“Good understanding giveth favor: but the way of transgressors is hard.” Proverbs 13:15
In this Proverb Solomon starts with speaking about “Good Understanding”. We’ve spoken about the Hebrew word translated “Good” before. Among other things it speaks of “that which gratifies the senses” and as a derivation it can refer to that which give moral or aesthetic satisfaction. It is pleasant or agreeable. Here it speaks of knowing or understanding that give pleasure or satisfaction because of knowing a thing or things. It would likely speak of the idea of knowing a thing or subject thoroughly or well and perhaps of knowing good and/or things that bring pleasure. It is one of the several words in the OT that can refer to wisdom. Here, as we have noted, it speaks of the more practical application of that knowledge.
“To gain” is actually from the old French “gaaingnier” which was a word that referred to the tilling of the ground with the result and reaping of what was sown in mind. It is a very common word and appears some 2009 times in the AV. Its’ most often English translation is “to give” 1078 times. There are quite a number of other translations.
So we can see that the idea here is that “good understanding” is like the planting of a crop. It has a return that can be anticipated. That return is what Solomon here calls “favor”. The idea is that the knowledge in view produces reaps a crop of manifestations. The verse is actually saying that the act of taking in and seeking to fully understanding what God has said produces or yields “favor”. Favor in this context can be seen as referring to two things:
1. First it can be seen as favor amongst other men. Gaining the understanding of that which around us and, of course, the understanding of the will and teaching of God, gives us increased ability to relate and gain the favor or grace among those around which we live and walk.
2. Secondly, it could refer to the gaining of grace from God. Certainly not a reference to saving grace, but it may refer to reaping (remember “gains” means that which will yield a positive result) God pleasure and blessing.
The next phrase begins with the contrasting conjunction we have talked about before.
“…but the way of transgressors is hard.”
It is given as “But” in this instance, but could easily be translated as “however” with the same result for us. The issue at the front of this phrase is that Solomon is implying the exact opposite idea here. Whereas seeking a working understand and grasp of important information that God has left gives favor or grace in God’s eyes and blessing to the child of God; here we see the categorical opposite.
Those who seek understanding and the perception that follows it are blessed but the sinful habits that are a part of the life (or ‘way’) of unfaithful is “hard”. This word is a part of makes us think that we’re talking about the blessing of God above. The word here is translated in a number of different ways, depending on the particular version you are reading. In many versions it is rendered as a noun, but the form in the Hebrew is an adjective. We could read it as “unfaithful one” with the emphasis on the state of being unfaithful. This one is unfaithful enough that it is a primary description of him/her. The word essentially means to be treacherous or disloyal.
What is really interesting here is the contrast between the first part of the verse and this second part. It appears that Solomon is saying that the one who seeks knowledge is doing a good and commendable, profitable and praiseworthy thing that God will bless. The one whose “way” is to refrain from that pursuit is indulging in “unfaithfulness”.
We remember that the word “way” when used in this kind of a context speaks of a life habit or path. It is very clear that Solomon considers the pursuit of a full understanding of God’s revelation yields blessing and the grace of God; but failure to do so is what God (thru Solomon) considers and brands “unfaithfulness”.
There have been other renderings of this text, but our translation is the best supported. By “good understanding” is meant that wisdom which comes from God alone, and is learnt in the experience of true religion. This brings favor with God and man, and makes the way of life “pleasantness and peace,” as compared with that of the transgressor. His way is emphatically “hard,” like a much-trodden highway, like a craggy precipice, which leads, moreover, to destruction.
Unfaithfulness is a word that is used in a couple different contexts. Of course it can speak of failing to live up to God and His commands, or deliberately going after “other gods”, it is also used in the Scripture to refer the act of one marital partner going after another sexual partner.
“…but the way of transgressors is hard.”
So, we can see what is in view here. Solomon is telling us that the wise man sees to it that his habits are such they bring the blessing of God. The transgressor, on the other hand, is what he calls “hard”. The word, fascinatingly, refers to running water. I suspect that it speaks of always being running, but never being filled. The difficult or hard idea here is that this “way” always goes and goes but never finishes or yields a desired result. Where the one who goes after good understanding sees result and benefit from his pursuit; the other, contrasting one just goes and goes, but never realizes any tangible outcome.
· Abraham, by prudence, courtesy, and high character, secured the respect of the neighboring nations, though heathen (Gen. 23:11).
· Joseph, Joshua, David, Daniel, are all instances of men who, by their religious principle, both pleased God and obtained favor and influence with men.
· “The child Samuel,” who early chose the service of Jehovah, was “in favor both with the Lord and also with men.”
· Of One far greater, “the holy Child Jesus,” the same significant fact is stated.
· But look at Jacob’s path after he had deviated from rightness, although he repented and was restored! How “hard” he had made it for himself!
· Look at Jonah fretting beneath the gourd - his peace of mind gone!
· Look still more at those habitual transgressors - Samson, Saul, the prodigal son in the parable - and see on what sharp stones they walked in the ways of sin, and how they forfeited the favor alike of God and man!