Chapter 18: Commentary

Chapter 18 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. Speaking and speech is a reoccurring theme in this chapter.

18:2 A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.

     One thing many of us struggle with is the need to be heard. Although, technically, that is probably factual, nor is it what this proverb actually says. All that many of us want to do is just talk – just say what we think – whether anyone is listening or not!
      This verse is only about fools. What they love to do is tell everyone what they think. Anytime any of the rest of us start doing that, we sound just like them.
      Furthermore, fools get no enjoyment from learning new things or gaining new understanding or insights. They have nothing new to offer and, in truth, are just stuck in the past.
      But we don't have to live that way. We are to live in the present and be able to embrace the promises for the future. It's time for some of us to face the past, deal with it, let it go...living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time!

18:3 When wickedness comes, so does contempt, and with shame comes reproach.

     This wise saying speaks of four negative qualities or situations - "wickedness...contempt... shame...reproach." It all started with "wickedness" and the rest just follow.
      One of the most mentioned qualities in Proverbs, "wickedness" is as bad as it sounds - evil, guilt and even criminal. This verse's three associated terms would all be understood as regular members of an emotional "posse" that hang out with "wickedness."
      "Contempt" is not a nice word, but it goes along nicely with "wickedness." Also translated disrespect, despise and scorn, it's not a quality we should want to feel or have others feel about us.
      While "contempt" is something we tend to think or feel about others, "shame" is an emotion was feel about ourselves. Also translated ignominy, dishonor or disgrace, it's a terrible place to find ourselves.
      "Reproach" sort of rides shotgun with "shame" and is even translated as shame, contempt or disgrace. It's a not-nice feeling to have about ourselves or others.
      This verse is just a big downer...but it doesn't have to be!
      It all started with "wickedness" and when we chose NOT to be that guy or gal, then the others DON'T have to follow, either. And being the person on the inside that we should be, if they ever do show up, we'll be empowered to be able to face them, deal with them and let them go!

18:4 The words of a man's mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.

     Deep waters (see 20:5) and a bubbling brook would have both been appreciated in the ancient world – as water and, presumably, food sources. Compared to them are words from a man's mouth and the fountain of wisdom. A fountain of wisdom is logically considered as positive. But some words from men's mouths would not be good, nice or appropriate. Yet, the fact is, many times men's words are wonderfully profound and extremely helpful – like deep waters and a bubbling brook.

18:5 It is not good to be partial to the wicked and so deprive the innocent of justice.

     To "be partial to the wicked" would never be a "good" thing. And it's hard to understand why someone would think that is okay.
      A good translation, the idea here actually comes from the root word "to lift up." To set the wicked up in a good place or as an example. That is just not going to turn out to be a good thing.
      Yet we do it - especially when we find it in our own selfish best-interest to do so! Admittedly, in our society today, this is a complicated issue to live out every day - both politically and socially - but we can and we should.
      The second line of this verse offers another reason to not "be partial to the wicked." In doing so we would also "deprive the innocent of justice."
      Again, an appropriate translation, the root word here is "to stretch" something out. Setting up the bad guys really stretches out "justice" and doing the right thing for those who are trying to live appropriately ("the innocent" - literally the "righteous").
      If anything, I suggest this wise saying could simply be reversed. We should lift up ("be partial to") to the innocent/righteous and stretch out ("deprive") the wicked!

18:6 The lips of fools bring them strife, and their mouths invite a beating.

     So many verses in Proverbs talk about words - good and bad ones. This wise saying is about some bad ones!
      Here it is the words of "fools" that produce some poor results. Among the most prominent characters in Proverbs, "the lips of fools" and "their mouths" sure can create lots of drama and trauma.
      In this case it is "strife" and "a beating" that comes to fools as a result of things they have said. While their words can be hurtful to others, in this verse they bring it all on themselves.
      The Bible is full of reminders about the powerful impact our words can have. God keeps saying it because we keep needing to hear it!
      Based on this Proverb, here at Helping Up Mission, I like to ask guys in class...
      "How many have gotten shot, stabbed or beaten up because of your mouth?" Generally 40% of the class puts their hands up.
      "How many have been arrested because of your mouth?" About a 50% response.
      "How many have lost jobs because of your mouth?" Over 70% to the affirmative.
      "How many have ruined a really good relationship because of your mouth?" Over 90%!
      Like the guys at HUM, my problem is that my mouth keeps relapsing! But, I'm going to work on it today. How about you?

18:9 One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.

     We all know that someone who "destroys" stuff - especially other people's - would not generally be considered a good person. But we probably don't think that "one who is slack in his work is brother" to the destroyer!
      To be "slack in his work" wouldn't seem to be a big deal to most of us. After all, it's not like I won't do it. I'll just get around to it a little later.
      Sadly, we're all way too familiar with the reality of saying "I'll get around to it later" - but never do! Probably the worst part about our slackness is that our failure to follow through with things so often makes it difficult for others.
      Most of us wouldn't think of destroying someone else's stuff, but we might not consider it a big deal if we don't stay on top of what they have asked us to do. But our slackness may end up having the exact same result for them.
      So, while we would not want to be considered by others as a "destroyer" of other people's things, we should not want to be known as a slacker, either. So, the modern equivalent of this proverb might be the wise saying "get 'er done!"

18:10 The name of the LORD is a strong tower, the righteous run to it and are safe.

18:11 The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it an unscalable wall.

     A "strong tower," a "fortified city" and an "unscalable wall" sound like safe and secure places – and they would be, at least for a while. But eventually they can all be defeated and destroyed.
      Yet there are other things which we believe can also provide safety and security for us. "The rich" see their "wealth" as their safe place, while "the righteous" look to "the name of the LORD." These two are exact opposites and only one really works.
      Unfortunately, wealth is not eternal or secure and cannot be counted on for the future. The name of the LORD has been faithful and unchangeable for generations. When the righteous hang out there, they really are safe.

18:13 To answer before listening— that is folly and shame.

     This proverb isn't about a particular character, but about an action - a dumb action! Anyone who would "answer before listening" either thinks they, themselves, are really smart or they just don't care much at all about the person to whom they are listening.
      The one who will "answer before listening" is actually more interested in hearing him or herself talk than anything else. In fact, they probably care more about themselves than the other person - maybe more than any other person!
      This verse makes it clear that such action is both "folly and shame." "Folly" doesn't suggest mental deficiency - but moral deficiency. This is a character problem, not an intellectual one.
      Consequently, such thinking and actions are "shameful" or "disgraceful." Probably the best that could be said about this person is that they're more interested in solving a problem than they are in the person with the problem.
      Wish I could say I never did that!

18:14 A man's spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?

     The power of the human spirit is remarkable and it is mentioned elsewhere in Proverbs (15:13; 17:22). This verse notes that a person's "spirit" (I'd like to suggest "attitude" as an appropriate term) can sustain them in "sickness"(and other tough times).
      But when a person's spirit has been "crushed" – even when their body may be healthy and fine – they have trouble finding a reason to keep going. Here at Helping Up Mission, guys will say that once their spirit was crushed, they gave up on life and didn't really care what they did or what happened to them. It is a place of hopelessness and that's what the second part if this verse is talking about - it's hard to "bear" being in this terrible place very long.
      The good news for our guys is that one of the first things they find here is hope – they begin to feel there is a reason to go on for at least one more day. If they do continue, they also begin to find answers to the daily struggles of life. And, if a guy stays, I am happy to report that he will also begin to experience supernatural empowerment in his life.
      Hope, answers and empowerment – what you should expect when you connect to a supernatural God! It happens, and as we say here in East Baltimore, "That's how He rolls!"

18:18 Casting the lot settles disputes and keeps strong opponents apart.

     The practice of casting lots is frequently mentioned in the Bible as a way people made decisions in the ancient world (see note at 18:18). It was always done with a sense of the leading of their god (whatever religion). The answer was apparently always a simple "yes" or "no"- like when we flip a coin to decide things.
      In this verse, opposing parties settled disagreements by casting the lot. There was an obvious pre-condition between them. Both were willing to let God decide and that they are also comfortable to let the lot show them.
      Admittedly, this method of decision-making may appeal to some. They don't have to actually decide anything themselves - just flip a coin and leave it to God! But I don't think this is a great way to do business. It seems to be more trusting FATE than having FAITH.
      Instead, I find it refreshing and empowering to have a personal relationship with the LORD. He really does lead me - give me a sense of the plan and what I am supposed to do. Learning to stay Honest, Open and Willing (HOW) to what He is doing in my life - one day at a time - I just can't lose!

18:21 The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

     This wise saying addresses a perennial discussion in both the Old and New Testaments – the things we say. It's also a perennial problem for me!
      Of course, "the tongue" represents the words we speak and this verse notes "the power" our words have – "the power of life and death." While that might sound a bit extreme at first thought, it effectively explains the impact of words.
      Over the past decade, the men of Helping Up Mission have averaged about 18 years of active addiction and over 3 years of incarceration. They are a rough and tumble bunch of guys.
      Yet when I ask in class how many still struggle with WORDS people spoke to them even 5 years ago, typically up to 40% of them will say yes. In fact, I imagine their inability to get past things people SAID is a major reason for their continued struggle with addiction.
      The second half of this verse notes "those who love it," that is, understand and appreciate the power of words "will eat its fruit," or will live with the consequences of it. There is a modern wise saying that says the same thing, "live by the sword, die by the sword."
      I spent 12 years as a public high school track coach and now 14 years with the guys of HUM. I've learned to talk a little trash – just to survive! But you know how it works – if you're going to dish it out, you better be able to take it!
      Of course, this verse mentions both "life" and "death." While we tend to focus on the negative, the positive power and influence of our words is incredible. So lets go out there and produce some life today!

18:22 He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD.

     As we were reading Proverbs in class a number of years ago, one of the guys said this book spoke pretty bad about women. He was particularly noting the references on immoral women (first mentioned in 2:16) and quarrelsome wives (19:13; 21:9, 19; 25:24; 27:15). I pointed out to him that this is guy talk, father to son, so they will be honestly discussing women, and you would expect such subjects to come up. But there are a whole lot of verses, like this one, which extol the virtue of a good wife (first mentioned in 5:18; 19:14 and then the wife of noble character in 12:4 and 31:10). This verse points out that the man who marries the right kind of woman also gets good things in his life and receives benefits from the LORD. As I guy who got one of those ladies 35 years ago, I can say this is absolutely true!

18:23 A poor man pleads for mercy, but a rich man answers harshly.

     Another of the many rich/poor proverbs. This verse tells the truth about rich and poor men, without giving any commentary about what is good or bad. By virtue of their position in society, a poor man would feel it necessary to humble himself and plead for mercy. In fact, that is the stance that others would expect from a poor man, and it would be the position to which others would probably respond appropriately.
      This verse also suggests the expected response of a rich man – to answer harshly. Because of his position in society and his confidence in his own wealth (see :11), he will not feel the need to display humility.
      This verse speaks about a typical response by a rich and poor man. Just knowing humanity, I would suggest that others are much more likely to appreciate and respond to the poor man's situation than to the rich man.