Proverbs 21:16

The man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.
– Proverbs 21:16

Wisdom takes the long view and is concerned with outcomes throughout Proverbs. The word for way mean road, or path. It is a metaphor for the course of one’s life. Just as roads lead somewhere, the way we go in this life has a somewhere we will come to. The word for understanding means prudence, and to wander is go astray from the way of wisdom, or prudence. The way of understanding is a way that leads to life (Proverbs 6:23; 15:24; 14:32). Despite diverse appearances, all other ways lead to death (Proverbs 5:32; 11:7). The fatherly addresses warn of the path to death with the strange woman (Proverbs 2:18-19; 7:26-27; 9:18). The word for remain means rest, not in the sense of refreshing but rather in the sense of dwelling. This is the destination of the way that departs from wisdom. The word for dead means shades and refers to the realm of the dead. So going in the way of wisdom or folly is literally a matter of life and death.

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Proverbs 20:12

The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them.
– Proverbs 20:12

The hearing ear and seeing eye are expressions of understanding and obedience (Isaiah 6:9-10; Mark 4:9-12). The second phrase shows these faculties to be gifts of God’s grace and therefore accountable to him. So not only does wisdom come from God, but the understanding of wisdom as well. This proverb also reveals the sovereign attribute of omniscience, since the hearing ear and seeing eye come from God, he possesses these in greater degree (Psalm 94:9).

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Proverbs 20:5

Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.
– Proverbs 20:5

The word for counsel means purpose and refers to inner intentions, or motives. The image of deep water is also used in Proverbs 18:4, and the meaning is consistent here. It refers to what is hidden, or beneath the surface. (For further explanation of the image, see commentary on Proverbs 18:4). What lies in the heart of men is hidden, but a man of understanding discovers it. The word for understanding means discernment. The point of proverbs is “To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion” (Proverbs 1:4). In other words, Proverbs teaches wisdom to those who will receive it. Wisdom discerns motives and true character hidden behind facades, or in this image, in deep water.

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Proverbs 19:25

Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware: and reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand knowledge.
– Proverbs 19:25

The scorner, the simple, and the man of understanding feature in this proverb. The distinction revolves around how correction is received. The word for scorner means to mock and scoff. Scorning is where the simple will end up if they do not receive correction and instruction (Proverbs 14:18). The word for simple means foolish, or naïve. Proverbs paints the simple as thoughtless and easily led (Proverbs 14:15; 15:21). Reproof alone will seldom correct the simple. They need stronger demonstration (Proverbs 21:11). The word for understanding means to separate mentally, or discern. Wise men have understanding and so instructions and reproofs are more effective and profitable for them (Proverbs 9:9-10; 15:5; 17:10).

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Proverbs 19:8

He that getteth wisdom loveth his own soul: he that keepeth understanding shall find good.
– Proverbs 19:8

The word for wisdom here means heart and is sometimes translated mind, or understanding. It can be thought of as good sense. The word for understanding refers to ability to discern and distinguish between (1 Kings 3:9). Though wisdom brings many benefits, acquiring wisdom is its own reward (Proverbs 8:35-36). The proverb means you do yourself well by seeking, acquiring, and retaining wisdom (Proverbs 3:18).

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Proverbs 18:2

A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.
– Proverbs 18:2

This proverb amplifies the point of Proverbs 17:28. Fools are described as having little to no control over their tongues throughout Proverbs, and this lack of control easily marks them a fool before others. The word for delight means to take pleasure, or we could say, inclination. The word for understanding means intelligence, but not innate mental capacity. It refers more to the skill of discernment, to distinguish between. Solomon instructs his son to seek it diligently as searching for hidden treasure (Proverbs 2:1-5). To acquire understanding, one has to humble himself to be instructed (Proverbs 5:1). Acquiring understanding is also a spiritual issue, since you must begin with the fear of the Lord and comprehend that understanding comes “out of his mouth” (Proverbs 2:5-6), i.e., God’s word (Matthew 4:4). Acquiring understanding is impossible independent of, or contrary to, God (Proverbs 21:30).

The fool has no delight in the instruction and correction of wisdom. Rather his joy rests in speaking his own thoughts and feelings. The word for heart often means mind, but the context is appropriate to say thoughts and feelings. The word for discover itself means to expose, or uncover. The fool doesn’t want to be taught, but is rather always waiting for opportunities to empty his emotional bucket (Proverbs 15:2). Fools have no joy in life until they’ve exposed themselves in some manner (Proverbs 13:16), and Solomon elsewhere described them as always advertising their folly (Ecclesiastes 10:3).

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Proverbs 17:24

Wisdom is before him that hath understanding; but the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth.
– Proverbs 17:24

Solomon repeatedly told his son to hear instruction of wisdom, in order to gain wisdom, in the opening fatherly addresses of Proverbs. A man of understanding pursues wisdom and keeps it before him in the sense of concentrating on instruction (Proverbs 15:14; 18:15). The fool is not fixed on the instruction of wisdom. He has no sense of the value of it, nor the patient and diligent search required to obtain it (Proverbs 17:16; 2:3-5).

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Proverbs 16:22

Understanding is a wellspring of life unto him that hath it: but the instruction of fools is folly.
– Proverbs 16:22

The word for understanding means prudence, or good sense. It appears several times in Proverbs and throughout the Old Testament. It was the word used to describe Abigail in 1 Samuel 25:3. We would say she had a good head on her shoulders. Practical wisdom is a life giving blessing (Proverbs 3:22; 14:30), as wellspring of life indicates (Proverbs 10:11; 13:14; 14:27; 18:4). The second phrase is a contrast to the life giving blessing of wisdom. The word for instruction means chastisement, or reproof. Such correction coming from fools is useless, worthless (Proverbs 15:2, 28). If we press the antithetical parallel further, rather than giving life, folly leads to destruction and death (Proverbs 5:23; 14:1).

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Proverbs 15:32

He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul: but he that heareth reproof getteth understanding.
– Proverbs 15:32

The word for instruction means discipline and it is the tutelage of wisdom. To refuse it is to harm oneself (Proverbs 8:33-36). The word for heareth means to hear intelligently, or listen attentively. To hear reproof is to acquire and grow in wisdom (Proverbs 15:14; 18:15). It is a mark of the wise to receive reproof and grow in wisdom (Proverbs 9:9-10; 17:10; 19:25). It is not that the wise enjoy reproof or correction, but it has its intended effect and they rejoice in gained wisdom (Proverbs 21:11; Hebrews 12:11).

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