Proverbs 14 – A Way Seems Right & The Poor and the Afflicted in Ancient Wisdom Literature

1 Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.

“wise woman buildeth her house” – she is a source of strength and an example of diligence for her family (see 31:10-31).  Cf, the house built by wisdom in 9:1.

2 He that walketh in his uprightness feareth the LORD: but he that is perverse in his ways despiseth him.

3 In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride: but the lips of the wise shall preserve them.

“rod of pride” – his proud and arrogant words get him into trouble (see 10:13; 19:29; 26:3).

4 Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.

5 A faithful witness will not lie: but a false witness will utter lies.

6 A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not: but knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth.

“seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not” – because he refuses to fear the Lord or accept any correction.

7 Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge.

8 The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: but the folly of fools is deceit.

“folly of fools is deceit” – what a fool believes to be prudent (but is really folly) doesn’t bring success; instead, it tends toward his ruin.

9 Fools make a mock at sin: but among the righteous there is favor.

10 The heart knoweth his
own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.

“knoweth his own bitterness” – see 1 Kgs  8:38.  Cf, the experience of Hannah (1 Sam 1:10) and Peter (Matt 26:75).

“intermediate with his joy” – both sorrow and joy have a personal dimension that cannot be fully shared with another individual (see cf Matt 13:44; 1 Pet 1:8).

11 The house of the wicked shall be overthrown: but the tabernacle of the upright shall flourish.

12 There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.

13 Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness.

“in laughter the heart is sorrowful” – one car never fully escape the harsh realities of life in a fallen world (see cf Ezra 3:11-12).

“end of that mirth is heaviness” – as the death of Rachel in childbirth (see Gen 35:17-18).

14 The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways: and a good man shall be satisfied from himself.

15 The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.

“looketh well to his going” – approaches life with caution and discernment.

16 A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil: but the fool rageth, and is confident.

“feareth, and departeth from evil” – he avoids sin because he fears the consequences of his actions.

“confident” – has a presumptuous confidence that causes him to be careless in words ( 12:18; 13:3) and actions (Jdg 9:4).

17 He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly: and a man of wicked devices is hated.

“Soon angry” – quick-tempered (see Tit 1:7).

18 The simple inherit folly: but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.

“crowned with knowledge” – adorned and blessed with knowledge.

19 The evil bow before the good; and the wicked at the gates of the righteous.

“evil bow before the good (cf 17:2).

“at the gates of the righteous” – perhaps to beg for some favor.

20 The poor is hated even of his own neighbor: but the rich hath many friends.

“hated even of his own neighbor” – and sometimes by his relatives.

21 He that despiseth his neighbor sinneth: but he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.

“he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he” – sharing food, lending money, and defending rights are ways one can show kindness.  Such a person honors God and will lack nothing.

22 Do they not err that devise evil? but mercy and truth shall be to them that devise good.

“mercy and truth…to them” – they receive the support and care of faithful friends – perhaps God’s support and care are also implied here.

23 In all labor there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.

24 The crown of the wise is their riches: but the foolishness of fools is folly.

crown of the wise is…riches” – the wise obtained wealth, and it adorns them like a crown.

25 A true witness delivereth souls: but a deceitful witness speaketh lies.

26 In the fear of the LORD is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge.

“strong confidence…refuge” – means either that the father’s godliness will result in blessing for himself and his children or that the “fear of the LORD will be a strong tower where the children also can find refuge.

27 The fear of the LORD is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death.

28 In the multitude of people is the king’s honor: but in the want of people is the destruction of the prince.

29 He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.

30 A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones.

“life of the flesh” – brings health to the body; cf the healthy effects of fearing the Lord and walking in wisdom.

“envy the rottenness of the bones” – envy leaves physical and emotional scars.

31 He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker: but he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor.

“reproacheth his Maker” – because God created both the rich and the poor in His image (see 22:2; Job 31:15; Jas 3:9).

“he that honoureth him hath mercy on the poor” – practicing generosity honors God and in a sense is giving to God Himself.

32 The wicked is driven away in his wickedness: but the righteous hath hope in his death.

“righteous hath hope in his death” – his faith in God gives him hope beyond the grave (see Ps 49:14-15; 73:24).

33 Wisdom resteth in the heart of him that hath understanding: but that which is in the midst of fools is made known.

“that which is in the midst of fools is made known” – a foolish person’s lack of wisdom is reflected in their words and actions.

34 Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.

“Righteousness exaltedth a nation” – Israel was promised prosperity and prestige if she obeyed God’s laws (see Deut 28:1-14).  In the context of wisdom literature, this basic principle applies to all nations.

“sin is a reproach to any people” – the Canaanites were driven out because of their terrible sin (Lev 18:24-25), and Israel later received the same curse (Deut 28:15-68); cf 2 Sam 12:10).

35 The king’s favor is toward a wise servant: but his wrath is against him that causeth shame.

“his wrath is against him” – see 16:14; 19:12; Dan 2:12.

The Poor and the Afflicted
in Ancient Wisdom Literature
 

Instruction of Amenemope (also called Instructions of Amenemopet, Wisdom of Amenemopet) is a literary work composed in Ancient Egypt, most likely during the Ramesside Period (ca. 1300–1075 B.C.); it contains thirty chapters of advice for successful living, ostensibly written by the scribe Amenemope son of Kanakht as a legacy for his son.

A characteristic product of the New Kingdom “Age of Personal Piety”, the work reflects on the inner qualities, attitudes, and behaviors required for a happy life in the face of increasingly difficult social and economic circumstances.

It is widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of ancient near-eastern wisdom literature and has been of particular interest to modern scholars because of its relationship to the biblical Book of Proverbs.

The Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament has a great deal to say about the poor and afflicted.  The source of poverty is variously attributed in its passages.

In many proverb s, for instance, it is represented as a state one brings upon oneself though laziness, haste, lack of discipline or excessive or undisciplined consumption.

However, other texts in both Provers and Job assert that scarcity can be attributed to injustice at the hands of greedy or corrupt people (cf. Job 24).  Poverty may cause sorrow (Prov 31:7), abandonment or vulnerability (18:23) and can lead to crime.

The New Kingdom of Egypt, also referred to as the Egyptian Empire, is the period in ancient Egyptian history between the 16th century B.C. and the 11th century B.C., covering the Eighteenth, Nineteenth, and Twentieth Dynasties of Egypt.

Radiocarbon dating places the exact beginning of the New Kingdom between 1570–1544 B.C.

The New Kingdom followed the Second Intermediate Period and was succeeded by the Third Intermediate Period.

It was Egypt’s most prosperous time and marked the peak of its power.

The later part of this period, under the Nineteenth and Twentieth Dynasties (1292–1069 B.C.) is also known as the Ramesside period, after the eleven pharaohs that took the name of Ramesses.

Possibly as a result of the foreign rule of the Hyksos during the Second Intermediate Period, the New Kingdom saw Egypt attempt to create a buffer between the Levant and Egypt, and attained its greatest territorial extent.

Similarly, in response to very successful 17th century attacks by the powerful Kingdom of Kush, the New Kingdom felt compelled to expand far south into Nubia and hold wide territories in the Near East.

Egyptian armies fought Hittite armies for control of modern-day Syria.

Those who are privileged to be in positions of affluence are continually exhorted to support the poor and to avoid exacerbating their affliction by oppression. Oppressors of the needy in effect taunt God their Maker, while those who are gracious to the less fortunate honor him (14:1).

A mark of the righteous is their concern for the underprivileged (Job 29:12-17; Prov 29:7), and rulers in particular are exhorted to demonstrate compassion toward the needy (26:3). 

It is remarkable that the person in positions of power who wrote most of Israel’s Wisdom Literature did not present the poor as immoral or second-class, but as neighbor in need of mercy.

On the other hand, there is never an indication that the needy are necessarily more pious; after all poverty ws never presented as an ideal of Israelite society (Deut 15:4).

The poor are not the only victims of oppression – even the king of Israel suffered affliction at the hands of his enemies (Ps 94.2, 16-19; cf Ecc 10:7).  In the face of such adversity, whether one is a privileged king or an impoverished beggar, Scripture indicates that the proper response is faith in the Lord, the righteous Judge and over the iniquity and injustice.

Above all else, a righteous individual is to be dedicated to the Lord, knowing that it is better to be a penniless person of integrity than a prosperous individual of proud or oppressive ways (Prov 28:6, 11).