Chapter 29: Commentary

Chapter 29 A continuation of the third and final section of Proverbs attributed to Solomon (25:-29:27). Typically one-verse proverbs, sometimes addressed to "my son," they tend to be loosely grouped around themes and formatting.


29:1 A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy.

     We all do dumb stuff and need to be rebuked for our bad choices. But some of us just refuse to receive correction, time after time. At some point God says "enough is enough" and, as the verse says, we will be ultimately and completely destroyed. And when it happens, it will come suddenly – even at a point when we don't expect it. Just for the record, I think the destruction here is talking about this life, not eternity.
      But the Bible discusses this matter, specifically, in reference to unbelievers - a sobering discussion in Romans 1 (see :26). It is also addressed in the lives of believers, too. In 1 John 5:16, a believer finally does too much and God says "enough."
      There is such a day for any and all of us who refuse to listen – but it doesn't have to be that way. All we have to do is get honest about our attitudes and actions and accept responsibility for our choices. At that point, we can receive forgiveness and empowerment to do the next right thing.

29:4 By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down.

     The king in Proverbs was, of course, the king of the land (the kingdom of Judah in the case of this chapter – see note at 25:1). While in America, we can understand this as the President, or our Governor or maybe even the mayor, the term should also be applied to anyone who is in authority. Every leader truly establishes his kingdom, corporation or department by doing, and expecting his people to do, the right thing ("justice"). But any leader, on any level, will undermine is credibility by giving favor in return for "gifts" (whether the term is understood as a gift or a bribe).

29:5 Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet.

     "Neighbor" in Proverbs is also translated "friend." In the Old Testament, my neighbor was my friend because I didn't really know anyone else and we had to learn to get along. Not unlike arranged marriages in the ancient world – men and women often married without really knowing each other. Although learning to love my new spouse was probably lots harder than learning to make my neighbor my friend!
      This verse compares "flatters" (literally "smooths" – doing and saying smooth things) my neighbor/friend with spreading a net to catch them. This is the same "net" used to catch animals (see note at 1:17), so doing or saying smooth things to my friends/neighbors, is actually setting a trap to catch them.
      That automatically sounds evil – and often is. But consider this…while spreading a net to catch a bird is not really good for the bird, it is pretty good for me – I'll have dinner tonight! Doing smooth things to catch something might not be automatically evil.

      When I met my wife (on a blind date 36 years ago, set up by my now-boss!), I said and did some "smooth" things to get her interest. I still say and do "smooth" things with her – because I love her, want to do things she likes and I want to keep her interested in me!
      Admittedly the guys at Helping Up Mission will suggest this would be what they call "a dope-fiend move" – manipulating others to get what I want. Busted!
      Sometimes we do this with family members, friends, coworkers, the boss and even strangers (if we think it might be worthwhile). It really comes down to motive – is this all about me or not? If not, then all this "smooth" stuff might not be so bad. In fact, who really enjoys a relationship with someone who is not willing to do and say "smooth" things for us now and then?

29:6 Evildoers are snared by their own sin, but the righteous shout for joy and are glad.

     This wise saying speaks about two opposite characters - "evildoers" and "the righteous." It also discusses what happens to them both.
      At the beginning of the verse "evildoers are snared by their own sin." While they do evil things to other people, this proverb reminds us that their hurtful ideas will come back on them - like Wile E. Coyote with Roadrunner!
      No matter what he tried, Wile E. eventually ended up suffering from his own evil doings. It reminds us of that other Biblical wise saying that notes "we reap what we sow" (see Galatians 6:7).
      But in the second part of the verse, the righteous "shout for joy and are glad." It's possible this joyous occasion could be the downfall of the evildoers, but I doubt it. I don't remember Roadrunner doing much rejoicing - just "beep beep!"
      Instead, I'll suggest this joy and gladness isn't because of what happens to others but because of what's going on in their own hearts and lives. They've learned to live like the end of the Serenity Prayer says - "reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next" (see https://www.helpingupmission.org/serenity-prayer).
      Evildoers are out there, and they will do bad things to others. But his proverb reminds us that what they do will come back on them.
      So the righteous can just go ahead and enjoy their lives. While not Heaven, it does sound like a pretty good way to live!

29:7 The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.

     A "righteous" person works at thinking and doing right things as daily practice. One right thing is to care for "the poor," the less fortunate and those who don't have the same opportunities as others. A righteous person cares about such people.
      But "wicked" people do not share this concern. Whatever kind of "wicked" things they do, what makes them that kind of person is their focus on themselves and what makes them happy. Consequently, they would have no interest or concern about the poor.
      This verse is a spiritual barometer for all of us. While we may think of ourselves as pretty good people, if we really don't care much about those who are less fortunate, we can be certain that God's assessment of our spiritual condition is not good. We need to do some recalibrating and get with it. Since you are a "righteous person" and do care, Helping Up Mission is a great place to put your caring into practice.

29:8 Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger.

     This wise saying contrasts "mockers" and "the wise." It also points out what each is capable of doing.
      "Mockers" are those whose habit is verbally disrespecting others and our verse notes the effect of their words and actions. Their mocking message goes way beyond those about whom they are talking or even beyond those to whom they say it.
      With their negative message, they have the power to "stir up a city." That's some power!
      In contrast, "the wise" man or woman has the power to not only not create anger, but even "turn away anger" already out there. That's not an easy thing to pull off.
      It's amazing what we're all capable of doing - for either good or bad. My character will dictate which way that goes.
      We all have the ability to powerfully impact others. But it's my choice which kind of impact I will have!

29:9 If a wise person goes to court with a fool, the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace.

     The two central characters of Proverbs are once again discussed here - "a wise person" and "the fool." But the focus of their interaction is "going to court" - some sort of legal judgment between the two where arbitration was expected.
      While it isn't totally clear from the verse who initiated the proceedings, the presumption is that the "wise person" isn't doing anything inappropriate.
      On the other hand, "the fool" displays emotions and actions in court which range from one extreme to another. He or she "rages and scoffs and there is no peace." Although this should be understood as a serious legal proceeding, the fool displays anger on one hand and doesn't take things seriously on the other.
      Consequently, the result of this arbitration is that nothing of value happens - "there is no peace." This verse suggests a wise person can be doing a right thing, but it may not lead to any clearly positive outcomes.
      There are times when we need to count the cost before we go into some situations - and it might be better if we just stay home! But if we believe we should go ahead, it's best that we're also prepared for things to not turn out as we think they should.

29:11 A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.

     This verse contrasts two of the most mentioned characters in Proverbs – the "fool" and the "wise man." The fool's focus and attitudes cause him to openly display his "anger" when things don't go his way.
      At Helping Up Mission I'll ask in class how many guys have been beaten up, stabbed or shot because of their anger. Most hands go up! It has also caused them to get arrested, lose jobs and destroy meaningful relationships. They don't like being that guy but just can't control those emotions.
      The second half of this verse speaks of the wise man who "keeps himself under control." Consequently, he does not struggle with the fool's above-mentioned problems. Instead he finds a new source of self-control empowerment.

      So how can I be that kind of guy? It actually starts by admitting I can't – and will never be able to – control of my own emotions! But I can decide to trust God to do for me what I can't do for myself.
      God gives self-control to anyone willing to turn their will and life over to Him on a daily basis. I just have to quit trying to change myself – I can't. But He can and wants to do for me everything I can't do for myself. That's how a wise man does it - that's also Steps 1, 2 & 3 of the 12 Steps!

29:17 Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul.

     Proverbs frequently mention the father/son relationship and even the parental responsibility of discipline. The Hebrew term "discipline" here does not speak of punishment, but of instruction. This is the instruction/discipline you would give to an athlete, or even the discipline of being a disciple (both have the same Latin root word – "to teach or to charge").
      Appropriate instruction to your son will make him the man you want him to be. Throughout his life, his choices and actions will bring peace and delight to your soul – especially when he grows into a man and will be in a position to help care for you in your old age.

29:18 Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.

     This verse focuses on the value and importance of having a message from God – a "revelation" or "the law." When we are not hearing anything from God, there is no reason to do the right thing. We lean on our own understanding and anything goes. A bunch of guys around Helping Up Mission tried that – and now they're here! Conversely, when we have a sense of what God is saying to us and doing in our lives, we can make good choices. When we do that, we can expect His blessing and empowerment.

29:20 Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

     We all know that there is not much hope for a fool who is persists in acting like one. But, this verse says that there is actually more hope for him than for the first man in the verse.
      What kind of scoundrel must the man at the beginning of the verse be? He is "a man who speaks in haste." While we might at first think that this must be a mistake, on further reflection there may be some truth to this proverb.
      Everyone knows that a fool is in a bad place and you can count on him to do no good. But we might not think that a normal man could make such a mess. Yet when even good people speak in haste, they can also create great problems for themselves and others.
      While most of us don't act like fools, we do have the regular challenge of speaking in haste and bringing the consequences down on ourselves and others. May we learn to measure our words and actions better.

29:21 If a man pampers his servant from youth, he will bring grief in the end.

     This verse is a bit difficult to understand or appreciate. A man who has a servant born in his house and he pampers him throughout his life will not be able to count on that servant in the end.
      The issue seems to be the concept of enabling. Not holding athletes employees or even friends to appropriate standards is not healthy for them. You know, friends don't let friends drive drunk.
      Neither is enabling a child good for them or us. So, the idea of pampering a servant is not that far off. It may not sound good, but it is appropriate and right.

29:22 An angry person stirs up conflict, and a hot-tempered person commits many sins.

     Anger is the focus for the two parallel statements of this wise saying. While we probably don't learn anything new from this verse, it does help us understand certain people or situations.
      "An angry person stirs up conflict" is something we probably know very well. But we need to apply this truth when we deal with angry people - they will stir things up, whether on purpose or by accident.
      "A hot-tempered person commits many sins" is understood as basically the same person. But their activities are not accidental here. These are deliberate sinful choices - probably self-centered and hurtful to others.
      One of the big problems with anger is that it can't be focused. While I may be mad at you, my nasty emotions spill out and all over anyone nearby. I just sort of emotionally "barf" all over everyone else!
      So, what can I do with this verse?
      First, realize with whom I am dealing and, thus, expect certain outcomes.
      Second, be prepared to respond appropriately (or, like me, regroup after initially responding poorly!).
      Third, plan to help others who either are the direct recipient of this anger or those who just represent collateral damage.
      Finally, the reason those folks are so angry is because they aren't happy in the inside. Be there to offer them a better way and point them to some answers.

29:23 A man's pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.

     This verse speaks of a rather common theme in Proverbs (see almost identical thoughts in 11:2; 16:18). A man's pride lifts him up in his own estimation, but this verse says it will eventually bring him down. Conversely, a man who does not consider himself high and mighty will eventually be lifted up in honor.
      The passage indicates that everyone will eventually be brought down, brought low. We either bring ourselves down ("of lowly spirit") or our own attitudes and choices will "bring us low." We are all going down and it is our own choice how – either voluntarily or by consequences.


29:25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe.

     This verse points out two opposites – "fear of man" and "trust in the LORD." Fearing men is never a good thing, it sets us up for trouble and only brings difficulty. Scripture is clear that we are not to fear men.
      On the other hand, we are supposed to trust in the LORD. That will only set us up to be safe and successful.
      These two concepts are mutually exclusive – you can't do them both at the same time. If you fear man you won't be trusting the LORD and vice versa. It all about focus – people, places and things or the LORD. It's an everyday choice.