Listen and Learn

Words of the Wise

17 Incline your ear, and hear the words of the wise,
    and apply your heart to my knowledge,
18 for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you,
    if all of them are ready on your lips.
19 That your trust may be in the Lord,
    I have made them known to you today, even to you.
20 Have I not written for you thirty sayings
    of counsel and knowledge,
21 to make you know what is right and true,
    that you may give a true answer to those who sent you?

22 Do not rob the poor, because he is poor,
    or crush the afflicted at the gate,
23 for the Lord will plead their cause
    and rob of life those who rob them.
24 Make no friendship with a man given to anger,
    nor go with a wrathful man,
25 lest you learn his ways
    and entangle yourself in a snare.
26 Be not one of those who give pledges,
    who put up security for debts.
27 If you have nothing with which to pay,
    why should your bed be taken from under you?
28 Do not move the ancient landmark
    that your fathers have set.
29 Do you see a man skillful in his work?
    He will stand before kings;
    he will not stand before obscure men. – Proverbs 22:17-29 ESV

Verse 17 of chapter 22 begins a new section within the book of Proverbs that extends to chapter 22, verse 34, and contains 36 “sayings of the wise” (Proverbs 24:23a ESV). This collection of proverbial statements covers a wide range of topics and appears to be the work of a group of “wise men” or sages, as the title of this section suggests.

The Sayings of the Wise

The Hebrew word that is translated as “wise” in verse 17 most likely refers to a group of learned men or sages from which Solomon borrowed and adapted this collection of sayings.

“The plur. sages points to the existence of a special class of wise men, who were oral teachers or writers. The utterances of these men formed a distinct body of thought, part of which is preserved in the Book of Proverbs . . .” – Crawford H. Toy,  A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Proverbs

Solomon opens this new section with an introduction in which he conveys the purpose for his inclusion of these 30-plus sayings of the wise.

I have written thirty sayings for you,
    filled with advice and knowledge. – Proverbs 22:20 NLT

Solomon is not claiming to be the author of these wise sayings but he is simply stating that he has carefully collected and compiled them for the benefit of his readers. And he reminds them that the application of these truths to their lives will be of great benefit.

For it is good to keep these sayings in your heart
    and always ready on your lips.
I am teaching you today—yes, you—
    so you will trust in the Lord. – Proverbs 22:18-19 NLT

It seems quite evident that Solomon viewed these sayings as far more than the intelligent musings of mere men. No, he saw them as divinely inspired by God. He chose them for their godly wisdom and eternal value. There is some indication that Solomon’s original audience was his own offspring, particularly his sons. Throughout the book of Proverbs, he has repeatedly addressed his words to the male members of his household, calling them to listen and apply the words of wisdom he had collected. And in this section, he continues to focus his attention on his sons, begging them to consider carefully what he is trying to tell them so that they might be equipped with the truth.

Have I not written for you thirty sayings
    of counsel and knowledge,
to make you know what is right and true,
    that you may give a true answer to those who sent you? – Proverbs 22:20-21 ESV

Solomon knew that, as a father, the day would come when he have to kick his sons out of the nest so that they might begin their own lives. And he was fully aware that they would discover the world to be a far less friendly environment than the royal palace in which they were raised. As sons of the king, they had been raised in an atmosphere of comfort and privilege. They were accustomed to all the benefits that great power and wealth can offer. And as heirs of Solomon’s unprecedented fortune, they were each assured of a sizeable inheritance. They would be set for life. So, it is not surprising that the first few wisdom sayings have to do with financial matters. And the very first one deals with the relationship between the haves and the have-nots.

Don’t rob the poor just because you can,
    or exploit the needy in court.
For the Lord is their defender.
    He will ruin anyone who ruins them. – Proverbs 22:22-23 NLT

This has been a common theme in the book of Proverbs and reveals that the interaction between the rich and the poor was a problem in Solomon’s day. The down-and-out were despised by their more affluent neighbors. Poverty was considered to be a curse from God while wealth was viewed as a sign of His blessing. And Proverbs 14:20-21 reveals this viewpoint was not only inaccurate but in direct opposition to the will of God.

The poor is disliked even by his neighbor,
    but the rich has many friends.
Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner,
    but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

God has a special place in His heart for the disadvantaged and destitute, and His children were to share His care and concern for them.

Those who mock the poor insult their Maker;
    those who rejoice at the misfortune of others will be punished. – Proverbs 17:5 NLT

If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord
    and he will repay you! – Proverbs 19:17 NLT

Solomon wanted his young sons to share God’s concern for the needy and not use their privilege and power as weapons to take advantage of the less fortunate. And sadly, some of Solomon’s own descendants would fail to heed his warnings and cause the people of Israel to line their pockets and pad their portfolios with the possessions of the poor. And God would have some strong words to level against them.

The Lord comes forward to pronounce judgment
    on the elders and rulers of his people:
“You have ruined Israel, my vineyard.
    Your houses are filled with things stolen from the poor.
How dare you crush my people,
    grinding the faces of the poor into the dust?”
    demands the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – Isaiah 3:14-15 NLT

But the temptation to profit off the backs of the poor was not the only thing Solomon’s sons would need to avoid. They were going to need to know how to navigate the dangerous and sometimes deadly waters of relationships. As wealthy members of the community, they would never lack friends. Their influence and affluence would attract all kinds of individuals who coveted a place at their table and access to their wealth. As Proverbs 14:20 states: “the rich have many ‘friends.’”

So, Solomon warns his sons to choose their friends carefully, with special emphasis on those individuals who display anger issues.

Don’t befriend angry people
    or associate with hot-tempered people,
or you will learn to be like them
    and endanger your soul. – Proverbs 22:24-25 NLT

In his letter to the church in Corinth, the apostle Paul quoted a popular proverb of his day: “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33 ESV). This truism is timeless and has proven its veracity over the centuries. Those who associate with angry people tend to become like them. It’s virtually impossible to hang out with immoral people and not become like them. And this is not the first time Solomon has warned his sons to avoid quick-tempered people like the plague.

A hot-tempered person starts fights;
    a cool-tempered person stops them. – Proverbs 15:18 NLT

People with understanding control their anger;
    a hot temper shows great foolishness. – Proverbs 14:29 NLT

Uncontrolled anger is a tell-tale characteristic of a fool, and a man of wisdom should avoid such people at all costs.

Next, Solomon shares a time-tested adage concerning friends and finances. As he has done elsewhere in the book of Proverbs, Solomon warns his sons against putting their financial reputation on the line for someone else.

Don’t agree to guarantee another person’s debt
    or put up security for someone else.
If you can’t pay it,
    even your bed will be snatched from under you. – Proverbs 22:26-27 NLT

All the way back in Proverbs 6, Solomon provided his sons with some strong words concerning the danger of co-signing on a loan for someone else.

My child, if you have put up security for a friend’s debt
    or agreed to guarantee the debt of a stranger—
if you have trapped yourself by your agreement
    and are caught by what you said—
follow my advice and save yourself,
    for you have placed yourself at your friend’s mercy.
Now swallow your pride;
    go and beg to have your name erased.
Don’t put it off; do it now!
    Don’t rest until you do. – Proverbs 6:1-4 NLT

It’s not difficult to sense Solomon’s strong feelings on this topic, and it’s likely that he had firsthand experience. He had probably learned the painful lesson that comes with putting your money and your reputation on the line for someone else’s behalf. Guaranteeing the loan of another person leaves you open to substantial loss – not just financially, but also relationally. Money can become a great source of division between friends. So, Solomon warns his sons to be wary. Their financial resources would make them easy prey. But just because they had the capacity to secure a friend’s debt didn’t mean they should.

Next, Solomon deals with the need for his sons to engage in ethical business practices. Once again, their wealth would provide them with influence and power and they would constantly be tempted to use both to get what they wanted. Money can make things happen, and Solomon knew that his sons would always face the temptation to use their resources unethically.

Don’t cheat your neighbor by moving the ancient boundary markers
    set up by previous generations. – Proverbs 22:28 NLT

Boundary markers were large stones that were used to delineate property rights. The picture that Solomon paints is of someone using their money to have those stones incrementally moved so that, over time, their property was enlarged. It was a subtle and sinister manipulation of the system to gain an unfair advantage over someone else. It was immoral, unethical, and unacceptable to God.

Cursed is anyone who steals property from a neighbor by moving a boundary marker. – Deuteronomy 27:17 NLT

Finally, Solomon encourages his sons to foster a habit of hard work. They were not to allow their affluence to produce an attitude of entitlement that manifested itself in laziness.

Do you see any truly competent workers?
    They will serve kings
    rather than working for ordinary people. – Proverbs 22:29 NLT

Those who are diligent are the ones who deserve recognition and reward, not the lazy and incompetent. The hardworking will end up garnering the attention of the powerful and influential. Solomon wanted his sons to be men of integrity and honor. He desired that they would be hardworking and reliable, rather than resting on their social standing and financial status. Solomon knew that affluence could be a curse as much as a blessing. Without the presence of wisdom, even privilege could become a real problem. So, Solomon provides his sons with a lengthy list of helpful and time-tested truths to guide their lives for years to come.

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