Proverbs 21:13

Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard.
– Proverbs 21:13

This proverb is the alternative to Proverbs 19:17, which promises recompense to the generous. Wisdom teaches eye-for-eye justice will be given. The warning here is similar to the warning to those who refuse to hear God’s word (Proverbs 1:22-33). The word for poor means weak, or needy. It’s not just a lack of money, but a vulnerable helplessness. It may include lack of money or be a lack of connection due to low social standing, etc. One’s view and treatment of the poor is an important marker of wisdom (Proverbs 14:31; 17:5; 19:17). Oppressing the poor is wicked and shortsighted (Proverbs 22:16; 28:8, 27).

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Proverbs 21:12

The righteous man wisely considereth the house of the wicked: but God overthroweth the wicked for their wickedness.
– Proverbs 21:12

The wording of this proverb is difficult. I understand there is no change in subject between the first and second phrase in the Hebrew. The righteous one in the first phrase performs both actions—considereth and overthroweth. The most natural reading takes God, Yahweh, to be the righteous one. If so, this is the only place in Proverbs where the term is used of God. Does the meaning of the proverb justify this?

The word for considereth means to look at, or give attention to. The house of the wicked likely refers to the wicked’s prosperity. Wisdom points out the temporary prosperity of the wicked is unenviable (Proverbs 24:19-20). The word for overthroweth means ruin. The second phrase points to ultimate justice for the wicked, where their own wickedness destroys them (Proverbs 11:3-5; 13:6; 14:32). Proverbs is clear that God is the one who sees and judges the wicked (Proverbs 5:21; 15:3; 16:2). This meaning is clear in a similar proverb in Proverbs 22:12. The natural and consistent meaning takes the righteous one to be God who sees and metes out final justice.

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Proverbs 21:11

When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise: and when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge.
– Proverbs 21:11

Teachability is a mark of maturing and growing in wisdom (Proverbs 1:5; 9:9). The proverb contrasts the wise and the simple. The wise receives instruction and the simple has to see the scorner punished to wise up. Proverbs teaches us wisdom is imparted by instruction, correction, warning, and punishment. The wiser we are, the less time we will spend toward the punishment end of that scale.

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Proverbs 21:10

The soul of the wicked desireth evil: his neighbor findeth no favor in his eyes.
– Proverbs 21:10

Desire can be a wish, want, longing, hunger, ambition, and so on. The phrase soul desireth speaks of appetite. The picture is sinfulness, not in terms of a misstep or mistake, but rather a strong desire to do evil, or calamitous harm (Proverbs 3:29; 12:12). The word for favor means to bend, and so, pity or mercy. Wisdom properly infers it is better to avoid such a person bent on evil.

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Proverbs 21:9

It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.
– Proverbs 21:9

This proverb is one of the “better-than” statements in Proverbs. For instance, in various ways, Proverbs states it is better to be poor and wise than to be rich and foolish. The formula compares two conditions and declares one better and therefore preferable to those who have wisdom. It doesn’t exclude other possibilities. It’s better to be poor and wise than rich and foolish, but it does not follow that being both rich and wise is not better still. It does prevent the assumption so common among people—it’s better to be rich than poor no matter the other conditions that attend.

The phrase corner of the housetop likely refers to a small visitor’s quarters on the roof of the house. The word for wide means in society, or in company, and house is just that. The parallel means the roof is a lonely place of solitude and the house is a place of society. Generally speaking, loneliness is not a desirable or better condition. But loneliness is better and desirable when the society includes a brawling, or contentious, woman. The same sentiment is expressed in Proverbs 21:19, where living in the desert is better than a house with a contentious wife. We could add, it is also better to live with a leaking roof than a quarrelsome woman (Proverbs 19:13; 27:15-16). A selfish, mouthy, hyper-critical wife destroys a man’s peace, deprives him of love, and ruins whatever prosperity he has gained. So, it is better to be poor and live on low means with a good and prudent wife from the Lord than the alternative (Proverbs 15:17; 17:1; 19:14; 31:10-12). And, it works the same way around for the woman with an angry husband.

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Proverbs 21:8

The way of man is froward and strange: but as for the pure, his work is right.
– Proverbs 21:8

The word for froward means crooked, or perverse. The word for strange means guilty. The first phrase means the guilty man goes in a crooked way. The same idea is expressed of the evil man in Proverbs 2:15. The word for pure means clean, or righteous. The word for right means straight, or upright. The contrast is obvious. The guilty walk a crooked way while the innocent walk a straight path. The purpose of the proverb is to teach wisdom and discernment. Wisdom here teaches a tree is known by its fruits.

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Proverbs 21:7

The robbery of the wicked shall destroy them; because they refuse to do judgment.
– Proverbs 21:7

The word for robbery means violence, or destruction. It refers to the various schemes by which they oppress, extort, and steal from others (Proverbs 1:11-14). The word for judgment means a verdict, or sentence. It can be used in a legal sense to refer to the work of a judge or magistrate. We find just such a usage in Ecclesiastes 12:14. In a more general way, the word can refer to a person’s rights, i.e., property ownership, civil and criminal redress, due process of law, etc. By doing violence to a person, you are disregarding their rights and violating their just claims. The proverb means that those who do such violence and refuse justice will be destroyed. Wisdom teaches they shall be ensnared by their own ways (Proverbs 1:18-19; 10:6; 22:22-23).

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Proverbs 21:5

The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want.
– Proverbs 21:5

The word for thoughts means device, or plans. The plans of the diligent, or determined, are in view. It is contrasted with hasty in the second line, which means hurried. The word for plenteousness means gain, or profit. The word for want means lack, or poverty. Proverbs commends diligence and observes diligence being generally rewarded with gain (Proverbs 10:4; 13:4; 22:29; 27:23-27). From the different proverbs about diligence, we see the diligent make wise plans and work hard to execute those plans and generally make a gain.

By contrast, poverty is the gain of sluggards (Proverbs 10:4). This proverb does not mention the sluggard, but rather the hasty. Proverbs condemns haste as folly (Proverbs 14:29). Haste here contrasted with the plans of diligence suggests a haste to be rich, or the hatching of schemes for shortcuts to wealth. Wisdom condemns these schemes as having an evil eye (Proverbs 28:22). This proverb then contributes to the catalog of ways to poverty. Poverty can be reached through stingy greed (Proverbs 11:24), by talk without action (Proverbs 14:23), by gain through oppression (Proverbs 22:16), and here by haste (Proverbs 21:5).

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Proverbs 21:4

An high look, and a proud heart, and the plowing of the wicked, is sin.
– Proverbs 21:4

The text of this proverb is difficult. The Hebrew words for tillage and lamp are only differentiated by vowel points. We can see the similarity even in the transliteration of each: nir (tillage) and ner (lamp). The Septuagint has lampter (lamp, or lantern), and many translations have followed the Septuagint here and give plowing as an alternative reading. Knox, translating from the Latin Vulgate, rendered it as “hopes.” This takes “lamp” as a figure, not of the conscience, but of outlook, which is reasonable. Interestingly, plowing can also be a figure for hope, or outlook, and Paul used it this way in 1 Corinthians 9:10. If outlook fits and makes sense of the verse, then it isn’t nearly as difficult as it first appears. Though if I were smarter and more educated, I’m sure I could find more difficulty.

The high look and proud heart refer to arrogance that persists in its own way rather than receiving instruction in the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 6:17; 8:13; 30:13). The proverb is denouncing the thoughts of the wicked. They are high thoughts of self-conceit that dismiss and despise the wisdom of God (Psalm 10:4). This is why all the plans, or hopes, and actions of the wicked are tainted and sinful (Proverbs 21:27).

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