corner graphic

Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Proverbs 13



Verses 7-11

True Riches Are Found Through Responding To God’s Wisdom, Whilst Those Who Ignore That Wisdom Are The Truly Poor (Proverbs 13:7-11).

In this subsection genuine ‘riches’ are contrasted with transient and deceptive riches. A man may be poor and yet enjoy true riches, for true riches consist in knowing that one is right with God and in walking in the way of God’s wisdom. They will bring rejoicing to the heart and will be long lasting. In contrast a man may be rich and yet lacking in true wealth. If he does not listen to God’s reproof through those who are wise, he will not become right with God and he will not enjoy true wisdom. Anything that he does have will be temporary and transient.

The subsection is presented chiastically:

A There is who makes himself rich, yet has nothing. There is who makes himself poor, yet has great wealth (Proverbs 13:7).

B The ransom of a man’s life is his riches, but the poor hears no rebuke (threatening) (Proverbs 13:8).

C The light of the righteous rejoices (Proverbs 13:9 a)

C But the lamp of the wicked will be put out (Proverbs 13:9 b).

B Only by pride comes contention, but with the well-counselled is wisdom (Proverbs 13:10).

A Wealth obtained by unsatisfactory methods will be diminished, but he who gathers by hard work will have increase (grow great) (Proverbs 13:11).

Note that in A deceptive wealth is contrasted with true wealth, and in the parallel the same occurs. Furthermore there is a parallel between ‘great (rab) wealth’, and wealth that ‘grows great’ (rabah). In B a man’s true riches lie in his being ransomed by God as a consequence of his response to God’s wisdom, whilst the poor in heart refuse to listen to reproof, and in the parallel, those who listen to counsel are truly wise, whilst those who are proud resist God. Centrally in C is the contrast between the light of the righteous and the lamp of the wicked.

Proverbs 13:7

‘There is who makes himself rich, yet has nothing,

There is who makes himself poor, yet has great wealth.’

It will be noted that this verse connects with Proverbs 13:8 in the use of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’, and with Proverbs 13:11 in the use of ‘riches’ and ‘great/increase’ (rab, rabah). In Proverbs 13:11 great riches come to those who work hard, whilst both this verse and Proverbs 13:11 deal with deceptive wealth which in the end fails, in contrast with genuine wealth which is satisfying. It is interesting that here it is the man who considers himself to be rich who ‘has nothing’, whilst in Proverbs 13:4 it is the desiring sluggard who ‘has nothing’. The rich man would not want to be compared with the sluggard, but because of his failure to see beyond his riches he comes to the same end.

The proverb is ambiguous because of the ambiguity of the verb. It could mean;

1) ‘Falsely makes himself out to be, pretends’. In this case the person in the first clause is putting on a show of being rich in order to gain respect and status, whilst the person in the second clause is making himself out to be poor, even though he is very wealthy, because he wants to avoid tithes, and/or his responsibility to the poor. Both are thus misleading their communities. Both are hypocrites. In our view, while possible, this interpretation is unlikely as it removes the contrast which is suggested by ‘has nothing’ and ‘has great wealth’.

2) ‘Considers himself to be, honestly puts himself forward as’. In the first clause he is someone who considers himself to be rich, but is actually spiritually impoverished, and even physically impoverished in other ways (e.g. his children may be a heartache to him, or he may be in very poor health). In the second clause he is someone who considers himself to be poor but spiritually has great wealth in that he is humble and fears YHWH (Proverbs 22:4), and may also have physical ‘riches’ in that his children are loving and responsive and he is of vibrant health. Compare Proverbs 11:28, ‘he who trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like the green leaf’, and Proverbs 22:4, ‘the reward of humility and the fear of YHWH is riches, and honour, and life’. We consider this to be the most likely.

3) ‘Literally makes himself’. In the first clause he struggles hard and attains riches, but in doing so becomes spiritually poor and loses his old friends and all that is worthwhile, and in the second clause he makes himself poor deliberately by his acts of charity and self-sacrifice, or because of his tenacious faith and obedience to God, and in doing so gains riches beyond telling (compare Matthew 6:33; Matthew 19:29). Whilst very apposite in view of the teaching of Jesus, and undoubtedly true, we think it unlikely that Solomon had this in mind.

4) There may be a deliberate play on the possible distinctions in the verb so that it means ‘there are those who think themselves rich but have nothing, there are those who for God’s sake have made themselves poor and thus have great riches’. We can consider here the example of the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:18, ‘you say you are rich, and have obtained riches and have need of nothing, and do not know that you are the wretched on, miserable, poor, blind and naked’, and Jesus’ words to the disciples in Mark 10:29. But this is probably to anticipate New Testament teaching.

In our view the most probable meaning, in line with 2), is that a man can be physically rich, and yet poor in other ways, especially spiritually, and that a man can be physically poor, and yet rich in other ways, especially spiritually. In the Psalms the upright are often seen as the humble and needy (even the king).

Proverbs 13:8

‘The ransom of a man’s life is his riches,

But the poor hears no rebuke (threatening).’

This proverb is again ambiguous. Some see this as saying that a rich man is always in danger of losing his riches by being kidnapped/captured and held to ransom, (as Satan said in Job 2:4, ‘all that a man has he will give for his life’), but that a poor man has no such fear. He and his family are unlikely to receive threatening demands. This would in fact be a good argument for being poor, but such an argument tends to go against what Solomon has said elsewhere. In the Prologue riches were a result of following the way of wisdom, and poverty was a consequence of laziness. Furthermore in Proverbs 10:4 he confirms that this continues to be his view when he says, ‘he becomes poor who deals with a slack hand, but the hand of the hard worker makes rich’. Whilst the word for the poor used here in Proverbs 13:8 does not in its later uses have the necessary connotation of laziness (it does in Proverbs 10:4), it is even then never suggested to be a desirable state. This interpretation also takes the word for ‘rebuke’ in an unusual sense. Elsewhere it always means ‘rebuke’. See especially Proverbs 13:1 where we find the same phrase. Thus we must ideally look for some other interpretation.

An alternative is to see the first clause as meaning that the rich man has the advantage that he can buy himself out of trouble, but that idea does not make a good parallel with the second clause.

A further alternative, however, which balances the two clauses, and ties in with Proverbs 13:7, is that this could mean that a man’s true riches are found in his being ‘ransomed’ (because he has listened to God’s wisdom), whilst those who are poor are so (both physically and spiritually) because they do not listen to rebuke. In other words a man’s true riches lie in his having an assurance that he is acceptable to God and is not subject to death, and this because all that is necessary for his acceptance has been accomplished. These are the great riches which can be enjoyed even by the poor (Proverbs 13:7). In Solomonic terms that would be through heeding God’s wisdom and responding to God (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The idea of ‘a ransom’ links with the idea of redemption. In Psalms 49:7-8 the two are equated, ‘none can by any means redeem his brother or give a ransom for him’, although it is then made clear that a redemption is possible even though that redemption is costly. The impression given is that it could only be by God. Such a ransom was conceived of in Exodus 30:12 where whenever the men were numbered a ransom had to be paid for each one, although it was not a costly one (although the poorer among them might not have felt that). But it did indicate that men had to be continually ransomed before God, otherwise they would die. The idea was expanded in the idea that every firstborn male in Israel had to be ‘redeemed’ by the offering of a substitute, a lamb or goat (Exodus 13:12 ff.; Numbers 18:15). Thus the prospective head of each family had to be redeemed by means of an offering or sacrifice.

This suggests that some, if not all, offerings and sacrifices were seen as ‘ransoms’ and had a redemptive purpose. They made atonement before God. And this was something confirmed in the Gospels where Jesus speaks of giving Himself as ‘a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45) in a context where the guilt offering of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:10 is in mind, and in Hebrews where the redemptive purpose of His sacrifice is made clear (Proverbs 9:12; Proverbs 9:15). Israel were indeed looked on as God’s redeemed people, redeemed by the exertion of His mighty power (Exodus 6:6; Exodus 15:13; Psalms 74:2; Psalms 77:15; Psalms 78:35; Isaiah 43:3). But that was as a nation. And they continued to be so in the offering of offerings and sacrifices, both national and personal. The individuals participated in that redemption by personal response to the covenant and by personal sacrifices. This is constantly brought out in the prophets. That the idea of ransom applied to individuals comes out especially in Job 33:24; Job 36:18; Psalms 49:7-8, whilst the Psalmists continually refer to being redeemed (Psalms 19:14; Psalms 26:11; Psalms 31:5; Psalms 34:22; etc.), where it is clear that some are not. Those who did not genuinely enter into the covenant were cut off from Israel (something which it took the prophets, and a series of catastrophes, a long time to convince the people of).

Thus the recognising by a man that he had been ransomed as a result of his responsiveness to God’s covenant and God’s wisdom, may well have been seen as bestowing on him riches beyond telling.

And this in contrast with the wayward ‘poor’ who ‘hear no rebuke’. Whatever God’s wisdom says to them they continue on in their sluggardly ways (Proverbs 10:4; Proverbs 6:9-11). One advantage of this interpretation is that it gives ‘rebuke’ its common meaning in Proverbs. This would then tie in with Proverbs 13:10, ‘by pride comes only contention’, the poor in their pride having refused God’s rebuke are in contention with Him. And it continues with, ‘but with the well advised is wisdom’, they have responded to God and His wisdom, have been accepted by Him, and they thus enjoy the true riches.

Proverbs 13:9

‘The light of the righteous rejoices,

But the lamp of the wicked will be snuffed out.’

There is a similar combination of light and lamp in Proverbs 6:23 where ‘the commandment is a lamp and the Torah is a light’ which serves to demonstrate that light and lamp are to be seen as synonymous. The idea here could then be that the light of wisdom of the righteous makes him glad, whilst the false wisdom of the wicked will be snuffed out and vanish. On the other hand in Proverbs 4:18 we read that, ‘the path of the righteous is as the shining light, which shines more and more unto the perfect day’. Taking it in the light of this, ‘light’ indicates ‘a shining life’, a life lived in the light of God’s wisdom.

The idea of ‘the lamp of the wicked being snuffed out’ is found also in Proverbs 20:20; Proverbs 24:20, and may either signify dying, which would equate ‘lamp’ with life, or his losing quality of life. Taking the verses as a whole the former appears to be more likely.

The general idea, however, is clear. The life of the righteous is like a continually shining light, and is one of continual rejoicing. But whatever quality of life the unrighteous have will be snuffed out, probably by death. This would tie in with ‘the ransom of a man’s life’ being ‘his riches’ of the previous verse signifying that the true riches of a man’s life is to enjoy the fact that his life has been ransomed by God.

Proverbs 13:10

‘Only by pride comes contention,

But with the well-counselled is wisdom.’

In the parallel clause ‘pride’ parallels ‘well-counselled’. This suggests that in mind is the pride which refuses to listen to counsel. They rather contend with it. So the idea here is that it is only pride, (which is an abomination to God - Proverbs 6:17), which causes men to contend with wisdom and therefore not listen to rebuke, whilst the truly wise (and humble) heed counsel, which is why they are wise. This parallels the ideas of ‘the poor hearing no rebuke’ (Proverbs 13:8), and a man’s true riches lying in the fact that he has responded to wisdom and has therefore been ransomed by God, in Proverbs 13:8.

Proverbs 13:11

‘Riches obtained by unsatisfactory means will be diminished,

But he who gathers by hard work (literally ‘by hand’) will have increase.’

In the subsection we learned in Proverbs 13:7 of the ‘great riches’ which even a poor man might have, and in Proverbs 13:8 that those riches include the fact that his life has been ransomed by God. In Proverbs 13:9 such riches were a light to the righteous man which caused him to rejoice, and in Proverbs 13:10 resulted from the fact that he had responded to wise counsel. Now this is related to physical wealth by indicating that it is only wealth obtained in the right way which will endure and increase. And there may be the added thought that the same is true of spiritual wealth, for in Proverbs physical wealth and spiritual wealth go hand in hand, see Proverbs 3:13-18; Proverbs 8:11; Proverbs 8:18.

The word translated ‘unsatisfactory means’ has lying behind it the thought of a ‘puff of air’, and therefore something which is insubstantial and temporary. What is gathered in that way will itself be insubstantial and temporary. Some of it will quickly disappear. Such a person will tend not to be thrifty. It is a warning against the desire to ‘get-rich-quick’ either physically or spiritually. Quick fixes tend not to last long. Examples of such are obtaining money by violence (Proverbs 1:11 ff.), robbery or false pretences, by extortion or deceit, or even by gambling which, if successful, (and the gambler always hopes to be successful), involves loss to others..

In contrast is the one who ‘gathers by hand’, in other words by hard effort (contrast ‘the slack hand’ of Proverbs 10:4). His riches will be ‘caused to increase’ (hiphil, which is causative ). For such a person values what he has obtained precisely because it has entailed hard work, and he therefore has a healthy regard for it and reinvests it so that it will increase. The same is true in the spiritual realm. The more effort we put into understanding truth from God’s word, the more benefit and greater certainty we will obtain from it.

Verses 12-19

Those Who Want Their Hopes And Desires Fulfilled Must Respond God’s Wisdom And Understanding, Heeding Those Who Teach Them, And It Will Be To Them A Tree Of Life And Sweetness To Their Inner Being (Proverbs 13:12-19).

The connection between the closing verse of the last subsection, and the opening verse of this one, is the thought of diminishment and increase. Deceptive wealth ‘diminishes’, true wealth ‘causes to increase’ (Proverbs 13:11). Hope deferred ‘diminishes’ (makes sick), fulfilment of desire ‘causes increase’ (it is a tree of life).

The subsection itself deals with the impartation of God’s wisdom. When the desire for wisdom is satisfied, it is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12). He who fears the commandment will be rewarded (Proverbs 13:13). The instruction of the wise is a wellspring of life (Proverbs 13:14). Good understanding gives favour (Proverbs 13:15). Every shrewd man acts with knowledge (Proverbs 13:16). A faithful ambassador is health (Proverbs 13:17). He who takes note of reproof will be honoured (Proverbs 13:18). The desire (for wisdom) accomplished is sweet to the soul (Proverbs 13:19).

In the subsection there are a number of recurring ideas. Fulfilled hope is ‘a tree of life’, whilst the instruction of the wise is ‘a wellspring of life’. There is a stress on the importance of ‘the word’ (Proverbs 13:13), ‘the commandment (Proverbs 13:13) and ‘instruction (law)’ (Proverbs 13:14) which will benefit those who respond to them. These words are all reminiscent of the Prologue. Reference is made to the one who ‘fears the commandment’ (Proverbs 13:13), the one who has ‘good understanding’ (Proverbs 13:15), ‘the shrewd man’ who has ‘knowledge’ (Proverbs 13:16), the ‘faithful ambassador’ (Proverbs 13:17), and the one who ‘takes note of reproof’ (Proverbs 13:18), similarly reminiscent of the Prologue. The whole is enveloped in an inclusio concerning desire which ‘comes’ (Proverbs 13:12) and ‘is accomplished’ (Proverbs 13:19).

Thus those who want their worthwhile hopes and desires fulfilled, with that fulfilment being to them a ‘tree of life’, must respond to ‘the word, the commandment and instruction (law)’, which will be to them ‘a wellspring of life’, and thus prove themselves to be shrewd, understanding and responsive to reproof.

The subsection is presented chiastically:

A Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when what is desired comes, it is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12).

B Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself, but he who fears the commandment will be rewarded (Proverbs 13:13).

C The instruction (law) of the wise is a wellspring of life, that one may depart from the snares of death (Proverbs 13:14).

D Good understanding gives favour, but the way of the treacherous is continuing (Proverbs 13:15).

D Every shrewd man works with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly (Proverbs 13:16).

C A wicked messenger falls into evil, but a faithful ambassador is health (Proverbs 13:17).

B Poverty and shame will be to him who refuses correction, but he who takes note of reproof will be honoured (Proverbs 13:18).

A The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul, but it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil (Proverbs 13:19).

Note that in A when what is desired comes it is a tree of life, and in the parallel it is sweet to the soul (rather than making the heart sick - Proverbs 13:12). In B the one who despises the word (of wisdom) brings destruction on himself, while the one who fears the commandment will be rewarded, and in the parallel to refuse correction brings poverty and shame whilst to take notice of reproof results in honour. In C the law of the wise is a wellspring of life, and in the parallel a faithful ambassador is health. Centrally in D we have reference to good understanding and the way of the treacherous, and in the parallel the shrewd man has knowledge whilst the way of the treacherous is described in terms of a fool flaunting folly

Proverbs 13:12

‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick,

But when the desire (what is desired) comes, it is a tree of life.’

‘Hope deferred makes the heart sick’ is an often cited phrase, indicating the general truth that if the arrival of something is put off too often it ceases to be a hope and becomes a frustration. But Solomon is here taking it as referring to the hope of righteousness and wisdom leading to a wholesome life, for when that desire is fulfilled it will be a tree of life (compare Proverbs 3:18 of wisdom). It will ensure long and wholesome life. It will ‘cause to increase’ (Proverbs 13:11). It will be ‘sweetness to the soul’ (Proverbs 13:19). If, however, it is deferred it will result in sickness of the mind, will and emotions (the heart). it will result in diminishment. The wholesome life will not be achieved

‘Hope’ is expectation of heart. Being ‘deferred’ does not mean being put off until another date, but rather being constantly deferred with no end in sight. The idea is that in the end the hope dwindles and the heart (the inner person) becomes ‘sick’, sometimes physically, always mentally. It results in resignation and even despair.

In contrast when what is desired comes through response to God’s word, commandment and instruction, it is a tree of life. It produces long, wholesome and unceasing life. (The one who ate of the tree of life would live for ever).

Proverbs 13:13

‘Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself,

But he who fears the commandment will be rewarded.’

This puts in more prosaic terms what has been said in the previous verse. The one who despises the word of God’s wisdom will bring destruction on himself. The one who fears the commandment will be rewarded. These are consequences not deserts. To walk in God’s word and in His commandments is to live, ‘which if a man do he will live in them’ (Leviticus 18:5). The words reflect the Prologue (e.g. Proverbs 4:4; Proverbs 1:6; Proverbs 2:1; Proverbs 7:1) although here in the singular indicating all Solomon’s (and therefore God’s) words. Note that the opposite of ‘to despise’ is ‘to fear, hold in awe’. The one who despises has not realised in his heart the truth about God. The one who has realised in his heart the truth about God, ‘fears’ (takes serious and awe inspired note of what He says).

It should also be noted that the one who despises the word brings destruction ON HIMSELF. He has no one else to blame. He has refused correction (Proverbs 13:18). He was given the option, knowing the consequences, and made his own choice. In contrast the one who fears the commandment, will be ‘rewarded’. He has ‘taken note of reproof’ (Proverbs 13:18). He receives the consequences of God’s lovingkindness, not his deserts. It brings the opposite of destruction. It result in enjoying the fruit of the tree of life.

Proverbs 13:14

‘The instruction (law - torah) of the wise is a wellspring of life,

That one may depart from the snares of death.’

The thought of Proverbs 13:13 continues, but here expanding the positive aspect. The instruction (torah) of the wise is a wellspring of life. In Proverbs 14:26 it is the fear of YHWH which is a wellspring of life. Thus the instruction of the wise is with reference to the fear of YHWH (compare Proverbs 13:13 b). The word instruction (torah) was regularly used in the Prologue. See Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 3:1; Proverbs 4:2; Proverbs 6:20; Proverbs 6:23; Proverbs 7:2. It refers to instruction in wisdom as backed up by the Torah (the Law of Moses). This is a ‘wellspring of life’. It is like a gushing spring sending forth life-giving water. To drink of it is to partake of the tree of life (Proverbs 13:12). We can compare how Jesus likened Himself and His words to a wellspring of life in John 4:14.

And partaking of this water results in ‘departing from the snares of death’ (compare Proverbs 14:27; also Proverbs 7:23). Note that there is only one wellspring of life, God’s wisdom, but there are many snares of death. One who is drinking from the wellspring will not listen to the enticing voices of their contemporaries (Proverbs 1:11 ff.), or of those who speak perverse things (Proverbs 2:12 ff.) or the sexual enticements of ‘strange women’ (Proverbs 9:17; Proverbs 2:16 ff; Proverbs 7:5-27), all of which are a living death and lead to death. He will drink wisdom and find life (Proverbs 9:5). He will pay heed to the faithful ambassador whose words produce health (Proverbs 13:17).

Proverbs 13:15

‘Good understanding gives favour,

But the way of the treacherous is continuing.’

‘Good understanding’ can be seen as resulting from ‘the instruction of the wise which is a wellspring of life’ (Proverbs 13:14), and this might be seen as confirmed by the fact that in Proverbs 16:22 it is ‘understanding’ which is said to be ‘a wellspring of life to him who has it’. In this case the ‘good’ emphasises the quality of the understanding, it is understanding concerning what is good, as taught by the wisdom of God. And this results in ‘favour’, that is the favour of both God and man (Proverbs 1:9; Proverbs 3:4; Proverbs 3:22; Proverbs 3:34; Proverbs 4:9). Those who have such good understanding have come from under wrath into His favour.

On the other hand, in Proverbs 3:4 the assiduous attention by ‘my son’ to the torah (instruction, law) (Proverbs 13:14) and commandments (Proverbs 13:13) would result in him finding ‘favour and good understanding in the sight of God and men.’ It is possible therefore that the idea here is that it is God’s and men’s good understanding which results in their showing ‘favour’ to the one who has responded to ‘the instruction of the wise’, with the emphasis being on the situation of the treacherous. This interpretation better explains the introduction of ‘good’, but it does not provide such a close parallel to the second clause.

In contrast there is no favour for the treacherous (the word indicates those who act covertly). Their way is unchanging, continuing. They are not given any favour. They are still under wrath. The word translated ‘continuing’ means ‘perennial’ (e.g. a perennial river which is continual from year to year), and then ‘strong, mighty’, and we expect here something which contrasts with ‘favour’. Favour involves a change of attitude, either from wrath in the case of God or neutrality in the case of man. Thus we have translated the word as ‘continuing’, as indicating that for the treacherous their way continues as it always has. Consequently there is no change of attitude towards them by God. They continue under judgment.

Proverbs 13:16

‘Every shrewd man acts (works) with knowledge,

But a fool flaunts (spreads out) his folly.’

The shrewd man, having good understanding (Proverbs 13:15), does what he does (does, acts, works) with knowledge (the knowledge of God - Proverbs 2:5). But the fool, who hates such knowledge (Proverbs 1:22), ‘spreads out’ (like a market salesman) his folly. The point is that the one acts with good understanding, the other openly behaves foolishly.

‘A fool flaunts his folly’ would fit well with the idea of the treacherous walking in a continual way, but it expands into the thought that because he is a fool he draws attention to his folly. The knowingly ‘treacherous’ act covertly (Proverbs 13:15), but the fool is such a fool that he is not aware of how great a fool he is. He has no conception of how his activities appear to God. And he hates knowledge (the knowledge of God - Proverbs 2:5). Thus he does not care and flaunts his folly.

An alternative translation is suggested for ‘sh (do, act, work) based mainly on an Arabic root which means ‘cover’. It is pointed out that in Proverbs 12:23 ‘a shrewd man’ is said to ‘conceal knowledge’. Thus the Arabic root would give us the same meaning here, and make a good contrast with ‘flaunts’. But we might then ask, why did Solomon not use the same verb as in Proverbs 12:23? The suggestion awaits further evidence. And a strong point against it is that in this subsection there is no thought of concealment (it is the treacherous who act covertly). All the emphasis is on the word, the commandment and the torah being openly declared.

Proverbs 13:17

‘A wicked messenger falls into evil,

But a faithful ambassador is health.’

But the word ‘messenger’ was also used of prophets as God’s messengers. Prophets also could be true or false, and it may well be that Solomon sent men out to communicate his wisdom teaching, who could be seen as messengers. In the context this would appear to be the most likely idea in mind. The whole subsection, and much of the section, are concerned with the communication of God’s wisdom.

Alternately Solomon may simply be using the idea of messengers in order to indicate ‘wise men’, (who were no doubt often sent as messengers), and ‘wisdom teachers’. This would especially be so if, in accordance with the chiasmus, we see the verse as paralleled with Proverbs 13:14, which speaks of ‘the instruction of the wise’ as ‘a wellspring of life’. So it may well be that the wise who were instructing others, interpreting Solomon’s wisdom, were seen by him as ‘messengers’ and ‘ambassadors’. And the ideas of ‘the wellspring of life’ and ‘the snares of death’ would fit well with the ides of good and bad messengers, especially as the good messenger is said to be ‘health’. Messengers carried messages which could indeed have life and death consequences, and so did wise men and prophets.

With all this in mind let us consider the two clauses in the proverb. ‘A wicked messenger falls into evil.’ This vivid description portrays the ‘wicked messenger’ as ‘falling headlong into evil’. He misrepresents his message with evil consequences, for the one who sent him, for those who heard him, and eventually for himself. He despises the word and brings destruction on himself (Proverbs 13:13). He flaunts his folly (Proverbs 13:16). He is a disaster for all. This may well have been Solomon’s (and God’s) view of false messengers of wisdom. Alternatively, taking the consonantal (original) text as it stands and repointing as hiphil we could read, ‘a wicked man causes to fall into evil’. This would then put the emphasis on the evil effects of a false messenger.

In contrast, ‘a faithful ambassador/messenger is health.’ He is healthy for the one who sent him, if his message is a positive one what he communicates brings health for his hearers, and he finally brings health on himself. If he is indeed a messenger of wisdom teaching this is very much the case. The proverb can thus be seen, firstly as a warning to prophets and wisdom teachers to be ‘healthy’ in what they teach, secondly as a warning to people not to listen to false wisdom teachers and prophets but to heed those who give them ‘health’, and thirdly as an indication of what their messages accomplish in line with what has already been repeated again and again. They bring health to people’s hearts. In other words, the wicked result in evil, the faithful result in wellbeing.

‘Is health’ seems a strange way to describe a normal king’s messenger, and his message might be the very opposite, but it is just the description we would expect of a wise man, for as Proverbs 12:18 has already told us, ‘the tongue of the wise is health’. That seems to confirm that this faithful messenger is a wise man.

Proverbs 13:18

‘Poverty and shame (shameful poverty) will be to him who refuses correction,

But he who takes note of reproof will be honoured.’

The one who refuses to be corrected will in the end suffer shameful poverty. Like the unrighteous messenger he will fall into evil (Proverbs 13:17). This is paralleled in Proverbs 13:13 by ‘whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself’, for the one who refuses to be corrected demonstrates thereby that he despises the word of wisdom. Indeed, he also despises reproof (Proverbs 1:25; Proverbs 1:30; Proverbs 5:12). Thus does he bring on himself the total collapse of all that he has. But the one who takes note of reproof, demonstrates thereby that he fears the commandment (Proverbs 13:13), thus he will be rewarded by being honoured.

The importance of responding to reproof and correction was a main theme in the Prologue (Proverbs 1:23; Proverbs 1:25; Proverbs 1:30; Proverbs 3:11; Proverbs 5:12; Proverbs 6:23). It is also found in Proverbs 10:17; Proverbs 12:1. It was connected in the Prologue with the idea of the chastening of YHWH (Proverbs 3:11-12).

Proverbs 13:19

‘The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul,

But it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil.’

‘The desire accomplished’ was referred to in Proverbs 13:12 as ‘when what is desired comes’, and in both cases the effects of the fulfilment of desire are described. Here it is ‘sweet to the inner person’ (nephesh), (it gives them ‘health’ (Proverbs 13:17)), in Proverbs 13:12 it was ‘a tree of life’, which offered life to God’s true people. It is clear from this that ‘the desire’ refers to the desire of the wise and righteous, for only they can partake of the tree of life. It is a desire which will only be satisfied for the wise, for it is in contrast with the experience of ‘fools’. Thus it is the desire to follow God’s wisdom and be pleasing to Him, and as Proverbs 3:15; Proverbs 8:11 makes clear, nothing that can otherwise be desired can be compared with this. An appreciation of God’s wisdom is the most precious thing that a man can possess.

To put it another way this desire is the desire to hear the word and respond to the commandment (Proverbs 13:13), it is the desire to receive the instruction of the wise (Proverbs 13:14), it is the desire to have good understanding (Proverbs 13:15).

In contrast those who do not have this desire are fools, for to them it is an abomination to depart from evil. They hate wisdom and the true knowledge of God (Proverbs 1:22), for it will interfere with their selfish ways. Ironically in their desperate bid for happiness, they miss what could satisfy the desire of their inner hearts.

Verse 20

Walking With The Wise Will Result In Prosperity And A Well-knit And Integrated Family, Whilst Being A Fool Is A Prelude To Disaster (Proverbs 13:20 to Proverbs 14:1).

We have in this subsection a call to follow wisdom and be wise (Proverbs 13:20), righteous Proverbs 13:21; Proverbs 13:25) and good (Proverbs 13:22). He who does so will be recompensed with good (Proverbs 13:21); will find himself in a position to leave his descendants an inheritance (Proverbs 13:22); will properly discipline his son (Proverbs 13:24); will not go hungry (Proverbs 13:25); and will have a wise wife who will build up his household (Proverbs 14:1). In contrast are the fools (Proverbs 13:20); sinners (Proverbs 13:21-22); the poor (Proverbs 13:23); and the unrighteous (Proverbs 13:25). They will make those who trust them ‘smart’ (Proverbs 13:20); will be pursued by evil (Proverbs 13:21); will eventually lose their inheritance ( Proverbs 13:22); will eventually suffer hunger (Proverbs 13:23; Proverbs 13:25); and may have a wife who allows the household to collapse (Proverbs 14:1).

We should note the emphasis on the family. A good man ensures that his children and grandchildren are provided for (Proverbs 13:22). A loving father disciplines his son (Proverbs 13:24). A wise woman by her wisdom builds up her house (her family) (Proverbs 14:1).

The subsection can be presented chiastically:

A Walk with WISE men, and you will be wise, but the companion of FOOLS will smart for it (Proverbs 13:20).

B Evil pursues sinners, but the RIGHTEOUS will be recompensed with good (Proverbs 13:21).

C A good man leaves an inheritance to his CHILDREN’S CHILDREN, and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the righteous (Proverbs 13:22).

D Much food is in the tillage of the poor (Proverbs 13:23 a).

D But there is that is destroyed by reason of injustice (Proverbs 13:23 b).

C He who spares his rod hates his SON, but he who loves him is intent on disciplining him (Proverbs 13:24).

B The RIGHTEOUS eats to the satisfying of his inner man (nephesh), but the stomach of the wicked will want (Proverbs 13:25).

A Every WISE woman builds her house, but the FOOLISH plucks it down with her own hands (Proverbs 14:1).

Note that in A we have the accomplishment of the wise man, and in the parallel the accomplishment of the wise woman, whilst ‘fools’ parallels ‘foolish’. In B the righteous will be recompensed with good, and in the parallel the righteous eats to the satisfying of his inner man. In C the good man provides for his children materially, and in the parallel the one who loves his son ‘provides for’ his son by chastening him. Centrally in D, whilst there is much food in the tillage of the poor, in the contrasting parallel some of it is destroyed by injustice.

Proverbs 13:20

‘Walk with wise men, and you will be wise,

But the companion of fools will smart for it.’

Note the inclusio of wise men here and the wise woman in Proverbs 14:1. Walking with the wise makes a man wise, he marries a wise woman, and thus produces a wise family. Both the wise husband and the wise wife are needed to produce a well rounded individual. Compare the constant pairing with regard to wisdom teaching of the father and the mother (Proverbs 1:8; Proverbs 4:3;Proverbs 10:1). And note that Solomon is presented as a father figure (he refers to ‘my son’) and wisdom is presented as a mother figure (wisdom is always feminine). So while a wise father is seen as vital for a family, a wise mother is also seen as essential.

The consequence of becoming wise will be that he will be recompensed with good (Proverbs 13:21), he will be in a position to leave wealth to his children’s children (Proverbs 13:22), he will eat well both physically and spiritually, and his family will be made strong (Proverbs 14:1).

The lesson of the individual proverb is important. It is a reminder that we become like the company that we keep. Solomon exhorts ‘his son’ (those whom he addresses for whom there is yet hope) to walk with wise men. He is to keep company with them, listen to them, and respond to what they say. Then he himself will become wise in God’s wisdom. In the parallel by living with a wise woman, he (and the whole family) will be established in the right way (Proverbs 14:1).

In contrast those who walk with fools (those who do not respond to God’s wisdom), and have fools as their companions, will suffer the consequences. They will ‘smart for it’, they will ‘suffer harm’ (like the one who is surety for a stranger (Proverbs 11:15)). They walk with fools (Proverbs 2:12-15), pay heed to what they say (Proverbs 1:11 ff) and become fools themselves. How much better had they been made to smart by their father’s discipline (Proverbs 13:24). And the same will be true of those who have a ‘foolish’ mother. They will live in an unhappy and disintegrated household (verse Proverbs 14:1).

We could take ro‘eh as a qal participle and translate as ‘the one who keeps companionship with’ but the meaning is the same. Note that the r‘h (companion) yrw‘ (suffers harm), whilst in the next verse r‘h (evil) pursues sinners, connecting the two verses.

Proverbs 13:21

‘Evil pursues sinners,

But the righteous will be recompensed with good.’

The importance of walking with the wise (Proverbs 13:20) comes out in that ‘evil pursues sinners’. In view of the parallel clause ‘evil’ includes all the unpleasant things that can face man (compare Proverbs 3:29), such as hunger, fierce storms, calamity and death (Proverbs 1:25-27; Proverbs 1:32; Proverbs 2:22; Proverbs 3:25; Proverbs 5:9-10; Proverbs 6:11; Proverbs 6:15; Proverbs 6:33; Proverbs 7:27). But it is probably also intended to include moral evil. A sinner attracts evil (what is not good) and it pursues him. Evil is here personified and seen as a remorseless enemy which hunts down its victims (see Proverbs 1:10-19; Proverbs 2:12-19; Proverbs 6:24; Proverbs 7:10-21). But it cannot touch those who walk with the wise. The righteous, instead of being pursued with the world’s evils, will be recompensed with good (Proverbs 3:16-18) because by responding to Gods’ wisdom they have become ‘good’, (have had their mind set on following God’s wisdom), and are thus becoming more and more good. Compare Matthew 6:33, ‘seek first the kingly rule of God and His righteousness, and all these things (food and clothing) will be added to you’.

In the parallel verse (Proverbs 13:25), ‘the righteous eats to the satisfying of his inner man (nephesh)’, whilst the stomach of the non-righteous will be empty. Here is one of the ‘good’ things which the righteous will enjoy. Note the parallel reference in Proverbs 13:25 to ‘the righteous’. Other good things described are that he becomes wealthy enough to leave an inheritance to his descendants (Proverbs 13:22), and that he weds a wife who will be a blessing to his future family (Proverbs 14:1).

Note also how the mention of ‘sinners’ connects up with the verse which follows this (Proverbs 13:22). These connecting links demonstrate that Solomon wants us to connect the proverbs together. Sinners are those who fall short of ‘goodness’ (Proverbs 13:22).

Proverbs 13:22

‘A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children,

And the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the righteous.’

The good man, the righteous man, the one who walks with the wise (Proverbs 13:20), is here contrasted with ‘the sinner’, the one who falls short of goodness, the one who is unrighteous. Here we learn that the good man retains his wealth so that he is able to pass it on to his descendants, whilst the sinner fails to do so. The sinner loses it. Either he or his children, who will tend to grow up like him, will squander it, or he will lose it through some disaster. And in the end it will benefit the righteous. (The righteous will benefit in the end, the sinner will lose all).

The fact that the good man leaves his inheritance to his children’s children also suggests that his own children will be ‘good men’ so that they too prosper, for it is they who will ensure that the succession continues. And the reasons why they become good men is that they are properly disciplined (Proverbs 13:24) and have a good and wise mother (Proverbs 14:1). Thus by walking with the wise a good man benefits not only himself, but his children. They too become wise.

For an illustration of the clause ‘the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the righteous’ compare Genesis 31:9; Genesis 31:16; Exodus 12:36; Deuteronomy 2:26-35; Deuteronomy 3:1-2; Esther 8:1; Psalms 105:44.

Proverbs 13:23

‘Much food is in the fallow (unploughed) ground of the poor,

But there is that is destroyed by reason of injustice (judgment).’

Standing by itself this could be saying that even if the poor did not work hard and plough their ground (fallow ground is untilled ground, ground which has not been broken up - see Hosea 10:12; Jeremiah 4:3), they would still be able to provide enough food for their families, were it not for the fact that their situation could be affected by injustice. But the idea is more likely that much food is there assuming that the poor would work hard and plough the ground. Then they would discover that it would produce much food. The injustice may have in mind that they could find themselves over-taxed, or having what they produced taken from them by invaders (compare Judges 6:3-4) or by a rich person using his influence on the courts, or by storms and unseasonal rain. The fact that they can produce ‘much food’ is evidence that ‘the poor’ are not to be seen as the destitute (they have land), and indicates that all could have been satisfactorily fed were it not for man’s greed.

But in context the verse has a further significance. It is illustrating the fact that ‘evil pursues sinners’ (Proverbs 13:21). For up to this point Solomon’s clear teaching has been that the poor are poor because they are slothful (Proverbs 6:9-11; Proverbs 10:4-5). They have not followed the way of wisdom. And that is confirmed here by the reference to ‘fallow (untilled) ground’. They have not broken up their ground. And yet even so that ground could produce sufficient food were it not for the fact that ‘evil pursued them’, that what they produce is subject to misfortune. It must be remembered that such injustices were regularly seen as due to the hand of YHWH punishing His people for their ill-doing (Judges 6:1-4).

An alternative is to paraphrase as, ‘much food could be in the fallow ground of the poor, were it not that it is swept away by poor judgment.’ In other words the ground fails to produce what it could because the poor exercise poor judgment and do not break up the ground. They fail to produce because of their own slothfulness.

Either way this is central in the chiasmus because, coming in between the inclusio which refers to walking with the wise (Proverbs 13:20), and being brought up by the wise (Proverbs 14:1), Solomon wants to emphasise that sinners bring their misfortune on themselves in spite of God having initially shown His goodness towards them.

Brief Note On The Poor.

We may feel that Solomon is a little unfair to the poor when he suggests that they are always responsible for their own poverty. But we must remember that he saw the Israelite society in which he lived, and over whom he reigned, as composed of families each of which had its own portion of land handed down from their ancestors. Thus he considered that, on the whole, where this was so, they had the means by which they could feed themselves if they put in enough effort. Given this scenario we can see why he spoke as he did.

End of note.

Proverbs 13:24

‘He who spares his rod hates his son,

But he who loves him is intent on disciplining him.’

In Proverbs 13:22 the good man leaves an inheritance to his descendants, here he gives his son a different kind of inheritance by disciplining him in love so that he will learn wisdom. To ‘spare the rod’ is to not use it. He fails to use it because he is not bothered about the way in which his son walks. In contrast the one who loves his son will discipline him when necessary. He is ‘intent on’ disciplining him because he loves him and wants him to learn the way of wisdom. The fact that it would be done in love (‘he who loves him’) would prevent it from being excessive.

This is not an admonition to beat one’s children. It is an admonition to discipline them properly. The rod was the method of discipline in those days. Life was hard and time precious, and children rarely had privileges that could be withheld. The rod was a quick method of discipline, and psychological methods were unknown. Today we may use other methods of discipline. We live in an affluent age and children can always be punished by withholding privileges or, with young children, using ‘the naughty seat’. This was not possible, or even thought of, in those days. But good parents are still ‘intent on’ sufficiently disciplining their children when necessary, so that they will learn what is good. And if this does finally require ‘the rod’ they will use it. A judicious smack given in love (not in despair or temper) may well save the child much trouble (in spite of modern prejudices).

Proverbs 13:25

‘The righteous eats to the satisfying of his inner man (nephesh),

But the stomach of the wicked will want.’

In Proverbs 13:22 we read, ‘Evil pursues sinners, but the righteous will be recompensed with good.’ This is illustrated here. It is because misfortune pursues sinners, that the stomach of the unrighteous will want (go hungry). In contrast the righteous will be recompensed with good, because the righteous will be satisfied, both physically by having sufficient food, and spiritually by feeding on wisdom. It is a reminder that the wise man chooses the way of righteousness, and discovers that in the end that is the way to wellbeing and life.

Proverbs 14:1

‘Every wise woman builds her house,

But the foolish plucks it down with her own hands.’

This is the second part of the inclusio, the first part being Proverbs 13:20. ‘Every wise woman’ is paralleled with ‘wise men.’ Like Ms Wisdom (Proverbs 9:1) this wise woman ‘builds her house’, although in her case it is not a literal building but the ‘building’ of the family. She spends her efforts on building up her family and making them wise. She instructs them in the Torah (Law of Moses) (Proverbs 1:8), and is deeply concerned if they go astray (Proverbs 10:1). Like woman wisdom she constantly exhorts them to walk in the right way, the way of the wise. Note that it is not said that she does it ‘with her own hands’. The idea is probably that she is assisted by YHWH. And as a consequence she is a ‘crown’ to her husband (Proverbs 12:4).

In contrast is the foolish woman who plucks down her house ‘with her own hands’. She must take total responsibility for what happens, when her children are badly behaved and disunited, and when her household collapses. She is as rottenness in her husband’s bones (Proverbs 12:4).


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". 2013.

Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology