This post continues what we were doing with the previous post on Proverbs 10. The chapter divisions are not especially helpful between Proverbs 10 and 11, as you will see, but Proverbs 11:1 does at least begin a new subunit. This post will bring you up to Proverbs 15:29, since we will see something new beginning with Proverbs 15:30ff. In order to cover such ground in one post you will see that there is not a detailed commentary on every verse. In fact, the amount said about each unit basically will lessen with each unit covered. In other words, we will say more about the subunits in Proverbs 11 than about the units/subunits in Proverbs 15. My purpose in doing it this way is that these comments below will provide you with the basic contours of the text, which makes the work of interpretation much easier, and that the observations about earlier units and subunits (to go deeper, see the previous post too) will help you to know what to do with the ones that come later (after all, I have to leave some of the work to you the reader because that is the best way to learn). One thing that I want you to come away seeing is that the proverbs are not arranged haphazardly nor are they to be read independently, but instead they are in units and subunits that are linked together and that are to be read in the context of the book as a whole. Understanding this will help you to move beyond understanding the point of a particular pithy proverb (as important as that is) to understanding the point of subunits and then units of proverbs, and such until you have a better appreciation for how this tells you the message of the book as a whole.
Proverbs 11:1-8 is the next subunit in the unit that began with Proverbs 10:17. Waltke summarizes these eight verses as ”Security through Honesty and Righteousness.”
Proverbs 10:32 and 11:1 are linked by the catchword usually translated ”favor” (10:32, acceptable or fitting; 11:1, delight). The pattern also shifts from Proverbs 10:27-32 of +- to -+ in Proverbs 11:1-2.
Proverbs 11:1 ensures that the reader associates YHWH with this issue of security in rest of the subunit. YHWH finds a false balance to be an abomination and delights in a just weight. Thus YHWH protects the honest and punishes the dishonest. Proverbs 11:1 only tells us how YHWH looks at the issue of honesty in weights and measures. But it is a pair with Proverbs 11:2.
In this subunit we find a proverb that explicitly says riches do not provide security. ”Riches do not profit in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death” (Proverbs 11:4, cf. also Proverbs 11:7). The day of wrath could be any fatal disaster that might befall the wicked. The basic point of the subunit is that the dishonest and unrighteous will die and that the righteous and honest will live.
Proverbs 11:9-15 returns to the subject of words and communication. This time the focus is on how they serve the community.
Waltke considers Proverbs 11:9 to be a janus transitioning the reader from Proverbs 11:1-8 to this new subunit. Note the way Proverbs 11:8 begins, ”The righteous is delivered…” and Proverbs 11:9 ends ”…the righteous are delivered.”
Despite the common belief that sticks and stones will break bones but words do not hurt, Proverbs recognizes that words can hurt. The way that Proverbs 11:9 describes it is in the positive – ”With his mouth the godless man would destroy his neighbor, but by knowledge the righteous are delivered.” This verse is -+, which reverses the pattern in surrounding verses (Proverbs 11:8, 10-11). Verses 12-15 switch again to -+.
We said that the subunit deals with the effect of speech on the community. The community is designated with three different terms: neighbor (Proverbs 11:9), city (Proverbs 11:10-11), and ‘people’ (i.e., the nation, Proverbs 11:14).
Proverbs 11:16-22 concerns the way that kindness is rewarded and selfishness brings injury.
Waltke notes that often at seams we will find the mention of a woman, listing: Proverbs 11:16, 22, 12:4, 14:1, 18:22, and 21:9. Note then that the mention of a woman serves as an inclusio for this subunit (Proverbs 11:16 and 22).
Proverbs 11:16-17 are linked in the parallel between the gracious woman who gets honor and the man who is kind who benefits himself; likewise the parallel between the violent men who get riches and the cruel man who hurts himself. The picture of the violent man seizing riches (if understood in context) suggests that he does not hold onto them. But the gracious woman who gets honor will keep it.
Proverbs 11:18-19 form a chiasm: ”The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward. Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die.” The wages of the wicked are deceptive because they will die, but the sure reward of the righteous is life.
Proverbs 11:20-21 also form a pair, and Proverbs 11:22 stands alone as a sarcastic remark. Proverbs 11:22 relies on you knowing that ANE women, especially the wealthy, often wore nose rings. It also assumes that you know that the pig is ceremonially unclean. Not that it helps seeing the structure, but note that Proverbs 11:1 and 11:20 have the same basic format. These two verses are abomination sayings.
Proverbs 11:23-27 is the next subunit, as we continue to follow Waltke’s lead. This one is framed by the inclusio of ”good” in Proverbs 11:23 and 11:27. This unit concerns the idea of desires and, as Waltke puts it, ”their paradoxical fulfillment.” The opening verse is a summary statement, then we get examples.
These examples are how the one who gives freely grows richer (definitely a paradox, but true) and the one who withholds what he should gives will suffer want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, the one who waters will himself be watered (Waltke translates Proverbs 11:25: ”A life bestowing blessing will be fattened, and as for the one who drenches, he will in turn be soaked” – note the agricultural imagery).
Proverbs 11:25-26 actually are related in chiastic fashion and both speak agriculturally.
Proverbs 11:27 is a fitting concluding summary answering the opening one. ”Whoever diligently seeks good finds favor, but as for him who searches for evil, it will find him” (see Waltke’s translation, which is similar).
Proverbs 11:28-31 is the next subunit. Verse 31 is different in that it is the first time we see the ”how much more” variety. Waltke describes the point of Proverbs 11:31 as ”crime does not pay.” This is a fitting conclusion to this subunit because the point in Proverbs 11:28-30 is that those who trust in their riches will fall but that the righteous (who in context we know trust in YHWH) flourish like a green leaf – their fruit is a tree of life.
Waltke tells us that Proverbs 12 is two subunits. The first subunit consists of Proverbs 12:1-14 and the second of Proverbs 12:15-28. The topic he summarizes as ”speech and deeds.”
Each half of Proverbs 12 begins with what he calls ”an educational aphorism contrasting the teachableness of the wise with the incorrigibility of the fool” (Proverbs 12:1, 15). These are introductory rearing proverbs like that in Proverbs 10:1b, 17). These two statements are designed to encourage the son to obey the proverbs below them. ”Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1, recall Proverbs 3:11, 5:12). ”The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15).
Among the proverbs in the first half is one that begins, ”A worthy wife…” (Proverbs 12:4, note the same opening to the acrostic at the end of the book Proverbs 10:31). Among the proverbs in the second half is one that is of the abomination variety: ”Lying lips are an abomination to YHWH, but those who act faithfully are his delight” (Proverbs 12:22).
But note especially how each half of the chapter ends. ”From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good, and the work of a man’s hand comes back to him” (Proverbs 12:14). ”In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death” (Proverbs 12:28). This is a forever statement. These are synthetic proverbs, which are rare in this part of the book.
Note also that the relationship of Proverbs 11:31 to Proverbs 12:1 is the same as that of Proverbs 12:28 to Proverbs 13:1. However, Proverbs 11:31 is a negative synthetic proverb (in the form of ”how much more”) whereas Proverbs 12:28 is a positive synthetic proverb.
Proverbs 13:1, as we might expect, opens with a proverb fitting for an introduction to a new section: ”A wise son hears his father’s instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” Waltke observes that every word in Proverbs 13:1 except ”rebuke” reflects the vocab of the prologue to Proverbs.
This whole chapter is a unit. The theme of the unit is sounded in Proverbs 13:2, which forms an inclusio with the last verse of the chapter (Proverbs 13:25) concerning eating/appetite. Waltke sums up the message of the chapter this way: ”through morally good teaching and behavior one will eat what is materially good.” Note the two ways that the word ”good” is being used (morally good in Proverbs 13:2, and materially good in Proverbs 13:21).
Among the proverbs in this chapter is the second to last: ”Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him” (Proverbs 13:24).
The chapter ends this way: ”The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, but the belly of the wicked suffers want” (Proverbs 13:25).
Waltke explains that this is a fitting ending for the final subunit concerning ”final destiny.” The point is this verse has to do with forever. We have repeatedly seen that pattern among the proverbs of moving from now to forever.
Proverbs 14:1 apparently begins a new unit (cf. Proverbs 9:1 concerning a wise woman building her house). Thus it is our next rearing proverb.
This chapter is intricately organized with three subunits. The first one is Proverbs 14:1-7, the second is Proverbs 14:8-15, and the third subunit is Proverbs 14:15-32. The first two subunits are each structured as chiasms but each subunit is tied to the next with catchwords or janus verses. The theme of the proverbs in this chapter is walking in wisdom. The fear of YHWH is mentioned in the chapter.
Note Proverbs 14:11, ”The house of the wicked will be destroyed, but the tent of the upright will flourish.” Here is another example of paradox since the house offers less security than a tent. Waltke says this implies that the son needs to walk by faith and not by sight.
Note again how this unit ends on the note of forever in Proverbs 14:32: ”The wicked is overthrown through his evildoing, but the righteous finds refuge in his death.”
The next until then begins with the last three verses of Proverbs 14.
Proverbs 14:33-15:4 is this next unit as Waltke sees it. Proverbs 14:33 is a rearing proverb: ”Wisdom rests in the heart of a man of understanding, but it makes itself known even in the midst of fools.” The unit has to do with the king’s role as a rewarder of righteousness and punisher of wickedness.
Proverbs 15:5-19 is the next unit. It concerns the topic of education. As we would expect, this begins with a rearing proverb that even mentions the father. It has two subunits of seven verses. Proverbs 15:5 and 12 form an inclusio around the first. The second subunit is Proverbs 15:13-19.
Proverbs 15:20-29 is the last unit of the first part of Solomon I. The second part begins with Proverbs 15:30.
Recall that part one of Solomon I began, ”The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother” (Proverbs 10:1). Proverbs 15:20 says, ”A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish man despises his mother.” Thus the first and last units of this larger section are marked by inclusio.
This last unit consists of two subunits with Proverbs 15:24 serving as a janus between them. The first subunit concerns this education and the second subunit concerns YHWH’s work of twarting the wicked and supporting the righteous. Thus the second subunit makes sure that we understand YHWH’s role in the former.