Matthew Henry Complete CommentaryProverbs 12
on the Whole Bible
1 Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth
reproof is brutish.
We are here taught to try whether we have grace or no by enquiring how
we stand affected to the means of grace.
1. Those that have grace and love it will delight in all the
instructions that are given them by way of counsel; admonition, or
reproof, by the word or providence of God; they will value a good
education, and think it not a hardship, but a happiness, to be under a
strict and prudent discipline. Those that love a faithful ministry,
that value it, and sit under it with pleasure, make it to appear that
they love knowledge.
2. Those show themselves not only void of grace, but void of common
sense, that take it as an affront to be told of their faults, and an
imposition upon their liberty to be put in mind of their duty: He
that hates reproof is not only foolish, but brutish, like
the horse and the mule that have no understanding, or the ox that kicks
against the goad. Those that desire to live in loose families and
societies, where they may be under no check, that stifle the
convictions of their own consciences, and count those their enemies
that tell them the truth, are the brutish here meant.
2 A good man obtaineth favour of the LORD: but a man of
wicked devices will he condemn.
1. We are really as we are with God. Those are happy, truly happy, for
ever happy, that obtain favour of the Lord, though the world
frown upon them, and they find little favour with men; for in God's
favour is life, and that is the fountain of all good. On the other hand
those are miserable whom he condemns, however men may applaud
them, and cry them up; whom he condemns he condemns to the second
2. We are with God as we are with men, as we have our conversation in
this world. Our Father judges of his children very much by their
conduct one to another; and therefore a good man, that is
merciful, and charitable, and does good, draws out favour from the
Lord by his prayers; but a malicious man, that devises wickedness
against his neighbours, he will condemn, as unworthy of a place
in his kingdom.
3 A man shall not be established by wickedness: but the root of
the righteous shall not be moved.
1. Though men may advance themselves by sinful arts, they cannot by
such arts settle and secure themselves; though they may get large
estates they cannot get such as will abide: A man shall not be
established by wickedness; it may set him in high places, but they
are slippery places,
That prosperity which is raised by sin is built on the sand, and so it
will soon appear.
2. Though good men may have but little of the world, yet that little
will last, and what is honestly got will wear well: The root of the
righteous shall not be moved, though their branches may be shaken.
Those that by faith are rooted in Christ are firmly fixed; in him their
comfort and happiness are so rooted as never to be rooted up.
4 A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that
maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones.
1. He that is blessed with a good wife is as happy as if he were upon
the throne, for she is no less than a crown to him. A
virtuous woman, that is pious and prudent, ingenious and
industrious, that is active for the good of her family and looks well
to the ways of her household, that makes conscience of her duty in
every relation, a woman of spirit, that can bear crosses without
disturbance, such a one owns her husband for her head, and therefore
she is a crown to him, not only a credit and honour to him, as
a crown is an ornament, but supports and keeps up his authority
in his family, as a crown is an ensign of power. She is
submissive and faithful to him and by her example teaches his children
and servants to be so too.
2. He that is plagued with a bad wife is as miserable as if he were
upon the dunghill; for she is no better than rottenness in his
bones, an incurable disease, besides that she makes him
ashamed. She that is silly and slothful, wasteful and wanton,
passionate and ill-tongued, ruins both the credit and comfort of her
husband. If he go abroad, his head is hung down, for his wife's faults
turn to his reproach. If he retire into himself, his heart is sunk; he
is continually uneasy; it is an affliction that preys much upon the
5 The thoughts of the righteous are right: but the counsels
of the wicked are deceit.
1. The word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the
heart, and judges them. We mistake if we imagine that thoughts are
free. No, they are under the divine cognizance, and therefore under the
2. We ought to be observers of the thoughts and intents of our own
hearts, and to judge of ourselves by them; for they are the first-born
of the soul, that have most of its image undisguised. Right thoughts
are a righteous man's best evidences, as nothing more certainly proves
a man wicked than wicked contrivances and designs. A good man may have
in his mind bad suggestions, but he does not indulge them and harbour
them till they are ripened into bad projects and resolutions.
3. It is a man's honour to mean honestly, and to have his thoughts
right, though a word or action may be misplaced, or mistimed, or at
least misinterpreted. But it is a man's shame to lie always at catch,
to act with deceit, with trick and design, not only with a long reach,
but with an overreach.
6 The words of the wicked are to lie in wait for blood: but
the mouth of the upright shall deliver them.
In the foregoing verse the thoughts of the wicked and righteous
were compared; here their words, and those are as the abundance
of the heart is.
1. Wicked people speak mischief to their neighbours; and wicked indeed
those are whose words are to lie in wait for blood; their
tongues are swords to those that stand in their way, to good men whom
they hate and persecute. See an instance,
2. Good men speak help to their neighbours: The mouth of the
upright is ready to be opened in the cause of those that are
to plead for them, to witness for them, and so to deliver them,
particularly those whom the wicked lie in wait for. A man may
sometimes do a very good work with one good word.
7 The wicked are overthrown, and are not: but the house of
the righteous shall stand.
We are here taught as before
and ch. x. 25, 30),
1. That the triumphing of the wicked is short. They may be
exalted for a while, but in a little time they are overthrown and
are not; their trouble proves their overthrow, and those who made a
great show disappear, and their place knows them no more. Turn the
wicked, and they are not; they stand in such a slippery place that
the least touch of trouble brings them down, like the apples of Sodom,
which look fair, but touch them and they go to dust.
2. That the prosperity of the righteous has a good bottom and will
endure. Death will remove them, but their house shall
stand, their families shall be kept up, and the generation of
the upright shall be blessed.
8 A man shall be commended according to his wisdom: but he that
is of a perverse heart shall be despised.
We are here told whence to expect a good name. Reputation is what most
have a high regard to and stand much upon. Now it is certain,
1. The best reputation is that which attends virtue and serious piety,
and the prudent conduct of life: A man shall be commended by all
that are wise and good, in conformity to the judgment of God himself,
which we are sure is according to truth, not according to his
riches or preferments, his craft and subtlety, but according to his
wisdom, the honesty of his designs and the prudent choice of means
to compass them.
2. The worst reproach is that which follows wickedness and an
opposition to that which is good: He that is of a perverse
heart, that turns aside to crooked ways, and goes on frowardly in
them, shall be despised. Providence will bring him to poverty
and contempt, and all that have a true sense of honour will despise him
as unworthy to be dealt with and unfit to be trusted, as a blemish and
scandal to mankind.
9 He that is despised, and hath a servant, is better than
he that honoureth himself, and lacketh bread.
1. It is the folly of some that they covet to make a great figure
abroad, take place, and take state, as persons of quality, and yet want
necessaries at home, and, if their debts were paid, would not be worth
a morsel of bread, nay, perhaps, pinch their bellies to put it on their
backs, that they may appear very gay, because fine feathers make fine
2. The condition and character of those is every way better who content
themselves in a lower sphere, where they are despised for the plainness
of their dress and the meanness of their post, that they may be able to
afford themselves, not only necessaries, but conveniences, in their own
houses, not only bread, but a servant to attend them and take some of
their work off their hands. Those that contrive to live plentifully and
comfortably at home are to be preferred before those that affect
nothing so much as to appear splendid abroad, though they have not
wherewithal to maintain their appearance, whose hearts are unhumbled
when their condition is low.
10 A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the
tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
1. To how great a degree a good man will be merciful; he has not only a
compassion for the human nature under its greatest abasements, but he
regards even the life of his beast, not only because it is his
servant, but because it is God's creature, and in conformity to
Providence, which preserves man and beast. The beasts that are
under our care must be provided for, must have convenient food and
rest, must in no case be abused or tyrannised over. Balaam was checked
for beating his ass. The law took care for oxen. Those therefore are
unrighteous men that are not just to the brute-creatures; those that
are furious and barbarous to them evidence, and confirm in themselves,
a habit of barbarity, and help to make the creation groan,
2. To how great a degree a wicked man will be unmerciful; even his
tender mercies are cruel; that natural compassion which
is in him, as a man, is lost, and, by the power of corruption, is
turned into hard-heartedness; even that which they will have to pass
for compassion is really cruel, as Pilate's resolution concerning
Christ the innocent, I will chastise him and let him go. Their
pretended kindnesses are only a cover for purposed cruelties.
11 He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread: but
he that followeth vain persons is void of understanding.
1. It is men's wisdom to mind their business and follow an honest
calling, for that is the way, by the blessing of God, to get a
livelihood: He that tills his land, of which he is either the
owner or the occupant, that keeps to his word and is willing to take
pains, if he do not raise an estate by it (what need is there of
that?), yet he shall be satisfied with bread, shall have food
convenient for himself and his family, enough to bear his charges
comfortably through the world. Even the sentence of wrath has this
mercy in it, Thou shalt eat bread, though it be in the sweat
of thy face. Cain was denied this,
Be busy, and that is the true way to be easy. Keep thy shop and thy
shop will keep thee. Thou shalt eat the labour of thy hands.
2. It is men's folly to neglect their business. Those are void of
understanding that do so, for then they fall in with idle
companions and follow them in their evil courses, and so come to want
bread, at least bread of their own, and make themselves burdensome to
others, eating the bread out of other people's mouths.
12 The wicked desireth the net of evil men: but the root of
the righteous yieldeth fruit.
1. What is the care and aim of a wicked man; he would do mischief: He
desires the net of evil men. "Oh that I were but as cunning as
such a man, to make a hand of those I deal with, that I had but his art
of over-reaching, that I could but take my revenge on one I have spite
to as effectually as he can!" He desires the strong-hold, or
fortress, of evil men (so some read it), to act securely in doing
mischief, that it may not turn upon him.
2. What is the care and aim of a good man: His root yields
fruit, and is his strength and stability, and that is it that he
desires, to do good and to be fixed and confirmed in doing good. The
wicked desires only a net wherewith to fish for himself; the righteous
desires to yield fruit for the benefit of others and God's glory,
13 The wicked is snared by the transgression of his lips: but
the just shall come out of trouble.
1. The wicked entangling themselves in trouble by their folly, when God
in justice leaves them to themselves. They are often snared by the
transgression of their lips and their throats are cut with their
own tongues. By speaking evil of dignities they expose
themselves to public justice; by giving ill language they become
obnoxious to private resentments, are sued for defamation, and actions
on the case for words are brought against them. Many a man has paid
dearly in this world for the transgression of his lips, and has felt
the lash on his back for want of a bridle upon his tongue,
2. The righteous extricating themselves out of trouble by their own
wisdom, when God in mercy comes in for their succour: The just shall
come out of such troubles as the wicked throw themselves headlong
into. It is intimated that the just may perhaps come into trouble; but,
though they fall, they shall not be utterly cast down,
14 A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his
mouth: and the recompence of a man's hands shall be rendered unto
We are here assured, for our quickening to every good word and work,
1. That even good words will turn to a good account
A man shall be satisfied with good (that is, he shall gain
present comfort, that inward pleasure which is truly satisfying) by
the fruit of his mouth, by the good he does with his pious
discourse and prudent advice. While we are teaching others we may
ourselves learn, and feed on the bread of life we break to others.
2. That good works, much more, will be abundantly rewarded: The
recompence of a man's hands for all his work and labour of love,
all he has done for the glory of God and the good of his generation,
shall be rendered unto him, and he shall reap as he has sown. Or
it may be understood of the general rule of justice; God will render
to every man according to his work,
15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that
hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.
1. What it is that keeps a fool from being wise: His way is right in
his own eyes; he thinks he is in the right in every thing he does,
and therefore asks no advice, because he does not apprehend he
needs it; he is confident he knows the way, and cannot miss it, and
therefore never enquires the way. The rule he goes by is to do that
which is right in his own eyes, to walk in the way of his heart.
Quicquid libet, licet--He makes his will his law. He is a fool
that is governed by his eye, and not by his conscience.
2. What it is that keeps a wise man from being a fool; he is willing
to be advised, desires to have counsel given him, and hearkens to
counsel, being diffident of his own judgment and having a value for
the direction of those that are wise and good. He is wise (it is a sign
he is so, and he is likely to continue so) whose ear is always open to
16 A fool's wrath is presently known: but a prudent man
1. Passion is folly: A fool is known by his anger (so some read
it); not but that a wise man may be angry when there is just cause for
it, but then he has his anger under check and direction, is lord of
his anger, whereas a fool's anger lords it over him. He that, when
he is provoked, breaks out into indecent expressions, in words or
behaviour, whose passion alters his countenance, makes him outrageous,
and leads him to forget himself, Nabal certainly is his name and
folly is with him. A fool's indignation is known in the day; he
proclaims it openly, whatever company he is in. Or it is known in the
day he is provoked; he cannot defer showing his resentments. Those that
are soon angry, that are quickly put into a flame by the least spark,
have not that rule which they ought to have over their own spirits.
2. Meekness is wisdom: A prudent man covers shame.
(1.) He covers the passion that is in his own breast; when his
spirit is stirred, and his heart hot within him, he keeps
his mouth as with a bridle, and suppresses his resentments, by
smothering and stifling them. Anger is shame, and, though a wise man be
not perfectly free from it, yet he is ashamed of it, rebukes it, and
suffers not the evil spirit to speak.
(2.) He covers the provocation that is given him, the indignity that is
done him, winks at it, covers it as much as may be from himself, that
he may not carry his resentments of it too far. It is a kindness to
ourselves, and contributes to the repose of our own minds, to extenuate
and excuse the injuries and affronts that we receive, instead of
aggravating them and making the worst of them, as we are apt to do.
17 He that speaketh truth sheweth forth righteousness: but a
false witness deceit.
1. A faithful witness commended for an honest man. He that makes
conscience of speaking truth, and representing every thing
fairly, to the best of his knowledge, whether in judgment or in common
conversation, whether he be upon his oath or no, he shows forth
righteousness; he makes it to appear that he is governed and
actuated by the principles and laws of righteousness, and he promotes
justice by doing honour to it and serving the administration of it.
2. A false witness condemned for a cheat; he shows forth
deceit, not only how little conscience he makes of deceiving those
he deals with, but how much pleasure he takes in it, and that he is
possessed by a lying spirit,
We are all concerned to possess ourselves with a dread and detestation
of the sin of lying
and with a reigning principle of honesty.
18 There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but
the tongue of the wise is health.
The tongue is death or life, poison or medicine, as it is used.
1. There are words that are cutting and killing, that are like the
piercings of a sword. Opprobrious words grieve the spirits of those
to whom they are spoken, and cut them to the heart. Slanders, like a
sword, wound the reputation of those of whom they are uttered, and
perhaps incurably. Whisperings and evil surmises, like a sword, divide
and cut asunder the bounds of love and friendship, and separate those
that have been dearest to each other.
2. There are words that are curing and healing: The tongue of the
wise is health, closing up those wounds which the backbiting tongue
had given, making all whole again, restoring peace, and accommodating
matters in variance and persuading to reconciliation. Wisdom will find
out proper remedies against the mischiefs that are made by detraction
19 The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying
tongue is but for a moment.
Be it observed, to the honour of truth, that sacred thing,
1. That, if truth be spoken, it will hold good, and, whoever may be
disobliged by it and angry at it, yet it will keep its ground. Great is
the truth and will prevail. What is true will be always true; we may
abide by it, and need not fear being disproved and put to shame.
2. That, if truth be denied, yet in time it will transpire. A lying
tongue, that puts false colours upon things, is but for a
moment. The lie will be disproved. The liar, when he comes to be
examined, will be found in several stories, and not consistent with
himself as he is that speaks truth; and, when he is found in a lie, he
cannot gain his point, nor will he afterwards be credited. Truth may be
eclipsed, but it will come to light. Those therefore that make a lie
their refuge will find it a refuge of lies.
20 Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil: but to
the counsellors of peace is joy.
1. Those that devise mischief contrive, for the accomplishing of it,
how to impose upon others; but it will prove, in the end, that they
deceive themselves. Those that imagine evil, under colour of
friendship, have their hearts full of this and the other advantage and
satisfaction which they shall gain by it, but it is all a cheat. Let
them imagine it ever so artfully, deceivers will be deceived.
2. Those that consult the good of their neighbours, that study the
things which make for peace and give peaceable advice, promote healing
attempts and contrive healing methods, and, according as their sphere
is, further the public welfare, will have not only the credit, but the
comfort of it. They will have joy and success, perhaps beyond their
expectation. Blessed are the peace-makers.
21 There shall no evil happen to the just: but the wicked shall
be filled with mischief.
1. Piety is a sure protection. If men be sincerely righteous, the
righteous God has engaged that no evil shall happen to them. He will,
by the power of his grace in them, that principle of justice, keep them
from the evil of sin; so that, though they be tempted, yet they shall
not be overcome by the temptation, and though they may come into
trouble, into many troubles, yet to them those troubles shall have no
evil in them, whatever they have to others
for they shall be overruled to work for their good.
2. Wickedness is as sure a destruction. Those that live in contempt of
God and man, that are set on mischief, with mischief they shall be
filled. They shall be more mischievous, shall be filled with all
Or they shall be made miserable with the mischiefs that shall come upon
them. Those that delight in mischief shall have enough of it. Some
read the whole verse thus, There shall no evil happen to the just,
though the wicked be filled with mischief and spite against them.
They shall be safe under the protection of Heaven, though hell itself
break loose upon them.
22 Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal
truly are his delight.
We are here taught,
1. To hate lying, and to keep at the utmost distance from it, because
it is an abomination to the Lord, and renders those abominable in his
sight that allow themselves in it, not only because it is a breach of
his law, but because it is destructive to human society.
2. To make conscience of truth, not only in our words, but in all our
actions, because those that deal truly and sincerely in all
their dealings are his delight, and he is well pleased with
them. We delight to converse with, and make use of, those that are
honest and that we may put a confidence in; such therefore let us be,
that we may recommend ourselves to the favour both of God and man.
23 A prudent man concealeth knowledge: but the heart of fools
1. He that is wise does not affect to proclaim his wisdom, and it is
his honour that he does not. He communicates his knowledge when it may
turn to the edification of others, but he conceals it when the showing
of it would only tend to his own commendation. Knowing men, if they be
prudent men, will carefully avoid every thing that savours of
ostentation, and not take all occasions to show their learning and
reading, but only to use it for good purposes, and then let their
own works praise them. Ars est celare artem--The perfection of art is
to conceal it.
2. He that is foolish cannot avoid proclaiming his folly, and it is his
shame that he cannot: The heart of fools, by their foolish words
and actions, proclaims foolishness; either they do not desire to
hide it, so little sense have they of good and evil, honour and
dishonour, or they know not how to hide it, so little discretion have
they in the management of themselves,
24 The hand of the diligent shall bear rule: but the slothful
shall be under tribute.
1. Industry is the way to preferment. Solomon advanced Jeroboam because
he saw that he was an industrious young man, and minded his business,
1 Kings 11:28.
Men that take pains in study and serviceableness will thereby gain such
an interest and reputation as will give them a dominion over all about
them, by which means many have risen strangely. He that has been
faithful in a few things shall be made ruler over many
things. The elders, that labour in the word and doctrine,
are worthy of double honour; and those that are diligent when
they are young will get that which will enable them to rule, and so to
rest, when they are old.
2. Knavery is the way to slavery: The slothful and careless, or
rather the deceitful (for so the word signifies), shall be
under tribute. Those that, because they will not take pains in an
honest calling, live by their shifts and arts of dishonesty, are paltry
and beggarly, and will be kept under. Those that are diligent and
honest when they are apprentices will come to be masters; but those
that are otherwise are the fools who, all their days, must be
servants to the wise in heart.
25 Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good
word maketh it glad.
1. The cause and consequence of melancholy. It is heaviness in the
heart; it is a load of care, and fear, and sorrow, upon the
spirits, depressing them, and disabling them to exert themselves with
any vigour on what is to be done or fortitude in what is to borne; it
makes them stoop, prostrates and sinks them. Those that are thus
oppressed can neither do the duty nor take the comfort of any relation,
condition, or conversation. Those therefore that are inclined to it
should watch and pray against it.
2. The cure of it: A good word from God, applied by faith,
makes it glad; such a word is that (says one of the rabbin),
Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee; the
good word of God, particularly the gospel, is designed to make the
hearts glad that are weary and heavy-laden,
Ministers are to be helpers of this joy.
26 The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour: but
the way of the wicked seduceth them.
1. That good men do well for themselves; for they have in themselves an
excellent character, and they secure to themselves an excellent
portion, and in both they excel other people: The righteous is more
abundant than his neighbour (so the margin); he is richer, though
not in this world's goods, yet in the graces and comforts of the
Spirit, which are the true riches. There is a true excellency in
religion; it ennobles men, inspires them with generous principles,
makes them substantial; it is an excellency which is, in the sight of
God, of great price, who is the true Judge of excellency. His
neighbour may make a greater figure in the world, may be more
applauded, but the righteous man has the intrinsic worth.
2. That wicked men do ill for themselves; they walk in a way which
seduces them. It seems to them to be not only a pleasant way,
but the right way; it is so agreeable to flesh and blood that they
therefore flatter themselves with an opinion that it cannot be amiss,
but they will not gain the point they aim at, nor enjoy the good they
hope for. It is all a cheat; and therefore the righteous is wiser and
happier than his neighbour, that yet despise him and trample upon
27 The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in
hunting: but the substance of a diligent man is precious.
1. That which may make us hate slothfulness and deceit, for the word
here, as before, signifies both: The slothful deceitful
man has roast meat, but that which he roasts is not what he
himself took in hunting, no, it is what others took pains for,
and he lives upon the fruit of their labours, like the drones in the
hive. Or, if slothful deceitful men have taken any thing by hunting (as
sportsmen are seldom men of business), yet they do not roast it when
they have taken it; they have no comfort in the enjoyment of it;
perhaps God in his providence cuts them short of it.
2. That which may make us in love with industry and honesty, that the
substance of a diligent man, though it be not great perhaps,
is yet precious. It comes from the blessing of God; he
has comfort in it; it does him good, and his family. It is his own
daily bread, not bread out of other people's mouths, and therefore he
sees God gives it to him in answer to his prayer.
28 In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway
thereof there is no death.
The way of religion is here recommended to us,
1. As a straight, plain, easy way; it is the way of
righteousness. God's commands (the rule we are to walk by) are all
holy, just, and good. Religion has right reason and equity on its side;
it is a path-way, a way which God has cast up for us
it is a highway, the king's highway, the King of kings' highway, a way
which is tracked before us by all the saints, the good old way, full of
the footsteps of the flock.
2. As a safe, pleasant, comfortable way.
(1.) There is not only life at the end, but there is life in the way;
all true comfort and satisfaction. The favour of God, which is better
than life; the Spirit, who is life.
(2.) There is not only life in it, but so as that in it there is no
death, none of that sorrow of the world which works death and is an
allay to our present joy and life. There is no end of that life that is
in the way of righteousness. Here there is life, but there is death
too. In the way of righteousness there is life, and no
death, life and immortality.