Proverbs 13
William Kelly Major Works Commentary
A wise son heareth his father's instruction: but a scorner heareth not rebuke.
Proverbs Chapter 13

In chapter 13: 1-6, we have the temper, the means, and the traits of blessing in contrast with those of evil and shame; and we do well to weigh the words of Jehovah.

"A wise son [hath] his father's instruction; but a scorner heareth not rebuke.

"A man shall eat good by the mouth's fruit; but the soul of the treacherous [ is for] violence.

"He that guardeth his mouth keepeth his soul; he that openeth wide his lips [shall have] destruction.

"A sluggard's soul desireth, and hath nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.

"A righteous one hateth lying; but the wicked maketh himself odious and cometh to shame.

"Righteousness guardeth him that is upright in the way; but wickedness overthroweth the sinner." vv. 1-6.

A wise son bows thankfully to the divine provision of the family circle, and heeds his father's correction, and the more when forced to feel folly is bound up with a child's heart, not excepting his own. But what hope can there be of a scorner? of one who cannot conceive himself to blame, and counts him as an enemy who is faithful enough to tell him the truth?

The next case is not the duty of receiving, but the privilege of communicating good. Yet here too a man shall eat good by the fruit of a mouth that utters what is good to the use of edifying. And Jehovah of old impressed this on Israel by Moses, and on their sons. "Thou shalt talk of them [his words] when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou goest on the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign on thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and upon thy gates." Deuteronomy 6:7-9. Were any words to compare with His? If this were irksome, what a tale it tells! The soul of transgressors brooks no superior, no restraint. Violence is its issue; and what can its end be?

But there is a bridle needed also. Hence he that guardeth his mouth keepeth his soul. As a good man said, one should think twice before speaking once. If any offend not in word, he is a perfect man (of thorough integrity), able to bridle the whole body also. How much of sorrow and shame he spares himself, and others who avenge a little folly by despising the wisdom they themselves lack! On the other hand, he that goes about blatant, opening his lips wide to tell all he thinks, feels, or hears of others, shall have the destruction which his malicious folly deserves.

Then we have the person too indolent to take trouble for good or ill, the sluggard. "A sluggard's soul desires, and hath nothing." All begins and ends in wishes, with which the Apostle dealt trenchantly in 2 Thessalonians 3:10. How different the lot of the diligent! They shall be made fat, says the wise man. In every sphere it is true in the main - unfailingly so in the things of God who raises above many a mistake, and values purpose of heart and ways.

There are men of the world who would be ashamed to lie in daily life, and are severe against it in others; yet they blink at it in politics and - religion! But "the righteous hateth lying" wherever it may be, and most of all in that which concerns Him who is the Truth. Nor can one wonder, seeing that "he is begotten by the word of truth," is sanctified by the truth, and grows by it day by day, as he is set here in the responsible testimony of the truth. Yet no one is more tempted by Satan to betray the truth. Never was there a more pernicious cheat than to fancy that a Christian has immunity from falsehood, and is sure to speak the truth always. Still he is called to be truthful in love. This goes much farther. He that does not hate lying is a wicked person, "maketh himself odious" to all right-minded souls, "and cometh to shame."

"Righteousness guardeth the upright in the way." Such a one is not only bold as a lion, for what is man to be accounted of? Consistency in his relationship with God and man is the shield which Satan assails in vain; yet, as a Christian, he loves to be kept by God's power through faith, for grace is dear to his soul, and he knows well that he is indebted to Him for all. On the contrary, "wickedness overthroweth the sinner." Self and sin are all that he takes pleasure in; and the end of those things is death. No one is so terrible to him as God, no name hated so much as Christ, if he only told out the secret of his heart. The more he hears of Him, the more he hates his Judge, and spurns the hand meanwhile stretched out to save even him.

Walking in a vain show is natural to man as he is, but it does not always put on the same mask. The most prevailing snare is to pretend to have more than one possesses; but we must be prepared also for some pretending to have less than they have, in order to escape a duty, or from other selfish motives.

"There is that feigneth himself rich, and [hath] nothing; [there is] that feigneth himself poor, and [hath] great wealth.

"The ransom of a man's life [is] his riches; but the poor heareth no threatening.

"The light of the righteous rejoiceth; but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.

"By pride cometh only contention; but with the well-advised [is] wisdom.

"Wealth [gotten] by vanity diminisheth; but he that gathereth with the hand shall have increase.

"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick; but a desire [that] cometh to pass [is] a tree of life." vv. 7-12.

The knowledge of Christ who is the Truth is the only sure means of making the believer truthful in deed as in word. But even he has no force beyond the constant dependence of faith. To be content with the fact that one believed is a snare and may be ruinous; faith is unreal, if it be not a living faith and a believing life.

The richest and wisest of men was a fitting oracle to tell men how greatly they err that count riches to be happiness. They make him envied and plotted against; so a rich man's life, even if otherwise well spent, is one of exposure to dangers and deceits, and hence of no little uneasiness to the sensitive. What a sad use of riches to be the ransom of one's life! Here at least the poor man lives in peace. To the wicked, it is aimless to threaten him who has nothing to lose, nothing to excite the covetous. He that has mercy on the poor, happy is he; while he that oppresses them, reproaches his Maker, and shall give account of his ways. When Christ reigns, He will satisfy the poor with bread. Even in the evil day his poverty protects him largely, while the rich man is proportionately exposed.

What a true and striking contrast between "the light" of the righteous, and "the lamp" of the wicked! Their course and end are according to their source. There is no real righteousness in God's estimate apart from Him who revealed Himself and justifies us by the faith of Christ. The light of the righteous therefore rejoiceth, as in it sins are effaced, and sorrows turned into profit and consolation. The lamp of the wicked may flare widely for a while during the pleasures of sin for a season; but ere long it dims, flickers, and shall be quenched.

Pride is the root of contention. What is emptier than self-applause and self-seeking? What so rules, not only those who affect great things in high life, but among the most debased of mankind? So it works in every circle of the world, and still more disgustingly in the Church, to which Christ has given the exemplar of what perfectly pleases God and edifies man by love in the truth. Pride leads to confusion, contention, and every evil work. The old man is ever proud in one way or another, being as self-sufficient as he is regardless and forgetful of Christ. Faith alone makes a man "well- advised" in a divine sense. With those led of the Spirit is wisdom, for Christ is before their eyes and their heart. He indeed from God is made to us wisdom, and all else we need; yet, whatever we have, what do we not need?

Then again we are reminded how wealth goes as it came. If got by light, unworthy, or dishonest ways, how it flies! For in such a case it has wings, not weight, and vanishes by no less vanity than it appeared for awhile. "But he that gathereth with the hand shall have increase." God honours industry; and some that are great lords add lustre to their rank by being more truly working men than those who live by it and are too apt to boast of it. Such should every believer be, and put to shame those that eat without work! How happy too when "increase" enables one to give to the needy! how sad that any should take advantage of grace, instead of seeking to eat their own bread!

Next we are told of the blight created by disappointment, and the cheer given by receiving what the heart sought. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick; but [when] desire cometh, it is a tree of life." Some may have proved both experiences, and know how true it is. But we do well in the things of this life to judge our thoughts and desires before God by His Word, and ever to say in truth, "Thy will be done."

Slighting the Word is of the most serious import. It is near akin to unbelief in the Lord, and its commonest occasion is also akin. For men doubt the deity of the Lord, because in His grace He deigned to become man; and they, because they see Him to be man, refuse Him to be God. This is heinous iniquity; for it takes advantage of His love, in glorifying God and thereby saving our souls by His redemption by suffering for our sins, to dishonour Himself and deny His personal glory as the Son. Similarly, the word comes through the human vessel from Moses to the Apostle John; and men lay hold of the human element to deny the divine, thus depriving it, as far as the hostile will can, of its divine authority.

"Whoso despiseth the word destroyeth himself; but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded.

"The teaching of the wise [is] a fountain of life, to turn away from the snares of death.

"Good understanding procureth favour; but the way of the treacherous [is] rugged.

"Every prudent one acteth with knowledge; but the foolish layeth open folly.

"A wicked messenger falleth into evil; but a faithful ambassador [is] health.

"Poverty and shame [shall be to] him that refuseth instruction; but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured." vv. 13-18.

Verse 13 admits of an alternative rendering, though in effect it may come to the same sense. But competent persons understand the opening clause to mean "shall be held accountable" or "fall in debt to it." The Septuagint strangely translates the verse, and adds to it: "He that slighteth a matter shall be slighted by it; but he that feareth a command hath health. To a crafty son there shall be nothing good; but a wise servant shall have prosperous doings, and his way shall be directed aright." The Latin Vulgate departs still more widely from the Hebrew and hardly calls for citation save in a note.* What God exalts above all His name man despises at the peril of his own ruin; but to stand in awe of injunction is to insure recompense in due time. What a man sows he assuredly reaps.

*"He that disparageth anything bindeth himself for the future but he that feareth the commandment shall dwell in peace. Deceitful souls go astray in sins: the just are merciful, and show mercy."

The word lends to and forms the teaching of the wise man, which is here described as a fountain of life. Such teaching refreshes as well as quickens, and guards from the destructive temptations which beset the path.

Again, the value of "good understanding" makes itself felt in a scene where folly abounds and the levity which so often veils our happiness. It procures favour, because it morally commends itself without an effort; whereas the way of the treacherous is indeed "hard" or rugged, as they themselves, and all that are ensnared by them. Fidelity is a jewel in a world of pitfall through deceit.

But "knowledge" has its use as well as a good understanding; and every prudent man works with it, instead of trusting himself unaided by it, or being content to go forward blindly. The foolish one spreads out folly; what else has he to lay bare? How blessed for Christians that, whatever be the personal deficiency of each, of God are they in Christ, who was made to them wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption! Yet no man is so foolish as one professing the Lord's name, who depends on and seeks himself to the dishonour of his Master.

Next, we have the strongly drawn opposition between "a wicked messenger," and "a faithful ambassador." The one comprehends the widest class of varying degree; but even its most insignificant member falls into evil, and he can do nothing but mischief. The other is not only a messenger of the highest rank, but discharges his office with integrity, as "a faithful ambassador." If the former by his wickedness can but fall into evil by his wickedness, the latter "is health" wherever he goes in a world of sin and misery.

Verse 18 contrasts the refusal of instruction with the readiness to take reproof to heart - a rare and precious trait in anyone. Poverty and shame must be his who has no ear for the instruction which enriches all, and which all need. But what honour falls to the wise and lowly mind that welcomes and weighs reproof! Grace alone can make it real.

As hope deferred makes the heart sick, so the fruition of what is desired is pleasant, but not unless the desire be governed by the fear of God. Without His will, not anything is wise, good, or sweet. Hence we read what follows.

"The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul; but [it is] abomination to the foolish to depart from evil.

"He that walketh with wise [men] becometh wise; but a companion of the foolish will be destroyed.

"Evil pursueth sinners; but to the righteous good shall be repaid.

"A good [man] leaveth an inheritance to his children's children; but the sinner's wealth [is] laid up for the righteous.

"Much food [is in] the tillage of the poor; but there is [that is] lost through injustice [or, want of judgment].

"He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him seeketh him early with discipline.

"The righteous eateth to satisfy his desire; but the belly of the wicked shall want." vv. 19-25.

There is no sweetness for the soul at God's expense. He it is that is looked to, instead of leaving Him out. But when He leads and sanctions, sweet is the accomplishment of what is desired. If He chastens what is wrong or leads to it, He has pleasure in gratifying His children beyond any earthly father. But to the natural heart, foolish in excluding Him and His will, what is so repulsive as to depart from evil?

As the fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom, so the heart values the company and counsel of the wise; and walking with them furnishes good lessons. But a companion of the foolish too surely proves where his heart is, cannot avoid being depraved by their evil communications, and unless delivered shall be destroyed.

For who can evade the witness that "evil pursueth sinners," whatever their apparent prosperity for awhile? The leaving them for a season only precipitates and makes more terrible the end of unavailing sorrow and despair. How truly shall good be repaid to the righteous? God will be no man's debtor. The Christian without doubt is called to share Christ's sufferings, not perhaps for Him, but assuredly with Him. No such earthly prosperity is promised him as was to the pious Jew. On the contrary, they that desire to live piously in Christ Jesus must endure persecution. But the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to compare with the coming glory to be revealed unto us. In every way and time good shall be repaid to the righteous. God can never cease to be God.

A good man resembles Him who found him evil, and by grace made him a partaker of a divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world through lust. Blessed of God, he leaves an inheritance, if not of gold and silver, better still, and abiding to his children's children. The wealth of the sinner, great as it may seem, is laid up for the just. Ungodliness may prepare, devise, and entail; but God cares for those who serve Him. Thus the just shall put on the clothing meant for others, and the innocent shall divide the silver if He think fit.

Again, how true it is, in God's ways, that "much food is in the tillage of the poor"! The soul that looks to Him does not murmur nor aspire after greater things. The little that is given is accepted with thankfulness: and diligent labour is applied, with the result of "much food." On the other hand who does not know of great possessions squandered for want of judgment, if not for actual injustice? There is that is destroyed for lack of judgment. The language is divinely accurate, and in no way exaggerated. It may not as yet appear always; but it is the fact, and often plain enough to warn the heedless.

There is another form of following God's ways in the due correction of the family. How many of the godly have spared the rod, and thus failed in love to their sons! Here is laid down the warning and the sort of love: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him, or seeketh him early with discipline." To spare is really to please oneself, and harm deeply one's son.

Further, the little things of daily life test whether we have God and His will before us. "The righteous eateth to satisfy his desire [or, soul]; but the belly of the wicked shall want," as the retribution even here of this selfish indulgence. "Whether then ye eat or drink, do all things to God's glory." This keeps us and pleases Him.

A man shall eat good by the fruit of his mouth: but the soul of the transgressors shall eat violence.
He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.
The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.
A righteous man hateth lying: but a wicked man is loathsome, and cometh to shame.
Righteousness keepeth him that is upright in the way: but wickedness overthroweth the sinner.
There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.
The ransom of a man's life are his riches: but the poor heareth not rebuke.
The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.
Only by pride cometh contention: but with the well advised is wisdom.
Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase.
Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.
Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed: but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded.
The law of the wise is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.
Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard.
Every prudent man dealeth with knowledge: but a fool layeth open his folly.
A wicked messenger falleth into mischief: but a faithful ambassador is health.
Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured.
The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul: but it is abomination to fools to depart from evil.
He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.
Evil pursueth sinners: but to the righteous good shall be repayed.
A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.
Much food is in the tillage of the poor: but there is that is destroyed for want of judgment.
He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
The righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul: but the belly of the wicked shall want.
Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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