a. Joy in Education (15:20–23)
The framing and introductory educational proverb in v. 20 replaces “son” with “human being” and “grief to his mother” with “despises his mother” in the parallel of 10:1. Does the katabasis from bēn to ʾādām infer that the apostate has been disowned as a “son” (cf. 4:3)? The keyword “joy” (śmḥ) frames the first subunit on joy in successful rearing, enabling the disciple to follow the trajectory from the joy of the parents in a teachable son to the son’s joy in giving wise counsel. The essential goal of the educational venture (v. 20) that is bounded by ethics (v. 21) and promoted by counsel and humility (v. 23) has as its goal right conduct and right speaking (v. 23). The partial unit consists of two loosely connected proverb pairs. Verses 20–21 are linked by śmh and the synonyms “fool” (v. 20a) and “folly” (v. 21b); v. 21 gives the parental instruction an ethical content. Heim notes that each of its four wisdom characterizations consists of two words: bn ḥkm (“wise son”), ksyl ʾdm (“foolish human”), ḥsr lb (“lacking sense”), and ʾyš tbwn (“understanding person”). Verse 22 advances from the parental instruction of youth to the need for counsel as an adult. The dialogical nature of counsel escalates to the giving of good and effective answers within it (v. 23). The catchword yšr (“make straight,” vv. 19, 21) strengthens the connection between the unit on the “importance of education” (15:5–9) and this one.
20 The introductory educational proverb resembles those of 10:1; 12:1; 13:1, and the catchword śāmēaḥ (“cheerful”/“makes glad”) links it with the introduction to the preceding subunit (see 15:13). A wise son makes a father glad repeats 10:1a. But a foolish (ûkesîl; see p. 112) human being (ʾādām; see p. 89) demotes his status to that of one dismembered from his family inheritance. Even though one who hates correction is said to be like a brute animal (12:1), nevertheless his humanity cannot be denied. 10 In the book’s motto (1:7), the object of despises (see 1:7) is “wisdom and instruction.” The change to his mother (ʾimmô; see 1:8, 10:1), which is part of the broken, stereotyped phrase “father and mother” at the book’s seams (see 1:8 and 10:1), suggests the inseparably of the parents from the teaching of this book (see 1:7–8; cf. 23:22–23; 30:17). “Be glad” and “despise” are not a precise match, suggesting that a son who makes his parents rejoice does not despise them, and one who despises them gives them grief. Tragically the person who needs their instruction, out of his exaggerated opinion of his self-importance, feels that he is better than his godly parents and so is intractable and incorrigible. This is the ignoramus’s unmistakable mark. The saying’s indirect motivation to please one’s parents is taken up more explicitly in 23:15–16, 24–25; 27:11.
21 Śāmēaḥ (“makes glad”/“joy”) marks the movement from the joy of the parents to one’s own joy. The moral insolence of folly [see p. 112-113] brings joy (śimḥâ, lit. “is joy”; see 10:28) to the one who has no moral sense to survive (laḥasar-lēb; see 6:32; 10:23). But an understanding (tebûnâ; see 96) person (ʾîš; see 98) makes … straight (yeyaššer; see 1:3), which elsewhere has as its object “paths” (ʾoreḥōt; 3:6; 9:15) or “way” (derek; 11:5), [his] going (lāket; see 1:11) on the prepared straight way that leads upward to life (v. 24). The imprecise antitheses, “folly is joy” and “makes [his] going straight,” imply that the senseless person, who finds joy in flouting the moral order, recklessly turns aside from the path of duty and life, but the understanding person stays the course for the joy set before him (cf. Heb. 12:2). The proverb asks the disciple to call out for insight so that his affection (v. 21a) and action (v. 21b) will be right (see 2:3). The wise person brings present joy to his parents (v. 20) and future joy to himself (v. 21).
22 In adulthood, counselors replace parents. Plans [see 6:18] are thwarted (hāpēr), which essentially means “bring to nothing,” 11 without (belōʾ; see 5:23) 12 the open confidential counsel of intimate friends (sôd; see 3:32) as they lovingly correct each other until they reach wise resolutions as a result of their coming together. The plans of the arrogant, headstrong, and obstinate person, based on his exaggerated opinion of himself, court failure because without correction they tend to be self-serving and defy reality. But with a multitude [see 5:23] of counselors, who have the authority to advise a plan of action (see 12:20; 13:10), each plan succeeds (or takes place, tāqûm; see 6:9). 13 “Plans [plural] fail for want of counsel [singular] but a plan [singular] succeeds because of advisors [plural].” 14 It is necessary to have a number of counselors to offset the weaknesses, ignorance, and limitations of each individual. Each resolution succeeds because it emerges out of humility and trust as members submit themselves to be corrected in open, honest counsel. The similar proverb in 11:14 pertains to a nation, but this one is so general that it can refer to any situation amenable to counsel. 15 The plans in view here are those resolved upon in an assembly that includes the counsel of the LORD (3:32); only his plan will finally stand (Prov. 19:21; cf. Isa. 9:6; Acts 15:6, 31). 16
23 The dialogical character of counsel leads to this proverb on the joy of giving an apt reply. The proverb brings to a climactic conclusion the subunit on śāmēaḥ (“joy”). Parents have joy when their children receive their good counsel (v. 20), and wise adults have joy in accepting ethical counsel (vv. 22–23) and in giving it (v. 23). Moreover, in adulthood a wise individual (ʾîš; see p. 89) has joy (śimḥâ; see 15:21) in the apt answer (bemaʿanēh; see 15:1) of his mouth (pîw; see 15:14). Unlike the English gloss “answer,” which may denote a reply that does not succeed, maʿanēh refers to a true and right response to a circumstance. The noun occurs six times with reference to a wise response that “answers” (i.e., matches) the situation, as the parallel explains. “It is used of true correspondence (29:19), of fit reply (Job 32:3, 5), of appropriate answer (cf. 28a, 16:1).” 17 Job’s three friends talked back to him, but “they did not find an answer (maʿanēh, i.e., refutation) for him in their mouths” (Job 32:3, 5). An effective word is in response to some challenging situation and given at the right time (see 12:23). Exclamatory how (mah) underscores the joy of hitting the nail on the head. Good (ṭôb; see 99) here signifies that the word (see 1:6) is so well composed that it is beneficial for the life and prosperity of both the speaker and his audience and so desirable to all. In its time (beʿittô; see 5:19) refers to an appropriate time conceived of as an opportunity. 18 In the Hebrew text the proverb is arranged chiastically with the expressions for timely and effective speech at the core and its evaluation as bringing joy and good in the outer frame. It is not a hasty word (29:20), but a ready, thoughtful word from the mouth, assuming that the speaker has stored up knowledge to give the fitting word on just the right occasion (10:14). “A reply like this, which, according to circumstances, stops the mouth of [sic! or] bringeth a kiss (24:26), is a fortunate throw, is a gift from above.” 19 In a heated situation it is gentle answer (15:1).
11 The root prr occurs 43 times in the Hiphil and three times in the Hophal. It essentially means “to bring to nothing.” Its gloss depends on its object, always an abstract substantive: “to break” a covenant (Gen. 17:14 + about half its uses), commands (Num. 15:31), laws (Ps. 119:26), brotherhood (Zech. 11:14); “to negate” vows (Num. 30:9); “to undermine” piety (Job 15:4); “to discredit” justice (Job 40:8); “to put away” displeasure (Ps. 85:5); “to foil” the signs of diviners (Isa. 44:25); “to frustrate” counsel (2 Sam. 15:34; 17:14; Isa. 14:27; Neh. 4:9; Ezra 4:5), and similarly “to thwart” plans (Job 5:15; Prov. 15:22) (E. Kutsch, TLOT, 2:1,031–32, s.v. prr).
13 Qûm essentially means “to stand up, to rise up” but finds a rich development in all the Semitic languages, one of these being “to be fulfilled” (BDB, p. 878, s.v. qûm). With this nuance it is used in parallel with “it will be/happen” tihyeh (Isa. 7:7). Isaiah also uses it as an antonym to “thwart” (prr, Isa. 8:10; see McKane, Prophets and Wise Men [London: SCM, 1965], pp. 79, 82).
15 New York Times foreign correspondent T. L. Friedman (The Lexus and the Olive Tree [New York: Anchor, 1999], pp. 230–34) documents that a country or a company must be open on the inside and ready to change in order to succeed.
19 Delitzsch, Proverbs, p. 236. “Do not say something when it is not the right moment for it” (Onqsheshonqi 12:24, AEL, 3:169).