William Kelly Major Works Commentary
Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth reproof is brutish.Proverbs Chapter 12
We have next the contrast distinctly drawn between the course, character, and end of those that are open to divine discipline, and of such as refuse it; of him that obtains Jehovah's favour, of the malicious too, and of the righteous unmoved by that which sweeps away the wicked. Nor is the woman of worth unnoticed any more than the one who makes ashamed. The thoughts and words of both classes are confronted with the dread issue.
"Whoso loveth correction loveth knowledge, but he that hateth reproof [is] brutish.
"A good [man] obtaineth favour of Jehovah, but a man of mischievous devices will he condemn.
"A man shall not be established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous shall never be moved.
"A woman of worth [is] a crown to her husband, but she that maketh ashamed [is] as rottenness in his bones.
"The thoughts of the righteous [are] judgment, the counsels of the wicked deceit.
"The words of the wicked [are] a lying-in-wait for blood, but the mouth of the upright shall deliver them.
"Overthrow the wicked, and they [are] no more; but the house of the righteous shall stand." Proverbs 12:1-7.
As original uprightness was lost in the fall, even if there be a new nature by grace, soul discipline is ever needed, and blessed in the genuine humility that values knowledge from on high. Pride and vanity are alike disdainful of reproof, and therefore go from bad to worse. Those unwilling to own their faults or to submit to faithful dealing sink below humanity.
He that is good in his measure (Romans 6:7) has been so formed by his faith in Jehovah's loving-kindness, and obtains fresh favour, whereas He condemns the man who yielding to his evil nature lives in spiteful devices.
Nor is it in the nature of wickedness to establish a man, for it makes slippery the high place he may reach; but the righteous have a root which, however assailed, shall not be moved.
If you wish a full-length portrait of a woman of worth, it is furnished in the last chapter of this Book. Such a woman is not only a blessing but "a crown" to her husband. For even if naturally or spiritually beyond him, she will not fail to hide herself behind and help efficiently under him as her head, to the good order of children and servants, as well as in the circle of their friends or foes. On the other hand, what a curse is she that makes ashamed, however it may be! It is an evil ever felt to be hopeless in itself. How truly described as "rottenness in his bones"!
As righteousness means consistency with our relationships to God and man, "the thoughts" are a main part of it. Self-righteousness is really its opposite, and consists of outward observances if there be any pretence of ground for it. What value can these have, where the heart is far from Jehovah proving it by disregard of His Anointed, and by hopes resting on their own ways according to the precept of men? True righteousness is inseparable from being begotten of God; and thus the thoughts are right, as being the inward effect of a new life which comes from God's object of faith on whom they rest. The counsels of the wicked, who know Him not, are deceit; for they flow from an evil nature assuming to be good.
And what are "the words" of the wicked but, as they are here characterized, "a lying-in-wait for blood"? If they have not life in Christ, they are the habitual prey of him who is from the beginning a liar and a murderer. "My soul," says the Psalmist, "is in the midst of lions; I lie down among those that breathe out flames, the sons of Adam, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword." Smooth was the milk of his mouth, but his heart was war; his words were softer than oil, yet are they drawn swords. On the other hand the mouth of the upright speaks to the conscience and heart, and God knows how to give it effect so that it shall deliver them.
As the wicked build on the sand, overthrow comes and is fatal; but the house of the righteous, being built on the rock, shall stand. Rain may descend, and floods come, and winds blow, but only to prove that it is founded and preserved. So is he who hears and obeys the Word.
There is no danger that besets men, and even the righteous, more than too keen a regard to their reputation. Here we begin with the secret of that which gives a quiet spirit, and of what calls forth contempt.
"A man shall be commended according to his judgment (or, wisdom), but he that is perverse of heart shall be despised.
"Better [is] he that is lightly esteemed, and hath a servant, than he that aimeth after honour and lacketh bread.
"A righteous [man] regardeth the life of his beast; but the tender mercies of the wicked [are] cruelty.
"He that tilleth his ground shall be satisfied with bread; but he that followeth worthless [persons] is devoid of sense.
"The wicked desireth the net of evil [men]; but the rout of the righteous yieldeth [fruit].
"In the transgression of the lips is an evil snare; but a righteous [man] shall come out of trouble.
"A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of the mouth; and the doings of a man's hands shall be rendered to him." vv. 8-14.
If the eye be single, the whole body shall be full of light, said the Lord. This gives a man to have a godly aim, and to seek it by faithful means. The same spirit imparts a sound judgment, which commends itself and him who makes it. A perverse heart leaves God, likes to oppose, and seeks self only. Such a one only makes difficulties and stumbling blocks, and gets despised in spite of his vain efforts to rise.
As the rule, man walks in a vain show, and this deceives many. Hence he who despises appearances often gets despised, though of weight in a lowly way and able to relieve his labour by the help of a servant; while he who strains in paying honour to himself outwardly may come to want necessaries.
Next we find men tested by their treatment of the creation which God put into subjection to the race. Indifference to one's beast is unworthy; cruelty is worse. Hence the righteous is concerned for his beast's life, while even the wicked's tender mercies are cruelty. Jehovah's tender mercies are over all His works, and the day comes when everything that has breath shall praise Him.
We turn then to the contrast of diligence in one's duty with the companionship of idlers. He that tills his land shall have plenty of bread; whereas the follower of the worthless betrays his want of sense. In a fallen condition it is a mercy to eat bread in the sweat of the face. Idleness is not only profitless but a misery.
Verse 12 confronts the desire of the wicked with the righteous in this, that the former yearns after the net, or prey, of men still more wicked, for his own advantage; but the latter has a root of stability which does not fail to produce good fruit in its season.
Words too as well as doings have their just place in moral government here below. The transgression of the lips is not only a great offence in God's sight; it is an evil snare to the guilty (v. 13). Boast as they may that their tongues are their own, they learn to their cost that neither God nor man will suffer it. The righteous know what trouble is; but, instead of being snared by it, they come out of it. So of the Christian it is written that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God.
On the other hand, the fruit of the mouth is of real account, not only for the good of others but for him who is enabled thus to speak. Giving of thanks becomes him who knows the Lord Jesus. It is no wonder if those who never speak for the use of edifying decry the communication of grace and truth. If it be so with our words, how much shall the excellent doings of a man be recompensed to him? God assuredly concerns Himself with our ways and our words. Let each of us please his neighbour for that which is good unto edifying. For Christ pleased not Himself; but as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached Thee fell upon Me. Hence the need of patience, and the value of the comfort of the Scriptures, while we wait for the fruition of our hope. The other side is no less sure; evil ways and words God will bring into judgment.
A fool's way and a fool's vexation introduce the verses which now claim our heed, where the utterance of truth and wisdom follows with weighty instruction in righteousness.
"The way of a fool [is] right in his own eyes; but he that is wise hearkeneth to counsel.
"The vexation of the fool is known presently (in that day); but he that concealeth shame is prudent.
"One uttering truth showeth forth righteousness, but a false witness deceit.
"There is that babbleth like the piercings of a sword; but the tongue of the wise [is] health.
"The lip of truth shall be established for ever; but a lying tongue [is] but for a moment.
"Deceit [is] in the heart of those that devise evil; but to the counsellors of peace [is] joy.
"No evil shall happen to the righteous; but the wicked shall be filled with mischief.
"Lying lips [are] an abomination to Jehovah; but those that deal truly are his delight." vv. 15-22.
For man with a fallen nature and in a fallen world to confide in himself is to play the fool. God is not in any of his thoughts. He is sure he needs no advice; he is right in his own eyes. What can his eyes do but help him to judge according to sight, which the Lord contrasts with judging righteous judgment? and what so dangerous as every question of self? For there is nothing a man dislikes more than thinking ill of himself, unless it is of believing good of God. Truly the way of a fool is right in his own eyes. He that is wise distrusts himself and hearkens to counsel; nor does he cheat God and his conscience by seeking counsel of the weak and easy-going, but of the godly.
The vexation of the fool breaks out in immediate and uncontrollable anger. He forgets God, himself, and everybody else. On the other hand, he is prudent who conceals rather than exposes shame; he feels the insult, instead of despising his brother, and steeling his own breast in worldly pride. But his quiet spirit adds no fuel to the flame, and helps the offender perhaps to judge his unbridled impropriety. How prudent to ignore such provocations, to conceal shame not only from others but from ourselves!
To utter truth simply and characteristically in a world where men walk in a vain show, is a real display of righteousness, and the righteous Jehovah loves righteousness. There may be higher and deeper truth now that the Son of God is come and has given us understanding to know Him that is true. But righteousness is indispensable; without it, pretension to grace is a delusion. Again, a false witness is an evident slave of Satan. To mistake we are all liable; but deceit is quite a different and a most evil thing, as mischievous to man as offensive to God.
Babbling or rash speaking is compared most aptly to the piercings of a sword; it inflicts wounds and pain; it flows from levity if not malice, and it has no aim of good. The tongue of the wise carries conviction to every upright heart. It may smite if duty call for it righteously, but it is a kindness; such wounds heal, as they prove and remove what only harms. The tongue of the wise is health.
The lip of truth may be gainsaid and disliked by such as have reason to dread it, but it shall stand forever. There is no need therefore to spend time in defending it or exposing those that are its adversaries. If one waits quietly, the more will its reality and importance appear; whereas a lying tongue is but for a moment save among such as love it, and where will the end be?
Of falsehood deceit is the essence; and here it is written that it is in the heart of those that devise evil. Thus it is equally akin to malice as to untruth. How awful that the heart that should be the spring of affection is really given up to devise evil! If others are deceived, still more is that heart. "But to the counsellors of peace is joy." Blessed are they, said the Lord; they shall be called sons of God. Theirs is joy now - theirs to enter into their Lord's joy by-and-by.
How triumphant is the Christian answer in Romans 8, to verse 21! "No evil shall happen to the righteous." Suppose "tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? But in all these things we more than conquer through Him that loved us." Christ has changed all things to us. How terrible to reject, despise, or even neglect Him! For then all our evil falls on our own heads. Truly the wicked are not fuller of mischief now than of misery in that day and forever.
Jehovah concerns Himself about every lie. Lying lips are an abomination to Him, even as an idol that is set up to rival and ruin His glory. So those that not only speak but deal truly are His delight. How precious to Him was the One who when asked, Who art Thou? could answer, "Absolutely what I also speak to you" (John 8:25). He is the truth.
In this group of moral maxims we have the value of prudence, and of diligence; depression compared with even a good word, the righteous contrasted with the wicked, the slothful with diligence; and the way of righteousness all through.
"A prudent man concealeth knowledge; but the heart of the foolish proclaimeth folly.
"The hand of the diligent shall bear rule; but the slothful [hand] shall be under tribute.
"Heaviness in the heart of man makes it stoop; but a good word maketh it glad.
"The righteous guideth his neighbour; but the way of the wicked misleadeth them.
"The slothful roasteth not what he took in hunting; but man's precious substance [is] diligence.
"In the path of righteousness [is] life; and in its pathway is no death." vv. 23-28.
Few things betray the lack of common sense more than the habit of displaying any bit of knowledge one may have. But it meets just as habitually with a sharp and disagreeable corrective; for those who knew more fully are apt to expose its shallowness and vanity. Ostentation characterizes such as have a smattering which often lets out how little is really known. The fault is more serious in a Christian, whose standard is, and ought to be, Christ the Truth.
The attention that takes pains is far more important and reliable than any ability where that is lacking. Ruling is the consequence without being sought. But the slothful neglect their duty and alienate their friends, gaining contempt and distrust on all sides, while sinking ever lower and lower. Who can wonder?
Heaviness in the heart renders the hand powerless, and hinders the eye from seeing the opportunities which God takes care to present. A good word gladdens the heart in the midst of manifold trials; and what an unfailing supply does Scripture afford! If it be so with the Old Testament, characterized as it is by the law, how much is it with the New Testament where the gospel gives the tone! The very word means glad tidings; and this is truly beyond question, save to such as, believing in their wretched and guilty selves, have no faith in God. Its blessedness is not only that it comes forth from the infinite love of God, giving His only begotten Son and in Him life eternal, but that He as Son of man meets all that could hinder or disable, in the cross where God made the sinless One sin for us. It is therefore directly and expressly for those who have neither goodness nor strength, but are sinners and enemies, breaking their hard hearts with grace, to fill them with His light and love. As He said who told it out with matchless simplicity and fullness, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."
Righteousness has great weight to man's conscience, aware if honest of his own failure, and keenly alive to its absence where he fondly expected it. For moral consistency is rare. Hence the righteous, not the bright, still less the crafty, guides his neighbour. It inspires confidence when a dilemma arrives or a danger threatens. But the way of the wicked does not impose on those who discern it. They may seek to flatter themselves, because it is easy, that it will pass and give them their desired ends. It misleads themselves, who often wake up to their own deceitful folly and sin too late.
Another trait of the slothful man is here pointed out. He may be active in the pursuit of his pleasure, but his sloth prevents his turning what he may have gained to any good account. He roasts not what he took in hunting, and has to sponge on others, whereas the precious substance of men is diligence. This is what avails in the long run, where the means and the opportunities may be ever so small.
But industrious diligence, though it may go with righteousness, is not always righteous, and often misses what is still better. "In the way of righteousness is life." Therefore said the Lord, Take heed and keep yourselves from all covetousness; for not because a man is in abundance is his life in the things which he possesses. We cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore He bade us not be anxious about our life, what to eat, and what to drink, or what to put on. The very birds of the sky and the lilies of the field teach men a weighty lesson; yet the birds have no consciousness of God, though beholden to His continual care; and not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him.
Hence there must be total deadness toward God and His Word, heart indifference to Him whom God has sent, if there be not a life beyond the creaturely existence of the day and the earth; and it is in the way of righteousness, not merely at its end, though it will have a glorious character above the present shifting scenes. Its pathway has no death. We cannot talk of its end; or, if we do, we can say it is life eternal. The end of unrighteousness is death; and its pathway is strewn every stop with those things whereof men who take note must be thoroughly ashamed. And how many souls has grace led by their sorrows to think of their sins, and to find in the Lord Jesus their Deliverer and joy, while awaiting another and enduring scene which has nothing to darken it!
A good man obtaineth favour of the LORD: but a man of wicked devices will he condemn.
A man shall not be established by wickedness: but the root of the righteous shall not be moved.
A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones.
The thoughts of the righteous are right: but the counsels of the wicked are deceit.
The words of the wicked are to lie in wait for blood: but the mouth of the upright shall deliver them.
The wicked are overthrown, and are not: but the house of the righteous shall stand.
A man shall be commended according to his wisdom: but he that is of a perverse heart shall be despised.
He that is despised, and hath a servant, is better than he that honoureth himself, and lacketh bread.
A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread: but he that followeth vain persons is void of understanding.
The wicked desireth the net of evil men: but the root of the righteous yieldeth fruit.
The wicked is snared by the transgression of his lips: but the just shall come out of trouble.
A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth: and the recompence of a man's hands shall be rendered unto him.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.
A fool's wrath is presently known: but a prudent man covereth shame.
He that speaketh truth sheweth forth righteousness: but a false witness deceit.
There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.
The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment.
Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil: but to the counsellers of peace is joy.
There shall no evil happen to the just: but the wicked shall be filled with mischief.
Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight.
A prudent man concealeth knowledge: but the heart of fools proclaimeth foolishness.
The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful shall be under tribute.
Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.
The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour: but the way of the wicked seduceth them.
The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting: but the substance of a diligent man is precious.
In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death.