Commentary on Proverbs 6:16-19

“16 There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, 19 A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers” (Proverbs 6:16-19 NASB)

Introduction: Proverbs 6:16-19 is presented amid a section of Proverbs intended by Solomon to provide examples of prudence (Constable 25). According to Constable, “A prudent person can foresee the consequences of possible actions and behaves accordingly” (Constable 25). There is little doubt that this passage connects the inward condition of one’s heart to their outward behavior. For the original audience, it would have been clear according to the context that to foster and nurture a soiled heart results in “sins that displease the Lord” (Steveson 77). Of course, the modern reader is privy to the full revelation of Jesus Christ and understands that even the worst heart can be washed clean by the blood of Christ.

Verse 16: Dr. Thomas Constable writes, “The phrase ‘six … yes, seven’ implies that this list is not exhaustive of what God hates, though it is explicit” (Constable 26). Verse 16 is an example of what Longman refers to as numerical parallelism as it follows an x, x+1 pattern. Longman writes, “Such a device is a way of saying there are a number of different examples of the phenomenon, only a few of which are given” (Longman 45). For the original hearer of this Proverb, as well as the modern reader, it must be understood that there are more things than just the seven items on the following list that are an abomination to God. However, each item on this list must be taken seriously. According to Strong’s dictionary, these “abominations” are things that are particularly disgusting and abhorrent in the sight of God (Strong). As such, the reader will do well to avoid each of the following items.

 

Verse 17: The first three items on the list are presented in this verse: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood. It does not seem to be a coincidence that these three items each represent an action that is first birthed in the heart and then acted upon with a part of the body: eyes, tongue, and hands. Steveson writes, “… the eyes serve as a mirror of the soul” (84). The outward actions of pride, lying, and even murder reflect an inward condition of sin. In his commentary, Matthew Henry writes, “These things which God hates, we must hate in ourselves; it is nothing to hate them in others (Henry). The disciple of Christ must learn to recognize these inward sins before they are birthed into action. Inward sin left unaddressed will inevitably spill over into our actions.

 

Verse 18: Verse 18 echoes the sentiment of verse 17. “A heart that devises wicked schemes” and “feet that run rapidly to evil”. Again, these two concepts do not seem to be mutually exclusive. The astute reader cannot help but notice the parallelism present in this verse. In reference to parallelism, Longman writes, “… the second part [of the verse] sharpens and intensifies the thought of the first part” (Longman 39). This is certainly the case in this verse. It is evitable that a man whose heart devises wicked schemes will eventually run rapidly to evil. This is in direct contradiction to the admonition Paul gave Timothy, “But flee from these things [godlessness and depravity], you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11 NASB emphasis mine). A person who allows his or her heart to remain sinful and to devise wicked schemes will ultimately run into sinful acts if given the opportunity. Our actions will inevitably mirror our inward condition. We may wonder at times how a man is capable of heinous sin. According to this passage, the answer is clear – he has practiced it many times over in his heart.

 

Verse 19:  Again, the astute reader will notice the parallelism present in this verse. Solomon offers two suggestions of how a sinful heart may spill over to impact those closest to us. A sinful person may utter lies and those lies will inevitably spread strife among brothers. The modern reader will inevitably read the New Testament back into this passage and understand that lies will cause strife in the local church. Brothers will turn on brothers and chaos will result. More than one local church has split because of such conditions.  

 

Conclusions: Certainly, a prudent man will learn how to recognize the sin in his heart before it spills over into actions. A wise person will understand the ramifications of their actions before they commit to them. Constable writes that this passage speaks to our “attitude, thought, speech, actions, and influence” (Constable 26). In other words, they speak to the totality of our being. Our heart as well as the actions of our tongues, eyes, and hands. The person who desires to gain control over his or her sinful actions will begin with the sinful nature of his or her heart.

 

Sources

 

Constable, Thomas. “Notes on Proverbs.” SonicLight.com. Retrieved from http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/pdf/proverbs.pdf. Web. 24 May 2013.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary. ChristNotes,org. Retrieved from http://www.christnotes.org/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=20&c=6. Web. 12 June 2013.

Longman, Trempor. How to Read the Proverbs. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

Steveson, Peter. A Commentary on the Book of Proverbs. Greenville, South Carolina: Bob Jones University Press, 2001.

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance with Greek and Hebrew Definitions. Electronic source included in the E-Sword Bible software. Downloaded from http://www.e-sword.net

 

 

Introduction to the Book of Proverbs

Author(s)

The book of Proverbs introduces itself as being written by Solomon, the son of David in verse one. While some people hold to the belief that this attribution is honorific[i], the text makes it clear that Solomon himself wrote the vast majority of the Proverbs. It is obvious; however, that Solomon is not the only author. Large sections of Proverbs are attributed to wise men named Agur and Lemuel. There are also references within the text that sections of Proverbs may have been written by a group of wise men.[ii]

Date of Writing

As the majority of the text seems to have been written by Solomon, the writing of the Book of Proverbs would date back to the tenth century B.C.[iii] There are several similarities in Proverbs to a piece of Egyptian literature named, “The Wisdom of Amenemope,” that would also date Proverbs to the tenth century B.C.[iv] It seems obvious, however, that sections of Proverbs have been edited and written at a later date. Verse 1 of Chapter 25 indicates that a section of the book was copied by the “men of Hezekiah, King of Judah.” This section can be dated to approximately 700 B.C.[v]

Historical Background and Theme

If Solomon is considered the primary author of Proverbs, than the book was written during a time of peace and prosperity in Israel’s history. It was a time in Israel’s history when one would expect a reflective piece of wisdom literature to have been written.[vi]Later additions were added during a time of spiritual renewal led by King Hezekiah.[vii] The Book of Proverbs presents itself as a guide for a young man to attain wisdom, discipline, and a prudent life. Most of the book offers short, concise statements about the human condition that are generally true.[viii] Proverbs are meant to be interpreted as a guide to the best way of life, not as literal statements that are true under every condition. There is also a large section of couplets contained within Proverbs that provide contrasting statements. It is important that this book not be interpreted as a book of prophecies or promises.[ix]


[i] The Book of Proverbs in Social and Theological Context  – http://www.cup.es/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780511222696&ss=exc

[ii] International Bible Society – http://www.ibsstl.org/niv/studybible/proverbs.php

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

Book Review: How to Read the Proverbs by Tremper Longman III

Book Review of How to read the Proverbs by Tremper Longman III

Rating: 8 out of 10

This short book is highly readable and well worth the time. Longman does a fantastic job of illustrating the various poetic elements that are incorporated in the Proverbs. The reader of the book will come to appreciate the rich depth of the Proverbs.Early in the book, Longman reveals the dangers in reading the Book of Proverbs with a strictly literal interpretation. The Proverbs are poetic literature and contain all the elements one would expect to find in poetry; such as, imagery and hyperbole. A literal interpretation of the Proverbs robs them of their depth. Longman also explains the Biblical Proverbs amongst other Near Eastern wisdom literature. The reader will discover while there are striking similarities between the Proverbs and other wisdom literature, there is one striking difference that sets the Biblical Proverbs apart.

I highly enjoyed reading this little book and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to study Old Testament poetry. I will be adding this book to my recommended reading list.