Chapter 19: Commentary

Chapter 19 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 poor" are the most reoccurring character in this chapter.

19:1 Better the poor whose walk is blameless than a fool whose lips are perverse.

     Another of the "better…than" wise saying comparisons, this one doesn't seem to have a clear connection between its two poetic statements. The first line discusses "the poor whose walk is blameless."
      There is nothing neither morally wrong nor virtuous about being poor. But when the character of the poor is "blameless" they are in a pretty good place – "better…than" lots of others.
      It is the "fool" to whom this blameless poor person is compared. By Biblical definition, the fool has rejected God in the world and more specifically in his life (Psa 14:1).
      In addition, this is a fool "whose lips are perverse." Actually it is not much of a leap to go from a place where God doesn't matter to a place where I feel free to say anything I want to anyone I want.
      While these two characters as described in this verse don't seem to connect, they do offer a significant contrast. The poor tend to not be respected or appreciated in general. But it is hard to not appreciate anyone living blamelessly day by day.
      In contrast are the crooked words of the fool, who almost everyone would have a hard time appreciating. Both aspects of his character make his lot in life not so desirable – although maybe he likes it that way.
      Either way, it would be better to be many other things than to be him! And, thankfully, we get the opportunity to make that choice every day – one day at a time!

19:2 It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way.

     Zeal without a hurry and miss the way. I know about this verse!
      A pilot friend has often said to me, "you're all thrust and no vector." In his world, that meant a plane had power to take off, but there was no sense of where it was going.
      As I was growing up, my parents would say, "slow down, son - you're like the man who jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions." I watched cowboy shows and could see a guy jump on a horse to chase after a bad guy. The horse would rear up and sort of turn in a circle before finally heading off in the right direction. They were wasting precious time - but eventually did get it right.
      As a young pastor, one of my seminary professors once said to me, "You've done lots of hard work, now start doing some smart work!" Can you sense a pattern here?
      This verse is like all these modern-day wise sayings, Lots of energy and activity without direction and purpose is wasted and not helpful. God can help us do better!

19:3 A person's own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the Lord.

     This proverb reminds us of an amazing truth about ourselves. Our own choices ("a person's own folly") create a bunch of really bad consequences ("leads to their ruin").
      But, then, what do we do about it? We just get mad at God and blame Him for our problems ("yet their heart rages against the LORD").
      Let's review...we do dumb stuff and have to live with the consequences. Then we get mad at God because of what happens!
      I think that about covers it!
      Insanity is often described as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." A favorite Clinton phrase in the 80's and generally attributed to Albert Einstein (although with no actual evidence), it may well have originated in the world of addiction recovery.
      Either way, such a concept fits with our verse. Until we accept responsibility for our choices and quit acting like a victim, we will continue in our "folly." And we will also continue to experience the resultant "ruin" of this verse.
      But it doesn't have to be that way! I can change my attitude, begin making better decisions and start listening to the LORD instead of fighting Him. It will lead to much better results!

19:4 Wealth attracts many friends, but even the closest friend of the poor person deserts them.

     While "wealth" is the first word in this verse, this wise saying is really about people. None of us are surprised about the first part - "wealth attracts many friends." It's still true today!
      Here at Helping Up Mission in East Baltimore, these "friends" might be called a guy's "posse." They travel with us as long as we've got that "wealth." But everyone knows what happens when it's gone - they are, too!
      Unfortunately, we know the second part of the verse can also be true - "even the closest friend of the poor person deserts them." This is really a sad scene.
      Both lines speak truth and offer negative, even condemning, commentary on human behavior. But just because it's true doesn't mean it's right. And it certainly doesn't mean it has to be that way!
      We all need to regularly check our motives and attitudes. We should treat everyone with respect, whether we think (or know) they have money or not!
      The lesson from this wise saying - appreciate people for who they are, not what they have!

19:5 A false witness will not go unpunished, and whoever pours out lies will not go free.

     Here, two unpopular characters in Proverbs are aligned - "a false witness" and "whoever pours out lies." Both apparently speak purposefully dishonest messages to others. That's not going to be helpful to anyone - them or those with whom they are talking!
      Their "false witness" and "lies" is simply misinformation which will not help others think appropriately or make good decisions. In fact, it could be hurtful to them - even deadly.
      But this wise saying particularly notes that it won't go well for the ones sharing the "false witness" and "lies," Such deliberate misrepresentation of truth will be costly - they "will not go unpunished" and "will not go free."
      Admittedly, God isn't mentioned here. But, to be sure, He's been listening!
      I think it's safe to say, He will insure that such actions, words and motivations will not continue without repercussions to the perpetrators.
      It's critical they learn that such choices are wrong, even hurtful. So, now the question becomes whether they learn simply and quickly or whether they want to be difficult about it!

19:6 Many curry favor with a ruler, and everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts.

      This verse ties two true statements together into one wise saying.
     The first is that "many curry favor with a ruler." Because of a leader's position, power and influence people go to significant lengths to connect with them. This might include giving the ruler a gift or doing something the rule might appreciate, whether good or bad.
     At the same time, "everyone is the friend of one who gives gifts." While many try to hook up with the big guy or gal, everyone wants to get connected with someone handing out gifts.
     On the one hand, this verse speaks of the masses - "many" who do one thing and "everyone" who will do the other. But I'd like to suggest the most important focus of this wise saying may be on the "one who gives gifts."
     This gift-giving could be considered either a righteous or unrighteous activity. To do so unrighteously would be something like offering bribes to get what I want.
     But I could also give gifts because I care about people and am glad to share what I have with them. This is a powerful way to live and is definitely a way to influence others.
      So, if I want to make an impact, I can try to connect with the ruler. Or I could try bribery.
     But there is another way. I can have great influence and make a major difference in the lives of many by just being a caring, sharing, generous person.

19:7 The poor are shunned by all their relatives— how much more do their friends avoid them! Though the poor pursue them with pleading, they are nowhere to be found.

      "The poor" are among the most mentioned characters in Proverbs. They're not described as evil or cursed, just folks living in difficult situations.
      This verse discusses their situation, not their character. They "are shunned by all their relatives," "their friends avoid them!" and "they are nowhere to be found" even "though the poor pursue them with pleading."
      It's a sad scene. No one who knows them, and should care, really does. The poor have no one to whom they can turn - except God!
      While it's possible this poor person had done something wrong, there's nothing said to suggest they did. Instead, this ancient wise saying may have been like some of our modern laments - like PLOM (Poor Little Old Me!).
      Or it might have been sort of an ancient reality check. We all need to understand, accept and make the most of our situation and what we do have.
      Yet, I'll offer another thought. While family and friends may have deserted the poor, there are others - even strangers to them - who don't! That's the way it is here at Helping Up Mission.
      Some guys' people are nowhere to be found - although I'm happy to report that many still are! Yet, here, God has raised up an incredible army of others who care and will help.
      Folks who have never met any of our men here support our efforts because it's right, because they care and because that's what God told them to do!

19:8 He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who cherishes understanding prospers.

     This is one of the many verses which link wisdom and understanding together – this time in parallel Hebrew poetry. Throughout Proverbs these two qualities are associated and used almost synonymously. It's as if they come together, like bananas in a bunch or grapes in a cluster.
      The first line says anyone who loves wisdom actually loves his own soul. Appreciating wisdom in our lives really does good things for us. The second says to cherish (synonymous term with love) understanding will prosper us.
      Once we've made the commitment for these qualities to become priorities in our lives, they set us up to appreciate and enjoy life better...and to succeed. Jesus said it this way, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly!" (John 10:10 ESV).

19:11 A man's wisdom gives him patience, it is to his glory to overlook an offense.

     One of the benefits of being connected to wisdom is access to patience. "Seeing life from God's point of view" (our HUM Character Quality definition of wisdom) helps us "accept a difficult situation from God without giving Him deadline to remove it" (our HUM Character Quality definition of patience).
      Along with these wonderful qualities, this verse adds that we can also receive the empowerment to overlook offenses toward us or others - similar to our HUM Character Quality definition of forgiveness - "healing others by using their offenses as a means of expressing to them God's love."
      We don't have to continue going through life unwise, impatient and unforgiving! Totally accessible to all of us—wisdom, patience and forgiveness offer a great way to live.
      If interested, check out all 26 weekly Character Qualities we work at practicing daily here at Helping Up Mission:

19:12 A king's rage is like the roar of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass.

     Another verse about interacting with the king, it is a concept to which 21st century Americans have trouble relating. In the ancient world, this man had absolute authority over his subjects and there was no appeal. To get on the king's wrong side was a very bad place to find one's self.
      This verse compares the king's rage to the roar of a lion. Although a lion's roar can be heard as far away as 5 miles, anytime a lion is close enough to hear him roar would not have been a good thing. While being the direct object of a king's rage may not have been deadly, one would definitely not want to be anywhere near when he was having a bad day.
      Conversely, the king being in a good mood would have been a pleasant experience – even if it wasn't directed at you specifically. Dew on the grass in the morning was a small joy to which the ancients would appreciate waking to find. While short-lived, it was a time of refreshing and a bit of respite from the heat and aridity of the day.

19:13 A foolish son is his father's ruin, and a quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping.

19:14 Houses and wealth are inherited from parents, but a prudent wife is from the LORD.

     These are two separate wise says but were apparently associated because of their common theme on family. Both refer to marriage and both speak of the relationship between parents and children. In :13 is the negative reality of family life: a foolish son can really ruins his father's life, both emotionally and physically. And a quarrelsome wife can be as annoying as a continual drip that never stops. This verse points out that one family member can make life tough on the others. Most of us have at least witnessed a little bit of both and can testify to the truth of both statements.
      At the same time, :14 notes that parents can be and should be able to set their children up to be able to build on what their parents have done – at least in the ancient Israel and most societies today. An prudent (wise) wife – conceivably not the same one as the quarrelsome one in the previous verse – is something God will give to a man. This verse says that good things in life often come from those who love us and care for us – parents and the LORD.
      These verses have much meaning to the men of Helping Up Mission. Many of us were those foolish sons who brought much ruin to their parents (frequently not fathers, because they were often not around!). But to coin a modern day wise saying, "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" or the more poignant "like father, like son." And, of course, many guys complain about that quarrelsome wife who just drove them crazy. Of course, we do realize that we didn't first meet her and say there is an angry woman, I think I will marry her. While she may have been hiding her true nature, chances are she wasn't that kind of lady when we married her. It was her marriage to us that eventually led to her being that lady. We do understand that.
      In addition, we recognize that we desperately want to pass along something to our kids beyond our dope fiend ways and our rap sheets. And, once again, a good woman is a special gift from God (see 18:22).

19:17 He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.

     "The poor" - those with minimal worldly possessions - are among the most frequently mentioned people in Proverbs. While the standard of poverty differs from one part of the world to another, we can consider the poor in this verse as anyone less fortunate that we are.
      Here we read that things we do for the poor we actually do "to the LORD" and He will "reward us" accordingly. Jesus said a similar thing in His the parable of the sheep and goats (see Matthew 25:34-45).
      While this proverb only focuses on the positive side of the ledger, the opposite is also just as true. When we don't treat the poor well, the LORD also deals with us accordingly (see Proverbs 22:22-23).
      Of course the verse is not suggesting that we lend in our modern technical understanding of that term – making something available to them and expecting it back, with or without interest. The idea here is to share some of what God has given to me with others who don't have it. We do not expect them to pay it back, but we can expect God to honor and bless such activities in our lives.

19:19 A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.

     An angry man will constantly get in trouble and it will cost him. Others can rescue him, but he will wind up doing it again – until he finally gets around to addressing his own anger.
      This verse is a classic description of enabling. The thought is that I would like to help this guy out – give him a break – so he can have a fresh start. Unfortunately that doesn't really help him. Just changing the consequences of his actions doesn't really help him. He must change his attitudes which lead to those actions.
      The reality of life is that while we love to blame people, places and things for our problems they aren't the real issue. At the core of our struggles is our inability to deal appropriately with each of them. What I need is not your enablement, but your tough love to hold me accountable for my actions. By the way, many guys at Helping Up Mission have noted that the most spiritual time of their lives was when they had to pay the penalty for their actions by being locked up.
      God knows where your loved ones are – physically and spiritually – and He knows the best how to get them to where they need to me. Let us not enable, but offer the tough love they really need, and just watch Him do in their lives what we would never be able to accomplish.

19:20 Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.

     This verse is really a no-brainer. It's the kind of wise saying we all heard from adults as were have grew up. It's the kind of thing we tell our kids and anyone else we know is struggling.
      When we finally decide to "listen to advice" – good advice is really preferable here! – and "accept instruction" – think discipline here – we will wind up a "wise" person. We really do begin thinking differently and start becoming a different person. But it isn't magic, just the result of listening to others and accepting some discipline in our lives.
      Of course, we will still have to make our own decisions – but there's a better way than how we've been doing it. We should still be listening to God, but we may really be surprised at how well He will use other people to help show us the way.

19:27 Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.

     Father says to son: if you stop responding to the discipline (instruction) in your life, you will lose your moral compass, begin to make bad choices and do stupid things.
      As believers, we have the wonderful opportunity of knowing the instruction of the LORD which keeps us going in the right direction. But, if we decide we don't want or need to pay attention anymore, we will wander off from knowing and doing the right things. At that point we are on our own – and we all know where that leads!