8 A person is praised according to their prudence, and one with a warped mind is despised. 9 Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than pretend to be somebody and have no food. 10 The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel. 11 Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense. 12 The wicked desire the stronghold of evildoers, but the root of the righteous endures. 13 Evildoers are trapped by their sinful talk, and so the innocent escape trouble. 14 From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things, and the work of their hands brings them reward. (Prov. 12:8-14 NIV)
8 A person is praised according to their prudence,
and one with a warped mind is despised.
V8 and 9 are concerned with a person’s reputation in society. A person who has insight, prudence or common sense is appreciated in the community. This person has the practical ability to think clearly. It includes moral discernment but extends to the ability to think straight about whatever he encounters. This type of person is respected and thought of highly by those who know them. In contrast is the person with a warped or perverse mind. Warped is that which is crooked and twisted. No one likes dealing with such a person. A literal rendering of the ‘warped mind’ could be ‘crooked of heart’. You can never relax around people like this. They will take what you say or do and twist it and then misrepresent it to others. When the heart is twisted, everything that you see around you is twisted. This person cannot respond wisely to life. The result of this behaviour and reputation is that they are despised by the community at large.
9 Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant
than pretend to be somebody and have no food.
This concerns the person who is trying to make a reputation for themselves, by trying to appear different than they really are. It could be that they want to appear wealthier, cleverer or happier. They spend time, money and effort to project the view that they want others to have of them. This consumes their energy and money so that they don’t have enough to maintain their reputation and cover their basic needs. Under these circumstances, the Teacher says better to be a nobody and yet afford to have a servant. The pretence of being somebody and going without food is totally unwise. Yet people can be obsessed about their reputation. When we strive to promote a better reputation for ourselves, it is a sure sign that we are not content with what we have. Today people in the public eye are heavily into virtue signalling. They will make comments to promote themselves, for example as tolerant or anti-racist or environmentally aware.
10 The righteous care for the needs of their animals,
but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.
This verse shows us that godliness is expressed in how we care for the needs of our animals. God is interested in the lives of all His creatures and where we have animals entrusted into our care, we should ensure that they are fed, that we provide an adequate place for them to live and we should not abuse or illtreat any creature. Righteousness in our lives yields the fruit of the Spirit and one such fruit is gentleness. Gentleness with people and with animals. How down to earth godliness is! The wicked are self-serving and they will be cruel to people or animals if it suits them.
11 Those who work their land will have abundant food,
but those who chase fantasies have no sense.
Living in a city may mean that we don’t get the impact of this metaphor. We could change it to those who work in their office will have abundant food. That is, the Teacher is commending the person who sticks to working hard at their day job rather than chasing after wild ideas or fantasies. It makes more sense to make sure we get the basics right. The Teacher is contrasting the fruitfulness of hard work with the foolishness of get rich-quick schemes. Godliness takes in the way that we work.
12 The wicked desire the stronghold of evildoers,
but the root of the righteous endures.
This is a difficult verse to translate. The basic meaning is that the wicked desire the security that evildoers appear to have because of their ill-gotten gains. In contrast what the righteous have is not temporary security but they are solidly rooted in that which will endure.
13 Evildoers are trapped by their sinful talk,
and so the innocent escape trouble.
The Teacher turns back to consider speech again. The evildoer is trapped and perilously tangled in the web of his own words. Sir Walter Scott expresses the idea in his poem, ‘Marmion’, ‘Oh! What a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.’ People get themselves in all kinds of trouble and then they try to talk themselves out of the trouble, but every word takes them deeper into trouble. The righteous or the innocent who speak wisely escape this kind of trouble.
14 From the fruit of their lips people are filled with good things,
and the work of their hands brings them reward.
Here the speech of the wise person reaps rewards for them and others. The words that are spoken are wholesome and crafted with a view of doing good to others. As we work hard with our hands and receive the due reward for that, so we should work hard with our words in order to reap a righteous harvest.
Lord God help us to be careful with our speech, to design our words to do good to others. Help us to have a good standing in the community but not to obsess in trying to build a reputation. Let us be respected for our Christ likeness. Lord enable us to follow the wise path through life, because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.