“tested by his praise.” Refining pots and gold furnaces test metals, remove impurities, and reveal the quality of the metal. Similarly, people are tested by praise. The literal Hebrew is difficult in English and reads, “A refining pot [is] for silver and a furnace [is] for the gold, but a man by the mouth of his praise.” The exact meaning of the last phrase of the verse is unclear because it can mean two different things. In our view, the two meanings are purposeful and are the figure of speech amphibologia (double entendre), where one thing is said but two different things, both true, are meant.
One of the meanings is that a man is tested by the praise he receives, and most translations support that meaning. A man is tested by the praise he receives because the way he reacts to it reveals his heart. Some commentators point out that “a man is tested by the praise he receives” can also mean that the praise a man receives from others (or lack of it), i.e., the public opinion about him, reveals the kind of person he is. While that explanation may be part of what “a man is tested by the praise he receives” means, because public opinion can be so unreliable it is unlikely that that is a primary meaning of the verse.
Michael Fox (The Anchor Yale Bible) agrees with the interpretation that a person is tested by the praise he receives and translates the last phrase of the verse, “a man is tested by the mouth of him who praises him.” The Rabbis generally agree with this interpretation (ArtScroll Tanach Series: Mishlei [Proverbs]). The Complete Jewish Bible reads “a person [is tested] by [his reaction to] praise” (cp. NAB; NAB; NASB; NET; NIV; NLT).
The second meaning of the verse is that a man is tested by what he praises. This interpretation is well-covered by Bruce Waltke (The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Proverbs). Waltke points out that the phrase “by the mouth of” is used not only literally, but also in both Hebrew and cognate Semitic languages as an idiom for “according to.” That idiomatic use would make the verse read that a man is tested according to his praise, in other words, by what he praises. Waltke writes that in this verse “the person is tested by the praise he gives and/or receives,” and adds: “Musicians praise their composers; literate people praise their authors; sports fans praise their heroes; and the godly praise the Lord. Likewise, the immoral praise the adulterer and adulteress, and the covetous praise the rich (Ps. 49:18).” We know foolish people honor fools (Prov. 26:8). Waltke himself translated the verse in a more neutral way that could include both meanings: “a person is tested according to his praise,” but Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible translates the last phrase in the verse as, “a man, [is to be tried] by what he praiseth.”
In conclusion, the Hebrew text can mean both that a person is tested by the praise he receives and also by what he praises. The way a person reacts to praise reveals what is in his heart, and it also tests the quality of the heart and whether or not it will be changed and corrupted by praise. Also, what a person praises tests the heart and reveals what is in it, because we praise what we value and admire. If we are going to know what is in the hearts of other people, we have to pay attention to how they react to being praised, and also to what they praise.