What Does the Proverb Mean?
“THE righteous one is caring for the soul of his domestic animal, but the mercies of the wicked ones are cruel,” says the proverb.—Prov. 12:10.
The righteous man has respect for all of God’s creation. He also knows that animals were created for man’s service and pleasure, and hence are to be treated as friends of humankind. Man’s sinfulness, cruelty and the environmental unbalance he has brought about have made a small percentage of the animals vicious or, as sometimes termed, pests. But a righteous man seeks to know the needs and feelings of the animals, especially his domestic animals, caring for their life as a valuable property. This does not mean that he believes that they have the thoughts and feelings of humans, but that they deserve kind treatment.
Under the Mosaic law animals were protected from cruel treatment and were considered even in the sabbath laws, being allowed to eat what grew of itself in the farmer’s field during the sabbath year. (Lev. 25:6, 7) A bull was not to be muzzled so that it could not eat some of the grain that it was expending its energy in threshing. (Deut. 25:4) A man finding a bird’s nest might take the eggs or the young ones but he could not also take the mother, thus wiping out the entire family, ending the family line. (Deut. 22:6, 7) Also showing that Jehovah does not forget the animals, he made specific mention of them to Jonah when Nineveh was in danger of destruction. He said to Jonah: “Ought I not to feel sorry for Nineveh the great city, in which there exist more than one hundred and twenty thousand men who do not at all know the difference between their right hand and their left, besides many domestic animals?”—Jonah 4:11.
The Septuagint Version renders the latter part of this proverb: “The bowels of the ungodly are unmerciful.” The “bowels” as representing the deepest emotions of sympathy and compassion are, in the wicked one, unfeeling, cruel. He exhibits what might be termed a “compassionless compassion” such as is often seen among humans in gestures and speech that lack true feeling or actual results. The best of the wicked person’s compassion or mercy is actually a cruelty, based on selfish motives or principles. As an example, we have seen wicked dictators who destroy their best friends and supporters, sacrificing them, as it were, to hold on to or increase their own power. Or, under a pretense of protecting the people or the state, they will attack the most law-abiding people in their nation (the true Christians residing there in a neutral and peaceful way), in order to have a “scapegoat” or to please certain influential religious or political elements, or even their own ego. This they do in spite of the fact that they know that these Christians are no threat to the peace or security of the state. Such was the attitude of the Pharisees toward Jesus and the common people.—John 11:47-50; 12:9, 10; 7:49.
A VALUABLE PRICE WASTED
“Why is it that there is in the hand of a stupid one the price to acquire wisdom, when he has no heart?”—Prov. 17:16.
The “stupid one” here referred to is not a person who is merely uneducated or ignorant, but one who does not have a consciousness of his spiritual need. “Heart,” right motive, love of true wisdom, a seeking for true understanding, are necessary to the acquiring of wisdom. All persons have, in a sense, the “price” to acquire wisdom, for God gives generously to all. “He makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45) The “price” is not money, but the things that God has given or set before all—a mind with which to think, senses to take in information, and access to true wisdom. The person has, basically, the creation to look at, the things created making known the invisible qualities of God. (Rom. 1:18-20) Also, he may have good parents, or true friends, or others who bring wisdom from God to his attention.
But the stupid one has no heart for understanding. His mind is on his own affairs, things that are not truly vital. With similar meaning, Proverbs 17:24 says: “Wisdom is before the face of the understanding one, but the eyes of the stupid one are at the extremity of the earth.” The stupid one’s mind is fluttering about fitfully from one thing to another and the thing of least importance is what interests him. So the “price”—the facilities, the ability and the opportunities he has, which may at times amount to more than for one who ‘has heart’—is wasted, thrown away.
ONLY BY GOD’S UNDESERVED KINDNESS DO THE RIGHTEOUS LIVE
Proverbs 11:31 states: “Look! The righteous one—in the earth he will be rewarded. How much more should the wicked one and the sinner be!”
The expression “Look!” calls attention to an important truth which must be considered. As Solomon declares, at Ecclesiastes 7:20: “There is no man righteous in the earth that keeps doing good and does not sin.” No one in himself is deserving, but God’s undeserved kindness is with those sincerely serving him. (1 Pet. 3:12) The righteous person, therefore, makes effort to do right, but sometimes stumbles, and the principle, “whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap,” applies. (Gal. 6:7) The righteous one will receive the “reward” of his mistakes in the form of discipline, which helps him to readjust himself so as to stay on the road to life. Since this receiving of a “reward” for unintentional errors is true with the righteous, the wicked person who deliberately chooses the bad way and has no repentance or makes no effort to turn to the way of righteousness certainly deserves more severe punishment and will be ‘rewarded’ for his badness. The Septuagint translation renders this proverb as follows: “If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?” The apostle Peter evidently quoted from the Septuagint at 1 Peter 4:17, 18. There Peter is speaking about God’s judgment as beginning with the house of God, and he says: “Now if it starts first with us, what will the end be of those who are not obedient to the good news of God? ‘And if the righteous man is being saved with difficulty, where will the ungodly man and the sinner make a showing?’”