15 My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad; 16 my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right. 17 Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the LORD. 18 There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.
Proverbs 23: 15-18, NIV
Wisdom is concerned with the right living in the real world. “Right living” denotes the manner of conducting oneself in a day-to-day life. As the wisdom sayings, Proverbs teach practical wisdom covering a social, moral, and spiritual praxis of the mundane life.
Wisdom is personified as a woman in biblical Proverbs. Whereas an evil woman entices human beings to live indulgently, selfishly, and wickedly for the present life, wisdom as a woman admonishes us to lead a temperate, hospitable, and righteous life in the present without losing our sight on the future. Wisdom does not want us to be a shortsighted person because there is more to a good life in the future than in the present.
We all nurture the person within. However, do we all have a wise inner person? Wisdom urges her children to nurture a wise inner person. The addresses “my son” (v. 15) should be taken as “my child” without the gender specific denotation. The “person within” in the title of this short piece simply comes from the Hebrew idiom for “the heart,” namely, the “inner man.” We all have this person in our inmost being. This inner person behaves like either an immature child or a matured adult, like amateur or professional in dealing with social, moral, and spiritual life. A wise inner person leads us to emotional, rational, and spiritual maturity.
A wise person within speaks what is right. The wise inner persons bring joy to their parents by making right choices in life. One of these joy-giving choices is producing an honest speech act in which one actually means what they have said. The words express the intentions. The wise heart does not engage in irony in which the words express the opposite of the intentions. Sincere and truthful children bring inner gladness to their parents.
A wise person within has the right kind of envy. Although most English Bibles use two verbs such as “envy” and “be zealous”(NIV) in verse 17, the Hebrew Bible has only one verb, which could means “to be jealous, envious, zealous.” Young Literal Translation captures the Hebrew expression of the verse.
YLT Proverbs 23:17 Let not thy heart be envious at sinners, But — in the fear of Jehovah all the day.
This verse uses one verb “to be envious” only. Envy is a relational word. It does not always mean a bad thing. Whether envy is right or wrong depends of the quality of the object of our inner person desires. The proverb clearly distinguishes between having a strong desire for what the sinners posses and having a zeal for the fear of the LORD. When the wrong envy creeps in our life, as one commentator writes, wisdom reminds us to look upward to the LORD and look forward to the future. Before the destructive power of envy destroys our soul and buries it in the graveyard of depression, let us pray to the LORD, the relational God, so that we can press forward to the future with hope. A wise person may lack many things, but he always has hope and a future in God.
May the LORD help you nurture a wise inner person!