Chapter 13: Commentary

Chapter 13 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. This chapter is unique in that neither the term "God" or "the LORD" appears.

13:1 A wise son heeds his father's instruction, but a mocker does not listen to rebuke.

     This proverb suggests two things about a wise son. First, he became wise from responding appropriately to his father's discipline ("instruction"). Second, a son who is already wise will continue to respond appropriately to his father's instruction. Wisdom is not magical, it is totally accessible to anyone who is open to receive it. One of the major sources of wisdom in most of our lives is going to be parents or the other loving caring adults in our lives who offered instruction/discipline to us.
      The second half of the verse reminds us that a mocker/scoffer/cynic does not receive very well rebuke from anyone. This is a person who rejects moral principles, spiritual insights and personal accountability.
      The different response from these two personalities is very simple – one receives direction from others, the other doesn't. That single lifestyle choice makes them remarkably different people.

13:3 He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.

     Another Proverb which focusing on our words, the first part is about the man who "guards his lips" (words). Admittedly, we all need our words guarded and it's something we must do for ourselves. No one else can do it for us and guarding our words means we will be guarding our lives from lots of stupid stuff that can happen.
      But the opposite is also true. Not guarding my mouth (that is "speaks rashly") is not guarding my life (that is, it "will come to ruin"). I can keep or lose my life (literally and figuratively!) based on how well I watch my words.
      As a mouthy guy, myself, I admit I don't practice this verse as well as I should. I talk lots and usually say good things. But – if I keep talking – I will get around to saying something stupid!
      So the big question is - how do I go about "guarding my lips?" It isn't that complicated and can be summed up in two points.
      First, we need to purpose that we will think about what we are going to say before we say it. That isn't hard for most people, but some of us have so much to say that we sometimes forget to think first! Yet we can learn to do so with a little practice.
      Second, if we don't think first and we do say something stupid, we just need to be honest and admit when we are wrong. Although some will say this is like "closing the barn door after the horse is out" (to quote a modern proverb).
      But most are willing to hear us accept responsibility for saying something dumb. In fact, we can earn a lot of "street cred" when we just "man up!"

13:4 The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.

     Everyone has desires, but day in and day out some people don't seem to have theirs fulfilled. While this verse discusses desires ("craves" and "desires"), it is not really about them.
      Furthermore, at issue is not even if desires are good or bad. While the term "craves" in this translation probably has a negative connotation to us, the actual Hebrew word does not. It's simply a desire, neither good nor bad.
      Instead the focus of this verse is the difference between the people who "get nothing" and those who "are fully satisfied." Here, the lazy ("sluggard") don't and the hardworking ("the diligent") do.
      It's not that sluggards are wicked people, they are just not disciplined and focused to do right things. They don't follow through and consequently, don't get to enjoy the things they desire to have or experience.
      Interestingly, the verse does not discuss the relationship of these guys with God. Spiritual guys can be lazy and unspiritual guys can be diligent! This verse is all about character.
      Character defects keep the sluggard from the enablement and empowerment to experience the many good things in life that could be available to him. Add a spiritual dimension to his life and it can take everything to a whole other level. God is good and He does make a difference!

13:6 Righteousness guards the person of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner.

     This wise saying discusses two different characters - "the person of integrity" and "the sinner." In both cases their character leads to some specific outcomes in their lives.
      A "person of integrity" is someone committed to making good decisions. It's more about thinking than doing!
      Of course, this doesn't mean they are perfect. But such attitudes on a daily basis set them up for some good results - "righteousness guards" them regularly.
      On the other hand, "the sinner" is a rather opposite character. "Wickedness overthrows" them.
      Because of their own lifestyle choices, it could be their own wickedness or the wickedness of others. Either way, the result is the same - it "overthrows" or turns their world upside down.
      This is the kind of things we attempt to teach our children from their earliest days - there are benefits or consequences to our choices. It reminds us of another Biblical and popular wise saying, "we reap what we sow!"

13:7 One man pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.

     This verse reminds us of the power and impact of words. A fool can't help but talk – and keep talking – until it gets him in trouble and costs him.
      When discussing this verse in class, I like to ask if anyone's words have ever directly led to their being beat up, shot or stabbed? Many hands go up. Arrested? Even more hands. Lost a job? Still more. Ruined a good relationship? Almost everyone! We all know our words are powerful – and can be dangerous to our own good health!
      But the rest of the verse also says a wise man's words can protect him. Wisdom is the ability to see life from God's point of view and helps us be in the right place at the right time, as well as say appropriate things (and not say stupid stuff!) at the right time. The wise man's words set him up to be safe.
      Wisdom provides good and right words even in the most difficult situations. This is God's promise to a man (or woman) of wisdom.

13:9 The light of the righteous shines brightly, but the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out.

     Who I am makes a big difference in what happens to me. For "the righteous," things are looking good - "the light...shines brightly." My own choices and God's blessing can really set the table for some good things in my life.
      Sadly, for "the wicked," things don't look so good. Their " snuffed out." In the Biblical world, once the sun went down, there really wasn't much light available to function at night.
      Their single-wick lamp was about all the ancients had. Lose that light and things got complicated!
      This wise saying offers a pretty significant contrast! One light shines brightly and the other goes out.
      It's a statement of truth and a promise. Life can be good and that will come as the result of my own good choices. But, when I don't make such choices, I can expect some serious difficulties ahead.
      Of course, my lamp going out may just be an unfortunate moment - for one night - or it could be terminal! That will be my call.
      But even better news - things can just get brighter and brighter day by day! I have the opportunity to keep that going, as day, one night at a time

13:10 Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.

     This proverb contrasts two different qualities – "pride" and "wisdom." In Proverbs "pride" is viewed as the opposite of humility ("recognizing that God and others are actually responsible for the accomplishments in my life"– one of our HUM character qualities:
      Self-centered, pride "only breeds quarrels." It does not produces good things in our lives or anyone else's.
      On the other hand, "wisdom" looks at life differently and produces the opposite. At HUM, wisdom is another of our character qualities. We define it as "seeing life from God's point of view."
      Proverbs is the book of the Bible that focuses on wisdom the most. It is totally available to all of us and this verses notes we can receive wisdom if we are willing to "take advice" from others.
      When we think we have all the answers and know what is best – operating out of pride – we will just cause hurt and damage. As we listen, learn and "see life from God's point of view" we can be different and make a difference.
      This verse reminds us there are two ways to think and two very different results which come from them. And I get to choose each day which way I want to go!

13:11 Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.

     This is the same kind of thing I remember hearing from my grandmother. I know a lot of guys at Helping Up Mission who have also learned this lesson – the hard way!
      "Dishonest money" would be that which we have received inappropriately. But, "he who gathers money little by little" in Hebrew poetry is understood as an opposite idea. It would be sort of get rich quick vs. honest hard work every day.
      So often with dishonest money, it's "easy come, easy go" and it "dwindles away" rather quickly. The other money comes in slow but sure and before long "it grows."
      The message is to be honest and upright in our dealings. Work hard and things will eventually come together. Many of us can give eloquent testimony that both parts of this verse are true!
      While interpersonal relationships are an appropriate part of how this works, other people aren't mentioned. God is not mentioned, either, but I don't think there is any doubt here about an underlying confidence in God to honor our right choices. ood, old-fashioned, honest, hard work and a little faith always does pay off!

13:12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

     "Hope," "heart," and "longing" all relate to our insides - feelings, thoughts, emotions and attitudes. And what the verse says is true - when things don't work out as we had planned ("hope deferred"), it can really get to us – emotionally ("makes the heart sick") and even physically.
      The opposite is also true that a hope, desire or "longing" that does come to pass ("fulfilled") has special meaning. It is like "a tree of life" to us.
      The phrase "tree of life" was a well-known ancient motif. In the Bible it was mentioned in both the Garden of Eden and the New Jerusalem. Depiction of single trees as central in ancient art of numerous cultures have been suggested by many scholars to be a "tree of life."
      But whatever special symbolism this tree had to the ancients, its most basic meaning simply suggests something very positive. It represented life, health and production. A tree of life produces other things that are alive and well - which, in turn, produce yet others which can also be alive, well and producing. Can you feel it?!?!

13:13 Whoever scorns instruction will pay for it, but whoever respects a command is rewarded.

     This wise saying discusses those who choose to listen and learn as well as those who don't. It also points out the result of each choice.
      "Whoever scorns instruction" is a guy or gal who despises guidance. It doesn't say why they're hostile, just that their attitude is going to cost them - they "will pay for it."
      When we're unwilling to listen to direction, we're left to our own best thinking. And we all know how far that will get us!
      An unwillingness to pay attention to what others say means we're not going to be able to hear God talking to us through them. And if we don't think He can speak to us through others I bet we won't be very good at hearing directly from Him, either.
      The others in this verse - "whoever respects a command" - are those who hold direction in high esteem. They accept that they're not the smartest person in the room and that God can give them guidance through others.
      Such people will be "rewarded" for their thinking. This is something positive for their lives, the term suggesting they'll be fulfilled... completed...whole.
      Our unwillingness to listen to others says much more about us than it does about them or what they have to say. So we better listen up!

13:19 A longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul, but fools detest turning from evil.

     I am writing this from the beautiful Movenpick Dead Sea Resort and Spa, the dig headquarters of my Jordan dig. I am in a wonderful place, doing things I love to do, with people I really enjoy (my wife, most of all!). All this archaeology stuff is actually a lifetime dream come true for me – it is a longing fulfilled. I know full well that I am not that special in any way, so this very (and :12 above) is applicable for anyone who practices the Psalms 37:4 concept – a Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Though truly imperfectly, I have consciously attempted to practice this principle for a number of years in my life. I am not rich, famous, important or powerful but I have a great life and have experienced the first part of this verse. I can't think of any reason why you shouldn't be able to experience the same.
      The second part of the verse describes someone who has no desire to connect to God or His plan. He calls them "fools" (Psalms 14:1 – the fool says in his heart there is no God), not because they don't have good brains but because that chose to live life their own way and that leads to following evil and not following Him.

13:20 He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.

     My grandmother used to say, "You can tell a person by the company they keep." That modern day wise saying comes from this ancient proverb. Spending time with wise people rubs off on us and we learn their ways, growing wiser.
      My mother used to say to me, "If everyone else jumps off a bridge, are you going to do it, too?" In my mind, I used to think, "Well, if that's what all the other guys are going to do, yeah, I think so!
      That's the kind of thing that happens when we hang out with fools. We wind up struggling with the same stuff the fool struggles with – and we will also suffer the same consequences.

13:21 Trouble pursues the sinner, but the righteous are rewarded with good things.

     Typical Hebrew parallelism, here "the sinner" and "the righteous" are mentioned. The sinner's choices will result in "trouble" constantly following him. On the other hand, decisions made by the righteous are "rewarded with good things."
      The Biblical concept of "sowing and reaping" simply teaches that whatever seed someone plants ("sows") in the ground is the only thing they can expect to harvest ("reap"). Can't plant watermelon seeds and expect apples!
      Interestingly, this is discussed without mentioning God. Make right decisions and good things happen in life generally. But add a supernatural God to the picture and it takes everything to a different level.
      This verse probably brings to mind the ancient Indian concept of "karma." It's the idea of the initial "action" or "deed" in the cycle of cause and effect.

13:22 A good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children, but a sinner's wealth is stored up for the righteous.

     This wise saying is a promise from God. A good man's life will produce something of value that he can pass along to his family – even to his grandchildren. It is not a promise of a big inheritance, but he will have something to pass on.
      On the other side, a man who isn't good (a "sinner") will not be able to pass anything along to his family. Instead, God says anything that he has stored up will eventually be passed along to the righteous.
      This verse tells us how things are going to be. We have the opportunity to participate in either the first part or second part of the verse – but this is the way it is going to be.

13:24 He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.

     This is another father-son verse and it focuses on the father's attitudes and actions. A father who loves his son will discipline him. The term is not so much one of punishment, but a term of training, like the discipline of an athlete.
      The rod is symbolic of discipline. A rod on the backside will be painful but done in the right way will also be helpful. So, a father who doesn't train his son ("spares the rod") doesn't really love him ("hates his son"). If we really love our children, we will not let them do what they want to do – we will not enable them.
      Instead, we will do what we know is best for them, even if it is painful (for them and us!). It's called "tough love." And that's exactly how God deals with us!

13:25 The righteous eat to their hearts' content, but the stomach of the wicked goes hungry.

     This verse offers hope but is still kind of sad. Most of us are not happy to know that "the stomach of the wicked goes hungry."
      Admittedly, it's not that God doesn't care about them or isn't interested in them. It's just that their choices lead to certain consequences - and sometimes it's just really painful.
      Yet, so many of us also know that our greatest spiritual lessons often come from our most uncomfortable situations. When I really do get sick and tired of being sick and tired, there are real answers for my inner and outer struggles.
      While "the righteous" aren't perfect, they have made a true connection with God. They've come to understand that His plan is better than anything they're able to put together.
      Of course, that doesn't mean they have it all together or get everything they want. But the God with whom they are now in a conscious relationship does help and guide them daily.
      Consequently, they "eat to their heart's content." This is an appropriate translation but, if we get too literal, we might miss the message.
      The verse doesn't say the "righteous" eat till their stomach are stuffed(!) but "to their hearts' content." It's less about their stomachs and more about their souls - that's a big difference!
      So, we can choose which phrase of this verse we want to live in. I'm pretty sure you know where I'm hanging!