Proverbs Chapter 14
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Go to Bible: Proverbs 14
“Lady Wisdom.” Given the context, “Wisdom” or “Lady Wisdom” is a very acceptable translation, particularly since it is juxtaposed to “Folly,” which is a noun (cp. BBE; NAB; NJB; RSV). The more literal Hebrew is “Wise of women” or “wisdom of women,” but “Wisdom of women builds her house” is awkward in English, although Darby’s translation reads that way. The Hebrew text clearly seems to be continuing the use of Wisdom and Folly as personifications. They represent the wise person and the foolish person, whether they are female or male.
[For more on the figure of speech personification, see commentary on Prov. 1:20.]
In this verse, the noun “women” is plural (as is the agreeing adjective, “wisdom”), and this is the plural of emphasis; in contrast, the verb “builds” is singular (it is plural in the Septuagint, but that seems to be an adjustment of the text). The plural noun is hard to translate into English, although some versions have attempted to catch the plural. For example, the ESV has, “the wisest of women.” But that translation distorts the text somewhat, because a person does not have to be “wisest” to build up their house, they just have to be “wise.” Also, the Hebrew text does not start with “the,” although it can often be legitimately supplied. To better catch the sense of the plural of emphasis, perhaps the translation, “Very wise women” would be good, but then that translation loses the personification in the verse, which is important to the context and scope. The point of the Hebrew is that “Lady Wisdom” is very wise, and builds her house.
We should pay close attention to the plural of emphasis in this verse—that the very wise person builds their house—because it shows the great importance God places on having one’s house and household peaceful, strong, and in good order, which can take a huge amount of effort and great vision and perseverance. If one’s household is in constant strife, the people are in debt or are in constant need of money, and the home is falling apart, it is unlikely the people in the home can be godly or at peace.
“builds her house.” This is a good example of “house” referring to the house, household, and extended household. The wise person does what is necessary to build up and secure their house and household. They use wisdom and sound counsel in making decisions, and don’t make decisions based on emotion. They promote peace among the people in the house and also make sure everyone is doing their part to make the household prosper.
“Folly.” The Hebrew noun is “foolishness,” or “Folly,” and is a personification.
“tears it down with her hands.” This phrase has the idiomatic use of the word “hands” meaning authority, power, or actions. Foolish people do not literally tear their house down with their hands, but they do so by their misuse of “authority” and/or “power,” i.e., what they do (and often, what they don’t do). Foolish people act on emotion and don’t make good financial decisions or good decisions with people. They don’t set good or godly boundaries for themselves or others. They alienate people and promote strife by what they say and do. Both their house and household end up in bad shape or destroyed.(top)
“integrity.” Or, “uprightness,” but in this case, a person who lives in uprightness lives in integrity.
“shows contempt for him.” This is an example of how words or phrases like “despise,” “show contempt,” and “hate,” can have a range of meaning from active hostility to neglecting and ignoring. Verses like this are why the wise person looks at how a person acts to determine where they stand with God. Jesus taught us that we will recognize people by their fruit, not by what they say (Matt. 7:16, 20). Ungodly people are liars. Also, much of the time ungodly people are so self-deceived that they do not even know they are wrong in what they say. The wise and godly person knows the Word of God well enough that he knows what loving and fearing God looks like, and is not fooled by someone who says they love God but by their actions declare they actually neglect, ignore, or even despise God.(top)
“prideful rod.” The Hebrew text has the genitive phrase, “rod of pride,” which is a double entendre, because it can be a genitive of origin, a rod that comes from pride with which he strikes others, and it can be a genitive of relation, a rod that strikes him because of his pride. The point of the proverb is that unreasonable fools bring a rod to themselves, and to others, by their prideful talk.
“lips.” In this verse “lips” are personified, as if they take charge and protect the wise. The personification may have to do with the habit that godly people form through repeated practice. If a godly person repeatedly watches what he says, it can almost be as if his lips know what to say and what not to say.
The point of the stanza is that the wise person is watched over and protected when he is careful in what he says. The Bible has a huge amount of text about what is godly and proper to say, and the wise person heeds the Bible’s advice. Jesus said that on Judgment Day we will all give an account of what we have said (Matt. 12:36), and he was not just making idle threats—he was trying to get us to be serious about what we say (or email, or text) so we would be blessed and rewarded on that Day. When we do speak ungodly things, we should repent and confess our sin, and our sin will be forgiven (1 John 1:9).(top)
“the feeding trough is clean.” The Hebrew text of this verse is an encouragement to think about how to get ahead in life even if it means more responsibility. A few translations go with the Septuagint reading, that where there are no oxen, the “stall” is clean, meaning that if you don’t have an ox then you don’t have to clean up after it; but there is no real reason to reject the Hebrew text and go with the Greek translation.(top)
|Pro 14:5||- (top)|
“A mocker searches for wisdom but finds none.” The mocker thinks of himself as wise, and wants more wisdom to make him even wiser. However, he does not recognize true wisdom when he sees it, so he never finds it.(top)
“the presence.” The Hebrew text is more literally, “from in front of,” but in the Hebrew culture, that expression would be taken idiomatically to mean “from his presence,” and not literally “from in front” of the person as if you could just move to his side and be fine.
“will not understand.” The Hebrew is in the perfect tense, and thus more literally, “have not understood,” but the sense of the verse is future. So, it seems the verse is saying that a person who has no understanding will not gain knowledge by staying around foolish people. The Bible makes it clear in many places that who we choose to spend our time with affects how we think and act (1 Cor. 15:33).(top)
“road.” The Hebrew is derek (#01870), and it means “road, path, way, journey, manner, course of life.” The wise person understands his road, that is, the road he is traveling, his journey through life. The meaning of the Hebrew word derek (road) is broad enough to refer to both the immediate path he is walking on and his day-to-day activities, as well as the “journey” he is on and what are his long-term goals. The truly wise man looks for everlasting life and everlasting rewards, not just a “good life” on earth (cp. Moses; Heb. 11:24-26).
“deceit.” The Hebrew noun is mirmah (#04820 מִרְמָה), and it means deceit, fraud, trickery, treachery, disillusionment, disappointment. In this context, because of its parallel with the first stanza, the most apparent meaning is “self-deception.” The fool deceives himself. However, it is also true that the fool, both knowingly and unknowingly, deceives others.(top)
“guilt offering.” The Hebrew word can mean “guilt” (Lev. 5:2), or a “guilt offering” (Lev. 5:6-7). The verse has an important double entendre. The fool mocks at both guilt, which he denies, and the guilt offering that would atone for his guilt, which he thinks is unnecessary. In the Old Testament, fools mocked at both their guilt and the guilt offering; today they mock Jesus, who offered himself for them. In the end, God will mock the mockers (Prov. 3:34) and they will bear their punishment (Prov. 9:12).
“favor.” The double entendre in the first stanza of “guilt” and “guilt offering” is reflected in the second stanza as well. The Hebrew word can refer to a “good understanding” of the way to reconciliation (HALOT Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon), or it can mean “acceptance,” “favor,” in the sense that one who offers a sacrifice or asks for forgiveness gets acceptance from God. Thus, the verse can mean, as it is translated in the REV: “Fools mock at a guilt offering, but among the upright is favor [in that their guilt offering is accepted]. And the verse can also mean: “Fools mock at guilt, but among the upright is good understanding [of their guilt. Which would lead to asking for forgiveness].
More fully expanded, Proverbs 14:9 means that the fool mocks at his guilt and the offering that would atone for it, while the upright have a good understanding of their guilt and their sacrifice and, humbly asking for forgiveness, are shown favor by God and accepted by Him.(top)
“its own bitterness.” The Hebrew text literally reads, “The heart knows the bitterness of its soul.” This is an instance where the word “soul” refers to the thing itself, and thus the translation “its own” bitterness is accurate. Other people may have similar experiences to the experiences we have as individuals, but in the final analysis, only the person and God and Jesus really know the depths of sorrow or the heights of joy in the person’s heart. That is why it is so important to have an intimate relationship with God and the Lord Jesus Christ, and to walk and talk with them on a daily and intimate basis.(top)
|Pro 14:11||- (top)|
“There is a road that seems upright to a person.” Humans have a sin nature, and that sin nature works to make people “feel,” think, and do things that are ungodly. The sin nature is one reason that everyone sins (Eccles. 7:20). The sin nature is why sometimes the road we take seems right to us but according to God, it leads to death. Within the Christian, the sin nature battles with the spirit nature so that the Christian cannot do all the good that they want to (Gal. 5:17; cp. Rom. 7:15-20). Often when people sin they say to themselves or to others, “That’s just the way I am.” That is the sin nature talking, and in one sense the person who says that is not wrong because that is the way they are in the flesh, but that does not excuse the person from battling against ungodly desires and working hard to follow God and obey Him. It is because of the sin nature that people need outside guidance from God. Our flesh is so tainted by sin that many times what “seems right” is ungodly and against His ways, just as Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 say. Jeremiah says the same thing: “Yahweh, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his steps” (Jer. 10:23). We need God’s Word to guide us in what is right and what is wrong. It is dangerous to simply “follow our heart” where it leads, because “the heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9) because it is tainted by the sin nature.
“to a person.” The Hebrew text literally reads, “to a man’s face.” People in the biblical era paid close attention to the expression on a person’s face and gleaned a lot of information from it. A person who thought the road he was traveling was upright would have a peaceful, contented, even joyful face; a face that reflected how he thought about his life. Also, however, “to the man’s face” can refer to being in front of, or “before” someone. So the proverb could be, “There is a road before a person that seems upright.” In any case, to say “seems upright to a man’s face” would not make sense in English because we do not well understand the custom and idiom involved, so it is clearer to say, “to a man,” which captures the essence of the verse.
“road leading to death.” This verse is identical to Proverbs 16:25, and the fact that the verse is repeated twice shows that it is a very important warning. The Hebrew text reads, “the ways of death” (or, “the roads of death”). The NET text note correctly points out that this phrase is a genitive of destiny, and it refers to the “way,” or “road” (the Hebrew for “road” and “way” are the same) that leads to death. This verse is a stern warning to people who trust their own heart and ignore the clearly stated Word of God. The Devil comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10), and so he works aggressively to get people to trust themselves and not seek wise counsel from others or guidance from the Word of God. It is a common modern mantra to “trust your heart,” but the Bible says that the heart is deceitful and beyond cure (Jer. 17:9). There are times when we have to trust our instincts, our “gut feelings,” and our heart, because there is no clear guidance on something, but any time we can we should seek wise counsel and the wisdom of the Word.
The verse is progressive, and shows that people have time to repent and change their ways if they are wise. A person starts out doing that which seems right to him even if it is sin in the eyes of God. But continuing to walk through life without checking one’s path with the Word of God and getting wise counsel leads to being on a road that ends in death on the Day of Judgment. Proverbs 21:2 shows us that although we may do that which seems right to us, it is God who decides what is right and what is wrong (see commentary on Prov. 21:2).(top)
|Pro 14:13||- (top)|
“disloyal.” The Hebrew word occurs only here in Proverbs in this context (the other two usages refer to physically moving an object; a boundary marker), and it refers to one who turns away or turns back. This is the only time the word refers to a personal attribute or action. A person who is disloyal in their heart is not just disloyal once or in a tough situation, but has the character trait of being disloyal. This is not a superficial trait, but one that permeates the core of the person’s being, down into the heart.
“satisfied.” The Hebrew word translated “satisfied” here in Proverbs 14:14 is saba (#07646 שָׂבַע), the same word that appears in Proverbs 1:31, which has a somewhat similar message. Saba refers to eating or drinking enough to be satisfied. However, it also has the negative meaning of eating to the point of being overfull and then getting sick or getting to the point the food is revolting, and in that sense, it is used for being repaid for what one has done, thus they will “get what their ways deserve” (NRSV). The context determines which meaning saba has, but in both Proverbs 1:31 and 14:14, both meanings apply (see commentary on Prov. 1:31).
The main message of the verse is that in the end each person will get what they deserve. It can be challenging for the godly person to maintain a godly lifestyle and remain free of envy or anger at the success of the wicked, but we must constantly keep our eyes on the Hope, and persevere in obeying God, trusting that He will honor His promises, because He will. It is a consistent theme through Scripture that evil people bring evil upon themselves (see commentary on Prov. 1:18).
An underlying message, but one that is clearly in the verse, is that those who are disloyal to God, their creator and very source of life, will generally be “satisfied” with the way they live and have no desire to change, repent, and serve God. Godly people should not expect that ungodly people will be dissatisfied with their way of life. Some may be, but most will be perfectly happy with their ungodly lifestyle and not want to change. That is one reason that much prayer and wisdom must be used when believers go to share their faith in Jesus Christ with others.(top)
“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. Waltkea 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.
“turns away.” See commentary on Prov. 3:7.
Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 [NICOT].
“An easily angered person.” The Hebrew uses a beautiful concrete idiom, “short of nostrils.” The people in the biblical times were astute students of behavior, and when a person is angry his face squinches and his nose flares, making him somewhat “short of nose.” A “short of nose” person is one who is angry or easily angered.
Anger is what psychologists understand as a secondary emotion, an emotion based on an underlying emotion. Although there is genuine righteous anger, which we see in both God and Jesus in the Bible, that is actually quite rare. Most of the time, a person who is angry is angry because they are afraid in some way, although that fear can be disguised in different ways, such as indignation.
A person who recognizes that their anger is based on fear can begin to effectively deal with their fear and become a much more peaceful person. When God says to “put away anger” (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8), He is not asking us to do something we cannot do. Given that, the person who stubbornly refuses to deal with their anger and the underlying fear that causes it will act, and continue to act, foolishly. Thus, Proverbs 29:22 says that an angry man stirs up strife and causes sin, and Proverbs 22:24 says not to be friends with an angry person; that friendship will only lead to trouble.
“a schemer.” The Hebrew is literally, “a man of schemes [or “devices”],” or “a person of schemes.”(top)
“The naïve inherit folly.” The Hebrew word for naïve is peti (#06612 פֶּ֫תִי), and refers to the fool who is foolish because they are naïve, simple (simple-minded), ignorant or inexperienced (see commentary on Prov. 9:6), and they “inherit folly.” The word “inherits” is an ironic, and almost harsh, pun, because we expect to inherit things that are a blessing to us. However, the naïve and ignorant person “inherits,” i.e., acquires for himself or gets given to him, “folly.” Folly, ivveleth (#0200) is the foolishness of those who stubbornly resist God and godliness (see commentary on Prov. 1:7; “fools”). Those who are ignorant are repetitively faced with the opportunity to acquire knowledge, so that eventually they either gain wisdom and cease to be naïve fools, or they are no longer simply naïve and ignorant, but stubborn as well.(top)
“An evil person will bow down in the presence of good people.” The ideal situation would be that this subservience of evil people would happen in this life, but that is often not the case. Thus, the verse has an eschatological aspect and looks to the future Day of Judgment and the Messianic Kingdom on earth. There are many evil people who are unsaved and will bow the knee on the Day of Judgment, but because they are not saved they will then be thrown into the Lake of Fire and be burned up; annihilated.
However, there are many people who are believers but who do not wholeheartedly obey God, and so they mix their godly belief with evil behavior. Those people will have lesser positions in the future kingdom and will serve those who have positions of greater authority in the Kingdom (cp. Ezek. 44:10-16).
[For more on the future Kingdom of Christ on earth, see Appendix 3, “Christ’s Future Kingdom on earth.” For more on the annihilation of the wicked in the Lake of Fire, see Appendix 5, “Annihilation in the Lake of Fire.” For more on people getting rewarded in the future in proportion to what they have done in this life, see commentary on 2 Cor. 5:10, “good or evil.”](top)
“hated.” The Hebrew word “hate” has a large range of meanings, and here can be everything from “be hostile to,” “be disgusted with,” and “ignore.”
[For more on “hate,” see commentary on Prov. 1:22.](top)
|Pro 14:21||- (top)|
|Pro 14:22||- (top)|
|Pro 14:23||- (top)|
“the foolishness of fools is still foolishness.” This verse, though at first it seems almost nonsensical, is very profound. Folly is not relative. God is the one who defines truth, falsehood, wisdom, and folly. Man may not be aware of God’s truth, but it is still truth, and will be of infinite importance at the Judgment. Similarly, the foolishness of fools is still foolishness, no matter whether or not it is seen as such on this earth. The folly of many is now considered wise, but that will not always be the case; it is, after all, only folly.(top)
“lives.” The Hebrew is literally “souls,” but this is a case where “soul” refers to the person’s life. This proverb certainly applies in many circumstances, but is certainly true in court, where evil people are not opposed to lying and having innocent people punished for things they did not do. If we worded the text, “saves souls,” the average reader might think this verse is about evangelism, but that is not the context.(top)
“he.” The Hebrew can be “he” or “it.” God will be a shelter, but also a person’s strong confidence, their trust in God, is a shelter.(top)
|Pro 14:27||- (top)|
|Pro 14:28||- (top)|
“slow to get angry.” The Hebrew uses a beautiful concrete idiom, “long of nostrils.” The people in the biblical times were astute students of behavior, and when a person is angry his face squinches and his nose flares, making him somewhat “short of nose,” but a person who does not get angry quickly or easily does not squinch his face and is “long of nose.” The easily angered, short-nosed person is spoken of in Proverbs 14:17 (see commentary on Prov. 14:17). In contrast, Proverbs 14:29 mentions the person who is slow to anger and thus “long of nose.”
“easily angered.” The Hebrew text is more literally “hasty of spirit.” The Hebrew word “spirit,” ruach (#07307, רוּחַ), has a very large semantic range and can refer to a large number of things. In this case, it refers to the thoughts and emotions of the mind, in this context primarily being anger, something we can tell from the first stanza of the Proverb. However, it is important to be aware of the fact that “hasty of spirit” can refer to being hasty with our thoughts and emotions in many contexts. People who make quick and unwise emotional decisions also display foolishness, for example.
It is important in the study of God’s Word to become familiar with the large semantic range of ruach, spirit, because it includes things such as God in motion (“the spirit of God moved…”); wind; breath; the gift of holy spirit God put upon some people in the Old Testament; good spirit beings, evil spirit beings, the natural life of our fleshly bodies that is sometimes referred to as “soul;” the life force that will animate resurrected bodies in the future; and the activities of the mind including people’s thoughts, attitudes, and emotions.
[For more on the usages of ruach, spirit, see Appendix 6, “Usages of ‘Spirit.’”]
“displays.” The Hebrew word means to exalt or lift up, but the point is that folly is lifted up for all to see. It is displayed.(top)
|Pro 14:30||- (top)|
“taunts.” The Hebrew verb charaph (#02778 חָרַף) is in the piel aspect, thus “taunts” is a good translation. A person who oppresses the poor “taunts,” “reproaches,” “speaks against,” or “shows contempt for” (NIV) his creator, God. The mention of God as creator in this verse is to emphasize that all humans have been created by God and for one human to oppress another is to deny that fact by one’s actions, and thus taunt God. It is not wise to taunt God, on the Day of Judgment no one will be able to stand against His will and avoid the consequences of his actions in life.
The person who shows favor to the needy glorifies God by stating through his actions that no one person is better than another. Each person is created by God and loved by God and helping others in need demonstrates that fact.(top)
“in his own blamelessness.” This seems clearly to be a place where the Hebrew text was corrupted, because it reads, “in his death.” But that reading is contrary to the message in Proverbs and indeed contrary to the teaching in the Word of God. Godly people don’t take refuge in death, they try to stay alive and serve God. The Septuagint and Syriac read “in his integrity [or innocence, or blamelessness]” and many scholars and English versions support that reading. Especially in light of the first stanza in which an evil person is cast down by his own evil, the righteous person can take refuge in his blamelessness.
Some English versions that keep the reading “death” as per the Hebrew text try to rescue the message by altering it somewhat, thus the NET has that the righteous have a refuge even in the threat of death; or the KJV says that the righteous have “hope” in death, but neither of those are what the Hebrew text actually says. Versions that recognize the Hebrew text was likely altered and thus say something akin to blamelessness or integrity include the BBE; NAB; NJB; NRSV; Rotherham; and RSV. To switch the Hebrew text from “in his integrity” to “in his death,” two consonants in the Hebrew word must be switched. The Hebrew bmtw must be changed to btmw, and many scholars feel the switch was unintentionally made in the transmission of the text.(top)
“Wisdom rests in the heart of the one who has understanding.” The woman, Wisdom, comes to rest, or is, in the heart of a person with understanding. The one with understanding will obtain Wisdom.
“and even among fools she makes herself known” What the verse is saying, in harmony with the rest of Proverbs, is that wisdom will not be known by fools, but there is a caveat: wisdom reveals herself among fools, after all, everyone can learn what to do and what to avoid by watching what fools do and what happens to them.
Wisdom makes herself known even among fools although the fools themselves may never recognize her. Many wise people become wise by seeing the trouble and destruction that fools bring on themselves by their foolishness. In fact, some of the most profound lessons we learn in life come from seeing other people make mistakes rather than by making them ourselves.(top)
|Pro 14:34||- (top)|
“acts shamefully.” The Hebrew verb is bosh (#0954 בּושׁ), to be ashamed, dishonored, or disappointed, but it is in the hiphil aspect, the causal aspect, so in this case the text is saying that the servant acts in such a way he causes himself shame. Thus the verse could have been translated that the king is angry with the servant who “causes himself shame,” or brings shame on himself. Many times we do foolish things that bring shame or disgrace upon ourselves. We must strive to be like the servant in the first stanza of the verse who has great insight and thus makes good decisions.(top)