I have grouped together these three Proverbs from chapter 14 because they focus on daily practice and work. By way of reminder, the word for “righteousness” in the Hebrew Bible is tzedek, and it means “rightness” or “adherence to the right standard.” And while the primary reference is to moral rightness, it also include two other dimensions: relational and functional.
In other words, “rightness” in the kingdom of God is three dimensional. This is because the image of God in us is three dimensional. Another way to say this is that the Lord calls us to three kinds of excellence in the way we work:
Moral excellence (character).
Relational excellence (connection).
Functional excellence (competence).
“The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.”
The focus of this Proverb is the impact of women on the home, though it applies equally to men. A wise woman — that is, a woman who honors God and practices the principles and disciplines of the book of Proverbs — builds a strong and healthy home. A wise woman builds her house moral, relational, and functional excellence.
The counterpoint is the woman who is foolish; that is, the woman who does not honor God and practice the principles and disciplines of the book of Proverbs. Because she lacks discipline, she lacks one or more of the three dimensions of biblical excellence. The result of this kind of folly is that the home is diminished and “torn down.”
“Whoever walks in uprightness fears the Lord, but he who is devious in his ways despises him.”
The fear of of the Lord is a core principle in the book of Proverbs (see 1:7; 9:10; 10:27; 31:30). There is a direct connection between one’s spiritual mindset (fear of the Lord), walking in uprightness (daily discipline ... musar), and wisdom and skill (hokma).
“Walking in uprightness” means living and working in alignment with God’s standards in all three dimensions: moral, relational, functional. It means getting on path and staying on path. Devious people do not fear the Lord. They do not honor God. They reject the God’s standards in favor of their own impulses preferences.
Keep in mind that the fear of the Lord is not a single act of obedience; rather, it is a lifestyle of trusting God and obeying his commandments. Walking is not a step: it is many steps. It is a journey. Jesus said, “If you continue in my word, then you are truly my disciples.” (John 8:31).
“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.”
“The strength of the ox” = skillful and disciplined use of the right tools. It is foolish to expect abundant crops if you don’t have the right tools, or if you are not skillful in the use of the tools.
The point is that a productive life requires hard work and skill. Solomon uses a farming metaphor. A clean stall means an empty stall; that is, a stall without oxen and without the tools and implements of farming. Without oxen to plow the fields, and without the proper tools, there is no work, no productivity, and thus no crops.
This is the functional dimension of tzedek to which the Lord calls us. Be functionally excellent. Make sure you have the proper tools and resources required by your work, and be diligent and skillful in the use of the tools.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you believe in Jesus, you will automatically be effective in your job. Being a Christian does not automatically make you skillful and productive. You are called to trust God and do your work with a high standard of skill.