Chapter 12: Commentary

Chapter 12 is a continuation of the second collection of Proverbs (10:1-24:34) attributed to Solomon. It consists of single verse wise sayings of typical Hebrew poetry, somewhat similar to the wise sayings with which we grew up. The "wicked" and "righteous" are the main character in this chapter.

12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid.

     I like the way the NIV says this verse. Typical Hebrew poetic parallelism, this verse discusses opposites. The first part of the verse speaks about a good guy. To really appreciate discipline, instructions or directions from others, is to love knowledge. He knows discipline will make him smarter and better.
      The second part of the verse speaks about the guy who doesn't appreciate correction – it calls him "stupid!" It the Hebrew word for an animal, a "brute beast," thus the KJV uses the word "brutish" instead of stupid. When we refuse to accept correction, we are acting no smarter than a dumb animal!

12:2 Good people obtain favor from the LORD, but he condemns those who devise wicked schemes.

     This verse speaks of the LORD and two guys – the "good" and "those who devise wicked schemes." There is really no surprise here that the good "obtain favor from the LORD" and He "condemns" the guys who comes up with wicked plans.
      It's the same God dealing with two separate guys very differently. The basis for that difference is the choices each guy makes. Before deciding what we are going to do, it would do us all well to not forget that God – who sees and knows all – will also deal with us accordingly.
      But we need to understand, the key is not what I do. Instead it centers on my attitudes and choices - "devise" has to do with my thinking, not my actions. It's my call! It's also One Day at a Time!

12:3 A man cannot be established through wickedness, but the righteous cannot be uprooted.

     The parallelism of this verse is presented in the negative. It focuses on being "established" and "rooted" – that is stable and secure. The first part of the verse notes that "wickedness" will not stand. Either the results of the man's wickedness will do him in or God will simply not allow him to continue doing what he does.
      On the other side, the "righteous" cannot be "uprooted." Again, their choices set them up for long-term stability and they have God's watch-care, too. While everyone goes through tough times, the righteous can rest in God's promised protection.
      In either case, our own decisions and lifestyles set us up to stand or fall. And, while God is not mentioned in the verse, we can be certain He is watching and will do what He knows is best in each of our lives – never enabling and always with tough love.

12:4 A wife of noble character is her husband's crown, but a disgraceful wife is like decay in his bones.

     Proverbs was generally written from the perspective of father to son and is the basis of understanding this ancient wise saying. It says that a good wife ("wife of noble character") makes her husband look good ("is her husband's crown").
      A crown is symbolic of authority and power. It enhances a man's appearance in the eyes of others. This proverb is actually an ancient version of our modern wise saying, "behind every good man stands a good woman."
      But the verse suggests the opposite is also true. A bad wife ("disgraceful") is to her husband "like decay in his bones." Her attitudes or actions can be so detrimental to him that they destroy his life like a disease can destroy his body.
      Consequently, it's important for us – whether man or woman – to make good choices about future mates. So much at stake. The best way to live in the first part of this verse – and not the second – is to let God lead us to the right partner.
      Of course, this verse is guy talk – man-to-man advice. But a mother would communicate the same to her daughter. Either way, one of the best decisions we can make in this life is to marry a spouse of noble character.
      So I'll suggest the best way for us guys to do this is to stop focusing on finding the right woman…and start focusing on being the right man. When we are the man we're supposed to be, God will make sure that the right woman finds us!
      Just for the record, the verse is not saying that this wife treats him like a king – serving him hand and foot. Instead, she is the kind of lady that, by her life, makes her husband act and appear like a leader of others.
      I am writing these words on Valentine's Day weekend and this is a good verse for the occasion. I have been married to my wife, Gayle, for 35 years and she has truly been a crown to my life and ministry. If I have accomplished anything of meaning and value, Gayle has been there shoulder to shoulder with me and has consistently done her part to make things happen. From first-hand personal experience, I know that the first part of this verse is true. But in my 36 years of ministry I have also seen and heard enough to know that the second part of this verse is just as real.

12:6 The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood, but the speech of the upright rescues them.

     This verse is about the things we say. The words of the wicked are spoken for the purpose of hurting others. While not always appearing to be evil, we can count on the fact that words from their mouths will eventually lead to an ambush.
      The words of the upright, on the other hand, aren't designed to hurt anyone - although, admittedly, sometimes that will happen. But, at that point, a truly upright person will acknowledge it has happened and address it appropriately.
      This verse also notes that "the speech of the upright rescues them" - sometimes from their own messes, sometimes from the wicked who "lie in wait for blood." If we can only be honest and appropriate with our words, what a difference they would make in our live and the lives of others.
      So, this verse is a good reminder about life. It tells us what we can expect from the wicked. It also reminds us of God's promise to deliver the upright. In fact, the Bible is quite clear that God will actually give the righteous the right words to say at the right time to deliver him from whatever difficult situations may arise.

12:7 The wicked are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous stands firm

     Once again "the wicked" and "the righteous" square off in Proverbs. This wise saying is a simple statement of truth about both and a promise from God.
      Because of their own decisions and choices, "the wicked are overthrown and are no more." While not mentioned in the verse, it is very possible that God is to be understood as having actively intervened in their lives.
      But it is not at all inconceivable that what happens to the "wicked" is nothing more than the natural result of their own inappropriate decisions and/or decisions of their associates.
      For "the righteous," on the other hand, "the house...stands firm." When one's ways please the LORD, we just know good things will happen. Such a lifestyle creates a firm foundation upon which one can solidly build something that will stand firm.
      I suggest this verse is looking at life over the long-haul. It may take a while for the wheels to fall off for the wicked, but that day will come. And the firmly-grounded house of the righteous also suggests a long view of things.
      Yet, it's very important for us to keep this truth in focus on a daily basis. If it is true - and God says it is - then we should live every day knowing this is where it will ultimately lead to in the end.
      Our wise saying is both good encouragement and a stern warning about this life. And how we do today - here and now - is simply setting us up for eternity!

12:8 A person is praised according to their prudence, and one with a warped mind is despised.

     This proverb is about the response of others to our character. There is the person with "prudence" and there is the person "with a warped mind."
      While I think we all could use a little counseling, some are sicker than others!
      Either way, people are going to respond to what they see and hear from us. In this verse, one "person is praised" and another is "despised" based on how they interact with others.
      But the answer is not to put up a better front so I look or sound better in other people's eyes. The happiest and most secure folks in the world are those who are able to be themselves and live their lives in such a way that others "praise" them.
      The difference is in our character - how we really think. Here, the characteristic that is so appreciated is "prudence" - a quality of good thought processes akin to wisdom.
      "A warped mind" is one with a heart that is wicked and self-centered. Their thinking and lifestyle offers little of value to others and, consequently, they are "despised."
      Then, on top of all this talk about what others think of me -- there is God...and what He thinks of my attitudes and actions!
      Being the person I was created to be will cause others to appreciate me; I'll feel good about myself; and, best of all, I will be one in whom He is well pleased!"

12:9 Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than pretend to be somebody and have no food.

     This is the first of almost twenty "better/than" direct comparison wise sayings in Proverbs. When I first started making Proverbs a regular daily habit, I struggled with the connection between the poetic parallelism of some verses – I couldn't quite see the connection between the verse's first and second statements. But these "better/than" direct comparisons were clear and I could understand what was meant.
      This one says that is it "better to be a nobody" with something (in this case "a servant") than to "pretend to be somebody but have no food". This reminds me of two fundamental truths about human existence. First, public perception is not all that it is cracked up to be…just to be perceived to be somebody won't necessarily get me fed today. I will need to actually have something and do something in order to eat like a normal person on a regular basis, day after day. But the sad truth is that we sometimes, both individually and corporately, get so caught up in PR that we don't actually get around to producing anything of substance and consequently have nothing to show for it (see 13:7).
      Second, this verse teaches us to be comfortable with who and where we are in life. Honestly, it really doesn't matter how impressed others are with me or my stuff. If I have all I really need and can make it through another day (along with my servant!). life's pretty good – regardless of what anyone else may think.

12:10 A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.

     This verse contrasts the attitudes and actions of the righteous verses the wicked. You would expect them to be different – and they are.
      The righteous man cares about his animal. It belongs to him and is his responsibility. If he takes good care of it, his animal will continue to be of value to him. If he doesn't, it will be in the best interest of neither.
      The wicked don't care about anyone or anything else – just themselves. What might be considered acts of kindness by them are, in truth, just selfish choices for their own benefit and will only be cruel to others – man or beast.
      The best the wicked can do is only hurtful. His only hope is to change – from wicked to righteous. And the good news is that this happens all the time.

12:14 From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.

     An important lesson about life is that words are as meaningful and powerful as actions. Mom once told me that "sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you." I know why she said that to little Gary, but it really isn't true about life. Unfortunately, I have unfortunately allowed things that people said to me affect me for years.
      Learning to say appropriate things, at the right time, sets up our lives to be filled with good stuff. We generally know that good, honest, hard work ("the work of his hands") is rewarded. But they both can really make a difference in the quality of our lives. Just do it – and say it – right.

12:15 The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.

     Over and over again, Proverbs suggests that there are paths we can take, things we can do which seem like good ideas at the time – but in the end are not. Here we read that the fool thinks he knows best.
      Down here in East Baltimore we would say that this guy thinks he is the smartest man in the room. This guy is certain nobody knows more than he does. While this verse doesn't say what happened to him, we all know (see 14:12; 16:25).
      On the other hand, in good Hebrew poetic parallelism, the wise man doesn't think he has all the answers. He is open to, even looking for, advice and will make a much better decision. Both men will have to make their own decisions about their own lives, but one wants good advice the other doesn't. I think we all know how this story ends.

12:18 Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

     The central topic of this verse (actually :17-19) is the power and effect of the words we speak. In this proverb there are reckless words and there are words of the wise, one hurts and the other heals.
      No real surprise that someone else's reckless words hurt, but here they are compared with the piercing of a sword. In the ancient world, infections from such a wound might well kill someone. Reckless words have been known to be just about as deadly.
      On the other hand, wise words can really bring encouragement, support, help, empowerment and even healing for someone else. Most of us can remember specific times in our lives when someone's wise words actually changed our lives.
      Consequently, we should remember the power we have with our words today. We will have the opportunity to either help or hurt dozens of people just by what we will say. Let's make a positive difference in the lives of others today.

12:21 No harm overtakes the righteous, but the wicked have their fill of trouble.

     A promise, this wise saying is also just a statement of truth. And, while He is not mentioned, God is clearly the basis of the whole concept.
      This verse contrasts between "the righteous" and "the wicked." It's also a contrast of what happens to each.
      Being "righteous" sets us up for positive things in our lives. In fact, they're often just the natural outgrowth of decisions we make or the way we treat people.
      On the other hand, being "righteous" connects us to God, His protection and empowerment. Of course, this isn't a promise of no pain, just that the overall picture includes God's plan and watch-care for His people.
      But the opposite is also true. - "the wicked have their fill of trouble." Again, so much of it is simply the natural outgrowth of choices we make and how we treat people.
      And God is also active in the lives of the "wicked." He doesn't hate them, but has a better plan for their lives than they have charted for themselves. Like a loving parent, He'll do what it takes to get their attention and show them a better way.
      But remember - being "righteous" or "wicked" doesn't stem from our actions but from our attitudes and relationship with God. He has a plan for each of us and our willingness to accept and go with it determines the kind of person we are.
      And when we're tired of being the "wicked" guy or gal, we can change our mind and be different. We don't have to stay in the second half of the verse. The promise in the first part can be ours.
      God's got a better way! We choose...

12:22 The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.

     If you want to tick God off, just start lying! God can be trusted to do what He says and He delights in those who talk that way. But dishonest words are unacceptable to Him and He will ultimately deal with that person.
      There is a quote from the Narcotics Anonymous Basic Text (their version of the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book) which is very meaningful to me. I have memorized it and can quote it from memory:

     There is one thing more than anything else that will defeat us in our recovery: this is an
     attitude of indifference or intolerance toward spiritual principles. Three of these that are
     indispensable are honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. With these we are well on
     our way (Narcotics Anonymous [5th edition] Chapter Four "How it Works"p18)

     Spirituality and a God-connection involve honest, open and willing attitudes. I have come to appreciate them as central for my own spiritual walk. The truthful, honest person is the one in whom God delights. Real recovery is based on spirituality and honesty is one of those key spiritual attitudes.

12:23 A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself, but the heart of fools blurts out folly.

     The term used for the "prudent" man here has both a good and bad connotation in the Old Testament. Based on the context, sometimes it's positive – contrasted to "fools" here – and is translated accordingly.
      Sometimes the term is negative – shrewd or crafty – like the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:1)! But I think the best translation is probably my own – "street smart!" Sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes it's not.
      Since the "prudent" and "fools" in this verse are very different people, it is not surprising that they do things quite differently. The prudent man "keeps his knowledge to himself."
      That suggests he doesn't feel the need to say everything he knows – whether he knows little or lots. Being prudent doesn't automatically mean someone has a high IQ. The point is that they make the decision to choose to not say everything they know.
      In contrast, "the heart of fools blurts out folly." These folks just can't keep quiet. Not only saying everything they know, they'll even announce everything they're just thinking! But because of who they are, whatever they talk about will tend toward foolishness.
      Understanding who it is that is talking can really help us appreciate what's being said. We have an equivalent modern wise saying – "just consider the source!"

12:25 An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.

     Allowing the cares of the world to get to me leads to an "anxious heart." Not a good place to be, it "weighs a man down" and can wear him out. Whether external (people, places and things) or internal (our own hurts, habits and hangups), stuff really has a way of getting to us.
      On the other hand, an appropriately "kind word" from someone else can really "cheer him up." A good word at the right time can be so empowering and help bring us back to reality. It doesn't mean that our problems are gone, but we can have a new perspective to help us face and address that which is causing our anxiety.
      May we be able to recognize when our hearts get anxious and may we find the empowerment to deal with the issue. May we also be open to receive a good word from others. And may we be willing to help someone else who is struggling today, too!

12:27 The lazy man does not roast his game, but the diligent man prizes his possessions.

     The first guy in this verse apparently killed his game while hunting but then did nothing at all with the carcass. There's no indication he didn't like what he got, just that he didn't feel like doing anything with it. Among the ancient Israelites, a man who hunted but did not roast what he killed would have been seen as not only lazy, but even irresponsible. Food was always hard to come from for a family and this guy apparently did not appreciate what he had.
      On the other hand, the diligent man would work hard for everything he had, would appreciate it and, consequently, take good care of it. At issue here is attitude. One man doesn't appreciate what he has. Even if he worked hard to get it, now it doesn't mean much to him. The other man presumably also worked hard to get what he has and he intends to keep and enjoy it (and, hopefully, even share it with others!).