In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge. The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, that one may turn away from the snares of death. - Proverbs 14:26-27
Of the 25 or so occurrences of the phrase “The fear of the LORD” in the Old Testament, over half of them are found in the book of Proverbs. With another handful sprinkled throughout Job and Psalms, it’s easy to conclude that wisdom and the fear of the LORD are connected in the Israelite mind.
In Psalm 110 we heard that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the first Act of Proverbs was bookended, in chapters 1 and 9, with this affirmation. In Job 28 and Proverbs 16, the fear of the LORD is synonymous with turning away from evil. It is the fountain of life, greater than treasure and the trouble that attends it, a trustworthy refuge, and a defense against evil. Let not your heart envy sinners, chapter 23 exhorts, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day.
Our reading continues today with quick lines of wisdom, typically by setting contrast between behaviors and outcomes. Reading Proverbs can be taxing: the cadence is repetitive, and the subject matter is narrow. Individual proverbs catch our attention when cited separately, but when reading through they can get lost in the rhythm.
My illustration above is one tool that can help. As I did with the fear of the LORD, focus on one theme or instruction and trace how it’s handled throughout the book. This is not only useful for keeping attention, but, importantly, for placing individual proverbs in a larger context, and protecting them from being misused. As with other genres, context matters. The structure of Proverbs makes this context slightly more difficult to trace, but it’s nonetheless imperative for honest application.
Our verse for this week is Psalm 119:105: Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.
Proverbs 14 through 17. Now let’s read it!
Proverbs 14 - 17
14:1 The wisest of women builds her house,
but folly with her own hands tears it down.
Whoever walks in uprightness fears the LORD,
but he who is devious in his ways despises him.
By the mouth of a fool comes a rod for his back,
but the lips of the wise will preserve them.
Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
A faithful witness does not lie,
but a false witness breathes out lies.
A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain,
but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding.
Leave the presence of a fool,
for there you do not meet words of knowledge.
The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way,
but the folly of fools is deceiving.
Fools mock at the guilt offering,
but the upright enjoy acceptance.
The heart knows its own bitterness,
and no stranger shares its joy.
The house of the wicked will be destroyed,
but the tent of the upright will flourish.
There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.
Even in laughter the heart may ache,
and the end of joy may be grief.
The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways,
and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways.
The simple believes everything,
but the prudent gives thought to his steps.
One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil,
but a fool is reckless and careless.
A man of quick temper acts foolishly,
and a man of evil devices is hated.
The simple inherit folly,
but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.
The evil bow down before the good,
the wicked at the gates of the righteous.
The poor is disliked even by his neighbor,
but the rich has many friends.
Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,
but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.
Do they not go astray who devise evil?
Those who devise good meet steadfast love and faithfulness.
In all toil there is profit,
but mere talk tends only to poverty.
The crown of the wise is their wealth,
but the folly of fools brings folly.
A truthful witness saves lives,
but one who breathes out lies is deceitful.
In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence,
and his children will have a refuge.
The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life,
that one may turn away from the snares of death.
In a multitude of people is the glory of a king,
but without people a prince is ruined.
Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding,
but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.
A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh,
but envy makes the bones rot.
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
The wicked is overthrown through his evildoing,
but the righteous finds refuge in his death.
Wisdom rests in the heart of a man of understanding,
but it makes itself known even in the midst of fools.
Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin is a reproach to any people.
A servant who deals wisely has the king's favor,
but his wrath falls on one who acts shamefully.
15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
The eyes of the LORD are in every place,
keeping watch on the evil and the good.
A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
A fool despises his father's instruction,
but whoever heeds reproof is prudent.
In the house of the righteous there is much treasure,
but trouble befalls the income of the wicked.
The lips of the wise spread knowledge;
not so the hearts of fools.
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD,
but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him.
The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD,
but he loves him who pursues righteousness.
There is severe discipline for him who forsakes the way;
whoever hates reproof will die.
Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD;
how much more the hearts of the children of man!
A scoffer does not like to be reproved;
he will not go to the wise.
A glad heart makes a cheerful face,
but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.
The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,
but the mouths of fools feed on folly.
All the days of the afflicted are evil,
but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.
Better is a little with the fear of the LORD
than great treasure and trouble with it.
Better is a dinner of herbs where love is
than a fattened ox and hatred with it.
A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,
but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns,
but the path of the upright is a level highway.
A wise son makes a glad father,
but a foolish man despises his mother.
Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense,
but a man of understanding walks straight ahead.
Without counsel plans fail,
but with many advisers they succeed.
To make an apt answer is a joy to a man,
and a word in season, how good it is!
The path of life leads upward for the prudent,
that he may turn away from Sheol beneath.
The LORD tears down the house of the proud
but maintains the widow's boundaries.
The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD,
but gracious words are pure.
Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household,
but he who hates bribes will live.
The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
The LORD is far from the wicked,
but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
The light of the eyes rejoices the heart,
and good news refreshes the bones.
The ear that listens to life-giving reproof
will dwell among the wise.
Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
The fear of the LORD is instruction in wisdom,
and humility comes before honor.
16:1 The plans of the heart belong to man,
but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.
All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes,
but the LORD weighs the spirit.
Commit your work to the LORD,
and your plans will be established.
The LORD has made everything for its purpose,
even the wicked for the day of trouble.
Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD;
be assured, he will not go unpunished.
By steadfast love and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for,
and by the fear of the LORD one turns away from evil.
When a man's ways please the LORD,
he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.
Better is a little with righteousness
than great revenues with injustice.
The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.
An oracle is on the lips of a king;
his mouth does not sin in judgment.
A just balance and scales are the LORD's;
all the weights in the bag are his work.
It is an abomination to kings to do evil,
for the throne is established by righteousness.
Righteous lips are the delight of a king,
and he loves him who speaks what is right.
A king's wrath is a messenger of death,
and a wise man will appease it.
In the light of a king's face there is life,
and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain.
How much better to get wisdom than gold!
To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.
The highway of the upright turns aside from evil;
whoever guards his way preserves his life.
Pride goes before destruction,
and a haughty spirit before a fall.
It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor
than to divide the spoil with the proud.
Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good,
and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.
The wise of heart is called discerning,
and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.
Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it,
but the instruction of fools is folly.
The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.
A worker's appetite works for him;
his mouth urges him on.
A worthless man plots evil,
and his speech is like a scorching fire.
A dishonest man spreads strife,
and a whisperer separates close friends.
A man of violence entices his neighbor
and leads him in a way that is not good.
Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things;
he who purses his lips brings evil to pass.
Gray hair is a crown of glory;
it is gained in a righteous life.
Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
The lot is cast into the lap,
but its every decision is from the LORD.
17:1 Better is a dry morsel with quiet
than a house full of feasting with strife.
A servant who deals wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully
and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers.
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
and the LORD tests hearts.
An evildoer listens to wicked lips,
and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.
Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker;
he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.
Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,
and the glory of children is their fathers.
Fine speech is not becoming to a fool;
still less is false speech to a prince.
A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it;
wherever he turns he prospers.
Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding
than a hundred blows into a fool.
An evil man seeks only rebellion,
and a cruel messenger will be sent against him.
Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs
rather than a fool in his folly.
If anyone returns evil for good,
evil will not depart from his house.
The beginning of strife is like letting out water,
so quit before the quarrel breaks out.
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
are both alike an abomination to the LORD.
Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom
when he has no sense?
A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for adversity.
One who lacks sense gives a pledge
and puts up security in the presence of his neighbor.
Whoever loves transgression loves strife;
he who makes his door high seeks destruction.
A man of crooked heart does not discover good,
and one with a dishonest tongue falls into calamity.
He who sires a fool gets himself sorrow,
and the father of a fool has no joy.
A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
The wicked accepts a bribe in secret
to pervert the ways of justice.
The discerning sets his face toward wisdom,
but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.
A foolish son is a grief to his father
and bitterness to her who bore him.
To impose a fine on a righteous man is not good,
nor to strike the noble for their uprightness.
Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.