In this chapter there are many admonitions in regards to our speech. A lying tongue could cause one to lose their life, by a reckless tongue great harm can be done to another, by a foolish tongue we reveal our foolishness, and by careful guarded speech or silence we may show a degree of wisdom. We know in this day that talk is cheap but we would do well to reflect upon the words we speak and their importance.
When we become angry it is a natural response to seek retaliation but it is a virtue for us to not respond in the same manner. The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian Church, “when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure.” (1 Corinthians 4:12) This is the meaning here that soft words often diffuse an angry situation but a harsh word will heighten and inflame others to greater anger. Then in verse 2 we see a contrast between the speech of the wise and the foolish. The wise will speak when they have something useful and helpful to say while the fool just speaks without good thought and pours his words out in torrents showing the foolishness of his idle thoughts.
Verse 3 is a testament to God’s all-knowing character. God sees and knows all as a watchman who keeps watch over the thoughts and words of the people.
In verse 4 we again see a reference to the “tree of life,” used here as a refreshment, like the rain on the parched earth. A gentle tongue is soothing to the spirit but perverse speech can break the spirit. Perverseness is turning things upside down. It is as calling the day as night or the light as dark. It is more than loose talk but deliberate lying.
In verse 6 we are told that the righteous will be rewarded with prosperity and the evil one will come to poverty. In verse 8 and 9 we find that the Lord holds as an abomination the worship and ways of the wicked. Verse 8 discusses the worship of the wicked and the worship of the righteous. Verse 9 speaks of work and the manner of living. But neither the worship or work of a person will please the Lord if the heart of the man is a wicked heart. God who knows the deepest depths of death and the abyss has no trouble seeing the shallow hearts of mankind.
We look at the experiences of joy and sorrow in verses 13 and 15. The two lines are not only antithetical in relationship but are two Proverbs that are antithetical to each other. In the first verse a glad heart comes first and in the second the afflicted are in the first line. Both Proverbs suggest the obvious that there is a correlation between what is experienced and the way we feel. The suggestion is that there is a correlation between the way we react to life’s experiences and the way we either rise or fall. If we put on a cheerful face even when we do not feel like it, then we will actually make our condition better. If we mope about, then we only make our situation worse.
There are two interesting comments of comparison in verses 16 and 17. Or it could be seen as better this than that. In verse 16 it is better to be poor and love the Lord and hold Him in reverence than to be rich and have a lot of trouble. Having lots of money is not the way to happiness. Verse 17 has a similar theme. A dinner of herbs is a poor person’s meal while a fattened ox would be seen the epitome of feasting. The difference is found in the contrast between love and hatred.
Ones temper is an important subject in the book of Proverbs. One who loses the temper easily lives in constant strife. A calm tempered person in a calming force in a tempest tossed sea.
We can look at verse 19 in two ways. A lazy man’s road is filled with thorns because he does not travel it much, neither does he keep it clean. Or it could mean that a sluggard’s path is filled with obstacles while the way of the upright’s path is paved and things are smooth for his travel. In verse 20 we see the blessing or curse of a wise or foolish son to his parents. In verse 21 we see that folly is not mere foolishness but is evil. The man of folly really enjoys doing what is evil.
The value of counsel is emphasized in verse 22. Perhaps this verse was to justify the presence of counselors in the court of the king. Whatever the intention it is good advice. We should not be afraid to ask one his advice if he knows what he is talking about. Verse 23 compliments this. From the side of the counselor it is good to be able to help someone with an appropriate word.
Verse 24 is not an observation of heaven and hell. In the time of Jesus the issue was hotly contested if there was a heaven or hell. The Pharisees argued for life after death while the Sadducees argued against it. As Christians we believe in the resurrection and the life everlasting because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this verse the argument is that wisdom puts one on the road to life in the here and now and it is an upward road. Whereas folly leads to death.
The height of rebellion against the Lord is pride and arrogance. The Lord opposes the proud but is a defender of the defenseless. There is none more defenseless than a widow. This is the meaning of verse 25. Verse 26 restates that God is on the side of the upright and who opposes the wicked. “But pleasant words are pure.”
Verse 27 suggests that many of the public officials were tempted to take bribes. Such behavior often brought shame to their families. Today the same law of consequence is in effect today. Sooner or later corruption in the government will come to light.
We are told to think before we speak in verse 28. “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.”
In verse 30 “Bright eyes gladden the heart; Good news puts fat on the bones.” The light is in the eyes of the messenger. When you see his face you take heart because you know he is bringing good news. Verse 31 is a natural following in logical sequence. It is a progressive Proverb in that the two lines are needed to complete the thought. The theme is a familiar one in Proverbs that life does not simply approve of us but it affirms us. It often affirms us through rebuke. Sometimes the highest form of love is wholesome admonition and not destructive criticism.
The last two verses are an applauding for the hearing of instruction. The student who ignores instruction does so at his own peril. In Proverbs the supreme lesson is reverence of the Lord. One has to craw before they can walk, and you have to be humbled before you merit being honored.