New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

Pro 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger-
LXX "Anger slays even wise men; yet a submissive answer turns away wrath: but a grievous word stirs up anger". There are several similarities here with David's hotheaded desire to kill Nabal and all his family because of harsh words. And indeed Abigail's wise and gentle answer turned away David's wrath. Abigail remained a favourite wife with David, and so Solomon here appears to be justifying her. Although another alternative is that he had so whitewashed the failures and rashness of his father David that he writes this without any awareness that it all applies to his father, and shows him up in a bad light; whereas Solomon is everywhere glorifying "my father David".

Pro 15:2 The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of fools gushes out folly-
Solomon speaks truly, but he seems to have a subtext of declaring himself the ultimate tongue of the wise; see on :4.

Pro 15:3 Yahweh’s eyes are everywhere, keeping watch on the evil and the good-
Perhaps a reference to the Angels. The point is that both evil and good are watched over by them, for God is the ultimate creator of both (Is. 45:5-7). This would have been (and still is) at radical variance with the common misconception that some cosmic forces of evil watch over the evil, whilst God watches over the good. See on :11.

Pro 15:4 A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but deceit in it crushes the spirit-
AV "a wholesome tongue". Solomon has early predicated "life" upon his own words (Prov. 4:20,22); so it may be that he again has himself in view as the ultimately good and true tongue. For he considers that his tongue is the ultimate "tongue of the wise" of :2.

Access to the tree of life has been taken away because of human sin; only in the restored Eden of the Kingdom of God on earth will we be able to eat the fruit of the tree of life. Indeed God in His grace and wisdom barred access to the tree of life, knowing that eternity in our present state would be a curse. But Solomon likes to think that his kingdom is the Kingdom of God, and the life according to his wisdom was effectively the life eternal. Again we see a failure in Solomon to perceive that the true life and restoration of Eden was yet future. This would explain why as he got older and approached death, he became disillusioned; for clearly his life had not been the life of the Kingdom.  

Pro 15:5 A fool despises his father’s correction, but he who heeds reproof shows prudence-
Solomon's prophetic sonship of David was conditional upon him preserving or observing Yahweh's ways (1 Kings 2:4; 1 Chron. 22:13; 2 Chron. 7:17); but he didn't preserve of observe them (1 Kings 11:10,11); despite David praying that Solomon would be given a heart to observe them (1 Chron. 29:19). We can pray for God to work upon the hearts of others, but He will not force people against their own deepest will and heart position. Solomon stresses overmuch how God would keep or preserve the righteous (Prov. 2:8; 3:26), without recognizing the conditional aspect of this. Why did Solomon go wrong? His Proverbs are true enough, but he stresses that obedience to his wisdom and teaching would preserve his hearers (Prov. 4:4; 6:22; 7:1; 8:32; 15:5), preservation was through following the example of the wise (Prov. 2:20); rather than stressing obedience to God's ways, and replacing David his father's simple love of God with a love of academic wisdom: "Yahweh preserves all those who love Him" (Ps. 145:20).

Pro 15:6 In the house of the righteous is much treasure-
Solomon continues his mistaken attitude to wealth, alluding to the houses he built in which to store his treasures. But he was given wealth by God's grace, as a gift, in recognition of his preference for wisdom. But he abuses this grace, as we can, in assuming that the gift was given because he was righteous- when he wasn't.

But the income of the wicked brings trouble-
The initial reference would be to Achan who loved and coveted wealth and thereby troubled Israel (s.w. 1 Chron. 2:7). But Solomon always has some self justification in his agenda in the Proverbs, and he surely has in mind how Saul troubled Israel (1 Sam. 14:29 s.w.), and was therefore replaced by the line of David through Solomon.

Pro 15:7 The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so with the heart of fools-
Again the heart and the mouth are paralleled. We cannot hope to think things in our hearts, and they don't ultimately issue forth as words (Mt. 12:34). Solomon considers that he is justified as personally wise, because of his spreading of knowledge in the form of the anthology we have in the book of Proverbs. But teaching others doesn't of itself justify us. He pronounces himself as the "teacher" in Ecclesiastes, at a point where he has clearly lost any personal faith he ever had.

Pro 15:8 The sacrifice made by the wicked is an abomination to Yahweh, but the prayer of the upright is His delight-
We note here the parallel between prayer and sacrifice. This is a major Biblical theme (Hos. 14:2 etc.). Indeed, it is "not for ease that prayer shall be". True prayer involves giving something deeply personal of ourselves.

Pro 15:9 The way of the wicked is an abomination to Yahweh, but He loves him who follows after righteousness-
This is true. But Solomon was 'the one whom Yahweh loves' (2 Sam. 12:24; the same words are used), and there is a subtext here of self justification. See on Prov. 3:12. Solomon's experience of God's love led him to conclude that he must therefore be following righteousness. But he failed to perceive that God's love is by grace, and not a reward for our righteousness.

Pro 15:10 There is stern discipline for one who forsakes the way: whoever hates reproof shall die-
Solomon here quotes his father's words in Ps. 50:17 "since you hate instruction". Solomon thus accuses any who refuse his Proverbs of doing just this, hating instruction, which in the context of Ps. 50:17 means 'You are condemned' (s.w. Prov. 5:12; 12:1; 15:10). As in Prov. 2:13, Solomon sees the wicked as those who once knew the right path and have left it. He contrasts the path of uprightness and that of darkness (Prov. 2:13). But life is not so clear cut. The same phrase is used of how Job felt he was walking the path of darkness (Job 19:8). David, Solomon's father, likewise partially strayed from the path. This inability to recognize that spiritual life is not so black and white led to Solomon assuming he was totally on the way of righteousness. He was unable therefore to appreciate that he himself failed at some points at some times. And this is true for those who have a similarly black and white view of people and spirituality.  

Pro 15:11 Sheol and Abaddon are before Yahweh- how much more then the hearts of the children of men!-
Death and the grave are therefore not seen as presided over by some lord of the underworld, a Satan-like figure. Rather God is presented as all powerful and alone in control of good and evil; see on :3. Solomon correctly perceives that the hearts of men are what determine their destiny. But he presents this truth without personalizing it, for his own heart was turned away to idolatry.

Pro 15:12 A scoffer doesn’t love to be reproved; he will not go to the wise-
David had spoken of the house of Saul as scoffing at him (s.w. Ps. 119:51). And the line of David had been chosen to replace Saul because he had refused Samuel's reproof. David had accepted reproof and was open to it, notably from Nathan the prophet (Ps. 38:1; 141:5); and so again Solomon's Proverbs are true, but he harnesses them to the justification of himself and his father. But Solomon was only to remain the prophetic son of David if he accepted reproof (s.w. 2 Sam. 7:14); and he didn't. He refused to personalize his own wisdom, as we can.

Pro 15:13 A glad heart makes a cheerful face; but an aching heart breaks the spirit-
Solomon teaches that a broken spirit is a curse (Prov. 15:13; 17:22; 18:14), and an indication that something is wrong with the core of a person; because an unbroken spirit will "make a cheerful face" (Prov. 15:13), and external appearance and having joy in this life was of primary importance to Solomon. He fails to realize that his father David had a broken spirit (Ps. 31:12; 38:8; 44:19; 51:8,17; 69:20- all a fair emphasis), and had thereby understood that Yahweh is especially close to those with a broken spirit (Ps. 34:18; 147:13), indeed the Gospel is for the broken spirited, and the broken hearted are not to be mocked (Ps. 109:16).

Pro 15:14 The heart of one who has understanding seeks knowledge, but the mouths of fools feed on folly-
Again the message is that wisdom is manifested in terms of who a person seeks as their teacher. This is indeed true, confirmed by 2 Tim. 4:3. But as ever there is the subtext, that anyone who refuses to accept Solomon as the teacher of Israel is foolish. And yet Solomon was himself morally compromised by his fleshly lifestyle.

Pro 15:15 All the days of the afflicted are wretched, but one who has a cheerful heart enjoys a continual feast-
Again, this is typical of the simplistic dualism of Solomon. The wise have a continual feast, whereas the unwise live wretched lives. But this is simply not true to spiritual reality, and the Bible is full of lament that the wicked have a great life now whilst the righteous suffer, with the final resolution of things only made at the last day. But Solomon assumes that he is the Messianic seed of David and his kingdom is God's Kingdom, and therefore the reward for wisdom has to be immediately in this life.

Pro 15:16 Better is little with the fear of Yahweh, than great treasure with trouble-
This is true, but it is in tension with Solomon's idea that increased wealth comes as a blessing for wisdom. Perhaps LXX is therefore more accurate, speaking of the size of an inheritance: "Better is a small portion...". This may refer to Solomon's tribe of Judah not having the largest portion or inheritance, a source of tension between Judah and Ephraim.

Pro 15:17 Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a fattened calf with hatred-
The  blindness of Solomon is driven home time and again. The Proverbs which lament the rich man who has bitterness in his family life no doubt came true of Solomon in later life. He is a parade example of knowing Divine truth but living the very opposite.

Perhaps Solomon has in view the "hatred" of his brother Amnon (2 Sam. 13:15). The word for "hatred" is used by David in the Psalms, about both the house of Saul and also Solomon's half brothers (see on Ps. 25:19; 103:9; 109:5). All these were contenders to Solomon's throne, and he appears to here condemn them as fools who shall therefore be condemned. This constant focus upon the judgment of others led Solomon to be quite unaware of his personal responsibility to judgment himself. 

Pro 15:18 A wrathful man stirs up contention, but one who is slow to anger appeases strife-
Solomon seems to overlook the fact that his father David was known as a "wrathful man" (s.w. 2 Sam. 11:20), who was hardly "slow to anger", as witnessed by his behaviour at the time of Nabal's provocation. He refuses to see any weakness in his father, and instead presents him as the wise and righteous man.   

Pro 15:19 The way of the sluggard is like a thorn patch, but the path of the upright is a highway-
The Proverbs contain repeated condemnation of laziness. Lack of a zealous work ethic is a rejection of wisdom, according to Solomon. As Solomon explains in Ecc. 1, he was an active person, not lazy by nature. And yet he lacked spirituality. He claimed that his service of God was due to his spirituality, but it was in reality merely a semblance of serving God when it was really just reinforcing his own personality type. His mocking of the "sluggard" or "lazy one" is so frequent (Prov. 6:6,9; 10:26; 13:4; 15:19; 19:24; 20:4; 21:25; 22:13; 24:30; 26:13-16). But it is a reflection of his own works-based approach to righteousness; the 'wise' "do" good things, and the wicked don't do enough good things. Personal spiritual mindedness and relationship with God are simply not emphasized.

Pro 15:20 A wise son makes a father glad, but a foolish man despises his mother-
This is true, but Solomon saw himself as the supremely wise man, who made his father David glad. And he may also have in mind how his rival half brother Absalom had reduced David his father to tears, through his unwisdom.

Pro 15:21 Folly is joy to one who is void of wisdom, but a man of understanding keeps his way straight-
Solomon thinks of the righteous as walking unflinchingly forward in wisdom, never turning to the right or left, refusing to be distracted by any wicked person who suggests walking another way (Prov. 9:15 "to call travellers who go directly on their way"). This approach fails to take account of the simple fact that righteous people sin and stray from the direct path every day, and are saved finally into God's Kingdom by grace alone. That is all something Solomon failed to have any grasp of, whereas David his father did. Prov. 11:5 makes the somewhat tautological statement that "the righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way", s.w. Prov. 4:25 "fix your gaze directly before you". This contrasts with how David uses the word in Ps. 5:8: "Lead me, O Yahweh... make Your way straight [s.w. direct] before my face". The same statement of God directing in the straight way is found in Is. 45:13; Jer. 18:4 s.w. Solomon didn't see this need for the Spirit of God to direct his path because he assumed that mere possession of Divine truth would itself keep him in the way; hence he teaches that "understanding" makes a man walk "directly" (Prov. 15:21). And he failed miserably because of that arrogant position.

Pro 15:22 Where there is no counsel, plans fail; but in a multitude of counsellors they are established-
But Solomon disobeyed this, reflecting in Ecc. 4:13 how he had become the king who wouldn’t be admonished / counselled.

Pro 15:23 Joy comes to a man as a result of the reply of his mouth. How good is an appropriate word at the right time!-
This is true, but gives rise to a whiff of smug, self congratulatory complacency. For it is as if Solomon see himself and the wise as joyful or happy with themselves because they had used words rightly to others. Solomon fails to appreciate that spiritual reality is not so simplistic; James is nearer the mark when he writes that we cannot seem to always control our tongues (James 3:1-5). Whereas Solomon is smug at the thought that he always gave the right and appropriate reply.

Pro 15:24 The path of life spirals upward for the wise, to keep him from going downward to Sheol-
Solomon elsewhere clearly understands sheol as the grave, and not some place of punishment for the wicked at their death. So his idea is that the wise would be kept from death, perhaps violent death, in their lifetimes. But as Solomon himself got older and approached death, he realized that death was an inevitable factor in every human life; and hence Ecclesiastes is full of reflection that death means that wisdom or unwisdom is ultimately a vain choice. This all arose because Solomon wrongly assumed that this life is the time for reward and punishment for wisdom or unwisdom. He had no perspective on a future day of judgment and eternal reward. These things were clearly understood from Abraham to David, but he chose not to accept that message. But it is indeed true that there is an upward spiral in spiritual life for the wise, empowered in our days by the activity of the Spirit in human life.

Pro 15:25 Yahweh will uproot the house of the proud, but He will keep the widow’s borders intact-
This is true, but the house of Solomon had competed for the throne against other families / houses. And he here alludes to that, assuming all the competing houses had been punished for their pride. But that didn't mean Solomon was the humble, wise, righteous one as he assumed. The defence of the widow alludes to David being willing to do this in 2 Sam. 14:5. There may also be an allusion to David promising not to destroy the house of Saul (1 Sam. 24:21); but Solomon considers that Yahweh would do this.

Pro 15:26 Yahweh detests the thoughts of the wicked, but the thoughts of the pure are pleasing-
"Abomination" [s.w. "detests"] is the common word for idols (e.g. Dt. 7:25,26). Idolatry is here interpreted as things like pride and telling lies (:17). These seven things are the essence of idolatry. There is a recurring nature to them, just as idols got a grip on the mind of the worshipper. Solomon often uses the word for quiet, secret sins, words and the matters of the heart, internal attitudes and judgments (Prov. 11:1,20; 12:22; 13:19; 15:26; 16:5; 17:15; 20:10,23; 24:9; 26:25; 28:9; 29:27). And this of course is the essence of idolatry in our age; this is the practical force to us of all Biblical teaching about idolatry.

Pro 15:27 He who is greedy for gain troubles his own house, but he who hates bribes will live-
The initial reference would be to Achan who loved and coveted wealth and thereby troubled Israel and his own house (s.w. 1 Chron. 2:7). But Solomon always has some self justification in his agenda in the Proverbs, and he surely has in mind how Saul troubled Israel (1 Sam. 14:29 s.w.), and was therefore replaced by the line of David through Solomon.

Pro 15:28 The heart of the righteous weighs answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes out evil-
Solomon repeatedly condemns "the mouth of the wicked" (Prov. 10:6,11,32; 11:11; 12:6; 15:28; 19:28). All he says is true enough, but he clearly enough has in view how his father David had condemned the supporters of Saul and Absalom as having "the mouth of the wicked" (Ps. 109:2). And these were the groups who were threatening his power and throne. Solomon presents himself by implication as having the mouth of the just / righteous. And yet we must note that David too had spoken multiple words of deceit in relation to the murder of Uriah. Indeed the phrase is used in Is. 53:9 as if the Lord Jesus was the only man who didn't have a "mouth of deceit". Solomon like David was in denial of the fact that we all sin with our mouths, as James makes clear in James 3:1-3.

Pro 15:29 Yahweh is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous-
"The Lord is far  from  the  wicked:  but  He  heareth  the prayer of the righteous". This implies that God is too physically far away from the wicked to hear their prayer. Ps. 10:1 is one of the many references in the Psalms to God being physically far away when a prayer is not answered: "Why standest Thou afar off, O Lord? Why hidest Thou Thyself in times of trouble?". This is the language of limitation- God Himself hears every sound of our lips, including the prayers of the wicked, which He says are like smoke in His nostrils and an annoyance to Him. So if our prayers are heard when God is 'near' us, does it not follow that when our Angel is physically near us, then our prayer is more quickly heard? Hence Jesus' Angel was physically with Him in Gethsemane in order to encourage Him in prayer. Once we accept that prayer goes first to an Angel, then this suggestion looks more sensible.

LXX adds "Let the heart of a man think justly, that his steps may be rightly ordered of God". This suggests that the thinking of man is confirmed by God. This has ever been the work of the Holy Spirit.

Pro 15:30 The light of the eyes rejoices the heart; good news gives health to the bones-
The Hebrew isn't clear, and perhaps the GNB may be closer to the sense: "Smiling faces make you happy, and good news makes you feel better". The immediate context in :31,32 is about the positive result of hearing wisdom, so the idea may be that if Solomon smiled on a person and they received his gospel or good news, then the person would be happy; whereas if his words were refused, there would be grief (:32). But again we note that the emphasis is upon blessing right now in this life, with no perspective of a future eternal Kingdom as the time of blessing.

Pro 15:31 The ear that listens to reproof lives, and will be at home among the wise-
This appears to be an out of context allusion to David's words in Ps. 38:14, reflecting on his sin with Bathsheba, and how he felt unable to give reproof to others: "Yes, I am as a man who doesn’t hear, in whose mouth are no reproofs". Solomon was obsessed with David his father, speaking hundreds of times of "David my father". But he failed to have his humility; he endlessly dishes out reproofs in Proverbs, indeed he sees his Proverbs as reproofs to people (e.g. Prov. 1:25; 6:23; 10:17; 12:1; 13:18; 15:5,31; 29:15); whereas David humbly felt unable to do so because of his awareness of his sins. And at the time David wrote the Proverbs, when he received wisdom at the start of his reign, he was sinning likewise [in essence] by marrying foreign women. 

Pro 15:32 He who refuses correction despises his own soul, but he who listens to reproof gets understanding-
Solomon has so much to say about "correction" or "instruction" coming from the possession of wisdom (Prov. 8:10,33; 10:17; 12:1; 13:1,24; 15:5,10,32; 16:22; 19:20,27; 22:15; 23:12,13). But in the end he chastised or corrected his people by whipping them (s.w. 1 Kings 12:11,14). Solomon initially asked for wisdom in order to guide his people, but he ended up whipping / physically chastising them into conformity with his wishes rather than allowing wisdom to correct. Again, he was playing God; for it is God through His wisdom who chastises, and not man. But Solomon thought he was effectively God to his people. This is why Solomon argues that servants cannot be corrected by words (Prov. 29:19 s.w.), and a child must be physically chastised (s.w. Prov. 19:18; 29:17 cp. Prov. 13:24; 23:13), regardless of his screams of pain. This kind of thing is a denial of his claims elsewhere that it is Divine wisdom which chastises / corrects, and such correction is from God and not man. Solomon's final description of himself as an old and foolish king who refuses to be admonished says it all (Ecc. 4:13); he admonishes others (s.w. Ecc. 12:12), but refuses to be admonished or corrected by his own wisdom. He failed to personalize it.  

Pro 15:33 The fear of Yahweh teaches wisdom; before honour is humility
This is true, but Solomon supposes that wisdom is received by firstly fearing Yahweh. Solomon was given wisdom as a gift, by grace. But once he possessed it, he begins to reason as if he received it because of some prior righteousness on his part. He abused the gifts of grace, just as we can.