The wise are characterized by discernment, which they use to influence those around them for good (Prov. 16:21). They are “prudent,” meaning discerning, a word that means “insight” or “understanding” and which probably signifying that the prudent man or man of understanding has developed insight into things which gives him good judgment.
This is not business acumen or some special psychological insight into people; it is ethical discernment that leads one to proper behavior based on the fear of the Lord and which leads to further knowledge of God (Prov. 2:5, “Then you will understand the fear of the LORD, And find the knowledge of God.”) The prudent or understanding person will then use this insight to influence others for God, to encourage them to walk in the ways of the Lord and grow in their own knowledge of God.
This understanding is crucial to growth in wisdom and such understanding brings life (Prov. 16:22a). This is why it is so important for the wise to spread it. The wisdom in one’s heart informs their speech so that everywhere they go they seem to bring life and well-being through their careful and humble instruction. They not only are guided in the wisdom they give (Prov. 16:23a), but also in the way they give it (Prov. 16:23b). His speech “promotes instruction” (NIV) and is “persuasive” (NASB, ESV).
Such instruction is not welcome by the fool, however, because it seems more like correction to the fool (Prov. 16:22b) and so the fool will have none of it. This is another characteristic of the wise: they enjoy the correction that brings them to a deeper understanding of God and causes them to gain wisdom.
(Prov. 9:8, “Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.” Prov. 13:1, A wise son heeds his father’s instruction, But a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.” Prov. 17:10, “Rebuke is more effective for a wise man Than a hundred blows on a fool.” Eccl. 7:5, “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise Than for a man to hear the song of fools.”)
But to the wise, such positive speech is pleasant (Prov. 16:24). It is good to the taste, enjoyable, because the wise person values God’s Word and God’s wisdom and seeks to grow in it. They also find it healthy and life-giving. The wisdom of the wise brings life by keeping one from the actions and attitudes that destroy and bring chastisement or judgment.
Fools, however, want to go in their own way and do not believe until it is too late that such ways are the ways of death. They follow ways that seem right but these ways end in disaster. Such evaluations are short-sighted because they rest solely in the need of the moment and of the flesh (Prov. 16:26) and not in the greater need to be wise and find life and healing God and his blessing.
The wise are different, they heed the word of the Lord to follow not their heart (a big lie today, even in evangelical circles) or their own understanding, but God’s wisdom. They seek to have God direct their paths. Prov. 3:5, 6, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.”