Proverbs 15 – “Various Sayings; Proper Speech; Accepting Rebuke”

coupleeatingwatermelonHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Proverbs 15 is a collection of thirty-three individual sayings. While there is no unifying theme to the chapter, certain verses focus on topics such as speech, accepting rebuke, prayer, and taking things into perspective.

II. Photo
Verse 17 speaks about the importance of love: “Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened ox where there is hate.”

III. Important Verses
v. 1: A gentle response allays wrath; A harsh word provokes anger.
v. 3: The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, Observing the bad and the good.
v. 8: The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright pleases Him.
v. 15: All the days of a poor man are wretched, But contentment is a feast without end.
v. 16: Better a little with fear of the LORD Than great wealth with confusion.
v. 17: Better a meal of vegetables where there is love Than a fattened ox where there is hate.
v. 18: A hot-tempered man provokes a quarrel; A patient man calms strife.
v. 22: Plans are foiled for want of counsel, But they succeed through many advisers.
v. 23: A ready response is a joy to a man, And how good is a word rightly timed!
v. 25: The LORD will tear down the house of the proud, But He will establish the homestead of the widow.
v. 27: He who pursues ill-gotten gain makes trouble for his household; He who spurns gifts will live long.
v. 28: The heart of the righteous man rehearses his answer, But the mouth of the wicked blurts out evil things.

IV. Outline
1-2. Speech
3. Omniscience
4. Speech
5. Accepting rebuke
6. Reward of the righteous/wicked
7. The wise/foolish
8. Prayer
9. Righteousness/wickedness
10. Accepting rebuke
11. Omniscience
12. Accepting rebuke
13. Emotions
14. The wise/foolish
15. Wealth and happiness
16. Fear of the Lord
17. Love
18. A hot temper
19. Laziness
20. The two sons
21. The wise/foolish
22. Counsel
23. A witty remark
24. The wise
25. Divine anger/sympathy
26. Evil thoughts
27. Greed
28. Speech: deliberation
29. Prayer
30. Good news
31-32. Accepting discipline
33. Fear of the Lord; Humility

V. Comment
Proverbs 15 is a collection of thirty-three sayings. While the chapter continues to use antithetical parallelism (like the previous five), that type of parallelism begins to dwindle. For example, antithetical parallelism is absent in vv. 3, 10-11, 12, 23-24, 30-31, and 33. In terms of the chapter’s structure, there are certain catchwords that unite juxtaposed verses: body organs in vv. 2-4, tov “good” in vv. 2-3, “abomination to the Lord” in vv. 8-9 (and 26), and shema’ “hear” in vv. 29-32. Also, the word lev “heart” plays a prominent role, appearing in vv. 7, 11, 13 (2x), 14, 15, 21, 28, 30, and 32.

Verbal communication is a recurring topic in the chapter, appearing in vv. 1, 2, 4, 7, 23, 26, and 28. V. 1 says, “A gentle response allays wrath; A harsh word provokes anger.” The notion that unfriendly responses only cause more problems is prevalent in the book of Proverbs. For example, two verses speak about how one can appease the harsh rulings of a king: 25:15 says, “Through forbearance a ruler may be won over; A gentle tongue can break bones,” and 16:14 says “The king’s wrath is a messenger of death, But a wise man can appease it.”

Another verse that deals with verbal communication is v. 23: “A ready response is a joy to a man, And how good is a word rightly timed!” Murphy points out that “one of the ideals of the sage was to have the right word at the right time, as this verse indicates.” For example, see 10:11: “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, But lawlessness covers the mouth of the wicked.” Our chapter also points out that one should deliberate before speaking: “The heart of the righteous man rehearses his answer, But the mouth of the wicked blurts out evil things” (v. 28). Also see v. 18: “A hot-tempered man provokes a quarrel; A patient man calms strife.”

Chapter 15 begins a new trend in the book’s “core” (ch. 10-29): it has sayings which use God’s proper name. One of them is v. 3, “The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, Observing the bad and the good.” The theme of omniscience is taken up again in v. 11: “Sheol and Abaddon lie exposed to the LORD, How much more the minds of men!” Prov. 24:12 turns this message into a warning, “If you say, ‘We knew nothing of it,’ Surely He who fathoms hearts will discern the truth, He who watches over your life will know it, And He will pay each man as he deserves.” In regards to the “eyes” of God, see a similar usage in Prov. 22:12 and 24:18.

Another verse that incorporates God’s name is v. 8: “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, But the prayer of the upright pleases Him.” This messsage, that the sacrificer/suppliant is more important than the sacrifice/prayer, is also seen in v. 29: “The LORD is far from the wicked, But He hears the prayer of the righteous.” It is a common theme in the prophets, e.g. Isa. 1:11-17: “‘What need have I of all your sacrifices?’ Says the LORD. ‘I am sated with burnt offerings of rams, And suet of fatlings, And blood of bulls; And I have no delight In lambs and he-goats. And when you lift up your hands, I will turn My eyes away from you; Though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are stained with crime… Wash yourselves clean; Put your evil doings Away from My sight. Cease to do evil; Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; Defend the cause of the widow.”

V. 15 is an example of the book’s no-nonsense approach to poverty: “All the days of a poor man are wretched, But contentment is a feast without end.” The book of Proverbs is honest: the rich have it much better than the poor. For example, 22:7 says, “The rich rule the poor, And the borrower is a slave to the lender,” 10:15 says, “The wealth of a rich man is his fortress; The poverty of the poor is his ruin,” and 14:20 says, “A pauper is despised even by his peers, But a rich man has many friends.” But, as shall be seen, our chapter also says that things should be taken into perspective.

Vv. 16-17 incorporate the “better… than…” formula: “Better a little with fear of the LORD Than great wealth with confusion. Better a meal of vegetables where there is love Than a fattened ox where there is hate.” Murphy writes, “The “better” saying is a common literary form in wisdom literature… [it] is made [in] order to express a paradox, to overturn what would normally be considered a plus, e.g., riches, into a minus.” Other examples are 16:8, 16, 19; 17:1; 28:6. It is also interesting that vv. 16-17 show a strong affinity to The Instruction of Amenemope (ca. 1200 BCE, see Context of Scripture 1.47 section 9 lines 5-8): “Better is poverty in the hand of the god, Than wealth in the storehouse; Better is bread with a happy heart Than wealth with vexation.” The Instruction of Amenemope’s relation to the book of Proverbs will be further dealt with in ch. 22.

Vv. 16-17 seem to put affluence into a broader perspective. While many verses promise wealth to the righteous, no proverb says it all. For example, our v. 6 says, “In the house of the righteous there is much treasure, But in the harvest of the wicked there is trouble.” However, v. 16 makes a caveat: not all righteous people will be wealthy, “Better a little with fear of the LORD Than great wealth with confusion.” Indeed, wisdom passages such as Eccl. 5:9-11 express an adverse view of wealth: “A lover of money never has his fill of money, nor a lover of wealth his fill of income. That too is futile. As his substance increases, so do those who consume it; what, then, does the success of its owner amount to but feasting his eyes? A worker’s sleep is sweet, whether he has much or little to eat; but the rich man’s abundance doesn’t let him sleep.” For a verse similar to v. 17 see 17:1, “Better a dry crust with peace Than a house full of feasting with strife.”

V. 22 speaks about seeking advice, “Plans are foiled for want of counsel, But they succeed through many advisers.” Also see 13:10, “Arrogance yields nothing but strife; Wisdom belongs to those who seek advice.” Yet, again Murphy points out that no proverb says it all: even plans can go wrong. For example, see 14:12, “A road may seem right to a man, But in the end it is a road to death.” Also see 19:21.

V. 25 speaks about divine punishment and mercy: “The LORD will tear down the house of the proud, But He will establish the homestead (gevul) of the widow.” The word gevul seems to refer to property (cf. 23:10). Murphy writes, “the widow was particularly vulnerable in Israelite society, since she had none but herself to mount a defense against encroachments and oppression, as the prophets frequently indicate, e.g., Isa 1:23; Jer 7:6.” Also see Deut. 24:20-21 which allots produce to the widow, “When you beat down the fruit of your olive trees, do not go over them again; that shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not pick it over again; that shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.”

V.  27 says, “He who pursues ill-gotten gain (botzea’ betza’) makes trouble for his household; He who spurns gifts (mattanot) will live long.” The antithetical parallelism indicates that the word mattanot “gifts” has a negative connotation, i.e. they are a bribe. Waltke points out that the word mattanah, which usually means “gift,” is synomous with shochad “bribe” in wisdom literature. For example, 18:16 speaks about gaining favor with a ruler by means of “gifts”: “A man’s gift (mattan) eases his way And gives him access to the great.” Similarly, 21:14 says, “A gift (mattan) in secret subdues anger, A bribe (shachad) in private, fierce rage.” Note how mattan is parallel to shachad in this last verse. Waltke also notes that the term botzea’ betza’,  which was used in the first half of the verse, is also used to describe the murderous thieves of ch. 1 (cf. 1:19).

VII. Works Used

(See Commentaries page)

Murphy, Proverbs (Word Biblical Commentary)

Waltke, The Book of Proverbs I (New International Commentary on the Old Testament)

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