Chapter 14: Commentary

Chapter 14 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 "fool" and "folly" together represent a reoccurring theme in this chapter.

14:1 The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.

     We met these two women before (chapter 9). Both are understood as wives and mothers living in a typical ancient Israelite house with a typical ancient Israelite family.
      Wives and mothers have always been key to providing good things in the home for their families. The wise woman provides a special and safe house for her family. The foolish woman – by her attitudes and actions – actually does things which tear down and destroy both her family and their home.
      Of course, foolish women don't have to be that way. It is not a lack of intellect, but a matter of choices. While the verse doesn't even mention God, in the end, He does make the difference. Our definition of wisdom is "seeing life from God's point of view" and fools says in their hearts "there is no God" (Ps 14:1).
      Every day, both women have to make the decision to connect with God and receive His empowerment or to simply do it their own way. The wise woman has learned to do it long enough that it has become a way of life – and her family is the beneficiary.

14:2 Whoever fears the Lord walks uprightly, but those who despise him are devious in their ways.

     This verse contrasts two different kinds of people: those who "fears the LORD" and those "who despise" the LORD.
      "Whoever fears the LORD" are those whose attitude and actions are in concert with God's plan for them. Consequently, he or she is a person that "walks uprightly."
      The idea of being afraid of God and reverential awe of Him are both understood by "fears the LORD." But, at its core, this phrase is all about the ability to see God as He really is.
      If I understand who he really is, I will be afraid and in awe! But, to fear Him is to really know Him - know His righteousness, love and power. To fear God is to see and know Him in all His greatness!
      But there are still those who are "devious in their ways." The idea here is one who's turned aside or departed - even ceased - from the right path.
      This is simply a person who has lost his or her way. Or, maybe worse, one who's chosen to turn away from God's plan for their life.
      How I understand God is going to impact how I act. This will make a difference about how I live now and for eternity!
      I'm going to have to make some choices...they'll come one day at a time.

14:3 A fool's talk brings a rod to his back, but the lips of the wise protect them.

     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.

14:4 Where there are no oxen (cattle), the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.

     Oxen are a lot of work and create a lot of mess – so if I don't have any oxen, I don't have to keep their feeding trough (manger) filled with food. But, without an ox, I can't expect to till much land or bring in much of a harvest.
      That would have made life extremely difficult for me and my family in ancient Israel. By Solomon's time, the typical Israelite farmer may not yet been able to own their own ox – but their extended family could probably share one.
      This proverb isn't much different than the modern wise saying, "you have to spend money to make money." It costs something – in money and mess – to have an ox or two, but they give you the opportunity to produce so much more then you ever could have done without them.
      Life can get messy, but family, ministry and caring for others is worth it. Alfred Tennyson was right when he wrote, "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." It's worth the effort.

14:6 The mocker seeks wisdom and finds none, but knowledge comes easily to the discerning.

     As typical Hebrew poetic parallelism, this verse discusses two different characters - "the mocker" and "the discerning." Both are connected to good things in this wise saying - "wisdom" and "knowledge" - and their own character determines how well that works out for each one.
      The "mocker" is one who verbally disrespects others, possibly because he or she sees themselves as smarter. Here, the mocker "seeks wisdom" - a good thing - but "finds none."
      While Proverbs constantly says wisdom is accessible to all, mockers come up empty and I think the reason is simple. To paraphrase "A Few Good Men" - they want the truth ("wisdom"), but they can't handle the truth ("wisdom") because of their "mocker" character flaws.
      It happens that way here at Helping Up Mission. We want something good for our lives, but our character is such that we're not actually willing to do what it takes to receive it - at least not yet!
      On the other hand, "the discerning" (or "the one with understanding") finds that "knowledge... "comes easily." A person of "understanding" is open and ready to receive "knowledge" - in fact, the two qualities frequently go together in Proverbs.
      In the end, it's not really about what I want - but who I am. Mockers can have wisdom, they just need to be willing to change so they can receive it.
      When I really want something bad enough - "wisdom" here - that I'll do what it takes - like change - to get it. That's when good things begin to happen.

14:7 Stay away from a fool, for you will not find knowledge on their lips.

     The focus of this verse is the fool and it suggests nothing good comes out of any connection with him. Certainly, you can't expect him to say anything of value and just hanging around with him will do no good.
      This is not really new information for any of us – mom's been telling us this kind of stuff since we were kids – my grandma used to say, "lay down with dogs and you will get up with fleas!"
      Remember that the Biblical description of fools is their refusal to accept God as part of their world view (Psa 14:1). That is the root cause of their issues and, while they have the right to live and think that way, it's also why we should "stay away from a fool."
      The real key for us is identifying the fool in our daily interactions and then extricating ourselves from getting too caught up with them. Admittedly, if they are in our family or we have to work with them it is more complicated. In the end, we just need to realize with whom we are dealing and respond appropriately.

14:9 Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright.

     Some people care about relationships and others don't. Our own character is the basis of how we relate to other people.
      We wouldn't expect "fools" to make many good personal choices or do well in relating with others - they will "mock at making amends for sin." That's because fools simply think they have it all figured out and are going to do what they want to do (see Psalms 14:1).
      Consequently, they don't really care about others - except how they might be able to take advantage of them. Others are just collateral damage in a fool's quest to do what they want.
      On the other hand, "the upright" - by virtue of who they are - do care about others and will make good choices. They know "goodwill" toward others is a right thing to do, but they also want to practice it in their daily interactions.
      In the end, how I treat or deal with you is about me and my attitudes - not about you or your actions. I can treat you appropriately and you can't stop me!

14:10 Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy.

     While we often say to someone "I understand how you feel," in reality we don't. That is what this proverb reminds us. While others can have some experience with and appreciation of what I am feeling, my emotions in this specific situation are unique.
      This verse is about our emotions, both "bitterness" and "joy" and others enter only so far mine. They can't really know the depth of my emotions. Neither, really, can they be the cause of or solution to my feelings. Only I know and feel all that and only I can deal with them appropriately. Ultimately, it is my responsibility, which means I need to identify my own emotions; recognize why I feel that way; and finally address the root causes. If I am feeling bitterness, it is my choice. I can also walk around in joy if I choose to do so.
      When I learn how to do this for myself, others will see it and will ask how I do it. While I can't totally understand their situation, I can show them how to identify and address their own emotions, too.
      My pain and sorrow ("bitterness") and my "joy" are what I am feeling and I need identify and address them. I can draw some insight and support from others by sharing, but in the end they are my emotions and only I can feel them and address them.

14:11 The house of the wicked will be destroyed, but the tent of the upright will flourish.

     This verse says that things the wicked has "will be destroyed." Their "house" is particularly mentioned – something something solid, stable and permanent. Whatever they are able to amass will eventually be destroyed.
      In contrast, 'the tent of the upright stands," that is, continues and "will flourish." A tent should not last, but it does here. These people are the exact opposite – "wicked" vs. "upright" – and so are their possessions – house (permanent) vs. tent (temporary).
      Interestingly, the verse doesn't mention God at all, let alone say He is going to destroy the wicked's house. It just that will happen.
      Those of us who have been around a few years have seen enough to know that the consequences of our choices eventually come back on us. The wicked's difficulty here may well have nothing to do with the direct intervention of God, just the natural consequences of their own poor choices.
      The same can be said for the upright, too. Although, almost by definition they have an appropriate God connection and I assume we can expect some divine intervention in their situation – on the positive side.
      But the wicked can get God's supernatural help, too. They just need to be able to get honest, open and willing with God and He will supernaturally move in their lives, as well.

14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

     We can get to the place where we are just sure we know the best thing to do, the best way to go. It looks like a good idea and we can see all the possibilities in it. It should work…BUT. This verse teaches the same truth as 3:5 ("lean not on your own understanding'). It does look good and it might work out – but it might also just be a disaster. So, what's a good person like you (and me) to do? Again 3:5, suggests we "trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding").
      The simplest way I know to do that is HOW. Be Honest with God about where I really am; be Open to what I think God is saying to me today; and be willing, to the best of my puny little ability, to just be Willing to try and do what it is I think He is telling me to do. I can't lose, and I won't wind up "…in the ways of death" (Heb 14:12). Just in case we didn't get it the first time, He will remind us again in 16:25!

14:20 The poor are shunned even by their neighbors, but the rich have many friends.

     Not commenting on the morality of the situation, this verse simply notes that "the poor are shunned." It's just a true statement about what people do. But it is worse when it's done by "their neighbors."
      "Neighbor" comes from the word for "pasture," suggesting the picture of a flock of sheep all grazing in the same field. They're neighbors in the field - but the verse indicates all the other sheep don't like certain ones.
      For decades I've done archaeological excavations near flocks of sheep in the Holy Land and this is not how sheep act. But people do!
      The verse also says "the rich have many friends." The "friends" here is based in the word "love." The rich have many people who "love" them.
      Of course, the big question is whether they love us or our riches! I am not so sure these are the kind of friends most of us want anyway.
      It's a truism among the guys here at Helping Up Mission that, as long as we had a pocketful of money we had plenty of friends (an entourage or posse of hangers-on). But as soon as the money was gone, so were they.
      This verse doesn't suggest this is okay behavior, just that it is human nature. The wisdom I should get from it all is to understand how people are and know what to expect from them.
      If I am poor, I just need to realize that many (but not all!) will not be there when I need them. But I should also understand that, if I happen to be rich and in trouble, there's a good change they won't be there for me, either!

14:23 All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

     This verse is very straight forward and says things that most of us already know, understand and believe. When we work hard, we will accomplish things – even when that work and those accomplishments are for bad purposes. But, of course, that stuff other verses talk about.
      As a corollary, just talking about stuff never does much good. It is good to talk to people and get advice, but just talking will never get anything done

14:32 When calamity comes, the wicked are brought down, but even in death the righteous seek refuge in God.

14:32 When calamity comes, the wicked are brought down, but even in death the righteous seek refuge in God.

     This wise saying is about two common characters in Proverbs - "the wicked" and "the righteous." The focus of this verse is the adversity of life for both.
      "When calamity comes, the wicked" really have very little in their lives that is rock-solid to which they can grab hold. Under such circumstances they are "brought down."
      But stuff happens in the lives of "the righteous," too. Possibly the greatest calamity of all - death - is not something to fight against or fear for them. Instead, in death they "seek refuge in God."
      Whatever the linguistics intricacies of this phrase, the reality is that in death the "righteous" are solidly connected to the Almighty. Whether in their soul as they approach death or in their soul after death - they have what they need.
      The truth is that adverse times come into all our lives. At issue is this: to what are we connected that can sustain and empower us; or the lack thereof - leaving us alone to be tossed to and fro.
      Of course, the good news is that such a supernatural hook-up doesn't just kick in at the point of death. Based on our relationship with God, we can expect His presence and support all through life.
      It should feel something like the last part of the Serenity Prayer:
      So that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next
      For more on the complete Serenity Prayer, see: