The Tongue of the Wise (Proverbs)

Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruit.
Proverbs 18:21

1. The tongue of a wise person is attractive (10:20; 20:15).

2. The tongue of a wise person is controlled

… in the number of words it speaks (10:19).

… in what it reveals (11:12, 13).

3. The tongue of a wise person is effective

… for imparting wisdom (13:14).

… for encouraging the faint-hearted (16:24).

… for exhorting others (16:23).

… for rebuking the wayward (25:12).

4. The tongue of a wise person is honest (12:17; 14:25).

5. The tongue of a wise person is humble (27:2).

Don’t be a Fool! Wisdom and Folly in Proverbs

In the process of doing some topical studies in the second section of Proverbs, here is a list I formed for contrasting the wise person and the fool.

1. Wisdom and folly are ethical qualities that reside in the heart. (14:33; 19:1) Thus, there is an obvious difference in the lifestyles of the wise and foolish. (13:16; 14:8, 16)

2. Wisdom serves as both the motivation for and goal of a wise person; a fool seeks only folly. (15:14; 17:24)

3. The fool has a detrimental effect upon his/her family. (10:1; 11:29; 14:1; 15:20; 17:21, 25; 19:13)

4. The stupidity of fools is most evident in their speech (14:3; 18:7), which conceals hatred and slanders others (10:18), continuously spouts stupidity and folly (15:2), reveals the foolishness of their heart (15:7), provokes only anger and fighting (18:6), and does not speak proverbs appropriately (26:7, 9). Thus, excellent speech is unfitting for such individuals (17:7), and so the only recourse is simply for them to quit talking (17:28).

5. The wise person lives an enriched life; the fool’s life is full of destruction and folly. (10:21; 14:24; 16:22).

6. Whereas the wise person enjoys wisdom, a fool enjoys making a sport out of wickedness. (10:23; 13:19)

7. Fools are wise in their own eyes, but the wise respond positively to counsel. (12:15; 26:12; 28:26) The fool returns to his folly like a dog returning to its vomit. (26:11)

8. The fool’s emotions are consistently uncontrolled. (12:16; 29:11)

9. Wise people downplay their own knowledge; fools speak forth their stupidity openly. (12:23)

10. The wise receive knowledge well; that fools do not is revealed by the ruin that comes by their mouth. (10:8, 10, 14)

11. The company of fools should be avoided. (13:20; 14:7; 17:12)

12. Fools should not be entrusted with jobs that require faithfulness. (26:6, 10)

13. Fools reject the very discipline they need and deserve. (15:5; 17:10; 19:29; 26:3; 27:22)

14. A wise person acknowledges and deals with sin; fools mock dealing with sin. (14:9)

15. Fools neither desire nor delight in wisdom. (17:16; 18:2)

16. Although it’s often the case, luxury and honor are not fitting for a fool. (19:10; 26:1, 8)

17. Fools love to quarrel, and the irritation they bring makes one’s mood heavy. (20:3; 27:3)

18. The fool is one who wastes his material goods. (21:20)

19. A wise person will avoid debate with a fool. (23:9; 29:9)

20. Since fools reject wisdom, they are unfit for community leadership. Folly alienates one from the community. (24:7–9)

Train up a Child (Proverbs 22:6)

Train up a child in his path,
Even when he grows old, he will not depart from it.

“Train up”
The primary issue here is being diligent in raising our children appropriately. It focuses our mind upon the great (life-long) responsibility this entails, one of hard work and discipline.

“in his path”
Read within the context of the book, there is no way this could mean leaving our children to their own devices, according to their natural tendencies. According to Proverbs, there is one and only one “path” or “way” that should be trod, the way of wisdom.

“Even when he grows old…”
The second half of the verse has received the most scrutiny and misunderstanding. The question at hand is whether this is (1) a blanket promise, (2) a test of good parenting, or (3) a general principle of life.

If this were considered a blanket promise, then I believe we could all point to a friend, family, or experience that would contradict this principle. To be honest, as we read through Proverbs, I’m sure that each of us come across certain statements that don’t seem to be in our lives. What are we to make of this?

The basic answer to this type of dilemma is to remember the type of book we are reading. The genre of a proverb is such that it makes a general claim based upon observation of life. In other words, any individual proverb is not necessarily true in every circumstance, but all things being equal, the writer believes it to be true. His belief, however, is based upon the nature of God and the maturity that comes with observing his life and the lives of others. As Tremper Longman III states (Proverbs, 405): “The book of Proverbs advises its hearers in was that are most likely to lead them to desired consequences if all things are equal.”

Therefore, when approaching this verse, we must remember that we may be able to point to a real situation that contradicts this, but as a general principle of life, our children are more apt to follow a godly path if we have diligently instilled biblically wise principles into them. This presupposes that we parents possess the skill for living under the fear of the Lord that Proverbs teaches and that we diligently teach our children to be wise and discerning, not foolish and naive.

The hermeneutics of reading proverbs also informs the second option. That is, parents must remember that even if they persistently discipline and instruct their children, in reality children some times refuse to hear the counsel of their parents. Proverbs has a term for such a child, and it is “fool.” At some point, our children must choose of their own volition either to follow the path passed down to them by their parents or to seek a way of their own devising.

Thus, within the context of reality, parents may falter and fail in their obligations to their children and yet their children continue on the path of wisdom. There are enough individuals who came to know God out of a pagan background to prove this point. On the other hand, however, a parent may do everything in their power to instruct their children, but the child may fail to continue in such a life. There are many who have abandoned the community of faith who prove this point. Nevertheless, the point of the verse is true: Our children are more apt to follow the path of righteousness if we as parents have (1) demonstrated the blessing that comes with following wisdom and (2) trained them up in this path.

The Fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7)

After introducing the benefits of reading the book in verses 1–6, Proverbs 1:7 provides the theological basis for reading the rest of the book: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” As opposed to the fool (or simply the naïve), the wise person bases his life upon the foundation of “the fear of the Lord.” But what does this mean?

The relationship between wisdom and “the fear of the Lord” is by no means foreign to the Old Testament, especially those books that are often called wisdom literature (see for example Job 28:28; Eccl 12:13; or Ps 111:10). For it to be such an important and somewhat prevalent concept, it is not explained in detail.

The fear of the Lord certainly entails a profound respect for God. Moreover, in that God is a “consuming fire” (Heb 12:29), it may also involve a certain amount of trepidation that produces obedience. For example, Psalm 2:11 says, “Worship the Lord with fear And rejoice with trembling.” Whatever the case, the fear of the Lord certainly necessitates a proper perspective on one’s relationship with God. A proper understanding of one’s relationship with the Lord is both the starting point and the foundation upon which a lifelong pursuit of wisdom is built. Such an understanding can be better understood by observing some clear parallels between Proverbs 1:1–7 and Genesis 3.

In Proverbs 1:3, wisdom is said to provide instruction “in wise behavior,” which uses the same term as Genesis 3:6 where the woman looks at the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and recognizes, among other things, that it was fit “to make one wise.” Moreover, in Genesis 3:1 the serpent is described as “crafty,” whereas wisdom is said to give “prudence” (literally “craftiness”) to the simple minded. Thus, Genesis 3 paints a picture of the fall of man with strokes of wisdom. It is significant, then, that Moses presents the sin of Adam and Eve not as a gross act of immorality but as an unfortunate act of folly.

The fall was above all a grave miscalculation on their part. The right choice for Adam and Eve was to submit willfully to the authority of their God, who had graciously provided them with all things and who had only asked for their obedience and worship. They were to receive gladly everything they needed from God’s hand, including knowledge and wisdom. Instead, they chose to seek that which would make them wise without reference to the only One who could ultimately provide that wisdom. They opted for a life of self-rule, not submission.

O, how many times we find ourselves living such an autonomous life! For us, the fear of the Lord begins with recognition of and submission to the authority of God over our life. We make foolish, sinful choices when we despise godly wisdom and live our lives as if we are calling the shots. Such an attitude will always end in folly, just ask Adam and Eve.