New European Commentary


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Pro 19:1 Better is the poor who walks in his integrity than he who is perverse in his lips and is a fool-
Solomon often mocks the poor as poor because they are unwise, and argues that wisdom brings wealth. In this he denies the wisdom he here states; that poor people can still have integrity. Or perhaps he has in view his father David, "the poor" in his wilderness years (1 Sam. 18:23; Ps. 34:6), who 'walked in his integrity', as David often says about himself in the Psalms. The fool who has perverse lips would then refer to Nabal, meaning "fool". The fact the hotheaded David was restrained from sinning against Nabal by grace alone was overlooked by Solomon. He refuses to discern grace in his father's life, and seeks only to highlight his righteousness. Whereas David himself so often alludes to his own weaknesses and sins.

Pro 19:2 It isn’t good to have zeal without knowledge; nor being hasty with one’s feet and missing the way-
This is quoted in Rom. 10:2 about those in Israel who miss the way of the Lord Jesus, who is ultimately "the way". The fact the Proverbs are so often alluded to and quoted in later scripture confirms that they are indeed inspired by God; but Solomon presents them in ways which clearly justify himself and his father. David's feet almost ran and hasted to evil (Ps. 73:2), yet Solomon seems to overlook this. Solomon's proverbs seem to fail to address this complexity of situations because of his own self-righteousness; and yet all he says is inspired and true so far as it goes.   

Pro 19:3 The foolishness of man subverts his way; his heart rages against Yahweh-
LXX "The folly of a man spoils his ways: and he blames God in his heart". "Subverts" is the word for "overthrows". But God overthrows the wicked (s.w. Prov. 21:12). Solomon thereby equates the foolish with the wicked. But he seems to classify as foolish anyone who doesn't accept his take on life, or is ignorant of the wisdom he teaches. Ignorance, and even intellectual failure, is not of itself wickedness. Solomon has such a dualistic view of things that he assumes anyone who is not wise and thereby wealthy to be foolish and thereby wicked. But amongst God's people, things are not so black and white. And we are not to judge, largely because we simply cannot judge.   

Pro 19:4 Wealth adds many friends, but the poor is separated from his friend-
This is the word used in Prov. 18:1 for how the unwise separates himself from his friends; the LXX of Prov. 18:1 makes it clearest: "A man who wishes to separate from friends seeks excuses; but at all times he will be liable to reproach". The same word is used in Prov. 19:4: "The poor is separated from his friend". Separation from others is seen as unwisdom, and therefore associated with poverty; for Solomon thinks that wisdom brings wealth and unwisdom brings poverty. Solomon presents a picture of any deviation from the society which he presided over being punished; by poverty, and being reproached as unwise.

Pro 19:5 A false witness shall not be unpunished; he who pours out lies shall not go free-
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 19:6 Many will entreat the favour of a ruler, and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts-
See on :7. Solomon surely has himself in view, the ruler who was visited by representatives from many nations, wanting his favour. He contrasts this with the poor who have no friends (:7). The idea is that his wealth was a result of his wisdom; whereas God had given him wealth as a gift of grace. But he abused that grace by arguing that it was a result of his wisdom.

Pro 19:7 All the relatives of the poor shun him: how much more do his friends avoid him! He pursues them with pleas, but they are gone-
Here we have one of many examples of where Solomon sees poverty very negatively, coming as a result of unwisdom just as wealth supposedly comes as a result of wisdom. And yet in other Proverbs he urges pity to be shown to the poor. His attitude to poverty is very conflicted; see on :17. He compares the unpopular poor man with the popular rich man (:6); as if a chief advantage if wisdom is that it makes the wise popular with people because of the wealth it gives. This is a very human and secular view, devoid of any real spirituality.

Pro 19:8 He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who keeps understanding shall find good-
Whilst this is true so far as it goes, it presents a selfishness in wanting wisdom. Wisdom is to be gotten from the motive of self love, because it is profitable for this life. This reflects how Solomon misses completely the idea of living for the glory of God both now and eternally. He uses the same term for 'finding good' about how he found his wives (Prov. 18:22).  He assumes therefore that the mere possession of wisdom / correct understanding meant that the wives he found must be "good"; but his subsequent experience with them shows how wrong he was.

Pro 19:9 A false witness shall not be unpunished; he who utters lies shall perish-
See on :5. Solomon is alluding to his father David's parting commandments to Solomon to destroy all the opposition to him (1 Kings 2:6,9). So whilst what Solomon writes is true, he is harnessing Divine truth to his own agenda of self justification. And we who claim to hold His truths must take warning.

Pro 19:10 Delicate living is not appropriate for a fool, much less for a servant to have rule over princes-
Ecc. 10:7 indicates Solomon finally didn't think Prov. 19:10 was  true in practice: “I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth”. He thought that in reality, servants do rule over princes. Although he retained his theoretical wisdom as a teaching position, his own heart was far from it.

Pro 19:11 The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger; it is his glory to overlook an offence-
We wonder how Solomon could write this without thinking of his hot tempered father who refused to overlook the offence of Nabal, and was about to murder him and his family. But he appears to whitewash his father, and instead has in view how David overlooked the offences of the likes of Shimei at one point; although he later asked Solomon to ensure he murdered Shimei.

"Overlook" is literally 'to pass over', and the Hebrew is used for "transgression" (s.w. Josh. 23:16; 2 Kings 18:12; Jer. 2:20). God's response to human 'passing over' is at times to 'pass over' it, to overlook it. Other times He deals with sin differently, atoning for it, forgiving it, reconciling His people... but as a Father has compassion on His children, so He likewise overlooks much human failure. Indeed this  'passing by' transgression [s.w. 'overlook'] is what makes Yahweh unique- there is no other god like Him in this (Mic. 7:18). And this is to feature in our range of options in dealing with human sin. To copy God in this will be our "glory".

Pro 19:12 The king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion, but his favour is like dew on the grass-
At the  end  of his days, Solomon recognized that although  he  had  loved  the  theory  of wisdom, the image of a spiritual  life, the wisdom of God had never really impacted his soul: "I said, I will be wise (referring back to his request for wisdom  in  1  Kings 3); but it was far from me" (Ecc. 7:23). His request  for wisdom had only been so that he could do the job of leading  Israel, living out the parental expectation of his father, whom he admits in Proverbs 4 had taught him to ask for wisdom.  In Prov. 19:12 he speaks as if his own wisdom was like the dew coming down- as if he felt that the mere possession of wisdom made him the Messiah figure which his father had so hoped for him to be in Ps. 72:6. And he says as much in Prov. 29:3: “Whoso loveth wisdom [exactly what Solomon was commended for doing] rejoiceth his father”.

Pro 19:13 A foolish son is the calamity of his father. A wife’s quarrels are a continual dripping-
"Destructive" or "wickedness" is the word used of the wickedness of Ahithophel and Absalom (Ps. 55:11). Solomon's Proverbs seem in places a justification of himself as king over his brother Absalom. He uses the same word to speak of "transgressors are taken in their own wickedness / destructiveness" (Prov. 11:6); how a liar [Absalom] listens to a 'destructive' tongue [in taking advice from Ahithophel] (Prov. 17:4); and how a foolish son [Absalom] is the calamity or destruction of his father (Prov. 19:13).

Pro 19:14 House and riches are an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from Yahweh-
David had left Solomon an inheritance of both riches (1 Chron. 29:28) and a "house" or family line to continue. But Solomon liked to think that his many wives were "prudent", and were "from Yahweh"- when they were idolaters who were not of Yahweh, and who turned his heart away from Yahweh to their gods. This arrogant perception and persuasion led Solomon to liken his illicit Gentile girlfriend in the Song of Solomon to a true Israelite, describing her in the language of the tabernacle and likening her to various attractive places within Israel. All Solomon writes is true, but he clearly always has himself in mind as the parade fulfilment of them; and in this he was so wrong.

Pro 19:15 Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep; the idle person shall suffer hunger-
Again Solomon's works centred approach leads him to condemn laziness and sloth. In Prov. 10:3 Solomon has taught that the righteous will never "suffer hunger" (s.w.). So he considers idleness to be unrighteousness. Righteousness is thereby equated with doing many works. But this fails to appreciate that there is none truly righteous, at times God suffers men to hunger (s.w. Dt. 8:3) that He might teach them; and blessing in the end is all of grace and not of works, lest any man [like Solomon] should boast in their works, as he does in Ecc. 1.

Pro 19:16 He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul, but he who is disrespectful in his ways shall die-
Solomon has no eternal perspective in his thinking. He assumes that he is the judge of all, and his kingdom is the promised Messianic Kingdom of God on earth. He presents untimely death in this life as the result for disrespect to the commandments. But in fact the wicked prosper, and the ultimate outcome of human life is not now, but in the judgment of the last day. In contrast, David wanted God to "keep his soul"" (e.g. Ps. 25:20), rather than Solomon's emphasis upon a person keeping their own soul through obedience.

Pro 19:17 He who has pity on the poor lends to Yahweh; He will reward him-
Solomon on one hand teaches pity towards the poor (Prov. 14:21,31; 19:17; 28:8). But on the other, he mocks the poor as being poor because of their unwisdom, believing that wealth is given in response to wisdom. He is very conflicted in his attitude to the poor. The Divine revelation of truth to him was clearly that he should be generous to the poor. But he fences against this in other places by saying that the poor are being punished for their unwisdom. So like us when we encounter need that requires our generosity, he hedges his position very carefully; rather than accepting the simple force of the wisdom given to him, that pity to the poor as it were transfers our wealth from earth to heaven, and we will receive it back in due time (Prov. 19:17). And he is quite obsessive about not being collateral for 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 (Prov. 6:1-3; 11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26; 27:13- all quite some emphasis). 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). 

Another approach is to understand Solomon's positive comments about helping the poor as historical allusion to his father David.  "The poor" would easily refer to David (1 Sam. 18:23; Ps. 34:6).

Pro 19:18 Discipline your son while there is hope; don’t be a willing party to his death-
As will be explained on :20, this is true so far as it goes, and is a fair enough commentary upon the Mosaic instruction to stone to death a disobedient son. But Solomon took this idea of physical chastisement too far, to the point of not giving due weight to the power of God Himself through His wisdom to discipline or chastise a person.

Pro 19:19 A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty, for if you rescue him, you must do it again-
Solomon had asked for wisdom in order to know how to judge Israel. And so many of his Proverbs refer to judgment. But there is no grace in what he says; he frequently insists that the judgment for sin and unwisdom must be carried out, and any 'rescue' of the man by grace is pointless and wrong. But he totally fails to appreciate that his father had been saved by grace for his hot blooded intention to murder Nabal and all his family, and forgiven by grace alone for his sin against Bathsheba and Uriah, when the just penalty was death. He had psychologically, subconsciously whitewashed his father David; he has no sense of grace and reflecting gratitude for grace in merciful judgment of others.

Pro 19:20 Listen to counsel and receive instruction, so that you may be wise in your very end-
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 19:21 There are many plans in a man’s heart, but Yahweh’s counsel will prevail-
Yahweh's counsel is seen as the wisdom which Solomon was teaching (:20). 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 19:22 That which makes a man to be desired is his kindness; a poor man is better than a liar-
Spiritual ambition means that we will desire to do some things which we can’t physically fulfil- and yet they will be counted to us. Abraham is spoken of as having offered up Isaac- his intention was counted as the act. And Prov. 19:22 RV appropriately comments: “The desire of a man is the measure of his kindness”. It is all accepted according to what a man has, not what he has not.   Faith is perfected / matured by the process of works (James 2:22,23). The works, the upward spiral of a life lived on the basis of faith, develop the initial belief in practice.

Pro 19:23 The fear of Yahweh leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm-
But as the book of Job teaches, this is simply not the case. Solomon insists on a simplistic form of the prosperity Gospel, whereby the wise have a wonderful life with no "harm", and the unwise are always falling into sin and misery. But the wicked prosper; in this life. Solomon fails to appreciate that there is judgment to come, and only then will there be "life" indeed granted.

Pro 19:24 The lazy buries his hand in the dish; he will not so much as bring it to his mouth again-
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 19:25 Flog a scoffer, and the simple will learn prudence; rebuke one who has understanding, and he will gain knowledge-
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 to "learn prudence" at Samuel's rebuke. David had accepted rebuke 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 19:26 He who robs his father and drives away his mother, is a son who causes shame and brings reproach-
Solomon surely has in view his half brother Absalom, who for years had garnered support from the men of Israel in return for promises that he would judge in their favour if they helped him overthrow David. And yet the problems with Absalom were all prophesied by Nathan as a Divinely raised up punishment and consequence for the sin of David with Bathsheba, Solomon's mother. But Solomon whitewashes his parents, and always puts the blame for the consequences and the trouble in the family solely upon the behaviour of his half brothers.

Pro 19:27 If you stop listening to instruction, my son, you will stray from the words of knowledge-
This may sound axiomatic and stating the obvious. Hence LXX "A son who ceases to attend to the instruction of a father will cherish evil designs"; GNB "My child, when you stop learning, you will soon neglect what you already know", AV "Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge". "Stray" is the word used for Saul straying from the words of instruction given him by Samuel (1 Sam. 26:21), whereas David kept listening to it. Again we see Solomon always seeking to justify his father David, and to criticize his competitors in the house of Saul.

Pro 19:28 A corrupt witness mocks justice, and the mouth of the wicked gulps down iniquity-
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.

True as the Proverbs are which condemn "a worthless / wicked person" (Prov. 6:12; 16:27; 19:28), again we have a subtext of Solomon seeking to justify himself and his father David, and to criticize the various competitors to Solomon's throne. "A worthless person" is the term used for Nabal (1 Sam. 25:17), those in David's camp who were not fully supportive of David (1 Sam. 30:22), Sheba who plotted to overthrow the Davidic line as king (2 Sam. 20:1), and particularly of those who wanted to overthrow Solomon as king (2 Chron. 13:7).

Pro 19:29 Penalties are prepared for scoffers, and beatings for the backs of fools
Solomon seems to justify the rich treating the poor harshly (see on Prov. 18:23). He himself treated his people as fools, beating them (1 Kings 12:11). And so often his Proverbs draw simplistic caricatures of the folly and laziness of the poor. He came to assume that his people were fools, and he could abuse them therefore, at will. Those who are lifted up with pride at their possession of "truth" often come to despise and abuse others.