Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 17:4
"An evildoer listens to wicked lips; a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue"
What a person pays attention to tells a lot about what that person has going on inside.
This is the Hebrew word ra which means evil, badness, distress. Remember that in the book of Proverbs this is a person who does actions that clearly go beyond the Ten Commandments: other gods, cursing, rebellion, violence and murder, adultery, stealing, lying, plotting and scheming, the taking of other people’s goods.
This is the Hebrew word qasab which is to hear, be attentive to, heed, listen to. Paying close attention to or being obedient is part of the connotation of this word. It is not just that a person hears but that there is a high level of attentiveness paid.
This is the Hebrew word awen which means trouble, sorrow, idolatry, wickedness, iniquity. The basic idea seems to be trouble that moves toward or becomes wickedness. The word carries an idea of deception and planning to deceive in the evil or trouble it is involved with.
This is the Hebrew word sapa which is lips, speech, language. This proverb is designed to help us make decisions about who to become friends with, who to hire, who to begin a relationship with. If they are attentive to wickedness, then they are an evildoer. There is a connection between what a person pays a lot of attention to and what they are doing.
The second phrase in this proverb is not contrastive but a further illumination of the same truth.
This is the Hebrew word seqer which is lie; that which is not true or designed to deceive.
pays attention: This is a standard Hebrew word azan which means listen or hear.
This is the Hebrew word howa which means calamity, disaster, destruction. Job refers to what happens to him using this word. The destruction that landed upon Job was howa.
This is the Hebrew word lason.
Putting this all together, Solomon is painting a picture of people who really enjoy listening to the details of evil. A person who lies enjoys listening to a person who destroys others with their words. It is a terrible thing to watch a person destroy another through their words, but it happens and the liar enjoys listening to this.
We often don't think that we need this advice, but we are all the time needing to make decisions about who we draw close to or begin relationships with. It is important to try and understand if this person is involved in evil. If they are, then they will make a destructive friend, hire, consultant, spouse, etc.
The other thing about this proverb is that it comes right after the declaration that God tests hearts. Will you give into the lower impulses that live within you? All of us are tempted to be interested or excited about the destruction of another. Bad news travels fast. If one pays too much attention to this mess, then one could become seduced into that lifestyle. How much evil, wickedness, and destruction are you listening to? The more you pay attention to that, the more it changes you in the hearing. It is hard enough to keep a positive attitude and servant’s heart, let alone when you are surrounded mentally and emotionally by ideas and images of selfish and wicked people.