Proverbs 14 – “Sayings; Wisdom and Folly”

sad_manHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Proverbs 14 contains thirty-five sayings, most of which contrast a particular concept with its opposite (e.g. patience with impatience). Many of the proverbs contrast the wise with the foolish, and others deal with various topics such as witnesses, emotions, fear of the Lord, charity, and a king.

II. Photo
Verse 10 speaks about how certain feelings, both sorrowful and joyous, cannot be communicated to others: “The heart alone knows its bitterness, And no outsider can share in its joy.”

III. Important Verses

v. 4: If there are no oxen the crib is clean, But a rich harvest comes through the strength of the ox.
v. 10: The heart alone knows its bitterness, And no outsider can share in its joy.
v. 12: A road may seem right to a man, But in the end it is a road to death.
v. 13: The heart may ache even in laughter, And joy may end in grief.
v. 20: A pauper is despised even by his peers, But a rich man has many friends.
v. 23: From all toil there is some gain, But idle chatter is pure loss.
v. 29: Patience results in much understanding; Impatience gets folly as its portion.
v. 31: He who withholds what is due to the poor affronts his Maker; He who shows pity for the needy honors Him.

IV. Outline
1. Wise women
2. Fear of the Lord
3. Speech
4. Perspective
5. Witnesses
6. Getting wisdom
7. Stay away from the fool
8. The wise/foolish
9. The wise/foolish
10. Emotions
11. The future
12. The righteous/wicked
13. Emotions
14. Reward
15-18. The wise/foolish
19. Divine justice
20. Wealth
21. Hatred
22. The righteous/wicked
23-24. The reward for hard work
25. Witnesses
26-27. Fear of the Lord
28. A ruler and his people
29. Patience
30. Jealousy
31. Giving to the poor
32. The wicked/righteous
33. The wise/foolish
34. National righteousness
35. Pleasing a king

V. Comment
Proverbs 14 is a collection of thirty-five sayings, most of which employ antithetical parallelism. While there is no single theme that unifies the chapter, twelve of the thirty-five sayings deal with wisdom and folly. Other topics are witnesses, emotions, charity, and the king. In terms of structure, catchwords serve to unite individual verses: see the word da’at in vv. 6-7, lev in vv. 10, 13-14, ‘acharita in vv. 12-13, re’ehu in vv. 20-21, and “fear of the Lord” in vv. 26-27.

V. 10 speaks about human emotion: “The heart alone knows its bitterness, And no outsider can share in its joy.” Murphy writes (p. 104), “This psychological observation recognizes that ultimately there are certain feelings, both joyous and sorrowful, that cannot be communicated, no matter how much sympathy and understanding may be present. It does not deny that one can identify to some extent with another’s sorrows and joys, but it does imply that such sensitivity has its limits.” It is interesting that God seems to know human emotion better than humans themselves; Prov. 15:11 says, “Sheol and Abaddon lie exposed to the LORD, How much more the hearts of men!”  The complexity of emotions are taken up again in v. 13: “The heart may ache even in laughter, And joy may end in grief.”

V. 12, which is repeated in 16:25, speaks about the uncertainty of the future: “A road may seem right to a man, But in the end it is a road to death.” Taking into account that “no proverb says it all,” it seems that this verse qualifies many of the proverbs that came before it: while Wisdom is generally a path to life, there are no guarantees. A similar qualification is Prov. 3:11-12 which deals with the problem of why the righteous suffer: “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.”

V. 20 contrasts the social situations of the rich and poor: “A pauper is despised even by his peers, But a rich man has many friends.” This viewpoint is frequently mentioned in Wisdom literature. For example, Prov. 19:14 says, “Wealth makes many friends, But a poor man loses his last friend.” Similarly, Prov. 19:6 says, “Many court the favor of a great man, And all are the friends of a dispenser of gifts.” The topic is discussed in Ben Sira too; see 13:21, “A rich man beginning to fall is held up of his friends: but a poor man being down is thrust also away by his friends,” and 13:23, “When a rich man speaketh, every man holdeth his tongue, and, look, what poor man speak, they say, What fellow is this? And if he stumble, they will help to overthrow him.” Thus, according to both Proverbs and Ben Sira, the rich seem to be on an upward spiral while the poor are trapped in a downward spiral.

Vv. 26-27 both speak of the “fear of the Lord” (as does v. 2): “Fear of the LORD is a stronghold, A refuge for a man’s children. Fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, Enabling one to avoid deadly snares.” As noted in ch. 1, “fear of the Lord” seems to be the purpose of the book: the introduction at 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

V. 31 speaks about charity, “He who withholds what is due to the poor affronts his Maker; He who shows pity for the needy honors Him.” A related verse is 22:2, “Rich man and poor man meet; The LORD made them both.” Thus, according to 22:2, God seems to have created the rich with the poor in mind, and vice versa. God also takes care of the poor himself: “Who is like the LORD our God, who, enthroned on high, sees what is below, in heaven and on earth? He raises the poor from the dust, lifts up the needy from the refuse heapto set them with the great, with the great men of His people.” (Ps. 113:5-8)

VI. Works Used

(see commentaries page)

Word Biblical Commentary Proverbs (Murphy)

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