In lips of one being perceptive (bin) is found skill,
And a rod to the back of one who lacks heart.
One serving his ground bread satisfies,
And one hunting empties lacks heart.
These two proverbs are only linked in the use of the phrase, “lacks heart”. It’s a phrase that occurs in Proverbs eight times in the Hebrew (chaser-leb), a combination of Strong’s H2638 and H3820. This phrase serves as part of the definition of “heart” in Proverbs. People who behave or think in certain ways don’t have heart.
Heart, in this sense, can’t be the seat of the emotions, as is commonly used in English. It is more consistent with Scripture to consider it the “core” of a person, or their ability to continue in the face of adversity. This is brought out through these two Proverbs.
In the first one, Proverbs 10:13, one lacking heart is contrasted with one who is very perceptive in what they say (lips). The perception might be one who understands how words affect others, and they use that as a “skill” (chokmah). This positive statement would imply a positive use of words, not for manipulation. So, this person understands the power of words, and uses them to “heal”, or at least for good moral purposes.
The second Proverb, 12:11 contrasts two people pursuing different goals. The first serves his ground. This is one who sees himself as the servant, not master, so there’s an attitude difference. It does not require the resentment that a person from our culture would naturally feel. It doesn’t exclude it either. This person serves his ground, which is different than serving another person. In this instance, the service directly benefits the servant (which is kind of the point).
The benefit is that this person is satisfied with bread, a common Hebrew euphemism for food in general. The work serving the ground reaps the benefit of being fed. The obvious direct correlation between work and provision is what is contrasted with the next line, one “hunting empties”.
The problem with the person described in the second line is in what they pursue or hunt. The focus of their effort is “empties”, a plural Hebrew word (H2638) referring to empty holes or lives, literally or figuratively. What they are actively trying to achieve is without value. Perhaps this can be seen in one who collects things no one else wants and are therefore without value. They end their lives with junk. The “evil” in this has more to do with the opportunity-costs involved. In this contrast, they didn’t choose to pursue service to their ground. There can be other options which would better serve their Creator. Whatever they chose ended up being without value.
The result of this pursuit is an empty heart, in a sense. More accurately, they lacked heart altogether. If the sense of heart here is the ability to persevere, then the pursuit of empties robbed them of the desire to continue. They didn’t do anything because they couldn’t gain satisfaction with what they had pursued. They truly failed to realize that the problem was their choice of what to pursue. The result of such an end is a rod for their back. They are prodded, violently, into action, which they don’t “feel” like doing. Their heart isn’t in it. They don’t “feel it”. Which, in biblical perspective, gains them beatings.
So, the difference between the person of discerning speech and those lacking heart is the choice of goals. Once chooses to pursue work resulting in bread, and the other chooses effort resulting in…well, nothing. Perhaps the rod will inspire a different choice of goal. More likely it will result in resentment of activity. They will do the least in bitterness, receive the least in bitterness, and justify their bitterness without regard to the attitude difference.
These two proverbs serve as a challenge to me, because, left to my own desires and devices, I will tend toward the pursuit of things that do not result in food on the table. I want to fill my time with things that no one would pay me for or to do. They’re “hobbies”. But hobbies are not supposed to be the focus of a life. Whatever their importance, the focus of a life is for the One having given that life to begin with. What purpose our Creator has given us includes our “occupation”.
What empties have you pursued? How are you “serving your ground” these days? How can we encourage each other to greater pursuits?