The Wisdom of Listening (v. 15)
A fool says, “I do not have to listen.” His attitudes and decisions say: “I am my own man; I can do what I please.” We should be revolted by such a spirit; we have often acted this way ourselves. It seems utterly absurd to make so much of listening, especially in our day when we have turned “every man does what is right in his own eyes” into an art form (Jud. 17:6; 21:25). We have taken Satan’s bait: hook, line, and sinker: “You will be as gods; determining good and evil for yourselves.” Since we have denied God’s authority over us and cast his most sacred truth in the street, all ordained human authority chains – husbands to wives, parents to children, pastors and teachers to congregations, governments to citizens – have become nothing but suggestions, to ignore or tolerate, to avoid or reject as the mood strikes. If we question why the Lord makes so much of listening, let us recall how many are now languishing in hell. They have this one sin in common. Like Adam, they refused to listen to the voice of God, subdue their hearts to his voice, and bring themselves under his authority. Listening is very serious. It is the foundation of all right talking (vv. 16-23) and blessing upon our work (vv. 24-27). So important is listening to our very wellbeing that this section ends with a double blessing rather than the usual contrast between the wise and foolish man (v. 28). Listening is a life or death issue.
Yet, the fool thinks he has it all together. His way is right to him because in his narrow, darkened thinking, no one knows better than he does what is best for him. He trusts his feelings and thoughts as if they were oracles from heaven. He is attracted to those who allow his illusion of sufficiency to go unchallenged. His true heart is revealed when confronted by counselors who point out errors or deficiencies in his path and call him to repent. Touch his idol – himself – and he will let you know he will not cast away his gods. Anger, lies, shame, and calamity follow in his path; we live in God’s world, after all, and he exercises a determined war against fools. But a wise man listens to counsel. Think what blessing came to Moses when he listened to his father-in-law, Jethro, or David to Abigail, Peter to Paul, Apollos to Aquila and Priscilla. Admittedly, to listen is a confession of insufficiency. It is very humbling to our pride. We have no great love when our pet theories, parenting methods, financial choices, or doctrinal beliefs are challenged by others. We hold to them tenaciously, even if their fruits are making us miserable. Why do we act like this? It is pride that keeps a man from listening. This same pride, among professing believers, can sometimes only be remedied through confrontation, discipline, even excommunication (Matt. 18:15-20). But let us seek the heart and spirit of our Savior: “Mine ears thou hast opened” (Ps. 40:6). He has saved our ears as much as our souls by his willing submission to his Father’s counsel. His whole life was nothing but a waiting obedience upon his Father, always doing those things that pleased him (John 4:34; 8:29). He will help us if we call upon him, fervently praying for a heart that loves counsel, humbles itself before his truth, and loathes the fool’s “no one can tell me anything” spirit. So humbled must we be by God’s love and grace to us that we seek out such counsel, testing all our ways by God’s eternal truth and bringing the piercing brightness of his word and wisdom upon the innermost recesses of our thoughts. Spouses, children, church members: each one of us must draw from our Savior the grace that makes us want the advice and guidance of the godly.
How Listeners Talk (vv. 16-23)
The transition from listening to talking is compelling. It is as if Solomon says that healthy, edifying words have their root in a humble, listening heart. “Swift to hear” not only makes us “slow to speak,” but also when we do talk, it makes our words glorifying to God and a blessing to ourselves and others. Since each one of us feels in himself the truth that’ “no man can tame the tongue,” we must flee to its only trustworthy gatekeeper: the living God, who subdues our heart to a listening frame of mind and gives us a heart that craves his words as its chief good. Refusing to listen and stubbornly clinging to his own ways and thoughts, the fool’s wrath, his frustration that life cannot go the way he would like for it to, is soon revealed (v. 16). Cross him or confront him, and you will soon feel his wrath: like taking a “dog by the ears” (26:17). Self-deceived, it is but a short step to becoming a “false witness” (v. 17). How important “truth within” should be to us, as well as the habit of telling the absolute truth about everything, without exaggeration or embellishment. “Small” lies are born of the deeper lies – self-deception about God, self, and life – and bear fruit in carelessness about the truth in more serious circumstances: like in a courtroom or lying to get out of trouble, which is really nothing more than lying to save one’s own skin, reputation, and precious delusions. And the fool’s tongue is like the “piercings of a sword” (v. 18) – harsh, divisive, destructive, deadly. Think, husband, whether your words to your wife and children pierce like a sword or give health! Are you biting and critical or gentle and supportive? Remember, there is no future in lies (v. 19). You may think a lie or half-truth will help you escape from unpleasant circumstances, but lying lips will be silenced – if not in this life, though they often are, certainly in hell, where there will be an eternity tormented by the horrible truth about yourself and God (Rev. 21:8).
From where do angry, lying, piercing words come? Deceit in the heart (v. 20). Solomon probes deeply, anticipating our Savior (Matt. 12:34). Fools speak as they do because of the sinful imaginations – daydreams, delusions, schemes, sins – of their heart. A fool’s heart is a preacher of foolishness (v. 23). Hearing this, we must be stirred again to run from thinking our own thoughts, from imagining that the world is as sinners would like for it to be, and to cling to God’s words, meditating upon them all the day long. The fool wants none of this; it would disturb his self-pleasing fiction – whether a politician, celebrity, philosopher, or common man. Wedded to his own thoughts and ways, his destiny is mischief: trouble, evil, injury, and calamity (v. 21). It is truly amazing how destroyers of families, economies, companies, and schools with their lies, manipulations, and pride are always surprised that their schemes could not be realized, their lies exposed. But we live in God’s world, and he is the Lord of the harvest, sovereign over the wheat and the tares. He will give to the fool fruits he does not expect from his hard-hearted rebellion. For “lying lips are abomination to the Lord” (v. 22). How could they not be? His every thought is eternal truth (Ps. 119:152,160). What he hates, he opposes in his holiness. This should comfort the godly as they see so many liars in positions of power; God’s hatred of sin and his love for righteousness is one of our greatest supports in this life – the wicked cannot prevail! To do so, they must overcome the wrathful opposition of God to their lies; this they can never do.
How different are our words when our hearts are subdued to listening, when in union with our Savior he opens our ears! We cover shame (v. 16). Not ruled by our temper, hating the thought of pulling ourselves up by casting others in a bad light, we never meet fire with fire. Our soft answer turns away wrath (15:1). We are slow to believe a bad report about another, hold all men and especially fellow-believers in the highest possible esteem until forced by clear proofs to do otherwise, and still do not spread abroad their faults. Rumors die with us; gossip is embarrassed and silenced by our holy, honest heart. We speak the truth (v. 17). The whole community is blessed by the righteous words that flow from a wise man’s righteous heart. Our tongue gives health: comfort to the sorrowing, encouragement to the weak, hope to the despairing (v. 18). Whereas the fool’s tongue separates men or forces them to take his view of things, the wise man – because in the depths of his heart he is a listener to God’s word – brings peace and wisdom to men even in the most difficult of circumstances. And thus our words endure (v. 19). Thinking God’s thoughts, we speak God’s thoughts. God’s word can never be overcome; he remembers where every precious seed, every holy morsel of his lips falls. Words spoken by godly parents to their children bear fruit forever, in untold generations to come. Warnings and encouragements from holy pulpits shape the course of history – not the dreams, delusions, and distractions of those who kiss our Lord Jesus, like Judas, but do not truly love his word. The world, even, God forbid, some corners of our Savior’s vineyard, is filled with those who prefer their own thoughts to God’s; they will not last.
Listening makes us “counselors of peace” (v. 20). We shall have joy. Here is the connection. If we face the truth about God, his world, and ourselves, we are cast down from our high citadel of pride. The depths into which we have sunk by our ingratitude and willfulness truly, deeply humble us. The way out of this dungeon was only through the cross, through true peace with God through the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. We have done with deceit. The light of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ has burned away our masks. When we speak to others, our words do not come from a well of self-deception. We point them to peace: the same peace God has mercifully lavished upon us. This is our joy; we invite all men to partake of this river of life flowing from the throne of God. And in this joy, no evil can happen to us (v. 21). This seems impossible to believe, but even the hardships of God’s kingdom, trials of faith, and sufferings for righteousness are all the means through which God works to bring good to us (Rom. 8:28). Imagine: listen to God and never know evil. Even the worst calamities advance our eternal interest and temporal welfare, if only by leading us to cling more closely to God’s word and cast ourselves upon his promises through Jesus Christ. How can this be? Just as God abominates lying lips, so dealers in truth are his delight (v. 22). O, how utterly undoing it is to be brought before the majesty of God, to see oneself honestly in the light of his holiness, to be so cast down that only Jesus lifting up our eyes to behold his cross and crown gives us hope! He opens our ears; we hear his “It is finished.” Lies are finished! Self-deception is finished! The awful defilement we contracted in the garden is finished, cleansed, purged! The Father delights in us as he delights in his own Son. Thus humbled, in utter awe of God’s grace and mercy to us in Jesus, we “conceal knowledge” (v. 23). No more self-promotion, having to share all we know, wanting desperately to be highly esteemed in the eyes of men. No, the cross has put an end to all that. It is our only boast. We are done with the ultimate cult: the religion of self: doing what we want, refusing to be counseled, plugging our ears against all that is good and holy, against anything that opposes our right to think and live as we please. Instead, our only desire is to be found in him who loved us and gave himself for us. Listening to the gospel, we want others to listen to the voice of the precious Savior who called us out of our tomb.
Some Fruits of Listening (vv. 24-27)
David, speaking more of his greater Son, our Lord Jesus, than of himself, wrote: “For thou hast made him most blessed forever: thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance” (Ps. 21:6). And why did this blessedness come upon him except that he “always did those things that pleased his Father,” that his every breath was “not my will, but thine be done?” As he is now exalted, extolled, and very high, he shares his blessedness with us by opening our ears and strengthening us to hear the word of God with faith and joy. Our blessedness in him lies not only in our words but also upon our work. He has told us to be diligent, that the normal way the Lord provides for us and prospers us is through faithfulness in our callings (v. 24). Who was ever more diligent in his calling than our Lord Jesus? He “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:6). He now rules over all. His wisdom will be justified in us, his children. As we are diligent – to give ourselves to his service, to carry out our work heartily unto him, to work to bring a smile to his face – he will share his rule with us. Had he been lazy, had he not loved his own to the end but abandoned us in that last hour (John 13:1), sealed forever would have been our slavery to sin and death, our tribute everlasting hell. This principle of diligence leading to rule will be exemplified in all his people, if not before the scoffing eyes of the world, then certainly on that last day when the despised before men yet diligent to believe, love, and serve God will be crowned with glory and honor, judge angels, and receive an everlasting kingdom from their Savior’s hand. How much ought we to seek from our Lord Jesus a diligent spirit – in all our business, relations and families, serving his church, helping the poor and needy! The end of all things is at hand (1 Pet. 4:7). The deeds of darkness, not the least of which are laziness and waste of God’s gifts and time, must be cast off. The King is coming; his reward is with him. Fools will waste away in hell forever.
Some of the many things that make our hearts heavy are a sense that our life is ebbing away, that we have wasted opportunity and misspent time. The heavy chains of frustration and melancholy then paralyze us further, causing us to stoop or bow down with sorrow (v. 25). It is a sad society when so many men are unemployed, underemployed, or unemployable. In such a climate, fear, mischief, and trouble increase. Then especially we must have good words from God to encourage us; listening to his word will enable us to rise above the despair felt by millions. This is the source of joy that empowers and motivates: to hear God’s good words. And we must share this good word with others so that they may share the blessing we have found. How very important it is for those whose ears the Lord has opened to be glad in God, cheerful in work, joyful in the privilege of serving the Lord in things great and small. Not only does “a merry heart have a continual feast” (Prov. 15:15), but true merriment in the Lord is a tremendous, compelling witness to his goodness and salvation, and so much the more when men and cultures are pressed down with grief and sorrow over their sins.
And thus the righteous is more excellent than his neighbor, however it may appear to men, however different their outward circumstances (v. 26). He has a higher joy, a deeper purpose for living and working, and more lasting riches, even “durable riches and righteousness” (Prov. 8:18). Because he is listening to God, he is not self-deceived, trying to conquer the world and secure its blessings by his own unaided strength and wisdom. This way of the wicked deceives them: disappointed expectations, personal sorrow, and an inexplicable sense that things simply are not right. It is impossible for a soul created by God, a man in his image, to be truly satisfied and at rest as long as he is self-deceived. His self-deception may extend to convincing himself otherwise, but he is and will forever remain who God says he is: miserable, bowed down, and blind until his joy is in his Maker and Redeemer. This is the reason we must “roast what we find in hunting” (v. 27). Applied to listening, which is the broader context, it is not enough to know that God has spoken, to be a hearer of the word, even to traverse heaven and earth to find a good sermon (Jam. 1:22). The fool kills but he does not skin, dress, and eat; he finds but does not use and improve. If we would have the joy of our Lord and one day enter fully into it, we must never think it sufficient unless we are a doer of God’s word, finish what we begin, in things pertaining to this life as well as to the life to come, and press close to our hearts the promise of God’s blessing upon diligence. Our Savior does not consider his work done simply by his death on the cross. Having obtained our redemption, he now lives and reigns to secure us forever to himself, so that not one of his sheep is ever lost. He guards over his lambs, intercedes for them, and rules over all things for their safekeeping and happiness. He has shown us the way to hold fast what we take in the hunting: using the word God gives us, improving the talents and work opportunities he places before us, and delighting in serving him so that he may be glorified.
A Double Blessing (v. 28)
It is unusual for a section to end with what is called “synthetic parallelism:” both halves of the saying making the same positive statement. It is typical for Solomon to employ the contrast: thus, the wise man, thus, the fool. But so difficult is it for us to listen, to bend our wills to God, to keep our ears open to his word, that we need a double motivation. In this way of righteousness is life: fullness of life and joy forevermore. It was our Savior’s path; it is his present blessedness. Guarding our words, diligence in our works, both united and empowered by a heart that is subdued to teachableness, is the way to life. We can only obtain this life through communion with our Lord Jesus, the “Wisdom and Power of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). Look around you: choose laziness, let your mouth run wildly, scheme, lie, and deceive, and what do you receive for your sinful expertise? Men and cultures, relationships and business, governments and institutions with no future: schools that no longer educate but indoctrinate; governments that do not lead and govern but monitor and tax; families that do not work, save, and worship for the future. This is a living death. We see it throughout the West. At the poison root is a self-deceived heart that denies its accountability to God, refuses to listen to his word, and trusts its own schemes. This is nothing but a declaration of war against God, a mad attempt to return to the tree of life without passing under the cross where the Son of God took the sword of divine justice into his own holy breast. There is no life here, only death. In the way of righteousness, there is no death. Jesus Christ swallowed it. He took our sin and death upon himself that we might be the righteousness of God in him. He has joined us to himself by his Spirit so that our tongues may be tamed, our pride humbled, our work satisfying, our hearts made glad. Choose righteousness: life, no death; joy, no evil; peace, no anxiety. It is the path of the cross and of self-denial to be sure, but our Savior walked this path, overcame by his blood and righteousness, and now stands at the finish line encouraging us to follow him (Heb. 12:2). Follow me, he says, and be of good cheer. Work for my glory, my pleasure, and be blessed. Have my good word in your heart and be released from oppressive hopelessness. Listen to me, as I listened to my Father, and live: always, with me, supremely blessed, joy unspeakable and full of glory.