From here on out, the book of Proverbs becomes mostly a collection of individual proverbs. The sayings or aphorisms won’t necessarily be related to each other; the reading experience will be somewhat like opening up Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations. Our approach, therefore, will be not to exposit passages (since there are few narrative passages) but rather to hit highlights, explore themes, and trace threads of thought in ways appropriate to this literary genre.
One of the running themes of Proverbs—one that is prominent in today’s chapter—is the power of words and control of the tongue. As today’s verse says, “The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin” (v. 8). Put simply, the wise listen more and talk less (v. 19). They are humble and teachable rather than full of hot air. Fools, unable to control their tongues, are run over by their own words. The wise know when to speak and what to say, whereas “the mouth of the wicked [speaks] only what is perverse” (vv. 31–32). This choice comes with consequences: “Blessings crown the head of the righteous, but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked” (v. 6).
In addition, the wise use the power of their words for good. “The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life” (v. 11). “The tongue of the wise is choice silver” (v. 20). “The lips of the righteous nourish many,” in the same sense that a shepherd cares for his sheep (v. 21). The words of a fool, on the other hand, are of little worth because they emerge from a sinful heart. They come to nothing, as if their tongues had been cut out. Those who listen to such words, far from being nourished, are left to starve and die.