by Sam E. Stone
The book of Proverbs does not read like many of the other Bible books. Because it is considered poetry, this form of wisdom literature often addresses a number of different topics in a single chapter—not necessarily following some orderly outline. We need not try to force the various words of advice into an arrangement we might be more familiar with. Rather, we should simply seek to learn and apply each principle in our lives.
The Right Course/Proverbs 15:21
Two individuals are contrasted here—the man who lacks judgment and the man of understanding. Throughout the book, Solomon stresses the importance of wisdom. Chapters 1-4 and 8, 9 especially deal with this topic. Wisdom guides us in making the right choices. This is shown when we follow the narrow way (compare Matthew 7:14).
The Right Counsel/Proverbs 15:22-32
Counsel from many wise advisers helps one make plans that will succeed (see 11:14; 24:6). This principle is valid in every area of life. Rolland W. Schloerb observes, “A timely word brings satisfaction to the one who utters it, as well as to the one who receives it.” This helps one give “an apt reply” (v. 23). There is value in saying the right thing at the right time (see 24:26).
The wise man’s path—the path to life—leads upward, while the foolish man’s route goes downward to Sheol (the land of darkness beyond the grave, the abode of the dead). Another contrast is then offered. Note that many verses in our text follow the form of Hebrew poetry known as “antithetic parallelism.” With it, a statement is made; then the same truth is expressed again in a different form: The Lord tears down the proud man’s house, but he keeps the widow’s boundaries intact. Throughout Scripture, God is shown to be the protector of the helpless and the punisher of the unscrupulous (see 22:28; Deuteronomy 19:14).
The writer reminds us that God is aware not only of what we say and do, but what we think as well. Jesus made it clear that the Lord wants us to keep pure thoughts in our minds (see Matthew 5:8), promising that those who do will see God. On the other hand, the greedy person has trouble ahead. Achan’s entire family was killed because of his greed when Jericho was taken (Joshua 7:1-26).
Guarding your speech is a prominent theme in Proverbs. The heart of the righteous weighs its
answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil (v. 28). Those who exercise control demonstrate that they have wisdom (10:14, 19). When carefully planned and spoken, words can have a powerful and positive effect (16:23, 24). The words of the righteous spoken in prayer will always be heard (v. 29). A cheerful look and good news are also positive in their effects. They bring joy to the heart (see. v. 13; 16:15; Job 29:24) and even health to the bones (see also 3:8; Philippians 2:19).
A teachable person is on the right track. When a wise man makes a mistake, he is thankful for correction, since it can prevent his going astray (see v. 10). H. A. Ironside wrote, “It is only the scorner who resents correction and reproof, and hence avoids the wise, lest his evil ways be called in question. But one he cannot avoid.” Whether building a house or building a life, choices are crucial (see Matthew 7:24-27).
Verse 31 is one of the few verses in this collection consisting of just one sentence. If one listens to positive criticism from others, he demonstrates that he has true wisdom (see 6:23). On the contrary, he who ignores discipline despises himself. Only those willing to learn from their mistakes and change directions will gain understanding.
The Right Conclusion/Proverbs 15:33
Earlier in this book Solomon wrote, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (9:10). When he ended his book of Ecclesiastes, he stated, “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13). A final lesson is that humility precedes honor (see Luke 14:11; 1 Peter 5:6). The life of Joseph is a powerful illustration of this principle (Genesis 37-50).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.