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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Prov. 15:1

Verse 1
A soft answer turneth away wrath; But a grievous word stirreth up anger.

A truism like this needs no comment. Quiet, inoffensive speech has been effective in preventing many a violent encounter.

Verse 2
The tongue of the wise uttereth knowledge aright; But the mouth of fools poureth out folly.

Another truism! The wise speak wise things, the fool speaks foolishness!

Verse 3
The eyes of Jehovah are in every place, Keeping watch upon the evil and the good.

The omniscience and ubiquitousness of God are stated here. The 139th Psalm in its entirety is devoted to an elaboration of this proverb. See our comments there.

Verse 4
A gentle tongue is a tree of life; But perverseness therein is a breaking of the spirit.

"Kind words bring life, but cruel words crush your spirit."F1 "The tongue is a prolific tree, and it concerns the whole community that it should be a tree of life and not of death."F2

Verse 5
A fool despiseth his father's correction; But he that regardeth reproof getteth prudence.

"A father's instruction proceeds from love; and it is folly and ingratitude to despise it; but some children are such enemies of themselves that they break the spirits of their affectionate parents by spurning the admonitions needed for their own welfare."F3

Verse 6
In the house of the righteous is much treasure; But in the revenues of the wicked is trouble.

"In a good man's house there is ample treasure, but revenues of bad men go to wreck."F4 We prefer this rendition, because `ample' signifies sufficiency rather than `riches.' A little is often sufficient in the house of good people; and it is always preferable to great riches in a house of wickedness. See verses 16,17, which are parallel with this verse.

Verse 7
The lips of the wise disperse knowledge; But the heart of the foolish [doeth] not so.

This is very similar to Prov. 15:2. Toy wrote that, "It contrasts the wise man's devotion to knowledge with the intellectual dullness of the opposite class."F5 However, the concept of the `foolish' in Proverbs (and the whole Bible) is not mere intellectual dullness, but wickedness. The rich `fool" of Luke 12:20 might very well have been a graduate of the state university; and the foolish virgins (Matt. 25:2ff) might have included the valedictorian of the local high school!

Verse 8
The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to Jehovah; But the prayer of the upright is his delight.

"God will not allow himself to be `bought off' by gifts and sacrifices of the unrepentant."F6 As Kipling stated it, "Still stands thine ancient sacrifice, an humble and a contrite heart."F7 Anything else is an abomination.

Verse 9
The way of the wicked is an abomination to Jehovah; But he loveth him that followeth after righteousness.

"This is parallel to Prov. 15:8, with a substitution of ethical for religious (ceremonial) conditions."F8 We would substitute the word in parenthesis for `religious.' Toy overlooked the fact that `ethical conditions' make up the very heart of true religion.

Verse 10
There is grievous correction for him that forsaketh the way; [And] he that hateth reproof shall die.

"One who abandons the right path will be sternly corrected, and he who resents rebuke will die."F9 Another translation is, "If a person begins to live wrong he will be punished, and the person that hates to be corrected will be destroyed."F10

Verse 11
Sheol and Abaddon are before Jehovah: How much more then the hearts of the children of men!

This is parallel with Prov. 15:3 and concerns the omniscience of God. (See comment there.) "The word Abaddon occurs six times in the Old Testament, and like the word Sheol, is a place name for the realm of the dead."F11

Verse 12
A scoffer loveth not to be reproved; He will not go unto the wise.

"A corrupt man loveth not one that reproveth him, nor will he go to the wise."F12 Note the implication here that a wise man will indeed reprove the wicked.

Verse 13
A glad heart maketh a cheerful countenance; But by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken.

"A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit."F13 This proverb merely states that a man's happiness or sorrow will show in his face. It was this fact that enabled Artaxerxes to read the face of Nehemiah and to send him to Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:2). The same thing is true of innocence and guilt.

Verse 14
The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge; But the mouth of fools feedeth on folly.

The wise man is always diligent in the acquisition of more knowledge; but the fool (the wicked man) enjoys hearing and believing all kinds of nonsense. Of this class are those who read the papers for their astrological prognostications.

Verse 15
All the days of the afflicted are evil; But he that is of a cheerful heart [hath] a continual feast.

This proverb stresses the fact that time passes slowly for the suffering or the distressed, and that time passes swiftly for those in the midst of joy. This writer attended an Armistice Day Celebration in 1932 at Lawton, Oklahoma. Totally disabled veterans of World War I were in attendance. The speaker began by saying; "It is now over fourteen years since the thundering canons in France were stilled"; and a quadruple amputee from his pitiful basket was heard to say, "Great gracious God, is that all"! "The days of the afflicted are indeed evil."

Verse 16
Better is little, with the fear of Jehovah, Than great treasure and trouble therewith.

"The trouble mentioned in the second clause is a reference to the anxieties and perplexities attending wealth held by worldlings."F14 Deane agreed that the trouble here is, "The anxiety attending the pursuit and preservation of wealth."F15 Christ warned us that it is difficult indeed for a rich man to be saved (Matthew 19:23); and an apostle tells us that, "They that are minded to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and hurtful lusts, such as drown men in destruction and perdition" (1 Timothy 6:9). One may wonder why so many try to be rich.

Verse 17
Better is a dinner of herbs, where love is, Than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.

Who could miss the point here? "Better a dish of vegetables with love, than the best beef served with hatred."F16 A preacher said, "It's better to have a hamburger at McDonalds with somone who loves you than to be entertained at the Waldorf by someone who hates you."

Verse 18
A wrathful man stirreth up contention; But he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife.

"A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he that is slow to anger quiets contention."F17 One finds the same thought here that is one of the Beatitudes of Jesus, "Blessed are the peacemakers." (Matthew 5:9).

Verse 19
The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns; But the path of the upright is made a highway.

There is an unusual interpretation of this proverb in this: "The path of the lazy man, (he says), is blocked with thorns, whereas to the upright his road is a highway."F18 We accept this interpretation as correct because of Prov. 26:13.

Verse 20
A wise son maketh a glad father; But a foolish man despiseth his mother.

It would make a better balance here if `despiseth' is read `shameth'; and Deane assures us that the verb here may mean exactly that.F19 Another rendition is, "A wise son makes his father happy. Only a fool despises his mother."F20

Verse 21
Folly is joy to him that is void of wisdom; But a man of understanding maketh straight his going.

"This stresses the element of choice in the career of the fool. The playboy follows his fancy; the man of discernment is concerned to set a straight course for his life."F21 "To act the idiot is fun to the empty-headed, but the man of intelligence forges straight ahead."F22

Verse 22
Where there is no counsel, purposes are disappointed; But in the multitude of counsellors they are established.

"There is no religious content in this verse. Purely secular matters are here included in the description of the wise man. Everything that is properly and wisely done must be considered as God's gift of wisdom."F23 All of these proverbs regarding counselors add up to the common saying, "That two heads are better than one."

Verse 23
A man hath joy in the answer of his mouth; And a word in due season, how good is it!

One who would bless others in what he says should regard the timing of his remarks. Given at the right time, a brief word can change a life and save a soul from death. A good time for a word of love and encouragement is that when one has suffered bereavement, disappointment, or any other kind of extreme discouragement or loss. It was exactly such a word that came to this preacher at a crucial moment and which continued his ministry of the gospel.

Verse 24
To the wise the way of life [goeth] upward, That he may depart from Sheol beneath.

There are many of these proverbs that carry strong intimations of life beyond death, and this is another. Only those whom God redeems shall, in any real sense, depart from Sheol, "Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart."F24

Verse 25
Jehovah will root up the house of the proud; But he will establish the border of the widow.

"The house of the proud Jave rooteth out, and he establisheth the landmark of the widow."F25 The background of this is the partition of the promised land among the various tribes as their perpetual inheritance. The magnificent palaces of the proud, which are, in fact, monuments to their pride and arrogance are eventually destroyed. Nebuchadnezzar gloried in "Great Babylon which I have built"; but God drove him away to live with wild beasts for seven years; and at last Babylon itself was so deeply buried under the dust of centuries that the very site is uncertain.

Verse 26
Evil devices are an abomination to Jehovah; But pleasant words [are] pure.

A better antithesis is this: "The Lord detests the thoughts of the wicked, but those of the pure are pleasing to him."F26

Verse 27
He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; But he that hateth bribes shall live.

Under Prov. 15:16, we commented upon the man who is greedy for gain. "Such a man is a torment to himself and to his family because of his avariciousness and penury. He is a curse to all those who deal with him."F27 Bribery is a besetting sin of all mankind. The refusal of early Christians to procure Paul's release from Felix, in spite of its being offered for a bribe, establishes the truth that it is wrong either to pay or to receive a bribe (Acts 24:26).

Verse 28
The heart of the righteous studieth to answer; But the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.

"This contrasts the thoughtfulness that precedes the studious answer of the wise man with the hasty babbling of the foolish."F28 "Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer each one" (Colossians 4:6). In these words Paul cautioned Christians that their answers also should be preceded with thoughtfulness.

Verse 29
Jehovah is far from the wicked; But he heareth the prayer of the righteous.

The Easy-to-Read Version misses this in their rendition: "The Lord is far away from evil people, but he always hears the prayers of good people."F29 There are many "good people" in the ordinary understanding of these words that are in open rebellion against God's commandments. It is not the so-called "good people" whom God hears, but it is the "righteous," a Biblical definition of which is, "Walking in all the ordinances and commandments of the Lord, blameless" (Luke 1:6). The common idea of who is "good" applies the term to anyone who minds his own business and stays out of jail.

The Bible definition is quite different. "Only God is good" (Mark 10:18).

Verse 30
The light of the eyes rejoiceth the heart; [And] good tidings make the bones fat.

"Good fortune is the joy of life, and good news is health and vigor."F30 "Makes the bones fat" is also read as, "Refreshes the bones."F31 The language here is metaphorical. This is a truism. People like it when good news and prosperity come.

Verse 31
The ear that hearkeneth to the reproof of life Shall abide among the wise.

Frankenberg has a good alternate reading for Prov. 15:31, "...who harkens to life-giving admonitions."F32 "The ear that heeds wholesome admonition will lodge among the wise."F33 The advice one heeds must be good.

Verse 32
He that refuseth correction despiseth his own soul; But he that hearkeneth to reproof getteth understanding.

"We are born like a wild ass's colt in dire need of instruction; but some are such enemies of themselves that they will no consent to be taught wisdom."F34 A society of the undisciplined rapidly degenerates into a state of disintegration.

Verse 33
The fear of Jehovah is the instruction of wisdom; And before honor [goeth] humility.

"Humility is that low sweet root from which all the heavenly virtue shoot."F35 "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time" (1 Peter 5:6). The Magnificat has the precious lines, "He hath put down princes from their thrones, and hath exalted them of low degree" (Luke 1:52). The glorious Head of our holy religion washes the disciples' feet.

Footnotes for Proverbs 15
1: The Good News Bible.
2: Arnot in the Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, Vol. 13, p. 404.
3: George Lawson's Commentary on Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1980), p. 209.
4: Moffatt's translation.
5: International Critical Commentary, Vol. 17, p. 305.
6: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 563.
7: Rudyard Kipling, Recessional, Stanza 2.
8: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 306.
9: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982).
10: The Easy-to-Read Version of the Bible (Fort Worth, Texas: World Bible Translation Center, 1992).
11: William J. Beecher, in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Chicago, Illinois: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), p. 3.
12: The Douay Version of the Bible (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1948).
13: The New International Version (NIV).
14: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 396.
15: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 9, p. 193.
16: Moffatt's translation.
17: The Revised Standard Version.
18: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982).
19: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 294.
20: The Good News Bible.
21: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 15, p. 116.
22: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982).
23: The Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 4, p. 871.
24: John Greenleaf Whittier, Forgiveness.
25: C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), Vol. 6, p. 329.
26: The New International Version (NIV).
27: Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible (London: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), Vol. III, p. 745.
28: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 Edition), op. cit., p. 46.
29: The Easy-to-Read Version of the Bible.
30: Moffatt's translation.
31: The Revised Standard Version
32: The Cross-Reference Bible (New York: The Cross-Reference Bible Company, 1910), p. 1140.
33: The New Revised Standard Version.
34: George Lawson's Commentary on Proverbs (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1980), p. 229
35: Sir Thomas Moore, The Loves of the Angels

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 15". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  


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