Proverbs Chapter 15
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Go to Bible: Proverbs 15
|Pro 15:1||- (top)|
“The tongue of the wise produces good knowledge.” The Hebrew text reads something like, “The tongue of the wise makes good knowledge.” However, exactly what that means is disputed, and has led to the diverse number of translations. The last stanza of the verse, a clear contrast to the first, seems to clarify that while the wise speak “good knowledge,” knowledge that is helpful and a blessing, fools pour out folly, i.e., morally insolent speech that causes harm.(top)
“watching.” We must be careful not to read too much into this verse. God watches us, and wants to help and bless, but He does not “control” the evil and the good.(top)
|Pro 15:4||- (top)|
|Pro 15:5||- (top)|
|Pro 15:6||- (top)|
“spread knowledge.” The Hebrew word “spread,” perhaps even better, “scatter” is an agricultural metaphor making the comparison between the wise person who spreads or scatters knowledge like seeds, and the farmer who scatters seed on the ground to produce a crop.(top)
“is an abomination.” Sacrifices and offerings made to God by wicked people are an abomination to God; He has no respect for them and will not accept them. Sacrifices and offerings were never designed to make a person with an evil heart acceptable in the sight of God. This verse is similar to Proverbs 21:27.
[For more information about the sacrifices of wicked people being of no value, see commentary on Amos 5:22.]
“brings his favor.” The Hebrew word for “favor” is ratzon (#07522 רָצוֹן), and refers to favor, delight, pleasure, or acceptance. Thus the verse can be saying that the prayer of the upright is God’s delight, or that the prayer of the upright brings God’s favor. Although both translations are true to the text, when we examine the scope of Scripture it is clear that people pray, and God urges us to pray, to bring His favor and help accomplish His work on earth. James tells us that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective (James 5:16). Elijah prayed and it did not rain, and then he prayed again and it rained. Job prayed for his friends and God forgave them (Job 42:8). Although God is no doubt delighted with the prayers of the upright, the message throughout the Scripture is that they bring His favor, and there is no reason not to represent that fact in the text here.(top)
“The road of the wicked person is an abomination.” The way of life (the “road”) that wicked people choose is an abomination to Yahweh, and will have severe consequences, as we see in the next verse (Prov. 15:10).
“eagerly pursues.” The word pursues, radap (#07291 רָדַף) is in the piel aspect and it intensified, thus “eagerly pursues.”(top)
“the path.” The “path” in Proverbs, sometimes called “the road,” or “the way,” refers to the godly path, the right path, the wise path. This is well understood, and so Jesus could refer to himself, saying, “I am the way” (the “road”) without qualifying it by saying, “I am the right road,” or “I am the road to God.” People understood what he meant.(top)
“human hearts.” The Hebrew reads more literally, “the hearts of the sons of man [or mankind].”(top)
“will not love anyone who reproves him.” The essence seems to be that the mocker, the one who mocks or scoffs at wisdom and godliness, avoids company where he may be reproved.(top)
|Pro 15:13||- (top)|
“shepherds foolishness.” The Hebrew can be “shepherd” or “feed,” and although most versions go with “feed,” that does not capture the full meaning of the word. On the other hand, to “shepherd” something was to take care of it, promote it, move it around to different places, etc. The mouth of fools promotes and spreads around foolishness.(top)
|Pro 15:15||- (top)|
“turmoil.” The Hebrew word is mahumah (#04103 מְהוּמָה), and it means “turmoil, confusion, disturbance, panic, dismay, trouble.” Mahumah is often associated with the turmoil and panic of war or divine judgment. The NIDOTTE lists one definition as “the confusion of war.” Thus, in this verse, there is a subtle overtone that where there is a lot of money there is not just “trouble,” i.e., ordinary problems, but there is often conflict and fighting, and that is certainly the case in history and everyday life. Also, fighting especially accompanies wealth when it is gained in ungodly ways.
It is better to have a little with godliness—the fear of God—than to have great treasure and the fighting and conflict that often go with it. On Judgment Day, this life will seem to have been very short indeed, and godliness will be greatly rewarded whereas material wealth will be worthless—it really is not worth being in continual fights over. Ezekiel 7:19 says, “Their silver and their gold will not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of Yahweh. They will not be able to satisfy their souls nor fill their bellies with their wealth, indeed, it has been the stumbling block of their iniquity.”(top)
|Pro 15:17||- (top)|
“hot-tempered person.” The more literal Hebrew is “man of rage.” The word “person” is iysh (#0376 אִישׁ pronounced “eesh”), which most literally refers to a man, nevertheless, it can also be used to refer to men and women, and it makes sense to translate it in a gender-neutral way in this context because there are both hot-tempered men and angry women and they both stir up strife (for more on iysh, see commentary on Prov. 2:12).
“dispute.” The Hebrew word translated “dispute” is rib (#07379 רִיב pronounced reeb), and it has a wide range of meanings including strife, controversy, dispute, quarrel, accusation, lawsuit, etc. In this verse, rib has a range of meanings because people who are slow to get angry and seek peace find ways to settle arguments of all kinds and even lawsuits.
[For more on rib, see commentary on Hosea 4:1, “lawsuit.”](top)
“lazy.” See commentary on Prov. 6:6, “lazy one.”(top)
|Pro 15:20||- (top)|
“sense.” The Hebrew word translated “sense” is leb (#03820 לֵב), which is more literally, “heart.” Leb occurs over 800 times in the Old Testament, and it has an extensive semantic range—a very large number of different meanings—and often combines a number of meanings into one use. The Hebrew language and culture ascribe physical, mental, and moral functions to the heart, as well as control over the physical body. Actually, leb has so many meanings that saying it means “heart” is too restrictive. The only truly accurate way to translate many of the words in the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts is to understand their full range of meaning and then translate them according to the context. The full range of meanings of leb includes, but is not limited to, heart, inner man, mind, will, thinking, reflection, inclination, resolution, understanding, good sense, and in some contexts, it can also refer to the seat of passion and emotion.
Also, scholars have shown that the word “heart” is basically used the same way in both Hebrew and biblical Greek. Thus, kardia (#2588 καρδία), the New Testament Greek word for “heart,” is generally used the same way as the Hebrew word leb instead of having the more purely Greek meaning for “heart” that we find in Greek literature. Thus, it is generally true that if we understand the Hebrew use of “heart,” then we can understand “heart” in the New Testament as well.
The word “heart” often referred to the center or “core” of something, or something considered “deep,” which is why Scripture speaks of “the heart of the sea” (Ps. 46:2 NASB), “the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40 NASB), and “the heart of the heavens” (Deut. 4:11 NASB). The “hidden person of the heart” (1 Pet. 3:4 NASB) is the inner person, their deep and core character. When the Bible says that God tests the “heart,” He is testing what is deep inside of a person, as revealed through thoughts, plans, and actions. When Jesus spoke of the things that come out of people’s “heart,” in that context he was speaking of what came from deep within them (Matt. 15:18-19; Mark 7:20-23), not just what they happened to be thinking about at the time.
The student of the Bible must also learn to think of the heart as the center of rational thought rather than the seat of emotion. The modern world thinks of the heart as being the seat of the emotions rather than thoughts. For example, if we today say a person’s artwork has “heart,” we mean it communicates feeling or passion. If we say that the gift a person gave did not have “heart,” we mean the person did not care enough to choose an appropriate gift. If we say an athlete lost a game because he “lacked heart,” we generally mean that he lacked the conviction and passion to win, not that he did not think through his strategy correctly. In contrast, in the biblical culture, the “heart” generally referred to the seat of a person’s rational life and was associated with thinking, planning, and reasoning. The emotional life was often connected to the gut and expressed by words such as “bowels,” “kidneys,” “belly,” “womb,” etc. For example “bowels of compassion” refers to feelings or emotions of compassion (Col. 3:12; 1 John 3:17).
The function of the brain was unknown in biblical times, so things that we generally assign to the brain, like thinking, attitudes, understanding, and good sense, were assigned to the heart. So “heart” sometimes refers to just thoughts and attitudes, and not necessarily deeply seated ones. Thus, when Genesis 6:5 (NASB) speaks of “the thoughts of his heart,” it simply refers to what he was thinking. When Joseph’s brothers told their father, Jacob, that Joseph was alive and ruling Egypt, the Hebrew text says Jacob’s “heart became numb” (Gen. 45:26), but it means he could not think. Some versions catch the sense of the Hebrew by saying Jacob was “stunned” (HCSB; NASB; NLT). When Pharaoh “hardened his heart” and would not let Israel go, he “made up his mind” against God and Moses (Exod. 8:15). To “walk in the imagination of your heart” (Deut. 29:19) was to walk by what you thought and concluded.
Because in Hebrew, “heart” refers more to the actions of the mind than the emotions, there are times when, if the Hebrew leb was more literally translated as “heart,” it would give English readers the wrong impression. There are many examples of this. One occurs in the book of Job, when God asked Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job” (Job 1:8). The Hebrew text is more literally, “Have you set your heart on my servant Job?” But that translation would give the wrong impression to an English reader. When we today “set our heart” on something, we really focus on it, but that is not the meaning in Job. God was not asking Satan if he had focused on Job, but rather if he had even noticed him or thought about him (the CJB, NAB, and NLT are versions that have “noticed”).
Another example is that sometimes the literal Hebrew text says that people who do foolish things “lack heart.” Proverbs 6:32; 9:4 and 9:16 say that a man who commits adultery with a woman, or who is being lured to do so, “lacks heart,” But the text is not saying that a man who commits adultery lacks conviction or passion (he may in fact have a lot of passion and emotion in that situation), it is saying he lacks thinking about the situation, and thus “lacks sense” or “lacks good sense” (cp. CJB; HCSB; ESV; NAB; NASB; NJB).
Still another example is Deuteronomy 29:4. In that verse, the literal Hebrew has Moses telling the Israelites that they did not have “a heart to know,” which in modern English means that they did not have the care, focus or passion to learn. But in the Hebrew culture, the phrase referred to “a mind that understands” (cp. HCSB; NET; NIV; NLT). At that particular time the Israelites were not mentally prepared to understand all the things that God had done for them, rather much in the same way that Jesus told the apostles at the Last Supper that there were things they were not mentally prepared to know at that time (John 16:12). In time, Israel could learn what God was doing and what they needed to know if they took the time to learn. Another place where the Hebrew word “heart” means “mind” is Isaiah 32:4, which speaks of the wonderful blessings and even healings in the future Kingdom of Christ, including the healing of all mental disease: “The mind of the rash will understand knowledge.”
Understanding the biblical usage of “heart” has many practical applications. One is that we can properly understand some verses that may have been unclear to us. Also, if we understand what “heart” means, we are not nearly as likely to import an erroneous meaning into the text and be in error about what the Bible is saying. Understanding the biblical use of “heart” even helps us understand how to be saved. For example, Romans 10:9 (NASB) says that in order to be born again a person must “believe in [their] heart that God raised him [Jesus] from the dead.” In that context, to “believe in the heart” is to believe something in the depth of your mind and thoughts, or as we would say in colloquial English, to “really believe it.” Knowing that can give us great confidence in our salvation. We may not be sure of what it means to “believe in our hearts” and therefore may not be sure if we really do believe “in our heart,” but we can know if we “really believe” that Jesus rose from the dead or if we doubt it. And once we are sure we believe God raised Jesus, then we should be confident we are saved and the peace of God, which passes understanding, can truly rule in our hearts.
[For more on heart, see commentary on Prov. 4:23, “issues.” For more on the bowels, kidneys, etc., referring to the seat of one’s emotional life, see commentary on Rev. 2:23.]
“person.” The word “person” is iysh (#0376 אִישׁ pronounced “eesh”), which most literally refers to a man, a male in contrast to a woman, but it can also be used to refer to men and women, and it makes sense to translate it in a gender-neutral way in this context (see commentary on Prov. 2:12).(top)
|Pro 15:22||- (top)|
“A person.” The word “person” is iysh (#0376 אִישׁ pronounced “eesh”), which most literally refers to a man, a male in contrast to a woman. However, it can also be used to refer to men and women, and it makes sense to translate it in a gender-neutral way in this context (see commentary on Prov. 2:12).(top)
“upward.” The idea of “upward” in this context does not mean “uphill” in the sense of having to struggle more and more in life, but rather “upward” in the sense of toward God and His blessings, including honor, success, and a higher status in life.(top)
“Yahweh will tear down the house of the proud.” The proud, although they may be rich and powerful, will have all they have worked for torn down by Yahweh, while the widow, who was so unable to defend herself and her land, will be protected, for Yahweh will “establish” her border. In the ancient Near East, before surveys were accurate, a widow (or another poor or defenseless person) would have her boundary marked in the standard way, by piles of stones at the corners or bends. Unscrupulous and powerful neighbors would move the stones to increase their land, stealing hers. Nevertheless, eventually, such proud people will have what they have built through unrighteousness torn down, while Yahweh, as any just king would, will establish her boundary and make sure she has everything she deserves.(top)
|Pro 15:26||- (top)|
|Pro 15:27||- (top)|
|Pro 15:28||- (top)|
“Yahweh is far from the wicked.” The second half of the verse shows how Yahweh is far from the wicked: He does not hear their prayers and thus does not answer them, but the righteous people who obey God have their prayers heard. There are a number of verses that say God does not answer the prayers of the wicked (cp. Job 35:12-13; Prov. 15:29; Isa. 1:15; 59:1-2; Ezek. 8:17-18; Mic. 3:4; Zech. 7:12-13; and James 4:3).
[For more on God not hearing the prayers of the wicked or honoring their sacrifices, see commentary on Amos 5:22.]
“he hears the prayer of the righteous.” The word “prayer” is singular while the word “righteous” is plural. God hears every prayer that a righteous person prays. This is an idiomatic sense of “hears,” and it means more than just that He hears the prayer, but that He hears it and pays attention to it.(top)
“Bright eyes make the heart glad.” The Hebrew is literally, “the light of the eyes.” The light of the eyes is that which someone sees that is a wonderful sight to him or her. Physiologically, this verse shows us a great deal about the working of the body. Seeing things that are a blessing and light up the eyes also makes the heart rejoice, and good news “makes fat,” or adds health and strength to a person’s bones.
“fattens the bones.” The use of “fattens” or “makes fat” here is the common use of “fat” for “healthy, prosperous.” Also, “bones” is literal, because when we feel good it affects our whole body, even our bones, but it is also a synecdoche of the part where the “bones” are the “part,” but the deeper meaning of the verse is that good news makes the whole body healthy. It would be natural for “bones” to be put for the whole body because the bones are the very foundation of the body, and if they are not healthy, the body is not healthy.
[For more on bones and health, see commentary on Prov. 17:22.](top)
“reproof leading to life.” The Hebrew is literally, “the reproof of life,” which is a genitive of relation, the reproof that relates to life, i.e., by giving it. This verse has both a temporal and eternal interpretation. Those who listen to reproof will become wise and be associated with them, and as they are learning will not be shunned by the wise. Also, because they will be saved, they will dwell eternally among the wise.(top)
“discipline.” See note on Prov. 1:2 in ICC.a
“good sense.” The Hebrew word is leb (#03820 לֵב), which is often translated “heart,” but this is one of those cases where that translation would cause confusion. In modern English, the word “heart” usually refers to emotion or passion, but that is not its meaning here. The function of the brain was unknown in biblical times, so things that we generally assign to the brain, like thinking, attitudes, understanding, and good sense, were assigned to the heart.
This is a very encouraging verse because it shows us that people who are naïve, inexperienced, or foolish, can gain good sense if they will listen to instruction and reproof. This verse should be taken to heart by parents because in our modern world, too many parents shy away from setting godly standards for their children and then not reproving the children if they fail to keep the standards. Many parents are more interested in making their children their friends than making their children godly humans, so they mistakenly fail to reprove them. Young, foolish, naïve, and inexperienced people need to be taught, reproved, and corrected to be godly. People who are charged with leading and developing others, such as parents or bosses in the workplace, cannot be afraid to reprove others, which of course is to be done in a way that is appropriate to the situation and the people involved.
C. H. Toy, Proverbs, International Critical Commentary, 4-6.
“wise instruction.” Or, “wise doctrine.” The REV translates the Hebrew as an attributive genitive; “wise instruction.” The Hebrew in this verse can be read several different ways. The verb instruction is in the construct state, and is juxtaposed with wisdom, almost like “instruction…wisdom.” So does it mean that the fear of Yahweh is the instruction that comes from Wisdom, or that the fear of the Lord is the instruction that produces wisdom? People who live in the fear of the Lord would say it is both. Living day to day in the fear of God certainly gives wisdom, but it is also true that wisdom, gained through practical experience, will instruct one to live in the fear of Yahweh. When we read the verse as “instruction that comes from Wisdom,” then we see Wisdom as a personification.
[For more on personification, see commentary on Proverbs 1:20.](top)