In the central portion of the Book of Proverbs (in chapters 10-22), there are 375 proverbs of Solomon—which are principles and guidelines that we should seek to live by.
The Bible Book of Proverbs (from beginning to end) stresses the importance of showing reverence to God, and being honest in our dealings with others. The idea of integrity carries with it the meaning of habitual honesty. A substantial number of people in the world about us are longing to associate with persons who are honest. They are tired of dealing with deceit and dishonesty. They want to see people who are honest clear through!
One Christian ministry uses vans to distribute books to a variety of book racks in retail stores. When the vans have a large number of miles, they offer them for sale from the parking lot of the company headquarters. One time a potential buyer stopped to inquire about the price of one of the vans that was for sale. They pleaded for “a good price” because the potential buyer said they want to use it to transport handicapped children to meet their doctor appointments, and to engage in various activities. The story was that the van was needed to help others, and so the Christian book ministry decided to give the van without cost. But a few days later the very same van was marked for sale in a local shopping center parking lot. When the book ministry associate called the number to inquire about the van—he was told by the person offering it for sale—that he had the van for a long time, that it recently had a new motor installed, and that it was in much better condition than it really was. The person to whom the van was given, lied to get the van and he also lied to try and sell it. People are weary of dealing with deceit and dishonesty.
For the Christian, the teachings of the Bible are the norm by which all conduct is judged and evaluated. The Scriptures are the yardstick by which all behavior is to be measured. Our lesson in Proverbs 11 contrasts the good man with the evil man—the upright with the transgressor.
Proverbs are short, concise sentences which convey moral truth.
They are laws of Heaven for life on earth.
Proverbs are simple truths, easily remembered, containing much wisdom in a few words.
We use expressions such as “Look before you leap.” That simple proverb teaches the wisdom of considering the consequences of our actions before making a major decision.
Other common proverbial sayings are these: “A stitch in time saves nine,” “Haste makes waste,” “A penny saved is a penny earned,” and “Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.” (The last two are from Poor Richard’s Almanac, Ben Franklin.)
1. Integrity will be rewarded in life and in death (Proverbs 11:1-4).
Verse 1: “A false balance is (an) abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.”
God views dishonest business practices as an abomination in His eyes. To use “dishonest scales” is a poor testimony for God’s people—because it represents cheating, and cheating is a form of stealing—and stealing is a violation of the 8th Commandment.
In early times, each vendor had stone weights that supposedly matched some national standard, but it was a common thing for merchants to have more than one set of stones.
A person who is inclined to cheat, will often tell untruths to achieve his purposes. Some years ago, near closing time, a shopkeeper had one chicken left in a barrel of ice water. (In those days, they did not have nice display stands for meats, all refrigerated and well-lighted). A customer came in at closing time and asked the shopkeeper if he had any chickens left. “Sure,” he said, grabbing the lone chicken and resting it on the scales. He said, “Here’s one—a dollar thirty-five.” The lady said, “Do you have a larger one?” The merchant replied, “I’ll see,” as he returned the same chicken into the barrel. He jostled it around for a few seconds (he only had one chicken), and then pulled it out, laid the same chicken on the scales, and said, “Here’s one for a dollar eighty-five.” The customer said, “I’ll take both of them.”
Most people smile at that story, because we do not like to be cheated, and we like to think that a dishonest merchant deserves to be caught in his own game. Cheating in buying and selling is as old as the marketplace itself. It all started in Genesis 3.
What are some ways by which business people are dishonest today?
Some answers are these: elevating prices before offering discounts; using fine print that most people will not see; offering rebates to send in after the purchase is made. Why don’t the merchants simply reduce the price by the amount of the rebate and save the customer all the trouble? (Only one-third of the retail consumers actually send away for the rebates which are offered—USA Today, 7-5-06.)
Another form of dishonesty is related to selling a house, but there’s a problem with the septic system during wet periods—and we say nothing to a potential buyer.
God looks for honesty in business practices.
Verse 2: “When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.”
Pride (verse 2a) is a feeling of exaggerated self-importance. Nothing is more detestable in God’s sight than pride on the part of creatures who have absolutely nothing to be proud of. William Barclay says that pride is the ground (the dirt) in which all other sins grow.
There is a pride of intellect—an arrogance that assumes it knows more than others. (We all excel in one area of knowledge, but we’re just plain ignorant in other areas.)
There is a pride of power—the passion to dominate and be at the top of the totem pole. Have you heard about the Air-Force officer who was promoted and assigned to an important office in the Pentagon building near Washington D.C.? On the first day in his office, he wanted to impress everyone with his importance. Soon after he sat down at his desk, he heard a knock on the door. He said, “Come on in.” He reached over to pick up the phone [which was not ringing], and as he did, he said, “Just a minute, son, the phone rang just as you came in.” He began to speak into the phone — “Yes sir, I’ll call the President right away. Thank you, sir, for your confidence in me.” The officer hung up the phone, looked at the young man who had just entered his office—and said, “Now, son, what is that you want?” The young man said, “Sir, I just came to hook up your telephone!”
There is a pride of face—a kind of haughtiness that centers on one’s outward appearance. (After the dress shop, the nail shop, and the beauty shop are finished with some people, it almost takes a first-class x-ray machine to see what they really look like.)
The word “lowly” (2b) is usually translated “humble”—those who are submissive to God and man. Pride indicates a lack of brokenness before God. Lowliness of mind is an indication of true wisdom.
Verse 3: “The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them.”
When there is purpose of heart to walk in God’s truth, the Spirit of God can be counted upon to give guidance and direction. People who purpose to do good are guided by integrity.
The “transgressors” are those who ignore God’s laws, and transgressors will be destroyed by their dishonesty. The last part of verse 3 implies that those who are dishonest will likely be cheated by others.
Verse 4: “Riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death.”
Those who trust in “riches” find that life is ultimately empty—and that riches are meaningless at the time of death. On the one hand, wealth is the reward for hard, honest work; on the other hand, wealth will do little good in death.
Some years ago, a young man in Statesville, NC (who was in prison and sentenced to die in the electric chair)—learned while he was in prison that he had inherited one million dollars. When he heard the news, he said, “I don’t care if it’s one dollar, or a million dollars, right now I have something else on my mind!”
The last part of verse 4 says that “righteousness” delivers from death. Human beings are declared “righteous” by faith in Jesus Christ—and receiving the righteousness of Christ is the only way to be delivered from death.
The Living Bible paraphrase says, “Your riches won’t help you on the Judgment Day; only righteousness counts then.”
None of us thinks he is rich, but most people in the Western World are rich when compared to multitudes in other parts of the world. For example, 90% of the people of the world do not own an automobile. We feel handicapped without electricity for one or two hours during a storm or a malfunction of some kind, but many people in the world will never have access to electricity for even five minutes.
2. Retribution is a law of God in this world and in the next (Proverbs 11:5-11)
Verse 5: “The righteousness of the perfect (the blameless) shall direct his way (aright): but the wicked shall fall by his own wickedness.”
The “perfect”—those who are morally upright—better translated “blameless,” will live by the standards of integrity and honesty. A “blameless” person is one who is above reproach. It does not mean that he must be sinless, but his life must be lived so nobly that there won’t be any loopholes for others to latch onto and criticize. There are some irresponsible people who will accuse. We might be unjustly blamed for wrong, but there must be nothing in our lives that could truthfully be used to bring shame to the cause of Christ.
The “wicked” (those who have no respect for God and holy things) will fall beneath the load of their sins.
Verse 6: “The righteousness of the upright shall deliver them: but transgressors shall be taken in their own naughtiness” (in their own iniquity).
Those who are upright, and seek to obey the Lord, will be delivered from many snares.
Those who transgress God’s laws will discover that their sins become their un-doing. The point is this: eventually (in the long run) righteousness pays off!
Verse 7: “When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth.”
No matter how powerful a person might seem in life, the hopes of the wicked are frustrated in death. When unsaved persons die, their hopes all perish!
Verse 8: “The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead” (or as some translations render it, “but trouble comes to the wicked instead”).
Proverbs are general principles and guidelines—which may have exceptions, for example, see Proverbs 17:6, 18:22, and 22:15. We must not give a proverbial saying the weight of a moral absolute, but any exceptions are not a problem of errors in the Bible, but are due to the nature and definition of a proverb.
Verse 8 in our lesson is an example of a proverb that is not always true. Some good people do starve (10:3); God’s people do sometimes have struggles and troubles of various kinds (11:8, 19:23)—but generally speaking, the life of the person who seeks to live for the Lord, fares better in the long run. Those who defy God’s standards tend to come to ruin.
The point of verses 5-8 is that the path of righteousness leads to endless glory, and the path of lawlessness leads to sorrow and woe.
Verse 9: “An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour: but through knowledge shall the just (the righteous) be delivered.”
A “hypocrite” is not one who in an unguarded moment occasionally falls short of God’s highest standard; a hypocrite is one who deliberately uses religion to cover up sin, and to promote his own selfish gains. In verse 9, the hypocrite tries to cover his own baseness by falsely accusing and seeking to diminish the accomplishments of others. It makes us look better if we can rub the glitter off the achievements of others!
On the other hand, the “just” (the righteous)—knowing what happens when people are caught up with ill-founded gossip—will focus on speaking only what is necessary and true.
Verse 10: “When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth: and when the wicked perish, there is shouting.”
An entire community will often celebrate the achievements of a good and upright person. If you drive through the little town of Dixon, Illinois in the United States—you will soon learn of their pride regarding the accomplishments of Ronald Reagan.
On the other hand, when godless people die (or get penned up in prison)—it sometimes becomes a relief for people in a community. One writer says, “I never killed a man, but I read some obituaries with a sense of glee.”
Verse 11: “By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted: but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.”
The good influence of people who are citizens of character, causes a city to prosper. On the other hand, the moral filth of the wicked, cause a community to decay.
Wise government leaders will vigorously support upright and God-fearing citizens, and will suppress and punish criminals and immoral persons. Our Pilgrim Fathers came across the Atlantic determined to build a nation on Bible principles. It seems that America today (in spite of all the wickedness), is coasting along on the basis of those righteous principles.
3. There are some wise proverbs against talkativeness (Proverbs 11:12-14)
Verse 12: “He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.”
To quarrel with a neighbor is a foolish gesture. The old maxim has value: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
A person of integrity will learn the art of holding his tongue—moving quietly on like King David did in Old Testament times when he was cursed by Shimei. He committed the injustice to God, who will someday mete out a fair punishment. (We should confide our concerns into the hands of the Lord, especially when we feel we’ve been wronged and mistreated.)
Verse 13: “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.”
The Living Bible paraphrase says, “A gossip goes around spreading rumors, while a trustworthy person tries to quiet them.” (This advice is also given in Proverbs 19:11).
The “talebearer” is a gossiper—one who engages in needless chatter about other people; it is talk about rather personal, intimate, and unnecessary things. The talebearer cannot resist the temptation to tell others juicy tidbits of information about others.
A gossiper is one who seeks to keep up to date about other people’s business. He does not necessarily slander others, but whenever you see him, he has something new to tell about somebody else. The gossiper knows when the next baby is due, who the latest boyfriends are, and how much a neighbor paid for his car, etc. It’s nice to keep up with ordinary events happening in the community—but gossip is idle chatter about the rather personal affairs of others—and it carries with it some real dangers:
Gossip 1 told gossip 2 that Mr. Smith bought his goods from Mr. Brown. Gossip 2 told 3 that Smith got his goods; gossip 3 told 4 that Smith took; 4 told 5 Smith stole his goods from Brown. (One who is always sharing information about others, tends to add a little bit more, and then a little more—until the final tale has more falsehood than truth.)
Paul told Timothy that some are “tattlers . . . and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not” (1 Timothy 5:13).
Verse 14: “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.”
The first part of the saying calls for good counsel. God’s people have among them persons who are wise—and can give good counsel. A counselor (not necessarily a professional person) will listen to problems that people are facing; will discuss the alternatives; will help people form a conclusion, and will give directions about the course of life.
This proverb assures us that counselors are good and often are intelligent people who can help others. There is, however, another colloquial proverb that expresses the other side: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.”
The perspective of just one person is usually severely limited. Even a very wise and godly person is subject to blunders and errors of judgment. And so it is sometimes wise to seek the counsel of others.
In Old Testament times, Rehoboam lost the major part of his kingdom because he refused to listen to the advice of older men in the community.
The purpose of the Proverbs is to warn the young and inexperienced of the dangers and sorrows that will be encountered when the heart rebels against God and His Word. It is our prayer that each person who has decided to embrace salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, will have an earnest desire to be carefully honest in all that he or she does!