On a cursory reading it’s apparent this proverb is replete with antithesis: pride / humility, integrity / duplicity, righteous / wicked, kindness / cruelty, life / death, riches / poverty, generosity / selfishness. Parallelism is not an unusual literary device in Hebrew poetry. The stark contrast left by the extremities leaves plenty of room for the reader to feel the implications of these pithy sayings.

Most of these aphorisms speak to social sins and the impact we have on others. From fair treatment (Prov 11:1), to humility and integrity (Prov 11:2-3), to gracious speech (Prov 11:9, 12-13), when righteousness prevails, then everyone benefits (Prov 11:10-11).

Incidentally, someone came to my door recently requesting I sign a petition to get certain Republican candidates on the upcoming election ballot. A few comments were made by the solicitor to wit: “We need to take back our country” or “These candidates are ultra conservative and will serve the best interests of our country.” The unspoken assumption is that these candidates, and the Republican Party, can set our country on the the best course. I could not help but recall Prov 11:7 “Hopes placed in mortals die with them; all the promise of their power comes to nothing.”

Back to contrasts. Proverbs 11 states that 1) fewer words are better than many (Prov 11:12-13), 2) honor is better than wealth (Prov 11:16), 3) kindness is better than cruelty (Prov 11:17), 4) discretion is better than aesthetic charm (Prov 11:22), 5) generosity is better than frugality (Prov 11:24-25), 6) righteousness is better than riches (Prov 11:28). Thinking about these contrasting behaviors I ask “Better for who?” The answer is given: the one engaging in the upright behavior benefits the most. Those who pursue conservation of speech, honor, discretion, kindness, generosity, and righteousness reap the rewards!

A final observation. Prov 11:25 reminds us that “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Prov 11:25). At the intersection of every human relationship is a kind of reciprocity that provides nourishment to each member in the relationship. Over the years I’ve had friends who intentionally invest in our relationship by taking the initiative to stay in touch, for which I’m always grateful. Others require my constant prompting if the relationship is to continue. Eventually I stop calling, emailing, etc. because I want to see if they’re thoughtful enough about our friendship to take the initiative to contact me. Sadly, years may go by before I hear from them. You see, a genuine friendship can only be sustained when both parties invest, not just one (see Prov 17:17). Refreshment received requires each person to distribute the goods. When one member fails to invest, then every member misses out on the nourishment that is uniquely provided from that matrix of relationships because the rule is “whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”

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