1 The wisest of women builds her house,
but folly with her own hands tears it down.
2 Whoever walks in uprightness fears the Lord,
but he who is devious in his ways despises him.
3 By the mouth of a fool comes a rod for his back,
but the lips of the wise will preserve them.
4 Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
5 A faithful witness does not lie,
but a false witness breathes out lies.
6 A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain,
but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding.
7 Leave the presence of a fool,
for there you do not meet words of knowledge.
8 The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way,
but the folly of fools is deceiving.
9 Fools mock at the guilt offering,
but the upright enjoy acceptance.
10 The heart knows its own bitterness,
and no stranger shares its joy.
11 The house of the wicked will be destroyed,
but the tent of the upright will flourish.
12 There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death. – Proverbs 14:1-12 ESV
Solomon continues his differentiation between wisdom and folly. Yet, with this particular collection of proverbial sayings, it’s more difficult to find a consistent theme or singular heading with which to summarize them. It’s clear that Solomon is still juxtaposing the life of righteousness with the life of wickedness but he seems less intent on categorizing or arranging the content in a systemized manner. Nonetheless, the reader has no trouble assessing which lifestyle Solomon is recommending. He blatantly promotes the way of the wise because it leads to a constructive rather than a destructive life (verse 1).
Out of reverence for God, the wise person lives a “straight” life, while the one who despises God ends up living a “crooked” or perverse life (verse 2). For Solomon, a healthy relationship with God was vital to living a productive and satisfying life. There was no hope for the godless.
Strangely enough, the fool, who lacks wisdom, tends to have an overabundance of pride (verse 3). And his excessive and unwarranted hubris expresses itself in insufferable boasting that eventually turns everyone against him. Unlike the wise person, whose words are filled with grace and humility, the fool displays a pretentiousness and pride that comes back to haunt him.
A wise person would rather deal with the inconvenience of a dirty barn that comes from owning a hard-working ox (verse 4). But, in a sense, the fool would cut off his nose to spite his face. Out of laziness, he would sell off his ox just to keep from having to clean up its stall and, in doing so, he would forfeit his means of survival.
The fool ends up lying for a living (verse 5). His words can’t be trusted. Lying becomes as natural and necessary to a fool as breathing. Deceit is like oxygen to a fool; he can’t exist without it. The context seems to be that of a trial. Solomon describes two kinds of witnesses; one who is a pathological liar bent on self-preservation and the other is a trustworthy witness who refuses to lie, even in his own defense.
Solomon puts a high premium on wisdom but points out that the pursuit of wisdom for wisdom’s sake is useless. “A mocker seeks wisdom and never finds it” because he seeks it apart from a relationship with God (verse 6). Solomon uses the Hebrew word, lûṣ, which refers to someone with an overinflated sense of self-worth. As a result, they deride and dismiss others, even God Himself. And Solomon’s father warned him about people like this.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt; their acts are vile. There is no one who does good. – Psalm 14:1 BSB
True wisdom is impossible to find apart from a relationship with God. If you say there is no God, you will never know wisdom. It’s as simple as that. And, according to Solomon, that is all the reason you need to avoid the fool.
Stay away from fools,
for you won’t find knowledge on their lips. – Proverbs 14:7 NLT
He is not suggesting that fools are stupid or devoid of intelligence. It is just that they lack the kind of knowledge that only God can provide. Their wisdom is man-made and of this world. It lacks divine depth and an eternal perspective. Human wisdom tends to be myopic and focused on the here-and-now. Without God, it is devoid of vision and divine insight. This leads fools to deceive themselves (verse 8). Believing themselves to be wise, they end up becoming increasingly more foolish (Romans 1:22). Their dismissal of God leads to an ever-increasing sense of superior intelligence that fuels an ever-diminishing capacity for true wisdom. But because the wise know God, they can always know where they’re going because He directs their path (Proverbs 16:9).
One of the characteristics of a fool is that they never seem to feel guilt or shame for their godless behavior (verse 9). They view their way as the right way. They see no need to confess sin or seek atonement because they have become like God, knowing right from wrong. While “Fools make fun of guilt,” deeming it to be an unnecessary burden, “the godly acknowledge it and seek reconciliation” (Proverbs 14:9 NLT). It was Jesus who told the arrogant and self-righteous Pharisees of His day, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent” (Luke 5:31-32 NLT). Fools see no need for repentance because they refuse to acknowledge their actions as sinful and reject their need for God’s forgiveness. But the godly respond like the tax collector in a parable that Jesus told His disciples.
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Like 18:13-14 NLT
The beauty of forgiveness is that it relieves the heart of sorrow and despair. While the fool may try to dismiss the reality of sin, its presence and consequences are inescapable. Man is hardwired to feel shame and guilt for living in violation of God’s commands. That is why Solomon states, “The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy” (verse 10). Guilt and conviction settle in the heart, creating an overwhelming sense of culpability that must be dealt with either by confession or denial. A fool refuses to assuage his guilt and release his burden through repentance. This leaves him no other choice than to seek escape through further disobedience. In desperate search of release from the weight of sin’s condemnation, the sinner sinks deeper into a lifestyle of rebellion against God. And the result is bitterness rather than joy.
But this futile path leads to destruction, not release from the inescapable guilt and shame.
The house of the wicked will be destroyed… – Proverbs 14:11 ESV
The fool is building a house of cards, a flimsy structure that cannot withstand the rigors of this life and the reality of eternity. Jesus described the sad plight of the individual who refuses to heed the Wisdom of God.
“But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” – Matthew 7:26-27 NLT
The fool believes his house to be well-constructed and built on a solid foundation but, in time, the shaky state of his life will be exposed for what it is: A rickety bundle of sticks and stones built on an unsteady foundation of lies. Yet, as Solomon points out, the wise and righteous man dwells in his temporary tent with utter confidence knowing that it rests on the unwavering foundation of God’s unfailing Word.
The author of Hebrews reminded his readers of the faith of Abraham, the patriarch of the nation of Israel. He describes Abraham’s sojourn in Canaan, the land God had promised to give to him as an inheritance for his descendants. But Abraham never had the pleasure of building a house in Canaan. Instead, he lived in tents and waited for something greater that God had in store for him.
…even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God. – Hebrews 11:9-10 NLT
Abraham could have acted the fool and built for himself a beautiful house in the land of promise. He could have easily justified his actions by claiming that God had given him the land. But that is not what God had called him to do. His “house” would come later. His dwelling place would be made by the hands of God, not man. And he was willing to wait for God’s best rather than settle for a home built on sand.
Solomon reminds us that “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death” (verse 12). Every human being faces the temptation to deem their way to be the right way. Ever since the fall, we have been plagued with an insatiable desire to be like God, with the sole power to decide what is right and wrong. We are obsessed with the need to pursue a life of autonomy, acting as the sole arbiters of our fate. But, as Solomon warns, that way leads to death and not life. And God would have us remember:
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.