Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. (NIV)
NKJV - 12 Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.
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As I see it, Solomon's main purpose in this proverb is not to comment on the issue or merits of immediate gratification itself, where actions are totally within an individual's control or prerogative, and the only thing keeping the individual from immediate attainment of a desired goal is the exercise of self-control or self-restraint on the individual's part. Instead, the reference is to an individual who is striving to reach a desired goal or objective, but who is either being prevented from doing so at all, or else not within the time frame that he wishes or expects, due to external circumstances over which he has no control, and which require the fulfillment of his efforts to be continually delayed or deferred over an extended period of time. That process of uncontrollable and prolonged delay or deferral is what Solomon is describing as something that can make the individual's heart sick (that is, cause the individual extreme discouragement or depression). By contrast, the ultimate achievement or attainment of that objective has very beneficial effects for the individual, which the proverb compares to a tree of life.
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