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  • Dr. Stieglitz

Breakfast with Solomon - Proverbs 11:17

"The merciful man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself harm"


This is the Hebrew word hesed, which means lovingkindness, love, mercy. This is the main word for love in the Old Testament. It is one of the most significant words in the Old Testament: God's hesedor love for His people. The people were to hesedGod and each other. There has been a modern attempt to focus on this word in connection with the covenant between God and Israel and emphasize loyalty as a dominant theme in this word. It is best to take the older view and translate this word as love or lovingkindness.

In this proverb, Solomon is reminding us of two truths that seem like the opposite would be true. The natural feeling is that when one is aggressive and demanding and disregards anyone's needs except his own, that person gets ahead fastest. There may be a short-term gain in this way, but long term it does not work.

It is the person who looks for the needs of others and meets them who is really benefiting himself as well as others around him. Love means meeting needs. It is the ability and willingness to meet other people's needs that sets you up to be blessed.

Our natural inclination is to be selfish. These impulses are the foolish impulses that suggest themselves first to our soul. In every situation and each decision, we sense the selfish thing to do. If we are to grow wise, we must begin to resist these impulses and instead look to love others. This is the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.It runs counter to what we initially feel is right.

One person said it this way, "You can get everything that you want if you help enough other people get what they want."

If you will work hard at meeting the needs of others, then you will be doing yourself a lot of good.


This is the Hebrew word gamal, which means to recompense, to ripen, to reward, to deal bountifully.

The first part of the verse actually reads: the man who loves ripens or deals bountifully with his soul.Solomon is appealing to our natural self-interest to get us to love others. He is saying that the path of wisdom lies through loving others and there is a personal benefit to living this way.


This is the Hebrew word akzar, which means cruel, fierce. The idea is that this person does not care about what happens to others; they just want what they want.

It is interesting that it is here contrasted with the person who expresses hesedto others. The one person uses others and has little regard for their concerns, needs, wants, or well-being. The other person seeks to meet their needs, helps them achieve their desires, and alleviates their concerns. These two kinds of people take different paths – both hoping to get to the same place. It is the loving person who will get there because if you arrive at your destination without relationships, then there is no point to getting there.


There is another interesting contrast in this phrase which literally reads troubles his flesh. The person who loves others and meets their needs enlarges and benefits his soul, but the person who has no concern for anyone but himself troubles or harms his flesh. Almost everything in this proverb is the opposite.

Solomon is trying to make the distinction as great as possible. The life is lived out of and through your soul. If your soul is enlarged and ripened and benefited, then you will have a richer, fuller, and deeper life. If you are cruel and fierce and overtly selfish, then you will shrivel your soul; but you will also trouble your own physical body. Your selfishness software has an effect in your hardware. It will bring troubles to your body.

With a contrast this great, which one of these options will you take today? Take action to love someone else today. It may be a family member, it may be a colleague, it may be a neighbor, it may be a stranger – but actually do something today that meets the need of another.

Until tomorrow,

Gil Stieglitz

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