19 Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife. 20 The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down. 21 Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honour. 22 One who is wise can go up against the city of the mighty and pull down the stronghold in which they trust. 23 Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity. 24 The proud and arrogant person– “Mocker” is his name– behaves with insolent fury. 25 The craving of a sluggard will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work. 26 All day long he craves for more, but the righteous give without sparing. 27 The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable– how much more so when brought with evil intent! 28 A false witness will perish, but a careful listener will testify successfully. 29 The wicked put up a bold front, but the upright give thought to their ways. 30 There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD. 31 The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD. (Prov. 21:19-31 NIV)
19 Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife.
A desert is a completely uninhabitable place, but the Teacher uses hyperbole to emphasise how unbearable it is to live with a quarrelsome and nagging wife. As we noted in 21:9 this can be applied to the husband as well.
20 The wise store up choice food and olive oil,
but fools gulp theirs down.
The wise make provision for the future by storing food, the foolish consume what they have without any regard for the future. This is very practical advice and we may feel that it has little spiritual content, but God is involved with every area of our lives. The fear of the Lord is the wise way to live and wisdom teaches us to make provision for our future.
21 Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honour.
Those who seek the way of the Lord will find personal, spiritual and social blessings. A life lived in the fear of the Lord is a more fulfilling life. The prosperity here is referring to spiritual prosperity. Some translations give righteousness rather than prosperity. The righteous person finds honour in society. God’s way is the wise way to live and it was how we were designed to live.
22 One who is wise can go up against the city of the mighty and pull down the stronghold in which they trust.
This proverb reminds me of the verses in 1 John and 2Cor 10:
You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 Jn. 4:4 NIV)
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:3-5 NIV)
Truth and righteousness will have the ultimate victory. The people of God have the very potent weapon of prayer. As we pray in the will of God, we can overcome any and every barrier. The world may appear to have the upper hand, but this is only a temporary illusion because God will bring the reign of evil to an end.
23 Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.
The wise use of words is a recurring theme in Proverbs. Many people justify their harmful and hurtful speech by claiming that they are straightforward people who like to speak their mind, they say that they like to ‘clear the air’ by being outspoken. That always seems fine as long as they are doing the talking, but once someone straight talks back to them, they do not take it so well. The point is that whatever our view about speaking out we should guard what we say, because our words can cause hurt and calamity for ourselves and for others.
24 The proud and arrogant person– “Mocker” is his name– behaves with insolent fury.
Proverbs draws our attention to sins that we are more likely to commit. It is possible to harbour feelings of self-righteousness because we don’t do things like steal, murder or commit adultery, but being proud and arrogant because of who we think we are or what we think we have achieved can leave us looking down on others. We can even mock others who we think are not as good as we are. We may not even notice that we behave like this. This person shows little patience with others and is actually angry with those who don’t match what he supposes is his high standard.
25 The craving of a sluggard will be the death of him,
because his hands refuse to work.
The lazy person is driven by his desires, but he won’t work to provide to achieve his desires, so his craving becomes the death of him. We should not dismiss this as only referring to others. We can desire all kinds of spiritual blessings, we may desire to see others come to Christ, but we never do anything about sharing the Gospel.
26 All day long he craves for more,
but the righteous give without sparing.
This proverb is linked with the previous one. The lazy person shows no end to his craving, the righteous show no end to their giving. Both are occupied, the lazy person is consumed by his self interest and the righteous person is labouring to help others.
27 The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable—
how much more so when brought with evil intent!
It is easy to build up the picture in our minds that when Proverbs refers to the fool or the wicked that they are blatantly wicked in all their ways. Some clearly are but here we have the religious wicked person. Outwardly they have the veneer of being pious and they bring their sacrifice to offer it to the Lord. When an act of worship is offered with ill intent then this is worse. What might that evil intent be? It could be that the person wants to buy favour with God, or wants to look good in the eyes of the community.
28 A false witness will perish,
but a careful listener will testify successfully.
In OT times the false witness could be sentenced to death, or their testimony cut short by the judge, or the people could ostracise him and ignore what he has to say. In contrast the careful listener is one who listens carefully to the teachings of wisdom and so his testimony is listening to and wins the argument.
29 The wicked put up a bold front,
but the upright give thought to their ways.
The wicked put on a brave show, they fake their happiness and prosperity. In contrast the righteous person examines his heart and gives careful thought to his words and actions.
30 There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.
This is a very encouraging proverb for every Christian. Our hearts despair at the direction of travel that our nation is going in. It almost seems that there is a master plan to overturn every vestige of Christian influence. Perhaps there is a masterplan of evil, but it won’t succeed. There is no scheme of humanity that can succeed against the Lord. God was longsuffering with the evil Canaanites for 400 years before he brought the Israelites back into the land to punish them. To many people they seem to have success in what they have accomplished, but this is only a temporary state of affairs.
31 The horse is made ready for the day of battle,
but victory rests with the LORD.
It is right that we should make preparation for whatever task we intend to do, but we should not put our trust in that preparation because the victory rests with the Lord. In the life of the church we should do everything that we can do but ultimately we need the Lord to bless.
Lord help us in our preparations to do all that we can do to prepare with prayer and study. Help us to carefully plan, organise and equip ourselves for the tasks that you would have us complete. But Lord in everything that we do, may we do it in the realisation that our success in completing any task is entirely in Your hands. Lord turn Your face towards us and bless us because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.