“is cautious.” The Hebrew word is often translated “fear,” and it is usually in phrases such as “fear God.” The overwhelming use of this word in Proverbs shows that the meaning of “fears” is usually “fears Yahweh,” meaning that because a person has both respect for Yahweh and fears the consequences of disobeying Him, he turns from evil. However, “Yahweh” is not included in the verse, and thus “fears” has a wider meaning. Evil has so many undesirable consequences that the wise person is cautious and turns away from it for that reason alone, apart from the consequences that God deals out. However, the consequences of disobeying God are serious and should be a deterrent to participating in evil.
“overconfident.” The Hebrew word is batach (#0982 בָּטַח), and means trust, confidence, feeling secure, being sure of oneself, and to feel safe and thus be careless. Waltke (New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Proverbs) points out that when the participle is used in an absolute sense, as it is here, it refers to one who feels secure, and is confident, but is wrong. The semantic range of the Hebrew text allows for many nuances of meaning, and so translators have captured the last phrase in different ways, saying the fool: “beareth himself insolently, and is confident” (ASV); “is reckless and careless” (ESV); “is arrogant and careless” (NASB); “is hotheaded and reckless” (NIV). The fool unwisely trusts himself or other ungodly advisors, like Rehoboam did (1 Kings 12:6-8), which resulted in disaster.
Proverbs 14:12 warns us that even when things seem right to us they may be “dead wrong,” and many Proverbs advise people to have a multitude of counselors and diligently seek wisdom. Proverbs 14:16 starts by saying that wise people turn away from evil, and that means that the person who desires to be godly must not only know what to do, but have the strength of character and courage to follow through and do what is right and necessary. God told Joshua that he would have to be courageous in order to lead Israel (Josh. 1:6, 7, 9, 18), and believers need courage to be godly. “Courage” does not mean having such great character that one has no fear, trepidation, or concerns, and so making tough decisions becomes easy; rather, “courage” is the ability to go through with doing something even if it is frightening, or involves grief or pain. Turning away from evil is simple, but not easy. It takes vision, character, and courage, and these are things that believers must take the time to develop within themselves.
The wise person fears Yahweh and does not over-estimate themselves but is sensible and even-tempered, unlike the fool that is cocky and self-reliant, recklessly endangering themselves because they fail to see the need for any concern or restraint. The fool laughs in the face of evil thinking that it can’t touch them. The pretensions of their own superiority have blinded them so that they cannot recognize evil for what it is. They trust wholly in themselves, feeling secure in their knowledge and understanding and thinking they don’t need to listen to anybody else.
Illustration: Major General John Sedgwick and the battle at Spotsylvania Courthouse
Verses: Prov. 14:16; 13:13; 3:7
Teacher: Jerry Wierwille.