understanding gives favour, but the way of the treacherous is continuing (Proverbs 13:15).

D Every shrewd man works with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly (Proverbs 13:16).

C A wicked messenger falls into evil, but a faithful ambassador is health (Proverbs 13:17).

B Poverty and shame will be to him who refuses correction, but he who takes note of reproof will be honoured (Proverbs 13:18).

A The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul, but it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil (Proverbs 13:19).

Note that in A when what is desired comes it is a tree of life, and in the parallel it is sweet to the soul (rather than making the heart sick - Proverbs 13:12). In B the one who despises the word (of wisdom) brings destruction on himself, while the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded, and in the parallel to refuse correction brings poverty and shame whilst to take notice of reproof results in honour. In C the law of the wise is a wellspring of life, and in the parallel a faithful ambassador is health. Centrally in D we have reference to good understanding and the way of the treacherous, and in the parallel the shrewd man has knowledge whilst the way of the treacherous is described in terms of a fool flaunting folly

Proverbs 13:12

‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

But when the desire (what is desired) comes, it is a tree of life.’

‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick’ is an often cited phrase, indicating the general truth that if the arrival of something is put off too often it ceases to be a hope and becomes a frustration. But Solomon is here taking it as referring to the hope of righteousness and wisdom leading to a wholesome life, for when that desire is fulfilled it will be a tree of life (compare Proverbs 3:18 of wisdom). It will ensure long and wholesome life. It will ‘cause to increase’ (Proverbs 13:11). It will be ‘sweetness to the soul’ (Proverbs 13:19). If, however, it is deferred it will result in sickness of the mind, will and emotions (the heart). it will result in diminishment. The wholesome life will not be achieved

‘Hope’ is expectation of heart. Being ‘deferred’ does not mean being put off until another date, but rather being constantly deferred with no end in sight. The idea is that in the end the hope dwindles and the heart (the inner person) becomes ‘sick’, sometimes physically, always mentally. It results in resignation and even despair.

In contrast when what is desired comes through response to God’s word, commandment and instruction, it is a tree of life. It produces long, wholesome and unceasing life. (The one who ate of the tree of life would live for ever).

Proverbs 13:13

‘Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself,

But he who fears the commandment will be rewarded.’

This puts in more prosaic terms what has been said in the previous verse. The one who despises the word of God’s wisdom will bring destruction on himself. The one who fears the commandment will be rewarded. These are consequences not deserts. To walk in God’s word and in His commandments is to live, ‘which if a man do he will live in them’ (Leviticus 18:5). The words reflect the Prologue (e.g. Proverbs 4:4; Proverbs 1:6; Proverbs 2:1; Proverbs 7:1) although here in the singular indicating all Solomon’s (and therefore God’s) words. Note that the opposite of ‘to despise’ is ‘to fear, hold in awe’. The one who despises has not realised in his heart the truth about God. The one who has realised in his heart the truth about God, ‘fears’ (takes serious and awe inspired note of what He says).

It should also be noted that the one who despises the word brings destruction ON HIMSELF. He has no one else to blame. He has refused correction (Proverbs 13:18). He was given the option, knowing the consequences, and made his own choice. In contrast the one who fears the commandment, will be ‘rewarded’. He has ‘taken note of reproof’ (Proverbs 13:18). He receives the consequences of God’s lovingkindness, not his deserts. It brings the opposite of destruction. It result in enjoying the fruit of the tree of life.

Proverbs 13:14

‘The instruction (law - torah) of the wise is a wellspring of life,

That one may depart from the snares of death.’

The thought of Proverbs 13:13 continues, but here expanding the positive aspect. The instruction (torah) of the wise is a wellspring of life. In Proverbs 14:26 it is the fear of YHWH which is a wellspring of life. Thus the instruction of the wise is with reference to the fear of YHWH (compare Proverbs 13:13 b). The word instruction (torah) was regularly used in the Prologue. See Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 3:1; Proverbs 4:2; Proverbs 6:20; Proverbs 6:23; Proverbs 7:2. It refers to instruction in wisdom as backed up by the Torah (the Law of Moses). This is a ‘wellspring of life’. It is like a gushing spring sending forth life-giving water. To drink of it is to partake of the tree of life (Proverbs 13:12). We can compare how Jesus likened Himself and His words to a wellspring of life in John 4:14.

And partaking of this water results in ‘departing from the snares of death’ (compare Proverbs 14:27; also Proverbs 7:23). Note that there is only one wellspring of life, God’s wisdom, but there are many snares of death. One who is drinking from the wellspring will not listen to the enticing voices of their contemporaries (Proverbs 1:11 ff.), or of those who speak perverse things (Proverbs 2:12 ff.) or the sexual enticements of ‘strange women’ (Proverbs 9:17; Proverbs 2:16 ff; Proverbs 7:5-27), all of which are a living death and lead to death. He will drink wisdom and find life (Proverbs 9:5). He will pay heed to the faithful ambassador whose words produce health (Proverbs 13:17).

Proverbs 13:15

‘Good understanding gives favour,

But the way of the treacherous is continuing.’

‘Good understanding’ can be seen as resulting from ‘the instruction of the wise which is a wellspring of life’ (Proverbs 13:14), and this might be seen as confirmed by the fact that in Proverbs 16:22 it is ‘understanding’ which is said to be ‘a wellspring of life to him who has it’. In this case the ‘good’ emphasises the quality of the understanding, it is understanding concerning what is good, as taught by the wisdom of God. And this results in ‘favour’, that is the favour of both God and man (Proverbs 1:9; Proverbs 3:4; Proverbs 3:22; Proverbs 3:34; Proverbs 4:9). Those who have such good understanding have come from under wrath into His favour.

On the other hand, in Proverbs 3:4 the assiduous attention by ‘my son’ to the torah (instruction, law) (Proverbs 13:14) and commandments (Proverbs 13:13) would result in him finding ‘favour and good understanding in the sight of God and men.’ It is possible therefore that the idea here is that it is God’s and men’s good understanding which results in their showing ‘favour’ to the one who has responded to ‘the instruction of the wise’, with the emphasis being on the situation of the treacherous. This interpretation better explains the introduction of ‘good’, but it does not provide such a close parallel to the second clause.

In contrast there is no favour for the treacherous (the word indicates those who act covertly). Their way is unchanging, continuing. They are not given any favour. They are still under wrath. The word translated ‘continuing’ means ‘perennial’ (e.g. a perennial river which is continual from year to year), and then ‘strong, mighty’, and we expect here something which contrasts with ‘favour’. Favour involves a change of attitude, either from wrath in the case of God or neutrality in the case of man. Thus we have translated the word as ‘continuing’, as indicating that for the treacherous their way continues as it always has. Consequently there is no change of attitude towards them by God. They continue under judgment.

Proverbs 13:16

‘Every shrewd man acts (works) with knowledge,

But a fool flaunts (spreads out) his folly.’

The shrewd man, having good understanding (Proverbs 13:15), does what he does (does, acts, works) with knowledge (the knowledge of God - Proverbs 2:5). But the fool, who hates such knowledge (Proverbs 1:22), ‘spreads out’ (like a market salesman) his folly. The point is that the one acts with good understanding, the other openly behaves foolishly.

‘A fool flaunts his folly’ would fit well with the idea of the treacherous walking in a continual way, but it expands into the thought that because he is a fool he draws attention to his folly. The knowingly ‘treacherous’ act covertly (Proverbs 13:15), but the fool is such a fool that he is not aware of how great a fool he is. He has no conception of how his activities appear to God. And he hates knowledge (the knowledge of God - Proverbs 2:5). Thus he does not care and flaunts his folly.

An alternative translation is suggested for ‘sh (do, act, work) based mainly on an Arabic root which means ‘cover’. It is pointed out that in Proverbs 12:23 ‘a shrewd man’ is said to ‘conceal knowledge’. Thus the Arabic root would give us the same meaning here, and make a good contrast with ‘flaunts’. But we might then ask, why did Solomon not use the same verb as in Proverbs 12:23? The suggestion awaits further evidence. And a strong point against it is that in this subsection there is no thought of concealment (it is the treacherous who act covertly). All the emphasis is on the word, the commandment and the torah being openly declared.

Proverbs 13:17

‘A wicked messenger falls into evil,

But a faithful ambassador is health.’

But the word ‘messenger’ was also used of prophets as God’s messengers. Prophets also could be true or false, and it may well be that Solomon sent men out to communicate his wisdom teaching, who could be seen as messengers. In the context this would appear to be the most likely idea in mind. The whole subsection, and much of the section, are concerned with the communication of God’s wisdom.

Alternately Solomon may simply be using the idea of messengers in order to indicate ‘wise men’, (who were no doubt often sent as messengers), and ‘wisdom teachers’. This would especially be so if, in accordance with the chiasmus, we see the verse as paralleled with Proverbs 13:14, which speaks of ‘the instruction of the wise’ as ‘a wellspring of life’. So it may well be that the wise who were instructing others, interpreting Solomon’s wisdom, were seen by him as ‘messengers’ and ‘ambassadors’. And the ideas of ‘the wellspring of life’ and ‘the snares of death’ would fit well with the ides of good and bad messengers, especially as the good messenger is said to be ‘health’. Messengers carried messages which could indeed have life and death consequences, and so did wise men and prophets.

With all this in mind let us consider the two clauses in the proverb. ‘A wicked messenger falls into evil.’ This vivid description portrays the ‘wicked messenger’ as ‘falling headlong into evil’. He misrepresents his message with evil consequences, for the one who sent him, for those who heard him, and eventually for himself. He despises the word and brings destruction on himself (Proverbs 13:13). He flaunts his folly (Proverbs 13:16). He is a disaster for all. This may well have been Solomon’s (and God’s) view of false messengers of wisdom. Alternatively, taking the consonantal (original) text as it stands and repointing as hiphil we could read, ‘a wicked man causes to fall into evil’. This would then put the emphasis on the evil effects of a false messenger.

In contrast, ‘a faithful ambassador/messenger is health.’ He is healthy for the one who sent him, if his message is a positive one what he communicates brings health for his hearers, and he finally brings health on himself. If he is indeed a messenger of wisdom teaching this is very much the case. The proverb can thus be seen, firstly as a warning to prophets and wisdom teachers to be ‘healthy’ in what they teach, secondly as a warning to people not to listen to false wisdom teachers and prophets but to heed those who give them ‘health’, and thirdly as an indication of what their messages accomplish in line with what has already been repeated again and again. They bring health to people’s hearts. In other words, the wicked result in evil, the faithful result in wellbeing.

‘Is health’ seems a strange way to describe a normal king’s messenger, and his message might be the very opposite, but it is just the description we would expect of a wise man, for as Proverbs 12:18 has already told us, ‘the tongue of the wise is health’. That seems to confirm that this faithful messenger is a wise man.

Proverbs 13:18

‘Poverty and shame (shameful poverty) will be to him who refuses correction,

But he who takes note of reproof will be honoured.’

The one who refuses to be corrected will in the end suffer shameful poverty. Like the unrighteous messenger he will fall into evil (Proverbs 13:17). This is paralleled in Proverbs 13:13 by ‘whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself’, for the one who refuses to be corrected demonstrates thereby that he despises the word of wisdom. Indeed, he also despises reproof (Proverbs 1:25; Proverbs 1:30; Proverbs 5:12). Thus does he bring on himself the total collapse of all that he has. But the one who takes note of reproof, demonstrates thereby that he fears the commandment (Proverbs 13:13), thus he will be rewarded by being honoured.

The importance of responding to reproof and correction was a main theme in the Prologue (Proverbs 1:23; Proverbs 1:25; Proverbs 1:30; Proverbs 3:11; Proverbs 5:12; Proverbs 6:23). It is also found in Proverbs 10:17; Proverbs 12:1. It was connected in the Prologue with the idea of the chastening of YHWH (Proverbs 3:11-12).

Proverbs 13:19

‘The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul,

But it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil.’

‘The desire accomplished’ was referred to in Proverbs 13:12 as ‘when what is desired comes’, and in both cases the effects of the fulfilment of desire are described. Here it is ‘sweet to the inner person’ (nephesh), (it gives them ‘health’ (Proverbs 13:17)), in Proverbs 13:12 it was ‘a tree of life’, which offered life to God’s true people. It is clear from this that ‘the desire’ refers to the desire of the wise and righteous, for only they can partake of the tree of life. It is a desire which will only be satisfied for the wise, for it is in contrast with the experience of ‘fools’. Thus it is the desire to follow God’s wisdom and be pleasing to Him, and as Proverbs 3:15; Proverbs 8:11 makes clear, nothing that can otherwise be desired can be compared with this. An appreciation of God’s wisdom is the most precious thing that a man can possess.

To put it another way this desire is the desire to hear the word and respond to the commandment (Proverbs 13:13), it is the desire to receive the instruction of the wise (Proverbs 13:14), it is the desire to have good understanding (Proverbs 13:15).

In contrast those who do not have this desire are fools, for to them it is an abomination to depart from evil. They hate wisdom and the true knowledge of God (Proverbs 1:22), for it will interfere with their selfish ways. Ironically in their desperate bid for happiness, they miss what could satisfy the desire of their inner hearts.

Verses 20-25

Walking With The Wise Will Result In Prosperity And A Well-knit And Integrated Family, Whilst Being A Fool Is A Prelude To Disaster (Proverbs 13:20 to Proverbs 14:1 ).

We have in this subsection a call to follow wisdom and be wise (Proverbs 13:20), righteous Proverbs 13:21; Proverbs 13:25) and good (Proverbs 13:22). He who does so will be recompensed with good (Proverbs 13:21); will find himself in a position to leave his descendants an inheritance (Proverbs 13:22); will properly discipline his son (Proverbs 13:24); will not go hungry (Proverbs 13:25); and will have a wise wife who will build up his household (Proverbs 14:1). In contrast are the fools (Proverbs 13:20); sinners (Proverbs 13:21-22); the poor (Proverbs 13:23); and the unrighteous (Proverbs 13:25). They will make those who trust them ‘smart’ (Proverbs 13:20); will be pursued by evil (Proverbs 13:21); will eventually lose their inheritance ( Proverbs 13:22); will eventually suffer hunger (Proverbs 13:23; Proverbs 13:25); and may have a wife who allows the household to collapse (Proverbs 14:1).

We should note the emphasis on the family. A good man ensures that his children and grandchildren are provided for (Proverbs 13:22). A loving father disciplines his son (Proverbs 13:24). A wise woman by her wisdom builds up her house (her family) (Proverbs 14:1).

The subsection can be presented chiastically:

A Walk with WISE men, and you will be wise, but the companion of FOOLS will smart for it (Proverbs 13:20).

B Evil pursues sinners, but the RIGHTEOUS will be recompensed with good (Proverbs 13:21).

C A good man leaves an inheritance to his CHILDREN’S CHILDREN, and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the righteous (Proverbs 13:22).

D Much food is in the tillage of the poor (Proverbs 13:23 a).

D But there is that is destroyed by reason of injustice (Proverbs 13:23 b).

C He who spares his rod hates his SON, but he who loves him is intent on disciplining him (Proverbs 13:24).

B The RIGHTEOUS eats to the satisfying of his inner man (nephesh), but the stomach of the wicked will want (Proverbs 13:25).

A Every WISE woman builds her house, but the FOOLISH plucks it down with her own hands (Proverbs 14:1).

Note that in A we have the accomplishment of the wise man, and in the parallel the accomplishment of the wise woman, whilst ‘fools’ parallels ‘foolish’. In B the righteous will be recompensed with good, and in the parallel the righteous eats to the satisfying of his inner man. In C the good man provides for his children materially, and in the parallel the one who loves his son ‘provides for’ his son by chastening him. Centrally in D, whilst there is much food in the tillage of the poor, in the contrasting parallel some of it is destroyed by injustice.

Proverbs 13:20

‘Walk with wise men, and you will be wise,

But the companion of fools will smart for it.’

Note the inclusio of wise men here and the wise woman in Proverbs 14:1. Walking with the wise makes a man wise, he marries a wise woman, and thus produces a wise family. Both the wise husband and the wise wife are needed to produce a well rounded individual. Compare the constant pairing with regard to wisdom teaching of the father and the mother (Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 4:3; Proverbs 10:1). And note that Solomon is presented as a father figure (he refers to ‘my son’) and wisdom is presented as a mother figure (wisdom is always feminine). So while a wise father is seen as vital for a family, a wise mother is also seen as essential.

The consequence of becoming wise will be that he will be recompensed with good (Proverbs 13:21), he will be in a position to leave wealth to his children’s children (Proverbs 13:22), he will eat well both physically and spiritually, and his family will be made strong (Proverbs 14:1).

The lesson of the individual proverb is important. It is a reminder that we become like the company that we keep. Solomon exhorts ‘his son’ (those whom he addresses for whom there is yet hope) to walk with wise men. He is to keep company with them, listen to them, and respond to what they say. Then he himself will become wise in God’s wisdom. In the parallel by living with a wise woman, he (and the whole family) will be established in the right way (Proverbs 14:1).

In contrast those who walk with fools (those who do not respond to God’s wisdom), and have fools as their companions, will suffer the consequences. They will ‘smart for it’, they will ‘suffer harm’ (like the one who is surety for a stranger (Proverbs 11:15)). They walk with fools (Proverbs 2:12-15), pay heed to what they say (Proverbs 1:11 ff) and become fools themselves. How much better had they been made to smart by their father’s discipline (Proverbs 13:24). And the same will be true of those who have a ‘foolish’ mother. They will live in an unhappy and disintegrated household (verse Proverbs 14:1).

We could take ro‘eh as a qal participle and translate as ‘the one who keeps companionship with’ but the meaning is the same. Note that the r‘h (companion) yrw‘ (suffers harm), whilst in the next verse r‘h (evil) pursues sinners, connecting the two verses.

Proverbs 13:21

‘Evil pursues sinners,

But the righteous will be recompensed with good.’

The importance of walking with the wise (Proverbs 13:20) comes out in that ‘evil pursues sinners’. In view of the parallel clause ‘evil’ includes all the unpleasant things that can face man (compare Proverbs 3:29), such as hunger, fierce storms, calamity and death (Proverbs 1:25-27; Proverbs 1:32; Proverbs 2:22; Proverbs 3:25; Proverbs 5:9-10; Proverbs 6:11; Proverbs 6:15; Proverbs 6:33; Proverbs 7:27). But it is probably also intended to include moral evil. A sinner attracts evil (what is not good) and it pursues him. Evil is here personified and seen as a remorseless enemy which hunts down its victims (see Proverbs 1:10-19; Proverbs 2:12-19; Proverbs 6:24; Proverbs 7:10-21). But it cannot touch those who walk with the wise. The righteous, instead of being pursued with the world’s evils, will be recompensed with good (Proverbs 3:16-18) because by responding to Gods’ wisdom they have become ‘good’, (have had their mind set on following God’s wisdom), and are thus becoming more and more good. Compare Matthew 6:33, ‘seek first the kingly rule of God and His righteousness, and all these things (food and clothing) will be added to you’.

In the parallel verse (Proverbs 13:25), ‘the righteous eats to the satisfying of his inner man (nephesh)’, whilst the stomach of the non-righteous will be empty. Here is one of the ‘good’ things which the righteous will enjoy. Note the parallel reference in Proverbs 13:25 to ‘the righteous’. Other good things described are that he becomes wealthy enough to leave an inheritance to his descendants (Proverbs 13:22), and that he weds a wife who will be a blessing to his future family (Proverbs 14:1).

Note also how the mention of ‘sinners’ connects up with the verse which follows this (Proverbs 13:22). These connecting links demonstrate that Solomon wants us to connect the proverbs together. Sinners are those who fall short of ‘goodness’ (Proverbs 13:22).

Proverbs 13:22

‘A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children,

And the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the righteous.’

The good man, the righteous man, the one who walks with the wise (Proverbs 13:20), is here contrasted with ‘the sinner’, the one who falls short of goodness, the one who is unrighteous. Here we learn that the good man retains his wealth so that he is able to pass it on to his descendants, whilst the sinner fails to do so. The sinner loses it. Either he or his children, who will tend to grow up like him, will squander it, or he will lose it through some disaster. And in the end it will benefit the righteous. (The righteous will benefit in the end, the sinner will lose all).

The fact that the good man leaves his inheritance to his children’s children also suggests that his own children will be ‘good men’ so that they too prosper, for it is they who will ensure that the succession continues. And the reasons why they become good men is that they are properly disciplined (Proverbs 13:24) and have a good and wise mother (Proverbs 14:1). Thus by walking with the wise a good man benefits not only himself, but his children. They too become wise.

For an illustration of the clause ‘the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the righteous’ compare Genesis 31:9; Genesis 31:16; Exodus 12:36; Deuteronomy 2:26-35; Deuteronomy 3:1-2; Esther 8:1; Psalms 105:44.

Proverbs 13:23

‘Much food is in the fallow (unploughed) ground of the poor,

But there is that is destroyed by reason of injustice (judgment).’

Standing by itself this could be saying that even if the poor did not work hard and plough their ground (fallow ground is untilled ground, ground which has not been broken up - see Hosea 10:12; Jeremiah 4:3), they would still be able to provide enough food for their families, were it not for the fact that their situation could be affected by injustice. But the idea is more likely that much food is there assuming that the poor would work hard and plough the ground. Then they would discover that it would produce much food. The injustice may have in mind that they could find themselves over-taxed, or having what they produced taken from them by invaders (compare Judges 6:3-4) or by a rich person using his influence on the courts, or by storms and unseasonal rain. The fact that they can produce ‘much food’ is evidence that ‘the poor’ are not to be seen as the destitute (they have land), and indicates that all could have been satisfactorily fed were it not for man’s greed.

But in context the verse has a further significance. It is illustrating the fact that ‘evil pursues sinners’ (Proverbs 13:21). For up to this point Solomon’s clear teaching has been that the poor are poor because they are slothful (Proverbs 6:9-11; Proverbs 10:4-5). They have not followed the way of wisdom. And that is confirmed here by the reference to ‘fallow (untilled) ground’. They have not broken up their ground. And yet even so that ground could produce sufficient food were it not for the fact that ‘evil pursued them’, that what they produce is subject to misfortune. It must be remembered that such injustices were regularly seen as due to the hand of YHWH punishing His people for their ill-doing (Judges 6:1-4).

An alternative is to paraphrase as, ‘much food could be in the fallow ground of the poor, were it not that it is swept away by poor judgment.’ In other words the ground fails to produce what it could because the poor exercise poor judgment and do not break up the ground. They fail to produce because of their own slothfulness.

Either way this is central in the chiasmus because, coming in between the inclusio which refers to walking with the wise (Proverbs 13:20), and being brought up by the wise (Proverbs 14:1), Solomon wants to emphasise that sinners bring their misfortune on themselves in spite of God having initially shown His goodness towards them.

Brief Note On The Poor.

We may feel that Solomon is a little unfair to the poor when he suggests that they are always responsible for their own poverty. But we must remember that he saw the Israelite society in which he lived, and over whom he reigned, as composed of families each of which had its own portion of land handed down from their ancestors. Thus he considered that, on the whole, where this was so, they had the means by which they could feed themselves if they put in enough effort. Given this scenario we can see why he spoke as he did.

End of note.

Proverbs 13:24

‘He who spares his rod hates his son,

But he who loves him is intent on disciplining him.’

In Proverbs 13:22 the good man leaves an inheritance to his descendants, here he gives his son a different kind of inheritance by disciplining him in love so that he will learn wisdom. To ‘spare the rod’ is to not use it. He fails to use it because he is not bothered about the way in which his son walks. In contrast the one who loves his son will discipline him when necessary. He is ‘intent on’ disciplining him because he loves him and wants him to learn the way of wisdom. The fact that it would be done in love (‘he who loves him’) would prevent it from being excessive.

This is not an admonition to beat one’s children. It is an admonition to discipline them properly. The rod was the method of discipline in those days. Life was hard and time precious, and children rarely had privileges that could be withheld. The rod was a quick method of discipline, and psychological methods were unknown. Today we may use other methods of discipline. We live in an affluent age and children can always be punished by withholding privileges or, with young children, using ‘the naughty seat’. This was not possible, or even thought of, in those days. But good parents are still ‘intent on’ sufficiently disciplining their children when necessary, so that they will learn what is good. And if this does finally require ‘the rod’ they will use it. A judicious smack given in love (not in despair or temper) may well save the child much trouble (in spite of modern prejudices).

Proverbs 13:25

‘The righteous eats to the satisfying of his inner man (nephesh),

But the stomach of the wicked will want.’

In Proverbs 13:22 we read, ‘Evil pursues sinners, but the righteous will be recompensed with good.’ This is illustrated here. It is because misfortune pursues sinners, that the stomach of the unrighteous will want (go hungry). In contrast the righteous will be recompensed with good, because the righteous will be satisfied, both physically by having sufficient food, and spiritually by feeding on wisdom. It is a reminder that the wise man chooses the way of righteousness, and discovers that in the end that is the way to wellbeing and life.

Proverbs 14:1

‘Every wise woman builds her house,

But the foolish plucks it down with her own hands.’

This is the second part of the inclusio, the first part being Proverbs 13:20. ‘Every wise woman’ is paralleled with ‘wise men.’ Like Ms Wisdom (Proverbs 9:1) this wise woman ‘builds her house’, although in her case it is not a literal building but the ‘building’ of the family. She spends her efforts on building up her family and making them wise. She instructs them in the Torah (Law of Moses) (Proverbs 1:8), and is deeply concerned if they go astray (Proverbs 10:1). Like woman wisdom she constantly exhorts them to walk in the right way, the way of the wise. Note that it is not said that she does it ‘with her own hands’. The idea is probably that she is assisted by YHWH. And as a consequence she is a ‘crown’ to her husband (Proverbs 12:4).

In contrast is the foolish woman who plucks down her house ‘with her own hands’. She must take total responsibility for what happens, when her children are badly behaved and disunited, and when her household collapses. She is as rottenness in her husband’s bones (Proverbs 12:4).

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 13". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/proverbs-13.html. 2013.