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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Prov. 14:1

Verse 1
Every wise woman buildeth her house; But the foolish plucketh it down with her own hands.

The hands as used here is a synecdoche for the woman's total behavior. This writer remembers a young banker, many years ago, whose wife, in public gatherings, such as receptions, habitually made derogatory remarks about her husband, apparently unaware that she was wrecking his career and her own as well. She was an excellent illustration of the second clause here. "If Laban and Potiphar were blessed because of helpful and godly servants, how much more must Providence favor the house that has a wise and faithful wife"?F1

Verse 2
He that walketh in his uprightness feareth Jehovah; But he that is perverse in his ways despiseth him.

This reveals the true reason for all unbelief and anti-religious activity in the whole world. And why is this? "Men have loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil!" (John 3:19). "Those who walk uprightly fear the Lord; but, one who is devious in conduct despises him."F2 This explodes the satanic lie that `intellectual ability,' or `higher education,' or any other desirable thing, causes infidelity. It is now and has never been anything else except corrupt and reprobate conduct.

Verse 3
In the mouth of the foolish is a rod for [his] pride; But the lips of the wise shall preserve them.

We have already had many proverbs which are the equivalent of this; and there are many more. "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (Matthew 12:37). Toy's translation is: "In the mouth of a fool is a sprig of his pride, but the lips of the wise preserve them."F3

Verse 4
Where no oxen are, the crib is clean; But much increase is by the strength of the ox.

The things that are most desirable always carry with them certain inconveniences. Rearing a family leads to all kinds of obligations, sacrifices, inconveniences and even sufferings and hardships. There's noise where children are, and there's uncleanness in the stall of the ox. This rendition of the second clause stresses the benefit of having oxen, even along with the dirty crib. "Where there is abundant produce, the strength of the ox is apparent."F4 One can keep a very clean, neat office if he isn't doing anything!

Verse 5
A faithful witness will not lie; But a false witness uttereth lies.

A truism such as this merits no comment. Truthful people don't lie; liars do!

The scoffer, the vain and wicked man who recognizes no authority, not even the supreme authority of God's Word, will never acquire any real wisdom and understanding. "For ever it remains for him far and remote."F5 To the man of understanding, "The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it" (Deuteronomy 30:14). Wisdom is as near to the man of understanding as a copy of the Bible.

Verse 7
Go into the presence of a foolish man, And thou shalt not perceive [in him] the lips of knowledge.

"Stay away from foolish people; they have nothing to teach you."F6 "Stay away from a foolish man, for you will not find knowledge on his lips."F7 "Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge."F8 The same thing may be said in many ways.

Verse 8
The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way; But the folly of fools is deceit.

"Shrewd men are wise in grasping their affairs, but the folly of a fool leads him astray."F9

The first clause here is the Hebrew counterpart of the Greek, "Know thy way," or "Know thyself." "The highest wisdom is for a man to know his own way. The fool, on the other hand, whose specialty is that of deceiving others, is (in the second clause) led astray, because he has deceived himself"!F10

Verse 9
A trespass-offering mocketh fools; But among the upright there is good will.

"A trespass-offering (or any kind of worship) mocks all worshippers who are willfully wicked. Expecting God's favor, they do not get it."F11 In the second clause, the American Standard Version marginal reference changes `there is good will' to `there is favor of God.'

Verse 10
The heart knoweth its own bitterness; And a stranger doth not intermeddle with its joy.

There is here revealed a strange and terrible secret of human life. "The most sorrowful of all our experiences, and the most inward of all our joys, we must possess altogether alone. There is no such thing as a perfect fellowship among mortals. No human fellowship can give salvation, but only the fellowship with God, whose love and wisdom are capable of shining into that most secret sanctuary of human personality. Every human being is a little world to self alone, a world which only God sees and understands."F12 "Who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man which is within him"? (1 Corinthians 2:11).

Verse 11
The house of the wicked shall be overthrown; But the tent of the upright shall flourish.

This is the perpetual theme of Proverbs. The good prosper; the wicked fail and suffer. The Christian should understand all such promises in the higher light of the New Testament. It is written that. "We must through many tribulations enter into the kingdom of God" (Acts 14:22). It is in the eternal sense alone, that such promises as this, must be understood; although in a lesser and secondary sense, they are fulfilled literally in this present life.

Verse 12
There is a way which seemeth right unto a man; But the end thereof are the ways of death.

Literally and eternally true, this proverb stands as one of the Lighthouses of Proverbs. It was true of Absalom and Ahithophel; and it is true of many a worldly and irreligious man today.

Verse 13
Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; And the end of mirth is heaviness.

"Like many other Proverbs in our English version, this one cannot be taken as universally true. The first clause is often rendered, and perhaps should be, "Even in laughter the heart may sorrowful."F13 "There are two kinds of laughter and mirth. There is an innocent and proper mirth; and there is an ill-timed, guilty and sinful mirth."F14 There is also sometimes a heavy and disconsolate heart that disguises its sorrow by a show of joy and laughter.

Verse 14
The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways; And a good man [shall be satisfied] from himself.

"A fool shall be filled with his own ways, and the good man shall be above him."F15 Cook wrote concerning the second clause here that, "The words `satisfied from himself' are not in the original (Hebrew)," rendering the passage, "He who falls away from God in his heart shall be filled with his own ways; and the good man shall be filled with that which belongs to him."F16

Verse 15
The simple believeth every word; But the prudent man looketh well to his going.

He is a simpleton indeed who believes everything that he hears, or for that matter, everything that he reads in the newspapers. This also applies to many a religious pulpit. It is always the part of a wise man to weigh with the utmost care and attention the messages that are continually being shouted at him from all directions.

Verse 16
A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil; But the fool beareth himself insolently, and is confident.

Frankenberg and Toy give various readings here: "The wise man guards himself anxiously against evil, but the fool lightly takes part therein"; or, "The wise man is cautious and avoids misfortune, but the fool is arrogant and confident."F17

Verse 17
He that is soon angry will deal foolishly; And a man of wicked devices is hated.

As this stands, "The proverb compares two bad dispositions by their outcome and by their impression upon others";F18 but by a slight emendation (which some current translators accept), we get, "A person who becomes angry easily does foolish things, but a wise person is patient."F19 Either way the proverb is true.

Verse 18
The simple inherit folly; But the prudent are crowned with knowledge.

"The simple acquire folly, but the prudent are crowned with knowledge."F20 Tate rejected the emendation by which the RSV gave this translation, writing that, "Acquire here is not likely to be correct. The simple are the immature, untutored people, who already have folly as a part of their nature."F21 There are many other renditions, which we are citing merely for the sake of showing the different viewpoints, which are also subject to serious questions as to their accuracy. After all, as F. F. Bruce, head of the department of Biblical and Patristic Greek at the University of Manchester, in England, noted; "The most accurate of the versions for purpose of detailed study is the American Standard Version of 1901" (This is the version we are using).

Verse 19
The evil bow down before the good; And the wicked, at the gates of the righteous.

"We have identical parallelism here, based upon the doctrine that moral goodness must in this life triumph externally over wickedness."F22 This was the doctrine that dominated the Book of Job, and which was strongly advocated by all of Job's friends. It should be understood in the light of what is written there. "This describes the humbling of the wicked by the punishment of their sins."F23

Verse 20
The poor is hated even of his own neighbor; But the rich hath many friends.

"This sad but true picture of human nature is not here mentioned approvingly, but merely stated as a fact."F24

This verse flings wide the gates of memory in this writer's life. We children were all small, and our father read this chapter before the evening prayer. That was my brother David's fifth birthday, and our father had just given him ten silver half-dollars for his birthday. Another brother (Robert), a little older than David, requested a loan of a half dollar. David reversed the clauses of this verse, saying, "The rich hath many friends, but the poor is despised by his neighbor. I won't let you have it"! As Deane noted, "This verse should be taken with the one which follows, because together they teach that it is a sin to despise and shun a man simply because he is poor."F25

Verse 21
He that despiseth his neighbor sinneth; But he that hath pity on the poor, happy is he.

The great glory of Christianity is that it regards and honors the poor, who, alas, constitute the vast majority of mankind. "Blessed are ye poor! Blessed are the poor in spirit!" These are the words of Christ, who, "Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Verse 22
Do they not err that devise evil? But mercy and truth [shall be to] them that devise good.

"Do not wicked schemers go astray, while affection and trust are theirs who seek good?"F26

Verse 23
In all labor there is profit; But the talk of the lips [tendeth] only to penury.

This proverb contrasts the talker with the worker. A recent rendition of the second clause is, "Mere talk leads only to poverty."F27

Verse 24
The crown of the wise is their riches; [But] the folly of fools is [only] folly.

There is a purely earthly sense, of course, in which this is true; and it is exactly the type of proverb that should have been expected of him who was the richest man of his entire age; but the true crown of a rich man is not his money, but his integrity and his faithfulness to God. The Book of Proverbs becomes a little monotonous with its constant emphasis upon getting rich.

Verse 25
A true witness delivereth souls; But he that uttereth lies [causeth] deceit.

"A witness saves lives when he tells the truth; when he tells lies he betrays people."F28 "All liars shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone" (Revelation 21:8). "The witness has it in his power to save or murder either life or reputation."F29

Verse 26
In the fear of Jehovah is strong confidence; And his children shall have a place of refuge.

It is the godly man, of course, who fears Jehovah; and "his children" in the second clause are those of that godly man.

Verse 27
The fear of Jehovah is a fountain of life, That one may depart from the snares of death.

The snares of death are not merely the pitfalls and dangers of our present lives on earth; they include the unspeakable terrors of the "second death." The only possible escape from that reward of the wicked which shall accompany the termination of human probation is revealed in the first clause. The only hope of rebellious humanity is in the "fear of Jehovah." James Moffatt's Translation of the Bible, 1929, indicated this by capitalizing the word Death. "Reverence for the Eternal is a fount of life; it shows how to avoid the nets of Death."F30

Verse 28
In the multitude of people is the king's glory; But in the want of people is the destruction of the prince.

"A large population is a king's glory, but without subjects a prince is ruined."F31 The proverb is also true if interpreted to mean that, "The want of people (the hunger or destitution of people) is the destruction of the prince." It is true both ways!

Verse 29
He that is slow to anger is of great understanding; But he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.

A variation of this is: "A meek-spirited man is a healer of the heart, but a sensitive heart is a corruption of the bones."F32 Nothing is any more dangerous than association with a person of quick and violent temper, who may become offended on the slightest of pretexts. Such persons are sometimes said to have "a chip on their shoulder." They can even become violent upon the most trivial of excuses.

Verse 30
A tranquil heart is the life of the flesh; But envy is the rottenness of the bones.

"Bodily health comes with a tranquil mind, but passionate feelings are like rot in the bones."F33 However, it is wrong to limit the application of this to the physical body. The great Christian ideal is, "A quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty" (1 Timothy 2:2). 1 Pet. 3:4 and Acts 19:36 also echo the thoughts of this proverb.

"Calmness of spirit gives room for the development of all the virtues and graces of the Christian life."F34

Verse 31
He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker; But he that hath mercy on the needy honoreth him.

There are three classes of the poor: (1) those, who through lack of ability, have never been able to make a living, (2) those who were once affluent, but have been brought down by affliction, and (3) those who, though not actually in want, are able through diligent and constant toil to supply the barest necessities of life but do not know any of the luxuries of ease or wealth. "Oppression of any or all of these is an insult to God. To oppress class (1) is to increase the affliction of them whose condition is not their fault, any more than is the color of their skin; to oppress class (2) is to add to an affliction that God has permitted to fall upon them; and to oppress class (3) is to oppress those who make up the vast majority of God's kingdom."F35 The oppression of any poor man is an insult to God.

Verse 32
The wicked is thrust down in his evil-doing; But the righteous hath a refuge in his death.

Keil's translation of this is: "When misfortune befalls him, the godless is overthrown; but the righteous remains hopeful in his death."F36 What is this hope that the righteous have in death? It is the hope of eternal life with God. This proverb teaches that, "There is a deep and essential distinction between the deaths of the godless and the righteous."F37 There is a glimpse here of that life and immortality which are brought to greater light in the holy gospels!

Verse 33
Wisdom resteth in the heart of him that hath understanding; But [that which is] in the inward part of fools is made known.

We are not sure what this proverb means. The RSV renders it: "Wisdom abides in the mind of a man of understanding, but it is not known in the heart of fools."F38 Toy's paraphrase is: "A man of sense, not being anxious to gain applause, keeps it to himself (reserving it for an appropriate occasion); but the fool, anxious to shine, or ignorant of propriety, airs what he thinks is his wisdom at every opportunity."F39

Verse 34
Righteousness exalteth a nation; But sin is a reproach to any people.

The Court House of Grayson County, Sherman, Texas, inscribed these words on their new building in 1929. "This much quoted and penetrating test of national greatness is abundantly attested throughout history." It is precisely this truth which is not receiving the attention that it deserves in America today.

Verse 35
The king's favor is toward a servant that dealeth wisely; But his wrath will be [against] him that causeth shame.

"Many kings have erred on this point; and some, like Ahasuerus have been made to see their error. He nourished in his bosom the serpent Haman, and overlooked the faithful services of Mordecai; but when God, through the tender office of Esther, opened his eyes, he destroyed him who had acted shamefully and exalted the preserver of his life."F40

Footnotes for Proverbs 14
1: George Lawson's Commentary on Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1980), p. 183.
2: The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
3: International Critical Commentary, Vol. 17, p. 281.
4: The Greek Septuagint (LXX).
5: C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), Vol. 6, p. 293.
6: The Good News Bible.
7: The New International Version (NIV).
8: The Revised Standard Version.
9: Moffatt's translation.
10: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), Proverbs, p. 43,
11: Ibid.
12: C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), Vol. 6, p. 297.
13: W. Harris, in the Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, Vol. 13, p. 359.
14: Ibid.
15: The Douay Version of the Bible
16: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), op. cit., p. 43.
17: The Cross-Reference Bible (New York: The Cross-Reference Bible Company, 1910), p. 1136.
18: International Critical Commentary, Vol. 17, p. 292.
19: The Easy-to-Read Version of the Bible (Fort Worth, Texas: World Bible Translation Center, 1992).
20: American Standard Version of the Bible.
21: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), Vol. 5, p. 47.
22: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 293.
23: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 396.
24: Ibid.
25: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 9, p. 273,
26: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982).
27: The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
28: The Good News Bible.
29: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 562.
30: Moffatt's translation.
31: New International Version of the Bible (NIV).
32: The Greek Septuagint (LXX).
33: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982).
34: Wardlaw in the Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, Vol. 13, p. 388.
35: Herbert in the Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, op. cit., p. 390.
36: C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), Vol. 6, p. 311.
37: Ibid.
38: The Revised Standard Version of the Bible.
39: International Critical Commentary, p. 301.
40: George Lawson's Commentary on Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1980), p. 206.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Proverbs 14". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  


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