Proverbs 13:15 (New American Standard Bible 1995) 15 Good understanding produces favor, But the way of the treacherous is hard.

Proverbs 13:15 (New King James Version) 15 Good understanding [a]gains favor, But the way of the unfaithful is hard.

Proverbs 13:15 (English Standard Version) 15 Good sense wins favor, but the way of the treacherous is their ruin.

Proverbs 13:15 (King James Version) 15 Good understanding giveth favour: but the way of transgressors is hard.

13:15 Hebrew OT: Westminster Leningrad Codex שֵֽׂכֶל־טֹ֭וב יִתֶּן־חֵ֑ן וְדֶ֖רֶךְ בֹּגְדִ֣ים אֵיתָֽן׃

Forgive me if I'm wrong because I might be overthinking and/or overanalyzing. As I quickly reviewed some of the commentaries in https://biblehub.com/commentaries/proverbs/13-15.htm , they do Not seem all that convincing.

Here are some excerpts from said commentaries:

Benson Commentary "Proverbs 13:15. Good understanding — Discovering itself by a man’s holy and righteous practices; giveth favour — Maketh a man acceptable both to God and men; but the way of transgressors — Their conduct, or manner of conversation — is hard; Hebrew, איתן, rough, as this very word is rendered Deuteronomy 21:4; it is offensive to God and men, as rough ways are to travellers; fierce, intractable, and incorrigible. "

Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Good understanding giveth favour,.... A good understanding in things natural and civil gives favour among men; and so a good understanding in divine and spiritual things gives a man favour among religious people, makes him taken notice of by them, and acceptable to them: and such an understanding no man has, unless it be given him; and such appear to have one that do the commandments of God, Psalm 111:10.

Pulpit Commentary Verse 15. - Good understanding giveth favour (Proverbs 3:4); makes one acceptable to God and man. We are told of Christ that "he increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man" (Luke 2:52). As a good and wise man uses his gifts and graces properly, he wins higher favour from God, and kindles the love and respect of his fellow men. Alter this clause the Septuagint introduces that which occurs also in Proverbs 9:10, "It belongs to a good understanding (διανοίας) to know the Law." The way of transgressors is hard; rough and rugged, leading to desolation, not to waters of comfort.

One way of comprehending the phrase "Good understanding produces favor" is like viewing a coworker who quickly understands concepts when you explain work-related topics to him. You will see the coworker in a favorable manner because she/he quickly understands the work-related topics that you explained. However, there could be a treacherous person who is quite intelligent, and quite good at understanding.

Another perspective is to interpret "Good understanding produces favor" as viewing it as someone who has empathy/sympathy for another person, and less to do with intellectual knowledge. The recipient of the empathy/sympathy will view the person showing empathy/sympathy in a favorable manner.

In any case, I do Not want to steer anyone into answering this question to align with my views. Therefore, could someone please provide a deeper contextual meaning of Proverbs 13:15 's use of the phrase "Good understanding/sense " and terms "treacherous/unfaithful " ?

1 Answer 1


We should recall that proverbs in all languages are deliberately designed to be slightly ambiguous to enable them to be interpreted widely and so be broadly applicable. That is, Proverbs almost never have a single meaning.

Let me illustrate this with the quintessential example in Prov 13:15. Here is my translation:

Good understanding gains favor/grace/acceptance/respect

but the way of the unfaithful [is] perpetual/enduring

[For completeness, note the material in the two appendices below.]

First note that, as usual in a pithy Hebrew proverb, we have two elements that either say something similar (synthetic), or that contrast. Here we have the latter. This proverb could be understood as any of the following:

  • Good understanding is a means of gaining the confidence and acceptance of those around us (like David's leadership which inspired great loyalty). This might be especially true of a Godly supervisor or manager who understand the needs and limitations of those for whom they are responsible
  • Good understanding might also mean a person who understands or can grasp or see aspects of a situation that escapes others and so (like Daniel) becomes a person whose advice or wisdom is highly sought-after.
  • Good understanding may also mean a person who is able to readily grasp the will and intent of God because they study the word of God faithfully. This gains divine favor (I know I am skating on thin ice here but this is the understanding of a few commentators.)
  • "The way of the unfaithful is permanent" may be an allusion to Ex 20:5 and 34:7 which both say that God "will visit the iniquity of the fathers on their children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generations." That is, an unfaithful/evil person become known to history as infamous as their iniquity is perpetuated. Sadly, this was the case with Lot's daughters from whom came the Moabites and Amonites.

Thus, the meaning of this proverb is quite rich and multifaceted.

Finally, I note that one of the very few modern versions that dares to translate the Hebrew text as it is, if given by the ISV as:

Good understanding produces grace, but the lifestyle of the treacherous never changes.

APPENDIX 1 - Meaning of אֵיתָן

The meaning of אֵיתָן (ethan) = permanent or ever-flowing appears out of place in Prov 13:15 - most versions render it something like: ruin, destruction, difficult, hard, etc. I am happy to leave the meaning as listed by BDB below.

אֵיתָן, אֵתָן adjective perennial, ever-flowing, figurative permanent, as substantive steady flow, permanence; — absolute אֵיתָן Genesis 49:24 8t.; אֵתָן Job 33:19; suffix אֵיתָנוֺ Exodus 14:27; plural אֵיתָנִים Job 12:19; אֵתָנִים 1 Kings 8:2; Micah 6:2; (in form, an 'elative,' Ew§ 162 b = Arabic comparative and superlative); —

  1. ever-flowing (opposed to אַכְזָב), נַחַל אֵיתָן Amos 5:24 an ever-flowing wady, Deuteronomy 21:4 (see Dr); as substantive in נַהֲרוֺת אֵיתָּן Psalm 74:15 rivers of steady flow; as substantive also Exodus 14:27 (J), the sea returned לְאֵיתָנוֺ to its steady flow, יֶרַת הָאֵיתָנִים 1 Kings 8:2 month of steady flowings = 7th mo., Oct.-;Nov. (post-Biblical Tisri).

  2. figurative permanent, enduring גּוֺי אֵיתָן הוּא Jeremiah 5:15, i.e. a nation whose numbers never dwindle or fail, imperishable, ׳וְרִיב עֲצָמָיו א Job 33:19 Kt the strife of his bones is constant, Genesis 49:24 his bow abode ׳בְּא as an enduring, firm, one, מוֺשָֽׁבְךָ ׳א Numbers 24:21 ("" שִׂים בַּסֶּלַע), נְוֵה אֵיתָן Jeremiah 49:19 = Jeremiah 50:44 an abode of permanency (of Edom, and Babylon, suddenly depopulated by foe, figured as lion); האיתנים מוסדי ארץ Micah 6:2 ye ever-enduring ones, the foundations of the earth (but read probably with We הַאֲזִינוּ), Job 12:19 אֵיתָנִים יְסַלֵּף he subverteth them that are firmly seated (i.e. men established in hereditary offices or dignities). Very uncertain is Proverbs 13:15 דֶּרֶךְ בִּגְדִים אֵיתָן, perhaps firm, hard, rugged (Ew De Hi Now according to Str. the text is corrupt).

APPENDIX 2 - LXX text of Prov 13:15

The Septuagint clearly used a different Hebrew exemplar as we have:

Sound discretion gives favor, and to know the law is the part of a sound understanding: but the ways of scorners tend to destruction.

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