Proverbs 12:15

“The fool’s way is right in his own eyes, but the one who listens to advice is wise.”

Folly lacks perspective.  Young, inexperienced people err because they do not know there is any other way. The simple person just does not know.

Of course, my own way seems right to me.  If it didn’t seem right, I wouldn’t be going this way.  We do what to us is logical.  Our “way”—Alfred Adler called it “lifestyle”—is our unique creation, the “way that seems right,” that is, the style of living that seems to run straight to the goal I am pursuing.

It may seem right because we have not heard the differing perspectives, the alternate explanations, the competing theories and the critical observations of other people.  But that is not the only reason.  A fool will not listen to advice.  Someone may tell him, but he stays in his foolish way or, if he repents from his folly, he returns to the wrong way.

The fool does not want to hear the criticisms, rebukes and admonitions of others.  At its extreme it is called narcissism:  a self-protective disorder that we wrap around ourselves because our self-image is so fragile, delicate and afraid that we can’t stand for anyone to contradict us.  This “way” seems right.  It insulates us; but it also isolates us from intimacy with others and we live in our castle, protected from the reality around us.  If we are well-off enough, we can hold out in our castle/prison for a long time.  And some live there lifelong.

The person who listens to advice is not wise because he knows everything.  This is not the idea.  That is the lie the narcissist tells himself:  “I know everything I need to know.”  The wise person knows he doesn’t.  But he has two character qualities: courage and humility.  He has the “courage to be imperfect.”  He is not afraid to try things and make mistakes or to do a task imperfectly at first.  He is humble enough to accept the criticism and correction of others who may be further along the trail than he.

This is the principle behind internships: a student with sufficient academic knowledge in a field begins to practice under the supervision of a senior person.  They do well enough not to cause harm, but they are not yet skilled enough to practice on their own.  For that they need coaching, criticism and correction.

A wise person has enough confidence to try, but also the courage to accept criticism, make corrections and keep going.  A fool does not.  It is the difference between a hard heart and a soft heart.

Behind the world-view of the wise is the One who runs it: the Lord.  And the wise person believes that God encourages us to try, lovingly corrects us and then re-encourages us to get back in the game and try again.

Don’t be afraid to try; but don’t be afraid to be criticized, either.

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Proverbs 12:14

“From the fruit of his mouth a man is satisfied with good and the reward of a man’s hands will return to him.”

“What goes around comes around” is true about good things as well as bad things. This proverb praises giving.  Things we say and do have a way of coming back to us.  Good actions have good consequences.

Words “grow” out of our mouth as the “fruit” of an imagination, desire or need to say something.  It might be in a poem, song, prayer, a blessing, an order, advice or encouragement. The fruit of the mouth, Delitzsch says, is fruit “of wholesome doctrine, of right guidance, of comforting exhortation, of peace-bringing consolation for others.”  They return the fruit of satisfaction, especially when a person intends them for the benefit of someone else.  They do not always come back from the person blessed; this is not a business deal.  But God watches over people’s affairs and he makes sure that good comes back to the person who says good things for others.

There is no negative parallel to line one.  Line two repeats it with a shift from the mouth to the hands.  This suggests that we don’t have to do things in response to bad things, to try to “balance out” justice.  We can be kind without trying to calculate, predict or manipulate the results.  “Random acts of senseless kindness” bear fruit.

A righteous person is likely to do what he says.  And so when he talks about good things, he backs up his words with actions, because this is the intention of his heart: pleasing God and helping people. Deeds, too, not just words, return as a reward for the person who does good deeds for others.

When the fruit of your life is to benefit others and bless God, it comes back full circle to you.  So people say, “You can’t out-give God.”  People who are generous to God and give the 1/10 find that they are no poorer than they were; God not only replaces their wealth, but he gives them contentment, which does not depend on how much is stored up in your accounts.  And he gives confidence to live in an uncertain world.  And those who go beyond what they “should” give find joy and happiness in blessing the lives of others, without focusing on their own troubles.  These are just some of the “fruits.”

But Waltke notes that the return is more than a good feeling.  Because a person knows this law, when he or she does good to others, it could be out of self-interest, because he knows that he will win in the long run.  Helping other people is actually an investment that bears fruit down the line.  So, even if people cheat you and steal from you, God’s reward will far outweigh what little the thief steals.

Some say this is karma, the impersonal law of justice and balance.  I say it is God supervising all his creation, especially the moral choices we make.

Give! Enjoy!  Do not calculate the return on investment. God will reward.

Proverbs 12:13

“The transgression of his lips is a trap of the wicked, but the righteous gets out of trouble.”

This is not to say the “righteous” never says anything stupid, mean or vicious.  Believers can say many foolish things.  And we do.  But if the general tone of our lives is a concern for righteousness, the Lord is willing to overlook a lot of stupidity on our part and to pull us out of the trouble we get ourselves into.

The wicked person does not have that leeway.  His own lips trap him, because “out of the mouth the heart speaks.”  And the heart of a wicked person is wicked because they person has no regard for God or his law.  That is why the wicked person is bold enough to transgress with his lips: to say things he should not say.

Waltke (p. 530) suggests that the sinful speech is a trap set for the innocent.  But, ironically, the wicked is caught by his own trap.  Elsewhere it says that the person who digs a pit for others to fall into falls into it himself.  It happens because moral laws in the universe dictate that it is only just that a person should himself get caught by the trap he has devised to trap others.  It happens that way because God is moral and he appoints just ends for people.

Proverbs 12:12

“The wicked one craves the net of evil ones; but the root of the righteous gives.”

The word I have translated “net” is a weapon or instrument a person uses in hunting.  It looks like I am alone in translating the word “net.”  Others call it “stronghold” (NIV), “spoil” (ESV), “booty” (NASB; but the footnote says, “literally: net”).  The word is associated with hunting.  You use a net to catch game.

A wicked person craves a way to take things from other people.  He is not farming; he’s hunting.  He sees a wicked person taking from someone and he says, “That’s for me!  How can I get his weapon so I can use it to take from other people?”  And he’s likely to steal it from that guy!  Thieves steal from one another as readily as they do from anybody else.

The 10th Commandment uses the same word for “crave.”  “You shall not crave…anything of your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17).  But a wicked person does crave and does envy.  He envies the wealth of others.  Anything that anyone else has is better than what he has.  He envies even more the person who has a means (a net) for taking from still others.  He envies the clever thief, the stealthy burglar, the smooth liar.  He longs to have the means of stealing.

Which direction are things supposed to flow: from me or to me?  The difference between the wicked person and the righteous person is that one of them tries to take from other people, and the other one gives.  The wicked person thinks they should flow to him.  For a righteous person, the flow of goods, services and blessings is in the other direction:  from him to others instead of to him from others.  He does not have to leech onto other people and steal their stuff.  Simply put, a righteous person is a generous person because he has all he needs and more.

The thief may steal from him, but the righteous person simply produces more, enough for himself (for his desires are modest) and for others.  He has a “root” that supplies the nutrition to produce more.  His “store” is without limit.  That store is God.

One wise person said the wealthiest person is the person who needs the least.  Need tempts us to excuse all kinds of sins, it makes us worry and it steals our joy.  That sense of need turns to envy.

On the other hand, if you believe all your needs are met, like the sheep in Psalm 23:1, then you will not be anxious about anything: “I shall not want.”

The believer is calm, peaceful and content.  He or she does not need to find ways to take from other people what they have, because what he or she has is so much more.  Instead, out of love for others, he or she wants to share the wealth with others.

What direction do good things flow in your life?

Proverbs 12:11

“A servant of his land will be satisfied with bread, but a pursuer of vanities is hard of heart.”

It’s about where you direct your energy.  We all chase something, to be better than we are.  We want a nicer car, a better home or to be faster and stronger.  Almost everybody thinks they need to lose weight.  So we are motivated.

But just being motivated is not enough.  You have to choose the right thing to be motivated about.

“Worker” is also the Hebrew word for “slave.”  The person who works hard at his task is a “servant of his land:” he acts as if the land were his master, dictating to him what he must do from day to day: I must pick the stones, I must pull the weeds.  That is because the laws of agriculture dictate what must be done in order to have a crop.  A business-owner will sometimes say, “The business owns you.”  Of course, you are free to violate the rules; but you will not get a crop or you will get a poor one.

But that is how a person provides for himself.  He earns his bread by working for bread, not by chasing foolish schemes.  Not only does he earn his own living, but he does it by contributing to the lives of others, too.  In an economy like ours, we can’t even survive without doing something for someone else.

The foolish “hard hearted” (we in America might say he was “hard headed”) chases trifles, get-rich-quick schemes, empty promises made by people without character, silly activities that do not add to the lives of others.  These “empty things” Waltke says (p.528) are  “…gambles that do not involve hard work and/or contribute to the common wealth…”

Here is the ironic thing.  One is a “slave” who ends up a “master” through “obeying” the rules of agriculture.  The other is free, but he “has no sense” which is Waltke’s translation of the “hard of heart.”  The point is that he is insensitive, and I suppose that is why he chases gambling and other frivolities.  And, of course, because he has no sense, he ends up as a failure.

This happens because (Waltke) “the LORD stands silently behind the creation order that demands honest work, not hasty wealth.”  God wrote the rules of life into the creation order.  As Paul said, “if a man will not work, he should not eat.”

Many of these rules are “caught” more than taught.  A baby taking their first steps learns about gravity the hard way.  And, like the law of gravity, you don’t break it as much as it breaks you.

Hard, honest work is honorable because God honors it.

Proverbs 12:10

“A wise man knows the soul of his beast, but the compassion of the wicked is cruel.”

Animals are helpful to humans (see Genesis 2:18-19).  Service animals provide companionship for people with mental, emotional and physical disorders.  Animals help people who do not do well with other people; they help them get along with the rest of us.  Animals are a normal part of many families.

But having been raised on a farm where dogs and cats ran freely, I am not a fan of animals in cities.  Animals need room to play, and they cannot obey the rules of living close to too many humans.  And lots of humans do not understand animals.  The “soul of his beast” means the animal’s nature.  Don’t treat a dog like a cat.  Dogs, for example, are bred for many purposes; and often people select a breed that does not match their situation.  For example, they will have a large dog on a small property.  Some people do not master the beast.  They do not know that an aggressive dog will take over the relationship if the master fails to lead.  Like with children, you have to be the adult in the relationship or it will go badly.

Ancient Israel was an agricultural society, and everybody had animals.  The animals were an indicator as to what kind of people they were.  A wise person even has regard for the needs and purposes of his animal.  He is sensitive even to the personalities, needs and capabilities of his animals.  He cares for his animals and employs them with regard to God’s design.  He will be like that with people, too.

The next line goes to the opposite extreme: even the compassion of the wicked is hard.  They think that compassion is not beating their animal.  They will treat children, spouses, employees and store clerks the same way.

One of righteousness’s major characteristics is empathy:  understanding the nature of animals and humans, God’s design for them and helping them live out God’s design.  It is also feeling the condition of another creature: happy when they are well, sad when they are hurting.

The proverb speaks of the “wicked” as a group, while the “righteous” is an individual.  Cruelty often runs in packs while compassion often lives in one person.   Even in charitable organizations there is opportunity for petty cruelty:  stand in line, take a number or hurry up and wait.  Compassion is best delivered one-on-one.

The righteous person understands that even an animal is a living creature made by God and he respects that part of the nature of his animal.  He realizes that even individual animals of the same breed have different needs.

If a person treats his dog well, you can expect him to treat you well, too.  If you want to be kind to people, practice on your pet.

Proverbs 12:9

“Better to be disrespected and to have a servant than to honor oneself and lack bread.”

Humility is valuable…no really, in terms of money.

Having a servant, that is being able to maintain someone to help you, is a great asset.  That person can do things you cannot do, like hold up the other end of the log you are trying to lift, or staying awake while you take a nap.  It is worth it to have a servant like that even if you get the occasional insult, or someone (maybe the servant) makes a joke about you.  If you’re too easily-insulted, too proud, you won’t keep such a person, even though he may be telling the unflattering truth about you.  But being able to allow yourself to be disrespected a little can be worth a lot.

Pride, on the other hand, can be expensive.  I say this carefully: some (by no means all) people have immediate needs for food, shelter or warmth due to their pride.  There is a place they could go to get warm, get fed and sleep; but they don’t want to go there.  Sometimes it is because of abuse; but sometimes it is because there are rules there (like no drugs, no alcohol, clean your room, no evil friends) which they do not want to obey.  They prefer life on the street with its uncertainties, danger and discomfort to living by somebody else’s rules.  It is amazing what we will endure to protect our fragile “self esteem.”  A little less drastic example is the person who has “leveraged” all to have the newest and most expensive toys at the expense of ruining his credit.  One of the saddest sights I have seen is a beautiful house in a nice neighborhood that does not have any furniture inside because the family has exhausted their credit to buy it.  All their luxury is on the outside of their house.  Maybe it’s because of a miscalculation.  But maybe they just bought into a neighborhood that is too expensive for them because of the pride that so easily blinds us to reality.

Pride blinds us and turns our values upside down.  Instead of necessities like food, warmth and a place to sleep, pride tempts us to focus on things that don’t matter: thinking I am a “good person,” feeling good (that is the danger of drugs and alcohol), not being criticized.  You have to live with degrading comments.   when the only job you can get is a menial one with a supervisor less qualified than you bossing you around.  “I don’t need this job!” you say, when actually, you do.  You really are poor.  But you don’t want to believe it.

If you can tolerate living without the honor you think you deserve, you can live well.  Pride, however, is going to cost you.

There is a spiritual lesson here.  What I deserve is eternal punishment.  Whatever God wants to give me above that is a gift for which I should be grateful.

…“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:5–7 (ESV)