Proverbs 12:20

Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil: but to the counsellors of peace is joy.

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What a classic proverb! If you love unlocking dark sayings, here is your opportunity (Pr 1:6). The key to understanding the lesson is in the contrast between the two clauses. Those who imagine evil against others are liars and will be punished for it. Righteous men pursue peace with their words and advice, and God will bless them with happy lives.

While context is often of little value in Proverbs – many of the verses stand alone, there is some direction for this proverb. Solomon exalted truth and condemned lying in the context (Pr 12:17-19,21-22). Therefore, “deceit” in this proverb is not self-deception of those that imagine evil, but the deceit that evil men plan and use against others. Men with evil ambitions or envy against their neighbors will lie to take advantage of them.

The contrast in many proverbs is very helpful in finding the ellipses. Those that imagine evil against others are contrasted to those that counsel peace. Some men have evil ambitions against their neighbors, but other men only desire their good and peace. While the one uses deceit to corrupt, steal, or hurt, the other uses truth to heal and strengthen. The reward to the former is sorrow and trouble, but the blessing to the righteous is joy.

Is there a lesson? Lying originates in the human heart, where it begins with evil thoughts about other people. If you have bitter resentment or hateful envy toward others, it will corrupt your dealings with them. Instead of dealing honestly and truthfully with their best interests in mind, you will lie to them or about them to pursue your wicked agenda.

The cure is to keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life (Pr 4:23). Jesus and James warned very clearly that all sins begin in the heart (Matt 12:34-37; 15:18-20; Jas 1:13-16). If you harbor envy or strife in your heart, it makes you completely vulnerable to confusion and every evil work of the devil (Jas 3:14-16).

Is there another lesson? God loves and blesses peacemakers (Matt 5:9). If your words and advice to others are truth and peace, God will favor your life (Pr 15:23; I Pet 3:10-13). Opposite the hellish confusion and evil of strife and envy is the peace and righteousness of heavenly wisdom (Jas 3:17-18). The difference is very great. Counsel peace today!

Differences between men are common. How will you deal with them? Will you forgive those who trespass against you (Pr 19:11; Matt 18:21-22)? If you have offended others, will you quickly seek reconciliation (Matt 5:23-26)? If you know of trouble between others, will you counsel them to peace and unity (Rom 14:17-19)? Counsel peace today!