Study Guide

Proverbs Morality and Ethics

Morality and Ethics

"[…] [M]y child, do not walk in their way, keep your foot from their paths; for their feet run to evil, and they hurry to shed blood. For in vain is the net baited while the bird is looking on; yet they lie in wait—to kill themselves! and set an ambush—for their own lives! Such is the end of all who are greedy for gain; it takes away the life of its possessors." (NRSV 1:15-19)

My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: for their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird. And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives. So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof. (KJV 1:15-19)

Wicked robbers who lie in wait to ambush and kill people are really waiting to ambush themselves—since their bad deeds are going to eventually be repaid, whether in this life or in the afterlife.

Do not enter the path of the wicked, and do not walk in the way of evildoers. Avoid it; do not go on it; turn away from it and pass on. For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. The way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what they stumble over. (NRSV 4:14-19)

Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away. For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall. For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence. But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble. (KJV 4:14-19)

Since the righteous are grounded in the fear of God and in keeping God's commandments, they see their lives with increasing humility and clarity. But since the wicked have nothing on which to anchor their understanding of life, they're people wandering into ever deeper darkness.

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence. Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses. (NRSV 10:11-12)

The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked. Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins. (KJV 10:11)

Love and the forgiveness of sins put an end to violence. Strife only creates more strife.

The righteous know the needs of their animals, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel. (NRSV 12:10)

A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. (KJV 12:10)

This is an ancient pro-animal-rights statement. The "mercy of the wicked is cruel" means that what the wicked consider "mercy" is really just more cruelty.

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (NRSV 15:1)

A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. (KJV 15:1)

Stirring the pot is both immoral and counter-productive here. Speaking gently to an angry person helps diffuse their temper—but harsh words are just going to spur anger onwards.

The one who lives alone is self-indulgent, showing contempt for all who have sound judgment. (NRSV 18:1)

Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom. (KJV 18:1)

Proverbs wants people to be participating in their family and their communities—that's where the righteous life and the wise life play out. Keeping to one's self prevents that from happening. Proverbs considers it to be like hoarding up your life just for yourself.

Do not rejoice when your enemies fall, and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble, or else the Lord will see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from them. (NRSV 24:17-18)

Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: lest the Lord see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him. (KJV 24:17-18)

God doesn't want people to rejoice at punishment—his method of disciplining people seems to be more about rehabilitation than retribution.

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