Proverbs 23:12

Apply thine heart unto instruction, and thine ears to the words of knowledge.
– Proverbs 23:12

The word for apply means to enter and signifies the deliberate pursuit of instruction and knowledge. The word for instruction means discipline. It is a holistic view of training, including both positive instruction and correction. The word for knowledge means understanding and positively refers to the truth about God. Wisdom teaches we have to lean into the instruction and correction of wisdom in order to acquire wisdom. Wisdom teaches us not to follow our hearts but rather to apply our hearts to seek out the wisdom of God (Proverbs 2:2-6; 5:1-2; 22:17).

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Proverbs 23:9

Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of thy words.
– Proverbs 23:9

Verse 9 stands alone, though it complements the pearls-before-swine aspect of the previous group. To speak … in the ears is to make a direct address. It refers to a direct word of reproof, counsel, or instruction. The word for fool is the most common in Proverbs and refers to a stupid and obstinate person. Their problem is not ignorance, or lack of information, but rather the hate and rejection of wisdom (Proverbs 1:22). Words of wisdom are lost on fools and gain only hatred for the speaker of them (Proverbs 9:7-8; 15:12).

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Proverbs 23:5

Wilt thou set thin eyes upon that which is not? For riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.
– Proverbs 23:5

Verse 5 uncovers the folly of exhausting yourself to be rich. The flying eagle is a figure of the fleeting nature of wealth. The eagle can be seen for a little while, but soon flies away out of grasp and eventually out of sight. This proverb doesn’t highlight any specific means of losing wealth, but such instances are mentioned elsewhere in Proverbs. A greedy man is in a hurry to be rich and his haste will actually turn to poverty (Proverbs 21:5; 28:22). Lovers of pleasure and indulgence will spread their wealth thin and come to rags (Proverbs 5:7-10; 23:20-21). The slothful fool will have trouble acquiring wealth, but what he will equally have trouble keeping what he has acquired (Proverbs 24:30-31; 27:23-27). Further, foolish managers and risk takers will exhaust their stores (Proverbs 21:20; 17:18; 22:26-27). So, in one way or another, riches tend to vanish away and wisdom teaches us not to set our hearts on material wealth.

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Proverbs 23:4

Labor not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom.
– Proverbs 23:4

Verses 4 and 5 form the next saying, which is about the desire for wealth. The word for labor literally means to gasp and indicates being weary with toil, or exhausted. The word for rich means to accumulate and become wealthy. Wisdom warns against pursuing wealth as an object and expending much time and energy to acquire it. This warning is echoed in various ways throughout Scripture (Isaiah 55:1-3; John 6:27; 1 Timothy 6:8-10).

The word for wisdom means understanding and is often used positively in Proverbs. Here it is negative and qualified as “thine own.” Wisdom generally warns against our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). The warning in this saying speaks to stopping from our own understanding, which is tempted with riches as the solution for all our problems. Proverbs repeatedly teaches wisdom is better than riches and should be pursued as fools pursue wealth (Proverbs 2:4; 3:14-15; 8:18-19; 16:16).

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Proverbs 22:19

That thy trust may be in the LORD, I have made known to thee this day, even to thee.
– Proverbs 22:19

This verse continues the benefits of the humble commitment to acquire wisdom. Growing in wisdom means a deepening trust in the Lord God. This gives us a view of the true nature of wisdom. Wisdom is not to grow our heads so we trust in our own intelligence. Acquiring true wisdom will mean fearing the Lord, forsaking your own inclinations, and faithfully clinging to him (Proverbs 3:5-7).

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Proverbs 22:18

For it is a pleasant thing if thou keep them within thee; they shall withal be fitted in thy lips.
– Proverbs 22:18

Verse 18 continues from the previous with blessings for bending your ear, listening to wise sayings, and committing to understanding. A pleasant thing kept within refers to a store, or treasure of delightful wisdom (Proverbs 2:10; 3:17; 24:13-14). The word for fitted means set up, or established. This doesn’t refer to recitation of maxims, but rather acquiring wisdom that means discernment, and appropriate and timely applications of understanding. Acquiring wisdom is not merely about expanding our mental faculties, but about gaining understanding and speaking wisdom to others (Proverbs 10:13, 21; 15:7; 16:21; 25:11). This is the cycle of wisdom. If you listen and keep the words of the wise, you become wise and speak words the simple should attend to (Proverbs 13:20).

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Proverbs 22:6

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
– Proverbs 22:6

The text of this proverb is difficult and translations and interpretations vary. 1 The proverb is clear enough when we keep the teaching of Proverbs as a whole in mind. The word for train up means to initiate, inaugurate, dedicate, or train. The word for way is common in Proverbs to refer to the course of one’s life. There are no words for he should in the Hebrew and the word for go literally means mouth. It is used figuratively for speech. John Gill rendered it literally: “according to the mouth of his way.” The word here indicates the beginning, or entrance. The sense of the first phrase is, “Start a child in his own way.”

The proverb is a warning to parents about neglecting the instruction and correction of their children to drive the natural foolishness from them (Proverbs 19:18; 20:30; 22:15; 23:14). It is neither a guarantee nor a promise that following certain steps with your children ensures they will mature to be wise. Wisdom warns parents not to leave their children to their own devices and wants (Proverbs 10:1, 5; 17:21, 25; 29:15). Parents must diligently bring up their children to be wise, but parents cannot make their children wise. A fool in Proverbs is one who rejects wisdom and goes his own way (Proverbs 1:30-32; 13:1; 15:20). A fool will also bear the consequences of his own folly (Proverbs 9:12; 19:3).

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Notes:

  1. Much could be said about the issues with this verse in terms of translations and the historical survey of interpretations. Commentaries present a range of options beyond the scope of this commentary to explore. I recommend the book, “God’s Wisdom in Proverbs” by Dan Phillips for further study. Phillips has an extensive discussion of this verse and his book is one of the best resources on Proverbs to own. You can find it here.

Proverbs 21:30

There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD.
– Proverbs 21:30

Skill, intelligence, and plans do not stand against the Lord, nor do they succeed apart from him. You have to fear the Lord to even begin in the way of wisdom, so refusing that is only the way of folly and destruction (Proverbs 1:7). Wicked fools delight in their folly and in turning away from the wisdom of Yahweh. If they do not come to repentance and forsake their own ways, they will meet with judgment and destruction (Proverbs 1:22-33).

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Proverbs 20:15

There is gold, and a multitude of rubies: but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.
– Proverbs 20:15

The word for multitude means abundance and makes the supply of rubies sound more like that of sedimentary rocks. Both gold and rubies are relatively rare and highly valued. However, lips of knowledge, one who speaks wisdom, is rarer and more valuable. The word for knowledge means skill and discernment. It is one of the words used to describe wisdom in Proverbs. One who has wisdom speaks and spreads knowledge (Proverbs 15:7). Such wisdom is rarer and more valuable than adornments of gold and rubies (Proverbs 3:15; 8:11; 16:16).

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