Proverbs 13
June 2021

$$^{1}$$A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. The chapter opens the same way as the previous chapter - with a proverb about the importance of wisdom, knowledge or instruction. As always, the proverb starts with the good example and then contrasts against it.

$$^{2}$$From the fruit of his mouth a man eats what is good, but the desire of the treacherous is violence. Slightly weird imagery I think, my mouth produces fruit that I can then eat.. Weird. But I can see the principle - the fruit of my mouth is the words I speak, words are powerful for either good or evil. Speaking well will lead to good things that do what good food does - nourish, strengthen, sustain. Treacherous people desire violence. So are people who want to do violent things likely to betray? Maybe.

$$^{3}$$He who guards his mouth preserves his life, he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin. Choose your words carefully.

$$^{5}$$The righteous hates falsehood, but the wicked brings shame and disgrace. It’s OK to be strongly opposed to be falsehoods - misrepresentations, lies, manipulation, duplicity.

$$^{6}$$Righteousness guards him whose way is blameless, but sin overthrows the wicked. I guess there are (at least) 2 ways of looking at this - the only way I can be blameless is by Jesus’ imputed righteousness, which also saves me literally from death. The alternative is that I am not righteous and am overcome by sin. Alternatively and more prosaically, try to be blameless instead of wicked, and instead of creating trouble for yourself you’ll find people bear with you for longer and are nicer to you.

$$^{7}$$ One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing. Another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth. (I prefer not to use semicolons) I really like this proverb! The last 20 years have seen several degrees of financial wealth or lack, and the reality has often been very different to what I’d expected. I often intuit that things must get easier, or nicer, or more fulfilling if only a certain problem was removed, or a certain something was bought, or recognised, or achieved. The reality is a lot more complicated than that. Wealth isn’t what I thought it was, I thought it was mostly financial. Now, I think its freedom. Freedom to be at peace, to be unburdened of my past and present, freedom to still have hope for the future, freedom to have some spare time, freedom to not be crushed by life and be a good dad and husband and friend.

$$^{8}$$The ransom of a man’s life is his wealth, but a poor man hears no threat. oh! Incisive! This reminds me of “no one ever really owns a fortune, it always seems to own them”. There are various troubles and burdens you avoid by being poor, like choosing life instead of material excess. Lose your wealth and choose a rich life.

$$^{10}$$By insolence1 comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom. Disrespect and rudeness never works, wisdom is acquired when you make a habit of asking for advice.

$$^{11}$$Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it. I’m surprised to read this - I didn’t realise that the rate of change of ones wealth would likely effect how it can be sustained, and I wouldn’t have guessed that this is some general principle that exists across millennia, cultures and geographies.

$$^{12}$$Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. This one I’ve heard before. I don’t really understand it, though. I’m not sure what a sick heart definitely is.

It seems counter-intuitive because we are told to keep on looking forward to and hoping for Jesus to complete his work saving us and bringing history to completion. There is a lot of “now and not yet” tensions in between the time of Jesus’ resurrection and second coming (I know so little about it that I don’t particularly want to mention it). So maybe a Christian’s heart would be expected to be a little sick?

Also, if a desire fulfilled is a tree of life then I guess I’m desiring the wrong kind of things - most of my desires are chasing after the wind. I desire to eat and then I get hungry again, desire to graduate and then realise the work hasn’t even begun, etc. The image of a Tree of life hasn’t been used before I don’t think, maybe it means something specific which I’m unaware of. There was a tree of life in the garden of Eden…

13 - 16: Don’t ignore wisdom, don’t be an idiot, be prudent, have good sense. Strong recurring themes. $$^{16}$$Every prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly is interesting though - I think prudence is being used in a slightly different sense to what I’m used to. This proverb is saying that one should be informed before acting. And because a fool rushes into action, it will be clear that the don’t know what they are doing or talking about.

$$^{22}$$ A good man lays up an inheritance for his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous. I remember reading this when I was about 18 and thinking this was quite a burden - to leave an inheritance for grandchildren as well as children.

Seventeen years later it makes a lot of sense - the inheritance isn’t primarily money, but wisdom, peace, security. The way that I parent my children will directly effect how they parent their own children, and in this way I will either bless or curse my grandchildren.

If I damage my children, they will suffer and be less able to provide for their own children (emotionally, physically, spiritually). Our own childhoods have a large influence on our adulthoods, and our ability to parent, so I should make sure my children have good childhoods, which is not a trivial endeavour.

23 and 24 break the pattern of “good example, bad example.”

$$^{23}$$ The fallow2 ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice. The missed opportunities are real. Poor people are not incapable of productive and fruitful work. It is injustice that prevents fruitfulness. I find this proverb subtly provocative and insightful.

$$^{24}$$ Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. Parents who love their children do not enjoy causing them stress or discomfort, but if they love them and are wise then they discipline diligently, or consistently. Apparently physical punishment is timeless?

$$^{25}$$ The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, but the belly of the wicked suffers want. The last proverb in the chapter finishes with encouragement that it is better to be righteous than wicked, because it leads to satisfaction rather than want.

The previous chapter also finished with encouragement specifically about righteousness. Even though the book doesn’t have headings it seems like it does have structure, and the author requires you to actually read the text closely in order to pull out meaning. Shocking. Clearly not optimised for engagement, SEO or social media.

1. Insolence: rude and disrespectful behaviour”
2. Fallow: ploughed and harrowed but left for a period without being sown in order to restore its fertility or to avoid surplus production