The overall section seems to run from vv. 2-27 with the inclusio pertaining to inquiry and glory. Within this broad chiastic structure there are two sections after an introduction setting forth the theme (2-3, 4-5). The introduction’s first theme is the relationship between God and kings, and the second theme is concerned with the central conflict between the righteous and wicked. The introduction establishes the courtly, political, and regal context of this section of Proverbs. Waltke suggests that verses 6-15 treat the first theme while verses 16-27 treat the second.
This proverb concerns making a dispute known prematurely. Sometimes disputes must be appealed to court, to authorities, but we should generally be slow and reluctant to do so unless compelled of necessity. The proverb discourages “haste,” and twice warns against being shamed and finally warns against losing reputation.
This is the wisdom of Jesus as well: Matthew 18 says to first appeal to our brother privately before going before the church. Likewise, Mt. 5:25-26, instructs us to agree quickly with our adversaries so that we can avoid litigation.
This proverb also seems to assume the likelihood that we are wrong. When everyone sees how you’ve blown it, you’ll be sorry, and then you’ll become known for it. The presumption that you’re wrong comes from “hastily” going to court, being sloppy with information (25:9), and not being careful about your brother’s reputation.
This is also important for the state: It pushes against a highly litigious culture, and in the context of a king’s court, a reputation of dealing with disputes discretely is one likely to recommend one to higher positions.
This verse emphasizes the need for secrecy when working tangles out. Bringing more people into the conflict has a high likelihood of furthering the conflict. It also emphasizes the principle of Jesus “to go to your brother.” Conflict resolution is best done face to face or in the most “live” fashion possible. We need to remember this in a day and age of email and text messaging.
And remember that this ‘concealing’ of matters is Godlike (25:2).
Waltke points out that this proverb is structured to represent the very point that is being stated. Saying something well is beautiful, and taking beauty into consideration is part of wisdom and obedience. The proverb opens and closes with imagery and syntax that is parallel, “gold in settings of silver” runs parallel to “erring of gold and ornament of fine gold,” and finally, there is movement from personal to impersonal back to personal.
There are two situations in view in the general principle being taught by the proverb. The first is more general concerning a “word fitly spoken,” and the second concerns a more specific application of this point, concerning a “wise rebuker.” Notice that the first concerns the word spoken, the second concers the word received/heard. The first is gold, and the second bestows gold on the obedient. The ‘value’ and beauty of beautiful words is not only what they say and how they say it, but it also resides in the effect and results of the words. Obedience and faithfulness is the desired beautiful effect.
In the context of the king, this may apply in a couple of directions. First, a word fitly spoken by a servant of the king creates gold for the king. Speaking well is a blessing to the king and his realm; wise words are wealth. Second, the proverb implies that the wise king who gives wise counsel and rebuke is building the wealth and beauty of his kingdom through faithful counsel. Conversely, the opposite of both points is true. Foolish counsel is like theft and disobedience is ugly theft.
We should note that this and the following proverb are related by the imagery of weather, the first positively, the second negatively. Here in 13, the idea is that of a refreshing cold in the heat of summer harvest. The faithful messenger is the promise and delivery of refreshment. Literally, he restores the soul of his master. This suggests that faithful service in communication (the messenger is an envoy/representative) is a ministry not merely a job. It ministers life to the master and presumable to others. Given the royal context, this “master” is most likely the king or another prominent ruler.
This weather imagery contrasts with the previous proverb. Here the promise of refreshment (rain) is promised but never delivered.
There’s also a contrast between humility and pride undergirding these two proverbs: the first is the humble execution of service on behalf of a master while the latter is literally boasting in a gift. But the irony is that this is a gift that is not actually ever given. The contrast is between simple obedience and showy disobedience. Jesus tells the parable about the two sons (Mt. 21:28-31). Neither is completely faithful, but the son who obeys is better than the son who says he will but doesn’t.
Falsely boasting of giving is also obviously exemplified in the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-10). The proverb says that falsely boasting of giving is lie clouds and wind with no rain. It’s all the signs of a storm with no benefit of water. This could also be dangerous: thunder, lightening, and wind with no rain is a recipe for fire and disaster.
The implication seems to be that boasting and empty promises is also draining and disappointing for people (if not destructive). Rather than restoring souls, it actually leaves them dry and thirsty. And this is in the context of the court of a king. Empty promises are not little trifles, but have the effect of threatening the kingdom with drought.
This stand alone proverb reminds us of the royal context for these proverbs as we are told specifically how one may persuade a ruler. This method also contrasts with the previous method of empty boasting which only results in disappointment. Gentle words, on the other hand, are able to accomplish much. What’s striking is the adjective “gentle” associated with the effect of “breaking in pieces.” This also contrasts with the previous “storm” that effects no refreshment and only destruction and disappointment. But a patient, gentle tongue can restructure the most fundamental structures (even bones).
This proverb reminds us of what Hebrews tells us about the Word of God: it is living and powerful and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Heb. 4:12).
We should also think about what Jesus says regarding prayer and mountains (Mt. 17 and anything two or three agree on (Mt. 18:19, cf. Jn. 14:14). If we ask anything, according to his will, he hears us, and if he hears us, we know that we have whatever petitions we has asked of him (1 Jn. 5:14-15). In this sense, God is the ruler who may be persuaded by forbearance and a gentle tongue (e.g. Lk. 18:1-7).
Noticing this Christological angle on this passage suggests that there is some typology going on back in the previous verses.
In vv. 8-10, perhaps part of the presumption of guilt may be related to a divine or heavenly courtroom. Who stands before God guiltless? In vv. 11-12, the “the word fitly spoken” is fundamentally Christ, the Word who was with God, the Word is God. This Word is the glory of God, the beauty of God. And through this Word, the worlds were created, bestowing glory and wealth and honor. In v. 13 the messenger who “restores souls” is ultimately the evangelist, the ambassador who brings the gospel of peace.
In verses 2-3 something similar seems to be going on. There’s something parallel between God and kings: they seem to have a dance-like relationship of hide-and-seek-and-hide. God conceals matters, kings search them out ((25:2), and then Solomon says that the heart of kings is unsearchable like the heavens and earth (25:3). The king’s heart mirrors the glory of God on some level; there’s something godlike in the king’s heart. Even the fact that kings may search out the things that God has concealed suggests a complementary relationship. Remember that it is the Spirit that searches everything, even the deep things of God (1 Cor. 2:10). The king is one who has been anointed, and anointing always points to the Spirit who enables one to search out matters, to join the dance of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The original play of hide and seek and glory. And of Christ is the Anointed One.