Proverbs 21:11-12

Wisdom through Observation


1. Proverbs 21:11-12 deals with one main issue: the fact that wise men become even wiser by observing the ungodly.

2. For that reason, we are going to look at both verses here.

Wisdom Obtained by Observing the Scorner (vs.11)

When the scorner is punished, the simple is made wise:
and when the wise is instructed, he receiveth knowledge.

A. When the Scorner is Punished

1. Scorner defined:

a. Strong’s: To be inflated; to scoff; to mock; arrogant boaster.

b. Dictionary of Biblical Languages: Speak words which show no respect for the object, and make fun of the object

c. Zodhiates: To express utter contempt.

2. Solomon is describing the loud mouth… the clown… the arrogant boaster… the immature wise guy who makes fun of everything and everyone (usually behind their backs).

3. The scorner is also spoken of in Proverbs as the one who refuses to listen to counsel and advice.

a. He scorns it—ridicules it because he arrogantly thinks himself above such counsel. (Who are you to tell me what I ought to do?!)

b. Prov.13:1 – a scorner heareth not rebuke.
• The scorner may be headed in the wrong direction, and it is obvious to his acquaintances and to onlookers.
• They may offer helpful assistance and advice… even rebuke, but the scorner mocks their advice.
• He refuses counsel. He doesn’t respond well to rebuke.

c. Prov. 14:6 – Having refused counsel and rebuke for heading down the wrong pathway, but he continues to seek for wisdom… and never finds it.
• This is not a contradiction to what Solomon wrote in chapter two (those who seek wisdom shall find it.)
• It is not a contradiction because Solomon qualified his previous statement: those who seek wisdom “with their whole heart” as a man seeks after gold will find wisdom.
• However, while the scorner seeks after wisdom, he doesn’t find it, because he refuses to LISTEN to wisdom when he is confronted with it.
• Thus, he arrogantly seeks his own brand of wisdom—which is in reality folly!
• Oftentimes we seek after wisdom, but we seek after counsel that is what we want to hear, rather than what we NEED to hear.
• The scorner MOCKS Lady Wisdom when she says what he needs to hear… and he continues seeking after wisdom… and never finds it.

d. Prov.1:20-25 – Lady Wisdom cries out to this man, but he is a mocker and a scorner.
• Thus, he never listens to real wisdom.
• He is a scorner. Instead of taking the wise counsel, he makes fun of the one giving it; he ridicules the advice; he shows no respect for the one trying to help him.
• He is a scorner and a fool.
• If he later decides he needs wisdom and seeks after it, Lady Wisdom has nothing more to say to him (vs. 28-29).

4. Punished: (Prov.21:11)

a. Defined: Punish; fined; penalized.

b. There is a penalty for scorning wisdom; there is a price to pay for being a scorner.

c. Scorners are punished for their folly.

d. Prov.1:25-27 – Fear, destruction, desolation, distress and calamity are right around the corner.

e. This is the punishment for the scorner.

f. Sometimes the punishment is the result of being caught in his sin or crime and suffering under the law. (fines; jail; etc.)

g. More often his calamity is simply the result of reaping what he has sown. He is condemned to live with the mess that he has made of his life.

h. Perhaps you told him to be careful with the use of his credit cards, but he mocked you as being old fashioned and old school… and now his punishment is that he is in a huge financial pit that he dug for himself.

i. Perhaps you warned him to be careful about his big mouth in the office, and after mocking and scorning your advice, now his punishment is that he is losing his job.

j. Scorners refuse to listen and end up paying a price. They are punished.

B. The Simple is Made Wise

1. The simple: Inexperienced; (often a youth); naïve.

a. Being “simple” is not sinful. Young people are born simple… but over time learn through observation and are able to become wise.

b. The simple in Proverbs are inexperienced, but often they are spoken of as being open minded… teachable. Such is the case here.

2. Solomon’s point here is that when the arrogant scorner is punished, younger, inexperienced people OBSERVE his behavior.

a. Perhaps they observe their older brother (who is a wise guy with a big mouth) get punished for scorning his parent’s advice.
• They also observe the punishment that he gets and they learn from that.
• Thus, by observing the scorner, the simple is made wise.
• When he gets advice he TAKES it… because he is now aware of the consequences of scorning that advice.

b. A little later in life, that simple youth gets his first job, and discovers that there is a scorner at his new job too.
• The wise guy at work is constantly ridiculing his boss and scorning his instructions.
• The wise guy thinks all the rules at work are stupid and useless and that he doesn’t have to follow all those instructions.
• There are too many safety rules, too much paperwork, too many time restrictions, etc. So he mocks and scorns it all.
• The simple youth observes his scorning… and observes his punishment: the scorner eventually got fired.
• The simple youth learned from this punishment too.
• He learned by observation NOT to scorn… not to complain and mock or ridicule all the requirements at his new job.
• As a result, he got promoted… while the scorner was fired.

c. Vs.11b – “When the wise is instructed, he RECEIVETH knowledge.”
• The simple, inexperienced youth learned wisdom through observing the scorners and the consequences of their scorning, and also by receiving knowledge.
• The scorner wouldn’t receive the knowledge, instruction, or advice. He thought he was above it. He thought all those instructions were silly.
• But the REAL sign of wisdom is when a person is willing to RECEIVE knowledge… without scorning… without ridiculing… without mocking.

3. Prov. 19:25 – Smite a scorner and the simple will BEWARE.

a. Simple men with open minds observe human behavior and the various consequences of human behavior.

b. And they LEARN from it. They are aware of consequences… and take heed personally so as not to be “smitten” like the scorner.

c. There are different ways to learn.
• The way of wisdom is to learn by teaching.
• The way of the simple is to observe and learn through fear.
» It is not shame to learn from fear. Fear is a legitimate emotion… for our good.
» Psa. 119:119-120 – The psalmist observed God’s judgment on the wicked and learned fear. That fear was good for him.

• The way of the foolish scorner is arrogantly scorn and do it YOUR way… and end up getting punished… learning the hard way—if at all!

d. The simple learn by observing the anguish of punishment, but the wise learn by teaching.
• They both learn… but learning by taking heed to teaching is preferable.
• And they are both preferable to learning by experiencing the anguish of punishment!

Wisdom Obtained by Observing the Wicked (vs.12)

12 The righteous man wisely considereth the house of the wicked: but God overthroweth the wicked for their wickedness.

1. This proverb teaches a similar lesson.

a. Vs. 11 spoke of the simple man observing the scorner and learning from his punishment.

b. Vs. 12 speaks of the righteous man observing the wicked and learning from the consequences of his wickedness.
• Righteous: some translators and commentators understand this “righteous” one (man is italicized) to refer to God; others to a righteous man.
• It makes sense either way, but seems best to stick with the KJV and consider this a reference to a righteous man.
• This fits perfectly with the thought in vs.11…
• The verb “overthroweth” has no subject.
» The KJV inserts “but God” as the subject of the verb “overthroweth”. (note italics)
» That is possible.
» Others have understood it to refer to the righteous to refer to God OR to a righteous man who observes his house (such as a judge; magistrate; policeman).
» Because the original requires something to be inserted after righteous and before the verb, filling in those blanks becomes a matter of interpretation.
» The terms inserted by the KJV make perfect sense here… and fit well with the subject of vs.11.

c. The righteous man observes the house of the wicked in the same way that the simple but wise man in vs.10 observes the scorner and learns from what he sees.

2. The righteous man “wisely considers the house” of the wicked.

a. Consider: To be prudent and to act with insight; to ponder and then to act prudently; to pay attention to something and respond properly.

b. Solomon was a righteous man who wisely considered the house of the wicked.

c. He is challenging us to do the same… so that we might LEARN by observing the consequences of their wickedness… AND to respond properly.

3. What will he SEE when he observes the house of the wicked?

a. The prosperity of the wicked (Ps. 73:3)
• A righteous man will observe the house of the wicked and will not envy—even when he sees their prosperity.
• A righteous man will WISELY consider what he sees.
• His wisdom will look beyond the luxury of the here and now and will see the future of such a man. (Ps. 73:18-19)
• The righteous man will see that one day his house will be overthrown by the Lord… though he seems to do so well today.
• The righteous man will wisely consider the house of the wicked and see the shallowness of the outward pomp.
• He will look at his house and his lifestyle from eternity’s perspective. That sheds a whole new light on the subject.
• From heaven’s vantage point, the righteous man will not see the wealth and earthly prosperity, but he will see the eternal value of what he has: that which will one day be overthrown by God.
• The wicked often seem to live the good life in the here and now, but eventually, they will be overthrown. (Ps. 73:4-5)
• Ps. 37:35–38 – Sometimes it takes years of observation before the lesson is truly driven home.

b. A house full of calamity.
• Sometimes the wicked seem to be living the good life in this world… but that is not always the case.
• More often than not the wicked lead miserable lives in the here and now.
• Because of their wicked ways, they make many enemies… who cause much trouble for them.
• Because of their wicked ways, they often do much damage to their own bodies… and have to live with the consequences.
• Because of their wicked ways, they are often brought to justice in this life and end up in prison.
• Or because of their wicked ways, they leave a trail of misery, trouble, and destruction behind them wherever they go… and there are countless consequences of their wickedness in THIS life.

4. The righteous man will WISELY consider the ways of the wicked… and LEARN from his evil ways… and learn from the awful results of such a lifestyle.

a. Prov. 4:14-15 – The righteous observer will learn to AVOID those wicked ways.