Proverbs 13 is a collection of twenty-five wisdom sayings, most of which contrast two opposites with each other (e.g. the wise and the foolish). While there is an emphasis on teaching/instruction, the chapter does not seem to have a single theme.
One saying gives monetary advice, “Wealth gained quickly will dwindle away, But he who gathers little by little increases it.” (v. 11)
III. Important Verses
v. 3: He who guards his tongue preserves his life; He who opens wide his lips, it is his ruin.
v. 7: One man pretends to be rich and has nothing; Another professes to be poor and has much wealth.
v. 11: Wealth may dwindle to less than nothing, But he who gathers little by little increases it.
v. 20: He who keeps company with the wise becomes wise, But he who consorts with dullards comes to grief.
v. 24: He who spares the rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him early.
4. Reward for hard work
5. The righteous/wicked
7. “Don’t judge a book by its cover”
9. The righteous/wicked
11. Growing wealth
12. Fulfilled expectations
14. The wise one’s teachings
15. Good sense
16. The wise/fool
18. Accepting criticism
20. Good/bad company
21. The righteous/wicked
24. Corporeal punishment
25. Reward/punishment for righteous/wicked
Proverbs 13 is a collection of sayings which, for the most part, employ antithetical parallelism. In terms of structure, there are certain catchwords that unite certain verses, e.g. nefesh in vv. 2-4, and tov/zaddiq/chote’ in vv. 21-22. While verses such as 7 and 11 are not juxtaposed, they are in close proximity to each other and employ the same vocabulary (hon/rav).
The chapter has a number of verses that focus on instruction and discipline. For example, vv. 1 and 24 are both about a father training his son. V. 24 says, “He who spares the rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him early.” This verse reflects a standard view found in the Book of Proverbs, namely that corporeal punishment is to be encouraged. For instance, Prov. 23:13-14 says, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; If you beat him with a rod he will not die. Beat him with a rod And you will save him from the grave” (also see 19:18). V. 24 also reflects the notion that a father’s punishment is a sign of love, cf. 3:11-12: “Do not reject the discipline of the LORD, my son; Do not abhor His rebuke. For whom the LORD loves, He rebukes, As a father the son whom he favors.” Also see Ben Sira 30:1, “He that loveth his son causeth him oft to feel the rod, that he may have joy of him in the end.”
In addition to accepting the discipline of a father, one is to accept the teachings of the wise. V. 20 says, “He who keeps company with the wise becomes wise, But he who consorts with dullards comes to grief,” and v. 14 says, “The instruction of a wise man is a fountain of life, Enabling one to avoid deadly snares.” It is interesting that v. 14 is identical to 14:27 except that “the instruction of a wise man” is replaced by “fear of the Lord”: “Fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, Enabling one to avoid deadly snares.” The term maqor chayim “fountain of life” is a common Wisdom phrase (see 10:11, 16:22).
Besides for instruction/discipline, the chapter deals with various and disparate topics. For example, v. 3 says, “He who guards his tongue preserves his life; He who opens wide his lips, it is his ruin.” Murphy writes, “[Proverbs presents the sage as] the person who exercises self-control, especially as regards speech.” For example, 10:19 says: “Where there is much talking, there is no lack of transgressing, But he who curbs his tongue shows sense.” Also see Eccl. 10:12-14: “A wise man’s talk brings him favor, but a fool’s lips are his undoing. His talk begins as silliness and ends as disastrous madness. Yet the fool talks and talks! A man cannot know what will happen; who can tell him what the future holds?”
V. 7 is an ancient way of saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”: “One man pretends to be rich and has nothing; Another professes to be poor and has much wealth.” It is similar in structure to v. 11:24: “One man gives generously and ends with more; Another stints on doing the right thing and incurs a loss.”
V. 11 is translated by JPS as, “Wealth may dwindle to less than nothing (mehevel yim’at), But he who gathers little by little increases it.” Yet, others (like Murphy) translate the first half as “Wealth gathered in haste counts for little.” According to this translation the verse seems to be saying: “don’t rush to become wealthy, it won’t work.” A similar message can be seen in 28:20: “A dependable man will receive many blessings, But one in a hurry to get rich will not go unpunished.”
In v. 17 we again encounter the messenger: “Harm befalls a wicked messenger; A faithful courier brings healing.” Murphy writes, “In the absence of other means of communication, the role of the messenger was very important… Here the emphasis is upon the wicked character of the messenger who can distort the message, or even work deliberately against the will of the one who is trying to communicate with another.” See the comment to ch. 10 for a further discussion of messengers.
VI. Works Used
(see commentaries page)
Word Biblical Commentary Proverbs (Murphy)