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Caleb Nelson: Honesty, the Best Policy, vv. 1-2

  1. In Commercial Dealings, v. 1
  2. In Self-Evaluation, v. 2

 A.  (:1) Honesty in Business

A false balance is an abomination to the LORD,

But a just weight is His delight.

Allen Ross: The Scriptures throughout condemn dishonesty in business (see Lev 19:35–36; Dt 25:13–16; Am 8:5; et al.).

Bruce Waltke: The explicit mention of the LORD’s moral repugnance in 11:1, entailing his judgment, underscores that he is the Agent determining the destiny of the righteous and the wicked. Otherwise, apart from 11:20, he is mostly hidden in the shadows of this subunit on security and transience. . .

Ancient weights were stones … carved in shapes with a flat base, which made them easy to recognize (e.g., turtles, ducks, lions). They were often inscribed with the weight, and the standard followed. Weights were carried in a pouch or wallet (Deut. 25:13; Mic. 6:11; Prov. 16:11) in order that the purchaser could check with the weights current among the merchants at a given place (Gen. 23:16).   A deceitful trader carried in his pouch differing weights (Deut. 25:13; Prov. 16:11), a too heavy one for purchase and a too light one for selling. Dishonest merchants outwardly defraud their neighbors and inwardly deny God. The Creator and Upholder of the moral order is repulsed by them, and his offended moral sensibility demands his active response.

Caleb Nelson: Whenever I’m filling up my car with gas, I contemplate the little stickers that say the name of the state inspector and indicate when that particular pump was last inspected. It always makes me feel good: Here, if anywhere, is a government activity we can all get behind. God loves the little “inspected” stickers. A just meter is His delight.

B.  (:2) Humility in Self-Evaluation

When pride comes, then comes dishonor,

But with the humble is wisdom.

George Mylne: Pride is joined with folly and ends in disgrace. The humble man is wise, and shall be exalted to honor.

Pride consists in an immoderate self-esteem and places its happiness in esteem and honor from others. No sin is more foolish than pride! It springs from ignorance of God, of ourselves and other men and by the very means which it uses for the accomplishment of its ends, ensures disappointment. In seeking glory it finds disgrace. Pride made Nebuchadnezzar a brute. Pride destroyed Herod with worms. Pride turned Lucifer into Beelzebub. By other sins, man rebels against God by pride, he usurps God’s crown and dignity. No wonder, then, that God looks upon all those who are proud, and disgraces them.

Paul Koptak: Pride in the Old Testament is often different from our ideas of vanity and conceit (11:2). It points to the folly and arrogance of those who believe they can abuse others and not be brought to account. “See what they spew from their mouths—they spew out swords from their lips, and they say, ‘Who can hear us?’ But you, O LORD, laugh at them” (Ps. 59:7–8). Wisdom, its opposite, knows we have to give answer for our actions and therefore has a sense of boundaries.

Bruce Waltke: Pride (zādôn) denotes a psychological state of an exaggerated opinion of oneself that does not correspond to social reality. Its personification by the verb comes (boʾ) implies that hubris finds favor with the wicked. Disgrace (qālôn, i.e., social failure; see 3:35) comes because the presumption of self-importance entails usurpation of authority that rightfully belongs to the LORD and others in authority, and connotes defiance and even rebellion against their rule (see 13:10; 21:24; cf. 6:17; 16:18–19; 18:12). The wicked invite pride to come as their guest, but, like an inseparable twin, disgrace comes along with her as an uninvited guest.  The repetition of the word then comes (wayyābōʾ; see 6:11) and the alliteration of zādôn and qālôn emphasize the inseparability of the welcome and unwelcome guests.

Allen Ross: “Pride” (zādôn; GK 2295) is literally a boiling up; and so hubris, an overstepping of the boundaries and insubordination, is meant. Humility describes those who know their place; but those who are proud, says Plaut, 136, are inflated to the level of self-bestowed divinity. The proud will have their egos deflated (qālôn, “made light of, disgrace”).

C.  (:3) Integrity in Conduct

The integrity of the upright will guide them,

But the falseness of the treacherous will destroy them.

Paul Koptak: This contrast in 11:3 is between guidance and destruction. It imagines roads filled with dangers or rushing white water rivers filled with treacherous rocks. One would be glad to have a guide in such situations, and integrity promises to be that companion. The duplicity (selep) of the unfaithful is twisted, just as a bribe twists the words of the righteous (Ex. 23:8; Deut. 16:19). The verbal form of this word appears in Proverbs 13:6: “Righteousness guards the man of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner.”

Bruce Waltke: The integrity (tummat, i.e., a wholeness, a completeness, a totality that has consequences in concrete deeds; see 2:7) of the upright (yešārîm; see 1:3) leads them (tanḥēm; see 6:22) through adversity to the destined haven. The lifestyle of complete loyalty to the LORD and others is the inalienable possession of those who by definition do not stray from the divinely revealed straight path. The result of enjoying freedom within form and liberty within law leads them as a shepherd in the way of safety and salvation. Joseph’s “straight” path to the throne of Egypt led through enslavement and prison, even as the LORD’s path to the heavenly Jerusalem led through Jerusalem’s cross and tomb. By contrast, the perfidy of the disloyal will boomerang with such ferocity that it will utterly devastate them.

Charles Bridges: Integrity is a most valuable guide in every perplexing situation.  The single desire to know God’s will so that we may do it will always bring light on our path (Psalm 143:10).  The unfaithful who indulge in duplicity neglect this godly principle and so are destroyed.

Tremper Longman: Again, this is another permutation on the contrast drawn between the wise and the foolish. In particular, the proverb highlights innocence and duplicity as their respective traits. Innocence implies a kind of transparency that is completely missing from the duplicitous. It is used of Job in Job 1:1 and 9:21–24 and has nothing to do with the sense of innocence that implies naïveté. What one sees and hears honestly reflects those with integrity. After all, they have nothing to hide. On the other hand, the faithless dissimulate. Part of this strategy may be self-protective. If people really knew what was in the minds of the faithless, they would be threatened. But according to this proverb, it is their deceit that actually leads to their destruction.

Caleb Nelson: Well, the integrity of the upright guides them. Where should I go? What career should I pursue, college should I attend, house should I buy? If you walk uprightly with God, your own integrity will guide you in answering these questions. Conversely, the perversity of the unfaithful will destroy them — in other words, the leading provided by the uprights’ integrity will lead them into wholeness, prosperity, success, everything that is the opposite of destruction. Right? We can say “The principle of hedonism guides me” and “the principles of Christianity guide me.” In one sense, you could pick either one of these as your moral system and let it guide you. But one will guide you to destruction, while the other will guide you to everlasting life. So seek personal integrity! It will guide you in every situation to do the right thing, the wise thing, and that practice in turn will lead you on to life. Yes, in the short term showing integrity might lead to job loss or (in some places) to martyrdom. But that is not ultimate destruction; ultimate destruction takes place when you land in Hell.


Paul Koptak: Each verse describes either the bad consequences that come on the wicked, the rescue of the righteous, or both.  There may be a chiasm; verses 6 and 8 seem to match regarding escape for the righteous, while verse 7 repeats the sad end of the wicked.

Caleb Nelson: Righteousness, the Best Protection, vv. 3-8

  1. It Guides, v. 3
  2. It Delivers from Death, v. 4
  3. It Protects from Sin’s Snares, vv. 5-6
  4. It Grants Enduring Hope, v. 7
  5. It Delivers from Trouble, v. 8

A.  (:4) Delivers from Death

Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,

But righteousness delivers from death.

Bruce Waltke: God’s wrath is in view, for it is equated with death in verset B, and God alone has the power of life and death. When used in relation to God, ʿebrâ is a synonym of ḥēmâ (“wrath”; see 6:34), but adds the nuance of fierceness to it; it expresses an overwhelming and complete devastation (Isa. 13:9). God’s wrath burns, overflows, and sweeps away everything before it (cf. Ezek. 22:21, 31). On the day of the Lord’s ʿebrâ, nothing stands before it.  The wicked, who up pile wealth through injustice and oppression to protect themselves, so displease the LORD that when he releases his pent-up anger against their fortified city, it cannot save them (cf. 10:15). The parallel “from death” allows one to think either of any catastrophe that strikes down wicked individuals (cf. Isa. 10:3; Ezek. 7:19; Zeph. 1:14–18) or of a final calamity that will happen to the wicked when the righteous will be left on the earth (see 2:21–22).

Lindsay Wilson: The day of wrath (yôm ‘ebrâ, v. 4a) does not refer to an end-time judgment (not a focus in the wisdom books), but rather to a future time of disaster such as military invasion, famine or other crisis that can sweep away carefully gathered wealth. It is a parallel expression to being destroyed in verse 3b. In such situations, which raise the possibility of death (v. 4b), what is of value is a person’s righteousness or character – what we cannot lose even if everything else is taken from us.

George Mylne: Though we should allow that [riches] are of some little use in the time of prosperity, they are altogether useless in the time of calamity. When God punishes a land riches only make their owners a fairer mark, and a richer booty to the spoilers. When conscience stings its wounds are poisoned by reflections on the abuse of riches. They make death more terrible. To the wicked who possessed wealth, it shall be said at the last judgment, “I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat.” Nothing of the world shall follow them to Hell but the bitter remembrance of the good things they possessed, and the guilt contracted by the influence of such a possession.

B.  (:5-6) Smooths the Way and Delivers

Paul Koptak: Verses 5–6 form a pair contrasting the fates of the righteous and the wicked, each beginning with the same word, “righteousness.” “Righteousness of the blameless” (11:5) repeats in reverse the same Hebrew roots used for “integrity of the upright” in 11:3 and repeats the image of the straight and safe way. . .

There is some wordplay between 11:5 and 6; the same Hebrew root (yšr) is used with the righteousness that “makes straight” and the righteousness of “the upright.” The contrast in the two proverbs is clear; righteousness keeps its bearer safe and free while wickedness ensnares and destroys.

Bruce Waltke: These verses are related by their common theme (i.e., righteousness saves and apostasy damns), by their similar syntax, and by the anaphora of initial ṣidqat (“righteousness of”) in their A versets and be (“by”/“through”) in their B versets. Both assert the contrary principles that inform the blameless/the upright and the wicked/the treacherous, linking them to v. 3. Verses 5 and 6 differ essentially only in their metaphors: “way” (of a journey) and “captured” (of an animal). The straight progress of the upright along the way in v. 5a is escalated to their deliverance from death in v. 6a. The linkage shows that the straightness of the path must be evaluated in light of its outcome. The wicked of v. 5b are defined more precisely as feckless apostates in v. 6b, and their wickedness is traced back to unrestrained greed. Both verses reinforce the appeal to be wholly committed to what is right.

  1. (:5) Smooths the Way

The righteousness of the blameless will smooth his way,

But the wicked will fall by his own wickedness.

Tremper Longman: The righteous are on the straight path that leads to life, and the wicked are on a crooked path. Typically, the book teaches that God makes the path of the righteous easy (3:6), but here we learn that it is a synergistic effort because the behavior of the wise (here referred to as “the innocent”) apparently makes one’s life easier. That human effort does not nullify divine sovereignty may be seen in a passage like Phil. 2:12–13, as well as in holy-war theology, where God wins the battle but demands human participation.

  1. (:6)  Delivers

The righteousness of the upright will deliver them,

But the treacherous will be caught by their own greed.

Lindsay Wilson: The precise scenario of verse 6b is not set out, but the unrestrained pursuit of lustful desires seems to be a weakness of the wicked which will be exploited by their enemies (5:22). Lust is both self-focused and insatiable.

C.  (:7-8) Mitigates Present Trouble by Focusing on Hope of Escape

Lindsay Wilson: The finality of death is an important reminder, as death puts an end to any future plans and money-making schemes.

  1. (:7)  Expectation of the Wicked Extinguished at Death

When a wicked man dies, his expectation will perish,

And the hope of strong men perishes.

Paul Koptak: This proverb reflects on the experience of hope and rewards. Because the wicked have no desire for the enduring treasures of wisdom, their hopes and dreams die with them.

Tremper Longman: Rather than an antithetical parallelism, it is a good example of a parallelism where the second colon specifies the thought of the first colon. The teaching of the proverb serves as a warning against putting hope in the power of money.

George Mylne: Men derive almost the whole of their happiness, from the hope of some future good. The wicked man laughs at the righteous, because he lives by hope. The wicked man himself does the same, with this difference that while the hopes of the righteous are eternal, those of the wicked are bounded by time. The expectation of the one has for its object things heavenly and durable while that of the other is fixed on objects circumscribed by the present life.

The present situation of the wicked man never yields him the pleasure which he wishes and expects but there is ever something in view, in which, could he but obtain it, he would find rest. If his hopes are deferred his heart is sick; if they are accomplished he is still unsatisfied; but he comforts himself with some other hope, like a child, who thinks he sees a rainbow on the top of a neighboring hill, and runs to take hold of it but sees it as far removed from him as before.

Thus the life of a wicked man is spent in vain wishes, and toils, and hopes until death kills at once his body, his hope, and his happiness.

  1. (:8)  Escape for the Righteous

The righteous is delivered from trouble,

But the wicked takes his place.

Bruce Waltke: V. 8 functions as a janus between vv. 1–8 and 9–15. Verse 9 is linked with vv. 10–15 by the theme of “words in community” and other poetic features.

Tremper Longman: This optimistic proverb suggests that in the end people get what they deserve. It implies that the righteous sometimes find themselves in distress, trouble of some sort that arouses anxiety. However, eventually they will be delivered from that distress. Even more encouraging to those who desire to see things work out so that the righteous get their reward and the wicked get their just punishment, the wicked will eventually get what they deserve: distress!

Such teaching would help the righteous get through their struggles. We see this developed in Ps. 73. The psalmist confesses that at one point he was confused and even angry as he struggled in life but saw his wicked neighbors living what seemed to be carefree lives. Finally, through what seems to amount to a divine revelation of sorts, he recognized that present realities obscured the real nature of things. Ultimately, everyone gets what they deserve.

If this proverb does not assume a concept of the afterlife, serious reflection would have led to the conclusion that it could only really be true if there were an afterlife. After all, experience teaches us that some godly people go to the grave steeped in trouble, whereas some wicked people prosper till the bitter end.


Caleb Nelson: God blesses a whole society through the words and for the sake of the righteous people within it.

I.  Godless Talk Destroys One’s Neighbor, v. 9a

II.  Righteousness Blesses One’s Neighbor, vv. 9b-11

A.  Knowledge Delivers the Righteous, v. 9b

B.  The Prosperity of the Righteous Brings Joy to the Community, v. 10

C.  Righteous Speech Exalts the Community, v. 11

III.  The Wisdom of Keeping Quiet About Your Neighbors, vv. 12-13

A.  Fools Show Contempt for their Neighbors, v. 12a

B.  The Wise Remain Silent, v. 12b

C.  Fools Reveal Others’ Secrets, v. 13a

D.  The Faithful Keep a Confidence, v. 13b

IV.  The Wisdom of Speaking to Your Neighbors, v. 14

V.  The Wisdom of Hating Co-Signing for your Neighbor, v. 15

Paul Koptak: These next six proverbs are clustered around the theme of speech; all except verse 13 begins with the Hebrew letter bet. The first four are placed in a chiastic order according to key words: neighbor (11:9), wicked/city (11:10–11), neighbor (11:12).  The last two contrast the time to keep a secret quiet (11:13) and a time to make good counsel public (11:14). Perhaps readers are meant to read 11:12–14 together as they develop the theme of helpful and damaging use of speech set out in 11:9. If we take 11:9–14 as a section, the theme of speech that destroys is viewed from a number of angles and set in contrast with a number of virtues.

Peter Wallace: Verses 9 and 14 again bracket this section with their concern for the contrast between the effects of wise and foolish speech upon the community.  Verses 12-13 then move from the city to the neighbor.

A.  (:9) Contrast: Damaging vs. Helpful Speech

With his mouth the godless man destroys his neighbor,

But through knowledge the righteous will be delivered.

B.  (:10-11) Righteous Speech Blesses Your City

Bruce Waltke: The first quatrain is tightly yoked together by catchwords or synonyms, syntax, and theme. The first half of each of their four versets states the cause, their second halves the consequence. The just fates of the righteous and the wicked cause the community to rejoice (v. 10) because its well-being depends on them. These verses strengthen the appeal to be righteous, not wicked, by contrasting the social assessment of their fates. The righteous prosper with the community’s full approval (cf. 10:8; 28:12, 28; 29:2, 16), but the wicked perish in opprobrium.

  1. (:10)  Brings Joy to Your City

When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices,

And when the wicked perish, there is glad shouting.

Allen Ross: The common theme of this line is joy; it comes from either the success of the righteous or the ruin of the wicked (so an antithetical idea is present). Examples are found in 2 Kings 11:20 and Esther 8:15. Kidner, 91, notes: “However drab the world makes out virtue to be, it appreciates the boon of it in public life.”

Caleb Nelson: So if you care about your city, but you have to choose, what should you pursue: Community activism or personal holiness? You won’t find a lot in Proverbs about community activism. You won’t see many verses about how the righteous demonstrate with street signs while the wicked stay home and do their own work. But you will see statements like this one, that do in fact say that the best thing you can do for your city is to be righteous. When you as a righteous person experience God’s blessing, that raises your whole community.

  1. (:11)  Exalts Your City

By the blessing of the upright a city is exalted,

But by the mouth of the wicked it is torn down.

Paul Koptak: The life of the city is affected for better or worse by the character of its citizens. The blessing of the upright is most likely the good (ṭob) that their ways bring about in 11:10. The righteous not only bring good on themselves but on others. Here is good news that may even have an element of surprise, even while the contrast is obvious; the destructive talk of the wicked does widespread damage.

Allen Ross: The “blessing of the upright” (birkat yešārîm) consists in the beneficent words and deeds that bring enrichment to a community. But the words of the wicked have a disastrous effect on society, endangering, weakening, and ruining it with demoralizing, slanderous, and malicious criticism.

C.  (:12-13) Righteous Speech Exercises Self-Restraint Towards Your Neighbor

Bruce Waltke: The quatrain further describes the character and speech of the wicked and the righteous (cf. vv. 9, 10b, 11b) and protects vv. 10–11 against abuse. Verses 12–13 teach self-restraint in speech “and the destructive effects on the community of derogatory comments by individuals.”  The offensive remarks of the slanderer (v. 13a) stand in sharp contrast to the silence of the wise in the face of insults (v. 12b). The pairing suggests that slander (v. 12a) is rooted in contempt (v. 13a), while prudent silence (v. 12b) is rooted in a faithful spirit (v. 13b). The alliteration of ḥārēstear down” and ḥāraškeep silent” also binds the verses. . .   The causes of contempt versus faithfulness frame the pair (vv. 12a, 13b) and their results of prudent silence (v. 12b) versus foolish slander (v. 13a) form its inner core. These verses continue to imply that the righteous must endure the temporary triumph of the wicked.

Lindsay Wilson: Two practices to avoid are belittling/deriding (bāz) your neighbours (v. 12a) and slandering them (rākîl, v. 13a; see 20:19). In any community you become aware of the failings of others, but there is a real choice over whether to broadcast them publicly. A wise person (one of understanding, tĕbûnâ, v. 12b) remains silent about such matters. Living in community sometimes makes us aware of the secrets that others hide, which may have the potential to cause them great damage if the secret becomes more widely known. Those whose habit is to malign others (lit. ‘walking slander’, v. 13a, meaning that this is their way of life; niv ‘gossip’ is a little weak) expose what was said to them in confidence or in secret. Verse 13b highlights that it is a matter of character (being trustworthy in spirit) to keep such a thing covered (provided keeping silent will not damage others), rather than delight in bringing another person down (10:12).

  1. (:12)  Don’t Speak with Contempt against Your Neighbor

He who despises his neighbor lacks sense,

But a man of understanding keeps silent.

Paul Koptak: The words of the wicked destroy by deriding others or by breaking confidence; thus, 11:12–13 go together. The discerning and trustworthy person keeps silent on both counts.

Charles Bridges: Pride and uncharitableness show a man to be devoid of judgment.  He is ignorant of himself, his neighbor, and his God.

  1. (:13)  Don’t Gossip about Your Neighbor

He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets,

But he who is trustworthy conceals a matter.

Allen Ross: Verse 13 contrasts the gossip and the “trustworthy man” (neʾeman-rûaḥ; lit., “trustworthy spirit”). The talebearer goes from one to another and speaks disparagingly about someone in a malicious manner; he cannot wait to share secrets that should be kept (see Lev 19:16; Jer 9:3). The talebearer is despised because he cannot be trusted.

D.  (:14) Listen to an Abundance of Wise Counselors

Where there is no guidance, the people fall,

But in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Peter Wallace: What voices are you listening to? If you only listen to voices that agree with you — then you do not really have an abundance of counselors! I want my governors and presidents listening to a wide variety of experts. I don’t expect that the experts will govern the country. No — that is the magistrate’s job! Epidemiologists and experts in infectious disease are important [speaking in the context of the COVID pandemic]. But so are experts in business and economics. A wise leader needs to listen to all the best information he can find and make his decisions based on “an abundance of counselors.”

Tremper Longman: The point of this observation is clear. Planning is pivotal for the survival of a city. In this, we seem to be getting back to the topic of vv. 10 and 11, where it is the wise who are good for society. Without guidance a city falls, but with counsel the city will have victory. The language suggests a military situation and reminds us of Qoheleth’s anecdote in Eccles. 9:13–15a:

Moreover I observed this example of wisdom under the sun, and it made a big impression on me. There was a small city and there were a few people in it. A great king invaded and surrounded it. He built huge siege works against it. A poor but wise man was found in it, and he rescued the city by means of his wisdom. . . .[13]

Guidance (taḥbulôt) and counsel (yʿṣ) come only from those with wisdom, after all.  So it is the wise who are needed at times of crisis. Guidance may have the specific sense of military strategy here and in 20:18 as well as 24:6 (the latter is very close to 11:14 in thought as well as wording). Qoheleth’s anecdote goes on to show the limitations of wisdom, at least for the one who possesses it:

. . . but no one remembered that poor wise man. And I said, “Wisdom is better than power.” But the wisdom of the poor man was despised! His words were not heeded. (Eccles. 9:15b–16)

Proverbs, though, is not concerned about the ultimate value of wisdom in and of itself. It simply makes the point that military planning by those who possess wisdom is a valuable, indeed lifesaving commodity.

George Mylne: But in the affairs of countries, public calamity must be the inevitable consequence of the sovereign’s being not wise enough to know his need of asking and following the advice of wise men. If he asks the advice of wise men and yet follows that of fools, he is no better than Rehoboam, who by such conduct divided his kingdom, and but for the kindness and faithfulness of God to David, in reserving two tribes to his grandson, would have lost it all!

Solomon had wisdom not only to teach but to practice this maxim. He had wise counselors under whom his kingdom flourished, and their counsels might have preserved the kingdom in the hands of his son. But God confuses those whom he intends to punish; and there is not a plainer evidence of confusion than when men presume on their own judgments, or prefer the counsel of the vain and foolish, to that of the sober and the wise. Great is the judgment with which God visits a land, when he removes wise and faithful counselors from the management of its concerns. In our intercession for kings, then, let us pray that God may furnish them with good counselors, and with wisdom to make a proper use of them.

Dennis Sherman: Conclusion: In light of Proverbs 11:1-13, ask yourself:

  • Am I honest in all of my dealings with others?
  • Does pride rear its ugly head in my life?
  • Is there self-love, self-centeredness and/or self-promotion in my life?
  • When people observe me, do they see much righteousness?
  • Is the community where I live benefited by my presence?
  • Does what comes out of my mouth express contempt for others or love and kindness?