Search Bible Outlines and commentaries


A.  Wisdom of the Prudent = Understanding

The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way,

George Mylne: We are travelers to eternity and our wisdom lies in knowing the way which leads to that world of unending bliss.

We must endeavor to be acquainted with the difficulties of our way and how to surmount them; to know the enemies that may be expected to oppose our progress and in what manner to conquer them; and what helps may be met with in the way, to animate our spirits in pursuing our journey.

It is a piece of necessary wisdom also, to acquaint ourselves with the business and duties of our own particular callings, that we may discharge them with honor and success.

Matthew Henry: Christian prudence consists in a right understanding of our way; for we are travellers, whose concern it is, not to spy wonders, but to get forward towards their journey’s end. It is to understand our own way, not to be critics and busybodies in other men’s matters, but to look well to ourselves and ponder the path of our feet, to understand the directions of our way, that we may observe them, the dangers of our way, that we may avoid them, the difficulties of our way, that we may break through them, and the advantages of our way, that we may improve them—to understand the rules we are to walk by and the ends we are to walk towards, and walk accordingly.

B.  Folly of Fools = Deceit

But the folly of fools is deceit.

Paul Koptak: those who give thought to their way practice honesty in their words and deeds.

George Mylne: They are fools who know other people’s business better than their own. Some people, if you will take their own word for it, could reign better than the king, and preach better than the minister. They know, in short, how to manage in every condition but their own! These are the busy-bodies and meddlers in other men’s matters, who in scripture are condemned, and by their neighbors held in derision. . .

They mean to deceive others but they deceive themselves worse by it. They may trick their neighbors out of their money but they cheat themselves out of their souls! All that wisdom of the serpent that is not reconcilable with the harmlessness of the dove, is folly; and every piece of deceit practiced on our fellow-men, is a dangerous infliction on our own souls.

Tremper Longman: Folly may hold out the promise to be the solution to life’s issues, but in reality folly fails people and thus is a fraud. Rather than guiding people, it misleads them. For “fraud” (mirmâ), see 11:1; 12:5, 17, 20; 14:8, 25; 20:23; 26:24.

Charles Bridges: But while the attention of a truly wise man is occupied in understanding his way, “the arts of deceit engross the polluted minds of the wicked” (French and Skinner).  Their wisdom of deceit is really folly.  Gehazi’s overreaching wisdom proved to be folly in the end.  Ananias and Sapphira vainly endeavored to hide their covetousness under the cover of generosity.  Who can deceive a heart-searching God?  The attempt to do so is a fearful provocation and certain confusion.

Bruce Waltke: The shrewd choose their steps according to their moral knowledge to assure themselves of life. By contrast, fools, lacking that moral knowledge, scheme to victimize others, unaware that they are also victimizing themselves.


A.  Disregard for Sin

Fools mock at sin,”

Lindsay Wilson: The guilt offering could be rendered as ‘a sacrifice for guilt’ (as in Lev. 5:14–19) or simply as ‘guilt’ itself, for ’āšām is used in both senses.  Yet in a wisdom context, ’āšām most likely refers simply to guilt, which would give the sense of fools scoffing at the thought that they might be guilty. This guilt would include accountability to God, and consequent acceptance among other upright people to whom godliness matters.

Allen Ross: Folly offends, but wisdom makes amends. . .  The parallelism suggests the idea that fools ridicule reparation, whereas the upright show goodwill.

Richard Clifford: The Hebrew verb in colon A, lîṣ, can mean “to scorn” as well as “to mediate,” making possible the translation, “The wicked scorn a guilt offering.”  The meaning is either that fools scornfully refuse to take any steps to remove their guilt by offerings or that they simply continue in their wicked behavior, whereas the upright by reason of their uprightness already enjoy divine acceptance and favor.

Tremper Longman: Fools are those who disdain guilt offerings. After all, fools will not admit fault and therefore would never agree that a guilt offering is necessary. For guilt offering, see Lev. 5:14 – 6:7. In this case, the virtuous is pitted against the stupid person. The proverb therefore implies that virtue includes the acknowledgment of transgression and the necessity of a guilt offering.

B.  Promoting Good Will

But among the upright there is good will.

George Mylne: Foolish men make a sport of their own sins, when they ought to be humbled to the dust on account of them. Because they are not presently punished they think that punishment shall never come. Or, like brute beasts, they do not consider what shall be hereafter. . .

The righteous have a principle of charity, that disposes them to rejoice in the goodness and happiness of others as their own. Paul scarcely begins an epistle, without strong expressions of his joy in the prosperity of his fellow-Christians. This charity completed, will multiply the blessedness of the heavenly state.


A.  (:10) Internal Emotions (from Bitterness to Joy) Are a Matter of the Heart of the Individual

The heart knows its own bitterness,

And a stranger does not share its joy.

Tremper Longman: The proverb makes the observation that no one can really know what is going on emotionally inside another person.

Richard Clifford: One’s sorrows and one’s joys—a merism meaning all deep emotions—cannot be completely shared with others.

Paul Koptak: The saying appears to counterbalance the picture of communal harmony of 14:9. Even if it is good when brothers and sisters dwell in unity (Ps. 133:1), our inner lives are finally our own. Even while our lives are shared with others, our deepest thoughts and feelings remain hidden. Only God ultimately knows what is in the heart (Prov. 17:3; 21:2; 24:12).

This verse stands out as unusual, both in its lack of contrast and in its exploration of a psychological matter. It makes no prescription, but its observation does offer the reader wisdom to carry on through life. The saying illustrates how deceptive appearances can be, for there is always more than meets the eye.

Allen Ross: There are joys and sorrows that cannot be shared. People in their deepest emotional feelings of “bitterness” (mārâ) or “joy” (śimḥâ) alone can understand those feelings. The proverb forewarns against any unnatural or forced attempts to express empathy.

Charles Bridges: This is a graphic illustration of the individuality of each person (see 1 Corinthians 2:11).  The history of the soul is only fully known and felt by the conscious subject.  Each heart knows its own bitterness, which is deep and interior.  “Everyone is inwardly and the only true and faithful judge of his own joys and sorrows, and none else can truly perceiver them” (Diodati).  The most poignant sufferings often arise from reasons that cannot be told to our dearest friend.  So each person must tread a solitary path, and in that path he must often be prepared to be misunderstood.

B.  (:11) Retribution on the Wicked and the Upright

The house of the wicked will be destroyed,

But the tent of the upright will flourish.

Lindsay Wilson: Verse 11 is a classical expression of the biblical doctrine of retribution (12:7), with the character of a person (wicked or upright) leading to certain consequences (destruction or flourishing). The verb used for flourish (the hifil of prḥ) evokes a picture of a bush full of buds, about to burst in flower as the expression of its life. The focus is on character, not on isolated actions, and there is no mention of God’s active involvement in the destruction or flourishing. It is simply a statement of the principle, but with an implied urging to choose to take a stand with the upright.

Tremper Longman: The paradox of the verse is that the house, a stable structure, will be annihilated, while the tent, an inherently less stable structure, will prosper.

Bruce Waltke: This proverb implicitly teaches the disciple to walk by faith, not by sight. Paradoxically, the wicked person’s house is less secure than the upright person’s tent. The house connotes a more secure and grand dwelling than a tent (see David’s desire to replace I AM’s tent with a house in 2 Sam. 7:4–6). That of wicked people will be annihilated. By contrast, the tent of upright people will bud (or “sprout”). “Tent” refers to a nomadic tent used as a dwelling. The metaphor “bud” signifies that their households burgeon with life and prosperity. The seemingly unstable nomadic tent of the upright has stood from the time of the forefathers, and its inhabitants not only remain but forever flourish with new life (cf. Pss. 1:3; 92:12–14; John 15:1–17).

C.  (:12) Deceived Perception Vs. Tragic Reality

There is a way which seems right to a man,

But its end is the way of death.

Paul Koptak: Another contrast of appearance and reality, the key word “way” points to the choices that require foresight, while the “end” describes outcomes, rewards, and reality. The contrast between that which “seems right” (yšr; cf. 14:2, 9, 11 with overtones of “straight”) and the actual end of “death” reminds the reader of wisdom’s words (8:36; 9:18). This saying is repeated in 16:25.

Allen Ross: The issue, then, is how deceptive evil is. It may promise and deliver happiness, power, and the good life, but it cannot sustain what it gives.

Tremper Longman: The proverb deals with human perception versus reality. What seems the right path of life may well turn out to lead to dire consequences. The proverb calls on the wise to constantly question and evaluate their life path.

Bruce Waltke: The end of it is its outcome, in light of which the whole must be evaluated. Plural ways itemizes the way which the person thought right into its many choices—which in fact were evil, as shown by the outcome death. Since death is the ultimate failure, this denouement shows that the person’s choices were wrong. Where a road leads is not always as it appears, because human perception of truth is partial, opaque, and often contrary to reality. Only the omniscient God knows the way of life. He reveals it through his inspired sage, and the disciple must accept that revelation by faith. Jesus Christ, the divine Sage, said that he himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

Matthew Henry: We have here an account of the way and end of a great many self-deluded souls. Their way is seemingly fair: It seems right to themselves; they please themselves with a fancy that they are as they should be, that their opinions and practices are good, and such as will bear them out. The way of ignorance and carelessness, the way of worldliness and earthly-mindedness, the way of sensuality and flesh-pleasing, seem right to those that walk in them, much more the way of hypocrisy in religion, external performances, partial reformations, and blind zeal; this they imagine will bring them to heaven; they flatter themselves in their own eyes that all will be well at last.

Their end is really fearful, and the more so for their mistake: It is the ways of death, eternal death; their iniquity will certainly be their ruin, and they will perish with a lie in their right hand. Self-deceivers will prove in the end self-destroyers.

D.  (:13) Expressions of Emotion May Mask Inward Reality

Even in laughter the heart may be in pain,

And the end of joy may be grief.

Paul Koptak: Laughter may hide present heartache, while joy may in time be replaced by grief. When read alongside 14:10, the first and second lines correspond—the first on the theme of inner hurt, the second on the word “joy.” Together they show how even joy has its costs; sometimes joy must remain private and hidden, and often it is temporary.

George Mylne: The joys of this world cannot make a man happy. They are often merely external and false, and they commonly end in heaviness. It is very common for men to put on a face of joy, while the heart pines away with grief.

Some put on the appearance of joy to prevent or remove suspicions about their behavior, and endeavor to cover a guilty conscience with smiles. It would surely be far better to own their sins, and to seek after the pleasures of pardon, and then they may rejoice in God for the forgiveness of their sins.

Others, from a pride of appearing happy, conceal their uncomfortable circumstances and dejected spirits under the appearances of mirth when they ought to acquiesce in the providence of God, and to seek those pleasures which the world can neither give nor take away.

There are others still, who laugh when their hearts are sorrowful, from an ambition of appearing heroes who cannot be subdued by misfortunes. They are like the Stoic philosopher, who, under a severe fit of the stone, revealed at once his weakness and his desire of concealing it by these words: “Pain, you may rack me but you shall not make me confess that you are an evil thing!” An affected joy under tribulation, is as despicable as the triumphant joy of a believer is glorious.

The end of this, and of all worldly mirth, is for the most part heaviness. In this valley of tears, our joys are few and weak, and pains tread upon their heels. Our greatest comforts are avenues to our bitterest calamities. Heaven alone is the land of real and lasting joys. The only joys on earth worth the naming, are derived from the hope of possessing them.

Tremper Longman: The insight is that surface realities, in this case what appear to be positive emotions, are not the whole story and may hide more difficult and painful feelings. According to Qoheleth, sorrow better reflects reality than joy (Eccles. 7:2, 3, 4, 6).

E.  (:14) Self Indulgence Vs. Satisfaction in Righteousness

The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways,

But a good man will be satisfied with his.

Lindsay Wilson: This emphasis on what is going on inside a person (the heart) in verse 13 gives a subtle nuance to the reformulation of the idea of retribution in verse 14. The wicked is now described as the backslider in heart, one who used to be committed to doing good, but has now fallen away or ‘turned his heart back’ (backslider in heart, esv, captures the sense better than ‘faithless’, niv, or ‘perverse’, nrsv). This refers to what we are like on the inside, not simply how we act on the outside. The parallel term of the good person is impliedly also a description of someone’s internal attitude, and so retribution in both its negative and positive dimensions is based on a person’s core character and direction in life.

George Mylne: The springs of his satisfaction are in God, and he abhors the thought of boasting, except in the Lord, and in his cross; and yet it is true that he shall be satisfied with the fruit of his ways. His pleasure does not lie in comparing himself with those who are worse than he but he proves his own work, and rejoices with the fruit of his ways. His soul is fitted for relishing true satisfaction, and filled with that holiness which is the same thing to the inner man, that health is to the body. His good works are not the grounds of his confidence but through Christ they are accepted of God, and graciously rewarded. “Say you to the righteous, It shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings.”

Bruce Waltke: The inseparable deed-destiny nexus is here applied to abandoning wisdom. After choosing the good way, the disciple must continue in it because the Sovereign ensures that the good deeds of the faithful redound to reward them but the ways of the unfaithful, despite whatever communal good they earlier performed, redound to punish them (cf. Jer. 18:7–10). Apostates will be rewarded, but not as they expected; they will be fully punished because of their ways. Plural “ways” denotes all the evil manifestations that carry within themselves the apostate’s destruction. But the benevolent [will be fully rewarded] for their good deeds.


A.  Gullibility of the Naïve

The naive believes everything,

Tremper Longman: The “simpleminded” or “naive(petî) are characterized by their lack of critical thinking. By not reflecting on a matter, they may well speak or act on the basis of a misunderstanding and thus say or do the wrong thing, with horrible consequences. On the other hand, the prudent think ahead. This proverb basically defines the simpleminded over against the prudent, with the intention of encouraging the attentive reader/hearer to be prudent.

Richard Clifford: The simple are gullible, giving credence to everything said by others. Oblivious of danger, they do not practice discernment. The shrewd, on the other hand, watch their own steps rather than swallowing whole what others say. The difference between the two types is nicely highlighted by the placement in the middle of each colon of the similar-sounding verbs ya’ămîn and yâbîn (“believe” and “watches”).

B.  Discernment of the Prudent

But the prudent man considers his steps.

George Mylne: Multitudes have been seduced into the most dangerous errors and damning sins, by seducers whom they believed, either from an implicit faith, or from lack of care in searching the oracles of truth.

The whole world was ruined by the simplicity of Eve, and the credit she gave to the serpent.

A prudent man will therefore look well to his goings. He will not risk his fortune and happiness, his life and soul, by believing groundless reports, or receiving doctrines that are destitute of sufficient proof. He will not withdraw his love from men; or do them hurt, because they have the misfortune to become the butt of slander.

There is nothing in which we are so ready to be deceived as in points of religion, and no errors are so dangerous as these. A prudent man will therefore call no man on earth master but will look upon Christ as his only Master. The Scriptures he considers as his only rule, and the Spirit who dictated them as their great interpreter. He searches the Scripture, and seeks wisdom from God by daily prayer. As Christ is the only way to the Father, the man that is spiritually wise enters into his religious course, and walks in it, depending on this Savior alone for acceptance.

Allen Ross: Discernment, opposite of gullibility. Wisdom prevents gullibility. This verse contrasts the simpleton (petî) with the prudent (ʿārûm), i.e., the youth who is untrained intellectually and morally contrasted with the wise person who has the ability to make critical discriminations. The saying shows that the petî is gullible; he believes every word, probably because he hears what he wants to hear. The prudent person, however, discerns every step.

Charles Bridges: Cautious consideration should mark our general conduct.  We should try everything before we trust it.  In the church we should especially think about whom we should follow.  Sift the most plausible pretensions.  Never set a great name against the divine testimony.  Ask for wisdom from God.  Put feeling on the side, and under the direction of sound judgment.

Matthew Henry: The prudent man will try before he trusts, will weigh both the credibility of the witness and the probability of the testimony, and then give judgment as the thing appears or suspend his judgment till it appears. Prove all things, and believe not every spirit.