Proverbs 12
June 2021

The chapter starts with “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.” and ends with “In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.”

The opening proverb is jarring to read, maybe because unlike “wickedness” or “righteousness”, which are concepts I don’t hear or think much about day-to-day, “discipline” and “knowledge” are very familiar and part of contemporary conversation. So is stupidity. So this proverb feels tangible.

What does it mean? If I love discipline then I am loving knowledge, and in this case I’m confident the opposite is also true - If I avoid or dislike discipline then I avoid or dislike knowledge. Discipline is hard, I guess I need to lean into being disciplined, and remember why.

Encouragingly, the proverb is immediately followed by the reminder that “A good man obtains favour from the Lord, but a man of evil devices he condemns”, so make an effort, do good things, and obtain favour. That’s a big reason to persevere through discipline.

\(^4\)“An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, but she who brings shame is like rottenness in his bones.” If it were me I’d leave off all the negative second parts of these proverbs, its abrasive. But also if it were me I doubt they’d be worth studying.

Why is the pattern of all these proverbs “good thing, bad thing” - to make the contrast stronger? To know why to do a thing and also why not to do the opposite? To make it more punchy? I guess if its abrasive you are more likely to remember it, and if you’re confident that what you are saying is true then you want it to be remembered.

Back to the proverb, this is a great proverb - I like it. It honors wives, though it does put them in the context of their husbands, and it also speaks to how valuable and precious a good wife is - crowns are precious and rare.

Empirically, it also feels thruthy - marriages are difficult and if either spouse can be considered “excellent” then that is unusual and valuable. Relationships can give a lot of life and health and happiness, and require a lot of effort and work. To be an excellent spouse is certainly worth desiring and celebrating and protecting.

The next few verses contrast wickedness and righteousness - don’t be wicked, be upright!

\(^9\) “Better to be lowly and have a servant that to play the great man and lack bread”. Don’t put appearances before substance? Don’t spend money on fancy cars or clothes if you wont have enough for decent food? Prioritize substance (truth?) over appearances and social pressures? Having a servant (or a domestic helper) would certainly be helpful, and of more tangible benefit than receiving shout-outs at networking events.

\(^{10}\) “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.” - animal welfare is important.

\(^{11}\) Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread, but he who follows worthless pursuits lacks sense.

11 and 12 are both about enjoying the good consequences of honest work, 11 advises against worthless pursuits, and 12 says that is a wicked to covet the profits of evildoers.

Verses 13 - 19 are all about speaking and listening. Each proverb contrasts good and evil or wisdom and foolishness.

  • 13 - your own dishonest words will become a trap for you.
  • 14 - you words and your works will come back to you - invest in them and dividends will be returned.
  • 17, 18 - these contrast each other. Your words are powerful, speaking the truth is honest (even when it isn’t simple, or if it makes a situation more complicated) and being rash (acting without careful consideration of the consequences) can be as violent as wielding a sword. Wise words bring healing, though.

\(^{15}\) Fools think they are right, and because of the contrasting pattern presumably do not listen to (or ask for) advice. This seems similar to the Dunning-Kruger Effect Wise people know that they don’t know everything they need to, ask for advice, and listen to it.

\(^{16}\) I had to look up Vexation - it means “the state of being annoyed, frustrated or worried”. Wise people can stay calm and ignore insults. If you get all fired up when someone insults you you’re probably (generally speaking) being foolish.

\(^{19}\) Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.

Truth endures, lies do not.

Verses 20 - 29 have two themes - the benefits of consistent hard work, and the benefits of being truthful. As usual, each proverb is a comparison of right and wrong or wisdom and foolishness:

\(^{21}\) No ill befalls the righteous, but the wicked are filled with trouble. This is encouraging to read, and also highlights that proverbs highlight truthful patterns, but are not specific guarantees. - Obviously righteous people will have trouble, this proverb isn’t saying that life will be perfectly pleasant. As usual, it is a push towards doing good because of the benefits, a pull away from doing wrong because of the damage.

\(^{22}\) .. those who act faithfully are his delight. It is wonderful to read that (a good) God would delight in people.

\(^{23}\) A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of a fool proclaims knowledge. I find it surprising to read that concealing knowledge can be a desirable trait. I guess there are certain questions that must be answered before the answers to other questions can be understood, and I know that for my young children I wouldn’t answer particular questions that same as if they were adults.

\(^{24}\) The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor. Its ironic, and counter-intuitive, that those who are diligent and able and willing to labor end up in management or leadership positions, and that those who would avoid laborious work end up doing it.

\(^{25}\) Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. I find it encouraging (again) to read that being weighed down by anxiety is normal, and I like that anxiety isn’t described as a weakness or as foolishness. (I don’t want to conjecture too much about what isn’t written, but there’s a long list of things that fools do and the consequences of foolishness, and anxiety isn’t on the list.) This proverb also emphasises and encourages the impact of good words.

\(^{28}\) In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death. How wonderful to know how to find life and avoid death. It’s such a pleasing way to end a chapter.