New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Pro 14:1 Every wise woman builds her house, but the foolish one tears it down with her own hands-
Solomon here continues the spirit of his mother's advice to him about a good wife in Prov. 31; for the virtuous woman is pictures as building up the house / family. Solomon repeats his mother's wisdom about women, whilst disobeying it in practice, as noted througout Prov. 31. It is one thing to discern and teach truth; but quite another to personalize it and live by it. The very possession of that truth, and the experience of teaching it, can lead us to disobey it because we assume that mere possession of it justifies us.

Pro 14:2 He who walks in his uprightness fears Yahweh, but he who is perverse in his ways despises Him-
The Hebrew for "perverse" is literally 'the one who turns aside', implying they were once on the right path but had left it. It would seem that Solomon has in view the house of Saul, who were potential contenders for his throne.

Pro 14:3 The fool’s talk brings a rod to his back, but the lips of the wise protect them-
Discipline and punishment of the unwise is a big theme in Solomon's Proverbs. He took it to the extent of whipping his own people (1 Kings 12:11). This abusive attitude to people arose from his obsession with the idea that he had wisdom, and people generally are fools, idiots, unwise- and therefore he could abuse them. This abusive attitude to people is another outcome of believing that mere possession of truths about God justifies us, and declares all other people foolish, unwise and able to be legitimately abused by us. In contrast, the heart of God (as of David) bleeds for such people and wants to save them rather than gloat in their unwisdom and punish them for it.

Pro 14:4 Where no oxen are, the crib is clean, but much increase is by the strength of the ox-
This is a fair enough observation, but again Solomon falls into the mindset of believing that blessing / increase comes about by strength and hard work. Whereas the consistent Biblical message is that blessing is by grace, and the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong, as Solomon later mused (Ecc. 9:11). Power and strength are of God, and from nothing else.

Pro 14:5 A truthful witness will not lie, but a false witness pours out lies-
This may sound like a pointless statement of the obvious an axiomatic. But we likely need to read in an ellipsis; the truthful always testify honestly, and liars always lie. But this is simply not the case. Solomon utterly fails to recognize that human behaviour is a jagged graph, good people sin, and bad people do good things; we are saved not by consistent, stellar living before God, but by faith in His grace. But he fails to perceive this, when he should have learnt it from his father's experiences and his Psalms.

Pro 14:6 A scoffer seeks wisdom, and doesn’t find it, but knowledge comes easily to a discerning person-
It is true that those who claim not to understand God's truth, or who say it's too difficult to interpret, are in fact exercising their own psychological agenda. Subconsciously they don't want to accept His truth, and so they claim not to understand, or cite difficulties in interpretation. Jn. 7:17 is relevant here: "If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know of this teaching, whether it is of God, or I speak from myself". He who wishes above all things to live God's life, to have His Spirit, to live the life eternal with Him... they will intuitively know whether the Lord's doctrine is right or not. This intuitive element is in fact what leads to faith in the first place. There is a strong tendency to talk this down, and assume that it is by intellectual process that a person decides what is true or otherwise. But all appeal to intellectual process alone to decide 'truth' is flawed. For we are talking of spiritual things and not material. And legitimate intellectual process varies between persons. They may come to different conclusions about the same teaching which they analyze. And some are far more capable of intellectual analysis than others. There has to be something beyond intellectual process to decide truth. Here the Lord expresses this as a willing to do God's will, a heart for God, a desire for eternity. In a word, we must be open to the things of the Spirit. And then, the teachings make sense and there is an intuitive congruence between them and our own spirit.

Pro 14:7 Stay away from a foolish man, for you won’t find knowledge on his lips-
This is true. There is no Old Testament concept of excommunication or disfellowship of those who taught wrongly or were unwise; rather the simple advice is to keep away from them and their teaching. 

Pro 14:8 The wisdom of the prudent is to think about his way, but the folly of fools is deceit-
The idea is that not examining our way is the same as foolish self deceit. Self examination is a fundamental part of the way of life. But the word for "deceit" is so often used by David in the Psalms about his opponents, and their supporters and families were Solomon's opponents too. And he writes them off as all fools who are self deceived.

Pro 14:9 Fools mock at making atonement for sins, but among the upright there is good will-
AV "make a mock at sin", as if a lighthearted attitude to sin is the way of foolishness. But equally, as NEV, the idea may be that fools have no conscience about the seriousness of their sins, and their need for atonement. The "upright" surely ought to be commended for making atonement for their sins. But that is lacking in the parallelism. Solomon sees a simplistic division between fools who sin, and the upright who don't sin. When [as he should have learned from his father David's life], sin is to be found in all. "There is good will" is hard to interpret. The sense may be as in LXX "the houses of the just are acceptable", i.e. they need no atonement, as far as Solomon wanted to see it. Or we may interpret with GNB "Foolish people don't care if they sin, but good people want to be forgiven"; in which case we are comforted that good people sin, the difference is that they wish for atonement.  

Pro 14:10 The heart knows its own bitterness and joy; he will not share these with a stranger-
The implication is that the foolish wear their hearts on their sleeves and share their feelings. But that is not necessarily foolish, but rather a function of personality; some are wired to need to share their emotions, others aren't. But Solomon as ever seeks to justify his own personality type as the right and wise one; hence he commends industry and hard work, because that was how he was wired himself. The lesson is to be aware that spirituality is not about simply reinforcing our own native personality type and wiring. 

Pro 14:11 The house of the wicked will be overthrown, but the tent of the upright will flourish-
Because the salvation of others is in our hands, both in and outside of the ecclesia, we are held responsible for their eternal loss if we do not minister to them. “Rescue those being led away to death [if we don’t, then they will die]...if you say, “But we knew nothing about this”, does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life [as you keep your brother’s life] know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done? [at judgment day]” (Prov. 14:11,12 NIV).

Here as in Prov. 3:33, Solomon again fails to have the subtlety he ought to have learnt from the book of Job. For Job was righteous but his "house" was overthrown, and the house of the wicked apparently prospered at the time of his affliction. Spiritual reality is that things are far more nuanced than the simplistic picture Solomon presents, true as it is in outline and ultimate terms. 

Pro 14:12 There is a way which seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death-
We all know from our own experience with temptation that we can justify anything. Every way of man can seem right in his own eyes because of this feature of our nature (Prov. 14:12; 16:25; 21:2). The truth of this statement demonstrates the error of the humanistic approach of 'follow your heart', 'do what feels good and right to you'. There must be the influence of God's word to put us on the path to life.

Pro 14:13 Even in laughter the heart may be sorrowful, and mirth may end in heaviness-
But in Ecclesiastes, Solomon gave his heart to mirth, to see if there was wisdom to be found through this. He ended up re-learning the truth that he had earlier presented as prepositional truth. Despite recognizing that "even in mirth there is sorrow" and knowing that  fools love mirth (Ecc. 7:4), still Solomon wanted it and indulged that desire (Ecc. 2:2). He rejected this wisdom and only came to agree with it  through doing just what Prov. 14:13 condemns  (Ecc. 2:2). Another example of this is in Prov. 5:4; 22:14 cp. Ecc. 7:26.

Pro 14:14 The unfaithful will be repaid for his own ways; likewise a good man will be rewarded for his ways-
This is only finally true in the judgment of the last day, and the eternal outcomes of our lives in God's future Kingdom on earth. But they were things which Solomon didn't seem to factor in to his reasoning, as he assumed he was the Messianic figure and his kingdom was God's. So we can conclude that he assumes that the 'reward' for living is in this life. But LXX introduces a more subtle difference between the faithful and unfaithful: "A stout-hearted man shall be filled with his own ways; and a good man with his own thoughts". This would emphasize the power of spiritual mindedness over simply tramping on in our own ways.

Pro 14:15 A simple man believes everything, but the prudent man carefully considers his ways-
Solomon suggests here that our "ways" are influenced by what we hear in teaching from others. Believing everything is compared with self examination. But Paul seems to quote the LXX of this verse in saying that love believes everything (1 Cor. 13:7). This is another example of where the New Testament subtly deconstructs, or adds nuance to, the otherwise simplistic dualism found in Proverbs.

Pro 14:16 A wise man fears, and shuns evil, but the fool is hotheaded and reckless-
Removing / shunning or departing from evil is a major theme of Proverbs (Prov. 13:19; 14:16; 16:6,17). Solomon uses the same phrase in Ecc. 11:10, but he gives the reason as being because youth is vanity; old age will prove that there is no point in not departing from evil, and going the way of evil, like going the way of righteousness, is all the same vanity. This nihilistic approach is because Solomon failed to discern that the end point of the path of righteousness, departing or removing our foot from the way of evil, is the redemption of the body in God's future Kingdom. But because he failed to understand that, he ends up concluding as he gets older that the choice between evil and good is all the same vain and meaningless. It is the hope of the resurrection of the body, the reality of judgment to come and the future Kingdom of God, which make morality of so much meaning today. We may also note again Solomon's overly simplistic idea that if a man removes himself from evil, all will go wonderfully for him in life. The same phrase is used of how Job removed himself from, or "eschewed", evil; but his life was traumatic and without all the blessings for wisdom which Solomon liked to imagine.   

Pro 14:17 He who is quick to become angry will commit folly, and a crafty man is hated-
The parallel is between those who are crafty to commit sin, doing so quietly and discreetly; and those who sin openly because they have no self control.

Pro 14:18 The simple inherit folly, but the prudent are crowned with knowledge-
He saw his wisdom and knowledge as some sort of a reward in themselves: “the prudent are crowned with knowledge”. This is of course true in a sense, as all the Proverbs are. But Solomon surely had the idea that he, who was so renowned for his knowledge, was somehow thereby rewarded by having it. This assumption by Solomon was likely behind each of the many references he makes to the value of wisdom and the blessedness of the man who has it. It is rather like feeling that ‘we have the truth’ because somehow our correct understanding of doctrines is a reward for our righteousness, and mere possession of doctrinal truth means that we are acceptable to God.  

Pro 14:19 The evil bow down before the good, and the wicked at the gates of the righteous-
The "gates of the righteous" is specifically the gates of Zion (Ps. 118:20; Is. 26:2 s.w.). What Solomon says will only ultimately be true in the future Kingdom, but he is implying that in his exaltation as the Davidic king, he was declared as "good" and "righteous", and all his opponents as evil and wicked. Self justification seems never far from Solomon's thought and expression. 

Pro 14:20 The poor person is shunned even by his own neighbour, but the rich person has many friends-
Again Solomon implies that poverty is a sign of curse, and wealth is a sign of blessing. But that is simply not how God works. Solomon was given wealth by God, and he goes on to assume that this is a sign of acceptability with Him, when it isn't. David laments how his friends turned away from him and he was shunned by his neighbours, as a result of his sin with Solomon's mother Bathsheba (Ps. 38:11; 88:18). The way Solomon appears ignorant of this indicates the degree to which he had whitewashed his parents, and considered the effects of that sin not to be consequence for sin, but rather the unreasonable and wrong behaviour of his own half brothers. And he believed they had been condemned for that behaviour, as his Proverbs often allude to them.

Pro 14:21 He who despises his neighbour sins, but blessed is he who has pity on the poor-
Solomon had not known need, neither material nor spiritual, and it shows in his attitude to so obsessively forbidding the giving of collateral to guarantee a loan. It makes hollow all Solomon's exhortations to be generous to your poor neighbour and to be a brother in adversity to your neighbour (Prov. 14:21; 17:17). Solomon is here reasoning from the viewpoint of secular wisdom. The law of Moses didn't forbid giving or taking collateral for loans, it accepted this would happen (Ex. 22:25-27). But Solomon in the Proverbs is quite obsessed with forbidding it in very strong terms (Prov. 6:1-3; 11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26; 27:13- all quite some emphasis). Perhaps Solomon recalled some bad experience in his family because of this. There is the otherwise curious statement in 1 Sam. 17:18 that David's brothers, Solomon's uncles, were to return a collateral. Perhaps this ruined the family and Solomon's wisdom has some human element in it, reflecting his own bad experiences in his family life. But there is nothing wrong with giving or taking collateral for a loan; what is condemned in God's law is the abuse of the debtor and the abuse of the situation. Indeed David and Hezekiah ask God to be collateral for their needs and debts in various ways (Ps. 119:122; Is. 38:14). And God gives the Holy Spirit in our hearts as collateral on His debt, as He sees it, to save us (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14); and in response we give our hearts as a pledge to Him (Jer. 30:21 Heb.). So forbidding the practice seems out of step with the spirit of grace. It would mean asking of God what we are unprepared to do for others.

Pro 14:22 Don’t they go astray who plot evil? But love and faithfulness belong to those who plan good-
"Plot evil" is the phrase used of Saul's plots against David (1 Sam. 23:9). Saul likely still had his supporters even in Solomon's time, and Solomon came to the throne after  period of continual attempts to take the throne from the Davidic line through Absalom. And he uses his Proverbs, true as they are, to do down any potential opposition, and to present support of him as the only way to national peace and unity- an old ploy.

Pro 14:23 In all hard work there is profit, but the talk of the lips leads only to poverty-
Here again we see Solomon's works based attitude. He sees poverty as the result of laziness, and profit / plenty coming from hard work (Prov. 14:23; 21:5). He fails to appreciate the wider narrative in spiritual life. The good news is for the poor, which group may include the lazy. And works will not save, and God's salvation is what is ultimately required by man. But Solomon had no eternal perspective, because he thought his kingdom was God's. And so as he got older and closer to death, he reasons that the reality of death means that man has no profit or preeminence (s.w. Ecc. 3:19). If he had accepted the Gospel of the future Kingdom of God, he would have focused more upon salvation by grace through faith, and less upon the supremacy of hard work and profit / preeminence in this life.  

Pro 14:24 The crown of the wise is their riches, but the folly of fools crowns them with folly-
It was Solomon who was the king and wore the ultimate crown in his society. And he implies that his fantastic riches were a result of his wisdom, and that his pattern should be followed by others. But he fails to remember that his desire for wisdom was recognized by God in that He gave Solomon riches. Those riches were a gift from God, by grace, and not acquired or generated by his own application of wisdom (1 Kings 3:13). He therefore misused his possession of wisdom and experience of grace to justify himself, and present himself as a self made man; when he was not that at all.

Pro 14:25 A truthful witness saves souls, but a false witness is deceitful-
Solomon has much to say about true and false witnesses (Prov. 6:19; 12:17; 14:5,25; 19:5,9,28; 21:28; 24:28; 25:18). Whilst his warnings are true enough, he surely has an element of self justification in what he writes. Because he was aware that his parents, David and Bathsheba, had been accused of many things which had led to all the opposition against David at the end of his reign, and which opposition Solomon had to contend with in order to retain the throne for himself. David laments the false witness of the house of Saul and his own sons, Solomon's half brothers (Ps. 27:12; 35:11). The continual condemnation of false witnesses must be understood in this context. Whilst it is all true so far as it goes, Solomon is harnessing Divine truth to his own agenda of self justification. And we who claim to hold His truths must take warning.

Pro 14:26 In the fear of Yahweh is a secure fortress, and He will be a refuge for His children-
The secure fortress was Zion (Is. 32:18; Ps. 125:1 s.w.), "the stronghold of Zion, the same is the city of David" (2 Sam. 5:7). Whilst what Solomon says is true, and repeats the multiple cases of David in the Psalms professing trust in Yahweh as his strong fortress, Solomon as ever has his agenda of self justification; he saw his possession of Zion as a sign that he feared Yahweh acceptably, and that his children would continue the Davidic line of glory. But sacred space is not so ultimately important to God. Possession of the literal stronghold of Zion was nothing compared to trust in Yahweh. 

Pro 14:27 The fear of Yahweh is a fountain of life, turning people from the snares of death-
Solomon uses  the figure of a well of living water to describe spiritual words  and  thinking (Prov. 10:11; 13:14; 14:27; 16:22). Yet this is the  very  figure which he uses concerning his worldly bride (Song of Solomon  4:15).  It could be argued that this typifies the massive  imputation of righteousness  which  the  Lord  Jesus grants to us, His worldly Gentile bride. But I would rather see it as an example of how he chose to justify his love for worldly women by as it were clothing those women in his own mind with the imagery of spirituality.

Solomon claims that the righteous / wise live long lives, and therefore the unwise have shorter lives (Prov. 9:11; 10:27). This was the promise for obedience to the old covenant (s.w. Dt. 11:21). But it is not always the case, as Job learned (s.w. Job 29:18); righteous men like David and Hezekiah felt their days had been shortened (s.w. Ps. 89:45; 102:23). And it was so with the Lord Jesus. And faithful men often lament that the wicked seem to get long life, whilst the righteous don't. The answer to that conundrum is that final blessing of long life is at the resurrection, at the last day; and not in this life. But Solomon didn't see that; he thought that long life now was the only reward. He failed to perceive the real meaning of the Gospel of the Kingdom.   

Pro 14:28 In the multitude of people is the king’s glory, but without people the prince is nothing-
GNB "A king's greatness depends on how many people he rules; without them he is nothing". Solomon is again justifying himself, for the people at his time are described as very many at his time (1 Kings 4:20). Solomon is harnessing Divine truth to his own agenda of self justification. And we who claim to hold His truths must take warning.

Pro 14:29 He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a quick temper displays folly-
This is true, but there are several examples of David's quick temper. We recall his furious desire to slay Nabal's family. But all the historical weaknesses of David are passed over by Solomon. He seems to have subconsciously whitewashed his father, and presents him elsewhere as the glorious example of wisdom, and all his opponents as fools. 

Pro 14:30 The life of the body is a heart at peace, but envy rots the bones-
GNB "Peace of mind makes the body healthy, but jealousy is like a cancer". Solomon has much to say about the evil of envy (e.g. Prov. 14:30; 23:17; 24:1,19; 27:4). But true as his condemnations of envy are, he surely has in mind the way that Ephraim envied Judah, and envied his throne (s.w. Is. 11:13). This all came to full term after his death, when Ephraim departed from Judah under Jeroboam. Again, Solomon is harnessing Divine truth to his own agenda of self justification. And we who claim to hold His truths must take warning. But as he faced death, he came to realize that all such envy is as nothing before the reality of death, which he understood as the end of life, as he had assumed this life was the time for reward and expresses no personal hope in a resurrection of the body (Ecc. 4:4; 9:6). 

Pro 14:31 He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for his Maker, but he who is kind to the needy honours Him-
Oppression seems to have been a characteristic of the reigns of Saul and Absalom. See on Ps. 62:10. This was the equivalent of how Saul oppressed David (Ps. 119:121,122,134). Samuel's insistence that he has not oppressed the people is in the context of his warning that Saul would do this (1 Sam. 12:3,4). When Solomon later condemns the 'oppressors' (s.w. Prov. 14:31; 22:16; 28:3,24), he has in view a wishing of judgment upon the house of Saul. "The poor" whom they had oppressed would easily refer to David (1 Sam. 18:23; Ps. 34:6).

Pro 14:32 The wicked is brought down in his calamity, but in death, the righteous has a refuge-
"Brought down" is 'chased away', the language of Divine judgment at the last day (Job 18:18; 20:8; Is. 13:14; 17:13).
AV "hath hope in his death". all this can be read as looking forward to the judgment of the last day; but Solomon doesn't reason as if there is such a judgment. He saw himself, armed with his Divine wisdom, as the ultimate judge of men, and his kingdom as God's Kingdom with himself as the Messiah figure. So whilst his words are recorded in such a way as to look ahead to the future, I suggest this was not the position which he himself held. Rather is he saying that the wicked are brought down in this life, and when faced with violent death, as David was at times, God will deliver them- in this life.

Pro 14:33 Wisdom remains in the heart of one who has understanding, and is even made known in the inward part of fools-
Solomon later alludes to this in saying that although he cast off his faith in Yahweh, and his heart turned aside to idols, his Divinely given wisdom [in an intellectual sense] remained with him (Ecc. 2:9). He seems to be saying that if one has wisdom, it will always remain in the heart, and thereby justify a man. But this isn't the case; one can know Divine truths and yet live otherwise, without at all personalizing them. And so turn away from the true God, just as Solomon did. The last half of the verse would simply be saying that fools don't get it, and never will, hence GNB "fools know nothing about wisdom". 

Pro 14:34 Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people-
Israel were exalted under Solomon to the peak of their power and extent. And he sees this as being due to "righteousness". But he himself was far from righteousness, as were his people. Their exaltation was due to the work done by David, and God's recognition of David. Material blessing in secular terms is no guarantee of righteousness, nor is a lack of such blessings a sign of sin; as the book of Job makes clear. But Solomon sees only the immediate and the secular, and assumes that the exaltation of Israel was because of their or his righteousness. But that is simply not the case.

Pro 14:35 The king’s favour is toward a servant who deals wisely, but his wrath is toward one who causes shame
- See on Prov. 12:16. Although what Solomon writes is true and inspired, he clearly has in view his favour and then wrath against his servant Jeroboam (1 Kings 11:26). Solomon uses his own feelings against Jeroboam as a basis for a global truth about kings and their servants. His Proverbs were indeed inspired, but there was a human element behind his words, ever seeking to use God's truths in order to justify himself.