A Proverb a day, with commentary from H.A. Ironside, a great Bible teacher from the mid-20th Century.
It is impossible for man to estimate correctly the power for good or evil that lies in the tongue. A kind and gracious word will often disarm a most ill-tempered and wrathful man. A sharp, cutting remark has frequently separated friends dear to each other for years; some trivial circumstance arose which should have been lovingly turned to an occasion for grace and forbearance on the part of each.
It is considered unmanly by many not to resent an insult and to allow wrathful words to pass unchallenged. But it takes far more true character to meet an angry man in quietness of spirit, and to return cool, calm words for heated, hasty ones. The man who controls his tongue shows that he has his personal feelings in subjection. The man who returns malice for malice reveals that he does not yet know how to rule his spirit. Grievous words only add fuel to the flame; a gracious demeanor will go far towards cooling the angry passions of another.
The wise man knows how to use knowledge profitably; he also knows when to speak and when to be silent. The fool is always ready with a retort, whether it is fitting or not.
In Gideon’s answer to the men of Ephraim we have a precious example of the soft answer that turns away wrath and the wisdom that uses knowledge correctly (Jdg_8:1-3). In Jephthah’s reply to the same people we see a sad illustration of the folly of using the grievous words that stir up anger (Jdg_12:1-6).
How comforting the truth of this proverb is to the weary heart. Like poor Hagar in the desert, one may feel abandoned by everyone but God; however, one can say with assurance, “Thou God seest me” (Gen_16:13). To know that His eyes are on all our ways is sweet indeed when there is confidence and hope in Him. But for the wicked to know that he can never hide from those all-seeing eyes is perhaps the most terrible thing he has to face. This is not surprising when it is remembered that He who sees all is the Holy and the True! It is unrepented sin that makes it so dreadful to be under the eye of God. He who acknowledges his guilt and bows in repentance before Him, need no longer fear. Sin confessed is sin removed through the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. David’s musings in Psalm 139 form a precious commentary on this verse.
The perverse tongue is much more common than the healing tongue! The deceitful tongue separates brother from brother and divides relationships. The wholesome tongue binds together with cheer and gladness and is as a tree of life to those who meditate on its utterances. The healing tongue is the tongue of the peacemaker. The perverse tongue belongs to him who scatters discord among brethren. May we covet the former and flee the latter.
Abraham possessed the tongue of healing when he said, “Let there be no strife,… for we be brethren” (Gen_13:8). Sheba the son of Bichri by his hasty tongue caused division and dissension in Israel and brought judgment on his own head (2 Samuel 20).
The young man is very apt to consider his knowledge superior to that of his father, forgetting that you cannot ignore years of experience. It is foolish not to learn from one who has walked the path before you. To give attention to reproof and thankfully accept correction is an evidence of true wisdom. Contrast Manasseh with his father Hezekiah (2 Kings 18-21).
See note on Pro_14:24. The true riches are found in the house of the righteous. Whatever revenue the evildoer may accrue, he will have trouble and sorrow in large measure. See Achan (Jos_7:19-26).
In place of idle jokes and unkind speeches, the words of the wise bring profit and blessing-the true knowledge that edifies the hearer. The foolish can only utter what is in his heart and benefits no one, only harms. Paul and Elymas at Paphos fitly illustrate both sides (Act_13:6-12).
“They that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom_8:8). The sacrifice of the wicked, together with all their ways, is evil in His sight. Before He can accept anything from the sinner, there must be repentance-a bowing of soul before God and seeking His face in sincerity. He will demonstrate His favor to the honest and upright of heart for He delights in those who follow righteousness.
It is important for the sinner to realize that he is altogether unprofitable. The Lord asks nothing and can accept nothing from him until he first receives the gift of the Lord Jesus Christ. When He has been received by faith the whole life will be changed. Loving service to God will then be most acceptable and very precious in His sight because it will be the fruit of the new life, not the labor of one toiling for that life.
These verses show how contrary to Scripture it is to ask unconverted men to support the work of the Lord or to make sacrifices for Christ’s sake. All they can do or give will be stained with sin and unfit for His holy presence. See Psa_66:18.
“All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do” (Heb_4:13). And He “is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb_4:12). The unseen world, which is dark and hidden to man, is all open before Him. He alone searches the hearts of men and judges their motives. When they refuse correction His eye observes their perversity and He will see that they are judged according to their works. The scorner resents correction and reproof, therefore he avoids the wise so his evil ways will not be called in question. But he cannot avoid God. He must deal with Him whether he wants to or not. It will be solemn indeed when the wicked must account for opportunities refused, instruction neglected, and grace despised. See the wise and foolish builders of Mat_7:24-27.
The happy man is the one who has a heart at rest and who can therefore rejoice at all times. He has found in Christ a Savior and a daily satisfaction. He who casts all his cares on Him and has learned to commit all his affairs into His hand will always have a glad heart and a cheerful countenance. The portion of the one who tries to carry his own sorrows and daily cares is a burdened heart. He fails to turn all over to Him who so delights to bear our cares for us. Nothing breaks the spirit like hidden grief; but this need not be the condition of the saint who will allow the Lord Jesus to be not only his sin-bearer, but his burden-bearer too. See Paul in Philippians 4.
Our food has much to do with making us what we are. The same is true of us morally. We become like that on which we feed; and we feed on what our hearts crave. The man of understanding values knowledge and devotes himself to its pursuit. The fool does not care for that which would build true character and draw him away from his evil ways. Instead he feeds on folly and vanity, becoming more empty and foolish than before.
Let the young Christian ponder this well. Have you learned to know Christ? Then leave behind forever the carnal pleasures of the world. Do not attempt to feed the new life on the world’s trashy literature and its sinful pleasures. If you do, there will be no real growth, and a moral and spiritual breakdown is sure to follow. But if you set the Lord before you and find your food in His Word and what is edifying, you will grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth. Imitate David (Psa_119:103-104), Jeremiah (Jer_15:16), and Job (Job_23:12). Do not allow yourself to fall into the ways of the mixed multitude (Num_11:4-9), who lost their appetite for angels’ food by lusting after Egyptian delicacies.
This verse closely connects with the thirteenth verse. One who is depressed and gloomy himself sees every day full of causes for grief and dismal foreboding. It is a wretched way to live and indicates lack of confidence in God. When the heart is cheerful, all days are bright, and the soul has a continual feast. This is not frivolity, but that holy joy which results from tracing everything that comes into my life back to God. Habakkuk entered into this joy in large measure (Hab_3:17-18).
The one who has found his joy in the Lord can well understand the dear old saint who spread his table with a bit of bread, an onion, and a glass of water, and then joyfully thanked God for “all this and Jesus”! It is far better to have little on earth and to know Jesus and abide in His fear, than to have great treasures and varied luxuries, coupled with trouble and hatred. Consider the attitude of Daniel and his companions when they refused to defile themselves with the king’s meat (Daniel 1).
The first verse of this chapter has already reminded us of this truth; but we may well have it brought before us again, for we take so long to learn. A wrathful man is of necessity a proud man; otherwise he would not be so easily angered by what affects him. A humble man will be slow to anger, for he has learned not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think. Therefore he will not quickly resent insults and offenses. Contrast the spirit displayed by Saul and David (1Sa_20:30-34; 1Sa_24:8-22).
Difficulties abound in the mind of the slothful man. His life seems surrounded by thorns. He has many excuses for not acting at once according to what he knows is right. The upright, learning his duty, presses on and finds his way made plain before him as he takes one step after another.
If God commands, I must simply obey. He takes the responsibility of clearing the obstacles from my path or giving me the ability to overcome them. Hear David’s notes of triumph in Psa_18:29 and 2Sa_22:30. How unhappy the contrast in the case of the ten spies (Numbers 13).
Compare with Pro_10:1. A wise son gladdens the heart of his father by heeding instruction and practicing virtue. A foolish man considers himself superior to his mother and ignores her loving advice and helpful counsel. See Pro_30:17.
The fool plunges on, rejoicing in his folly. He delights in iniquity and is determined to have his own way despite every warning and entreaty. The man of integrity submits himself to the fear of God and walks in uprightness. He refuses to be decoyed by sinful pleasures and fascinations. See notes on Pro_14:16; Pro_14:18.
See the note on Pro_11:14, and compare with Pro_24:6. He is a wise man indeed who counsels with men of intelligence and experience concerning important matters. This is particularly true where others are likely to be widely affected. See the behavior of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15.
The appropriate answer spoken at a suitable time leaves no regrets. True words are not necessarily timely ones. Many a sorrow and heartache has been caused, both to the speaker and others, by repeating what in itself was true enough, but which should never have been passed on to a third party. But a word in season is precious and helpful. It is refreshing to the hearer and gives joy to the one who utters it. After the idle speculations of the three friends of Job, how seasonable was the answer of Elihu (Job 32).
The Hebrew word Sheol, or the grave refers not only to the place of future punishment, but to what was before the cross, even to the children of God-an unseen land of darkness beyond the grave. Inasmuch as long life was a blessing promised to the faithful Hebrew, an early death was a calamity to be dreaded. Hence the way of life could be said to lead away from Sheol beneath. Those who walked on the way of life would be preserved to an honored old age in the land given by God to His earthly people. Hezekiah’s case aptly illustrates the state of mind regarding death which was common among truly pious persons in the past dispensation (Isaiah 38 and 2 Kings 20).
“Though the Lord be high, yet hath he respect unto the lowly: but the proud he knoweth afar off” (Psa_138:6). His face is ever set against those who exalt themselves; but He has always been the support of the fatherless and the widow who confided in His love and care. God’s needy people may trust His grace implicitly, assured that His heart is ever towards them. But the haughty and self-inflated have no right to His consideration and lovingkindness. Their house will fall and their pride will be withered up. Contrast the judgment on Coniah’s house (Jer_22:30) with the Lord’s care of the widow of Zarephath (1Ki_17:10-16).
Already we have considered the Lord’s estimate of the sacrifice and way of the wicked. We now learn that the very thoughts of the evildoer are also an abomination to Him who is “of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Hab_1:13). But the conversation of the pure is pleasant in His sight, as being the outflow of a heart exercised to godliness. We see both classes in Joh_6:68-71.
Those who sit on the judicial bench and those who are called as witnesses have always been exposed to the snare of taking bribes. Greed and covetousness have proven the undoing of many in this position. People who have accepted bribes have brought ruin on themselves and shame on all who were associated with them. The hater of gifts-that is, the one who resolutely refuses to be bought-will live.
The soldiers who guarded the tomb of our Lord were silenced by bribes, to their eternal dishonor (Mat_28:11-15). Samuel challenged Israel to testify to his integrity on this subject (1Sa_12:3-4). See Pro_29:4.
The man who walks in the fear of God will weigh his words carefully, lest by a hasty utterance he dishonor his Lord and hinder where he desires to help. The wicked has no such consideration; he speaks whatever comes to his lips, no matter what harm it may do. People often actually pride themselves on being frank and outspoken, when in reality they are simply exhibiting the calloused state of their consciences. If truly aroused to the value of words, they would weigh them well before speaking them and thus avoid much mischief and sorrow. Because a thing is true, it is not necessarily a fit subject to be discussed and passed on from one to another. The righteous will consider carefully the effect of his words before uttering what can never be fully recalled. Contrast Elisha with the sons of the prophets at Jericho (2Ki_2:15-18).
The wicked have no right to expect anything from Jehovah; He makes no promise to heed their cry. When the day of their distress comes they find no one on whom to call. When idolatrous Israel turned to God in their troubles, He refused to be entreated of them. He referred them to the gods they had served, in order that they might realize what it meant to have turned their backs on Him.
But He has pledged Himself to hear the prayer of the righteous; and with Him to hear is to answer. The man who delights himself in God when all is bright will find Him a Friend close at hand when darkness enshrouds the soul. Let us not forget that it is written, “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (Joh_15:7). See Joshua at Gibeon (Jos_10:12-14).
The gospel of the glory of the blessed God is the “good report” of this proverb. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom_10:17). Precious as light when one has been groping in darkness, is this good news to a soul that has been longing for deliverance from a burdened conscience.
The good report sent from Heaven to men in their sins concerns God’s Son, Jesus Christ, “who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom_4:25). It is a Person who is presented to man in the gospel. When He is trusted and His work understood, it does indeed rejoice the heart and make the bones fat. See the jailer of Philippi (Act_16:29-34).
See note on Pro_15:10. Jehovah values the wise who are humble enough to be thankful for correction when going astray.
The intellectuals of this world are often too proud to receive an admonition. Fancying themselves superior they disdainfully turn away from him who would, in the fear of God, reprove them when in error. But in so doing they show that they despise their own souls.
It is only those who hear reproof who get understanding. Abiding in the fear of the Lord they admit it is wise to acknowledge their mistakes and faults. So they receive admonition as coming from God Himself, for “before honour is humility.” He who takes the lowly self-forgetful place will be lifted up in due time. See Joseph’s remarkable history (Genesis 37-50).