William Kelly Major Works Commentary
A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.Proverbs Chapter 15
The chapter opens with the great moment of our words in a variety of ways, under the controlling sense of Jehovah's eyes, or indifference to Him.
"A soft answer turneth away fury; but a grievous word stirreth up anger.
"The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright; but the mouth of fools sputtereth out folly.
"In every place [are] the eyes of Jehovah, keeping watch upon the evil and the good.
"The healing of the tongue [is] a tree of life; but perverseness therein [is l a breaking of the spirit.
"A fool despiseth his father's correction, but he that regardeth reproof becometh prudent.
"In the house of a righteous one [is] much treasure; but in the revenues of a wicked one is trouble.
"The lips of the wise disperse knowledge, but not so the heart of the foolish." vv. 1-7.
In the first case fury is presupposed. As this dishonours God and misbecomes man, a soft answer disarms it. On the contrary, a grievous or mortifying word excites anger. Christ is our example, into whose lips grace was poured; and, when reviled, He reviled not again. Yet who so withering to the proud and hypocritical (Matt. 23)? Who so unsparing even of an apostle when a stumbling block (Matthew 16:23)?
Next, wisdom is requisite for the tongue in order to use knowledge aright or make it acceptable; whereas, what can be expected from the foolish but to sputter out folly? Such is the contemptuous rebuke. They should escape censure if they held their peace.
But there is a far mightier and worthier principle to guide wise or foolish - the realizing of Jehovah's eyes, which without an effort act on every place, beholding the bad and the good. How cheering to those that are wise! How solemn for the foolish evildoer!
Then benignity, or healing, of the tongue is a fruitful source in a world of death. How many pitfalls does it not save from, and rough places smooth? But perversity or crookedness in the tongue is provocative of griefs and wounds without end. How truly a breaking of the spirit!
God ordered the parental relationship to regulate the family; and as a father is responsible to instruct his children, so is he a fool who ignores his responsibility and despises that instruction. To regard reproof, though painful to self-love, is to get prudence. It is not confined to a father's reproof, and where incurred, to heed it is a real gain morally.
A righteous man secures much treasure, not in himself alone, but in his house; for it brings far better than much of this world's goods. A just sense and carrying out of relationship to God and man is the righteousness here intended, and never fails of blessing, even in the midst of trials however keen. On the other hand, what can the revenue of a wicked man be but trouble that disturbs and denies godly order and comfort?
Again, the lips of the wise not only exhibit and use knowledge, but disperse it in a world where it is as needed as rare. What a blessing to others! Far beyond the lavish giving of silver and gold, which might bring with it a curse. But the heart of the foolish, to say nothing of his lips, has nothing of the sort to bestow.
In verses 8-17 we have admonition of still graver character.
"The sacrifice of the wicked [is] an abomination to Jehovah, but the prayer of the upright [is] his delight.
"The way of the wicked [is] an abomination to Jehovah; but him that pursueth righteousness he loveth.
"Grievous correction [is] for him that forsaketh the path; he that hateth reproof shall die.
"Sheol and destruction [are] before Jehovah; how much more then the hearts of the children of men!
"A scorner loveth not that one reprove him; unto the wise he will not go.
"A joyful heart maketh a cheerful countenance; but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken.
"The heart of the intelligent [one] seeketh knowledge; but the mouth of the foolish feedeth on folly.
"All the days of the afflicted [are] evil; but a cheerful heart [hath] a continual feast.
"Better [is] little with the fear of Jehovah than great treasure and disquiet therewith.
"Better [is; a meal of herbs where love is, than a fatted ox and hatred therewith."
It was natural and a plain duty for a Jew, in case of a transgression, to bring the appointed offering to Jehovah. But this however was not only unavailing for the godless, but added fresh insult to God, unless with self-judgment before Him, and that hatred of the evil committed which would work deeper care and vigilance against repeating it. If it were only to get rid of uneasiness, the man would be weaker than before, and more ready to sin afresh, and offer his sacrifice again. Integrity of repentance was indispensable. Accordingly, the heinousness of such self-deception as compounding with God for sin is here strongly pointed out. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to Jehovah." This is as certain as that He has delight and favour in the prayer of the upright. He looks into the heart.
Nor is it only the perversion of a religious duty that is abominable in His eyes, but "the way of the wicked" in general; whereas He loves one that pursues righteousness, that is, practical consistency with his relation to God and man. This never was nor can be for fallen man unless he be born of God. Such were those that looked on to the Messiah. Blessed are all those who have their trust in Him, said Psalm 2:12; and only those.
Meanwhile there is a righteous government of God who ever concerns Himself with the state, and not only the delinquencies and iniquities, of His own, even if not within the Abrahamic covenant. This and its present consequences even the patient and pious Job had to learn, and yet more his three "comforters of distress" and "physicians of no value." He disciplines those He loves for their good. Here we read of "grievous correction for him that forsaketh the path," leaving the time and way rather indefinite; but all is plain for him that hateth instruction - he "shall die."
It is indeed a serious thing, but withal blessed if in faith, to have to do with a living God who searches, as the Lord Jesus does, the reins and the heart. When His grace is really known, it is a joy to welcome His search against unconscious self-love or levity; and one can plead, Search me, O God. and know my heart; prove me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any grievous (or idolatrous) way in me; and lead me in the way everlasting. Here it does not go so far as Psalm 139, but says, "Sheol and destruction [Abaddon] are before Jehovah: how much more then the hearts of the children of men!" All things are naked and laid bare to His eyes with whom we have to do.
A scorner is a bolder sinner against God and his own soul. He loves not to be reproved; "unto the wise he will not go." Self is his aim and practically his God, and folly his life, which makes him a contemptuous refuser of all wisdom from above.
But next we read that a joyful heart maketh a cheerful countenance, just as the spirit is depressed or broken by sorrow of heart. Otherwise life is hollow, and a vain show. There can be no reality in the joy, and no rising above sorrow of heart, unless we are open and right with God. He would have us depend on Him with confidence - in His mercy and favour in Christ. We wrong Him if we so yield to the sorrow as to break the spirit.
Then, how true it is that a man of understanding seeks knowledge! He knows his shortcoming, and desires to fill the gap. But the mouth of the foolish feeds on folly, as he has no care for, and no perception of, wisdom.
There is danger for the afflicted to give up all their days to their grief; but this is to occupy one with nothing but circumstances of sadness. How wise to turn to Him who makes all things work together for good! This makes the heart cheerful, which is or has a continual feast.
Then one proves that "better is little with the fear of Jehovah than great treasure and disquiet therewith"; and "better a meal of herbs where love is than a fatted ox and hatred therewith." The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom; and many waters cannot quench "love," neither do the floods drown it. Love, as the N.T. pronounces, is the bond of perfectness.
God is the God of peace, and Christ will be Prince of peace when He shall have taken His great power and reigned. Meanwhile He has made peace through the blood of His cross, that the believer should have peace with God and walk in the spirit of peace, whatever the turmoil of man. Nor need one wonder that man, in the misery and selfishness of sin unjudged and unforgiven, should be swift to speak and swift to wrath.
"A furious man stirreth up contention; but one slow to anger appeaseth strife.
"The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns; but the path of the upright is made a causeway.
"A wise son maketh a glad father; but a foolish man despiseth his mother.
"Folly is joy to him that is void of heart; but a man of understanding maketh his walk straight.
"Without counsel purposes are disappointed; but in the multitude of counsellors they are established.
"A man hath joy in the answer of his mouth, and a word in season, how good it is!
"The path of life [is] upward for the wise, that he may depart from Sheol beneath.
"Jehovah plucketh up the house of the proud, but he establisheth the border of the widow." vv. 18-25.
Whence come wars and whence fightings among you? asks James the Just. Is it not thence - from your pleasures which war in your members? Ye lust and have not; ye kill and are full of envy, and cannot obtain; ye fight and war; ye have not because ye ask not. Ye ask and receive not because ye ask amiss that ye may spend it in your pleasures. How truly a furious man stirreth up contentions! Whereas one slow to anger not only gives no occasion to strife, but appeases it. Peacemaking begins in the heart bowing to God in Christ through grace, and characterizes the spirit and walk.
The slothful fear a painful obstacle in their way, put off their duty, and seek not grace for seasonable help, if it were even a real difficulty or trial. The upright see a plain road, because the eye is single in obedience.
So in family life a father's heart is gladdened by a son who begins and goes on in the fear of the Lord. A foolish one shows what he is by despising her who bore him and watched over his years of weakness, who wastes his strength on himself or what is no better.
Again, how sad yet certain it is that folly is joy to the senseless heart, Not even a brute lives so despicably. A man of understanding looks up and walks straight with purpose in his heart.
Hence the importance of counsel (v. 22); for where there is none, purposes are disappointed. It is wise to be swift to hear, for in the multitude of counsellors purposes are established. Self-confidence is a sorry guide.
Thus too one learns to help others, when speech is well considered, timely, and sought for. "A man hath joy (not pride) in the answer of his mouth." Others too reap the profit, as he desires; for "a word in season, how good is it!"
Nor does the good end in this life; for "the path of life is upward for the wise, that he may depart from Sheol beneath." The end is life everlasting, as all saints knew, though none could forecast that life now quickening the soul here below. This Christ revealed as clearly as a future hour when the body shall be instinct with the same life at His coming.
Jehovah is righteous and good in His ways; for He will pluck up the house of the proud who scorn Him, and will establish the border of the widow whom He compassionates in her sorrow and defends in her weakness and exposure.
Outward as was the life of an Israelite compared with that of a Christian, which had its first pattern and fullness in Christ Himself, God did not leave His people without the light of deeper things. So we find here in the first maxim (v. 26), and not less may we discern elsewhere on fitting occasion.
"Evil thoughts [or, devices are] an abomination to Jehovah; but pure words [are] pleasant.
"He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live.
"The heart of the righteous studieth to answer; but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.
"Jehovah [is] far from the wicked; but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.
"That which enlighteneth the eyes rejoiceth the heart; good tidings make the bones fat.
"The ear that heareth the reproof of life shall abide among the wise.
"He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul; but he that heareth reproof getteth heart [or, sense].
"The fear of Jehovah [is] the instruction of wisdom; and before honour [goeth] humility." vv. 26-33.
It is sad enough when evil appears, and we cannot but recognize it. But evil thoughts without a ground for them are the deepest offence to Him before whom all is manifest, and who will have His people simple concerning it, and confiding in Himself. Pure words contrariwise are pleasant not to Him only, but to all save the wicked.
Greed of gain troubles everyone with whom it comes in contact, and especially those nearest him that indulge it, his own house. He that hates gifts, instead of looking out for them, has chosen the good part. It is the path of faith, pleases God, and awaits another, a better, day.
Our answers need divine wisdom, for around us is an evil world; and neither Law, Psalms, nor Prophets failed to warn of a nature prone to evil, though only the gospel pronounces us lost. Hence the need for the righteous that the heart should study to answer, lest a wrong or deceitful word should provoke a hasty word or elicit no better. Where fear of God controls not, from the mouth of the wicked flows a stream of evil things.
As the wicked has no thought of Jehovah, so is He far from such; but how precious and sure is His ear in listening to the prayers of the righteous!
Even before as well as after this, how much, how constantly, He supplies words of goodness to cheer and guide! Thus are the eyes enlightened from above and the heart rejoiced; good tidings make the bones fat, as is said here, without any counterpart of evil to warn.
And so it is in the next adage. Very great is the blessing to the love that welcomes, instead of disdaining, the reproof of life; it ensures abiding among the wise. Otherwise it is an easy thing to turn, and turn again, to folly.
On the other hand, great is the danger and the sin of refusing instruction; but he that hears it even in the painful form of reproof acquires heart, which is surely better than silver and gold.
Then the fear of Jehovah is the instruction of wisdom. What can exceed or equal its gain? With it goes humility' and from it honour; as we read in the instructive trial of Job who had to unlearn every good thought of himself, and in the humiliation of his friends who trusted in their evil thoughts, based on appearances, and unrighteous. Thus let him that glories glory in the Lord.
The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.
The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.
A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit.
A fool despiseth his father's instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent.
In the house of the righteous is much treasure: but in the revenues of the wicked is trouble.
The lips of the wise disperse knowledge: but the heart of the foolish doeth not so.
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD: but the prayer of the upright is his delight.
The way of the wicked is an abomination unto the LORD: but he loveth him that followeth after righteousness.
Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way: and he that hateth reproof shall die.
Hell and destruction are before the LORD: how much more then the hearts of the children of men?
A scorner loveth not one that reproveth him: neither will he go unto the wise.
A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.
The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge: but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness.
All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.
Better is little with the fear of the LORD than great treasure and trouble therewith.
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.
A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.
The way of the slothful man is as an hedge of thorns: but the way of the righteous is made plain.
A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish man despiseth his mother.
Folly is joy to him that is destitute of wisdom: but a man of understanding walketh uprightly.
Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellers they are established.
A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it!
The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath.
The LORD will destroy the house of the proud: but he will establish the border of the widow.
The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD: but the words of the pure are pleasant words.
He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live.
The heart of the righteous studieth to answer: but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.
The LORD is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.
The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart: and a good report maketh the bones fat.
The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise.
He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.
The fear of the LORD is the instruction of wisdom; and before honour is humility.