13. Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning, but a rod is for the back of one who has no sense. 14 The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin. 15 The wealth of the rich is their fortified city, but poverty is the ruin of the poor. 16 The wages of the righteous is life, but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death. 17 Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray. 18 Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool. 19 Sin is not ended by multiplying words, but the prudent hold their tongues. 20 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value. 21 The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of sense. (Prov. 10:13-21 NIV)
The Teacher has much to say about the wise and foolish use of words. The NT also warns us about the use of our tongue. James asks us to consider how large a forest fire can be set ablaze with a single spark. The spark of a few words can set a whole series of unrest. We are so often in a state of urgency to say what we feel needs to be said, but the warning of Scripture should teach us to dial down the sense of urgency and take time to be cautious in what we say. Often we don’t have all the information, or we have misunderstood another’s action or speech, and if were slow to speak then time might provide the missing information and we realise that it would have been wrong to speak out.
13. Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning,
but a rod is for the back of one who has no sense.
There are two contrasts in this verse, the wisdom on the lips and the rod on the back, and the discerning person and the person with no sense or wisdom. The person who has the fear of the Lord and knowledge in their hearts is able to speak and give wisdom to others. The person with no sense, or no heart, has nothing to offer and only brings punishment upon himself. That punishment can both be in this life and the life to come. The wise person listens to words of wisdom, the foolish person only understands punishment.
14 The wise store up knowledge,
but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.
The wise have a good possession of wisdom and knowledge, the foolish suffer the consequences of ruin. The wise one is storing up but the fool is giving out. The wise one stores up wisdom in his heart, but the fool speaks foolishness which returns to ruin him. At times we can act with wisdom and at other times we can be very foolish. The Teacher wants us to cultivate a habit of being wise and to prevent ourselves from acting foolishly.
15 The wealth of the rich is their fortified city,
but poverty is the ruin of the poor.
This verse does not moralise about either wealth or poverty it just states an obvious fact. In a time of need the rich are more secure in this life than the poor. We just have to observe that the pandemic had a worse outcome for those who lived in areas of poverty and deprivation. Riches can insulate a person from many of the hazards in life.
The wise will acquire more wisdom and wise living will make provision for the future. The foolish will waste resources neither acquiring wisdom nor provision for the future. The verse is a metaphor to describe the wise person who is truly rich with wisdom and the fool who is desperately poor because they do not possess wisdom.
16 The wages of the righteous is life,
but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death.
V16 confirms the understanding of V15 as a metaphor as V16 speaks of wages and earnings. The reward for righteous living is life. That is life now and life in eternity. The earnings of a wicked life are sin and death. This is similar to what we read in Romans:
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:23 NIV)
Living as the righteous or living as the wicked have implications beyond just the moment. Either path of life has consequences.
17 Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life,
but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.
The person who heeds discipline or listens to instructions demonstrates that they are on the way to life and also displays that way of life as a witness to others. We need to take the Proverbs together to get a full picture of what the Teacher is saying. It would be foolish to extract one Proverb and try and build a doctrine around it. The righteous person is the wise person, and they are on the way to life. It is important to note that the wise person is still in need of instruction and discipline. They can be considered wise but they are not perfect. We need to keep learning wisdom and reviewing our words and actions to see how we need to correct what we think, and possibly when we need to repent for what we have said or done. The foolish person is given correction but ignores it, and through their wrong behaviour and speech they lead others astray.
18 Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool.
This Proverb does not have the contrasting style of the other Proverbs. Some translations try to maintain two lines in the verse, but many scholars favour the one line translation of the NIV. The difference does not change the meaning of the verse the debate is only about the style of the Proverb.
There are two ideas in the Proverb – one is concealing and the other is spreading. Both actions have an evil intent. The fool conceals their hatred by telling lies. For example, someone who is motivated by hatred tries to harm the person they hate by saying untrue things in a seemingly caring way. Usually this takes the form of half truths that make the story sound plausible, but told with a twist to cause harm. The fool spreads slander. A fool can be controlled because every foolish mouth requires two listening ears. Sometimes it is important to walk away and refuse to listen.
19 Sin is not ended by multiplying words,
but the prudent hold their tongues.
The Teacher is telling us about the danger of multiplying words. There are two meanings implied here. Sins are committed in the first place through what is said. Then in order to cover up that sin more words are spoken, perhaps to explain away the sin, or to excuse the sin. The lesson is stop talking. The wise person restrains their tongue and guards what they say.
We need to remind ourselves that the Teacher is teaching us practical godliness. Godliness and holiness is perhaps more down to earth than we would like!
20 The tongue of the righteous is choice silver,
but the heart of the wicked is of little value.
The heart of a person is their most fundamental problem, their tongue lets everyone else know that. The content of a person’s heart is quickly revealed by their tongue.
The righteous person should use their words to build up and encourage. The words that are worth choice silver would include the words that we might share in the Gospel, but the primary meaning here are the everyday words that we speak to one another. The words spoken by the wicked are of little value, because they come from a heart that is of little value.
21 The lips of the righteous nourish many,
but fools die for lack of sense.
The words spoken by a righteous person have the power to do good for many people. It would be a good discipline to plan your words with a view to nourishing other people. In contrast the fool neither nourishes others nor himself and he dies because of a lack of wisdom.
Lord God in mercy help us to speak to others in a way that will nourish them, encourage them and build them up in their faith. Help us to continually learn to be wise and to guard our hearts and words and learn to value other people because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.