The Provocative People of Proverbs

The perverse person. “A perverse man spreads strife, and a slanderer separates intimate friends” (16:28). Just like a computer hacker writes a virus and releases it to spread across the internet, this perverse person creates strife—bitter disagreement—and seeds it into his relationships. He may do this through slander, through gossip, and through backbiting, always with the design of turning other people against his victim. His perversity is aimed at harming others.

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The lover of transgression. “He who loves transgression loves strife; he who raises his door seeks destruction” (17:19). Instead of loving and pursuing all that is good and lovely in the world, this person loves sin, he loves strife, he loves what is evil and ugly. “Who else would love strife besides a person who also loves sin? He enjoys a good fight, whether he is in the ring himself or is coaching from the corner. By raising his door (opening his mouth in pride) he finds what he is looking for—someone getting annihilated.”

The obstinate fool. “A fool’s lips bring strife, and his mouth calls for blows” (18:6). Proverbs identifies at least three different kinds of fool. This one is foolish not because of some mental deficiency but “because of his propensity to make wrong choices.” He brings strife with him wherever he goes simply because of his foolishness. Contention is part of who he is, part of what he does. This fool’s words provoke trouble, “calling for blows”—practically begging for a beating.

The morally deficient fool. “Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel” (20:3). This brand of fool is even worse than the obstinate one. This one outs himself the moment he opens his mouth because his words show him to be utterly deficient in goodness and grace. He is nearly intolerable and causes trouble wherever he goes.

The scoffer. “Drive out the scoffer, and contention will go out, even strife and dishonor will cease” (22:10). The scoffer makes repeated appearances in Proverbs and we learn not to tangle with him because he refuses to listen to rebuke, he lacks wisdom, he is full of pride, and he will not seek or heed counsel from others. He is so odious that eventually everyone turns away from him, refusing to even associate with him.

The contentious man. “As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife” (26:21). If you put a piece of wood near hot embers, it is only a matter of time before the wood bursts into flame. In the same way, if you remain too long in the presence of a contentious, quarrelsome person, it is only a matter of time before you end up in a battle. This contentious person is always up for a good argument and no issue is too big or too small.

The arrogant man. “An arrogant man stirs up strife” (28:25). Pride goes hand-in-hand with contention so it is no surprise that arrogance leads to strife. This is why proud people so often end up quarreling with others and this is why it is so difficult to resolve those conflicts. Peacemaking and peacekeeping require humility.

The angry man. “An angry man stirs up strife, and a hot-tempered man abounds in transgression” (29:22). The person whose life is characterized by anger is a person who constantly stirs up strife, creating it where it does not need to exist, maintaining it where it could easily be resolved. Proverbs warns us not to closely associate with this kind of angry person lest we unwittingly adopt his ways. Not only that, but this angry person has the ability, and perhaps even the desire, to stir up problems between others, to force his anger far beyond himself.

What do we do with such provocative people? How do we relate to them? “For the most part, you will know up front that your chances of bringing your conflict with such a person to a peaceful resolution are very slight. As a rule, the best thing you can do is to warn him of the consequences of his actions and stay out of his way.” But even more importantly, look for these provocative traits within yourself and put them to death!