Read the Passage: Proverbs 14
Reverence and Speech (14:1–10)
The material in Proverbs chapters 10–29 is to some extent more scattered than the content of Proverbs 1–9, 30–31. This not to say that the proverbs here are inferior; rather, it is merely the case that, for the most part, the sayings in these chapters tend to be more individual in nature, being only loosely tied together. Note that many of the proverbs in Prov. 14:1–10 relate to one’s speech. For instance, Prov. 14:3 says, “In the mouth of a fool is a rod of pride.” Furthermore, Solomon writes, “A false witness will utter lies. . . . Go from the presence of a foolish man when you do not perceive in him the lips of knowledge” (Prov. 14:5, 7). The idea here is that the words we speak reveal the condition of our hearts. Jesus taught, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. . . . Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart” (Matt. 12:34; 15:18).
One of the recurring themes in Prov. 14:1–10 is the contrast between wisdom and foolishness. If fact, almost every verse in this chapter juxtaposes these two spiritual states. Observe that in Prov. 14:2 Solomon restates a principle he had first given at Prov. 1:7—that is, “He who walks in his uprightness fears the Lord.” Recall that the fear of the Lord does not refer to terror, but to reverence. Although most of the verses in Prov. 14:1–10 relate to one’s speech, several other sayings are present. For example, Prov. 14:4 says, “Where no oxen are, the trough is clean, but much increase comes by the strength of an ox.” This teaching is not ultimately about oxen, but about the goodness of labor—an idea that is present all throughout the book of Proverbs. Another important and recurring teaching is in Prov. 14:6, where Solomon writes, “Knowledge is easy to him who understands.”
Understanding and the Heart (14:11–21)
Prov. 14:11–21 touches upon many different issues, but one of the repeated themes in this passage is the importance of understanding one’s own spiritual condition, as well as being aware of the different results of foolishness and wisdom. In Prov. 14:12, Solomon writes, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” Here Solomon is not teaching that believers ought to second-guess every decision, for wisdom does give guidance (cf. Prov. 3:4–5). Rather, Solomon is teaching that in its natural state, the heart of mankind is not a reliable guide. Observe Jeremiah’s rhetorical question, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9; cf. Eccl. 9:3). Another important saying here is “Even in laughter the heart may sorrow” (Prov. 14:13). Note, however, that we dare not reach conclusions based upon brief observation of the external.
The idea that believers are to seek to understand the difference between wise and foolish actions is reiterated all throughout this passage. In Prov. 14:15–16 Solomon writes, “The prudent considers well his steps. A wise man fears and departs from evil.” When Christians make wise choices, such acts result in divine blessing. In this passage Solomon notes, “The tent of the upright will flourish. . . . A good man will be satisfied from above. . . . The prudent are crowned with knowledge” (Prov. 14:11, 14). In contrast to those who make wise choices, this passage teaches that a foolish man will be overthrown (cf. Prov. 14:11), is gullible (cf. Prov. 14:15), will rage (cf. Prov. 14:16–17), is hated (cf. Prov. 14:17, 20), will inherit folly (cf. Prov. 14:18), and will bow before the good (cf. Prov. 14:19). These results of foolishness are designed to encourage mankind toward God.
Labor and Leadership (14:22–35)
One of the main themes in Prov. 14:22–35 is the idea of labor. This subject, as well as the related topic of wealth and poverty, is a common theme in the book of Proverbs (cf. Prov. 14:4). Solomon teaches, “In all labor there is profit, but idle chatter leads only to poverty. The crown of the wise is their riches, but the foolishness of fools is folly” (Prov. 14:23–24). God’s people are to labor, for this is God’s divinely designed way of meeting the material needs of mankind. Recall that God usually works through means, and not through miracles. Along these same lines, Prov. 14:31 notes, “He who oppresses the poor reproaches their Maker, but he who honors Him has mercy on the needy” (cf. Matt. 25:31–46). A second main theme in this passage is the idea of wise leadership. Solomon notes wise leadership results in flourishing, exaltation, and favor (cf. Prov. 14:28, 34–35).
- Does your heart desire and cherish wisdom, or are you wise in your own eyes? As Prov. 14:6 indicates, have you found knowledge of God easy to attain?
- Given the many exhortations about proper speech and the danger of one’s tongue, what steps can believers take to ensure right speech (cf. Eph. 4:29; Jas. 3:6–8)?
- In the present, in which areas of your life do you most need wisdom? In the past, in which areas of your life has wisdom been most helpful?
- Why do those who make foolish decisions tend to have lives characterized by poor choices?
- How ought Christians to react when their leaders—on a personal, local, or nation level—are not godly and wise?