The Application of Wisdom: Character (Part 2)

Notes on Proverbs

In addition to the lessons we can learn from the seven abominations, there are other character traits that one will gain from his pursuit of the wisdom that comes from above.

Self-Control

One who pursues wisdom will learn to exercise control over his emotions, rather than being controlled by them.

He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly. A tranquil heart is life to the body, but passion is rottenness to the bones” (14:29-30).

All men, no matter if they are wise or foolish, will encounter circumstances in their lives that could lead them to become angry. The difference is that the wise man will have control over his emotions so that he is not quick to become angry. The man without self-control will react quickly, thereby increasing folly. Solomon says elsewhere, “A fool’s anger is known at once, but a prudent man conceals dishonor” (12:16). “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding” (17:27). “A fool always loses his temper, but a wise man holds it back” (29:11). Though the contrast between the wise and foolish is clear, it does take effort to exercise self-control. The wise man also says, “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (16:32). He presents the picture of a celebrated military commander or warrior who is able to capture a city. The ability to be able to do this commands respect. However, the wise man says that one who is able to control his emotions (“rules his spirit”) is more accomplished than the warrior, thus showing the great discipline and effort necessary for one to exercise self-control.

Have you found honey? Eat only what you need, that you not have it in excess and vomit it” (25:16).

Self-control is not only necessary in order to refrain from doing things that are wrong. It is also necessary to control our use of those things which are good. It is true that one can have too much of a good thing. Honey is good. In describing the great blessings of the promised land, the Lord called it “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). But even though it was one of the good things of the land, Solomon says, “It is not good to eat much honey” (25:27). We sometimes hear the phrase, “everything in moderation.” Of course, this would not apply to things that are sinful in themselves. But of those things that are good, we must exercise self-control so that we do not overuse or abuse the good things with which God has blessed us.

Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit” (25:28).

City walls during those times served two purposes. First, the walls kept enemies out. Second, the walls provided a necessary boundary, without which it would not be able to function efficiently as a city (if all of the inhabitants and businesses of the city spread out all over the countryside, commerce and communication – the fundamentals of a city’s function – would become severely limited). Self-control works for us as do the walls for the city. It keeps enemies out (those who would entice us to sin), so that we avoid doing those things we should not do. It also provides proper boundaries for our emotions, keeping us disciplined, so that we continue to do those things we ought to do.

Trustworthiness

As one follows the wisdom that comes from above, he will also prove himself to be trustworthy.

Many a man proclaims his own loyalty, but who can find a trustworthy man?” (20:6).

Many are quick to claim that they are trustworthy and reliable. Yet how many actually are? According to the wise man, the number who are trustworthy is far less than those who claim to be. Man in general, as he rejects the wisdom that comes from above, will not be trustworthy. Why? It is because he has no greater standard than himself. He may keep his word when it is advantageous for him to do so. But when it seems better for him to go back on his word, he does it. The implication is that the one following divine wisdom will be trustworthy because he values honesty (more on this point in a later lesson) and works to build a good reputation (more on this point later in this lesson).

Like a bad tooth and an unsteady foot is confidence in a faithless man in time of trouble” (25:19).

This verse and the next show the trouble that is caused by relying upon one who is untrustworthy. The “bad tooth” makes eating difficult and painful. The “unsteady foot” puts one in constant danger of falling. The “faithless man” (one who is untrustworthy) cannot be relied upon when trouble comes. One with a bad tooth, because of the constant pain that it give him, knows it is bad even before he needs to use it. The unsteady foot is known to be unreliable, even before the the time would come when it would be needed for walking or running. The faithless man proves himself to be unreliable, even before he is needed. When trouble comes, the untrustworthy man who follows his own way will not even be called upon.

He cuts off his own feet and drinks violence who sends a message by the hand of a fool” (26:6).

Here the one who is untrustworthy is called “a fool,” showing the fact that trustworthiness is a trait of the wise man. We also noticed that the “faithless man” should have proven himself to be untrustworthy, even before being called upon. Yet some try to use such individuals to carry out certain tasks anyway, either out of ignorance of their faithlessness or in the false hope that they will be uncharacteristically reliable on this occasion. The wise man warns that one who relies upon a fool to deliver a sensitive message will only bring harm to himself.

Reputation

Wisdom also leads one to develop a good reputation among his brethren.

It is by his deeds that a lad distinguishes himself if his conduct is pure and right” (20:11).

The only way to develop a good reputation is by consistently doing good over an extended period of time. “Most men will proclaim…goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” (20:6, KJV). A reputation is not built upon words, but actions. Therefore, a lad is not going to distinguish himself by making promises or claiming to have certain abilities. He will distinguish himself “by his deeds…if his conduct is pure and right.” When we follow after divine wisdom, we will do good. When we do what is right, we will develop the reputation of being good and reliable.

The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold, and each is tested by the praise accorded him” (27:21).

The crucible and furnace were used to refine these precious metals and remove any impurities from them. Praise given to an individual works in much the same way. How a man reacts to the praise that is given to him is often an indicator as to whether or not he deserves it. Furthermore, one who is truly doing what is right, and not just putting on a show so that others will notice him, will live up to the praise he receives, thereby further establishing his reputation.

A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, favor is better than silver and gold” (22:1).

The wise man reminds us how valuable a good reputation can be. Silver and gold can be obtained, even by wicked men. This wealth can also be lost through no fault of the one who possesses it. Yet one’s “good name” cannot be lost as long as he maintains it. This “good name” comes as the result of consistently doing good and following after the wisdom that comes from above. Nothing that is of this world (even silver and gold) can compare with that. We must be sure our priorities are in order and work on establishing a good reputation based upon good works, rather than placing our focus on obtaining the perishable wealth of this world.

Contentment

Following after the wisdom that comes from above, as it helps one to realize what is truly important, will lead to contentment.

A sated man loathes honey, but to a famished man any bitter thing is sweet” (27:7).

We have already noticed the fact that honey is good, provided that it is consumed in moderation (see comments on 25:16). However, one who is so full and has more than enough will begin to loathe something as desirable as honey. On the other hand, one who is famished and does not have the abundant wealth that others have will be more grateful for the few blessings he does have and will learn to be content with them.

Like a bird that wanders from her nest, so is a man who wanders from his home” (27:8).

The nest is a place of comfort and safety for a bird. It is foolish for it to wander from that place without another home to which to go. In the same way, man must learn to be content with what he has – not that he cannot work to improve his lot in life, but that he should not foolishly abandon the blessings, safety, and security he does have in order to foolishly pursue what he desires, especially when such a pursuit leaves him vulnerable spiritually.

Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied” (27:20).

Sheol is the grave. Abaddon is parallel with Sheol, but with a greater emphasis on destruction, rather than just death. These are always open to more lost souls who would enter into them. They are “never full” (KJV). In the same way, the foolish man is never satisfied. He is always wanting more, no matter what he already possesses. He has not learned how to be content.

The leech has two daughters, ‘Give,’ ‘Give.’ There are three things that will not be satisfied, four that will not say, ‘Enough’: Sheol, and the barren womb, earth that is never satisfied with water, and fire that never says, ‘Enough’” (30:15-16).

These verses further describe the insatiable desire of the fool by comparing it to various other things that will never be content. The leech’s two daughters constantly cry for more. Sheol, the grave, is what we noticed previously (see comments on 27:20). The barren womb is never satisfied, as God made it for the purpose of bringing forth children. When no children are brought forth, there is no contentment there. The earth will always receive the rain that falls upon it. The fire will never stop burning as long as there is fuel for it. The fool, like all of these that are never satisfied, cannot be content, no matter how much he acquires of this world’s goods. As we follow after God’s wisdom, we will naturally learn contentment because we will come to understand that all the things that the fool desires are only temporary. As Solomon says later, “Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it. When you set your eyes on it, it is gone” (23:4-5). Let us learn contentment, rather than waste our lives in the endless pursuit of material things.


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