23 Character traits, pride and humility. A humble spirit brings honor and respect. The verse contrasts consequences: pride leads to abasement, but humility brings exaltation. The lines are tied together with a paronomasia between “brings low” (tašpîlennû) and “lowly [šepal] in spirit.” McKane, 633, explains that the lowly one can learn, but “pride is a way of descent to mediocrity or worse” (see Lk 14:11; 18:14).
23 The next in the series moves to the arrogant. Its antithetical parallels juxtapose the pride of a mortal (ʿādām, see I: 89) with the lowly in spirit (see 16:19). “Pride” derives from a root meaning “to be high” and so constitutes a precise antithetical parallel of “lowly.” G. V. Smith and V. P. Hamilton comment: “pride is a fundamental attitude of self-sufficiency because of which a person throws off humility and pursues selfish desires. In pride a person rejects the need for dependence on God or his laws and despises moral or social limitations that regulate behavior according to the highest good for others.” His opposite, the humble (Job 5:11; Prov. 16:19; 29:23), has an attitude of dependence upon God and of submission to his moral ordering of society. In that upright order one behaves to achieve the highest good of others and bestows on others their rights to life, home, property and reputation, as mandated in the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:13–16). The parallels also juxtapose their respective predicates, will bring him low (see 16:19; 25:7) versus will lay hold of (and hold fast to, see 3:18) honor (see 3:16). The imprecise antithesis suggests that the lowly will be exalted and that the proud mortal will lose his social esteem and influence, his property, and all he gained for the moment by raising his fist against heaven and by transgressing the boundaries of the others on earth (see 11:2; 15:33; 16:5, 18f; 18:12; 21:4; 22:4; 30:21–23; Mt 19:30; 23:12 [= Lk 14:11; 18:14]).
29:23. A man’s pride will bring him low, But a humble spirit will obtain honor.
Here, again, is the oft-repeated theme of ‘pride’ and ‘a humble spirit.’ Proverbs repeatedly tells us that God is opposed to the proud. It stands directly opposed to the fear of the Lord, the major theme of this book (Prov. 8:13; 15:33; 22:4). Indeed, the proud man is an abomination to the Lord (Prov. 16:5). Little wonder that God guarantees to ‘bring him low.’ Pride pulls ‘dishonor’ (Prov. 11:2), ‘destruction’ (Prov. 16:18; 18:12), and ‘stumbling’ (Prov. 16:18) in its train. Nebuchadnezzar boasted of his sovereignty, but was brought down by the true Sovereign (Dan. 4:30–31). Jesus added His voice to this assurance: ‘[W]hoever exalts himself shall be humbled’ (Matt. 23:12a), as did his half-brother James: ‘God is opposed to the proud’ (James 4:6).
On the other hand (‘But’), one who possesses humility ‘will obtain honor.’ Humility not only pulls ‘honor’ (Prov. 15:33; 18:12b) in its train, but also ‘riches’ and ‘life’ (Prov. 22:4). Humility is paralleled with the fear of the Lord (Prov. 15:33; 22:4). ‘But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word’ (Isa. 66:2b). Jesus promises, ‘[H]e who humbles himself shall be exalted’ (Luke 14:11; 18:14b). ‘Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you’ (Prov. 4:10). ‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time’ (1 Pet. 5:6).
The irony of God’s justice is inescapable: By lifting yourself up, you bring yourself low, and by recognizing your lowliness, you incite God to lift you up.
29:23. Ironically, the proud man, who craves to be exalted, will be brought low while a man of lowly or humble spirit will be exalted with honor (cf. Jb 5:11; Jms 4:10). There may be many reasons for this: the proud depend on themselves and go their own way while the humble depend on God and submit to His moral order (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 450); the humble are teachable while the proud refuse to learn from their mistakes (Longman, Proverbs, 509); society finds the proud obnoxious and the humble winsome (Clifford, Proverbs, 255); or the Lord judges the proud and blesses the humble. But whatever the reason, the general principle stands.
Ver. 23. A man’s pride shall bring him low.—On pride:—
Pride, though it implies an assumption of superiority, has a manifest tendency to degradation.
- A man’s pride will bring him low because it subjects him to the imputation of folly. There is no condition of life that can warrant the indulgence of this sinful and corrupt passion. The maxims of human policy teach us that in proportion to the trust must be the responsibility. The uncertainty and imperfection of every blessing which this world affords should alone be sufficient to prevent that silly exaltation of the mind which constitutes pride. Neither abundance of riches nor superior endowments of the mind are a sufficient justification for pride. Neither the acquisition of fame, the flatteries of self-love, nor the consciousness of distinguished merit, should swell the heart with arrogance or pride. The truest characteristics of superior greatness and superior wisdom are modesty and humility; modesty freed from false shame, and humility without affectation or abasement. If these motives are insufficient to warrant the indulgence of pride, much less ought it to arise from the casual distinction of rank in the different orders of men. Pride is not confined to any particular rank or station. From whatever cause it proceeds, it always betokens weakness, folly, and corruption.
- The various evils, and the general depravity which it produces. The text is often verified as “pride produces poverty.” More persons have sunk into poverty from this cause than from any other. From indulging in a thousand idle expenses, in order to support a kind of pompous vanity, the proud man can seldom spare a charitable mite “to give to him that needeth.” Pride is also the source of continual mortification. The petty vexations of pride that are compounded with every vain, selfish, and malignant passion have no claim to our indulgence. Pride is more productive of quarrels, bitterness, and strife than anything else. This base and selfish passion always creates, and always keeps alive, a watchful and incessant jealousy of power. Hence the mildest exhortation and the most friendly remonstrance is often converted into the bitterness of accusation or the insolence of reproach. This odious vice is seen at its worst in the awful end of the suicide. The dreadful act of self-destruction is often committed in the evil moment of wounded pride or mortified ambition. The proud man sits on an imaginary eminence of his own creation, and propagates servility or wretchedness all around him. In a mind thus bewildered and deceived the first principle of improvement is wanting. He who is not conscious of any defect can have no sufficient motive for amendment. Pride never appears so sinful and offensive as when we consider man in relation to his Maker. Then we perceive it destroying the efficacy and poisoning the very source of all those virtues which he is chiefly bound to practise. The proud man is in reality always degraded in proportion as he thinks himself exalted. (J. Hewlett, B.D.)
Honour shall uphold the humble in spirit.—Honour:—
This word means “nobleness of mind.” It is a natural instinct of human nature to be trustful, especially when a man’s honour is at stake; but there has been so much deception as to make almost everybody doubt everybody else. Every representation we make should be the truth; a deception is never excusable.
- Honour is an acquired nature. The germ of honour is born in us, but every child has to be taught by example and precept to cultivate it. We sometimes cram our children too much with catechism, and omit to cultivate their honour. There is as much religion in being honourable as in being prayerful.
- Honour should become an essential part of our nature. It is only the ignorant and the foolish who can be tickled by a title or a name. Let us seek to have honour in our nature. Honour should grow in us and become an essential part of our nature. Uncommon honour should be the common practice of everybody.
- Honour should be the principle of all our transactions. Whether you gain by it or not, be honourable. Let your honour be as true in the dark as in the light.
- In honour prefer one another. Do not gibe at a friend or detract from an enemy. If you can praise one another, do so, but never throw mud at anybody. If you really know that a man or woman is doing wrong, be honourable enough to tell them so, and not so mean as to talk of it behind their backs. Be honourable in all your sayings and in all your doings, so that this world, through you, may become a more joyous dwelling-place. (W. Birch.)