As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.
Human hearts are similar. Your feelings, needs, and responses are like others’. Knowing yourself can help you understand others. Knowing them will help you learn others. You know those around you better than they think, and they know you better than you think.
Water makes a natural mirror. Looking into water shows a man the image of his face. He can see how he looks, for the reflection is quite accurate. Human hearts are also similar, as our natures, passions, and vulnerabilities are much the same. We can know much about another person’s heart by virtue of knowing our own, for they are much alike.
Here is a simple simile, a comparison made by “like” or “as.” In the way a man can see his face and know its features by reflection in water, so a man can know and understand other men through having a similar heart. Your experiences in life should give you the discernment and understanding to help others when they face similar circumstances.
Though a man’s heart may answer himself by his conscience, that internal knowledge is not the lesson of this proverb (Pr 14:10; 20:27; John 8:9; Rom 2:15). The analogy chosen here and the lack of a reflexive pronoun indicate that Solomon intends the similarity of one man’s heart to the hearts of other men. Human hearts are similar. Accept the wisdom.
Consider the different species of birds, animals, and fish. Each individual member is unique – there are no two parrots, dogs, or perch exactly alike. They have slight variations in size, color, temperament, and strength, by breed and by individual. Identical twins mean they have a unique relationship to each other due to the least differences.
But within a species, they all have the same nature. All parrots are similar – that is how you know they are parrots! They do not have an eagle’s nature, nor do they have an ostrich’s traits. You can learn a lot about parrots by having just one for a pet. And though you have only one human heart, you can learn a lot about others by knowing yourself.
Men vary in size, color, temperament, intelligence, and strength. But all men still have the same heart and basic nature. No man has the nature of a parrot, dog, perch, or angel. He is a man, and the heart of one man is similar to the hearts of other men.
The similarities of nature between any two persons are greater than the differences created by individuality. Every snowflake is individually different, but yet all snowflakes are still frozen water vapor! Though individual men vary, they still have the same nature.
God made the hearts of all men alike (Ps 33:15), and all nations and races are made of the same human blood (Acts 17:26). To think otherwise is to miss the lesson. From Adam to your grandchildren, man perpetually begets the next generation in his image and with his likeness (Gen 5:3). The same heart and nature is passed from one generation to the next.
The depraved hearts of natural men are the same – one man is like the next. They all walk according to the course of this world and Satan’s direction (Eph 2:1-3). They are all foolish, pleasure-mad, envious, and hateful (Titus 3:3). There are none that understand, seek God, or fear Him (Rom 3:9-18). “They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Ps 14:3).
The regenerated heart of the spiritual man is also the same from one person to the next. Every child of God knows the horrible conflict Paul described between the flesh and the spirit (Rom 7:14-24). They all know Paul’s strait betwixt departing to be with Christ and remaining here to love and serve others (Phil 1:23-24).
The born again children of God all relate to the wide variety of psalms, in which David intimately covered the spiritual spectrum of praise, prayer, distress, and delight. His very personal words describing his circumstances and passions answer the deepest thoughts of their own hearts better than they could likely express themselves.
What is the lesson of wisdom? You can know yourself better by observing others. For you see the good (of the new man), the bad (of the old man), and the ugly (the perverse conflict of the two). It is only human pride that thinks you are different – better than others. A wise man will remember, “As in water face answereth to face.” A wise man will condescend to men of low estate, for he knows it is his own true estate (Rom 12:16).
What is the lesson of wisdom? You can know others better by knowing yourself. For you know the good (peace and joy in the Holy Ghost), the bad (guilt and pain of temptation and sin), and the ugly (the instability of being double minded). You can help bear the burdens of others’, and you can rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep (Gal 6:2; Ro 12:15). You can empathize in the way God expects you to (Heb 13:3).
What is a further lesson of wisdom? You can know how to treat others by how you want to be treated. For you know the good (actions you appreciate), the bad (actions you resent), and the ugly (the pain of inconsistent conduct). The golden rule assumes how you want to be treated will be perfectly suitable for all others (Ex 23:19; Luke 6:31).
Is there more wisdom? Each time you stoop to the froth of socially and politically correct speech, you defraud others and yourself of true profit. The reality of your heart can provide the only help to other hearts, and only the reality of their hearts can truly connect with your heart. Why do most waste so much time in foolish and superficial generalities!
Apply the lesson. You can understand the actions of others better than you admit, for they are only doing what you also have done. You can forgive them easily (Eccl 7:21-22).
You can also commiserate with suffering of others, for you have known their pain, and this is the true friendship and love expected in true churches (Rom 12:15; I Cor 12:26).
You can receive and give counsel and comfort, for you know what you desired, needed, and received when in a similar situation (II Cor 1:3-4).
You can pray for one another with true empathy, for your experienced groanings can be offered up to God for them.
No honest person can say, “No one suffers like me.” God has plainly declared that every man’s temptations are common, not unique (I Cor 10:13). They are more similar from man to man than they are different. Get off your high horse, and humble yourself before God and all men. Others have been there before. You are not in uncharted territory.
The Lord Jesus Christ was tempted in all points like you are tempted, and this experience makes Him a merciful, faithful, helpful, and compassionate High Priest (Heb 2:17-18; 4:15-16; 5:1-2). Yet He never sinned (Heb 4:15; 7:26)! While He comforts others with the difficulty of temptations, you who know the grief, guilt, and shame of sin have humble roles to comfort and serve others in forgiveness (Gal 6:2; Heb 13:3; I Pet 3:8-9).