Proverbs 13:18 is a difficult verse to reflect on, but for a different reason than many other verses may pose problems. It reads:
Poverty and shame come to him who ignores discipline, but whoever heeds correction is honored.
It seems simple, but the difficulty comes in with the Hebrew language. I'm not an expert in Hebrew and I rely a great deal on concordances, primarily Strong's. The particular word that makes it difficult is para', which literally means "avenge." Taken literally, the text says "Poverty and shame avenge discipline," but translators render para' "come to him who ignores."
Alternative definitions are "let go" and "let alone." But these aren't any more helpful.
In fact, there are many ways this word is used in scripture. Here are some of the other ways this little word is used:
Unrestrained, as in Exodus 32:25
to expose or dismiss (often by implication)
to absolve (figuratively)
Avoid, as in Proverbs 4:15
Bare, as in Leviticus 13:45
Naked, as in Exodus 32:25 (KJV)
Out of control, as in Exodus 32:25 (NAS)
Set at nought or neglected, as in Proverbs 1:25
And there are several more, as well. The bottom line is, this word seems to have some flexibility, depending on how it is used. Despite this flexibility, translators universally render the text with the same meaning even if they use different words. The idea is that those who ignore discipline (also criticism, instruction, or correction) will succumb to poverty and shame. But do they?
Ignore the Critics to Your Own Shame
We live in an age when everyone has an opinion on every topic under the sun, but few people are willing to listen to constructive feedback. To be sure, much of the criticism that is proffered in today's "free speech" environment is simply useless. It amounts to nothing more than baseless whining and non-constructive blubbering. But one can often hear, dangling somewhere between "crackpot" and "insane," the echoes of sense in the myriad voices. It is these echoes that the wise person should seek to hear.
As difficult as it often is, the man or woman who wishes to succeed at an endeavor ought to pay attention to the critics. To fail to do so could lead to their failure.
This principle applies in business, politics, the arts, community organizing, religion, and a variety of other human endeavors. The point isn't that the critics are always right. Rather, even if they are wrong, failure to listen to the concerns of others is a foolish enterprise.
On the other side of that coin is the promise: Listen to correction when it is offered, for that is an honorable thing.
Allen Taylor is the author of I Am Not the King.
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