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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Proverbs 13:15



Good understanding produces favor, But the way of the treacherous is hard.

Albert Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Hard - The primary meaning of the original word is permanence (compare Deuteronomy 21:4; Micah 6:2). This may be applied as here to the hard dry rock, to running streams, or to stagnant pools. In either case, the idea is that of the barren dry soil, or the impassable marsh, in contrast with the fountain of life, carrying joy and refreshment with it.

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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.

The Biblical Illustrator

Proverbs 13:15

Good understanding giveth favour.

A sound intellect

I. The nature of a sound intellect. A good understanding must include four things.

1. Enlightenment. The soul without knowledge is not good. A good understanding is that which is well informed, not merely in general knowledge, but in the science of duty and of God.

2. Impartiality. A good intellect should hold the balance of thought with a steady hand.

3. Religiousness. It must be inspired with a deep sense of its allegiance to heaven.

4. Practicalness. It should be strong and bold enough to carry all its decisions into actual life. “A good understanding have all they that do His commandments.” Thus it appears a good understanding is tantamount to practical godliness.

II. The usefulness of a sound intellect. The greatest benefactor is the man of a good understanding. The thoughts of such men as these are the seeds of the world’s best institutions, and most useful arts and inventions. The man of good understanding is the most useful in the family, in the neighbourhood, in the market, in the press, in the senate, in the pulpit, everywhere.

1. No favours so valuable as mental favours. He who really helps the mind to think with accuracy, freedom, and force, to love with purity, and to hope with reason, helps the man in the entirety of his being.

2. No one can confer mental favours who has not a good understanding. An ignorant man has no favour to bestow on souls. “Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge the wing with which we fly to heaven” (Shakespeare). Let us, therefore, cultivate a sound intellect. “I make not my head a grave,” says Sir T. Browne, in his quaint way, “but a treasury of knowledge; I intend no monopoly, but a community in learning; I study not for my own sake only, but for theirs that study not for themselves; I envy no man that knows more than myself, but pity them that know less. I instruct no man as an exercise of my knowledge, or with an intent rather to nourish and keep it alive in mine own head than beget and propagate it in his; and, in the midst of all my endeavours, there is but one thought that dejects me--that my acquired parts must perish with myself, nor can be legacied among my honoured friends.” (Homilist.)

But the way of transgressors is hard.--

The course, act, and punishment of sin

I. The course of sin.

1. A disposition to regard life as a matter of circumstances. Personal freedom is, however, never nullified, personal responsibility never suspended. The track and trend of a man’s life is largely within his own determination.

2. The text speaks of “a way,” i.e., a trodden path. It refers to a course that is chosen, and persisted in. It is the habit of the sinner’s life--a much-frequented track.

3. Sin indulged in soon becomes sin confirmed. How soon a track is made across the soft earth. The “dearest idol” was once a plaything, a diversion.

4. This is the sure and certain tendency of sin. “Wild oats” mean a harvest of thorns. It is a cruel thing that is done, when men speak lightly of what is wrong.

II. The act of sin.

1. Sin is one: a great, awful unit. But sin is viewed under various aspects. Here the idea is that of one who deals treacherously, one who deceives, or deceives himself.

2. This is the quality of sin committed in Christian lands. Sin “against light and love.” This is sin which makes pity impossible, save with God, and with such as the Godlike.

III. The punishment of sin. All sin is visited with punishment. The “pleasures of sin” are but “for a season.” The punishment comes. The present punishment of sin is here emphasised; if that is not enough to drive you from the way of the transgressor, what of the death-bed, of the judgment-seat, of the never-dying worm? Where, then, is salvation? Look at what is suggested by one and another.

1. Retirement; a life of seclusion and penitence.

2. A firm stand against the encroaching sin.

3. Altered associations. These are the proposals of policy, or human calculations. God’s proposal for salvation is an absolute and unconditional forsaking. (George Lester.)

The hardship of sin

But who believes this? None who set their opinion against the testimony of revelation.

I. What is to be understood by the way of transgressors? Transgressor is but another name for sinner. Transgression supposeth either something done that was forbidden or something omitted that was commanded.

II. The doctrine of the text respecting this way. It is not rendered harder than it ought to be, through undue severity in God.

1. The kindness of God renders it difficult either to shun or to resist the light.

2. It is sometimes necessary for the Divine Being to carry Himself with some severity against daring and obdurate sinners, for a warning to others.

3. Jehovah’s efforts to save render those who finally abuse His goodness singularly criminal. Improvements:

The way of transgressors hard

In regard to a large class of sins, retribution follows in the present life. Sin never pays. It means sorrow, distress, pain, whether that pain follows immediately or after a while. The point of the text is, that retribution follows now, in this present world. The earliest steps of vice seem pleasant; if it were not so, it would offer no temptation. To yield to lower appetites and passions is so easy, so natural, so inviting. But the wilful do not go far without being brought to a very different conclusion. “The way of transgressors” turns out to be rough and hard. I might endeavour to deter you from evil courses by telling you of the judgment to come; but what I wish to impress is that there is a day of reckoning even here. Look at the misery which intemperance brings; which licentiousness brings; which gambling brings; which fraudulent dealing brings. Then let this be the hour of your final, and ever-to-be-remembered decision for God and righteousness. (J. T. Davidson, D.D.)

Warning against transgressors’ ways

Four losses, caused by transgression, which help to make the way hard.

1. The loss of a good conscience.

2. The loss of character.

3. The loss of usefulness.

4. The loss of the soul.

When we go into the way of transgressors, we do not know that we shall ever have an opportunity of repenting and believing in Jesus. And no matter what part of the transgressors’ ways we may have walked in, we shall find it a hard way, because it will be sure to bring the loss of heaven to us. (R. Newton, D. D.)

The hard way of sin

I. The way of the sinner is a hard way, because it is unprofitable--hard work and poor pay--the devil is a hard lord and a mean paymaster.

II. It is a hard way, because in the end it is usually a failure. Most men see only the present, and when summer is here one feels it must never end; but winter comes on at last.

III. It is a hard way, because opposed to all the stronger principles that prevail in life and destiny. The transgressor braves the mighty current of that eternal river which has swept on its bosom every being borne down to the shoreless sea of the judgment of God. Examples: Absalom, Judas, Pharaoh. No use fighting against God.

IV. It is a hard way, because it is an unhappy way. Conscience and all the better self rebel--opposed to all one’s highest associates and surroundings.

V. A hard way, because it ends in eternal ruin--no opportunity to repair the damage. A hard life here, and hereafter eternal ruin!

VI. The only easy way is the way of obedience--the life that now is and the life that is to come. Turn from your hard master and serve the Lord Jesus Christ, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. (C. G. Wright.)

The rough road

I. What do we mean by a transgressor? One who breaks a law or violates a command.

II. The painful path. The R.V. says, “But the way of the treacherous is rugged.” The way of wickedness is difficult and dangerous to travel as a rugged road. How true; young people may not think so; but old men will tell you the prophet knew what he was saying when he uttered the words, “They weary themselves to commit iniquity.” Chrysostom says, “Virtue is easier than vice.” Mr. H. W. Beecher used to tell of a man in America “who had the habit of stealing all his firewood. He would get up on cold nights and go and take it from his neighbours’ woodpiles. It was ascertained that he spent more time and worked harder to get his fuel than he would have been obliged to if he had earned it in an honest way, and at ordinary wages.” And this is a type of thousands of men who work a great deal harder to please the devil than they would have to work to please God. It is easier to be sober than intemperate, honest than dishonest, etc.

III. The way is hard; for it is frequently a path of sorrow and suffering. “As certain serpents before they strike their prey fix their eyes upon it and fascinate it, and then at last devour it, so does sin fascinate the foolish sons of Adam--they are charmed with it, and perish for it.” “Woe unto their souls, for they have rewarded evil to themselves.”

IV. The way is hard; for it is the way of bitter recollections. (J. E. Whydale.)

Personal responsibility

I. Man is constituted to avoid transgression. This is taught by--

1. Physical science.

2. Moral consciousness.

3. Common experience.

II. Man is punished for each transgression.

1. Each sinful act increases sinful desire.

2. Each sinful act weakens spiritual strength. As the sinful desire weakens, the power of resistance diminishes. A reed that has been overcome by the rushing torrent finds it more difficult to stand erect before the next.

3. Each single act is living in the memory.

III. Man is punished by an eternal law which condemns transgression.

1. This is a law additional to, but in harmony with, his constitution.

2. This is a law to be satisfied only by atonement. (The Congregational Pulpit.)

The way of transgressors is hard

A murderer’s last words are seldom very edifying, as it often happens that they are merely the expression of conviction that the speaker, in spite of his crimes, is going straight from the scaffold to heaven. The dying words of James Tracy, executed in Chicago, are, however, an exception to the rule. They deserve the careful attention of young people who think that it is a fine thing “to see life,” by which they generally mean vicious life. Tracy said, “I do not believe any man who has known a life of virtue can ever be contented with a life of vice. The farmer who has spent his life on his farm, never seeing more of the world than the road to market, or more of society than the village congregation, is happier than the ‘sporting man’ who gets his money easily but questionably, and sees society in its wildest dissipation. I hope that my fate may prove a warning to young men who are cheating themselves with the idea that there can be any peace, happiness, or prosperity in a crooked life.” Perhaps the readers of immoral novels and young people attracted by the pleasures of vice will heed the solemn statement of a man who was qualified to speak with authority, even though they despise the same warning given in the Bible.

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 13:15". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

"Good understanding giveth favor; But the way of the transgressor is hard."

There are two views of this passage. The way of the transgressor may be interpreted as in the RSV, "The way of the faithless is their ruin," or it may be referred to the way of the transgressor's behavior, his manner, as in this: "The manners of rogues are rough."[23] We prefer the interpretation that views the earthly life of every transgressor as encompassing many sorrows and misfortunes.

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James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

Good understanding giveth favour,.... A good understanding in things natural and civil gives favour among men; and so a good understanding in divine and spiritual things gives a man favour among religious people, makes him taken notice of by them, and acceptable to them: and such an understanding no man has, unless it be given him; and such appear to have one that do the commandments of God, Psalm 111:10. The Israelites, for having and keeping the statutes of the Lord, were accounted by others a wise and an understanding people; and Christ, as man, when he increased in wisdom, grew in favour with God and men. It may be rendered, "good doctrine", as the Vulgate Latin version, or "right doctrine", as the Arabic version, "gives grace"F15חן "gratiam", Pagninus, Montanus. Vatablus. Mercerus. Drusius, Michaelis, Schultens. ; is the means of conveying grace into the hearts of men, and of increasing it. What if it should be rendered, "grace gives a good understanding"F16"Successum bonum dat gratia", Junius & Tremellius. ? since it is certain, that an understanding to know God and Christ is a gift of grace, 1 John 5:20;

but the way of transgressors is hard; ungrateful and unpleasant to themselves and others; it is a rough and rugged way, in which they stumble and fall; and cannot walk with pleasure themselves, when their consciences are awakened, and they are loaded with guilt, and filled with terror; and must be very disagreeable to those who have seen the evil of them.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rightes Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855

Gill, John. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Right perception and action secure good will, while evil ways are difficult as a stony road. The wicked left of God find punishment of sin in sinning.

hard — or, “harsh” (compare Hebrew: Deuteronomy 21:4; Jeremiah 5:15).

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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.

Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Four proverbs follow, whose connection appears to have been occasioned by the sound of their words ( שׂכל ... כל , בדעת ... ברע , רשׁע ... רישׁ ).

15 Fine prudence produceth favour;

But the way of the malicious is uncultivated.

Regarding שׂכל טוב (thus to be punctuated, without Makkeph with Munach , after Codd. and old editions), vid ., p. 84; for the most part it corresponds with that which in a deep ethical sense we call fine culture. Regarding יתּן , vid ., at Proverbs 10:10 : it is not used here, as there, impersonally, but has a personal subject: he brings forth, causes. Fine culture, which shows men how to take the right side and in all circumstances to strike the right key, exercises a kindly heart-winning influence, not merely, as would be expressed by ימצא חן , to the benefit of its possessor, but, as is expressed by יתּן חן , such as removes generally a partition wall and brings men closer to one another. The איתן [ perennis ], touching it both for the eye and the ear, forms the contrast to יתן חן . This word, an elative formation from יתן = Arab. wtn , denotes that which stretches itself far, and that with reference to time: that which remains the same during the course of time. “That which does not change in time, continuing the same, according to its nature, strong, firm, and thus איתן becomes the designation of the enduring and the solid, whose quality remains always the same.” Thus Orelli, Die hebr. Synonyme der Zeit u. Ewigkeit , 1871. But that in the passage before us it denotes the way of the בגדים as “endlessly going forward,” the explanation of Orelli, after Böttcher ( Collectanea , p. 135), is withdrawn by the latter in the new Aehrenlese (where he reads ריב איתן , “constant strife”). And נחל איתן (Deuteronomy 21:4) does not mean “a brook, the existence of which is not dependent on the weather and the season of the year,” at least not in accordance with the traditional meaning which is given Sota ix. 5 (cf. the Gemara), but a stony valley; for the Mishna says: איתן כמשׁמעו קשׁה , i.e. , איתן is here, according to its verbal meaning, equivalent to קשׁה (hard). We are of the opinion that here, in the midst of the discussion of the law of the עגלה ערופה (the ritual for the atonement of a murder perpetrated by an unknown hand), the same meaning of the איתן is certified which is to be adopted in the passage before us. Maimuni

(Note: = R. Moses b. Maimum = Rambam , so called by the Jews from the initial letters of his name = Maimonides, d. 1204.)

(in Sota and Hilchoth Rozeach ix. 2) indeed, with the Mishna and Gemara, thinks the meaning of a “strong rushing wâdy” to be compatible; but קשׁה is a word which more naturally denotes the property of the ground than of a river, and the description, Deuteronomy 21:4 : in a נחל איתן , in which there is no tillage and sowing, demands for נחל here the idea of the valley, and not primarily that of the valley-brook. According to this tradition, the Targum places a תּקּיפא in the Peshito translation of 15b, and the Venet . translates, after Kimchi, ὁδὸς δὲ ἀνταρτῶν (of ἀνταρτής from ἀνταίρειν ) ἰσχυρά . The fundamental idea of remaining like itself, continuing, passes over into the idea of the firm, the hard, so that איתן is a word that interchanges with סלע , Numbers 24:21, and serves as a figurative designation of the rocky mountains, Jeremiah 49:19, and the rocky framework of the earth, Micah 6:2. Thus the meaning of hardness ( πετρῶδες , Matthew 13:5) connects itself with the word, and at the same time, according to Deuteronomy 21:4, of the uncultivable and the uncultivated. The way of the בּגדים , the treacherous, i.e. , the manner in which they transact with men, is stiff, as hard as stone, and repulsive; they follow selfish views, never placing themselves in sympathy with the condition of their neighbour; they are without the tenderness which is connected with fine culture; they remain destitute of feeling in things which, as we say, would soften a stone. It is unnecessary to give a catalogue of the different meanings of this איתן , such as vorago (Jerome), a standing bog (Umbreit), and ever trodden way (Bertheau), etc.; Schultens offers, as frequently, the relatively best: at via perfidorum pertinacissime tensum ; but יתן does not mean to strain, but to extend. The lxx has between 15a and 15b the interpolation: τὸ δὲ γνῶναι νόμον διανοίας ἐστὶν ἀγαθῆς .

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The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.

Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". 1854-1889.

Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible

If we compare not only the end, but the way, we shall find that religion has the advantage; for, 1. The way of saints is pleasant and agreeable: Good understanding gains favour with God and man; our Saviour grew in that favour when he increased in wisdom. Those that conduct themselves prudently, and order their conversation aright in every thing, that serve Christ in righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, are accepted of God and approved of men, Romans 14:17, Romans 14:18. And how comfortably will that man pass through the world who is well understood and is therefore well accepted! 2. The way of sinners is rough and uneasy, and, for this reason, unpleasant to themselves, because unacceptable to others. It is hard, hard upon others, who complain of it, hard to the sinner himself, who can have little enjoyment of himself while he is doing that which is disobliging to all mankind. The service of sin is perfect slavery, and the road to hell is strewed with the thorns and thistles that are the products of the curse. Sinners labour in the very fire.

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Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". "Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". 1706.

Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

The way of sinners is hard upon others, and hard to the sinner himself. The service of sin is slavery; the road to hell is strewed with the thorns and thistles that followed the curse.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.

Henry, Matthew. "Concise Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". "Matthew Henry Concise Commentary

on the Whole Bible". 1706.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard.

Giveth — Makes a man acceptable to God.

Rough — Offensive and hateful to God and men, as rough ways are to a traveller.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.

Wesley, John. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Proverbs 13:15 Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors [is] hard.

Ver. 15. Good understanding giveth favour.] See this exemplified in Joseph, David, Daniel, Paul. [Acts 27:43; Acts 28:2] God oft speaketh for such in the hearts of their enemies, who cannot but admire their piety and patience, and spend more thoughts about them than the world is aware of; as Darius did about Daniel when cast into the den. Natural conscience cannot but do homage to the image of God stamped upon the natures and works of the godly: when they see in them that which is above the ordinary nature of men, or their expectation, they are afraid of the name of God, whereby they are called, [Deuteronomy 28:9-10] and are forced to say, "Surely this is a wise and understanding nation"; [Deuteronomy 4:6] "God is in this people of a truth"; [1 Corinthians 14:25] "Certainly this was a righteous man." [Luke 23:47]

But the way of transgressors is hard.] Or, Rough and rugged. Satan is a rough, harsh spirit; hence devils are called Shegnirim, hairy ones, [Leviticus 17:7] satyrs. [Isaiah 34:14] So are all his; ανημεροι, fierce, "heady, highminded"; [2 Timothy 3:3-4] "Living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another." [Titus 3:3] Such were Ishmael, Esau, Saul, Antiochus (that little Antichrist), the Pope, that Aντικειμενος, and our Richard III who, well knowing it was no good policy to play the devil by half deal, resolved to leave never a rub to lie in the way that might hinder the running of his bowl; and hence was he so infinitely hated of all.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann

v. 15. Good understanding giveth favor, that is, proper prudence, true culture, causes men to have a high and kindly regard for those who possess it; but the way of transgressors is hard, the selfishness of the ungodly and malicious causes them to be hard, utterly lacking in sympathy, and therefore also desolate and unfruitful.

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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". 1921-23.

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Proverbs 13:15. Good understanding giveth favour, &c.— A good understanding granteth favour, but the demeanor of the insolent is pertinacious. Schultens. The meaning of the verse seems to be this, says Bishop Patrick; "If a man have understanding enough to be thoroughly good, he will find things favourable to his honest desires; but they who take evil courses meet with great difficulties, and are forced to go backward and forward, and wind and turn every way, to bring about their ends, or to save themselves perhaps from ruin."

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae



Proverbs 13:15. The way of transgressors is hard.

THE Scriptures abound with weighty aphorisms, which deserve the deepest consideration. For the most part, they will be found directly opposed to the general opinions of mankind. The maxims of men are too often founded on the appearance of things, and on the respect they bear to our temporal advantage; but the declarations of God exhibit things as they really are, and as they will approve themselves to be, if we take into consideration their aspect on eternity. The transgressors of God’s law account themselves happy in having cast off his yoke, and freed themselves from the restraints which his law would impose upon them. But the truth is, that he is under a most desperate delusion, and grievously deceives his own soul. “A good understanding,” regulating the conduct agreeably to God’s commands. “will ensure to a man favour” and comfort, both in this world and the next:” “but the way of transgressors is hard.” Their whole life is a state,

I. Of bondage—

[Whatever be the besetting sin of the ungodly, it has within them the force of a law, to which alas! they yield a willing obedience [Note: Romans 7:21.].” As the ten tribes “ran willingly after the commandment” of Jeroboam to the commission of idolatry, to which they had an inward and almost invincible propensity [Note: Hosea 5:11.]; so do the worldling, the sensualist, the drunkard, follow but too readily, the impulse of their own corrupt hearts. A spring will not more naturally rise, when the power which compressed it is removed, than their lusts will rise to demand their wonted gratification, when an opportunity for indulgence is afforded them. The poor infatuated agents will call this liberty [Note: 2 Peter 2:19.]; but the whole Scriptures designate it bondage: “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey [Note: Romans 6:16.]?” Yes, in yielding to temptation we are “the servants of sin [Note: Romans 6:17.];” and the servants of Satan also: for “he it is who worketh in all the children of disobedience [Note: Ephesians 2:2.],” and leads them captive at his will [Note: 2 Timothy 2:26.]”. In fact, the whole Gospel takes this for granted: for Christ was sent on purpose to redeem us from this bondage [Note: Luke 4:18.], and to “make us free indeed [Note: John 8:36.].” But, whilst thus enslaved, are we not in a most pitiable condition? True, we may not be sensible of the bondage, because the service of sin and Satan is in accordance with our own corrupt inclinations: but we are, in fact, the more to be pitied, because of our insensibility: even as a maniac is, whose whole life is occupied in things which tend to the destruction of his own welfare. The transgressor’s life is also a state,]

II. Of disquietude—

[The ungodly man, whatever be his pursuit, finds nothing in which his soul can rest. Possess what he may, “in the midst of his sufficiency he is in straits [Note: Job 20:22.].” There is always a secret something unpossessed; some object which he thinks would make him happy, but which, even when in appearance almost attained, eludes his grasp: and after he has “hewn out to himself a cistern with great labour, he finds it only a broken cistern, that can hold no water [Note: Jeremiah 2:13.].” His continual disappointments fill him with vexation; so that he finds even the objects of his fondest hope prove, in the issue, to be “vanity and vexation of spirit.” Not being devoted to his God, he wants those enjoyments and those prospects which alone can afford consolation to him under his trials — — — To his other pains are added those of a self-condemning conscience. He tries indeed to stifle the voice of conscience; and betakes himself to business, and pleasures, and company, in order to get rid of its remonstrances: but there are times when it will speak, especially a time of sickness and approaching dissolution; and at those seasons he feels regret that he has so long and so entirely disregarded his eternal interests. Gladly at such a season would he consent to have his miserable life protracted to an indefinite period, yea, or to suffer annihilation; not because he could contemplate either the one or the other with pleasure, but because he dreads the judgment for which he has neglected to prepare.

Say, Brethren, whether such away be not hard and painful? Yet I appeal to the conscience of every man, whether that declaration be not verified in his own experience; “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked [Note: Isaiah 57:20-21.].” Yes, verily, this testimony is incontrovertible; and it proves beyond all doubt the truth in my text, that “the way of transgressors is hard.”

But all this is heightened by the consideration of the transgressors’ way as a state,]

III. Of danger—

[In some respect it may be said of every man, that he is exposed to danger, and that “we know not what a day or an hour may bring forth.” But, if we be servants of Christ, we have nothing to fear; since He is pledged to preserve us from every thing that shall be really evil, and to make “all things work together for our good [Note: Romans 8:28.].” Even death itself is a blessing to the pious man, who is privileged to count it amongst his richest treasures [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:22.]. Far different from this, however, is the state of the ungodly man: he knows not but that the next moment may precipitate him into the bottomless abyss of hell. Death waits but for its commission from on high, and it will in an instant transmit his soul to the bar of judgment, and to the presence of his offended God. What a fearful thought! With what terror would it inspire the unconverted man, if it were contemplated aright! Could we but conceive a transgressor hurried to the tribunal of his Judge, to give up his great account, and to receive his final doom, what a view should we have of the folly of his ways! Oh! the anguish to which he is now subjected under the wrath of an avenging God? what “weeping” under the load of his misery! what “wailing” on account of his folly, in having so wasted his day of grace! and what “gnashing of teeth,” with unprofitable execrations against his avenging God! Such is the danger to which the unconverted man is every moment exposed. At his most joyous feasts, this sword is suspended over him by a single hair; which cut or rent asunder, he is instantly consigned to endless woe. Whether the transgressor think of it or not, this is his state; and a miserable state it is: and if he awake not out of it before death shall seize him, it were better for him that he had never been born.]


1. How desirable is the conversion of the soul to God!

[Compare the state of a converted soul with that which has been before described. The saint, doubtless, has his trials, as well as the ungodly man: but in him, so far as it prevails, religion makes a most essential difference: “it frees him from the law of sin and death [Note: Romans 8:2.];” and he finds all its ways to be the ways of pleasantness and peace [Note: Proverbs 3:17.].” If men consulted only their happiness in this life, they would devote themselves to God, whose service is perfect freedom: but if they take eternity into the account, they will confess him to be the only happy man, who enjoys the Divine favour and looks forward with confidence to a participation of the Divine glory.]

2. How infatuated are they who delay to seek it!

[Truly, if men were conscious of their danger in an unconverted state, they could no more sleep than they could in a ship that was on fire, or on a rafter on which they were making their escape to land. I pray you, beloved, consider the shortness and uncertainty of time! Consider how every day’s continuance in sin operates to grieve the Holy Spirit of God, to harden your own hearts, to confirm your evil habits, to accumulate your load of guilt, and to augment the misery that awaits you. O! will you delay to turn unto your God? Will you delay one single hour? What if your soul be required of you this very night, and your doom be fixed without a hope or possibility of change for ever? I beseech you, to-day, while it is called to-day, harden not your hearts; but “repent, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity shall not be your ruin.”]

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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. 1832.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Good understanding; discovering itself by a man’s holy and righteous practices and ways, as appears from the opposition of

the way of transgressors to it; and as words of understanding in this and other books of Scripture commonly include practice.

Giveth favour; maketh a man acceptable both to God and men.

The way; the carriage or manner of conversation.

Is hard; or, rough, as this very word is used, Deuteronomy 21:4; offensive and hateful to God and men, as rough ways are to a traveller; fierce, and intractable, and incorrigible.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

15. Good understanding — Intelligence accompanied with kindness; kindly wisdom.

Way of transgressors — Their conduct; frequently denoted as “a way.”

Is hard — Difficult, rough, perhaps hard to bear; Zockler renders: “desolate.” The primary idea of the word seems to be that of perpetuity, as an ever-trodden way, hence hard and desolate, destitute of verdure, etc. This word, rendered hard, has been a hard word for the critics.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Proverbs 13:15. Good understanding — Discovering itself by a man’s holy and righteous practices; giveth favour — Maketh a man acceptable both to God and men; but the way of transgressors — Their conduct, or manner of conversation — is hard; Hebrew, איתן, rough, as this very word is rendered Deuteronomy 21:4; it is offensive to God and men, as rough ways are to travellers; fierce, intractable, and incorrigible. Bishop Patrick interprets the verse thus: “If a man have understanding enough to be thoroughly good, he will find things favourable to his honest desires; but they that take evil courses meet with great difficulties, and are forced to go backward and forward, and wind and turn every way, to bring about their ends, or save themselves perhaps from ruin.”

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Grace. God assists those who strive to be well instructed. (Calmet)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

giveth favour. Illustrations: Abraham (Genesis 23:10, Genesis 23:11); Joseph (Genesis 39:2); Joshua (Joshua 6:27); David (1 Samuel 18:14); Abigail (1 Samuel 25:3, 1 Samuel 25:18-34); Daniel (Daniel 1:8, Daniel 1:9; Daniel 6:3); Samuel (1 Samuel 2:26. 1 Samuel 22:1).

hard = rough. This meaning may be substituted for its usual rendering "strong". See Genesis 49:24. Exodus 14:27. Numbers 24:21. Jeremiah 5:15. Amos 5:24. Micah 6:2, &c. Hebrew. "eythan.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard.

Good understanding giveth favour - both with God and man.

But the way of transgressors (is) hard - rugged; literally, rough, as soil unfit for cultivation (Deuteronomy 21:4). The way of transgressors is one which yields no fruit of favour from God or good men to them; nor will it yield the precious fruit of eternal life at last, which "good understanding" (i:e., doctrinal experimental, and practical knowledge of the truth) shall yield.

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(15) Good understanding giveth favour.—Comp. the union of “wisdom” and “favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52).

The way of transgressors is hard.—Rough and barren as the valley described in Deuteronomy 21:4, in contrast to the green “pastures” and “waters of comfort” of Psalms 23:2.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard.
3:4; 14:35; 1 Samuel 18:14-16; Luke 2:52; Acts 7:10
4:19; 15:10; Psalms 95:9-11; Jeremiah 2:19; Romans 6:21

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary


Pro . Good understanding, rather "discretion." Hard, "stony," "uncultivated." This is the generally received rendering, but the word often signifies "perpetual." Miller says "We find it in thirteen places, and in every one of them it means perpetual. "Strong or perpetual is thy dwelling-place" (Num 24:21). "Mighty rivers" are perpetual, or perennial rivers (Psa 74:17). "Mighty nation" (Jer 5:15) corresponds with next expression "ancient nation," and is to be rendered "perpetual" (or permanent). Umbreit translates it "a standing bog" or "marsh."



I. Favour is here spoken of as a thing to be desired. It is desirable to have the favour of any man if thereby we can do him any good. It was desirable that Joseph should have Pharaoh's favour, as he was thereby enabled to gain his ear and help him in his perplexity. The favour which Daniel obtained from Nebuchadnezzar enabled him to be a great blessing to that monarch. A man who his regarded by his fellow creatures with favour possesses a powerful instrument which he may use to do them good. On this account the favour of men is to be desired. It is also desirable to have the favour of good men as thereby we may get good. Good men are the only living representatives of God in the world, and next to the blessedness of having the favour of the parent is the blessedness of having that of His children. Therefore the favour of men is to be desired both for their sakes and for our own.

II. The instrument of obtaining favour. "Good understanding" or "good intelligence." Man's highest and truest intelligence springs from moral relation and sympathy with God. All intellectual intelligence is derived from Him, and this intelligence alone will often gain for men a large share of human favour. There are many men of great mental intelligence, who do not acknowledge the existence of God, who have won high places in the esteem of men. But these words refer to those who have been enlightened by the teaching of the Divine spirit, and are in sympathy with God and with His moral laws. Such men are not less intelligent concerning other matters, but more so. Other things being equal, a godly man's purely intellectual powers are quickened by his godliness. If an ungodly man becomes a true servant of God, all the powers of his mind are thereby strengthened. Observation confirms this, and it is impossible that it should be otherwise. If a man cannot come into communion with a wiser man, without gaining in intelligence, how can he come into communion with the Fountain of all wisdom without becoming a more intelligent man in every sense of the word? What a capable man of business Joseph was. When quite a youth, and without any previous training, he became controller of the household of an Egyptian nobleman; and when only thirty was not only the first lord of Egypt, but showed himself fully equal to all the exigencies of his position. Whence did his "good understanding" proceed? Was it not from his moral relationship with the God of his fathers? "Can we find such an one as this is?" said the heathen king,—"a man in whom the spirit of God is" (Gen ). The possession of this "good understanding" in temporal and secular matters gives a man favour in the eyes of other men. The possession of spiritual intelligence gives him favour in the eyes of all the good. There is a relationship among all true members of the family of God, which is stronger and deeper than any merely human relationship. And this spiritual intelligence gives a man a moral power among all his fellow-men. They cannot withhold the testimony of their consciences, unless they are altogether hardened they must secretly, if not openly, give him their esteem and confidence. "Natural conscience," says Trapp, "cannot but do homage to the image of God stamped upon the nature and works of the godly."

III. The way of those who are destitute of this spiritual intelligence. All such men are "transgressors." Their spiritual nature is dormant—they are without spiritual discernment. In scriptural phrase they are "blind" (Rev ) and "dead" (Eph 2:1). Their way is hard, however we use the word. (See Critical Notes.)

1. It is hard in the sense of being a well-trodden way. It has become hard by being much frequented—by being perpetually used. It has several elements of attraction.

1. Antiquity is on its side. It is an old way—it has been in use for ages. "No man," says our Lord, "having drunk old wine, straightway desireth new" (Luk ). Men are naturally conservative—naturally inclined to go as their fathers went. True it is that there is an older way—the way of the good (see Homiletics on chap. Pro 4:14-19, page 58), but still the way of the transgressor is very ancient.

2. Men's natural inclination leads into that way. Men are led by their inclination, unless there is a stronger principle within them. We are born with a tendency to evil rather than to good—to walk after the devices of our own heart rather than according to the will of God. In most men "inclination is as strong as will," and leads them to tread the "way of the transgressor."

3. It is attractive because of the numbers who tread it. "Many there be which go in thereat" (Mat ). Many men make that fact a city of refuge wherein to shelter themselves from the admonitions of conscience. "I only do as others do" is regarded by many men as an impregnable citadel wherein they can securely await the righteous judgments of God (See Homiletics on page 8, 2nd head).

2. It is hard and therefore desolate, unfruitful. The common highway that is trodden down by many feet is not the place in which to look for a golden harvest. The stony rock is not a soil whence flowers spring. Men do not expect to gather choice fruit on the desolate moorland. Neither can the way of the transgressor yield the flowers or the pleasant fruits of life. Thorns and nettles are there, but no golden harvest. The favour neither of God nor man is his portion. He can only reap as he has sown (See Homiletics on chap. Pro , page 223).

3. It is a hard way in the sense that it is a miserable way. Every act carries with it a present judgment. Every action has its reaction of pleasure or of pain. Every step, therefore, in the way of transgression has its accompanying reproach of conscience. Then the way of sin is a way of self-deception. What is more painful than to be the subject of constant deception? We have just dwelt upon the heart-sickness of hope deferred (Pro ); the sinner is a constant victim of this malady. Nothing can be a more bitter experience than to stake our all upon a promise, and when the time comes for its fulfilment, to find that it was made only to be broken. Yet this is the experience of a transgressor of God's law, not once or twice, but all through his life. It is his lot not only to deceive but to be deceived (2Ti 3:13). He is ever promising himself, and is ever being promised by the master whom he serves, satisfaction as the result of his deeds, but he is always finding that the performance falls as far short of the promise as it did when the devil led our first parents into sin, by the promise "ye shall be as gods," and performed it by making them slaves to himself. This is another ingredient in the hardness of the way. He is a slave to him who has deceived him. Many a man is fully alive to the deceptive nature of sin—to its utter powerlessness to give him real pleasure—and yet he goes on it. Why is this? He is bound by a chain which he finds it well nigh impossible to break. Evil habits, as well as good ones, grow stronger by exercise. Slavery is hard under any master, excepting under Him whose service is perfect freedom. How bitter, then, is slavery to one who has deceived us. Yet this is not the hardest part of the hard way. None who are thus victims of the great deceiver—none whom he has made his bond slaves but feel that they are so by their own consent. Each evil thought unchecked, each evil thought indulged, has forged a link in the chain. Their condition has been likened, by an old writer, to that of a man who has been busily at work in carrying stick after stick to make a pile of wood, and then finds that he has only been heaping up materials for a fire upon which he is to be burned.

IV. But though the way of transgressors is hard, it is not too hard. Its very hardness is intended to lead them to leave it. Because the end will be worse than the way, it is the tenderest mercy to make the way hard. It only tells him that he has taken the wrong road. The pain that he suffers is only the voice of God, saying, "Do thyself no harm." When a mountain pass becomes so blocked with fallen rocks that every step is a misery, does it not admonish the traveller to turn back before he makes a fatal slip? When in the regions of eternal snow a man feels intense pain from the biting cold, and encounters at every step the corpse of one who has been frozen to death by persistently disregarding the voice of nature, is it not suicide to continue? Can he say he received no admonition? Is not all pain a warning that some good law has been transgressed? Is it not a sentinel with a drawn sword to turn back the unwary from the precipice? Even so is the hardness of the way of the transgressor.


For the most part the word translated "good understanding" corresponds with that which, in a deep ethical sense, we call fine culture, which shows men how to take the right side, and in all circumstances to take the right key, exercise a kindly, heart-winning influence, not merely to the benefit of its possessor, but such as removes a partition wall, and brings men closer to each other. The word translated "hard" denotes that which stretches itself far, and with reference to time, that which remains the same during the course of time. That which does not change in time, continuing the same, according to its nature, strong, firm, thus becomes the designation of the enduring and the solid, whose quality remains always the same. The fundamental idea of remaining like itself, continuing, passes over into the idea of the firm, the hard, and, at the same time, of the uncultivated and the uncultivatible. The way of transgressors, or of the treacherous, i.e., the manner in which they transact with men, is stiff, as hard as stone, repulsive; they follow selfish views, never placing themselves in sympathy with the condition of their neighbour; they are without the tenderness which is connected with fine culture; they remain destitute of feeling in things which, as we say, would soften a stone,—Delitzsch.

Many seek favour as the gift of others which it is in their own power to give themselves. For, get a good understanding, whereby to understand well what thou goest about, and how to go about it. It is true, as Tertullian speaketh, now and then it falls out, that in a great tempest wherein sea and heaven are confounded, the haven is attained by a happy error; and now and then, in darkness, the way of entrance and going out is found by a blind happiness. But this is a favour which has no holdfast—it is a good understanding that giveth favour.—Jermin.

Is not the way of transgressors pleasant in prospect, although it ends in death? No; sin barters away future safety but does not secure present peace in return. Things are not always what they seem. The pleasures of sin are not only limited in their duration, they are lies even while they last.… The race is torture and the goal perdition.… But the right way is not a soft and silky path for the foot of man to tread upon; and, if one thing happens to all in the journey of life, what advantage have the good? Much every way, and specifically thus: The hardness which disciples experience in following their Lora is righteousness rubbing on their remaining lusts, and so wasting their deformities away; whereas the hardness of a transgressor's way is a carnal mind in its impotent enmity dashing itself against the bosses of the Almighty's buckler.… As the pains of cure differ from the pains of killing, so differs the salutary straitness which presses the entrance at the gates of life, from the hardness which hurts transgressors as they flee from God.—Arnot.

Sin, as of its nature, sinks always lower under bond (Pro ), and must, therefore, de jure, be "perpetual" (see Miller's rendering, in Critical Notes). For, strange enough, the man without "good intelligence," i.e., the best kind of knowledge, neglects to act on what knowledge he has. The worst man has knowledge enough to save him—that is (to expound an averment which is only in one sense true), God's goodness is such that if a man would use the light he had, he would start from that point, and be helped into the kingdom.—Miller.

Different senses have been affixed to these words—

1. "Good understanding showeth favour to others"—i.e., is mild and conciliatory, while the "way of transgressors is hard, unyielding, stern.

2. "Ingenuous manners procure favour; but rugged is the path of the artful"—i.e., exposing him to incessant difficulties, while open dealing makes a man's way plain before him.

3. More probably the meaning in both parts of the verse terminates on the person's self. Intelligent and sound judgment, by fitting a man to be a wise and useful counsellor, procures him favour. On the contrary, the "way of transgressors," like "By-path Meadow" in the Pilgrim's Progress, presents at its entrance all that is tempting to allure into it, but supplies no real enjoyment to the traveller in it at last.—Wardlaw.

Wicked men live under a hard taskmaster. "I was held before conversion," said Augustine, "not with an iron chain, but with the obstinacy of my own will." The philosophical infidel bears the same testimony. "I begin to fancy myself in a most deplorable condition, environed with the deepest darkness on every side" (Essays, I. 458). Voltaire, judging of course from his own heart, pronounces, "In man is more wretchedness than in all other animals put together. Man loves life, yet knows he must die." "I wish," continues this wretched witness for his master, "I had never been born." The worldly infidel adds his seal to the record. Colonel Gardiner declared, that in his course of wickedness he had often envied the existence of a dog.—Bridges.

The hardness of the transgressor's way.

I. A truth to be confirmed. It is hard to themselves—to others, to their families, their friends, to society.

II. A dispensation to be approved. It illustrates the mingled justice and mercy of God, who has made the way to hell difficult. The hardness of the way of sin is often the means of stopping sinners in their course. The sufferings of the wicked operate as a check and preservative to the righteous.

III. A warning to be enforced. Take care how you take the first step. Be anxious, if you have entered the road, to retrace your step. Remember that the hardness of the way is nothing to the bitterness of the end—S. Thodey.

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:15". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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