Chapter 15: Commentary

Chapter 15 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 LORD" is the most reoccurring character in this chapter.

15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

     This proverb is just common sense. Both responses are seemingly in answer to something said inappropriately. A gentle response could diffuse a tense situation, but a harsh response will simply escalate things from bad to worse.
      Sad to say, many of us guys think that soft words are not very manly. When we feel like someone has disrespected us, we tend to feel our manhood is being challenged and we need to respond in kind. "I'm a grown-a_ _ man and you can't talk to me that way!" is an all-too-common response.
      But results are clear – if I want to stir things up, just respond in kind. If I want to get out of this unpleasant situation – a gentle answer will do just fine.

15:2 The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.

     The focus of this verse is the words we speak. In this case it's about the words of two different people - the two main characters in Proverbs - "the wise" and "the fool."
      Of course, "the tongue of the wise" is not really about that little organ in their mouths, but the words that their tongues help form. Their words do good things and connect to the right stuff - they "adorn knowledge."
      So, "the mouth of the fool" is not actually about their "mouths," but their words. Their mouth "gushes" out a steady stream of "folly" words. This sounds neither nice nor attractive.
      Critical to appreciating this verse, is the fact that our words don't define us. They simply indicate who we really are.
      Even though they're human and still make mistakes, a "wise" person will consistently speak appropriate things. They'll even correct their words that weren't.
      And while fools will try to sound appropriate with their words, eventually they'll say what they are really thinking.
      So the bottom line here is not that we should try to change our words in order to sound better. Instead, what we really need to do is change our hearts - the very source of our words.
      It's always about who we are on the inside, not what comes out of our mouths to the outside. At least that's how Jesus saw it (Mk 7:21-23)!

15:3 The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, keeping watch on the wicked and the good.

     God sees everything. Christian theology teaches that God is omnipresent ("everywhere/present"), omniscient ("all/knowing") and omnipotent ("all/powerful"). That means nothing will happen to you or me today that He doesn't know about, care about or have a plan for.
      This verse is typical Hebrew parallelism, with the second line amplifying the first. The first says He sees everything that happens everywhere. The second notes that He is watching both "the wicked and the good." He sees it all and has the power (implied here but a theological truth) to do something about it – and He will, appropriately.
      The catch here is that I need to get comfortable with what He chooses to do and when He chooses to do it. From my limited understanding of life going on around me, I want what I want, when I want it -- and that's generally right now. But He sees what I don't see, knows what I don't know and can handle anything that comes my way.
      At least that's how it's worked during the 43 years I have followed the LORD. I've also seen it work really well for everyone else who pays attention and quits trying to make things happen their way.

15:4 The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.

     While a specific "Tree of Life" is mentioned in Genesis and Revelation, Proverbs speaks of it in metaphor (3:18, 11:30, 13:12). A "tree of life" would be a good thing producing health and life.
      Here a person's words ("tongue") which bring healing to others are compared to a tree of life. These words are contrasted in this verse with "deceitful" words ("tongue") which "crush the spirit" of another. These are words which produce pain and sorrow for others.
      Words are powerful tools for good or bad and we have the power, responsibility and choice to talk one way or the other every day. May we make good choices today.

15:6 The house of the righteous contains great treasure, but the income of the wicked brings ruin.

     One of the regular contrasts in Proverbs is between "the righteous" and "the wicked." This time it's about their "treasure" and "money."
      "The righteous" have "great treasure" in "the house" where they live. Things that are important to them are gathered together in one place to be enjoyed and shared with others. Sounds like a pretty good way to live.
      On the other hand, "the wicked" just can't catch a break. Even "the income of the wicked" doesn't do them any good ("brings ruin").
      It's kind of like our modern wise saying "throwing good money after bad." They try to get ahead ("income") and it not only doesn't help - it brings even more misery ("brings ruin").
      Two thoughts. The reason it's going so badly for "the wicked" is because of their life focus, their worldview. They are running their own program for their own purposes and, like it was for the rest of us, that's a recipe for disaster!
      Secondly, the "great treasure" of "the righteous" no doubt includes way more than just stuff. They probably treasure many other things that "the wicked" don't appreciate at all.
      So, today might be a good time for us to stop and take inventory. First, look at ourselves and see which side of the fence we find ourselves.
      Second, take a look around. Do we see "great treasure" or "ruin?" Third, decide what we should do about it!

15:8 The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him.

     When the Bible uses the word "sacrifice," it doesn't mean our modern idea of doing without or giving up something. Instead, it speaks of an offering that we take to the Temple and give to God. It cost the one making the offering both time and resources and was a very important religious activity in the Biblical world.
      Consequently, we might think that a sacrifice "pleases" God much more than just a "prayer." But this verse makes it clear that the character of the presenter ("wicked" vs. "upright") is much more important than the actual act of presenting a sacrifice or offering.
      While an animal sacrifice at the Temple took a lot more time and effort (let alone expense!) – the LORD hates it when it is not brought with the right heart attitude. At the same time, just an honest, simple prayer by an upright person really pleases Him. With God, it has never been about the gift or the effort, but always about the heart.

15:9 The LORD detests the way of the wicked, but he loves those who pursue righteousness.

     God is the central character of this wise saying. The verse focuses on His relationship with two other characters - "the wicked" and "those who pursue righteousness."
      As we might expect, "the LORD detests the way of the wicked." It should be noted that it's not "the wicked" but "the way" they operate with which God is not happy.
      It's also important to remember that my being "wicked" is more about how I think than how I act. And my "wicked" thoughts will lead to "wicked" actions - unless I make a decision to change them.
      On the other hand, the LORD "loves those who pursue righteous." Again, it's not about actions - but attitudes.
      When we "pursue" - think and go after - good things, God blesses us and our endeavors.
      It's just like loving caring parents. Good parents "tough love" bad choices and behaviors - because they know there's a better way of life for that child. And the same parents offer positive support to right attitudes and actions from their child.
      Good parents deal with each child based on that child's attitudes and actions. And it's done so each child can have the best opportunity to experience, as the Serenity Prayer says, being "reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next!"

15:11 Death and Destruction lie open before the LORD — how much more the hearts of men!

     Death is the abode of the dead, whether righteous or unrighteous. Destruction is the realm of ruin. They are places for which we have no real understanding and both are permanent places from which one can't return. Yet the LORD knows everything about them both. He also knows everything about everyone who abides there.
      So it is not hard to believe that He also knows everything in the hearts of everyone on this side of death and destruction. Since the LORD knows all this, it is not a surprise that He continually presents us with information and opportunity to be prepared for that coming time in our lives.
      If He knows about all that, it is also reasonable that He also knows how we feel and what we really think here and now. So it would be an appropriate response from us to be honest with Him (and ourselves!) about it. That also means He understands our struggles and needs. Since He loves us so much, and has the power to do whatever we need, we can know that He will do what is best for us.

15:12 Mockers resent correction, so they avoid the wise.

     This wise saying focuses on "mockers" - what they do and don't do. The "mocker" is someone who rejects what others have to say and, in turn, talks inappropriately about them and their words.
      So it's no surprise that "mockers resent correction" - they don't appreciate (literally "not love") any kind of rebuke ("correction") from others. Neither are they interested in any offer of good advice, so they also "avoid the wise."
      While I don't consider myself a mocker, I do understand not liking or wanting to listen to any kind of correction or rebuke. I don't appreciate others pointing out my shortcomings!
      But the good news is that, while my initial response is frequently not so good, I do come around and can receive the insights they offer.
      I've also chosen to hang out with lots of wise people and my life has benefited greatly from their good words!

15:13 A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit.

     What others see about us on the outside is ultimately based on what we are feeling on the inside. This verse says "the face cheerful" comes from "a happy heart."
      No one would argue that such a "happy heart" is a natural outcome of a life in harmony with the plan God has for me. Most of us also know that living out of harmony with that plan can keep us from a "happy heart" and even lead to real "heartache."
      Staying in such "heartache" too long eventually "crushes the spirit" of a person. And that is probably as hopeless and helpless a place as any of us can imagine.
      With no hope in sight, we tend to not care about what we do to ourselves or others...Anything goes!
      Many guys arrive at Helping Up Mission with severe "heartache" and "crushed spirits." Fortunately, one of the things we do best here, is offer a guy some hope.
      Just looking around, they start seeing cheerful faces of other clients and volunteers who come to serve. At that point a guy can begin to imagine it might be possible for him to feel that way, too.
      Hope leads to some answers which begin to make a difference in our lives. That leads to empowerment where God begins to break through.
      Hope, answers and empowerment produce transformation. It's all possible and it starts on the inside – how we think and how we feel!

15:15 All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.

     This wise saying is all about perspective. "The oppressed" are not bad people, just folks going through tough times and for whom "all the days...are wretched."
      Life isn't always fair. And being someone who never seems to get a break is just a terrible place to be. Yet, living under such circumstances for extended periods is a reality for so many.
      But, "the cheerful heart has a continual feast" is also true. In fact, it's absolutely amazing how much good a positive attitude can do.
      So the real question is - can the second half of this verse actually work in the midst of the first half of the verse?
      I believe the answer is yes! Admittedly, while I've had my share of struggles and disappointments, I've never personally lived extensively as one "oppressed."
      But here at Helping Up Mission, I'm in the midst of lots of guys who have. And their expert testimony is a resounding YES!
      The ability to start focusing on God and what He can do in my life...and quit focusing on people, places and things leads to an incredible new attitude.
      And most of us know that such a positive attitude so easily leads to different actions which can really produce different situations -- which changes everything.
      Both parts of this wise saying are true -- but I'm happy to report that the second half trumps the first, every time. It works if you work it!

15:16 Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil.

     There are many "better than" verses in the book of Proverbs – not unlike the "better than" modern wise saying I grew up with – a bird in the hand is better than two in a bush. This verse says we are in a better way when we have very little in material possessions but live and walk in the fear of the LORD than we would be with great wealth and turmoil.
      From my world-view, this makes total sense. When I walk in the fear of the LORD, I will be just fine and it really won't matter how much stuff I have. On the other hand, just having stuff doesn't matter at all. I have met quite a few people who had lots of stuff but lived in great turmoil and they were miserable. Here at Helping Up Mission we have quite a few men who had a lot of stuff in the past, but their lives were in turmoil and they were just not enjoying what they had. Now living at Helping Up Mission, they have very little but are learning the fear of the LORD and they are much more content. This verse really is true.

15:17 Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.

     Another of those "better…than" verses in Proverbs. Here a meal of just vegetables is compared to a meal which featured a fattened calf. The verse suggests it is better to just eat vegetables in a happy, pleasant environment of love than to have a special meal of a specially-fed beef where there is hatred.
      Most of us know what it is like to sit down to a delicious meal and not enjoy it one bite because of acrimony around the table or hatred in our own hearts. At the same time, we also know what it is to have very little but be surrounded by people we love and who care for us and we feel totally satisfied.

15:18 A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.

     Like the first verse in this chapter, one person or answer can make things better while another person or answer can make things worse. In interpersonal relationships, when we are "hot-tempered," agitated or say harsh things we evoke "dissension" and anger in others. But when we are "patient" and say gentle things (:1) we can "calm" situations down and turn away the wrath of others. It is a general truth that we can't do much to change people, places or things. But we do have the opportunity to make a positive impact on situations and other people by our own good attitude and appropriate words. The key is to be that "patient" person with that gentle answer (:1), and the best way I know to do that is the first 3 lines of the Serenity Prayer:

     God, grant me
      the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
     the courage to change the things I can,
     and the wisdom to know the difference

From this position, we can be the right person with the right attitude and words to make a difference.

15:19 The way of the sluggard is blocked with thorns, but the path of the upright is a highway.

     The focus of this verse is two different people – the "sluggard" and the "upright." The "way of the sluggard" is like a hedge of "thorns" through which it would be virtually impossible to keep moving ahead. In truth, the real problem is really not so much the road, but that the lazy man isn't going to do anything about it the block it has created.
      The road of the "upright" person is wide open and leads them right on to where they need to go. The key to this verse is not so much the road, itself, but the character of the one on the road. One guy's attitudes make it impossible for him to progress, while the other guy's attitudes set him up to succeed. It's an everyday choice that everyone of us makes every day.

15:20 A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish man despises his mother.

     This is family stuff – father, mother and son. The focus is on the son's choices. When he makes wise decisions and good choices, parents have great joy. But a son's foolish decisions make parent's lives miserable.
      Anyone who has children knows one or both of these feelings. But, in the end, I need to decide that my emotions will not be dependent on what others do or don't do. If I can stay Honest, Open and Willing (HOW) with God, I can't miss.

15:25 The LORD tears down the proud man's house but he keeps the widow's boundaries intact.

     The difference between widows and the proud man would have been particularly pronounced in the Old Testament world. Presumably the proud man had something to be proud of – a man of some means and influence.
      Widows in the ancient world were really left outside normal society. As daughters, they had no inheritance rights from their fathers and, as wives, their society did not give them any inheritance rights from their husbands. Consequently, widows were often overlooked – or even oppressed – by society (men), so God had particular concern for them.
      The verse says the LORD can tear down all the things for which the proud man is so proud – not to hurt him, but to help him get his priorities right so he can be of more help to others. God will also keep intact and sustain whatever the widow has – generally very little.
      The one who seems to be in the best place to keep stuff – the proud – can't hold on to it. The one who seems incapable of holding things together – the widow – will have her things intact.
      God always deals with those who think they have all they need and have it all together. At the same time, God always watches out for those who are vulnerable and need help.

15:27 A greedy man brings trouble to his family, but he who hates bribes will live.

     This verse describes two different types of people. The first one is greedy for stuff. Unfortunately, this desire will not produce anything good for his family, but only bring them trouble.
      The second person in this verse is someone not interested in trying to get more for himself or his family, especially in relation to getting those things from others – whether given freely or by coercion (see 6:35; 17:8, 23; 18:16; 19:6; 21:14; 29:4). This verse describes contentment someone who seems to be content with what he has.
      The 12 Steps teach Biblical character qualities which empower a person over any chemical addiction or compulsive behavior. Every week at Helping Up Mission we focus on a different character quality, one of which is contentment – "realizing that God has already provided everything necessary for my present wellbeing." If this concept really is true and is possible to experience, we won't need to be greedy of anyone else's stuff.

15:29 The Lord is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous.

     This is only one of four verses in Proverbs that mentions prayer (15:8, 29; 28:9 and 31:2). The book does not focus on our connection with God, instead it is mentioned as either a reality or not.
      Here the "the wicked" are contrasted with "the righteous." Contrary to how most of us think, this description is not based on our actions or activities (outside). Instead, it is based on our spiritual attitude and focus (inside).
      At issue in this verse is the relationship of each to the LORD. Here we read that there is no real connection between God and the wicked – it is their choice to be "far from" God. But God is in direct communication ("he hears the prayer of") the righteous. It is our choice to have that connection and either the benefits or lack thereof that come with it.

15:30 Light in a messenger's eyes brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones. UPDATED NIV

     "A cheerful look" is literally "light or bright eyes." Apparently nonverbal, this communication from one person brings a joyful heart to another. In the same vein, "good news" – generally understood as the spoken word in antiquity – from one person can help bring health ("healthy bones") to another.
      The Bible in general and Proverbs in particular remind us of the detriment of negative influences and the value of positive influences in our lives. Scientific research now teaches the same thing. Positive situations ("a cheerful look" or "bright eyes") or information ("good news") can have a powerful influence on how I feel – mentally ("joy to the heart") and physically ("health to the bones").
      This verse also reminds us of the influence we can have on other people. By word, look or expressions we can significantly impact for good on the hearts/minds (inside-our attitudes) and body (outside-our actions and activities) of others. What a great opportunity, what a great responsibility!