"Strike a scoffer and the naive may become shrewd, but reprove one who has understanding and he will gain knowledge"
This is a very interesting proverb about impacting people well beyond the immediate scope of your rebuke. Solomon states that when punishment is handed out to one kind of person, then another whole group of people change.
This is the Hebrew word nakah which means to smite. The idea here is that one who punishes a scoffer does not really change the scoffer, but instead they change the simple person who thinks that the smart-mouthed scoffer is really wise.
It may be too late for the cynical person who doesn't know how to see the positive in anything. But it is not too late for the simple people who just look on and think that because a person can ask a difficult question or point out a problem or use a mocking tone, they are smarter than everybody else. The naive person must be saved from idolizing the negative cynic. This is a dead-end street that just looks like you’re making progress. Few people want to hang out with the person who picks everything apart.
This is the Hebrew word lits which means scorn, scoff, deride, mock. The idea is derision either in tone, questioning, attitude, negativity, or facial expression.
This is the favorite phase of teenagers and young college students when everything needs to be bashed and deconstructed. They love to find the flaws in everything. A young person must push through this orientation and not get stuck in this phase. It does not make you look smart in the long run. It doesn't build success and relationships. It alienates and isolates.
Yes, there are some things that need to be deconstructed; but the cynic's voice is usually the vulture on an already downed carcass. Rarely is the cynic the person who helps people see the critical insight that sets them free from a falsehood.
It is so easy to give vent to all your negative observations. Resist this.
This is the Hebrew word pethi which means simple, open-minded, naive. These are the people who have not formulated how they will be in the world. What orientation will they take in their life? It is hugely important that it not be to become a cynic. We already have too many of those.
It is the simple-minded person who needs to be shown what happens to various foolish expressions. Solomon takes up one of these demonstrations in this proverb. The simple person can come to think that the cynic or mocker is really smart because they always are able to find the flaw or come up with a put-down.
This is the problem with most modern universities and colleges. They have gotten stuck in this cynic-scoffer-mocker mode. Where the professors cannot propose a better way of living, they just take great delight at deconstructing the values and worldview of their students’ parents. Do not fall for this. Watch out for the mocking professor. Don't embrace the idea that because you can ask an unanswerable question, you have done a good thing.
This is the Hebrew word arom which means shrewd or crafty or when used positively, it has an idea of strategic. What Solomon seems to be saying is that when a cynic gets called on the ignorance of their cynicism, then the naive realize that the cynic's knowledge is really false knowledge; and they become more strategic and thoughtful about just throwing around their criticism.
This is the Hebrew word yakach which means to decide, to judge, to prove. This is a powerful close to this comparison of what happens when cynics are punished. Solomon says that when a person – who can see the connection between things – is shown what cynicism does, then they back away from this adolescent technique. When the person who is able to project out into the future is shown what mocking and negative comments will do over time, they work hard at changing this kind of speech.
This is the typical word in Hebrew for knowledge – daatah. We have come to recognize this word to mean new information and new skills.
The person who listens to reproof because they want to understand all the connections in life will gain crucial amounts of information and learn a powerful new skill: when to bring negative comments and when not to bring negative comments.
Don't let your powers of negative observation turn you into a cynic. It is not healthy for you or for those around you.