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Paul Koptak: We must remind ourselves that our desire to find an outline or rhetorical structure may not catch the spirit of discovery and gamesmanship that the sages required of their readers. We suggest outlines and arrangements to appreciate the recurrence of catchwords and themes, but many of the associations do not fit as easily within our orderly arrangements. Proverbs are often linked together by catchwords.

I.  (:13-23) PRUDENT LIPS

A.  (:13-14) Evil Words vs. Good Words

  1. (:13)  Trap of Evil Words

An evil man is ensnared by the transgression of his lips,

But the righteous will escape from trouble.

Paul Koptak: Here is an ancient version of “what a wicked web we weave, when first we speak to deceive.” Continuing the imagery of trapping from 12:12, this proverb contrasts the snare of the evil person’s words with the escape of the righteous, echoing the theme of 12:6. This proverb explicitly shows the trap of evil words. The righteous, who do not lay such traps, never get caught in them, and the proverb suggests that they also escape the traps set by others. But those who use their words to “lie in wait” (12:6) end up being ensnared by them.

Allen Ross: People who are righteous will not get themselves into a bind (ṣārâ; “trouble,” NIV) by what they say.

Tremper Longman: The offense is not specified, but the situation will make it concrete. Perhaps the offense is gossip or slander (10:18; 11:13; 18:8; 20:19) or simply saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. In any case, saying something offensive will bring harm on the speaker.

While the second colon does not specifically mention a speech situation, the first colon has already provided the context. In other words, we are to understand this proverb as saying that the righteous can use their power of speech to get themselves out of tough situations.

  1. (:14)  Fruit of Good Words and Deeds

A man will be satisfied with good by the fruit of his words,

And the deeds of a man’s hands will return to him.

Paul Koptak: The metaphor likens the rewards of hard work (cf. 12:11) with the fruit of good speaking, linking hands and mouth (peh). Just as speaking is a form of doing, so both hands and mouth can be put to purposes good or evil.

Allen Ross: Proper speech and diligent work result in good things. If one’s conversation is wise, intelligent, and honoring to God, it will result in blessing, i.e., good things will come of it.

Tremper Longman: This verse deals with consequences or retribution in both speech and action. With its reference to mouth, the first colon is concerned with speech. The fruit of the mouth is the consequence that flows from the words one utters. Since the words are wise, they bring good and satisfying results to the situation as well as to the one who utters them.

The second colon says the same is true in the realm of actions. In other words, this proverb is not in an antithetic form, but in a form that furthers the thought of the first colon by applying the principle to another realm of meaning.

Whatever one does will have consequences for that person. Presumably, if the actions are good, then the consequences will be good. The same reciprocal action is true if the works are bad. If they are, then the consequences will also be bad.

B.  (:15-16) Arrogant Fool vs. Prudent Man

  1. (:15)  What Counsel Do You Listen to?

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,

But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.

Allen Ross: People demonstrate their maturity by how well they respond to sound advice. Reasonable people (i.e., “wise”) will recognize and accept good advice, even if they themselves often give advice to others. “Advice” (ʿēṣâ) is an application of wisdom and knowledge to a specific situation, either by astute observation or well-thought-out opinion. The fool, however, is set in his own ways and will not listen to advice. “The way of a fool” (derek ʿewîl) describes the headlong course of actions not abandoned even when good advice is offered.

Charles Bridges: The fool’s conceit hinders his wisdom.  He needs no guidance; he never asks for advice.  He sticks to his own ways because they are his.  He has no doubt about heaven.  Instead of the way being so narrow that few people find it, in his view it is so easy to find that few people can miss it.  Thus all his religion is self-delusion.

Tremper Longman: The proverb is about remaining open to hearing the counsel of other people, which involves humility and the lack of pride.

  1. (:16)  How Do You Handle Offenses?

A fool’s vexation is known at once,

But a prudent man conceals dishonor.

Paul Koptak: Verses 15 and 16 are linked by the catchword “fool.” The contrast in both verses is between the loud fool, blindly self-directed and easily provoked, and the silent sage, who listens to counsel and conceals an insult. The prudent person appears again in 12:23, where again silence demonstrates understanding and builds up relationships instead of breaking them down.

Allen Ross: Those who are mature are able to handle criticism without responding instinctively and irrationally. McKane, 442, says that the fool’s reaction is “like an injured animal and so his opponent knows that he has been wounded.” The wise man does not give the enemy that satisfaction. It is not so much that the wise man represses anger and feelings but that he is more shrewd in dealing with them.

Charles Bridges: Self-control, which covers rising anger, is true Christian prudence.  So when we feel that we are becoming angry, we must at once cry to him who stills the storm (Matthew 8:26; Psalm 65:7).  We do well to keep before our eyes his blessed example who, when he was reviled, did not retaliate (1 Peter 2:23).

Tremper Longman: This proverb values repression over impulsive display of emotion. It thus is similar in principle to those proverbs that value silence over much speech (10:14; 13:3, 16; 17:27, 28). In other words, there is benefit for those who do not let their rivals know how upset they are. If one’s intent is to hurt another person, then the victim’s immediate display of negative emotion will be received and celebrated as a victory. Prudence is the ability to regulate one’s emotional display for one’s own advantage.

Caleb Nelson: Ignore It When Insulted

Meanwhile, when insulted, keep your mouth shut as well — not by taking the insult to heart, but by keeping your annoyance bottled up and taking it to the Lord. Who gets all hinked up about an insult? A fool does, that’s who. Wise people doesn’t get bothered by insults. They overlook them. They prefer to let their character speak for itself.

George Mylne: A fool disgraces himself by giving way to the impetuous sallies of passion. He reveals his temporary madness, by his reddened countenance, his quivering lips, and his flashing eyes. His tongue, having thrown out the reins of reason, pours forth torrents of rage, and perhaps of oaths and imprecations thus announcing to every one that he meets, that he is a fool. It is with difficulty that his hands are restrained from doing that which in a short time would become the source of bitter and unceasing remorse.

But a prudent man overlooks an insult.” When he finds his passions beginning to ferment, he does not give them full scope but considers whether he does well to be angry, and how far it is lawful and safe for him to give way to this turbulent passion. He does not cover his wrath, that it may have time to work, and draw the powers of reason into its service, that it may break forth with more effect on some other occasion. But he overlooks an insult, that he may have time to suppress and destroy it, by considering its folly and wickedness, by meditating on the example and grace of Christ, and by fervent supplications for the support and assistance of the Spirit of meekness.

By such means as these, the prudent man preserves own honor, and covers the shame of his neighbor, who is likely to be gained by gentleness and meekness. Thus the noblest of all victories is gained, while the Christian subdues, not only his own spirit, but the stubborn soul of his adversary, and covers, by his charity, a multitude of sins.

Josh Moody: A fool is someone who gets angry quickly. He “shows his annoyance at once.” Note, a wise person also feels annoyed at times, but he does not show his annoyance at once. A fool then is someone who cannot “overlook an insult.” As we jostle through life, we are bound to receive insults—some deliberate, some unintentional. There is nothing to be gained by giving in to vitriol. Read the biographies of the great leaders—Winston Churchill, for instance. What is stunning is their ability to overlook personal insults for the task of a greater cause: building a coalition to accomplish an important end. The prudent overlook insults. Be prudent and overlook an insult that you have received this week.

C.  (:17-19) Helpful Speech vs. Harmful Speech

  1. (:17)  Speech Can Be Truthful or Deceitful

He who speaks truth tells what is right,

But a false witness, deceit.

Paul Koptak: The honest testimony is “righteous” (ṣedeq), while the false witness spreads “deceit” (mirmah; cf. 12:5, 20). Most likely the situation depicted is the settlement of a business dispute, though other settings are possible (cf. Deut. 19:15–18).

George Mylne: Men, destitute of a principle of integrity, may be guilty of much iniquity in witness-bearing, while they flatter themselves that they are speaking nothing but the truth. A true and faithful witness will deliver his testimony fully, clearly, and impartially. He will not only tell the truth but all the truth that he knows about the point in question, as far as it will open up the merits of the cause. He will use no language that may be misunderstood by the judges, nor dissemble matters so as to favor even that cause which he supposes to be the right one. He will give no unfair representation of matters, to gratify or serve a good man, or one who is his best friend. Nor will pity constrain him so to disguise facts as to serve the cause of the poor man, or him who is in danger of being condemned. If one should offer him a bribe, he will shake his hands from holding it, and shut his ears against every attempt made to bias his mind.

But a false witness tells lies.” He utters falsehood, or turns truth into a lie, by his manner of telling it. Doeg the Edomite, by a real fact misrepresented was the death of eighty-five priests of the Lord. And those who bore testimony against our Lord, are called false witnesses, though they repeated our Lord’s words with but little if any variation, because the little difference in words made a complete change in the sense. It is necessary for us to consider exactly what we say, when the character or happiness of others is at stake, and to be cautious whom we trust, lest by artful misrepresentations we be persuaded to do injuries to our neighbors, which we cannot repair.

  1. (:18)  Words Can Hurt or Heal

There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,

But the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Allen Ross: The words are healing because they are faithful and true, gentle and kind, uplifting and encouraging.

Caleb Nelson: But not only does the truth reveal your character. It also creates health. Reckless people stab at random with their words, not really caring who they hurt. Those people are fools, and their words can destroy or badly hurt the people around them.

How do you speak? What do your words produce in the lives of those who hear them? If you are wise, your words will be producing health. They will be making people whole, giving them greater psychological and even physical integrity. The words of Jesus create health in us — spiritual health first and foremost, and then psychological and physical health to some degree too. Can you live without the words of Jesus, or do you have a deep hunger for the word of God? Brothers and sisters, the tongue of the wise is health. It brings healing. It makes whole.

Charles Bridges: Who has not felt the piercings of false, unkind, inconsiderate words?  How keenly have the servants of God suffered from this sword!  Many will speak daggers without compunction who would be afraid to use them.  Surely it was not without reason that our Lord accused an angry word or tongue with the guilt of murder (Matthew 5:21-22).  Indeed, “a great and almost incredible calamity it is that man, who was created for humanity, should be so corrupted that no animal in the world is more ferocious and malignant” (Daille).

Wisdom is the guiding principle of the tongue that brings healing.  It is full of discriminating tact, directing us, how, when, what, and to whom to speak.  This is no negative responsibility.  It is not enough that there is no poison in the tongue.  It must bring healing.

  1. (:19)  Permanent Value of Speaking Truth

Truthful lips will be established forever,

But a lying tongue is only for a moment.

Tremper Longman: A lie might last for a moment in the sense that a lie may be thought to be true at first, but the idea is that a lie will eventually be found out. On the other hand, truth endures; that is, time will side with the truth.

Paul Koptak: The contrast is again between the brief and fleeting existence of the wicked and the staying power of the righteous. Lies may look as though they can feather one’s nest and bring security, but in fact, they build the nest on a precarious branch. It sometimes takes time for truth to show itself strong, but as Van Leeuwen observes, “What goes counter to reality is shattered by it in a moment, like a ship on the rocks.”

Allen Ross: Truthfulness will outlive lies—forever. Or, conversely, as Plaut, 147, says, “Lies have generally limited staying power.” The LXX saw the setting for this proverb in the courts of law: “True lips establish testimony, but a hasty witness has an unjust tongue.” The little expression “only a moment” is literally “till I wink again” (ʾargî ʿâ, a denominative verb from regaʿ); it forms a circumlocution for the idea.

Lindsay Wilson: The precise nature of the contrast in verse 19 is not immediately apparent, but the point is that speaking truthfully builds up your enduring character (for ever, ‘ad, can simply mean ‘ongoing’), while a lie only gains a person an advantage for an instant.

D.  (:20-21) Pursue the Path of Peace and Security

  1. (:20)  Counsel Peace, Not Deceit

Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil,

But counselors of peace have joy.

Tremper Longman: The difference between planning evil and advising peace seems to be that the former leads to social disintegration but the latter to social cohesion.

Paul Koptak: “Deceit” (12:5, 17) lives in the heart of those who devise evil, always looking for its chance to do harm. By contrast “joy” dwells in the heart of one who (lit.) “counsels peace” (yoʿ aṣe šalom). The word for “promote” is related to the “advice” (ʿeṣab) of 12:15, suggesting that the wise one absorbs what is heard so it can be offered to others and the joy shared.

Charles Bridges: Deceit takes many forms: falsehood, exaggeration, and deliberate perversion.

Lindsay Wilson: Peace has a fuller sense than in English, implying not only the absence of harmful relationships, but also the active presence of wholesome attitudes and responses.

  1. (:21)  Avoid the Trouble Caused by Wickedness

No harm befalls the righteous,

But the wicked are filled with trouble.

Tremper Longman: The proverb form does not lay claim to universal truth. This statement of v. 21 is true if all other things are equal. And the rewards and penalties that accompany the actions of the wise and righteous on the one hand and the fool and wicked on the other are not to be understood as promises, but rather as generally true principles by which to live. It is more likely that life will be easy for the righteous than it is for the wicked. The intention behind stating this principle so boldly is to encourage righteous rather than wicked behavior.

E.  (:22-23) Loose Lips Must Be Zipped

  1. (:22)  Hate Lying

Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD,

But those who deal faithfully are His delight.

  1. (:23)  Control Your Speech

A prudent man conceals knowledge,

But the heart of fools proclaims folly.

Paul Koptak: Just as the “prudent” person covers over an insult (12:16), so that person also keeps knowledge covered as well (koseh in both verses). The link with the earlier verse not only marks a frame or inclusio, it points up a particular virtue of prudence, the wisdom of knowing when to be silent and when to speak. As in 12:16, the fool simply blurts out what is inside without any consideration of its effects on others. The mention of “heart” points to the connection the ancients made between the contents of the heart and its gateway through the mouth and lips. This proverb provides a humorous explanation for why knowledge so often seems in short supply! It may also warn against talking too much.

Tremper Longman: It is not that prudent people do not act on their knowledge; they just do not make a big deal about it. However, by proclaiming their stupidity, fools let everyone realize just how stupid they are. The idea expressed by this proverb is similar to yet another important theme in the book, the contrast between the silence of the wise person and the chattiness of the fool (10:14; 12:18; etc.).

Caleb Nelson: Our Father loves prudence too. He delights in it when we control our tongues, when we are able to conceal our knowledge. This doesn’t mean that we never tell people what we know and what they need to know. Instead, it means that the wise are able to hold back information until they know whether it ought to be divulged. Fools, though, simply let their folly out. They can’t help themselves.

The Lord loves it when we control our speech. He delights in our ability to speak wisely.


Paul Koptak: These last five verses contrast diligence and laziness (12:24, 27) as well as the distinct ways of righteousness and wickedness (12:26, 28). This parallel structure is interrupted by an unusual proverb about fear and worry (12:25) that commands our attention.

A.  (:24) Diligence Rules

The hand of the diligent will rule,

But the slack hand will be put to forced labor.

Allen Ross: Diligence at work determines success and advancement. To put it bluntly, the diligent rise to the top and the lazy sink to the bottom. At the bottom they may be forced to work as though they owed it. For other proverbs extolling the virtue of industry, see 6:6–11; 10:4; 12:27; 13:4; 19:15; 21:5.

B.  (:25) Anxiety Weighs Down

Anxiety in the heart of a man weighs it down,

But a good word makes it glad.

Paul Koptak: A proverb about worries and encouraging words seems out of place in the sequence, but the saying does relate to the larger context. The double use of “heart” and “joy” in 12:25 and 20 suggest they must be read together as a statement and development of a theme. The thread common to both is the positive result of good speaking; it brings “joy” to the speaker in 12:20 and “joy” to the listener in 12:25. Anxiety, by contrast, causes the heart (lit.) “to bow down” like prisoners before their captors (cf. Isa. 51:23).  Speech to oneself from within, from the anxious heart, is contrasted with the external word that brings joy (Prov. 14:13; 15:23). Again, as in 12:20, the work of a good person bears good fruit. The translation preserves some of the wordplay in the contrast between “weighs down” (yašḥennah) and “cheers up” (yeśammeḥennah).

Tremper Longman: The Hebrew word “anxiety” (dĕʾāgâ) refers to one’s emotional response to a threat to one’s well-being. Anxiety arises because of uncertainty about the future. Persistent anxiety leads to depression. This proverb provides an observation on life that suggests an antidote to depression: encouraging words. The “truth” expressed in this proverb is rather self-evident, but its statement reminds the hearer of it.

A “good word” is a rather general category that can be filled out in a variety of ways, depending on the situation. Perhaps it is a statement that points out strengths of a person, or perhaps it is simply a bit of positive news. This proverb fits in with the general teaching of the book about the impact that speech has on people. It also registers the sages’ concern for people’s psychological state.

C.  (:26) Encourage Righteous Living

The righteous is a guide to his neighbor,

But the way of the wicked leads them astray.

David Guzik: The righteous should choose his friends carefully: This is good advice for both the righteous and those who have the wisdom to seek after righteousness. It has been rightly said, show me your friends and I will show you your future.

Tremper Longman: Righteous people benefit not only themselves but also other people. They lead their neighbors on the right path.

On the other hand, while righteous people and those they influence move in the right direction, the wicked have no certain guide and thus wander aimlessly. This observation has as its purpose the promotion of righteous behavior.

D.  (:27) Value Diligence

A slothful man does not roast his prey,

But the precious possession of a man is diligence.

Paul Koptak: Humorous proverbs about the sluggard typically make a serious point; like the wicked, lazy people have nothing to give others, for they cannot even take care of themselves!


In the way of righteousness is life,

And in its pathway there is no death.

Allen Ross: “No death” (ʾal-māwet) may be taken to mean “immortality” (so NIV); but it can also mean permanence and stability in this life (see M. Dahood, “Immortality in Proverbs 12:28,” Bib 41 [1960]: 176–81).

Paul Koptak: The image of “the way,” seen previously in the negative portrait of the fool and wicked person (12:15, 26), reappears here. “Way” and “path” are clear parallels, as are “life” and “death” (note that “immortality” is lit., “not death”), suggesting that the two lines contrast the way of life with the path of evil. In Proverbs, life is “not death”—that is, many years lived in health and security—rather than life eternal. Note that the life and death contrast is only used here in the last verse in this chapter. While the themes of life and death run throughout, this statement of the obvious stands alone and sums up all that has gone before, highlighting the image of the way. This last saying, more than any other, connects the themes of this chapter with the instructions of chapters 1–9 and the recurring motif of the two ways, life and death.

Charles Bridges; The way of righteousness is the way of God’s salvation, in which God’s children come to him; and it is the way of his commands in which they walk.  Enjoying the sense of God’s love, confiding in his unimaginable, satisfying friendship, consecrating ourselves in spiritual devotion to his service, anticipating the fullness of his eternal joy – this is life and immortality.  For where the life of grace is possessed, the life of glory is secured.