What does Proverbs 11:12 mean?
ESV: Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent.
NIV: Whoever derides their neighbor has no sense, but the one who has understanding holds their tongue.
NASB: One who despises his neighbor lacks sense, But a person of understanding keeps silent.
CSB: Whoever shows contempt for his neighbor lacks sense, but a person with understanding keeps silent.
NLT: It is foolish to belittle one’s neighbor; a sensible person keeps quiet.
KJV: He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.
It is foolish to deride one's neighbor. This comes from the Hebrew term buwz, which implies contempt or a sneering form of spite. Snide, derogatory attitudes towards other people cause friction and hard feelings. If a man has good judgment, he will remain silent instead of deriding his neighbor. A flurry of insults never gains peace; refusing to say mean things about a neighbor contributes to a good, peaceful relationship (Proverbs 10:19; 29:20). At minimum, the choice to hold one's tongue gives opportunity to rethink before saying something which cannot be taken back.
The apostle Paul counsels: "Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:17–18, 21). In the following chapter, he writes, "'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no wrong to a neighbor" (Romans 13:9–10).
It has been observed that good fences make good neighbors; a certain level of separation and calm is important to getting along with others. Refusing to confront a neighbor verbally, and keeping attitudes like derision or arrogance in check, is even more effective than a fence.
Proverbs 11:9–15 continues Solomon's wise sayings, mainly addressing the speech of the righteous and the speech of the wicked. The righteous person speaks wisely and causes others to rejoice and be blessed. In contrast, the wicked person speaks foolishly and causes trouble.
Many of the proverbs in this section deal with contrasts between those who are righteous and those who are wicked. Righteous people follow God's will, bring honor and blessing on themselves, and have hope. Evil people disobey God, bring trouble on others, are hated, and their lives lead to disaster.
This continues a long passage filled with Solomon's general, common-sense observations. As in chapter 10, Solomon presents a variety of contrasts. We see distinctions such as those between integrity and dishonesty, trust in wealth and trust in the Lord, wise and foolish talk, true riches and false riches, the blessing of the righteous and the harm caused by the wicked, and the respective rewards of the godly and those who are evil.
Proverbs is best understood in context with the books of Ecclesiastes and Job. In Proverbs, “wisdom” is given in short, simple, general terms. Ecclesiastes represents wisdom based on observation and experience. This often shows how the general principles of the book of Proverbs don’t apply in absolutely every circumstance. Job represents wisdom based on the experience of suffering and injustice. All three come to the conclusion that God does indeed know best, and the most sensible course of action is to follow His will.
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