Impact of Moral Choices
Text: Proverbs 11:1-31
Honesty and Humility
A merchant can be dishonest in two ways. He can use a scale that reads balanced when the two sides are not truly level; or he can use weights that are not accurate. High precision was not available in these days, but there is a level of tolerance that should have been met. Inaccurate weight is a form of lying. It is subtle because no words are actually said, but a person is nonetheless deceived. Given the number of times it is mentioned, it clearly was a widespread problem (Leviticus 19:35-36; Deuteronomy 25:13-16). While men may be deceived, God takes note of a person’s honesty in his dealings with others.
Notice in Proverbs 11:2 that we have an incomplete contrast. Pride and lowliness are opposites, but shame and wisdom are not – at least not directly. The intent is to fill in the opposite side with the unstated opposites. Pride is foolishness that leads to shame. With lowliness is wisdom that leads to honor. The technical term for this style of figurative writing is called an ellipse, where the reader is expected to fill in the unstated terms.
Personal pride leads to personal shame. A lowly attitude gives wisdom. The contrast then implies that pride prevents a person from becoming wise, most likely from a refusal to learn because the person is certain he knows everything he needs to know. However, a person with a lowly attitude knows he needs to learn, and the wisdom he gains leans to honor.
- Why leave out words or phrases? What advantage is it in communicating ideas?
We mentioned before that “upright” refers to a person who is straightforward and direct. He is the opposite of the perverse or crooked person. The integrity of the upright person serves as a guide to making decisions in life, thus keeping them safe. However, the twisted thinking of the treacherous cannot let them see the outcome of their actions; thus, it cannot guide them safely, with the result of the treacherous being destroyed.
In the same way, wealth is of no use on the day of wrath. When God comes in righteous judgment, you cannot buy your way to safety (Psalms 49:6-8; Ezekiel 7:19). But safety can be found in righteousness (I Timothy 4:8).
Because the upright follow righteousness, God’s teachings guide him in making good decisions and keep him safe. The wicked, however, are brought low by their own sins. They have no guidance from outside of themselves (Proverbs 1:31; 5:22-23).
Proverbs 11:6 is like the verse before, but here the focus is on what the person desires as opposed to what he does. While righteousness delivers the upright from problems, the deceitful (or treacherous) are trapped by their own lusts. The problem of sin reaches all the way to the heart.
Wicked people are focused only on things in this world. When they die, that is the limits of what they expect from life (Proverbs 10:28). The wicked are compared to “strong men,” that is wicked people tend to use force, power, and violence to get their way, but such cannot survive their death.
The righteous avoid trouble by carefully considering the results of their choices and always applying God’s wisdom in their decisions. But the wicked don’t care about the morality of their choices. Thus, the problems avoided by the righteous are the same problems into which the wicked run headlong.
- Proverbs 11:4 is a near repeat of Proverbs 10:2. What is different?
- After a long series of contrasts, Proverbs 11:7 suddenly speaks only of the wicked? Why? What is implied about the righteous?
Impact on Neighbors
The wicked destroy the people around him with his words. However, the righteous can be saved from that destruction through knowledge. Everyone is happy when things go well with the righteous because the righteous is generous with his blessings (I Timothy 6:17-19). When the wicked die, it also brings happiness because the source of problems is removed. The words of the righteous are a blessing to people, building them up and encouraging them. The words of the wicked tear people down.
A reasonable man keeps silent when he doesn’t have something good to say about the people around him, but the wicked man isn’t reasonable. It doesn’t make sense to hurt the people around you, whom you depend on because you live among them.
- How can knowledge defeat the ruinous words of the wicked?
Advice and Guidance
People who gossip won’t keep your secrets, so don’t trust your secrets with them. A trustworthy man always protects the secrets told to him.
Without good advice, people make mistakes in decisions and they collapse. With many advisors, you are able to see problems from different viewpoints and are more likely to avoid disasters.
- All advice is not equal. The more people you ask, the more likely you’ll get bad advice. Is this helpful?
Being a co-signer on a loan for a person you don’t know is just asking for trouble. You would be taking on large risks with no assurance the loan will be paid. Therefore, never co-signing a loan gives greater peace of mind. (See Proverbs 6:1-5).
A kindhearted or gracious woman holds on to her honor – it is what she values. Men who operate by causing fear in others hold on to their wealth – it is what they value. Notice also the contrast: a single gracious woman and many ruthless men. Graciousness is rarer than ruthlessness. Graciousness doesn’t cause others to fear. Men tend to use strength to get their way more than women do.
When a man is merciful to another person, he is actually doing good to himself spiritually. A cruel man causes trouble to his own flesh. “Flesh” can refer to a person’s physical body or figuratively to a person’s descendants.
- Does kindness justify a poor financial decision?
- Give examples of how mercy benefits a person.
- Give examples of how cruelty harms a person.
Future Gains or Losses
Wickedness can gain a person wealth, but it is deceptive because the wealth is unstable. However, spreading righteousness is a stable benefit (Hosea 10:12). Notice that the reason why wicked gains are deceptive (that they are unstable) is derived from the implied opposite of the righteous. The statement is similar to Proverbs 10:2.
Launching off the idea of stability, life can only be gained by a steadfast pursuit of righteousness. In literal Hebrew, you won't see a word for "steadfast," but depending on how the word ken is used in the sentence, the meaning can vary. If it is seen as an adverb it can mean "true righteousness" but as a substantive, it means "one who is righteous." The difference is not considered to be significant. In contrast, death comes to those pursuing evil, whether they constantly pursue wickedness or not. This is similar to Proverbs 11:5-6.
God finds those who are crooked (perverse) in their thoughts disgusting. He has delight in those who are straightforward (upright) in their actions. Notice the contrast not only between perverse and upright but also between heart and ways.
There is assurance that the wicked will be punished. The idiom “hand to hand” only appears here and in Proverbs 16:5. There is a debate regarding its meaning. It could mean “though they join forces,” but most translations see this as an expression of assurance or certainty. Yet, the idea of the wicked trying to join forces through deals and being defeated makes a strong contrast to the righteous whose family is delivered (Psalms 37:25-28).
Dressing up a pig with a gold ring doesn’t make the pig better – it is still a pig. In the same way, beauty doesn’t make up for a character flaw, such as the inability to make good choices.
The righteous wants what is good for himself and for others (Matthew 5:6), but a wicked person can only expect wrath in the future (Romans 2:8-9; Hebrews 10:26-27).
Generous people give of what they have and yet end up with more (II Corinthians 9:8-11; I Timothy 6:18-19; Psalms 112:9). Stingy people who don’t even pay what is due end up in poverty (Proverbs 3:27). Proverbs 11:25-26 explains Proverbs 11:24. When a person is generous other people are inclined to be generous to him in return (Ecclesiastes 11: 1-2). When a person has excess goods but refuses to sell to those who need those goods, people despise them. People bless the person who is willing to sell.
If a person greatly desires good, he will find favor. The word for diligently seeking (shachar) literally means to rise early to search something out. The word for favor (ratsown) means something delightful. The person who seeks (inquires after) evil will have evil come to him. The one who puts hard effort into looking for good, will through searching find his delight. But the one who casually looks for evil will have evil searching him out (Psalms 7:15-16; 57:6).
Proverbs 11:28 is another example of ellipses. When a person trusts in riches, he will fall. By implication of the contrast, it is the wicked who trusts in his riches. However, the righteous don’t trust in wealth (again by implication) and as a result the righteous flourishes (I Timothy 6:17).
Speaking of falling, a person who causes trouble for his own family will inherit nothing but the wind. By implication in the second half, this person is a fool and will end up serving the wise. Since we are speaking of inheritance, the person causing the trouble is likely a teenager or young adult.
The result of righteous living is a tree of life (Proverbs 3:18). The tree of life gave those who ate of it eternal life (Genesis 3:22). Thus, the righteous teach righteousness, win souls for God, and, thus, bring eternal life to others (Daniel 12:3; James 5:20). This is the ultimate gain.
However, it is too easy to slip into a pattern of thinking that rewards and punishments are all about the life hereafter. Proverbs 11:31 literally starts with “Behold!” which is translated more mildly as “if.” There is a rich reward for the righteous here on earth and given that is true the consequences for the wicked and sinners are even more certain to happen here on earth.
- Concerning Proverbs 11:21, given examples of descendants of a righteous man being delivered because of respect for their ancestor.
- Concerning Proverbs 11:26, if there is a shortage of a product and a merchant happens to have it in stock, what should he do?
- At the time of this writing, pharmaceutical companies were being bought and the price of needed drugs was raised to astounding levels. How might Proverbs 11:26 apply?
- List some rewards that happen to the righteous on earth.
- List some bad consequences that happen to the wicked and sinners here on earth.