Proverbs 14:1-35

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A wise woman (literally, “wisdom of women”) “builds her house, and a senseless one tears it down with her hands.” Women in possession of wisdom use their knowledge effectively in caring well for their respective families. In this context, the building of a house would include responsibly looking after children and managing household affairs and resources properly. Through mismanagement and neglect, a senseless woman, as if by her own hands or all on her own, tears down her house, squandering the resources of her household and destroying the well-being of her family. (14:1; see the Notes section.)

The attitude of individuals toward YHWH is evident from their conduct. One who “fears YHWH,” having a reverential regard for him and a wholesome fear of acting contrary to his will, demonstrates this by walking uprightly or maintaining praiseworthy conduct. A man whose conduct is “twisted” or corrupt identifies himself as one who has contempt for YHWH. According to the Septuagint, the one who is “crooked in his ways,” living a lawless life, “will be disgraced” or will come to be exposed to shame on account of his conduct. (14:2)

“In a fool’s mouth” [is] a “rod of arrogance,” and the “lips of wise persons will guard” or protect “them.” A foolish man deliberately acts in a dishonest and deceitful manner. The expressions that come from his mouth are spoken in a prideful manner and can be as injurious as a rod. Persons who are harmed by a senseless man may be objects of his slander, fraud, deceit, or ridicule. Those who are wise know how to respond to the demeaning or deceitful expressions of senseless ones. They know what or what not to say and thus their lips shield them from the hurtful effect that the words of corrupt persons could have. (14:3)

Where there are no bovines, “the crib [is] clean.” No fodder is needed to feed the animals, and the crib would of necessity be empty. Without bovines, the stall would also remain clean. The “power of the bovine,” when available for use in plowing and other agricultural operations, contributes to abundant crops. According to the Septuagint, abundant produce makes evident the “power of a bovine.” (14:4)

A “trustworthy witness” does not lie, and a “false witness breathes out [kindles (LXX)] lies.” Falsehood and deception simply would not come out of the mouth of a faithful witness, but a false witness would be the source of nothing truthful. (14:5)

A scoffer, or one who ridicules what is noble, right, or sensible, would never be able to attain wisdom, the capacity to use knowledge for worthy ends. Any seeking of wisdom on his part would be in vain, for a scorner does not have the right spirit for it. For the discerning or understanding person, one who has the right disposition toward wisdom, knowledge comes easily. This knowledge would particularly be the knowledge needed for dealing with life’s problems and living uprightly. (14:6; see the Notes section.)

From a foolish man (literally, a “man of folly”), one does not come to know “lips of knowledge.” No wise expressions ever pass the lips of a senseless man. Nothing he says is substantive and beneficial. The imperative about what one should do regarding a fool has been variously translated. “Keep well clear of the fool.” (NJB) “Leave the presence of a fool.” (NRSV) “To avoid the foolish man, take steps!” (NAB) (14:7; see the Notes section.)

The “wisdom of a prudent man” makes it possible for him to consider his way. He can evaluate his options and give thought to where his course will lead him or whether it can enable him to reach his goal. The folly of foolish ones, individuals who refuse to conduct themselves uprightly, is “deceit.” They delude themselves, follow a wayward course, do not recognize the need to change their conduct, and try to deceive others, giving no thought to the adverse consequences to which deceit and self-deceit can lead. (14:8)

The Hebrew text is not clear about the relationship of the adjective for “foolish” and the verb for “scorn” or “ridicule” to “guilt.” Therefore, translators vary significantly in their renderings. “Fools mock at making amends for sin.” (NIV) “Fools mock at the guilt offering.” (NRSV) Fools are too arrogant to make amends.” (REB) “Fools don’t care if they are wrong.” (CEV) “Reparations mediate between fools.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Guilt lodges in the tents of the arrogant.” (NAB) As for upright persons, there is “favor.” Also in this case, translations vary in their renderings to convey a more specific meaning than is reflected in the Hebrew text. “But favour resides among the honest.” (NJB) “But goodwill is found among the upright.” (NIV) “The upright know what reconciliation requires.” (REB) “But favor [lodges] in the house of the just.” (NAB) “But God is pleased when people do right.” (CEV) “Between the upright, good will [mediates].” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) The Septuagint rendering departs significantly from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. The “houses of lawless ones [or transgressors] will require cleansing, but houses of righteous ones [are] acceptable.” By their corrupt conduct, lawbreakers defiled their houses, requiring ceremonial cleansing for the dwellings to be regarded as clean. Righteous persons lived upright lives, and lawlessness did not pollute their homes. Their houses were “acceptable,” apparently to God. (14:9)

The “heart knows its bitterness [literally, bitterness of one’s soul or bitterness of one’s own self].” Only the individual who is affected knows within himself just how he feels. Observers cannot comprehend how the person is mentally, physically, and emotionally impacted by embittering experiences, difficulties, or affliction. Likewise no one can fully enter into his joy. Bitterness, sadness, and happiness are the individual’s unique feelings that others cannot completely understand, and his expressions cannot enable them to grasp just how he feels in his embittered or in his happy state. According to the Septuagint, the “heart of a man [is] sensitive.” He, in his thoughts or inmost self, is sensitive about the things that affect him personally. “His soul,” or he himself, is “grieved” or “pained.” “But when he rejoices, he does not mingle with arrogance.” (14:10)

Although the “house of wicked ones” (“houses of impious” or “ungodly ones” [LXX]) may appear like a well-built permanent structure, it “will be destroyed.” Those who are ungodly in their conduct will not be in a secure position and, therefore, their houses or whatever else they may own will not endure. The “tent of righteous ones,” although not a permanent structure, “will prosper.” In view of their upright conduct, righteous individuals will not come to their end at the time judgment is rendered against lawless ones. They will continue to live in a state of well-being. Therefore, their “tent” or dwelling will remain in a flourishing occupied state. (14:11)

“Before the face of a man” (“by men” [LXX]) or in his sight, a “way” seems “straight” or right. It appears to be a course of life heading in the proper direction. The human judgment, however, is seriously flawed. In the end, the way that seemed right proves to be the “ways of death.” According to the Septuagint rendering, the “terminations” of this way go to the “bottom of Hades” or to the realm of the dead. (14:12)

Outward appearances may not reflect the true inner self. Even in “laughter,” the “heart” or inner self may be in pain or deeply grieved. Mirth may end in sadness, revealing the actual inner state. (14:13; see the Notes section.)

One who is “backsliding in heart [a bold-hearted, hard-hearted, or callous person (LXX)],” or one who is unfaithful in his inner self, “will be sated with his ways.” He will experience the dire consequences from having chosen wayward courses in his life. A “good man” (one whose conduct is upright and who responds compassionately to persons in need) will be sated “from himself [literally, from upon him].” He will be satisfied from the good results of the life he has lived. The Septuagint rendering indicates that the good man will be filled “with his thoughts” or “insights,” suggesting that the right thinking which prompted appropriate and compassionate deeds will lead to his being satisfied. (14:14)

Simpletons or persons lacking experience in life are often gullible, believing “every word” and ending up being misled. They fail to evaluate what is said and to think about the possible outcome from acting on what they may be invited or urged to do. A prudent individual, however, considers his “going,” giving careful thought to the course he is following and where he is heading. According to the Septuagint rendering, a “prudent man comes to a change of mind,” doing so when he recognizes the need to alter his course. (14:15)

One who is wise “fears,” or exercises caution and has a reverential regard for God, “and turns away from badness,” continuing to live uprightly and avoiding senseless conflicts and quarrels. The foolish person, one who deliberately chooses a wayward course, becomes “enraged,” or exercises no restraint in what he says or does, and “is confident,” considering himself to be right and being determined not to change his corrupt ways. According to the Septuagint, the senseless one “trusts in himself and mingles” or associates “with a lawless person.” (14:16)

A man who is quickly infuriated “will act foolishly [acts with recklessness (LXX)].” By failing to think carefully and responding rashly in a given circumstance, the individual is bound to worsen the situation and make trouble for himself and others. (14:17)

The Hebrew expression that may be translated literally as “man of devices” is commonly considered to designate a schemer. He plans or plots to benefit himself without giving any consideration to the hurtful effects on others. Therefore, he incurs hatred. According to the rendering of the Septuagint, a “sensible man endures much.” There is also a possibility that, in this case, the Hebrew expression that may be rendered “man of devices” designates a “man of discretion” who comes to be hated by those who disagree with him or who do not appreciate or value his insight. (14:17)

“Simpletons,” or persons lacking in experience, can easily be misled, adopting a corrupt way of life. They thus end up inheriting folly. Senselessness becomes their possession and leads them astray. The Septuagint rendering could be understood to indicate that senseless ones become partakers of evil or that they end up as sharers of misfortune. “Prudent ones,” however, “are crowned with knowledge.” This knowledge is evident from their wise words and actions, resulting in honor to them as if they were wearing an impressive crown or headdress. The Septuagint indicates that prudent individuals “will take hold of perception,” making it their possession and adhering to it in conducting the affairs of life. (14:18)

Practicers of evil or wickedness can never really be secure in their position. The time can come when they are exposed as corrupt persons during a judicial investigation and they may find themselves in a subservient position after losing all their ill-gotten riches. “Evil ones will bow down [will fall, slip, or stumble [LXX]) before good people,” possibly as suppliants for favor or as defeated or humiliated persons, and “wicked ones” will bow down “at the gates of a righteous one,” perhaps doing so as individuals against whom the elders of the city expressed a condemnatory judgment. According to the Septuagint “impious” or “ungodly ones” “will serve at the gates of righteous ones” or will be at the gates as individuals to be called upon to render lowly service. (14:19)

A poor person has no resources to share and lacks power and influence. As someone who is regarded as a nobody from whom no benefit can be derived, he may be hated or not deemed deserving of friendship. Another reason for the dislike could be that the poor repeatedly beg for favors. The Septuagint says that “friends will hate poor friends.” A rich man, however, has many “friends,” many individuals who consider him as having the potential to advance their interests or who may like him because he is generous in giving. (14:20)

Whether poor or rich, all persons are members of one human family that, as God’s creation, belongs to him. Accordingly, one who arrogantly despises or dishonors his associate, fellow, or neighbor is guilty of sinning. But the person who responds compassionately to the needy, coming to their aid, is happy. He has the joy and satisfaction that comes from bringing relief to an afflicted member of God’s creation. (14:21)

Individuals who scheme to do bad will go astray, choosing a course that departs from a life of moral rectitude. The Septuagint indicates that those who wander or stray from the right course plot evil. Persons who devise good, however, do not deviate from living an upright life. Their conduct is distinguished by kindness (a compassionate concern for others and a response in harmony with that concern) and faithfulness or trustworthiness. According to the Septuagint, good people, those who live uprightly and respond kindly to needy ones, devise “mercy and truth [not deception].” The Septuagint adds additional text. “Those producing evils [or miseries] do not know mercy and truth.” Their not knowing is a matter of choice. In word and deed, they are deliberately merciless and deceptive. Persons who produce “good,” however, are merciful and trustworthy. (14:22)

“All toil” or honest labor produces tangible results and, therefore, is beneficial. A “word of the lips” or mere talk without performance accomplishes nothing and so only leads to “want” for persons who do not work. (14:23; see the Notes section.)

For the “wise,” wealth, or the things they obtain from applying wisdom in their endeavors, constitute their “crown,” or the evidence of their honorable standing in the community. The “folly of senseless ones” is “folly.” Foolishness in word and deed identifies them for what they are — senseless individuals. (14:24; see the Notes section.)

A “witness of truth,” or one whose testimony is truthful, delivers “souls” or saves lives, for truthful testimony disproves the falsehoods that could jeopardize the life of innocent people. According to the Septuagint, a “faithful witness will deliver a soul [or life] from evils,” miseries, or “evil ones.” “Deceit,” or the person who is deceptive, utters (“kindles” [LXX]) lies, the implication being that great harm is done. (14:25)

“In the fear of YHWH,” or in a reverential regard for him and a wholesome dread of acting contrary to his will, there is “strong confidence.” The person who has such fear trusts YHWH as the God who will sustain and help him in time of need or distress. To him, YHWH is like a fortress where he can enjoy a place of security. Also his “sons” or children will come to have a “refuge.” According to the Septuagint, there is “hope” for “strength” (or for divinely granted strength) “in the fear of the Lord,” and “he leaves a support to his children” or his devoted people. (14:26)

The “fear of YHWH” (an “ordinance” or “command of the Lord” [LXX]) is a “fountain of life,” aiding one to avoid the “snares of death.” One who has reverential regard for YHWH will earnestly seek to do his will and shun practices that could prove to be ruinous to him or lead to a premature loss of life. (14:27)

If a king has a “multitude of people” or many subjects, this is a “glory” to him, for it indicates that he has been able to maintain security in his realm. When, however, the population comes to be greatly reduced, this is ruinous for a ruler. The realm would then be in a state of decline and could not be successfully defended against aggressors. (14:28)

A man who is “slow to anger,” exercising restraint, reveals himself to have great understanding or discernment. He will give prior thought to what he says or to the action that he takes, avoiding the problems that arise when tempers flare. The individual who is “short of spirit,” or who becomes quickly enraged or impatient “exalts foolishness,” for his words and actions give rise to conflict or worsen troublesome situations. By yielding to an inclination that is injurious, the individual elevates senselessness as a choice to be made in a given circumstance. (14:29; see the Notes section.)

A “heart of healing” (a sound heart or a tranquil heart) is the “life of the flesh” or the body. In many contexts, the Hebrew noun for “heart” denotes the mental faculty or the inner self. Numerous modern translations render the Hebrew word as “mind” in this verse. There is a possibility, however, that the reference is to the “heart,” for it can be adversely affected by stress, giving rise to health problems. Moreover, the organ must function properly for life to continue. The Septuagint says that a man of gentle disposition is a “healer of the heart.” As a negative emotion, “jealousy” or “envy” is “rottenness to the bones” or to the entire frame or organism. Jealousy or envy is like decay that impacts the entire body, giving rise to the emotional stress that can be ruinous to a person’s physical well-being. The Septuagint expresses a different thought. It refers to a “sensitive heart” (possibly meaning a mind or inner self burdened with cares and anxieties) as being a “moth” (a destructive agent in the caterpillar stage) in the “bones.” (14:30)

God is not partial, and every living thing is his creation. The poor or lowly are part of the human family that owes its existence to the Most High. Therefore, the person who oppresses the poor or lowly is guilty of reproaching, insulting, or “provoking” (LXX) God, his Maker. On the other hand, the individual who is kind or who responds compassionately to the needy one is the one who honors God the Creator. (14:31)

On account of his “evil” or his corrupt way of life, the wicked one (“impious” or “ungodly one” [LXX]) will be thrust away, overthrown, or brought to his end. The righteous or upright person “finds refuge in his death.” This could mean that the person who maintains praiseworthy conduct has the hope of living again. In his case, death is not a terrifying prospect, for at his death he is secure in his hope just like a person who has found a refuge. Numerous translations, however, do not include the word “death” but render the Hebrew text according to an emendation. “The upright find refuge in their honesty.” (REB) “The righteous find a refuge in their integrity.” (NRSV) The Septuagint indicates that a righteous person would have trust or confidence in his own “holiness” or in the purity of his life. (14:32)

“Wisdom rests” or has a dwelling place in the “heart” (“good heart” [LXX]) of a man of “understanding.” A sensible and discerning man is in possession of wisdom. It is part of his inner self and guides his thinking and reasoning. Wisdom becomes known “in the midst of fools.” This could mean that, among individuals who choose to live senseless or corrupt lives, the great contrast between a discerning man and fools would come to be known or become readily apparent. His upright conduct would rebuke senseless persons and expose them as not having any wisdom. According to the Septuagint, one would not recognize wisdom “in the heart of senseless ones,” for it would not be there. (14:33)

“Righteousness” or justice, not wealth or military power, exalts a nation in the estimation of observers. Also where justice exists, the populace enjoys security and prospers. “Sin” or lawlessness, however, “diminishes [chésed (Masoretic Text)] peoples” of any nation. (14:34; see the Notes section.)

A wise servant will be concerned about advancing the interests of the king or ruler and, therefore, will have his approval. The king’s fury, however, will be directed against a servant who brings shame, acting in a way that undermines royal interests. A primary objective of this proverb may well have been to admonish persons in royal service to discharge their duties conscientiously and wisely. (14:35; see the Notes section.)


In verse 1, the Septuagint rendering basically corresponds to the reading of the Hebrew text. “Wise women built houses, but the senseless one tore it down with her hands.”

The Septuagint rendering of verse 6 differs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. “You will seek wisdom alongside evil persons and not find [it], but perception is easy [to obtain] among prudent ones.”

In verse 7, the Septuagint rendering differs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. “Everything is adverse to a senseless man, but wise lips are weapons of perception.” This could mean that everything that is noble and good is in opposition to the foolish man, one who chooses to live lawlessly. Another possibility is that a senseless man would find the right and just things repulsive. In the case of lips that expressed wisdom, the words passing them would function as weapons to protect the individual from the traps of senselessness.

In verse 13, the Septuagint rendering differs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. There is no mention of the “heart.” “With merriments, pain” or sorrow “does not mingle, but joy, in the end, comes to grief” (or joy ends in sadness).

According to the Septuagint rendering of verse 23, everyone having concern or exercising care would have abundance, but the pleasure-seeking and senseless, unfeeling, or ruthless one would suffer want.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 24 indicates that the prudent one is a “crown of wise persons” but that the business of senseless ones is evil.

In verse 29, the Septuagint refers to a disheartened man as being “mightily foolish.”

The usual sense of the Hebrew word chésed includes such meanings as “kindness,” “goodness,” “loyalty,” and “compassion.” In the context of verse 34, however, these meanings for chésed do not fit. In a Dead Sea Scroll (4QProvb), the partially preserved Hebrew verb for “diminishes” appears, and this is also the rendering of the Septuagint (“but sins diminish tribes” or weaken them.)

In the Septuagint, the concluding phrase of verse 35 differs significantly from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. A servant, “by his good conduct,” removes dishonor. This could mean that, through his exemplary conduct, he raises himself from a lowly position to an honorable one.