Proverbs 14 – The Contrast Between Wisdom and Folly
The wise woman builds her house,
But the foolish pulls it down with her hands.
a. The wise woman builds her house: Wisdom builds. It looks at what is and wisely considers how to make it better. Many homes have been made by a godly, wise woman who looks after the home and builds it.
i. “By her prudent and industrious management she increases property in the family, furniture in the house, and food and raiment for her household. This is the true building of a house. The thriftless wife acts differently, and the opposite is the result.” (Clarke)
b. The foolish pulls it down: Folly tears down. Instead of supporting and building what is, folly shows its destructive nature. The woman of a home has tremendous power to make it a better or worse place.
i. With her hands: “As the husband is as the head from whom all the sinews do flow, so she is as the hands into which they flow, and enable them to do their office.” (Trapp)
ii. “Note the foolish woman—her idleness, waste, love of pleasure, lack of all forethought and care…. We see her house torn down in confusion. It would have been a sad result if this had been done by an enemy. But it is the doing, or rather undoing, of her own hands.” (Bridges)
He who walks in his uprightness fears the LORD,
But he who is perverse in his ways despises Him.
a. He who walks in his uprightness fears the LORD: One who is upright through their heritage, past habits, and general course of life still has the decision to walk in their uprightness. Doing this demonstrates that they do fear the LORD.
i. The first line of this proverb communicates the New Testament attitude towards Christian obedience. Our call is to be what we are. Jesus has made us new creatures in Christ; He has made us upright. Our duty is to walk in that uprightness.
b. He who is perverse in his ways despises Him: The disobedient man shows that he really despises God and His authority. They say, we will not have this Man to reign over us (Luke 19:14). This displays the sinfulness of sin; it is often not only weakness, it is deep-seated rebellion against God.
In the mouth of a fool is a rod of pride,
But the lips of the wise will preserve them.
a. In the mouth of a fool is a rod of pride: The fool deserves the rod of correction (Proverbs 10:13). In the word picture used here, the rod of correction is made of the fool’s pride, and it comes from his own mouth.
i. “The fool’s pride finds a rod in his mouth that lashes himself—he is his own worst enemy—and others.” (Waltke)
ii. “Here it is a rod of pride. Sometimes it strikes against God and sometimes against men…. Were this iron rod to rule the earth, who could tolerate it?” (Bridges)
b. The lips of the wise will preserve them: The mouth of a fool brings punishment to the fool, but the wise man or woman is rescued (preserved) by their own wise words.
Where no oxen are, the trough is clean;
But much increase comes by the strength of an ox.
a. Where no oxen are, the trough is clean: Where there is no work being accomplished, there is no mess or disorder to deal with. If you have oxen, they will bring a good measure of mess and work with them.
b. But much increase comes by the strength of an ox: Yet, the mess an ox brings is worth it. There is much good (increase) that comes from the impressive strength of an ox. Those who insist that there never be mess or disorder will miss the increase that comes from good things that can be a bit messy.
i. This is an important principle when it comes to church life and Christian community. There are some who, out of good intentions, are obsessed with making sure there is never any kind of “mess” to address among believers. Each and every expression of spiritual life must be hyper-regulated and suspiciously watched with the expectation of grave error. Not only is this an offense against Christian liberty, but it also creates an environment where, spiritually speaking, there is little increase – because no one will tolerate any mess in the trough.
ii. “Orderliness can reach the point of sterility. This proverb is not a plea for slovenliness, physical or moral, but for the readiness to accept upheaval, and a mess to clear up, as the price of growth. It has many applications to personal, institutional and spiritual life, and could well be inscribed in the minute-books of religious bodies, to foster a farmer’s outlook, rather than a curator’s.” (Kidner)
iii. Adam Clarke used this proverb to describe seven reasons why oxen were superior to horses as farm animals, concluding: “In all large farms oxen are greatly to be preferred to horses. Have but patience with this most patient animal, and you will soon find that there is much increase by the strength and labour of the ox.”
A faithful witness does not lie,
But a false witness will utter lies.
a. A faithful witness does not lie: This simple and straightforward statement has much spiritual instruction in it. Jesus called His followers to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8). One of the primary responsibilities of a witness is to simply tell the truth and to not lie. When we have a genuine faith and experience in the person and work of Jesus Christ, we can give simple, true witness to Him.
b. A false witness will utter lies: Again, this simple statement points to a great spiritual truth. We should never be a false witness for Jesus Christ and utter lies about who He is and what He has done in our life.
i. Will utter lies: “Is or will be a false witness, when occasion requires it. Having debauched his conscience by daily lying, he is thereby prepared and disposed to false witness-bearing.” (Poole)
A scoffer seeks wisdom and does not find it,
But knowledge is easy to him who understands.
a. A scoffer seeks wisdom and does not find it: When someone seeks wisdom and does not find it, it is evidence that they are likely a scoffer – someone whose pursuit of wisdom and the truth is cynical and superficial.
i. “Such may seek wisdom; but he never can find it, because he does not seek it where it is to be found; neither in the teaching of God’s Spirit, nor in the revelation of his will.” (Clarke)
b. Knowledge is easy to him who understands: Jesus promised, Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you (Matthew 7:7). This is a promise to the sincere seeker, the one who understands.
Go from the presence of a foolish man,
When you do not perceive in him the lips of knowledge.
a. Go from the presence of a foolish man: Earlier Proverbs (such as Proverbs 13:20) spoke of the danger of foolish friends. Here the encouragement is to avoid the presence of a foolish man altogether.
i. “One cannot increase in knowledge by associating with a fool—nothing comes from nothing, as many can affirm.” (Ross)
b. When you do not perceive in him the lips of knowledge: The fool and the wise man can almost always be known by their words. This is a wonderful and often neglected way to discern if someone is wise or a fool.
The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way,
But the folly of fools is deceit.
a. The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: The prudent man or woman carefully considers and understands his way. They know the path they are on, their point upon the path, and their progress along the way.
i. The wisdom of the prudent: “It consists not in vain speculations, nor in a curious prying into other men’s matters, nor in cunning arts of deceiving others; but in a diligent study of his own duty, and of the way to true and eternal happiness.” (Poole)
b. The folly of fools is deceit: This explains one reason why folly and fools can be popular. Their attraction is based on deceit, in the same way that the bait deceives the fish into ignoring the hook.
Fools mock at sin,
But among the upright there is favor.
a. Fools mock at sin: This is in the nature of fools and their folly. They think sin is a light thing, worthy to be mocked. Their mockery of sin is connected with their lack of the fear of the LORD (Proverbs 1:29, 8:13).
i. “But he that makes a sport of sinning, will find it no sport to suffer the vengeance of an eternal fire.” (Clarke)
b. But among the upright there is favor: Those who are upright before God and man find favor among God and men.
i. “Fools do wrong and scoff at making reparations, but they find no divine or mutual favor and acceptance.” (Waltke)
The heart knows its own bitterness,
And a stranger does not share its joy.
a. The heart knows its own bitterness: There is pain and bitterness enough for every heart. The sense is that though one’s heart knows its own bitterness, it is difficult for anyone else to know the pain and bitterness of another’s heart.
i. “We may not judge our brethren as though we understood them, and were competent to give a verdict upon them. Do not sit down, like Job’s friends, and condemn the innocent.” (Spurgeon)
b. A stranger does not share its joy: What was true regarding the bitterness of life in the first line of this proverb is also often true regarding the joy of life. It can be difficult for someone else to truly share the joy of another’s heart.
i. “No less personal is the heart’s joy. It lies deep within. Michal could understand David’s bravery, but not his joy. She knew him as a man of war, not as a man of God.” (Bridges)
ii. Spurgeon listed and described many joys that are personal in nature, and therefore often a stranger does not share them.
· The joy of sin forgiven.
· The joy of sin conquered.
· The joy of restored relationship with God.
· The joy of accepted service.
· The joy of answered prayer.
· The joy of usefulness for God.
· The joy of peace in time of trouble.
· Highest of all: the joy of communion with God.
The house of the wicked will be overthrown,
But the tent of the upright will flourish.
a. The house of the wicked will be overthrown: Whatever is built on a poor foundation cannot stand, especially against the storm of God’s coming judgment.
b. The tent of the upright will flourish: The wicked man boasts of his great house and looks down upon his upright neighbor who lives in only a tent. Yet the tent of the upright is more secure than the house of the wicked.
i. “The tent is by no means used for any kind of dwelling but refers to a nomadic tent. It is a bell tent, supported in the middle by a wooden pole and composed of several dark, goatskin curtains. It was fastened down to pegs with cords.” (Waltke)
There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
a. There is a way that seems right to a man: Proverbs often speaks of the way, the path of life a man or woman walks upon. Solomon observed that this way often seems right to a man. His path of life seems fine to him, and he wonders why God or anyone else would have a different opinion.
i. “The issue then is how deceptive evil is. It might promise and deliver happiness, power, and the good life, but it cannot sustain what it gives.” (Ross)
b. But its end is the way of death: Though it seems right, it isn’t right – it leads to death. Wisdom understands that what may seem right to a man isn’t necessarily right; it can in fact be the way of death.
i. This proverb reminds us that the way of death is rarely clearly marked. “The safety and destiny of a road are not always as they appear (Matt. 7:13, 14). The deceptive road leads as certainly to death as the plainly marked one.” (Waltke)
ii. This makes plain our need for a revelation from God. We can’t entirely trust our own examination and judgment. To really know we are on the way of life (instead of the way of death), we need to fear the LORD and receive His wisdom, especially as revealed in His word.
iii. The principle of this proverb is so important that God repeated it again at Proverbs 16:25.
Even in laughter the heart may sorrow,
And the end of mirth may be grief.
a. Even in laughter the heart may sorrow: The person who often laughs is not always happy. The outward expression of laughter may be used to mask great sorrow in the heart.
i. “The design of the proverb is to declare the vanity of all worldly joys and comforts, and to teach men moderation in them, and to persuade us to seek for more solid and durable joys.” (Poole)
b. The end of mirth may be grief: Laughter and mirth may do more than mask sorrow; they may very well end in grief. We are grateful for laughter and godly mirth, but not if they keep us from the fear of the LORD and the wisdom associated with it.
The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways,
But a good man will be satisfied from above.
a. The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways: Those who decline in their relationship and obedience to God will suffer from it, even if their decline is only in heart. Their own backsliding ways will come upon them.
i. The backslider: “The first part of his name is ‘backslider.’ He is not a back runner, nor a back leaper, but a backslider, that is to say he slides back with an easy, effortless motion, softly, quietly, perhaps unsuspected by himself or anybody else.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Every spot does not mean that you have leprosy. Every sin does not indicate that you are a backslider.” (Bridges)
iii. “What is implied in being filled with his own ways? Having his soul saturated with folly, sin, and disappointment.” (Clarke)
iv. “The story of Judas has been written over and over again in the lives of other traitors. We have heard of Judas as a deacon, and as an elder; we have heard Judas preach, we have read the works of Judas the bishop, and seen Judas the missionary. Judas sometimes continues in his profession for many years, but, sooner or later, the true character of the man is discovered.” (Spurgeon)
b. A good man will be satisfied from above: The wise ones who do good enjoy God’s blessing and the satisfaction that comes from Him.
i. “Which simply means that whatever may be within a man, in the deepest region of his personality, will sooner or later be wrought out into actual experience and visibility.” (Morgan)
The simple believes every word,
But the prudent considers well his steps.
a. The simple believes every word: The man or woman who lacks wisdom (the simple) has little ability to discern truth from falsehood. They believe everyone, especially if they seem sincere.
i. “To believe every word of God is faith. To believe every word of man is credulity…. An indiscriminate faith is, therefore, fraught with mischief. The world was ruined by this weakness (Genesis 3:1-6).” (Bridges)
b. The prudent considers well his steps: The wise man or woman doesn’t believe everything is as it first appears. While they do think carefully about others, they give even more consideration to their own steps.
A wise man fears and departs from evil,
But a fool rages and is self-confident.
a. A wise man fears and departs from evil: The wise man appreciates evil for what it is and keeps himself far from it. He does not overestimate or test his own strength in resisting evil; he departs from it.
b. A fool rages and is self-confident: Instead of godly fear, the fool rages with uncontrolled temper and outbursts. Despite his bad temper, he is self-confident. The self-confidence of fools is a mystery and a marvel.
A quick-tempered man acts foolishly,
And a man of wicked intentions is hated.
a. A quick-tempered man acts foolishly: In the previous proverb the fool raged; here his quick temper leads him to act out his foolishness. The wise man has the self-control to not react immediately and out of bad temper.
i. Quick tempered-man: “Ketsar appayim, ‘short of nostrils:’ because, when a man is angry, his nose is contracted, and drawn up towards his eyes.” (Clarke)
b. A man of wicked intentions is hated: The love that fools and wicked men have for each other is limited. The man of wicked intentions is understood to be untrustworthy and therefore hated.
The simple inherit folly,
But the prudent are crowned with knowledge.
a. The simple inherit folly: As someone gains an inheritance as that which is due to them, so the simple inherit folly. For those who willfully reject wisdom, folly is due.
b. The prudent are crowned with knowledge: A wise (prudent) man or woman enjoys the benefits of their wisdom. Knowledge sits upon them as a graceful and noble crown.
The evil will bow before the good,
And the wicked at the gates of the righteous.
a. The evil will bow before the good: In this present age, it often feels that the evil win and sometimes triumph over the good. With true wisdom, Solomon reminds us that ultimately evil will bow in submission before the good.
i. “Ultimately the wicked will acknowledge and serve the righteous. The figure used here is of a conquered people kneeling before their victors awaiting their commands.” (Ross)
ii. “The Egyptians and Joseph’s brothers bowed before Joseph. The proud Pharaoh and his people bowed before Moses. The saints will judge the world (1 Corinthians 6:2).” (Bridges)
b. The wicked at the gates of the righteous: As if they came in humble surrender to the leaders of the city, the wicked will bow at the gates of the righteous.
The poor man is hated even by his own neighbor,
But the rich has many friends.
a. The poor man is hated even by his own neighbor: This is another of the proverbs that honestly describes the benefits of wealth. When a person is poor, they don’t have as many friends and maybe their own neighbor may hate them.
i. “This is a humbling but common illustration of natural selfishness…. But Jesus was deliberately the poor man’s friend. How endearing is Jesus’ love!” (Bridges)
b. The rich has many friends: This is a simple fact of life. The friends of the rich might be insincere friends, but there are more of them.
He who despises his neighbor sins;
But he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he.
a. He who despises his neighbor sins: Men and women are made in the image of God, and therefore we are commanded to love our neighbor (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:39). To despise is to hate, so to despise your neighbor is to sin.
b. He who has mercy on the poor, happy is he: The generous heart is the happy heart. The link between the first and second lines of this proverb shows that whoever has mercy on the poor should never do it in a superior manner that would show they despise the poor they say they help.
Do they not go astray who devise evil?
But mercy and truth belong to those who devise good.
a. Do they not go astray who devise evil? Doing evil is an obvious sin, but even the plotting and devising of evil leads us astray. God cares about our heart and mind as well as our outward actions (Matthew 5:21-32).
i. Devise evil: “Hebrew, That plough it and plot it, that dig it and delve it, that whet their wits and beat their brains about it – do not these err?” (Trapp)
b. But mercy and truth belong to those who devise good: The wicked will plot their evil, but wisdom leads us to devise good for others and ourselves. This will bring the blessings of mercy and truth into our lives.
i. “Wicked as it is to do evil, it is far more wicked to plot evil. Children of God, do you show the same diligence and determination in planning to do good?” (Bridges)
In all labor there is profit,
But idle chatter leads only to poverty.
a. In all labor there is profit: As a principle, hard work is always rewarded. Even if there is not an immediate profit from the work, there is reward from God and in the building and demonstration of character.
b. But idle chatter leads only to poverty: If labor leads to profit, then anything that distracts from labor – such as idle chatter – will keep profits away, and lead to poverty. We can imagine a group of employees gathered together with idle chatter and entertaining conversation leading to no profit for their employer.
i. “People should be more afraid of idle talk than of hard work. Or, to put it another way, do not just talk about it—Do it!” (Ross)
ii. “Great talkers are do-littles, for the most part…. And ‘why stand you looking upon one another? Get you down to Egypt,’ said Jacob to his sons. [Genesis 42:1-2]” (Trapp)
The crown of the wise is their riches,
But the foolishness of fools is folly.
a. The crown of the wise is their riches: Solomon was smart enough to know that riches can come in several ways. He knew that one of the ways riches came was through wisdom and hard work. When this is the case, those riches are like a crown of the wise, both evidence and reward of their wisdom.
b. The foolishness of fools is folly: For those who reject wisdom, the only crown they get is more folly. Their foolishness is multiplied.
A true witness delivers souls,
But a deceitful witness speaks lies.
a. A true witness delivers souls: This is true on an everyday life level, where truth brings light, blessing, and freedom. Where lies and false reports dominate, souls will be in darkness and bondage. This is also true on a spiritual or ministry level, where God will use the true witness of the preacher to rescue souls.
i. “A man who will trim the facts for you will trim them as easily against you; and a career or a life may hang on a word.” (Kidner)
b. A deceitful witness speaks lies: Those who spread such lies and false reports fail to do the good of a true witness and they practice the evil of their lies.
i. “This proverb appears to have legal proceedings in view. Honesty in court is not a mere fine point of law; people’s lives depend upon it.” (Garrett)
In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence,
And His children will have a place of refuge.
a. In the fear of the LORD there is strong confidence: One might think that fear always leads to a loss of confidence. But that isn’t how it works with the fear of the LORD. Our honor, reverence, and sense of awe towards Him moves us from self-confidence and towards strong confidence in God’s love and greatness.
b. His children will have a place of refuge: God always provides Himself as a refuge for His children (God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, Psalm 46:1).
The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life,
To turn one away from the snares of death.
a. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life: One might think that fear always leads to less life, not more. But that isn’t how it works with the fear of the LORD. Proper fear of the LORD is rooted in understanding who God is and who we are in relation to Him. That itself is like a fountain of life.
b. To turn one away from the snares of death: There are many additional benefits that come from a proper fear of the LORD, and one of those is to have a greater measure of God’s watchful care and protection.
In a multitude of people is a king’s honor,
But in the lack of people is the downfall of a prince.
a. In a multitude of people is a king’s honor: Kings focus on the glory and strength useful and apparent in this world. With that focus, the more people the better. The greater the multitude of people, the greater is the king’s honor.
i. “A prince’s power varies with the size of his empire. This statement is generally true of empires; from a human viewpoint political power is based on the number of people in the party.” (Ross)
ii. Related to spiritual things and Christian ministry, the principle of this proverb shows the weakness of a worldly, humanistic view of ministry. It is of the carnal, worldly wisdom of kings to understand large crowds as the only real measure of success. We imagine that the Apostle Paul might rephrase this line: In a multitude of people is a king’s honor, but in love, faithfulness, and sacrificial service is an apostle’s honor. A multitude of people in ministry is never to be despised, but we should have a greater measure of success than that.
b. In the lack of people is the downfall of a prince: If there are no people to govern, there won’t be much governing. In the ancient world, rulers thought much about increasing the populations in their governed realm.
i. “The proverb, however, must be held in tension with the biblical teaching that large numbers are of little value with the Lord’s presence (e.g., Psalm 33:16-17).” (Waltke)
He who is slow to wrath has great understanding,
But he who is impulsive exalts folly.
a. He who is slow to wrath has great understanding: There is great wisdom in the ability to control one’s response to provoking situations. Being quick to wrath brings many regrets.
b. He who is impulsive exalts folly: The impulsive, uncontrolled person who quickly reacts without thinking lives in a way that exalts foolishness.
A sound heart is life to the body,
But envy is rottenness to the bones.
a. A sound heart is life to the body: If heart here meant the physical organ that beats in the chest, any medical doctor would agree. Yet Solomon had in mind heart as a metaphor for our innermost being. When we are sound on the inside, it brings health and life to the whole body.
b. Envy is rottenness to the bones: The presence of envy is presented as a contrast to a sound heart. Envy corrupts us from within and can poison many otherwise good things.
i. “The proverb teaches that to nurse a resentment is bad for body as well as soul: it is no sacrifice when we renounce it.” (Kidner)
He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker,
But he who honors Him has mercy on the needy.
a. He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker: To oppress the poor is to sin against them, but it is also to sin against and to insult God Himself. To oppress and despise the poor is to despise his Maker, the one in whose image all humanity was made.
b. He who honors Him has mercy on the needy: The one who honors and loves God will reflect God’s own mercy on the needy. A cold, mean heart towards the poor shows a lack of honor towards God.
i. “Proverbs 14:31 stands in the ancient Near Eastern tradition of warning rulers not to trample upon the rights of the poor; the king who ignores this advice will soon find himself without a nation.” (Garrett)
The wicked is banished in his wickedness,
But the righteous has a refuge in his death.
a. The wicked is banished in his wickedness: Godliness and wisdom are useful for many things, and one of their great benefits is the way that they make for good community. Yet the wicked will be banished, being of no benefit and of definite danger to the community.
b. The righteous has a refuge in his death: The righteous man or woman enjoys refuge in the community, but also even unto his death. God will demonstrate His care for the righteous.
i. The Old Testament in general and the Book of Proverbs in particular don’t have much specific information or confidence in the life to come. There are rare flashes of this confidence, and a refuge in his death is one of those. “Job and the Psalms show occasional glimpses, such as this, of what lies normally beyond their view.” (Kidner)
Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding,
But what is in the heart of fools is made known.
a. Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding: The idea is that wisdom finds a suitable home in the heart of those who have wisdom (understanding). It isn’t like a temporary visitor; it comes and rests in the heart.
i. “True wisdom sets its throne in the heart.” (Bridges)
b. What is in the heart of fools is made known: The wisdom of a wise man’s heart will be revealed; so will the folly of the fool’s heart. What we are is eventually evident in what we do.
Righteousness exalts a nation,
But sin is a reproach to any people.
a. Righteousness exalts a nation: Because righteousness is to follow God’s will and God’s way, it will always exalt a person, a family, a neighborhood, a city, a state, or even a nation. This is both because of the natural consequences of righteousness and because of God’s active response of blessing.
i. Many things may, in human perspective, exalt a nation. Military might, economic prosperity, status among nations, cultural influence, and athletic victory may each make a nation seem exalted. Yet ultimately, none of those things match righteousness as a way a nation is truly exalted. One might say that the most patriotic thing a citizen might do is repent of their sin and then receive and pursue God’s righteousness in their life.
b. But sin is a reproach to any people: When a people reject righteousness and choose sin, it will bring reproach and insult upon them. We never gain through our rejection of God and our embrace of sin.
i. “No nation is so low as not to sink even lower under sin. The strongest nations are given an indelible blot if they are overcome by sin. What an enemy an ungodly man is to his country. He may talk eloquently about his patriotism, but even if God should elevate him in his work, he will only bring disgrace on his people.” (Bridges)
The king’s favor is toward a wise servant,
But his wrath is against him who causes shame.
a. The king’s favor is toward a wise servant: On a human level, there is nothing greater than the favor of those in places of power and prestige such as kings. Having that favor is one of the rewards of wisdom.
i. “What will the solemn day of reckoning bring to me? May I, may we all be found to be wise servants to the best of Kings.” (Bridges)
b. His wrath is against him who causes shame: Kings are allergic to shame. Their power and presence rests upon the image of success and majesty. Therefore, to cause shame is to gain the wrath of the kings of this world.
i. Causes shame: “Both to himself, by his foolish management of the king’s affairs committed to him; and to the king, who made so foolish a choice of a servant.” (Poole)
ii. “The saying is a bracing reminder not to blame luck or favouritism but one’s own shortcomings, for any lack of recognition. Moffatt gives the sense well: ‘The king favours an able minister; his anger is for the incompetent.’” (Kidner)
iii. We are forever grateful that the King of Kings (1 Timothy 6:15 and Revelation 19:16) did not despise the shame of our sin, but bore it in Himself on the cross.
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org