Proverbs 19:1-10

1Better is the poor who walks in integrity than one who has crooked lips and is a fool.

2 Living without knowledge is not good, and he who hastens his feet errs.

3The folly of a man will bring his way to ruin, and his heart rages against the LORD.

4Wealth brings many friends, but the poor is deserted by his friend.

5A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who speaks lies will not escape.

6Many seek the face of the generous, and everyone is friends with the man who gives gifts.

7All the brothers of the poor hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him! He pursues them with words, but does not have them.

8He who gets sense loves his soul [life], and he who keeps understanding finds good.

9A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will perish.

10It is not fitting for a fool to be in luxury; how much less for a slave to rule over princes!

The Teacher was clearly inspired by the injustice of a lying witness in this portion, since he repeats that proverb (5 & 9). He notes that money tends to buy friends, just or not (4,6,7). It is our own folly that brings us trouble, but we have a tendency to blame God anyhow (3). Being a liar and a fool will result in justice (1). Sense and understanding tend to be synonymous with life (8). And the Teacher also makes the observation that a life lived without knowledge is synonymous with being in a hurry (2).

“Living without knowledge is not good, and he who hastens his feet errs” (Proverbs 19:2). It takes time to learn the stuff you need to live well. Don’t be in such a hurry. Has it occurred to you that God might bring good out of this evil quarantine by giving us the opportunity to slow down and live? After all, “to live” is so much more than “to survive” or “to earn” or “to accomplish.” Slow down and live today. You make a mistake by getting in a hurry.

Proverbs 18:6-15

6The lips of a fool bring strife to him, and his mouth invites a beating.

7The mouth of a fool is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul.

8The words of a murmurer are like delicious morsels, and they go down to the innermost parts of the body.

9He who is slothful in his work is brother to him who destroys.

10The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.

11The rich man’s wealth is a strong city, and like a high wall in his imagination.

12Before destruction is a haughty spirit, but before honor is humility.

13He who gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.

14The spirit of a man can endure sickness, but who can bear a crushed spirit?

15The heart of the intelligent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.

The Teacher observes, in today’s readings, that problems accompany the running of one’s mouth. It can get you hurt (6-7), and yet is so tempting (8). When it is done without first listening, it brings shame to you (13). The Teacher also observes that laziness is destruction (9), wealth insulates a man from reality (11), and knowledge is good to acquire (15). However, depression can be unendurable (14), an observation that many in our churches should remember during this time of quarantine and isolation—those already predisposed to melancholy and depression could be having a really tough time, separated from the community of faith. Pride goes before a fall, but humility precedes honor (12). And being lazy is the same as actively destroying (9).

How about a little self-control today? We don’t always have to have a ready answer to an opponent. We don’t always have to give full vent to our passions and thoughts. We an be sensitive to the emotions of others and show a little humility in our dealings with them. And let’s remember that the righteous run to the name of God—because it is a strong tower and we are safe there.

Proverbs 18:1-5

1He who is separated seeks his own desire; he quarrels with all sound judgment.

2A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his heart.

3When evil comes, contempt comes also, and dishonor with disgrace.

4The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters; the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.

5It is not good to be partial to the wicked, or to overthrow the righteous in judgment.

Chapter 18 begins with an incredible observation: people who are separated from community live only for themselves, and are unsound in judgment (1). It is better to understand your fellow human being in discourse than to express your opinion to him (2). Always try to understand. Of course, the Teacher observes what should be obvious to anyone who’s been alive for longer than a decade or so: when it rains it pours (3). The man of wisdom possesses an active mind (4). Partiality in justice is wrong (5).

The notion of community is God-ordained. We were not designed to live in isolation from one another. And one value that upholds community is understanding. When we have differing points of view, we should always seek to understanding our dialogue partner before offering an opinion of our own. Often, we are so amped up on our own opinion that we end up arguing with an opponent who doesn’t actually exist by putting words in his mouth; this is a logical fallacy called a “straw man argument.” I’ve watched my fellow evangelical Protestants do this to Roman Catholics all my life: they criticize an expression of Christianity that doesn’t actually exist, rather than take the time to engage with Roman Catholic authoritative sources. There is an entire cottage industry devoted to yelling “racist” at someone whenever they disagree with you for any reason, particularly if they are Republican or conservative. When we assume the worst motives of our dialogue partner, we assign them positions that they don’t actually hold.

What if, instead of posting that Hot Take on social media that you’re convinced “your audience” needs to hear, you made an attempt to understand the actual position of the people you’re about to skewer? What if you have assigned motives to their opinions that don’t actually exist? Seek to understand first, then engage.

Proverbs 17:21-28

21He who sires a fool has sorrow, and the father of a fool has no joy.

22A glad heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.

23The wicked accept a bribe from the bosom to pervert the ways of justice.

24The discerning turns his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of the fool are on the ends of the earth.

25The foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her who bore him.

26It is not good to punish the righteous, or to strike the noble for his uprightness.

27He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit has understanding.

28Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise, and he who shuts his mouth intelligent.

The Teacher closes this chapter with several key observations. First, it noteworthy that children are a reflection on their parents (21,25). Furthermore, it is EXTREMELY noteworthy that the ability to laugh is considered by the Teacher to be good (22). Scheming and bribery are wicked (23), injustice is evil (26), and it is better to be focused rather than distracted (24). It is also telling that self-control and restraint are hallmarks of knowledge and wisdom (27-28).

Don’t be distracted by “the ends of the earth;” that is, all the “stuff” that is coming at you full-force during this stressful time. Rather, focus your gaze upon wisdom. Have self-control and restraint, and always be willing to NOT say something rather than to say something. And for crying out loud: laugh a little today. A life lived too seriously is its own punishment.

Proverbs 17:11-20

11An evil man seeks only rebellion, but a cruel messenger will be sent to him.

12Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs rather than a fool in his folly.

13Whoever returns evil for good, evil will not depart from his house.

14The beginning of strife is a letting out of water, so before the quarrel breaks out, stop.

15He who justifies the wicked and condemns the righteous—both alike are an abomination to the LORD.

16Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom when he lacks sense?

17A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

18A man who lacks sense gives pledge, and puts up security before his neighbor.

19He who loves transgression loves strife; he who exalts his door seeks destruction.

20He of a crooked heart does not find good, and he of a perverse tongue falls into evil [calamity].

In today’s readings, the Teacher reminds his audience that rebellion for its own sake is evil and self-defeating (11), fools are more dangerous than bears (12), and paying folks back for what they “deserve” sets you up for never-ending calamity (13). He observes that a quarrel can take on a life of its own, and therefore should be stopped as soon as possible (14). To call “good” “evil” and vice versa is an abomination to God (15). Financial wealth and sense go together, which is a truism that may be observed over time (16). Friends love one another in the toughest of times (17). Going into debt is senseless (18). Crookedness leads to calamity (20). And in verse 19, the Teacher makes an observation that is easily missed: a combative nature is a sinful one. The phrase “exalts his door” is sometimes translated “builds a high gate” and is figurative language for “brags a lot.”

There is some emphasis here on how human pride is a wickedness that causes strife and relishes it. There is also emphasis on having sense with money and avoiding debt. Both of these emphases require a deliberate nature; a self-control that is typically at odds with our passions. We want to buy that zero-turn radius lawnmower, and we don’t have the $4K to pay for it—so we get ourselves into debt because of our inability to say “no” to ourselves. We end up in strife and quarrels with our neighbors because of our inability to avoid strife by stopping our boasting or needling of one another.

In what ways can you practice some self-control today in the areas of relationships and money management?

Proverbs 17:1-10

1Better is a dry morsel and quietness with it than a house full of feasting and strife.

2A wise servant will rule over a son who acts shamefully, and will share in the inheritance as one of the brothers.

3The crucible for silver, and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests hearts.

4An evildoer listens to wicked speech, and a liar pays attention to a lying tongue.

5He who mocks the poor insults his Maker; he who laughs at calamity will not go unpunished.

6Grandchildren are a crown to the old, and children are the glory of their fathers.

7Excellent speech is unbecoming to a fool; much less lying speech to a prince.

8A bribe is a magic stone in the eyes of him who has it; wherever he turns, he prospers.

9He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates friends.

10A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.

Based on the first proverb in this chapter, we may conclude that peace and quiet are more valuable than money (1). Given enough time and a large enough statistical sample, money tends to go to the wise over the shameful (2). Given time and number, those who have money tend to make more money, as well (8). I find it very fascinating that the Teacher, even 900 years before Christ and 3000 years before “postmodernism,” know that we choose our conversation partners based on our own biases (4). He observes that people who are having a hard time in life are still image-bearers of the living God (5). He also knew that grandchildren and children are pretty awesome, despite what the Boomers have told us for 40 years (6). Our speech reveals our character (7) and a true friend knows how to keep a secret (9). Being a person of understanding means that you are able to take correction (10). Ultimately, God sanctifies us through the fire of adversity like a furnace burns the slag off of ore to reveal gold (3).

Just like fire burns the slag off of ore to reveal gold, so God grows us through the intensity of adversity. How is he growing you today?

Proverbs 16:24-33

24Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and health to the bones.

25There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end of it is the way of death.

26A worker’s appetite works for him; his hunger urges him on.

27A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire.

28A perverse man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.

29A violent man entices his neighbor, and leads him in a way that is not good.

30He who winks his eye devises perversity; he who purses his lips brings evil to pass.

31Gray hair is a crown of glory, gained in the way of righteousness.

32He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.

33The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.

The Teacher reiterates that pleasant speech is healthy (24), and that trusting in yourself is disastrous (25). He notes what Adam Smith will observe centuries later: that labor is grounded in self-interest—that is, mankind tends to be motivated to labor by his own hunger/need (26). A gossip is a perverse person (28). Over time, those who live righteously tend to live longer, and their old age should be to their credit (31). Real strength is in restraint, not outbursts (32). God is in charge of destiny (33). Three of the verses in today’s passage (27,29,30) deal with the topic of being a schemer—one who devises or plans secret plots. The Hebrew verb in verse 27 is literally translated “digs up” instead of “plots,” thereby sketching a picture of someone laboring diligently to bring his scheme to pass. There are always those who cannot sit still and be patient, and must scheme to bring about the destiny they desire. Such people are perverse, forgetting that it is God who is ultimately in charge of destiny (33).

Restraint, self-control, and diligence are hallmarks of the way of righteousness. Be self-controlled today, remembering who is really in command of your steps.

Proverbs 16:21-23

21The wise at heart are called discerning, and pleasant speech increases persuasiveness.

22Understanding is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the discipline of fools is folly.

23The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious, and adds persuasiveness to his lips.

Two of these three verses have the same theme: being able to show a specific type of restraint where our speech is concerned. In particular, when one can speak pleasantly and judiciously, he becomes more persuasive. Though our passions instruct us that one must be bombastic and angry to be persuasiveness, there is an old saying: “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Sometimes, that means saying less. Sometimes, it means jokes. Sometimes, it means not speaking at all. Knowing WHAT to say is important, but knowing HOW to say it can add persuasiveness to your position.

Words are like arrows: you can fire a thousand downrange, but you can’t get one of them back. Not every feeling that you’re experiencing needs to be shared with the general public. Be judicious with your speech today, and remember that pleasantness can go a long way to persuasion.

Proverbs 16:11-20

11A just balance and scales are from the LORD; all the weights in the bag are his work.

12It is an abomination for a king to do evil, for a throne is established by righteousness.

13The lips of the righteous are a delight to the king; he loves him who speaks right.

14The wrath of a king is a messenger of death; a wise man will appease it.

15In the light of a king’s face there is life, and his favor is as the clouds that bring rain.

16To get wisdom is better than gold, and to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.

17The highway of the upright turns from evil; whoever keeps his life preserves his way.

18Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

19Better to be of lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.

20He who pays attention to the word finds good, and blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD.

The concept of fairness is from God (11), but the Teacher lets the cat out of the bag when it comes to civil authority: though the notion of civil authority is established by God, it is possible to abuse it (12). Ultimately, it is important to speak good advice to civil authority (13), which indicates that God does not see that authority as absolute (since it requires advice from others). It’s not a very bright idea of self-preservation to upset an absolute ruler (14), but when that ruler is happy, all are happy (15). This is all a very ironic topic for the Teacher; this section is commonly thought to have been written by Solomon, whose son Rehoboam would forget all of this stuff. He would become famous as the guy who forgot that civil authority comes from God and goes directly to the people, who then lend it to the “king,” often living to regret the decision. Rehoboam could have stood to more carefully pay attention to his father’s proverbs (20). Ultimately, wisdom and understanding are more valuable than money (16), the upright have discipline (17), and how you treat others is more important (19) than thinking highly of yourself (20).

We all have the problem of being overly convinced of our rightness. It often causes us to drown out other voices that could instruct us. But we should have the discipline to listen to those voices and be prepared to correct our path if necessary. Paying attention to God’s word is an effort worthy of your attention, but interpreting and applying it is a community job, not an individual one. How do you know that you’re reading it right? Applying it correctly? Bringing your understanding of that word into conjunction with the community of faith throughout the last two millennia and those who have been entrusted with expertise in handling it is an act of wisdom.

Read the word. Pay attention to it. And remember that God put people into you life (pastors and teachers) whose very job it is to help you understand and apply it.

Proverbs 16:1-10

1The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.

2Every way of a man is pure in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the spirit.

3Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established.

4The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of disaster.

5Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured that he will not go unpunished.

6By steadfast love and faithfulness is iniquity atoned, and by the fear of the LORD one departs from evil.

7When the ways of a man please the LORD, he causes even his enemies to be at peace with him.

8Better a little in righteousness than much revenue with injustice.

9The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.

10A decision is on the mouth of the king; he does not sin in judgment.

The Teacher points out that we are incapable of seeing ourselves for who we really are; only God is (2,5). God is sovereign over all his creation, with his own purposes that we aren’t capable of understanding (4). It is His loyal love and faithfulness that frees us from sin and guides us in the discipline of the faith (6). The way of righteousness is more important than money (8).

When we are committed to God as our priority, he brings success to our path that we couldn’t have authored. He knows us better than we know ourselves; he created us for a purpose and he alone knows that purpose—even we can only guess clumsily. When we make our commitment to Him our priority, he establishes our destiny. He directs our steps, even when we aren’t conscious of it. Steady commitment to God is the key to true success in life.