This is day ten in our thirty-one day study of Proverbs, and today we reach the heart of the book. Chapters 10 through 22 of Proverbs contain mostly single-sentence proverbs and form almost half of the book. There are occasionally longer constructs, but generally verses are not interconnected. They may build on a common theme, but this appears to be an aid to memorization more than the exposition of a theme. The bulk of the proverbs in this chapter, and those that follow, contrast two ideas using the conjunction “but.” The usual contrasts are righteousness and wickedness or wisdom and folly. Because each chapter contains many proverbs, often 25 or 30 of them, I will not be writing about each and every one. I will focus, rather, on only a few. I will look for recurring themes and for proverbs that really “jump out” at me.
The tenth chapter is prefaced by the words “The proverbs of Solomon.” Though we know Solomon wrote thousands of proverbs during his lifetime, there is no reason to demand that he actually wrote all of these. He undoubtedly wrote many, but it is probable that he also compiled the proverbs he heard from other people.
“A wise son makes a glad father, But a foolish son is the grief of his mother.” (verse 1)
This seems like the perfect place for Solomon to begin. The first nine chapters of the book have been replete with calls for a son to heed the teachings of his father, so as he begins this section it stands to reason that he would again call for his son to listen. Every child wants to please his parents and Solomon appeals to this desire. A son who heeds wisdom will make his parents proud, but a son who rejects wisdom will bring them grief. I have seen this so often in life, where a child who turns from the way of wisdom ends up bringing so much grief to his parents. The very first parents, Adam and Eve, experienced this as they undoubtedly had their hearts broken by Cain’s choice to disregard wisdom and turn his back on God’s ways. As human history has continued, untold millions of parents have experienced similar sadness at the choices of their children.
I think also of one of the most poignant of Jesus’ parables which concerns the Prodigal Son. I believe that parable has long been assigned the wrong name as the hero of the story is not the son, but the father. It is the father who suffered most as he watched his son forsake wisdom, choosing instead the way of untold wickedness.
“He who has a slack hand becomes poor, But the hand of the diligent makes rich. He who gathers in summer is a wise son; He who sleeps in harvest is a son who causes shame.” (verses 5 & 6)
One of my favorite aspects of Proverbs is the imagery the author uses. Verse five presents the image of the slack, lazy hands of the foolish and contrasts it with the strong, active hands of the wise. Where laziness leads to poverty, diligence and industry leads to wealth. The next verse has the same theme; a man who works hard and gathers the crops when they are ready for harvest is wise, but he who is lazy and sleeps through the harvest brings shame to his family.
Proverbs contains the ongoing theme of material blessing. Though poverty itself is not seen as shameful, poverty due to ongoing laziness is disgraceful. Generally we can expect that those who work hard, laboring diligently, will be blessed materially while the lazy will not.
“In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise. The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; The heart of the wicked is worth little. The lips of the righteous feed many, But fools die for lack of wisdom.” (verses 19-21)
These three verses speak of the common theme of guarding the tongue. As one who enjoys talking and comes from a long, proud lineage of “motor-mouths” I have seen ample examples of the fact that “in the multitude of words sin is not lacking.” I think of times I have said something I should not have said. I begin trying to dig my way out of the hole I have dug, but with every word I bury myself deeper and deeper. I am sure every person does this at least a few times in his lifetime. If only we would bring to mind these words: “he who restrains his lips is wise.” Perhaps the best example of this wisdom is Jesus, who “as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.” Jesus was questioned by the Sanhedrin, Pilate and Herod, yet spoke barely a word. He knew they were looking to incriminate Him, so He refrained from opening his mouth and giving them even more ammunition to use against Him.
Discretion is the ability to make good decisions about when and how to speak wisdom. Wisdom is not just about knowing what to say, for in this verse we see it is also about what not to say. Sometimes the greatest display of wisdom and discretion is to say nothing at all.
Verse 20 continues this theme. We see a contrast between the tongue of the righteous, which is beautiful and valuable, and the heart of the wicked which is ugly and worthless. The tongue and the heart are connected, for what is in the heart manifests itself in what comes from the mouth. In the twenty-first verse we see that lips that speak wisdom have value to other people, for they “feed many.” Lips that speak nothing but foolishness are unable even to sustain their owner.
“As vinegar to the teeth and smoke to the eyes, So is the lazy man to those who send him.” (verse 26)
Solomon had a sense of humor. I’m sure he laughed at this proverb when he wrote or discovered it some 2600 years ago just as I did when I read it this morning. I shudder at the thought of putting vinegar in my mouth for I know it would irritate my teeth and my mouth to no end. Similarly, getting smoke in my eyes is a distinctly unpleasant experience. Solomon uses these metaphors to illustrate the distaste an employer has towards a lazy employee for he is constantly irritating towards his boss. Having spent years of my life in a corporate environment I can attest that employees who are lazy demand much more attention from management than those who work diligently. This proverb is as true today as it was nearly 3000 years ago.