What does Proverbs 12:10 mean?
ESV: Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.
NIV: The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.
NASB: A righteous person has regard for the life of his animal, But even the compassion of the wicked is cruel.
CSB: The righteous cares about his animal’s health, but even the merciful acts of the wicked are cruel.
NLT: The godly care for their animals, but the wicked are always cruel.
KJV: A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast: but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
NKJV: A righteous man regards the life of his animal, But the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
Verse Commentary:
This verse sets an important perspective for a biblical view of animal rights. While God created all animals for the use of mankind (Genesis 1:28; 9:3), He also expects us to respect and care for those resources, not to abuse them. In fact, Solomon connects a person's righteousness to their treatment of animals. The point is not that those who love God must be vegetarians nor is this giving an idolized sense of animal values. The message is that a godly perspective on creation naturally leads to respect for all creatures. The God-fearing (Proverbs 1:7) person will treat them kindly, feed them properly, and care for them when they hurt.

In his regard for his animals, the righteous person resembles the Good Shepherd, Jesus. The Good Shepherd cares for the basic needs of His flock (Psalm 23:2). He protects them (John 10:3–4, 11). In a related passage, Deuteronomy 25:4 commanded the farmers of Israel not to muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain. A cruel farmer would muzzle his ox to prevent it from eating some grain. While this might save some time, and a tiny amount of harvest, it is unkind and unhelpful to the animal.

In contrast to godly attitudes, a wicked person's approach to animals can't be anything more than cruelty. Even their "mercy," in such a case, is relatively harsh and abusive. Cruelty to animals is seen today in staged dog fights, in starving animals, in animal beatings, in neglecting proper care of pets, and in abandoning helpless animals. Believers need to be careful not to elevate animals to equal human beings (Genesis 1:26–27). However, preventing animal cruelty and rescuing abused animals both reflect a godly attitude towards creation.
Verse Context:
Proverbs 12:1–11 describes the righteous person and the wicked person. Solomon contrasts their character, their conduct, their relationship to the Lord, and the consequences of their behavior.
Chapter Summary:
Proverbs 12 contains a series of contrasts between lifestyles, comparing those who honor God to those who reject His wisdom. The results of those decisions are also compared. This repeats several common themes from the book of Proverbs, such as the self-destructive nature of sin and God's distaste for those who lie.
Chapter Context:
Proverbs 12 continues Solomon's wise sayings. A large portion of the book of Proverbs includes these short, common sense pieces of advice. After a series of introductions and lessons in chapters 1—9, chapter 10 began a long list of individual statements. In this chapter he continues to contrast the righteous and the wicked, showing that the life of the righteous is far better than the life of the wicked. This pattern will continue, covering the same basic theme, through chapter 15.
Book Summary:
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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