So now we come to it, Solomon’s guidebook for living, an “owner’s manual” for life that compares and contrasts wisdom with foolishness, virtue with vice. In the next several posts on Proverbs, I will treat The Wise Sayings of Solomon as if they are a foreign language to be decoded, explained, translated into plain English. These two-line Haiku style poems, found in chapters 10 through 22:16, and continuing in chapters 27 to 29, represent the wisdom of the ages, condensed and codified, divided into 16 parts (and for my purposes, 32, so as to keep any one posting from hitting the realm of a doctoral thesis!), and showing us how to lead a good life before the eyes of God.
Solomon’s Wise Sayings begin with a simple, yet profound observation;
1A wise son brings joy to his father,
but a foolish son brings grief to his mother.
If you make good choices in life, it’s your dad who is the proudest of you, but it’s a mother who feels it most, whose heart is broken when a child turns out wrong. Dads are more apt to cut their losses and distance themselves from a hurtful situation, but moms suffer for it. They’re the ones who hold out hope, even when all hope seems lost, that some good would come from a difficult situation. That’s why it’s such a joy when a prodigal child to return home, such a blessing when one realizes the error of one’s ways.
2 Ill-gotten treasures have no lasting value,
but righteousness delivers from death.
The things that we hold most dear are those that we have to toil to achieve. If we don’t have to work for something, we have no concept of its worth, its true value. If we are dishonest, take short cuts or take advantage of others to get what we want, it usually doesn’t turn out very well.
3 The Lord does not let the righteous go hungry,
but he thwarts the craving of the wicked.
God takes care of those who follow his way, his instruction, yet he also frustrates the desires of the nefarious. He takes care of his own. Luke 12:24 tells us “consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!”
4 Lazy hands make for poverty,
but diligent hands bring wealth.
We are keepers of our families, our homes, our communities, and productivity is the better part of good stewardship. There are things in life that simply need to be done, and when we neglect them, whether it’s our health, our finances, or our spirituality, we find ourselves in situations that can bring us to ruin.
5 He who gathers crops in summer is a prudent son,
but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.
In Ecclesiastes 3:1-22 we are told that to all things there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. Wisdom teaches us the practicality of taking action at the appropriate time, of “making hay while the sun is shining,” but if we are heedless or neglectful of our duties we dishonor ourselves.
6 Blessings crown the head of the righteous,
but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.
When we are honest and decent, living our lives respectably, and treating people with honor, the blessings we bestow upon others returns to us manifold. But, if we let our mouths over load our backsides, disrespecting and demeaning others, causing them pain and anguish, then we can expect to reap vehemence and cruelty.
7 The name of the righteous is used in blessings,
but the name of the wicked will rot.
We remember and honor virtuous folks, and we use them as examples to follow, to pattern ourselves after. But the wicked are reviled, detested and condemned, and they are irrevocably linked to corruption and perversion.
8 The wise in heart accept commands,
but a chattering fool comes to ruin.
The idea of attaining wisdom is connected to the notion of learning from our own or others’ mistakes, listening for and accepting instructions, taking responsibility for our actions and moving forward. But the foolish never listen, take responsibility, or accept directions. They blabber on, smugly believing they know it all, and their arrogance is their down fall.
9 Whoever walks in integrity walks securely,
but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.
If we take the high road, walking in truthfulness and decency, our road is protected, and we can feel confident in our dealings with others. But, if we are deceitful, telling half-truths and twisting the facts, it is our scheming that eventually exposes our falseness and dishonesty.
10 Whoever winks maliciously causes grief,
and a chattering fool comes to ruin.
When we are unkind, making fun and talking behind other’s backs; the consequences are pain and suffering for ourselves and others. When we chatter on without regard to what we are saying, we are the one who ends up with egg on our face, who is disgraced.
11 The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
When we speak honestly, have decency and are respectful of others, we become a source for understanding and inspiration to them, but the malicious and contemptuous, disguise their true intent with their words.
12 Hatred stirs up conflict,
but love covers over all wrongs.
Animosity always precedes conflict, and discord begets more hatred, but love, love is the answer. It erases all wrongs and understanding is its progeny.
13 Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning,
but a rod is for the back of one who has no sense.
You can think whatever you want to, but it’s not very wise to say everything you think; discernment is the key to getting along with others, and those who show no sense inevitably suffer for their lack of judgment.
14 The wise store up knowledge,
but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.
To become wise, we must adopt the habit of listening. It’s through our ears that our knowledge builds upon itself, like a house is built from the foundation up, but those who are foolish attract ruin, because they are incessantly bragging of all they know, rather than listening.
15 The wealth of the rich is their fortified city,
but poverty is the ruin of the poor.
When we appreciate the blessings in our lives, we recognize God’s abundance, and our blessings become our fortification, but if we are never satisfied, and see only the thing we do not have, then our attitude of ingratitude becomes our ruin.
16 The wages of the righteous is life,
but the earnings of the wicked are sin and death.
When we live in an honest and virtuous manner, what we gain is character, spirit, life, but if we are corrupted, dishonest and malicious, then we are as zombies, we are dead inside.
And so ends my translation of The Handbook, Part I. ~ SLM