When people think of the OT Wisdom literature (which includes Job, Ecclesiastes, and some Psalms) they usually first think of Proverbs, and for good reason. This book does indeed live up to its reputation as a treasure trove of biblical wisdom.
Author. Proverbs is an anthology of wisdom that explicitly includes the voices of Solomon (1:1; 10:1; 25:1), the "wise" (22:17; 24:23), Agur (30:1), and Lemuel (31:1). There was also the editorial work of the "men of Hezekiah" (25:1) along with, presumably, a final editor or editors who put the whole collection together in its finished form. And when one considers the international borrowing of proverbs among different peoples, one can readily recognize that Proverbs does not relay the thought of only a single human author.
Nevertheless, it is also true that the most significant authorial voice in the book is that of Solomon. Several factors support this claim. First, when comparing its structure with the structure of other works of wisdom in the ANE, Pr 1:1–22:16 displays a unity as the work of Solomon. "The corpus conforms precisely in its structure with many of the ancient Near Eastern ‘instruction’ documents: main title with preamble (1:1–7), a prologue (collection 1: 1:8–9:18), a subtitle to collection 2 (10:1), and the main text (10:2–22:16)" (Bruce Waltke, with Charles Yu, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007], 905). Second, the words of the wise (22:17–24:34) most likely are Solomon’s own compilation and adaptation of wisdom from other sources, appended to 1:1–22:16. After all, since its author is not named (which is not typical of works of wisdom instruction in the ANE), the "I" (22:19) who introduces this section most naturally accords with the Solomonic "I" of chaps. 1–9 (Waltke, OT Theology, 905). Third, chaps. 25–29 are another section of Solomonic proverbs, this time collected by scholars in the time of King Hezekiah (25:1). Fourth, Solomon’s work in collecting and disseminating the wisdom in Proverbs fits well the biblical picture of him as a famous sage and composer of wisdom writings (1Kg 4:29–34; cf. 1Kg 3).
Hence, with the exception of chaps. 30–31, all the previous sections of the book have a direct connection with Solomon. This makes the superscription in 1:1, "the proverbs of Solomon," an appropriate description of the book as a whole.
Date. The authorship of the book gives parameters to its date. Given the conclusion above regarding chaps. 1–24, this section would be dated to the time of Solomon (around 950 BC). The compilation of chaps. 25–29, as indicated in the text itself, would be dated at the time of Hezekiah (716–687 BC). What about chaps. 30–31? There is no external or internal evidence to date this material. Consequently, no firm date can be affixed to the final editing of Proverbs, though it is possible that it was as early as the time of Hezekiah.
Recipients. The authorship question also gives direction to the setting and audience of the book. The prominence of Solomon, as well as the influence of Hezekiah’s men and King Lemuel make a royal court setting for the compilation of much of Proverbs evident. But the proverbs do not deal solely with court life. Indeed, in regard to the transmission of the wisdom in Proverbs, the setting of the book seems more attuned to the family—a father addressing his son (or a mother her son in chap. 31). "Solomon intended to transmit his wisdom to Israel’s youths by putting his proverbs in the mouths of godly parents (1:8–9), even as Moses disseminated the law in the home (cf. Dt 6:7–9)" (Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1–15, NICOT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004], 63).
Structure and Genre. The text of Proverbs clearly indicates that it is a collection of different works of wisdom, each of which is usually headed by a title of sorts. This sets up the basic organization of the book.
After a short preface to the book as a whole (1:1–7), the first nine chapters (1:8–9:18) are a collection of lengthy discourses on wisdom. These discourses differ markedly from the two line aphorisms people usually associate with Proverbs. They are a collection of lengthy poems primarily in the form either of a father addressing his son or of a personified wisdom herself calling for people to follow her ways. These discourses usually have three parts: (1) a call to the addressee exhorting him to listen to the lesson and providing him motivation to do so (e.g., 2:1–11), (2) a lesson commending the way of wisdom and/or warning against the way of folly (e.g., 2:12–19), and (3) a conclusion that summarizes the teaching (e.g., 2:20–22) (Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, BCOT [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006], 30). This section primarily functions to exhort the reader to embrace the way of wisdom rather than the way of folly, making it a fitting beginning to Proverbs as a whole.
The next section (10:1–22:16) is called "the proverbs of Solomon." The majority of this section is made up of the two-line proverb so familiar to many. There are four major questions to consider in connection with this literary form.
First, what exactly is a proverb? A proverb (Hb. mashal, "comparison," "parable," "proverb") is a short wisdom saying—"wisdom in a nutshell" (M. Salisbury, quoted in Michael V. Fox, Proverbs 1–9: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AB [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000], 15). The Hebrew term itself likely picks up on the idea of a comparison, perhaps referring to metaphors and similes in the proverb or to how the lines of the proverb relate to one another, but more likely referring to how the wise reader connects his situation to the message of the proverb (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 56).
Second, what are some characteristics of a proverb? Proverbs share the characteristics of all Hebrew poetry. They are quite concise, but their brevity is dense with meaning and motivation. Moreover, like much good poetry, they are filled with figures of speech and laden with imagery, creating pictures with words. This helps the reader not only to remember but also to reflect further on what is said.
Proverbs are also characterized by another key feature of Hebrew poetry, parallelism, not rhyme schemes familiar in English poems. Hebrew poetry is arranged in groups of two or more lines that are parallel in structure, though they do not merely say the same thing. They are "juxtaposed in such a way that the words and images play off against each other and suggest a web of meanings" (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 15). So in a two-line parallelism (as are most proverbs in this section), the second line might, for example, intensify, specify, reinforce, expand on, or contrast with the first line (William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation [Dallas: Word, 1993], 225). The majority of the proverbs in this particular section of the book have antithetical parallelism (a contrast between the two lines). In any case, the key task for the interpreter is to seek to understand how the lines interact with one another.
Beyond these characteristics that proverbs share with Hebrew poetry in general, a proverb has a distinctive feature. A proverb, by its very nature, presents a general principle, a rule of thumb. This feature leads to a third question: how should one construe a proverb? Christians often misconstrue a proverb by understanding it as a rigid command or a fixed promise. On this view, a proverb could not have any exceptions. But this fundamentally misunderstands the genre. For "the proverb form, no matter the cultural background, presupposes the right circumstances for its proper application" (Tremper Longman III, How to Read Proverbs [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002], 48). That is, proverbs have a range of application. Some may virtually always apply; many others do not apply to every situation. But it takes a wise person to know when each applies. For example, in light of 26:4–5, should one answer a fool according to his folly (v. 5) or not (v. 4)? It depends on the situation. "A wise person knows the right time and the right situation for the right proverb" (Longman, How to Read Proverbs, 49). This was one of the problems with Job’s friends. Many of the principles they articulated were proverbially true, but they inappropriately applied those principles to Job’s situation.
Finally, how are the proverbs in this section (10:1–22:16) related to one another? Many have argued that the proverbs in this section are put together randomly, with no particular arrangement. On a cursory reading, this certainly seems to be the case. Recently, however, several scholars have argued that there are literary units within this section, although there is no widespread consensus on how those units might be delineated precisely because no unit is obvious on a cursory reading. Advocates appeal to various features like literary devices (e.g., chiasm or inclusio), repeated sounds (e.g., alliteration, assonance), or repeated words or ideas as the basis for a literary unit.
It is quite possible that, as they were collected, some of these proverbs were put together in small literary units. However, as a general rule, it seems more prudent to approach this section as a random collection of proverbs. After all, when used originally in their oral context, they did stand alone (this section is a collection of proverbs, after all). Furthermore, they do not usually appear to be grouped together in terms of their actual content. Moreover, their largely random arrangement reflects real life, which is muddled and resistant to neat categorization (Longman, How to Read Proverbs, 40). In this sense, these "proverbs are presented in the seemingly haphazard way we encounter the issues with which they deal" in real life (Duane Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, NAC [Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1993], 46).
This is a significant question because it directly influences how one interprets these proverbs. In short, what precisely is the context? As suggested above, this commentary will usually approach each proverb on its own without reference to a larger context. However, comments will also sometimes take account of two types of contexts to nuance the interpretation of certain proverbs. When a proverb does seem to be grouped in a unit with other proverbs, we will consider the literary context. And when a proverb deals with a certain topic, we will sometimes take into consideration the topical context (i.e., other proverbs that deal with the same topic).
The next section in Proverbs is the "sayings of the wise" (22:17–24:34). Four features are notable in this section. First, this section is different in style from the previous one. Most of the sayings are more extended than the two-line proverbs that dominate the previous section, and they reflect the style of a father’s address to his son (so prominent earlier in chaps. 1–9). Second, this section has two parts, the "thirty sayings of the wise" (22:17–24:22) and "more sayings of the wise" (24:23–34). Third, there is some disagreement over the exact delineation of the "thirty sayings" in part one (an issue that will be addressed within the commentary itself). Fourth, parts of this section are strikingly parallel with the words of the Egyptian wise man Amenemope. Whichever work was written earlier, this feature is a reminder of the international character of wisdom in the ancient world, as previously noted.
The "sayings of the wise" are followed by another collection of Solomon’s proverbs (25:1–29:27). These sayings were collected during the reign of Hezekiah (25:1). They are similar in style to the first collection of Solomon’s proverbs (10:1–22:16).
The last two chapters of Proverbs consist of three separate sections. The first of these is the sayings of Agur (30:1–33). The identity of Agur is obscure; he may have been an unknown Israelite or even a Gentile wise man. One interesting feature of this section is the repeated use of numerical proverbs (e.g., 30:18–19). The second section in these chapters is the sayings of King Lemuel (31:1–9). Like Agur, Lemuel’s identity is obscure, as is his kingdom. But he too may have been a Gentile. The words in this section actually reflect the teaching of Lemuel’s mother, and they focus on the characteristics of an ideal king. The third section deals with another ideal, that of the ideal wife. This is an acrostic poem (each line of the poem beginning with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet) describing the virtuous woman. As argued in the commentary, this poem is likely a continuation of the words of King Lemuel.
Themes. When considering the theology of Proverbs, one could profitably explore numerous specific topics addressed in the book (e.g., wealth, laziness, speech, etc.). Unfortunately, space precludes this commentary from such investigations (see Longman, Proverbs, 549–578 and Derek Kidner, Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary, TOTC [Downers Grove, IL: Tyndale, 1964], 31–56, for good examples). However, certain theological themes are so important in understanding the book as a whole that they need to be addressed here at the outset.
The Nature of Wisdom. Though contemporary Americans value wisdom (just check out the self-help section of a local bookstore), America is not a proverbial society. For Americans, proverbs are trite and infrequently used. But this is not the case in many other cultures. It certainly was not the case in ancient Israel where proverbs were a part of everyday life for all levels of society.
Israel was not alone in valuing proverbial wisdom. The larger culture of the ancient Near East, of which Israel was a part, also greatly valued proverbs, and there was a good deal of interchange between ANE cultures. So even though Israel’s wisdom was distinct in important ways, it also intentionally included international dialogue partners. For example, one can see direct parallels between several proverbs (particularly in 22:17–24:22) and the instructions of the Egyptian wise man Amenemope (an Egyptian government official probably sometime before 1000 BC). This should be no surprise in light of Solomon’s great wisdom, which was known across the ancient world (1Kg 4:29–31). "While the Old Testament scorns the magic and superstition which debased much of this thought (Is. 47:12, 13), and the pride which inflated it (Jb. 5:13), it can speak of the gentile sages with a respect it never showed towards their priests. Solomon outstripped them, but we are expected to be impressed by the fact" (Kidner, Proverbs, 17).
What does Israel’s interchange with its neighbors imply about the nature of wisdom? Wisdom focuses on living in this world and in that sense has a foundation in general revelation. This is why non-Israelite wise men could look at the world and make wise observations. In looking long and hard at this world, the sage might make general conclusions, seeking to interpret what is happening in life broadly (as in Job or Ecclesiastes), or he might make more concrete conclusions, seeking to provide guidelines for living life skillfully (as in much of Proverbs). Nevertheless, this world is God’s world, and so biblical wisdom is superior to other wisdom, for it acknowledges that God is central. While pagan wisdom sought to control and manipulate the world order in favor of one’s own interests, biblical wisdom is rooted in the fear and worship of the living God (Pr 1:7; 9:10).
Wisdom as Theology. It was pointed out above, in connection with the international flavor of ANE wisdom, that wisdom has a particular interest in truth gleaned from observing life in this world. Yet this point should not be overstated. The book of Proverbs is no more just another piece of ancient wisdom than a priceless masterpiece is just another painting. Nor is Proverbs just a collection of practical, secular advice with a few references to the Lord tacked on here and there to give it a pious veneer. Biblical wisdom is fundamentally theological precisely because it is rooted in the Lord Himself. Consider the following two crucial points.
First, biblical wisdom is revealed from God Himself. It is not merely the product of man’s insights into the world. Solomon received his wisdom from God (1Kg 4:29), as Solomon himself acknowledges (Pr 2:6). It is this divine wisdom that has been God’s ever-present companion from the beginning of time (8:22–31). Indeed, Agur makes clear that God’s wisdom, revealed in His Word, far exceeds the limitations of human capacities (30:2–6). Little wonder that Agur and Lemuel both consider their sayings to be an "oracle" (i.e., a prophetic revelation) from God (30:1; 31:1; see commentary below) (Waltke, OT Theology, 915–921).
Second, biblical wisdom reflects the worship of God Himself. This is why the fear of the Lord is the key to wisdom (cf. 1:7). Longman has pointed out that Pr 1–9 is really a hermeneutical guide for understanding the rest of Proverbs. Its major focus is to contrast wisdom with folly and extol the advantages of wisdom. This contrast is most pronounced in the comparison between Lady Wisdom and Woman Folly (chap. 9). Both invite the passerby (the reader) to join her for a fellowship meal. Both of their houses are situated on the highest point of the city, the place where temples were situated in the ancient world. Ultimately, both are calling the reader to worship either the Lord (in the case of wisdom) or idols (in the case of folly) (Longman, Proverbs, 58–61). This makes the decision between wisdom and folly a matter of life and death. Those who choose wisdom will inevitably fear (or worship) the Lord (1:7; 9:10) and put their trust in Him (3:5–6; 14:26; 16:3, 20; 18:10; 19:23; 22:19; 28:25). In the end, the wisdom sayings are effective because of the Lord who has revealed them to His sages and because He sustains them (Waltke, OT Theology, 921).
The Wise. Although it is not possible here to survey thoroughly the teaching of Proverbs on wisdom and the wise, consider three broad points. First, Proverbs uses a vast array of terms to describe wisdom and the wise. The full array of terms will be seen in the commentary below (e.g., 1:2–6), but Kidner’s survey provides a helpful sample. The wise are disciplined, having received wise "instruction" (musar; e.g., 1:2–3) and accepted "reproof" (tokachat; e.g., 1:23; 3:11). The wise are also discerning because they have "understanding" (binah; tebunah; e.g., 1:2; 2:2). Moreover, they demonstrate practical common sense ("wise behavior"; sekel; e.g., 1:3; 12:8). This term was used of Bezalel, the craftsman whom the Lord gave skill for the building of the tabernacle (Ex 31). Hence, its usage in Proverbs should be understood as "skill for living." The proverbs speak of "sound wisdom" (tushiyyah; e.g., Pr 2:7; 8:14) in times when resourcefulness is needed. Similarly, the wise have shrewdness ("prudence"; ‘ormah; e.g., 1:4) and "discretion" (mezimmah; e.g., 1:4); they understand the situation and plan accordingly. Finally, they have "knowledge" (da‘at; e.g., 2:5; 3:6) and "learning" (leqach; e.g., 1:5) of God and His truth (Kidner, Proverbs, 36–37).
Second, because the wise by definition fear and trust the Lord, Proverbs inextricably links being wise with godliness. Wisdom is fundamentally spiritual and ethical. The wise are thus righteous (tsedeq; e.g., 1:3), just (mishpat; e.g., 1:3), and fair ("equity"; mesharim; e.g., 1:3). Similarly, they are also characterized as blameless ("integrity"; tom; e.g., 2:7), "good" (tob; e.g., 2:20), "upright" (yashar; e.g., 2:7). They also exemplify kindness ("steadfast love"; chesed; e.g., 3:3) and faithfulness ("truth"; ’emet; e.g., 3:3) (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 97–100).
Third, wisdom is both compelling and accessible. Wisdom is shown not only as having innumerable benefits and rewards (and folly its dangers), but it is often pictured as a regal lady who is utterly incomparable and yet also available to all who seek her. For those willing to turn from folly and seek wisdom and the Lord who gives it, wisdom may be found.
The Fool. As with the wise, there is also a wide variety of terms for the fool. The mildest is the "naive" (peti; e.g., 14:15), who is gullible, aimless, and easily led astray. But he is not incorrigible and can be taught wisdom if he will listen. More intransigent is the typical "fool" in proverbs, called the kesil (e.g., 17:16) or the ’ewil (e.g., 24:7). This type includes "people with morally deficient characters that prompt their irrational behavior. They are blockheads because, deaf to wisdom, from their distorted moral vision, of which they are cocksure, they delight in twisting values that benefit the community" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 112). Even worse is the "scoffer" (lets; e.g., 9:7–8), who is utterly arrogant and hardened against wisdom and correction. His sneering attitude is repulsive, and his influence in society is noxious. Another type of fool deserving special mention is the "sluggard" (‘atsel; e.g., 26:13–16), whose laziness makes him a menace to himself and others. These terms make clear that, as with wisdom, so too folly is fundamentally spiritual and ethical. So, for example, the "wicked" (resha‘im; e.g., 10:3), the perverse (tahppukot; e.g., 6:14), the "devious" (luz; e.g., 3:32), and the "treacherous" (bogedim; e.g., 11:3, 6) are all fools as well.
Life and Death. A major theme in Proverbs is the two paths, those of wisdom and folly. Wisdom’s path is straight and smooth and leads to life; folly’s path is crooked and hard and leads to death. But what exactly does Proverbs mean by "life" and "death," and do these concepts include eternal life and death?
In Proverbs, "life" sometimes refers merely to physical life (e.g., 31:12). But typically it goes beyond that to include a quality of life that involves material, social, psychological, moral, and spiritual well-being (3:21–22; 8:35; 10:16; 15:27; 16:15; 19:23; 21:21; 22:4). At its heart, life is tied inextricably to fellowship with the Lord (e.g., 2:5–8; 8:35). While Proverbs does not explore life after physical death in detail, it does indicate that abundant life in fellowship with the Lord continues after physical death (12:28; 14:32; 15:24; 23:17–18). This eternal, qualitative nature of life is why Proverbs consistently describes the wicked who are still physically alive as partaking not in life, but in death (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 104–107; Kidner, Proverbs, 53–55).
What, then, is "death" in Proverbs? When taken in light of the entire OT, Proverbs included, "death is a whole realm in conflict with life, rather than a single and merely physical event" (Kidner, Proverbs, 55). To be sure, the death that folly and wickedness bring may well be physical (e.g., the result of capital justice for adultery, Lv 20:10; Dt 22:22). But death continues to endure in the grave (Sheol and Abaddon), and it can also come to those physically alive "in the forms of sickness (e.g., Ps. 116:3), calamity (Dt. 30:15) and above all, sin (Gn. 2:17)" (Kidner, Proverbs, 56). Most significantly, death has no part in the kind of abundant life that pertains to never-ending fellowship with God (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 105), with all its attendant blessings. For a similar understanding of death in the NT, see the comments on Rm 6:15–20; 7:14–25; 8:12–13.
Retribution. Besides life and death, various rewards and punishments are said to follow from wisdom/righteousness and folly/wickedness respectively (e.g., Pr 3:2, 9–10; 10:3; 21:7). This theology of retribution, so common in Proverbs, must be qualified by four important considerations. First, these retributive statements are proverbial. As discussed above, proverbs are not mechanistic promises but statements with a range of application. And that application may need to be qualified by other proverbs and biblical teaching that present mitigating factors. "A single proverb does not intend to address all the nuances of a situation; it just gives a snapshot of life to motivate proper behavior" (Longman, Proverbs, 85). So, for example, though God blesses the righteous and judges the wicked, Proverbs (as well as Job, Ecclesiastes, and Psalms) also indicates that there are times when the wicked do seem to prosper (cf. 10:2; 11:4) and the righteous suffer (24:16).
This leads to a second consideration. Retributive statements must be understood with a long-range perspective. Any gains for wicked fools and any setbacks for the righteous wise are short-lived (cf. 24:15–16). Put differently, viewed in light of eternity, it is certainly the case that wisdom/righteousness is blessed and wickedness/folly is cursed. While that blessing/cursing may not always be seen immediately, it will be seen inevitably. This long-term perspective fosters complete trust in the Lord (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 109; cf. 3:5–6).
However, third, one usually does not need to wait until eternity to see the principles of retribution at work. For example, generally speaking, experience even in this fallen world demonstrates that those who are self-controlled, diligent, wise in their speech, and gracious to others will prosper far more than those who are not. While mitigating factors may exist (see above), they are exceptions to a rule that generally pertains.
Finally, God Himself stands behind retributive justice. The general principles pertain because the Lord built the world that way (Longman, Proverbs, 84). And, in any case, in the end God will bring all things into judgment (cf. Ec 12:14). This is why the wise will fear and trust in the Lord.
I. Solomon’s Collection (1:1–24:34)
A. Introduction (1:1–7)
1. Title (1:1)
2. Purpose (1:2–6)
3. Theme (1:7)
B. Extended Discourses on Wisdom (1:8–9:18)
1. Lesson 1: Beware of Violent Companions (1:8–19)
2. Wisdom’s First Call (1:20–33)
3. Lesson 2: Wisdom’s Protection (2:1–22)
a. Wisdom’s Conditions: Receive and Seek It (2:1–4)
b. Wisdom’s Benefits: Protection (2:5–11)
c. What Wisdom Protects From (2:12–19)
d. Summary (2:20–22)
4. Lesson 3: Wisdom as Worship (3:1–12)
5. Poem: the Value of Lady Wisdom (3:13–20)
6. Lesson 4: The Benefits of Wise Dealings (3:21–35)
a. Wisdom’s Safety (3:21–26)
b. Wise Dealings with Others (3:27–31)
c. Motivations for Wise Dealings (3:32–35)
7. Lesson 5: A Grandfather’s Lesson on the Value of Lady Wisdom (4:1–9)
8. Lesson 6: Keeping on the Right Path (4:10–19)
9. Lesson 7: Guarding Your Heart (4:20–27)
a. Guarding the Receptive Organs (4:20–22)
b. Guarding the Heart (4:23)
c. Guarding the Active Organs (4:24–27)
10. Lesson 8: Passion’s Proper Place (5:1–23)
a. Introductory Exhortation (5:1–2)
b. The Seductress: Passion’s Improper Place (5:3–14)
(1) The Danger of the Seductress (5:3–6)
(2) The Central Exhortation (5:7–8)
(3) The Results of Not Heeding the Exhortation (5:9–14)
c. One’s Wife and Passion’s Proper Place (5:15–20)
d. Conclusion (5:21–23)
11. Warnings against Foolish People (6:1–19)
a. Warning Concerning Becoming a Guarantor (6:1–5)
b. Warning Concerning the Lazy Man (6:6–11)
c. Warning Concerning Troublemakers (6:12–19)
(1) Describing Troublemakers (6:12–15)
(2) The Lord’s View of Troublemakers (6:16–19)
12. Lesson 9: Warnings against the Adulteress (6:20–35)
a. Introduction (6:20–24)
b. Central Exhortation (6:25)
c. Supporting Reasons for the Exhortation (6:26–35)
13. Lesson 10: More Warnings against the Adulteress (7:1–27)
a. Introductory Exhortation (7:1–5)
b. The Story of the Seductress and the Simpleton (7:6–23)
(1) The Setting (7:6–9)
(2) The Seductress (7:10–12)
(3) The Seduction (7:13–21)
(4) The Surrender (7:21–23)
c. Epilogue: Concluding Exhortation (7:24–27)
14. Wisdom’s Second Call (8:1–36)
a. Preface to Wisdom’s Address (8:1–3)
b. Wisdom’s Opening Exhortation (8:4–11)
c. Wisdom’s Autobiography (8:12–31)
(1) Wisdom’s Autobiography in History (8:12–21)
(2) Wisdom’s Autobiography before History (8:22–31)
(a) Wisdom’s Existence before Creation (8:22–26)
(b) Wisdom’s Participation in Creation (8:27–31)
(3) Lady Wisdom and Christ
d. Final Exhortation (8:32–36)
15. Conclusion: Two Invitations (9:1–18)
a. Lady Wisdom’s Banquet Invitation (9:1–6)
b. Interlude (9:7–12)
c. Woman Folly’s Banquet Invitation (9:13–18)
C. The Proverbs of Solomon (10:1–22:16)
D. Thirty Sayings of the Wise (22:17–24:22)
E. More Sayings of the Wise (24:23–34)
II. The Collection of Solomon’s Proverbs by King Hezekiah’s Scribes (25:1–29:27)
III. Agur’s Collection (30:1–33)
A. Prologue (30:1–9)
B. The Proverbs of Agur (30:10–33)
IV. King Lemuel’s Collection (31:1–31)
A. Title (31:1)
B. Admonitions to a King (31:2–9)
C. The Excellent Wife (31:10–31)
COMMENTARY ON PROVERBS
I. Solomon’s Collection (1:1–24:34)
A. Introduction (1:1–7)
1. Title (1:1)
1:1. Although this verse serves structurally as the superscription of Solomon’s collection, it is a fit title for the book as a whole given that Solomon the son of David, king of Israel had the dominant influence in Proverbs. For further discussion of the nature of proverbs and of the book’s authorship, see Introduction.
2. Purpose (1:2–6)
These verses lay out the purpose of the book, demonstrating the benefits that heeding its teachings will bring. It is probably best to see these benefits addressed to three audiences: readers in general (vv. 2–3), the simple (v. 4), and the wise (vv. 5–6) (Longman, Proverbs, 95). Generally, this section shows that Proverbs was written to impart wisdom in its various aspects both to those devoid of it and to those who can continue to grow in it. Furthermore, it was written to spur its readers to carefully ponder and grow in understanding and applying the profound words of the wise, for by doing so comes wisdom.
1:2–3. Proverbs is written with three purposes for the general reader. First, it helps the reader know wisdom and instruction (v. 2a). Knowing here is more than acquiring information; it is a personal, internalized knowledge in which a person possesses wisdom and heeds instruction and makes them one’s own. Here the term wisdom (hokmah) is used in its broadest sense, the umbrella term for the various facets of wisdom discussed below (Kidner, Proverbs, 36). But instruction (musar) is more specific, "a chastening lesson" that invokes the character and discipline necessary to take correction to heart (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 175).
Second, Proverbs is written to help its readers discern the sayings of understanding (v. 2b). The verb discern (habin) involves the capacity to truly understand something beyond the superficial level, and in that sense to gain genuine perceptiveness. The language here is repetitive for emphasis (lit., "to understand sayings of understanding"). Proverbs thus encourages its readers to gain insight into its insightful sayings about life, to truly perceive the perceptive sayings of the wise. They will, in turn, become insightful about life themselves.
Third, Proverbs is written to general readers so that they would receive instruction, accepting in their hearts the kind of correction that produces wise behavior (v. 3a). Wisdom produces a change in action, not just an accumulation of knowledge. But truly wise behavior is neither self-centered nor unscrupulous. Proverbs thus also instructs its readers in righteousness, justice and equity (v. 3b). These terms remind us that true wisdom entails both personal moral integrity and social consciousness.
Taken together, these three purposes show that Proverbs will shape the thinking, attitude, moral character, and behavior of the general reader.
1:4. Beyond the general reader, Proverbs is written more specifically to the naive. Their naivetÚ, associated especially with youth, is "inexperienced, easily seduced, but needing instruction and capable of learning" (Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, Johann Stamm, The Hebrew & Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, CD-ROM-Edition, trans. M. Richardson [Leiden: Brill, 2000], 989). Such people at least are teachable, unlike fools and mockers. To these, Proverbs is able to give prudence (that is, good judgment), knowledge and discretion. Proverbs imparts truth and skill for living that they did not previously know, so that they can act with wise deliberation and foresight when facing life’s challenges and temptations.
1:5–6. Proverbs is also written more specifically to the wise. Unlike the na´ve person, the wise person is able to build on the wise foundation he already has. So Proverbs exhorts the wise person not only to hear its wisdom, but to increase in learning and acquire even more wisdom (v. 5). The wise man realizes he never arrives but continually needs to grow in wisdom. As he grows more wise he will also grow in his understanding of all kinds of wisdom sayings, whether a proverb, a figure, or the riddles and words of the wise (v. 6). After all, many proverbs are broad, ambiguous, or enigmatic, and all of them need to be applied to the specific circumstances of life. Consequently, those who are wise in the first place are best suited to truly understand what proverbs are saying and how they best apply.
Verses 4–6 therefore indicate that there is a kind of chicken-and-egg relationship to wisdom sayings and being wise. On the one hand, we need to understand wisdom sayings in order to act wisely (v. 4), but as we act wisely we grow in our capacity to understand wisdom sayings (v. 5–6). No human being ever graduates from the school of Proverbs!
3. Theme (1:7)
1:7. Even more importantly, no truly wise human being can abandon God in his pursuit of wisdom because the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (v. 7a). Knowledge here is closely associated with "wisdom" (cf. 1:4). The fear of the Lord is a reverential awe toward Him. It involves taking Him seriously, both fearing His just judgment and holding Him in the highest respect and love. The term likely has both rational and relational aspects. Rationally, it refers to knowledge of the Lord’s special revelation (cf. Pss 34:11ff.; 19:7–9). Relationally, it involves the wise man’s worship of the Lord, a worship that entails reverent fear, love, and trust (cf. Dt 5:29 and Dt 6:2; Dt 6:5 and Jos 24:14) (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 100–101). Beginning (re’shit) indicates that the fear of the Lord is the foundation, the first principle, the presupposition of all wisdom. Here, then, Solomon indicates that a person can only be truly wise when he acknowledges that wisdom ultimately comes from the Lord Himself, and when he roots his pursuit of wisdom in worship of the Lord. "What the alphabet is to reading, notes to reading music, and numerals to mathematics, the fear of the Lord is to attaining the revealed knowledge of this book" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 181). It is little wonder, then, that only great fools would despise wisdom and instruction (v. 7b). For in showing contempt for biblical wisdom, the fool is rejecting the Lord Himself. And in denying the Lord, the fool is arrogantly denying reality itself—a fool’s errand indeed.
This verse thus makes a sweeping statement about the very nature of true wisdom. As such, it functions as the motto for the whole book of Proverbs, and for good reason. "It stands in front of the rest of the collection as the quintessential expression of the basic spiritual grammar for understanding the book" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 180).
B. Extended Discourses on Wisdom (1:8–9:18)
This section is made up of a series of fifteen poems. Most of them are in the form of a father’s instruction to his son. Typical elements in these instructions include the presentation of a lesson, an admonition to listen to the lesson, and motivations for heeding the lesson. Other poems in this section acclaim wisdom’s value by presenting it as a lady who calls na´ve young men to follow her ways. This section as a whole serves as an interpretive key for the rest of the book.
1. Lesson 1: Beware of Violent Companions (1:8–19)
1:8–9. This lesson begins with the urgent appeal to listen: Hear, my son, your father’s instruction. It follows the typical pattern in Proverbs with an admonition to the one lacking wisdom to obey the instruction in the lesson. Also typical is the parental imagery: the father addressing his young and na´ve son. He is exhorted to heed rather than reject what both his parents have taught him (v. 8). The motivation for doing so is that their teachings bring to the obedient son honor like an appealing garland (a graceful wreath to your head) and prosperity like an expensive necklace (ornaments about your neck) (v. 9).
1:10. The lesson is summarized: Do not consent when sinners entice you. A "sinner" is one who offends against God and, by extension, the community (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 189). Here the term refers specifically to violent criminals as is evident by the enticements they offer in the following verses. Not in our day only has the young man been tempted by the lures of the gang. He therefore faces a choice: either listen to the wise advice of his parents or the destructive enticements of the gang.
1:11–14. Taking on the persona of the gang recruiter, the father summarizes the temptations offered by the gang. First, the recruiter offers easy gain. They will ambush the innocent who are unsuspecting and therefore defenseless against robbery (v. 11). This will bring them all kinds of precious wealth and abundant spoil (v. 13). Second, the gang offers a sense of power. The language of v. 12 is bombastic. They claim to have the power of death itself (Sheol is the grave), able to swallow their victims alive and whole (v. 12). The gang describes their victims as those who go down to the pit (i.e., the grave). Yet it is quite possible that this statement is ironic. Rather than merely describing their victims, they are really inadvertently describing themselves; in destroying others, they ultimately destroy themselves (Garrett, Proverbs, 70; cf. v. 18). Third, the recruiter offers a feeling of belonging. If the young man will throw in his lot with them—join them—they will all have one purse (v. 14). That is, he offers an equal share to everyone who is part of the group. What he does not say, once again ironically, is that everyone also gets an equal share of the group’s guilt (Longman, Proverbs, 107; cf. v. 18).
1:15. Having described the gang’s appeal, the father now warns his son not to walk in the way with them but to keep his feet from their path. The imagery of the way and the path, so common throughout Proverbs, points both to one’s lifestyle and the destiny of that lifestyle (cf. 4:10–19). This includes that lifestyle’s nature, context, choices, behavior, and consequences (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 193–194). As the next few verses show, the destiny of the lifestyle offered by the gang provides the motivation for going on a different, better path.
1:16–18. The word for gives the reason or motivation for the exhortation of the previous verse. The fundamental motivation the father presents in these verses is that the lifestyle of the gang leads to the gang member’s own destruction. This is implied in the ambiguous wording of v. 16. The gang is eager to pursue evil, but the term can refer either to moral wickedness perpetrated against others or the calamity they bring on themselves. In addition, these violent men hasten to shed blood, but it is not entirely clear whose blood they are actually shedding—others’, or their own. Quite possibly, then, in their eagerness for evil and murder against others, they are really pursuing their own calamitous end. This becomes clearer in the next two verses. Even a bird has the good sense to avoid an obvious trap (v. 17). But not the foolish gang member. The trap he sets for others entraps him; the ambush he sets for others is really his own (v. 18). His passion to pursue violent wickedness leads to his own violent end.
1:19. In this summation, the father lays out a general principle. The self-destructiveness of v. 18 is the destination of everyone who gains by violence. The idiom translated in the NASB as gains by violence is better translated "greedy for unjust gain" (ESV). Thus the principle is even broader than vicious robbery by violent men, though such greed certainly exemplifies it. All who seek to profit unjustly at the expense of others find that their unjust gain ultimately destroys them (takes away the life of its possessors).
2. Wisdom’s First Call (1:20–33)
This section has three parts: the setting of wisdom’s address (vv. 20–21), her second-person address to the foolish (vv. 22–27), and her first-person reflection on that address (vv. 28–33) (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 201–13).
1:20–21. These verses introduce a central character in the first part of Proverbs, the personification of wisdom, who is addressed as she, and often identified by commentators as Lady Wisdom. Sharing the same worldview as the wise father, she is "the personification of the Lord’s wisdom," reminding us that one cannot be wise apart from a real relationship with wisdom, and ultimately, with God Himself (Longman, Proverbs, 111; cf. 1:7). Like a street preacher, she shouts, lifts her voice, and cries out her message in public so it can be heard above the din of city life. And she does so in the most prominent places of the city where all can hear—the street, the square, and the entrance of the gates in the city. Her message, therefore, is accessible to all, even if there is much in the noisy streets to distract people from it. All need the Lord’s readily available wisdom, whether they recognize it or not.
1:22–25. Addressed directly to fools, the message of Wisdom contains three elements. First, she begins with a rebuke of three kinds of people most in need of her message (v. 22). All of them share the complacency of ignorance, though they differ in the degree of their complacency. The worst of these are scoffers (letsim) who delight themselves in scoffing because they are so arrogant and jaded that they mock wisdom. The broadest category, fools (kesilim) who hate knowledge, are not much better, though their rejection of wisdom is due less to cynicism than to their being smug, thick-headed dolts (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 98). The naive ones (petayim) who love being simple-minded, like the young, are gullible in their ignorance, but unlike the scoffer and fool, are teachable. They are probably a special object of Wisdom’s address because they are less committed to folly than the other two, though their danger is no less if they persist in their ignorance.
Second, Wisdom issues the heart of her message to them, a call to repentance (v. 23). If they turn or change direction at her reproof, she will pour out her spirit (ruach) on them and make her words known to them. That is, she will help them understand and take to heart her wise message. Real change is possible for them. It is noteworthy that, in the wider context of Scripture, such wisdom is associated with the Spirit of God (Ex 31:3; Is 11:2–3) who will be poured out on God’s people in the "last days" (Is 32:15; Jl 2:28; cf. Ac 2:16–21). When Christians (in whom the Spirit of God dwells) walk by the Spirit, they walk in wisdom’s path.
Third, wisdom issues a warning: the opportunity for repentance is limited (Pr 1:24–27). This warning consists of a description of fools’ rejection of her (vv. 24–25) and the results of their rejection (vv. 26–27). Even though Lady Wisdom has repeatedly called and stretched out her hand to them inviting them to repent (v. 24), the foolish have rejected her. They have persistently refused her (v. 24a), not paid attention to her warnings (v. 24b), neglected all her counsel (v. 25a), and rejected her reproof (v. 25b). These four descriptions of rejection probably reflect an escalating hardness of heart against her message (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 205).
1:26–27. Lady Wisdom then describes the resulting judgment they face because of their stubborn rejection. The consequences of their foolish lifestyle are calamity, dread, distress, and anguish, and these will be as devastating to them as a terrible storm and a whirlwind, images frequently associated with God’s judgment (e.g., Ps 83:15; Jr 23:19; Zch 9:14). These terms highlight not only the disasters that fools face, but also the emotional horror these consequences elicit in them. And as they face these horrific results, Lady Wisdom, whom they have scorned, will laugh and mock (cf. Pss 2:4; 59:8). There is good reason for this. Her response reflects "the inward joy and disdain a mighty conqueror feels" in his victory over his enemies, a "victory so lopsided that there is a comic aspect to the reversal of fortunes, provoking mockery over the enemy. Truth has a harsh edge, and Wisdom does not dull it. Her shock tactics aim to persuade the young to turn to her" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 207).
1:28. Lady Wisdom continues to speak in this section, only now she no longer addresses the fool directly. Instead, she reflects on her address and the fools’ failure to respond. The upshot of her reflection is that, having suffered the consequences of their folly, wisdom can no longer help them (v. 28). Though they will call on her and seek her diligently in their distress, she will not answer them. Once they face calamity and are desperate to escape from it, they will be "at last ready to listen to advice, but it is too late" (Garrett, Proverbs, 73).
1:29–31. It is too late to call to the Lord to answer because they hated knowledge. They rejected wisdom when it could have made a difference. But worse even than rejecting Wisdom’s knowledge, counsel, and reproof (vv. 29a, 30), they have rejected Him who is the source of wisdom. That is, they did not choose the fear of the Lord (v. 29b). Their foolish lifestyle choices had inevitable consequences. They shall eat of the fruit of the path they have chosen and of their godless schemes (devices), and they will be filled (satiated) with that fruit (v. 31)—no doubt until it makes them sick.
1:32–33. Lady Wisdom brings her reflection to a close with a general principle that compares the wise and the fools. There are two kinds of turning and two kinds of ease. Fools of all stripes turn away from God’s wisdom in their waywardness and are comfortable in their complacency, little realizing that their path will kill and destroy them (v. 32). In contrast, the godly wise turn away from folly and listen to wisdom. As a result, they live securely and are at ease from the dread of evil, for they never have to face the inevitable consequences of folly. In the end, Lady Wisdom confronts the reader with a choice between wisdom/life and folly/death, a choice far too urgent to postpone.
3. Lesson 2: Wisdom’s Protection (2:1–22)
This chapter develops the protective benefits of wisdom. After exhorting his son to pursue wisdom (vv. 1–4), the father declares that wisdom provides protection (vv. 5–11), and then discusses what it protects from (vv. 12–19). His conclusion exhibits the superiority of wisdom’s path (vv. 20–22).
a. Wisdom’s Conditions: Receive and Seek It (2:1–4)
2:1–4. This section, introduced by if (vv. 1, 3, 4), and followed by "then" in the next section (vv. 5, 9), sets up the conditions for receiving the benefits of wisdom. To receive wisdom’s benefits one must first know well and fully accept wisdom’s teachings (vv. 1–2). The father’s words and commandments, which refer to his lessons throughout chaps. 1–9, are equivalent to wisdom and understanding. Second, one must also actively seek wisdom, pursuing it fervently like a supplicant in need of help (v. 3) or a treasure-seeker bent on his trove (v. 4). If one does so, the result then will be life-changing reward from the Lord.
b. Wisdom’s Benefits: Protection (2:5–11)
The two sections in this part of the lesson (vv. 5–8 and 9–11), both introduced by "then," present the benefits of seeking wisdom. Together they promise protection to the one who is wise, although the first seems to have a more vertical focus, in relation to the Lord, and the second a more horizontal one, in relation to people (Garrett, Proverbs, 75).
2:5–8. Wisdom is the priority of life because the pursuit of wisdom leads to the knowledge of God Himself and a genuine understanding of the fear of the Lord (v. 5). Wisdom is inextricably bound to a relationship with the Lord, the pursuit of either one leading to the other (cf. 1:7; Longman, Proverbs, 120). This is because wisdom (and its counterparts, knowledge and understanding) comes from the Lord, who bestows it to seekers (v. 6). Indeed, the father here equates his lessons in Proverbs with the inspired words of the Lord Himself, which come from His mouth.
Those who are in right relationship with God consequently experience protection from folly (vv. 7–8). They are described as the upright, as those who walk in integrity and in the paths of justice, and as His godly (or faithful) ones, reminding us that biblical wisdom clearly has both moral and covenantal dimensions. The Lord provides for them an abundance of sound wisdom, resourcefulness "to help one escape a fix" (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 114). This is why He is a protective shield for them, guarding and preserving them on life’s path.
2:9–11. If the previous section focused on the vertical dimension of wisdom’s benefits in relation to the Lord, this section focuses on its horizontal aspects in relation to others. Acquiring wisdom and knowing God will result in one’s being able to discern how to act in righteousness and justice and equity (or fairness) (v. 9; cf. 1:3). These terms describe the ethical aspects of wisdom, particularly in one’s dealings with others. Together they constitute every good course, summarizing a desirable way of life that "encompasses the full gamut of ethical behavior that leads to life, peace, and prosperity (see 3:1–12)" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 227).
The wise man develops this God-given moral sense so that his heart and affections are transformed (v. 10). Wisdom and knowledge become part of who he is and are therefore pleasant to him. Along with a changed heart he also develops discretion and understanding that serve to protect him from evil (v. 11). Discretion, used in parallel with understanding, refers to a shrewdness that involves "thinking through the consequences of an action and choosing the way of integrity" (Longman, Proverbs, 122; cf. Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 117). Together these terms describe a perceptiveness that is vital when facing temptations.
c. What Wisdom Protects From (2:12–19)
This section expands on the protection afforded by wisdom. Wisdom protects from succumbing to the temptations of the evil man and the immoral woman, the young man’s two main sources of temptation. In both cases, wisdom is able "to deliver" (vv. 12, 16) or save the wise son from these two types of people. This deliverance is not a removal of the temptation but the insight and capacity to reject what they offer.
2:12–15. Wisdom rescues the wise one from the way of evil (v. 12a). The term evil, used in parallel with the man who speaks perverse things (v. 12b), likely refers not to evil abstractly, but specifically to wicked persons. The wicked man is described in several ways. First, he speaks perverse things (v. 12b). What he says, particularly in tempting others to follow his way of life, is twisted and distorted, rooted in values that turn wisdom on its head. In addition, the wicked prefer an evil lifestyle, abandoning uprightness in pursuit of moral darkness (v. 13). Furthermore, the wicked actually delight and rejoice in their acts of evil and perversity (v. 14). They "not only do evil for the sake of its supposed rewards, they positively enjoy it" (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 117). Finally, the wicked’s way of life is crooked and devious (v. 15). In contrast to the smooth, straight way of wisdom, their paths are twisted. They contort the truth (cf. v. 12b). Ironically, they not only deceive others in promoting their wicked ways, but they also deceive themselves about the roughness of their self-chosen path.
2:16–19. Wisdom also delivers the wise one from the immoral woman. This section describes her in several ways as well. First, she is strange and foreign (v. 16). The term translated in the NASB as adulteress literally means "a foreign woman" (Koehler et al., HALOT, 700). What makes her strange and foreign is "her willingness to operate outside the bounds of moral, legal, and customary restraints" of the laws given by the Lord to Israel (Longman, Proverbs, 124). Second, she flatters with her words (v. 16b). By appealing to her victim’s ego she seduces and deceives him for her own ends and to his own destruction. Third, her lack of restraint manifests itself in her unfaithfulness to her husband and the Lord (v. 17). So she abandons the companion of her youth, her husband, and she forgets the covenant of her God, ultimately displaying infidelity to God Himself by her adultery (cf. Mal 2:13–16). Fourth, she is deadly to all who heed her seductions (Pr 2:18–19). Although her promises are enticing, those fools who go to her and her house will go down to death, with no hope of escape. It is as if she dwells on the threshold of the grave itself, the pathway to her leading to death and away from the paths of life (for more on life and death, see Introduction: Themes).
d. Summary (2:20–22)
2:20–22. This concluding section brings this lesson to an end. Wisdom not only protects from the destructive ways of folly and wickedness, but it also sets one in a very different direction. In contrast to the foolish wicked, those who walk in wisdom’s way and keep to its paths are described as good and righteous (v. 20). Such people are commendable (good) because they remain faithful to God’s covenant (and in this sense they are righteous), living in such a way that "their character and conduct comport to doing what is right toward others in a covenant relationship with God" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 234).
As a result, these upright and blameless people will live in the land and remain in it (v. 21), in contrast to the wicked and treacherous, who will be cut off and uprooted from it (v. 22). The land (erets) here may refer to the world, namely, the land of the living, with its attendant blessings (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 123; Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 234–235). But since wisdom is closely connected to a relationship with the Lord Himself, it is more likely that the reference to the land alludes more specifically to the covenant promises and curses in the Mosaic law (see Dt 27–28). These resulted from Israel’s continued covenant faithfulness or unfaithfulness to the Lord, respectively. For the Israelite, the promised land, the land of Israel, was the place to experience God’s blessing in relationship with the Lord; to be cut off from it was to be cursed. If Israel would obey the law of Moses, the nation would be blessed both materially and spiritually in the land. Disobedience would bring discipline in the land and, as the ultimate discipline, would bring dispersion from the land of Israel. As is evident throughout Proverbs, there are really only two kinds of paths in life. So the son is presented a choice: the ways of folly, wickedness, cursing, and death (even while he is alive), or the ways of wisdom, righteousness, blessing, and the abundant life. The right choice is obvious.
4. Lesson 3: Wisdom as Worship (3:1–12)
The twelve verses of this lesson can be divided into six groups of two verses. Each of these verse groups has an exhortation followed by the results of heeding that exhortation. At their heart, these exhortations encourage the son to be wise by worshipping the Lord.
3:1–2. The opening exhortation, so typical of the lessons in the first part of Proverbs, encourages my son to heed his father’s teaching. Rather than ignoring or rejecting (do not forget) what the father instructs, the son should obey (keep) his father’s commandments, not perfunctorily, but with all his heart. The result of doing so will add to the length of one’s life (cf. Ex 20:12) and improve the quality of that life through increased peace (shalom) or well-being. This is the kind of full, rich life associated with the blessings of fellowship with God, in contrast to the way of death associated with folly (cf. comments on Pr 2:16–19 above).
3:3–4. The son here is encouraged never to let kindness and truth leave him. Indeed, he is told to bind these virtues around his neck like a necklace and to write them on the tablet of his heart, a reflection of the teaching of the Shema (Hb. word meaning "to hear," from Dt. 6:4), given by the Lord to Moses with the command to keep God’s Word "on your heart" and "bind them … on your hand" (cf. Dt. 6:4–9). By doing so he is making these virtues a permanent part of his inward character. But what exactly are these virtues? Kindness (chesed) refers to loyalty and covenant love, and truth (’emet) involves faithfulness. Together they speak of loving faithfulness.
And whose loving faithfulness is this? Some have argued that this pair of virtues refers to God’s loving loyalty (so Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 144–145). But since the exhortation is directed to the son, it is more likely that these virtues belong to him. So the son should be loyal and faithful in his relationships with other people and, more fundamentally, with God. Still, because this pair of virtues is often used of God (cf. Gn 24:7; Ex 34:6; Pss 86:15; 115:1; 138:2), it may be that the text is purposely ambiguous (so Longman, Proverbs, 132). That is, by living a life characterized by loving faithfulness to God and others, the son will also be keeping himself close to God Himself, who truly epitomizes loving faithfulness. This kind of lifestyle will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man (Pr 3:4). Those who are lovingly loyal to God and man are well-regarded by both.
3:5–6. These verses represent the heart of the exhortations. The son is admonished to trust in the Lord with all his heart (v. 5a). Such trust completely believes what God says, including accepting His words of wisdom while rejecting the way of folly, obeying His commands, and embracing His promises. Trust also involves resting secure in God’s loving, protective care and relying completely on His resources. Thus the trusting one will not lean on his own understanding (v. 5b). "In acknowledging one’s own lack of resources, one becomes open to God’s power and wisdom, which is a better guide to life" (Longman, Proverbs, 133).
The one who trusts God and not his own wisdom will also acknowledge God in all his ways (v. 6a). To acknowledge God is to know Him personally and to be in fellowship with Him (Kidner, Proverbs, 63–64). The trusting one thus pursues his relationship with the Lord in everything he does (cf. 1Co 10:31).
The result of trusting and pursuing the Lord is that He will make your paths straight (Pr 3:6b). As the lifestyle of the wicked is crooked in both a moral sense (they live corruptly) and a pragmatic sense (they face difficulties of their own making) (see 2:15), so the lifestyle of the righteous is straight in both senses. His way of life is straight morally (i.e., he lives in a God-honoring way) and smooth pragmatically (i.e., he faces fewer obstacles to a successful, joyful life).
3:7–8. This group of verses complements the preceding one. In a similar vein, the wise one will not be wise in his own eyes (v. 7a). He will not be impressed by his own capacity for shrewdness (cf. Is 5:21), thereby relying on his own resources. Instead, he will fear the Lord (Pr 3:7b; see the comments on 1:7). He will worship Him, trusting in His resources and reverently obeying Him. He therefore also will turn away from evil, a sure sign of a worshipping heart.
Interestingly, such spiritual health can result in physical well-being (v. 8). What’s more, the imagery of healing and refreshment involving one’s body (lit., "navel") and bones probably suggests that such well-being is both external ("navel") and internal ("bones"), extending from a person’s physical state to his mental and emotional state (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 26–27; cf. Garrett, Proverbs, 81, n. 51). Generally speaking, those intimately close to the Lord experience a spiritual refreshment that has enormous benefit to their whole being.
3:9–10. Worship is reflected in one’s finances. So the son is admonished to worship God in giving (v. 9). To honor the Lord in general is to value Him as He deserves and pay Him homage, but here it more specifically implies doing so by giving Him gifts (cf. Nm 22:37; 24:11; Jdg 9:9) (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 151). These gifts not only come out of what one owns (your wealth), but they also reflect the first and best (Koehler et al., HALOT, 1170) of all one’s possessions. A person’s financial generosity displays who or what he truly values. Such generosity in honor of the Lord results in generosity from the Lord, expressed here in agricultural terms—and abundant ones at that (Pr 3:10). Giving to the Lord does not foster financial ruin; it promotes fiscal prosperity. In Kidner’s words, "a dedicated income" (v. 9) becomes "a multiplied one" (v. 10) (Kidner, Proverbs, 64). This reflects the blessings of the Mosaic covenant (Dt 28:8). Note that such giving is done precisely in honor of the Lord, not as a means of manipulating Him to get rich.
3:11–12. Surprisingly, following the Lord also brings another expectation: discipline and reproof from the Lord. The Lord is active in training His people, sometimes with verbal correction (through the wise) and sometimes through hardship. And so the son is commanded not to reject nor loathe this painful training (v. 11). This is because such discipline is an evidence of God’s love toward His people, as in the case of a loving father who disciplines the son in whom he delights (v. 12). These verses are a powerful reminder that difficulties are part of life and sometimes one of the blessings God gives us is life-shaping affliction (cf. Heb 12:4–11 that quotes these verses). God promises His worshippers unfailing love, not unmitigated prosperity or comfort (cf. Jb 5:7; Jn 16:33). Therefore, one who worships the Lord will trust in Him and "accept suffering as an act of divine love, not repudiate it and rebel against one’s condition" (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 153).
5. Poem: the Value of Lady Wisdom (3:13–20)
In this section Lady Wisdom emerges once again. This poem interrupts the series of instructions in order to promote the value of wisdom, not only to man (vv. 13–18), but even to God (vv. 19–20).
3:13. The poem begins with a beatitude, How blessed is the man, to motivate the young to pursue wisdom. Those who attain wisdom and understanding are truly blessed. If a young person wishes to be similarly happy, he should emulate the example of the wise (cf. Ec 12:1). The rest of the poem explains why: wisdom is incredibly valuable.
3:14–15. Lady Wisdom’s value is evident when comparing her to items typically associated with great wealth: silver, fine gold, and jewels. She is incomparably more precious than these or anything else of value in the world that one might typically desire. Job 28:12–22 explains why wisdom is more valuable than wealth. Unlike wealth, which mankind can attain on their own through great effort, wisdom is unattainable through human effort alone. God alone possesses it, and He alone can grant it to those who fear Him (Longman, Proverbs, 137; Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 258).
3:16–18. Lady Wisdom’s value is also evident when considering the gifts she brings in each hand (cf. 3:2). First, she gives an extended life (long life, v. 16; a tree of life, v. 18), keeping the wise from the destructive ways of the fool. Second, she gives a better quality of life (riches and honor, v. 16; pleasant ways and peace, v. 17), fostering a lifestyle that promotes prosperity, a good reputation, and enjoyable well-being. Little wonder, then, that all who hold her fast are happy.
3:19–20. Lady Wisdom is valuable not only to man, but even to the Lord Himself. Anticipating 8:22–31, v. 19 indicates that by wisdom God created the earth and the heavens. In addition to His work of creation, God makes use of His wise knowledge in His work of providence (v. 20). He controls His cosmos, as when He breaks the deeps so that waters can gush forth, either in judgment (Gn 7:11) or blessing (Jdg 15:19; Ex 17:5–7; cf. Is 35:6). He also sustains the earth with life-giving dew. In short, if the Lord could accomplish the wonders of creation and providence with wisdom, think of what He could also do with wisdom in His people’s lives (David A. Hubbard, The Preacher’s Commentary: Proverbs [Nelson: Nashville, 1989], 75). For more on wisdom, God, and their relationship in creation, see the comments on Pr 8:22–31.
6. Lesson 4: The Benefits of Wise Dealings (3:21–35)
In encouraging the son to deal wisely with others, this section promotes the safety that wisdom provides (vv. 21–26), describes what wise dealings with others involves (vv. 27–31), and presents motivations for doing so (vv. 32–35).
a. Wisdom’s Safety (3:21–26)
3:21–22. The opening exhortation of this lesson encourages the son to be diligent in pursuing wisdom (v. 21). Like a guard who is ever vigilant with his charge, the son must constantly keep (or guard) wisdom’s words and never allow them to vanish from his sight. The kind of wisdom highlighted here is sound wisdom, a resourcefulness for dealing with difficulties, and discretion, a shrewd circumspection that helps keep one out of trouble in the first place. Little wonder that such practical capacities result in the best of life from the Lord (v. 22).
3:23–26. If the son heeds the previous exhortation, then he can expect security by day or by night. He does not have to fear getting tripped up in his daytime walk (v. 23), and he can sleep securely and comfortably at night (v. 24). Hence, he should not be afraid. He will not face the shock (sudden fear) that the wicked experience when calamitous ruin (onslaught) inevitably comes their way (v. 25). For his confidence is found in the Lord, who is present to protect him (v. 26). "If the son will ‘guard’ the Lord’s wisdom (v. 21), the Lord will ‘guard’ him" (v. 26) (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 263).
b. Wise Dealings with Others (3:27–31)
There are five commands in this section, each involving wise relationships with others, highlighting wise behaviors that promote a healthy and safe community.
3:27–28. The first two involve sins of omission towards others. First, do not withhold good from others (v. 27). The good here is generic, involving anything that benefits another who needs it. But there are two conditions: (1) the person is someone to whom that good is due (i.e., you have a moral obligation to help them), and (2) it is something that you have the power to do (i.e., you are not required to do what you cannot do). The second command (v. 28) intensifies the first. That is, do not delay doing the good due to those around you (your neighbor) when there is no good reason for the delay.
3:29–30. The next two commands involve sins of commission toward others. Third, do not plot against an unsuspecting neighbor who has no reason to expect harm from you (v. 29). Fourth, do not contend (or quarrel) with others for no good reason (v. 30). Strife of this sort does not necessarily involve a legal setting (Koehler et al., HALOT, 1224), although it could include frivolous lawsuits (Garrett, Proverbs, 84). Selfishly taking advantage of others and being contentious only serve to undermine peace, harmony, and safety in a community.
3:31. The last command involves an attitudinal sin, namely, choosing the wrong role model. While it may appear that a man of violence benefits from his wicked behavior at others’ expense (cf. Ps 73), this is only a "surface impression" masking a path that really leads to death (Longman, Proverbs, 143; cf. Pr 2:18–19). Only a fool would envy such a person and choose any of his ways.
c. Motivations for Wise Dealings (3:32–35)
3:32–35. These verses explain why one should deal wisely with others by promoting harmony in one’s community. In short, doing so puts one on the Lord’s side rather than in opposition to Him. The Lord finds the devious, who perversely seek to take advantage of others in the ways described above, to be an abomination. On the other hand, He is on intimate terms with the upright who deal honestly with others (v. 32). "The Lord abhors intrigue, but people who are candid and upright, who know the virtue of openness and simplicity, have his ear. A council of this sort will triumph over its Machiavellian rival" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 271). Consequently, such wicked people should only expect the Lord’s curse on them and all that they hold dear, rather than the blessing He gives to those who are righteous in their dealings with others (v. 33). Similarly, the Lord will get the last laugh on scoffers who consider themselves so strong that they can revel in the misfortune of others (cf. Ps 2:4). In contrast, the afflicted—those who humbly see themselves as needy before the Lord (Koehler et al., HALOT, 856)—can expect His gracious favor when turning to Him (Pr 3:34). In sum, those who are wise in their dealings with others will inherit honor from the Lord and the community, while those who are foolish in their dealings with others can expect dishonor (v. 35). The verb translated display in the NASB is probably better translated as "acquire" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 254, n. 43; Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 169). Thus, such fools earn the disgrace they receive from the community and the Lord.
7. Lesson 5: A Grandfather’s Lesson on the Value of Lady Wisdom (4:1–9)
Like other lectures in this part of Proverbs, in Lesson 5 the father continues to exhort his son to pursue wisdom. But unlike the other lessons this one spans three generations: the father speaks to the son of what his grandfather had taught, thus presenting a heritage of wisdom.
4:1–2. The opening in which sons are exhorted to listen to the instruction of a father is more generic, lacking the use of personal pronouns (v. 4a). This likely suggests what becomes clearer below, that the advice is intergenerational. If the sons persistently heed their father’s sound teaching and instruction, they would gain understanding (vv. 1b–2).
4:3–4a. Here the father transitions to autobiography, introducing an exhortation that his father gave to him when I was a son to my father—when he was learning from his loving parents. The wisdom his father taught him and that has served him so well he still considers appropriate for his own son. Therefore, in the rest of this lesson he simply communicates the words of the grandfather so that the grandson also might benefit from them.
4:4b. The grandfather introduces his exhortation with an exhortation similar to the father’s in vv. 1–2. He exhorts his son to keep and hold fast his life-giving words of wisdom. The lesson itself is made up of two sections (vv. 5–6; vv. 7–9), each comprising a command to acquire wisdom with accompanying motivations. Lady Wisdom appears prominently in the lecture, pictured as a worthy bride and a generous patroness (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 278–279).
4:5–6. The command to acquire wisdom (v. 5a) is linked to the idea of Lady Wisdom as a valued bride for whom a dowry must be paid. Wisdom—closely associated with the grandfather’s wise words—is not something attained once-for-all (Longman, Proverbs, 150). The son can forget or turn away from wisdom. And so, treating her like his treasured bride, the young man is to love her and not forsake her. If he does so, she will reward her lover with protection (v. 6).
4:7–9. The admonition to acquire wisdom is repeated, emphasizing the foundational importance of gaining wisdom and understanding. The first step in seeking wisdom is to understand its great value, above anything else that one might seek to acquire. Yet does it not say elsewhere in Proverbs (e.g., 1:7; 9:10) that the fear of the Lord is wisdom’s beginning (1:7)? Clearly the pursuit of the Lord and the pursuit of wisdom are closely intertwined, in no small measure because only the Lord can grant wisdom. "One must seek wisdom, but when one finds it, one realizes that it was not because of the effort, but because it was a gift of God" (Longman, Proverbs, 150).
A man who wins his desired beloved as his wife will naturally cherish (prize) her and intimately embrace her. This the son must do with Lady Wisdom (v. 8). In response, she will grant him great honor. His wisdom, and the benefits it brings, will be as evident to the community as an attractive garland or beautiful crown on one’s head (v. 9; cf. Is 61:3, 10).
8. Lesson 6: Keeping on the Right Path (4:10–19)
This section addresses the two paths so prominent throughout Proverbs (See "Life and Death" in Introduction: Themes). After an opening exhortation, this lesson discusses the benefits of the right path (vv. 10b–13) and the horror of the evil path (vv. 14–17) before closing with a final comparison (vv. 18–19).
4:10. Once again the father exhorts his son to hear and accept his wise sayings. By doing so, the son will "adopt a lifestyle that promotes life and avoids situations that might lead to premature death" (Longman, Proverbs, 151).
4:11–13. The way of wisdom is nothing new for the son, for the father has already been directing his son along its upright path (v. 11b). This track is firm and straight—both morally and practically (Kidner, Proverbs, 67). Its traveler can confidently walk or even run along it without fear of twists, turns, and obstacles that would impede him or cause him to stumble (v. 12). It is the safe path. Hence, the son would be wise to continue on that path, since it leads him to life (v. 13). He must continually hold on to discipline (instruction) without letting go; he must guard wisdom. Otherwise, he might stray from this path.
4:14–17. In the strongest possible terms, the father then warns his son not to enter the path of the wicked (vv. 14–15). Indeed, he should actively avoid the evil path because sometimes its twisted way may for a time veer very closely to the path of life, or even cross it (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 180–181). Opportunities for evil abound, even for the wise, and they must be aggressively shunned. The results of following the evil way are not pretty, for the wicked who go that way become consumed by evil (vv. 16–17). They are restless at night, unable to sleep because they cannot do evil or lead someone else to stumble in evil (cf. 1:10–11); the best they can do is plot (cf. Ps 36:4; Mc 2:1). During the day, they are sustained by their own wickedness and violence towards others; evil is their food and drink. In presenting this picture of these "evilaholics," no doubt "the father assumes that his son’s moral appetite will draw back in horror from this gruesome picture of their craving for wrongdoing" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 286).
4:18–19. This lesson concludes with a final comparison between the two paths. Their contrast is as great as the difference between light and darkness. The path of the righteous is like the increasing light of a cloudless dawn emerging into the brighter light of the full day (v. 18). Light is probably picturing morality, safety, and clarity (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 292; cf. Jb 29:2–3; Ps 43:3; Is 42:16). As the righteous walk life’s path, they can see ever more clearly the way God would have them walk, a clarity that only increases their security and well-being. The way of the wicked, in contrast, is like darkness (Pr 4:19). The wicked stumble blindly in murky gloom, unable to negotiate dangers on the path nor even know why they fall. They are lost in immorality, ignorance, and disaster.
9. Lesson 7: Guarding Your Heart (4:20–27)
In connection with the previous lesson, this one underscores the importance of staying on the straight path of life. But it also primarily stresses a central element of discipleship, the heart. This is "the anatomy of discipleship" (Hubbard, Proverbs, 87), a "medical inspection" of sorts that examines various parts of the person (Kidner, Proverbs, 68). This examination first considers the passive or receptive elements of the body (vv. 20–22) before moving to the active ones (vv. 24–27). Serving as the transition between the two sections is v. 23, which functions as the center of the lesson (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 296–301). Appropriately, it focuses on the heart, which is the center of the person.
a. Guarding the Receptive Organs (4:20–22)
4:20–21. The father’s standard opening invitation to his son to pay attention to his words is here presented in terms of the human faculties of reception. He must incline his ear to his father’s wise sayings, not let them out of the sight of his eyes, and keep them locked within his heart by keeping them on his mind.
4:22. There are advantages to heeding the father’s wisdom, advantages stressed in several lessons already—namely, life and overall health. Wisdom really is the best medicine, as it safeguards us from life-threatening evils.
b. Guarding the Heart (4:23)
4:23. The core of the examination is a stress test of the heart. "Sometimes the ‘heart’ may emphasize one aspect of the core personality, especially the mind but also the emotions or will, but typically it refers to the whole inner self" (Longman, Proverbs, 131, n. 4). It is therefore not only receptive (see v. 21b) but also active, since from it flow the springs of life. This expression reminds us that all of life’s activities originate from, and are produced by, the heart (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 298). This is why the son must watch over his heart as his highest priority (the phrase with all diligence is better translated as "above all else," as in the HCSB; cf. Koehler et al., HALOT, 649). In particular, he must guard it diligently from devising evil (cf. 6:14, 18; Mk 7:20–23).
c. Guarding the Active Organs (4:24–27)
4:24. By taking his father’s wisdom into his heart and protecting it from evil intentions, the son is better equipped to monitor his active faculties. The father starts with the mouth, probably because its speech is the clearest indicator of what is in the heart (Lk 6:45; Rm 10:10; cf. Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 186). The son must shun deceitful, devious speech. Such talk not only reflects the heart, but it can also bounce back to influence the heart. "Superficial habits of talk react on the mind; so that, e.g., cynical chatter, fashionable grumbles, flippancy, half-truths, barely meant in the first place, harden into well-established habits of thought" (Kidner, Proverbs, 68).
4:25–27. The son must also keep his eyes (his attention) fixed on the right path. He must maintain a tunnel vision, not allowing his focus to be distracted by evil from what is straight in front of him (v. 25). He must keep his feet on the path of life (v. 26) rather than turn off that path onto the way of evil (v. 27). Taken together, these admonitions are a reminder once again that walking in wisdom "entails a lifetime of work and not a single decision" (Longman, Proverbs, 155).
10. Lesson 8: Passion’s Proper Place (5:1–23)
Warnings against promiscuity are prominent in Proverbs, especially in chaps. 1–9. This theme appears indirectly in sections comparing wisdom to a chaste wife and folly to a crude seductress (e.g., 1:20–33; 3:13–20; 9:1–18). It has appeared directly as well (e.g., 2:16–19), although this is the first of three extended discourses devoted to that topic (cf. 6:20–35; 7:1–27). While the discourse throughout is male-centered (a father speaking to a son about women), these same lessons apply to young women as well.
a. Introductory Exhortation (5:1–2)
5:1–2. The father once again begins with a typical exhortation that the son pay attention to the wisdom he seeks to impart to him. Though in one sense this wisdom belongs to the father (my wisdom, my understanding; cf. 1:8; 2:1), it certainly derives ultimately from God Himself (cf. 1:7). The result of heeding it will lead to the son’s internalizing that wisdom in what he does (observe discretion) and says (lips may reserve knowledge), giving him the resources for dealing with the seductress. Like Joseph with Potiphar’s wife, the son must be able to confront her with words of truth in order to resist her allure (Gn 39:8–9).
b. The Seductress: Passion’s Improper Place (5:3–14)
(1) The Danger of the Seductress (5:3–6)
5:3. For indeed, the seductress is alluring. Her appeal here comes particularly through her speech, as is indicated by the reference to her lips and mouth. Her flattering words are as sweet as honey and as smooth as olive oil, making her company pleasant and inviting. Beyond that, the language in the verse suggests a double-entendre of a sensual nature. Thus the lips here (cf. v. 2) also probably suggest kissing, as in Sg 4:11 (Longman, Proverbs, 159). Some scholars argue that there may be other erotic images here as well (see Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 308–309).
5:4–6. Appearances can be deceiving, and Proverbs reminds us consistently that "nothing can be judged by its first stages" (Kidner, Proverbs, 69). This is particularly so in the case of the adulteress. The sweetness she promises leads in the end to a bitter aftertaste, like the very bitter oil from the wormwood shrub, which is poisonous in large doses (v. 4a). So too, despite her smooth allure, she is really as sharp and dangerous as a two-edged sword (v. 4b). To pursue her is to follow her on the descending pathway to death (v. 5). After all, her lifestyle demonstrates that she has turned away from the path of life (v. 6a). She finds herself wandering aimlessly in her sin toward devastation without even realizing it (v. 6b; cf. 4:17). "She is a self-destructive fool, as is whoever follows her" (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 194).
(2) The Central Exhortation (5:7–8)
5:7–8. As if to stress the importance of what he is about to say, the father once more (cf. v. 1) calls his sons to listen to his words without ever abandoning them (v. 7). Most likely, in referring to his sons the father is thinking of successive generations of his descendants. This advice needs to be passed on from generation to generation (cf. 4:1–9). His advice is direct: Keep far away from the adulteress (v. 8). This is the best way to avoid her temptations. Only the fool loiters near the door of her house, a place of grave danger (cf. 2:18–19; 7:6–23).
(3) The Results of Not Heeding the Exhortation (5:9–14)
5:9–10. The foolish son who fails to heed this advice faces three consequences (Kidner, Proverbs, 70). First, he finds himself exploited, but it is a voluntary exploitation, something he will freely give away to others. To them he yields his youthful vigor and his hard-earned goods produced by the strength of his labor. These others are strangers and aliens, and they are cruel. They thus care little about the son because they have no genuine connection with him. But they are connected to the adulteress in some way—whether her outraged husband and family seeking redress from the man, or her friends or handlers seeking to benefit financially from her promiscuity at the man’s expense. Several scenarios are possible, but the general point is clear: sexual debauchery "leads to personal degeneration and financial depletion" (Garrett, Proverbs, 92).
5:11–13. Second, the foolish son will end up with a regretful, guilty conscience. Toward the end of his life, when his body is consumed either by sexual disease or hard living resulting from his sinful choices, he will groan in despair. Only too late does he come to regret his foolish decision not to heed the wise advice of his teachers who warned against such adulterous entanglements.
5:14. Third, the foolish son will end up publicly humiliated. The word translated almost here more likely means "quickly" (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 199). His secret dalliance quickly becomes public humiliation before his community, a devastating fate in the ancient world as well as our own. "Made public, adultery brings personal shame, humiliation to loved ones, and loss of respect in the larger community" (Hubbard, Proverbs, 93).
c. One’s Wife and Passion’s Proper Place (5:15–20)
For the wise son, there is a far better way. He need not deny the reality of his sexual passions, but fulfill them in the right place—with his wife. The imagery of these verses is erotic, referring to the sexual relationship between a husband and wife in ways reminiscent of the Song of Solomon. "In the love language of the poem, the wife is portrayed as unique, like no one else, to be treasured for herself alone, to be shared with no other.… If the husband can appreciate the companionship of his wife, the attractions of the outside woman will disappear" (Richard J. Clifford, Proverbs: A Commentary, OTL [Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1999], 71–72).
5:15–17. Throughout these verses, lovemaking is compared with drinking water (cf. 9:17). A man’s wife is like his own private cistern and well (v. 15). The best place to satisfy his heated sexual thirst is to drink the cool, satisfying water his wife alone provides for him (cf. Sg 4:10–15). Verse 16 is ambiguous, eliciting multiple interpretations (for a sample, see Garrett, Proverbs, 93), but if the metaphor remains consistent throughout these verses, then the son’s springs and streams of water most likely refer to his sources of sexual pleasure (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 319). That is, why should he seek to satiate his sexual thirst with public water sources that he inevitably shares with others? He would be a fool to take up with wayward women who surely have multiple paramours when he can enjoy far more satisfying and exclusive intimacy with his wife (let them be yours alone).
5:18–20. In light of the importance of the son’s relationship with his wife, the father prays the son’s sexual relationship with her—his fountain—would be blessed (v. 18a). Some think that this is a prayer for many children (e.g., Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 202), but the immediate context indicates that it primarily is a call for a satisfying sexual relationship. So the son is exhorted to rejoice, or take pleasure in the wife of his youth (v. 18b). She is to be the sole object of his passionate affection (v. 19). He is to think of her as a loving hind and a graceful doe, images which in that culture suggest that to him she is "graceful, lovely, and sexy" (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 202, emphasis retained; cf. Sg 2:9, 17; 4:5). His lovemaking with her should completely satisfy his passionate thirst at all times; indeed being with her should always leave him exhilarated. The verb translated exhilarated (shagah) means "to stagger" as if intoxicated (Koehler et al., HALOT, 1413). "Love and lovemaking make one lightheaded, similar to the effects of drinking wine" (Longman, Proverbs, 162). In comparison to such joys in the marriage bed, why should the son ever seek to embrace the adulteress (Pr 5:20)? It is a foolish, and far less satisfying, alternative. In our own day, the pursuit of adultery and immorality in the form of pornography only reinforces the emptiness of the world’s alternatives to the blessings of God-ordained marriage.
d. Conclusion (5:21–23)
5:21–23. If the son needs any more motivation to avoid the adulteress, his father gives him the strongest motivation in the conclusion. The Lord is omniscient; He sees all the ways of a man (v. 21), even when those paths include sexual sins done behind closed doors. This means that judgment for such sins is inevitable, though it is a judgment of the sinner’s own making. His own iniquities will capture him (v. 22). His great folly will lead him astray ultimately to his own death (v. 23). The verb shagah (translated by the NASB here as go astray) is probably picking up on the same sense that was used in vv. 19–20 where it is translated "exhilarated" with the sense of intoxication (see the comments there). That is, if would-be adulterers "are not inebriated by the love of their wife, then they will be inebriated by their own stupidity, and that will result in their death" (Longman, Proverbs, 163).
11. Warnings against Foolish People (6:1–19)
Like the poems in 1:20–33 and 3:13–20, this section differs from the standard lesson format so typical in the first nine chapters of Proverbs. Rather, it describes three types of foolish people who, like the sexually promiscuous in lessons 8 (chap. 5) and 9 (6:20–35), either destroy themselves, others, or both.
a. Warning Concerning Becoming a Guarantor (6:1–5)
Though these verses do not share all the elements of the standard lesson, where the father is addressing his son directly, they continue to follow the typical "if-then" pattern. If the son gets into a foolish situation (vv. 1–2), then he should do the following (vv. 3–5).
6:1–2. The first foolish situation involves loans. The son allows himself to become surety for someone else (v. 1). This involves cosigning, or guaranteeing, the loan of another. Because of the distinction between a neighbor and a stranger, commentators dispute over the precise scenario described here (e.g., who is loaning the money, and who is borrowing it?). It is probably best to see the two lines in v. 1 as parallel, with neighbor and stranger functioning as two extremes that include everything in between (Longman, Proverbs, 170). That is, do not become a guarantor for anyone else, whether friend, stranger, or anyone in between. To do so is to become snared by one’s own words or verbal pledge (v. 2).
The Scripture certainly does not discourage generosity to the needy, nor does it forbid offering collateral for a loan (cf. Dt 24:10–13) or even paying someone else’s past debts (cf. Phm 18–19). But what it does discourage here is something akin to gambling (Kidner, Proverbs, 71–72). For when a man becomes surety for another’s debt obligation, he exposes himself and his own assets to future situations completely outside of his own direct control—a foolish legal entanglement indeed (Garrett, Proverbs, 96; cf. Pr 27:1).
6:3–5. When caught in such a trap of one’s own making, the wise son should do everything he can to deliver himself from the situation (v. 3a). He has foolishly "handed himself over to the debtor, who may unmercifully throw him into the hands of the creditor" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 333) (v. 3b). So the son must humble himself and importune his neighbor to get out of this obligation; he must grovel before him and badger him (v. 3c). The matter is so urgent that he should act immediately and be willing to lose sleep in his effort to extricate himself from the situation (v. 4). He should be as eager to escape this arrangement as a gazelle or bird escaping from the traps of those who hunt them (v. 5).
b. Warning Concerning the Lazy Man (6:6–11)
This section addresses laziness for the first time in Proverbs (cf. 24:30–34; 26:13–16), which is another kind of behavior that is self-destructive.
6:6–8. Proverbs often makes use of features in the natural world to teach wisdom principles. Here the writer urges the sluggard (i.e., the lazy man) to observe the ant to learn wisdom from it (v. 6). In particular, even though the ant has no obvious overseer who continually drives it in its labors (v. 7), it nevertheless diligently stores up food in the summer harvest in order to prepare for the winter dearth (v. 8).
6:9–11. The industrious foresight of the little ant sharply contrasts with the lazy man (cf. 10:5). The rhetorical questions (v. 9) are aimed at stirring the sluggard to get to work in the harvest and to ridicule his preference to stay in bed and sleep. But rather than getting to work, he prefers just a little bit more slumber (v. 10). He does not exactly refuse to work; he just does not want to get started yet. "All he knows is his delicious drowsiness; all he asks is a little respite" (Kidner, Proverbs, 42). But he is deceiving himself, and setting himself up for disaster. Utter destitution is his inevitable fate (cf. 19:15; 20:13), but he neither expects it nor prepares for it. Because of his refusal to take responsibility to work, poverty will come and is presented with two illustrations. It will come upon the person silently like a vagabond who creeps in to steal, or like an armed man who forcibly imposes need (v. 11). Laziness will inevitably result in poverty and need.
c. Warning Concerning Troublemakers (6:12–19)
Unlike the previous two foolish types of people, this one is more nefarious. He draws others into his dangerous schemes, leading them to disaster as well.
(1) Describing Troublemakers (6:12–15)
6:12a. The foolish person dealt with in this section is identified as a worthless person (’adam beliyya‘al), a term "used of troublemakers of all sorts" who agitate "against all that is good" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 342). "Belial [a component of the second word in the phrase] always implies wickedness as well as worthlessness (1Sm 2:12; 1Kg 21:10); sometimes sheer destructiveness (Nah 1:11, 15; Ps 18:4); eventually it becomes a name for the devil (2Co 6:15), who is the father of all such qualities" (Kidner, Proverbs, 72–73). Little wonder that he is also called a wicked man.
6:12b–14. Here the troublemaker is described in more detail. First, his way of life displays his perverse mouth, spreading lies and gossip that destroy relationships and undermine society (Longman, Proverbs, 174) (v. 12b). Second, his gestures indicate his sinister intentions (v. 13). These gestures—winking, foot signals, pointing—might refer to his involvement in black magic and casting curses, or in part reflect his inner shiftiness and turbulent spirit (so Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 220–21). But most likely they refer to non-verbal, surreptitious signals to his co-conspirators, whether to ridicule someone else behind his back or to instigate and direct a sinister plot. Third, his outward actions are rooted in the perversity in his heart (v. 14). With this destructive bent in his character he continually plots evil and spreads strife (cf. Gn 6:5).
6:15. Troublemakers usually end up bringing troubles on themselves. The tumult he unleashes inevitably results (therefore) in his own calamity, which will be sudden (suddenly), abrupt (instantly), and irreversible (there will be no healing). He sows the wind and reaps a whirlwind (Hs 8:7) in which he ends up broken.
(2) The Lord’s View of Troublemakers (6:16–19)
This section is the first of the numerical lists in Proverbs, so prominent particularly in Pr 30. Numerical proverbs follow an "x, x + 1" formula. That is, they begin with a two-line proverb that mentions a certain number of similar items in the first line (e.g., six things the Lord hates), followed in the next line by a restatement of those same items with their number increased by one (e.g., seven things the Lord finds abominable). Although the number in the second line is the true number of items, the formula may serve sometimes to place the emphasis on the last item in the list (cf. 30:18–19) (Longman, Proverbs, 173). Some commentators treat this list as a distinct section. But while it likely did originate independently, its placement right after 6:12–15 is no accident. This list of seven things that the Lord hates also applies to the troublemaker because "no other type of person satisfies the description" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 345).
6:16. This verse introduces the list. What all the items share in common is that the Lord hates them. Anything that is an abomination to the Lord is extremely offensive to Him, violating His ritual, legal, or moral order and eliciting His most severe judgment. The language here is exceptionally strong; these items truly disgust God. Garrett calls these "Israel’s Seven Deadly Sins" (Garrett, Proverbs, 97).
6:17–18. The first five items involve body parts, going from top to bottom. Haughty eyes betray an arrogant pride that exalts self over others (v. 17a). A lying tongue spreads falsehood that manipulates and hurts others (v. 17b). Hands that shed innocent blood exemplify violence against those who do not deserve it (v. 17c). At the center of this evil person is a heart that devises wicked plans at others’ expense (v. 18a). His feet that run rapidly to evil indicate that he is eager to implement his evil schemes (v. 18b).
6:19. The last two items involve two types of people. A false witness perjures himself to corrupt justice (v. 19a). And one who spreads strife among brothers (v. 19b) "attempts to break apart the bonds that hold a society [or family] together" (Garrett, Proverbs, 98). People with characteristics like these seven (vv. 16–19) are the worst sorts of troublemakers. Although they make trouble for others, their own condition is far worse since they have made themselves objects of God’s wrath, because they "are an abomination to Him" (v. 16).
12. Lesson 9: Warnings against the Adulteress (6:20–35)
This lesson is the second extended discourse devoted to warning the son against the adulteress (cf. chap. 5). It includes a typical introduction (vv. 20–24), a central admonition (v. 25), and arguments in support of that admonition (vv. 26–35).
a. Introduction (6:20–24)
6:20–21. The lesson begins with a typical exhortation to observe and not forsake what the son’s parents are teaching him (v. 20). He is to carry this teaching along with him continually, like a pendant hung around his neck and over his heart (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 228–229; cf. Dt 6:4–8). This teaching should become a part of who he is.
6:22–23. The wisdom imparted by his parents is personified as his constant female companion who guides, protects, and counsels him (v. 22). Though the NASB uses the third person plural here (they, usually thought to have parental "commandments" and "teachings" as the antecedent), the Hebrew text uses the third person feminine singular ("she"). As will be evident shortly, wisdom is a far better consort than the adulteress. The commandment of the Lord is a lamp and a light, and heeding the discipline of the Lord and His word should become habitual (cf. Pss 19:8; 119:105). Thus, wisdom is a fine companion because it illuminates the way of life (see the comments on 4:10–19) and corrects him so that he does not wander into danger (v. 23).
6:24. The particular danger the father has in mind in this lesson is the adulteress. Despite her smooth talk, she is evil, a deadly pitfall from which wisdom will protect him.
b. Central Exhortation (6:25)
6:25. Given the pressing danger the adulteress represents, the father then explicitly states his warning: Do not let her capture you with her eyelids so that you are tempted to lust after her beauty. At that time the eyes were considered one of the most beautiful and captivating parts of a woman (e.g., Sg 1:15; 6:5). She can seduce with words or by nonverbal means. To covet or desire her beauty in your heart directly violates the tenth commandment not to covet one’s neighbor’s wife (Ex 20:17; cf. Mt 5:28). Sin and death begin with the inordinate desires of the heart (cf. Jms 1:13–15).
c. Supporting Reasons for the Exhortation (6:26–35)
6:26. Here the father distinguishes two types of immoral women: the prostitute and the adulterous wife. In terms of the dangerous effect on the son, the latter is even worse than the former. Against the NASB, NET, KJV, and other translations, the verse is not saying that the son is reduced to a loaf of bread by the harlot, but that the prostitute’s services can be purchased in exchange for a loaf of bread or what it costs to purchase one (see Koehler et al., HALOT, 141; so also ESV; RSV; HCSB). In contrast, the adulterous wife hunts for something far more precious, her paramour’s very life. This verse is certainly not minimizing prostitution, which is forbidden and destructive (cf. 23:27; 29:3). But unlike the quick business transaction with the harlot, an affair with a married woman enters a man into "an entangling alliance" that is even more costly and harmful (Hubbard, Proverbs, 107).
6:27–29. Adultery with a married woman inevitably brings punishment. A man who sleeps with another’s wife is playing with fire, and he will surely get burned (vv. 27–28). Verse 29 makes the point of these images crystal clear: a sexual relationship (euphemistically pictured as goes in to and touches) with another man’s wife inevitably leads to punishment, as the verses to follow illustrate.
6:30–32. Adultery with a married woman is also inexcusable. People do not despise a thief who steals to satisfy his hunger (v. 30). Of course, despite people’s pity, if he is caught he must repay. Although Mosaic law demanded no more than fivefold payment for theft, this sevenfold indicates an even fuller restitution of damages (cf. Ex 22:1–9; Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 358). A thief must repay though it cost him all that he owns, all the substance (lit., "wealth") of his house (Pr 6:31). Still, one can at least comprehend the starving thief’s decision. Not so the adulterer. Unlike the thief who makes a rational calculation to steal in order to survive, the adulterer makes stupid decisions (i.e., he is lacking sense) by which he will destroy himself (v. 32).
6:33–35. These verses explain how he destroys himself. First, he can expect public disdain (v. 33). This may be demonstrated in physical pain. Wounds refer to a painful, "violent assault" whether by other human beings, God, or disease (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 359). It may well be the result of a judicial verdict or even a jealous husband (see vv. 34–35). Beyond the physical pain, he will also find disgrace and reproach. Unlike the thief, the adulterer’s community has nothing but contempt for him, and they "denigrate his significance, worth, and potential influence" because he has undermined the family and social cohesion (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 359). Worse still, this stigma will never be blotted out.
Second, he can expect to create an implacable enemy. In his jealousy, the enraged husband of the adulteress will not spare in the day of vengeance (v. 34). The term for man here (geber) implies strength; the wronged man is a considerable foe. He will be in no mood for pity when it comes time to exact revenge. Perhaps he will take matters into his own hands. Or at the very least, he will use the legal system (v. 35). According to the Mosaic law, the penalty for adultery is death (Dt 22:22), although the law seems to imply that in such cases a substitute fine might be paid to avoid capital punishment (cf. Ex 21:30; Nm 35:31–32; Longman, Proverbs, 181). But the wronged husband will not be placated by any ransom, no matter how great. He will want the harshest penalty: death. In either case, the adulterer should expect a shortened life.
13. Lesson 10: More Warnings against the Adulteress (7:1–27)
This final lesson of the father to his son, while similar to the previous one (6:20–35; cf. 2:16–19; 5:1–23), comes in the form of a story, and once again solemnly warns the son against the adulterous wife. It focuses particularly on her seductive stratagems, presented in dramatic form. This drama of the Seductress and her Simpleton is preceded by a prologue and followed by an epilogue (Kidner, Proverbs, 75).
a. Introductory Exhortation (7:1–5)
7:1–2. Once more, the father exhorts the son to keep his commandments and treasure them (v. 1). He is to guard (keep) them with the greatest of care, as he would protect the very sensitive pupil (apple) of his eye, since his very life is at stake (v. 2).
7:3–4. The son needs to pay diligent attention to his father’s teachings. So he should bind them on his fingers and write them on the tablet of his heart (v. 3; see comments on 3:3–4). That is, he should allow them to transform his external actions (fingers) and internal character (heart) (Longman, Proverbs, 186). Moreover, he needs to treat wisdom—personified once again as a woman—like his sister and intimate friend (v. 4). The latter image refers to a relative (Koehler et al., HALOT, 550), and the former may actually be an intimate "term of endearment for a girlfriend or wife" (Garrett, Proverbs, 102; cf. Sg 4:9). In any case, wisdom is to be treated as an intimate companion.
7:5. This verse tells us why. He should keep his father’s wise words so that they may keep him from an adulteress. Her primary allure, as the drama below makes evident, is her flattering words.
b. The Story of the Seductress and the Simpleton (7:6–23)
The father’s realistic drama about the seductress has the effect of "making his son feel her seduction, yet in such a way that she becomes utterly repugnant to him" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 367). It should be noted that this lesson (as well as the other ones warning about the wayward woman) presuppose that the son, while inexperienced, is on the right path and must be exhorted to remain there. It does not intend a sexist portrait of all women as seductive vixens and all men their hapless victims. More often than not, the roles are reversed—and wise "daughters" should heed a similar warning. If the address assumed that the son was already on the wrong path (as many men are), he would need to be rebuked for his own predatory behavior (Longman, Proverbs, 181).
(1) The Setting (7:6–9)
7:6–9. The father’s story begins with a scene he observed while looking out onto the street through the lattice in the window of his house (v. 6). Among the naive young men (see the description of this type of fool in Introduction) he saw, he noted one in particular who lacked sense (v. 7) because he did not maintain suitable caution in his surroundings. He happens to wander near the street corner where she lives (v. 8). Worse still, it is twilight as the darkness of the night is quickly setting in (v. 9), a darkness that conceals evildoers and their deeds (cf. Jb 24:15). While he is not intentionally seeking out the adulteress—she does go to great lengths to seduce him, after all—he certainly does put himself in the wrong place at the wrong time.
(2) The Seductress (7:10–12)
7:10–12. But "if he is aimless, his temptress is not" (Kidner, Proverbs, 75). At this point, the narrative becomes quite vivid. A woman rather suddenly appears to meet him (v. 10a), and her intentions are quickly evident. She is described in several ways. First, though presumably not a prostitute by trade (cf. vv. 19–20), she is dressed as a harlot to let all comers know that she is sexually available (v. 10b). Yet, second, her provocative attire hides a cunning heart (v. 10c). Her ultimate motives are closely guarded, although love for the young fool is certainly not one of them, her flattering words to him notwithstanding. Third, she is unrestrained (v. 11a). Lacking "all grace and refinement" (Hubbard, Proverbs, 113), she is boisterous and rebellious, willing to defy authority and social norms. Fourth, she is predatory (vv. 11b–12). Not content to remain at home, she wanders about town and lurks by every corner looking for conquest; her goal is to capture a young fool. This is only reinforced if the reference to her feet, which want to wander about town rather than staying home, has sexual connotations (cf. 6:28).
(3) The Seduction (7:13–20)
7:13. Her seduction begins with bold action, a kind of "shock treatment" (Kidner, Proverbs, 75). The woman seizes him and kisses him. She is utterly shameless, and so with a brazen face she bluntly begins to proposition him. Verses 14–20 are her words of seduction.
7:14. Strangely, she begins her seduction on religious grounds, informing him that she has offered peace offerings and paid her religious vows. Some suggest that she is a pagan inviting him to participate in pagan fertility rites (which included sex), or even that she falsely claimed that she needed to prostitute herself for the money to pay her vows (so Garrett, Proverbs, 103–104). More likely, however, she is perverting the Levitical system. In Lv 7:16–18, a worshipper who had fulfilled a vow would present a peace offering to the Lord and then be able to eat some of what had been offered that day or the next. In short, the immoral woman is inviting him to a celebratory feast. Her attitude reveals the "bland secularization of her religion," much like today’s secularization of Christmas (Kidner, Proverbs, 75), and her adulterous intentions indicate that "she is also blaspheming the holy things of God" (Longman, Proverbs, 190).
7:15. She proposes that the celebratory meal be a romantic dinner for two. Her flattery here is astonishingly absurd. She suggests that she only has eyes for him—I have come out to meet you; he is the one she has been looking for. In reality, she is repeatedly on the prowl for fresh lovers, and just about anyone will do.
7:16–18. But clearly she has more than food on her mind, and so she moves in for the kill. She stimulates his senses of sight, smell, and touch by describing her bed as soft and lovely (v. 16) and fragranced with expensive, alluring perfumes, myrrh, aloes and cinnamon (v. 17; cf. Sg 4:14). Then she directly invites him to "a night of luxurious lovemaking" (Garrett, Proverbs, 104) (Pr 7:18). But the love and delight she promises are a trap and poor substitutes for biblical love (cf. 5:15–19): "The temptress promises sexual love without erotic restraint, but she refuses to make the fundamental commitment of self to him that is required of true love" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 380).
7:19–20. She then tells him how easy this all will be. There are no worries because they can get away with it. Her husband is not at home but away on a long journey (v. 19). His business dealings will keep him away until the full moon (v. 20), probably about two weeks away (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 248). He will never know. Of course, conveniently, she mentions neither the possibility of witnesses nor her option, like Potiphar’s wife (Gn 39), to allege rape if they are caught (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 382).
(4) The Surrender (7:21–23)
7:21–23. But he is too stupid to see through her arguments and flatteries (v. 21). Fool that he is, her invitation proves too much. Impulsively (suddenly) he follows her to disaster (v. 22a). He is compared to an unsuspecting dumb ox on his way to the slaughter (v. 22b). He is also comparable to an unwitting stag stepping into a noose/fetters (v. 22c; this reading of the line in the LXX and ESV is preferable to that of the NASB of "the discipline of a fool"; cf. Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 249–250; Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 365, 383). Once caught, the stag will be killed when an arrow pierces through his liver (v. 23a). Or he is like a senseless bird that hastens to the snare and its death (v. 23b). Like all three ignorant animals that are oblivious to the dire end that awaits them, so also the naive is oblivious to the consequences of adultery (does not know that his adultery will cost him his life; v. 23c).
c. Epilogue: Concluding Exhortation (7:24–27)
7:24–25. The father closes his lesson with an admonition to his son (and presumably, his son’s sons as well) not to follow the path of the simpleton described in the story. He should heed his father’s wise words (v. 24) instead of being snared and slaughtered by the seductress’s siren call. He must guard his heart lest he turn aside and stray into her paths (v. 25). "You are in danger as soon as your thoughts wander in this fatal direction" (Kidner, Proverbs, 76).
7:26–27. The motivation for this exhortation is straightforward: the adulteress, and the act of adultery, is deadly. The adulteress’ captivating veneer masks a monster who is both seductive and bloodthirsty (Garrett, Proverbs, 104). Her many victims, though mighty in number, lay slain before her (v. 26). Her house is no palace of delights but a vestibule leading down to the grave (Sheol) and the chambers of death (v. 27). This graphic discussion of the consequences of the simpleton’s encounter with the adulteress assumes the more detailed expositions of the practical effects of sexual sin (cf. 5:9–14; 6:32–35; Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 366). Contemporary Western culture, which glamorizes sex without restraints, rejects this wisdom from Proverbs by ignoring immorality’s devastating effects on people’s lives.
14. Wisdom’s Second Call (8:1–36)
In this lengthy poem, Lady Wisdom directly addresses the reader, and it is a stunning contrast to the adulteress’s words to the simpleton in chap. 7. It is also her second address to the reader. Though the two addresses share similarities, the first address (1:20–33) primarily is negative, demonstrating the folly of rejecting her, while this is primarily positive, exemplifying the wonderful benefits Lady Wisdom brings.
a. Preface to Wisdom’s Address (8:1–3)
8:1–3. Wisdom and understanding is again presented in this section (cf. 1:20–33) as a lady addressing the public. She speaks loudly and clearly so she can be heard. She stands on top of the heights beside the way so she can be easily seen (v. 2a). She takes her stand at the crossroad where the paths meet so that many will hear her before making a decision about which path to take (v. 2b). And she cries out beside the city gates, the hub of an ancient city’s legal, political, social, and commercial business, much like a city’s center or town hall today (v. 3). Wisdom is thus seen as eager for adherents, widely accessible for all who would receive her, relevant for all facets of life, and crucial for one’s way of life.
b. Wisdom’s Opening Exhortation (8:4–11)
8:4–5. Like the father in his lessons, Lady Wisdom also begins her address by encouraging listeners to heed her words. Wisdom’s words are directed to all men (v. 4). But they are particularly appropriate for the naive, who are young, gullible, and inexperienced, and the fool, who is just plain thickheaded (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 268). All men need the prudence that Wisdom teaches (cf. 1:4).
8:6–9. Here, Lady Wisdom describes the characteristics of her words, to which all would be well advised to listen. Her words are noble and right (v. 6) because she speaks the truth and considers wickedness an abomination (v. 7). Rather than being crooked or perverted, all her utterances are spoken in righteousness (v. 8). And they resonate with the discerning and knowledgeable (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 270) who find them straightforward and right (v. 9). After all, one’s attitude toward wisdom reflects whether or not one is wise.
8:10–11. Lady Wisdom tells her listeners how valuable her instruction is. She may be widely accessible, but she is by no means cheap (Garrett, Proverbs, 107). She is more valuable than silver, the choicest gold, or jewels (vv. 10–11a). Indeed, her worth is incomparable, worth more than all material things one might consider desirable (v. 11b).
c. Wisdom’s Autobiography (8:12–31)
This section is the heart of Lady Wisdom’s address. In essence, it is her autobiography. It serves as a tribute to wisdom, intended to motivate the reader to pursue her. It has two sections that describe Wisdom in history and before history (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 393).
(1) Wisdom’s Autobiography in History (8:12–21)
8:12–16. Lady Wisdom describes her characteristics. She first mentions herself, then three of her companions: prudence, knowledge, and discretion (v. 12). Wherever you find her, you find them (Longman, Proverbs, 201). Yet in her these qualities are never separated from the fear of the Lord, which will always hate evil in its various forms—pride, arrogance, evil behavior, and perverted speech (v. 13; cf. 1:7; 3:7; 16:6). True wisdom should never be confused with mere cleverness; Lady Wisdom despises the arrogant pride "to which shrewd and clever persons are especially prone" (Hubbard, Proverbs, 122). Wisdom is also where one can find good counsel, sound wisdom, understanding, and power (v. 14). These attributes suggest a competence that not only can discern the best course of action but has the strength of purpose to carry it out. Wisdom’s qualities are particularly appropriate for statecraft. All those with power—kings, rulers, princes, nobles—need Lady Wisdom if they are to rule effectively and justly (vv. 15–16).
8:17–21. Lady Wisdom promises great reward to those who pursue her. She promises to love those who love her and to be found by those who diligently seek her (v. 17). She does not play hard to get with those who steadfastly pursue her (cf. Jms 1:5–8). And her love is rewarding. To her "lovers" she bestows enduring material prosperity (riches and wealth), honor (rather than shame), and righteousness (Pr 8:18). While righteousness could be understood simply as "prosperity," the context suggests more—a prosperity that is only "part of a far bigger whole, which will be specified in [verse] 35 as life and divine favour" (Kidner, Proverbs, 78). Hence, what she produces (her fruit and yield) is more valuable than pure gold and the choicest silver (v. 19). While they do prosper materially, her lovers are not crass materialists seeking ill-gotten gain. After all, if they accompany her, they too will walk in the way of righteousness and justice (v. 20). In return, she grants them wealth and abundant treasure that probably includes much more than material prosperity, which alone never quite satisfies (Hubbard, Proverbs, 124). Thus, Lady Wisdom is presented here as a "majestic patron and benefactor" who "moves in the most esteemed circles, among the rich and the powerful" and the righteous. She is, in fact, "an intimate of God himself," comparable to a "darling" daughter (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 278–279).
(2) Wisdom’s Autobiography before History (8:22–31)
(a) Wisdom’s Existence before Creation (8:22–26)
This passage may well be the most controversial in all Proverbs. Debate on it has gone back at least as far as the ancient Christian church. Clearly Wisdom is being personified in this chapter as a whole, but some have argued that this section takes Wisdom beyond mere personification. They maintain that Wisdom in this section is an actual person who, as it turns out in later biblical revelation, is Jesus Christ. This theological question directly affects the interpretation of the text itself, and so we will return to it after going through the text.
However, the basic message of the text should not be missed. First, Lady Wisdom is older than creation itself (vv. 22–26), enjoying a greater dignity. Second, Lady Wisdom observed and even participated in God’s work of creation (v. 27–31). All this means that if one is going to understand, successfully navigate, and enjoy life in God’s world, wisdom is indispensable. The main point of these verses is clear enough: Wisdom existed prior to the universe, and she is distinct from creation, closely associated with the Lord Himself.
8:22. This controversial verse has two key interpretive questions. First, what is the meaning of possessed (qanah)? While its basic sense is "to get or acquire" (e.g., 1:5), here commentators typically debate whether it means "to possess" (i.e., "to have already acquired something") or "to create" ("to have acquired by making"). Neither quite captures the more likely sense. On contextual grounds (esp. vv. 24–25), it is best understood in terms of "begetting" (as in having children).
The second interpretive question actually pertains to the whole stanza (vv. 22–26). Is Wisdom pictured as eternal, like the Lord Himself, or does she have a beginning, like the rest of creation? Here we must tread carefully. On the one hand, since Wisdom is begotten, the text likely does indicate that the Lord’s begetting her is "the first of his works" (v. 22a, NIV) and "the first of his acts of old" (v. 22b, ESV). On the other hand, the implications of the temporal language in these verses must not be misunderstood. The language does not imply that God at first "lacked it and had to create it or learn it," a notion "both alien to the passage and absurd" (Kidner, Proverbs, 80). Nor should it be construed to undermine wisdom’s distinctiveness from the rest of creation. The temporal language lays stress on Wisdom’s preexistence, not on the timing of her origin (cf. Daniel J. Treier, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, BTCB [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011], 48–49). Wisdom is unique in God’s world, having existed before its creation.
Lady Wisdom is thus pictured in these verses as God’s "daughter" begotten before creation but unique within it. It therefore makes the best sense to see her as a personification of God’s revealed wisdom. For "wisdom comes from God’s essential being; it is a revelation that has an organic connection with God’s very nature and being, unlike the rest of creation that came into existence outside of him and independent from his being. Moreover, since this wisdom existed before creation and its origins are distinct from it, wisdom is neither accessible to humanity nor can it subdued by human beings, but it must be revealed to people and accepted by them" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 409; cf. 86–87, 127–130).
8:23. This verse essentially restates the previous verse. The verb in this verse (I was established) is also debated. The two major options (depending on the identity of the verb’s root) are "to appoint" (similar to the NASB) or "to weave." While the former would appropriately suggest Wisdom’s royalty and parallel Ps 2:6–7 (where regal appointment and being begotten are placed together), the context more strongly favors the latter. The image of weaving, which is used in Ps 139:13 for David’s formation in his mother’s womb, directly parallels the picture of wisdom’s being begotten in Pr 8:22, 24, and 25. Wisdom was woven together primordially, from everlasting.
8:24–26. These verses stress Wisdom’s preexistence, predating all creation. Wisdom declares twice in these verses that she was brought forth, a verb that evokes the imagery of childbirth. God brought her forth before He created the world. The references to the waters (v. 24), mountains (v. 25), and fields (v. 26) recall the creation account in Gn 1–2 (see Longman, Proverbs, 205–206).
(b) Wisdom’s Participation in Creation (8:27–31)
8:27–29. Wisdom not only predated creation, she was present with God before creation. The main point in these verses is that she was there to see when God created the cosmos. Once again, God’s work of creation is described in several actions reminiscent of the creation of the heavens and the earth in Gn 1. She was there when God established the heavens (Pr 8:27a), created the horizon separating sky from sea (v. 27b), strengthened the clouds of the sky and the fountains of the deep (v. 28), and created the land by setting the sea’s boundary (v. 29). Wisdom observed the whole thing and "was privy to the how’s and what’s and who of those mysterious beginnings—prime credentials for any teacher" (Hubbard, Proverbs, 126).
8:30–31. These verses take Wisdom’s role further. She was not only an observer in creation, but she was also beside Him as a companion in his work (v. 30a). But what kind of companion? Once again we encounter debate, this time over the term ’amon (translated master workman in the NASB). Some believe that it means "child" who joyfully plays in God’s creation. Others suggest it should be understood as "constantly,"—that is, Wisdom is God’s constant companion. Most commonly the term is understood to mean "artisan" (NASB). It is difficult to decide between alternatives, though the last is probably to be preferred since Wisdom participates in God’s work of creation (cf. 3:19) so that "the principles of wisdom are woven into the fabric of the created order" (Garrett, Proverbs, 110). Little wonder, then, that she celebrated with God His very good creation (vv. 30b–31). She did so each day of creation, possibly bringing Him delight as well (v. 30b), depending on whether or not it is His delight or hers (each is possible). Her celebration was playful, constant, and worshipful (v. 30c). To rejoice has the idea of dancing and playing (Koehler et al., HALOT, 1315), and doing so before the Lord probably suggests worship (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 421; cf. 2Sm 6:5, 21). Her celebration also focused on the world God made, particularly the sons of men who inhabit it (Pr 8:31). Wisdom thus "laughs before him (God) and laughs and plays with the human race," suggesting that she is "a mediating figure between the human and the divine" (Longman, Proverbs, 207).
(3) Lady Wisdom and Christ
The comments above make clear that this commentary does not support the view that Wisdom in this section is Jesus Christ. Lady Wisdom here is no more than a personification of the wisdom that the sage has received, a wisdom revealed by God and rooted in His very own character. The context simply does not justify interpretations that go beyond the personification of wisdom here. Furthermore, while the text does indicate that Lady Wisdom is unique and preexistent, its language cannot sustain the idea that she is eternal in the sense that Jesus Christ is as God. Indeed, the ancient Arian heresy identified Wisdom as Jesus and used this section to argue that Jesus was not eternal and therefore not God. In order to avoid Arian implications, orthodox Christians who actually agree that Wisdom is Christ have sought to interpret this section in a way consistent with the eternality of Wisdom/Christ (see Treier, Proverbs, 44–57). But as seen above, this is difficult to do successfully.
Still, it is true that the Christian tradition has commonly identified Christ with Wisdom here, and that is not without some justification. After all, Wisdom is pictured in the text as preexistent, exalted, and distinct from the rest of creation. Moreover, the NT does appear to make a connection between Christ and Wisdom in Pr 8 (cf. Mt 11:18–19; Col 1:15–17; 2:3; 1Co 1:24, 30; perhaps Jn 1 and Rv 3:14; see Longman, Proverbs, 210–212; Treier, Proverbs, 49–57 for further discussion). It is therefore best to say that Lady Wisdom shares similarities with Christ, but Christ is even greater than she. In short, the sage’s wisdom is a type of Christ. "In typology the antitype [Christ] shows both similarities and superiority to the type [the sage’s wisdom]" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 131; see his extensive list of similarities and superiorities between the two on pp. 130–32). The exalted picture of personified wisdom, "far from overshooting the literal truth, was a preparation for its full statement" in the person of Jesus Christ (Kidner, Proverbs, 79).
d. Final Exhortation (8:32–36)
Having narrated her autobiography, Lady Wisdom concludes her address with final advice.
8:32. As a consequence of her autobiography (therefore) she exhorts her audience to listen to her, that is, to keep her ways. The motivation for this is a beatitude: those who do so will be blessed or happy. In living like her, they will enjoy God’s world as much as she does (cf. vv. 30–31).
8:33–34. The pattern of exhortation and motivating beatitude is repeated here. Her audience should heed rather than neglect her instruction, and thereby grow wise (v. 33). If they listen to her with eagerness, they will be blessed/happy (v. 34). The idea of eagerness is portrayed by a man keeping vigil by the door of her house, probably in the sense of a lover waiting to see his beloved (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 290).
8:35–36. Why is the one who heeds Wisdom blessed? Positively, to find her is to find abundant life and God’s favor (v. 35), much like finding a good wife (see 18:22). Negatively, a person only injures himself when he does not find her (v. 36a). The verb translated sins against here means "to miss." And ultimately, by missing her, they hate her and, perversely, love death (v. 36b). One either loves Wisdom or hates her. There is no middle ground, and life and death are at stake (Garrett, Proverbs, 110). The reader faces a dramatic choice, and chap. 9 will lay it out starkly.
15. Conclusion: Two Invitations (9:1–18)
This chapter is an appropriate epilogue to the first part of Proverbs, and Lady Wisdom’s call. It proffers a concluding choice between wisdom and folly in the form of an invitation. It has three sections of six verses each. Lady Wisdom (vv. 1–6) and Woman Folly (vv. 13–18) both issue parallel invitations to their banquets, each reiterating themes previously addressed. An intervening section (vv. 7–12) contrasts the two ways through direct instruction, picking up on themes in the prologue (1:1–7).
a. Lady Wisdom’s Banquet Invitation (9:1–6)
9:1–3. These verses describe Wisdom’s preparation for her banquet. She has built her house, which has seven pillars (v. 1). Her house may suggest the imagery of a temple, a place to come worship the Lord (so Hubbard, Proverbs, 133), but also indicates a large, solid house, the grand mansion of a wealthy, noble lady, with plenty of room for lots of guests. In addition, she personally and meticulously arranges the feast itself, which is extravagant and delightful (v. 2). So she prepared her food—or more precisely, "arranged a slaughter" (Koehler et al., HALOT, 368)—that involved butchering and cooking meat, a luxury in the ancient world appropriate for feasts; she mixed her wine with honey and spices to taste good; and she set her table for her guests’ enjoyment (Longman, Proverbs, 216–17). Furthermore, she aggressively and publicly issues an invitation to her feast (v. 3). She sends out her maidens to issue the invitation, but she also does so herself, probably calling out from the tops of the city walls (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 436)—a vivid reminder that wisdom is widely available.
9:4–6. She issues her invitation directly to whoever is naive, those who lack understanding (v. 4). Though they have not yet chosen wisdom, neither have they yet been hardened in folly, so she wants to win them over, urging them to turn aside from their way. She then invites them to eat and drink of her banquet feast (v. 5). In doing so, she may also be inviting them to an intimate relationship with her (Longman, Proverbs, 217; cf. 3:18; 7:4). In any case, her cuisine is far different from that of the wicked (4:17) and foolish (9:17–18). For her food is life-giving (v. 6). But it is also costly, for its participant must forsake folly and commit himself to continuing in the way of understanding. God’s banquets are always so (Is 55:1; Lk 14:15–24; Jn 6:41–59).
b. Interlude (9:7–12)
This collection of wisdom sayings between the two parallel invitations of Wisdom and Folly may at first seem out place both in style and even in substance. However, this interlude actually fits the context as it displays the stark contrast between those who have chosen wisdom and those who have chosen folly. The choice between Wisdom and Folly is not "an isolated, impulsive decision"; it "is seen ripening into character and so into destiny" (Kidner, Proverbs, 82).
9:7–9. Ostensibly, these verses seem directed to wise teachers regarding whom they should instruct, but they are really less about teachers and more about the students. The scoffer is really the worse kind of fool, "so full of himself and contemptuous of others that he will not humble himself under any authority, not even under that of the Lord" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 140). The last thing he wants is constructive criticism. So anyone who corrects the mocker should expect insults and abuse from him (v. 7). A wise teacher should therefore choose his students carefully (v. 8; Hubbard, Proverbs, 135). On the one hand, it is a waste of time to reprove a scoffer because he will only hate you all the more for trying to correct him; he is not teachable. On the other hand, a wise man actually will love you for doing so. He will appreciate you because you are helping him to increase his learning and become still wiser (v. 9). This is a reminder that a truly wise person is humble and teachable because he knows that he is always in process. He is also righteous, as the next verse makes clear.
9:10. Reiterating the theme verse of Proverbs, this verse shows the inextricable connection between wisdom and worship (see 1:7). The fear of the Lord is here equated with the knowledge of the Holy One. Those who worship and know the Lord submit to His authority and consequently grow in wisdom and righteousness.
9:11–12. There are consequences to heeding Wisdom—or not. "The righteous course is in fact the prudent course" (Kidner, Proverbs, 83). Essentially, Wisdom brings life (v. 11; cf. 3:2; 4:10; for more on life and death, see Introduction: Themes). The words by me make this clear, and they may also suggest that personified Wisdom has been speaking the whole time (from vv. 5–12). The single greatest beneficiary of a person’s choosing wisdom is the person himself (v. 12a). But all this also implies what becomes more explicit below, that folly brings death. And so the scoffer, who blatantly rejects wisdom, has no one to blame but himself, for he alone will bear folly’s fruit (v. 12b). While one’s choices might affect others (e.g., 10:1), "the ultimate gainer or loser is the man himself" (Kidner, Proverbs, 83).
c. Woman Folly’s Banquet Invitation (9:13–18)
9:13–15. Lady Wisdom’s rival is here introduced, and the woman of folly does not fare well in the comparison. Folly is, however, just like the adulteress in chap. 7. She is a boisterous, gullible ignoramus (v. 13). She may have much to say to the na´ve, but what she says demonstrates that she is just as clueless as they are. Unlike Lady Wisdom’s diligent preparations for her feast, Woman Folly does not even bother to get up; she just sits at the doorway of her house (v. 14a). But her laziness does not mitigate her bombast. Her seat by the high places of the city is probably a kind of public throne (v. 14b). "The pretentious imposter presents herself as an empress who rules a city, and the gullible bow to her authority" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 444). Alternately, she may be pictured as a kind of pagan priestess lounging outside her temple (so Hubbard, Proverbs, 173). In any case, she is in reality little more than a prostitute selling herself in public. Calling to passersby who are minding their business with no intention of going astray, she hopes to waylay the gullible among them (v. 15).
9:16–17. She directs her invitation to the naive, the one who lacks understanding and does not know better (v. 16). She is vying for the attention of the same audience as Lady Wisdom. But her appeal is base and tawdry. True, water and bread can hardly compare to the sumptuous feast offered by Lady Wisdom, but Woman Folly still claims her meal is sweet and pleasant (v. 17). Her offer of stolen water likely refers to an adulterous sexual liaison (cf. 5:15–18; 7:18). Her offer of secret bread may also have adulterous overtones (cf. 30:20), or it may refer to illicit schemes for profiting at other’s expense (Garrett, Proverbs, 116; cf. 1:11–14; 4:14–17). But Folly’s seductiveness "applies to illicit gratifications of all sorts" (Fox, Proverbs 1–9, 303)—alluring precisely because they are forbidden.
9:18. Adam and Eve discovered death as the consequence of illicit gratification; so too the simpleton who succumbs to Woman Folly. Hers is the dinner of the dead, held in the hall of the grave (Sheol). But the simpleton’s ignorance is not bliss, because he will join her dead guests at the banquet.
This section of Proverbs therefore closes with a sharp choice, particularly proposed to the young and na´ve. They can either choose the Lord, Wisdom and her blessings, and ultimately, life. Or they can choose Folly, evil, and finally death. It is either one or the other. The remainder of the book is for those who have chosen well.
C. The Proverbs of Solomon (10:1–22:16)
10:1a. This major section of the book (10:1–22:16) is introduced here as the proverbs of Solomon. Some have noted that the letters of the Hebrew alphabet have numerical value, and the name "Solomon" has the value of 375, the same number of proverbs in this section (10:1–22:16), suggesting an intentional organization. It is a collection of various proverbs, with little explicit organization (see Introduction: Structure and Genre).
10:1b–c. The first proverb in this section is an appropriate transition from the previous section of the book. It reiterates the contrast between wisdom and folly (as in chap. 9), and it replays the parent-son relationship so prominent in the previous section. The opening statement seeks to motivate the son to choose wisdom out of love for his father and mother. If a son has even a modicum of consideration for his parents—for their affection for him, their reputation, and their support when old—then he will choose wisdom. His choice will thus either bring joy or grief to his parents. "Your choice may be lonely [9:12]; it cannot be private" (Kidner, Proverbs, 84).
10:2–3. Money has its limitations. Ultimately there is no profit in ill-gotten gains (v. 2a). Righteousness here probably refers specifically to one’s generosity toward others, in contrast to ill-gotten gain (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 453, 99). Such generosity is a far better investment because it delivers from death, either now, or more importantly, in the hereafter (v. 2b). Money will be of no use to the wicked in the face of death. The next proverb clarifies (v. 3). The righteous have wisely put themselves on the Lord’s side; the wicked oppose Him. All things being equal, God will take care of the former, but the appetites of the latter will go unfilled. Behind these proverbs is the realization of God’s wrath (cf. 11:4). When it comes time for God to pour His wrath on such wickedness, either now or in the hereafter, the wise know which side to choose.
10:4–5. The issue of laziness is again addressed (cf. 6:6–11) and makes its first appearance here in this section (cf. v. 26; 12:24, 27; 13:4; 15:19; 18:9; 19:15, 24; 20:4, 13; 21:25; 22:13). While it pays to be diligent, the only dividend a negligent shirker should expect is dire poverty (v. 4). Diligence manifests itself in the foresight to gather and store up food in the summer and season of harvest rather than sleeping soundly through it all, as does the slacker (v. 5). By his folly, the latter not only affects himself but also disappoints and brings shame to his parents. The former is accredited a wise son, pleasing not only his parents (cf. 10:1) but also the Lord, with all that entails—such as not going hungry (cf. v. 3).
10:6–7. The righteous act justly and graciously toward others. By doing so, they enrich their community, and the community responds in kind (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 457). So the righteous are crowned with blessings (v. 6a). Although these could come directly from God Himself (cf. v. 22), here they more likely are realized through the relationships with and prayers of grateful neighbors (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 457; Kidner, Proverbs, 85; cf. 11:26; Ru 2:4; 3:10). In contrast, the wicked mistreat others for their own gain, even to the point of violence. Yet before the public they seek to conceal their actions with their words (Pr 10:6b). But the effect of such public relations is at best temporary; legacy tells a fuller story. Although the righteous will be remembered as a bless[ing], … the name of the wicked will rot (v. 7). Their memory will rot because it will decay away entirely and be forgotten, or like a putrid carcass, its repugnant odor may linger. It may be that people will continue to use the name of the righteous and wicked in pronouncing blessings or cursings, respectively (Michael V. Fox, Proverbs 10–31: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, AYB [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009], 515).
10:8. Those who are truly the wise of heart continue to grow wiser still because they are eager to receive wisdom’s commands. They are humble, receptive, teachable, and obedient. The babbling fool is too busy spouting his own opinions to even hear wisdom, let alone obey. He will end up ruined.
10:9–10. One’s walk is tied to one’s chosen path (cf. 4:10–19) and therefore involves one’s way of life (cf. Gl 5:16–26). So to walk in integrity is to live innocently and purely (Koehler et al., HALOT, 1744). Because such people have "nothing to hide" they have "nothing to fear" (Kidner, Proverbs, 86). The wicked person who perverts his ways has no such confidence. Try as he might to hide who he really is, his true character will eventually be found out. There are two illustrations of wicked people whose character eventually becomes evident. The evil conspirator who winks with the eye (cf. Pr 6:13) will be recognized by the trouble he causes, and the babbling fool by the ruin he brings on himself (cf. 10:8).
10:11–12. In their desire to help others, the righteous speak words that, like a fountain of fresh water in a dry land, are life-giving (v. 11a). Their words, whether of rebuke or encouragement, promote wisdom and godliness in others, and hence their very life. In contrast, rather than helping others, what the wicked say only conceals their violence against others (v. 11b; see comments on the identical line v. 6b). However, there is an appropriate kind of "cover up," rooted in love rather than self-promotion and wickedness (v. 12). In contexts where one person wrongs another, hatred toward the wrongdoer only makes matters worse because it stirs up strife. But love covers over all kinds of transgressions for the sake of peacemaking (cf. 1Co 13:4–7). Because it "cherishes the wrongdoer as a friend to be won, not as an enemy with whom to get even," love does not exact revenge by exposing his faults for all to see. It rather "endures his wrongs to reconcile him and save him from death (cf. Pr 25:21–22; 1Co 13:4–7; Jms 5:20) and to preserve the peace" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 461; cf. Pr 19:11).
10:13–14. Discerning people display their wisdom in what they say (v. 13a). Unfortunately, to get through to him, the thickheaded dolt needs something more dramatic than wise words, such as a rod on his back (v. 13b). The next proverb expands on these ideas. Wise men can communicate wisdom because they are a storehouse of knowledge, which they no doubt learned from other sages (v. 14a). In contrast, the fool’s mouth displays the folly that he has stored up, and his subsequent ruin will dramatically demonstrate just how foolish he is (v. 14b).
10:15. Wealth certainly has its advantages. Like a fortress, it can provide protection and resources to get one through tough times. Anyone trying to save up a nest egg knows this. In that sense, the rich man is better off than the poor, whose poverty leaves them exposed with no fortress, but only a ruin. But if this proverb rightly warns us not to "embrace poverty out of laziness or romanticism" (Kidner, Proverbs, 87), it also may subtly warn the rich man not to trust too much in his fortress of resources (emphasis added; cf. 11:28) rather than in the Lord (cf. 18:10–11). That is the continual temptation of the rich man (cf. 30:7–9; see also 1Tm 6:17–19).
10:16. There is another kind of wealth and poverty, and the wise know where to make their investment. "The righteous and the wicked are the wise and the fool, described by their ethics" (Longman, Proverbs, 236). The righteous are truly rich, their wages being life itself, in all its fullness. The wicked’s income is meager indeed. It is sin (a better translation of chatta’t than the NASB’s punishment), which itself leads to death (cf. Rm 6:23; 5:12; Jms 1:15).
10:17. Life-giving wisdom is also manifested in heeding corrective instruction rather than rejecting reproof. To follow the Lord’s wisdom, is to walk on the path of life (cf. 6:23). Those who fail to learn from their mistakes will wander about in their own folly. The verb goes astray is perhaps better understood here as "leads others astray" (e.g., ESV). If so, the fool’s wandering is even worse, because he leads others astray as well as himself.
10:18–21. The next several proverbs revolve around one’s speech. The KJV probably captures the grammatical structure here better than the NASB. It describes a fool as someone who lies to conceal his hatred of someone else when they are together, but spreads slander about that person behind his back. Fools are also verbose, speaking many words, whereas the wise use words with careful restraint, knowing that the more one speaks, the greater the chance to sin with one’s words (v. 19; cf. 13:3; 17:28). More broadly, a person’s core character (heart) will reflect itself in one’s words (v. 20; cf. Mt 12:33–37). Your words "are worth what you are worth" (Kidner, Proverbs, 88). So the words/heart of the righteous are precious as choice silver in comparison to those of the wicked, which are a pittance. One reason they are so precious is their effect on others (Pr 10:21a). The nourishing, life-giving words of the righteous feed many, teaching, rebuking, encouraging, and edifying them. In contrast fools starve to death for lack of understanding. Lacking wisdom, they cannot feed themselves, let alone others, and they do not have the good sense to go to the righteous for nourishment.
10:22. This verse reminds the wise who ultimately makes one rich. Wealth comes from the blessing of the Lord (v. 22a; cf. Dt 8:18). In the second half of the verse, sorrow is better translated "strenuous work" (Koehler et al., HALOT, 865), and it should be seen as the subject of the verb (i.e., "strenuous work does not add to the blessing that come from the Lord"). That is, one’s own strenuous efforts "can give a man no more than God’s blessing provides" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 523; cf. Dt 8:17). This hardly encourages laziness, since Proverbs does make clear that God uses a person’s "righteous diligence" as a "means of God’s blessing" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 473). But wise people know who really provides such blessings and who deserves the praise for them.
10:23–25. The foolish and the wise have different tastes (v. 23). The fool takes pleasure in doing wickedness (it is like a sport to him). He enjoys "any crass offense against people and community" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 474; cf. 2:14; 15:21; 26:19). On the other hand, the wise delight in wisdom (v. 23). One’s pleasures reveal one’s heart (Mt 6:21). Their destinies differ as well (Pr 10:24). The wicked fool’s laughter only masks his deeper fear, a guilty conscience that dreads his getting his just deserts. Certainly he will, whether here or in the hereafter, for God is just (cf. Ec 12:14). In contrast, what the righteous wisely desire will be granted to them—wisdom, blessing, life, and ultimately, the Lord Himself. The wicked have good reason to be afraid because they are vulnerable, unlike the righteous (Pr 10:25). When life’s devastating disasters come like a whirlwind, the wicked will be blown away whereas the righteous have enduring foundations to survive life’s worst difficulties (cf. Ps 1; Mt 7:24–27).
10:26. A lazy person is infuriating. Like acidic sour wine (vinegar) which irritates teeth (particularly bad teeth; Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 476) or smoke which stings the eyes, a sluggard sent on a mission is entirely unreliable and therefore exasperating.
10:27–30. These proverbs all pertain to the futures of the righteous and the wicked. First, the righteous, those who wisely fear … the Lord, can expect prolonged life, but the life of the wicked will be shortened (v. 27). As a general principle, living in rebellion to God and the way He has ordered His world leaves one vulnerable in this present age to the debilitating effects of sin and folly. Second, they have different expectations (v. 28). The righteous can expect the kind of gladness that only God himself can provide, both in His blessings but more particularly in His very presence (Ps 16:11). The wicked can expect disappointment, their hopes dashed. Third, they experience God’s just rule differently (Pr 10:29). The way of the Lord generally involves His standards of morality and wisdom for human beings, but here it likely focuses on His commitment to uphold those standards in the world, i.e., "his moral government of the world" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 479). This explains why the upright or blameless find comforting security (a stronghold) in the way of the Lord whereas it means horrifying ruin to the workers of iniquity. No matter what outward circumstances may come, the righteous will never be shaken (cf. Pss 46; 125). In contrast the wicked will not live securely (dwell in the land), for the Lord has stipulated that one of the consequences of disobedience is removal from the land of Israel (cf. Dt. 28:63; Ps 37:9, 28; Longman, Proverbs, 244).
10:31–32. These proverbs focus on the words of the righteous and wicked. Like a fruitful plant, the righteous man "brings forth" (a better translation for the NASB’s flows with) wisdom in what they speak (v. 31a). In contrast, the perverted tongue of the wicked distorts God’s truth and can anticipate being stilled (cut out) in judgment (v. 31b). In a similar vein, v. 32 compares the character of each of their speech. To bring forth is best translated "to know" (yada‘), in the sense of knowing something by experience because one is well practiced in it (Longman, Proverbs, 245). So the lips of the righteous are well practiced in what is acceptable whereas the mouth of the wicked is well practiced in perversities. Unlike the distorted speech of the wicked, the righteous speak in ways appropriate to the situation, thereby gaining "the approval of God and other wise persons" (Longman, Proverbs, 245).
11:1. Proverbs is an unendingly practical book to guiding daily life. Here it demonstrates that God is profoundly concerned about ethics in business. A false balance, when measuring or weighing items for purchases is cheating. Such unjust business practices are an abomination to the Lord. Dishonesty is serious because it is in the same category as other abominations, including sexual immorality, idolatry, occult practices, child sacrifice, and lying (cf. Lv 18:22; Dt 7:25; 18:9–14; Pr 3:32; 12:22; Jr 32:35). Although it might be easy to cheat in business, and it might not seem like a major sin, God utterly abhors such crooked practices but He delight[s] in honest business practices, a just weight. The wise know that the Lord’s favor is more important than a quick buck.
11:2. Proverbs repeatedly asserts that the wise person is teachable (cf. 13:1, 10; 15:5). The pride of fools will bring them dishonor because they are too arrogant (and self-deceived) to be taught by those wiser than they are. The wise are humble. Being self-aware, they are teachable and therefore grow in wisdom.
11:3. This is the first of several proverbs (vv. 3–9) that address the fate of the righteous and the wicked. Those who are upright/blameless have integrity that will guide their decisions in life on the path of wisdom; they are honest and without guile. However, the crookedness of treacherous twists and perverts the truth, making life choices that will destroy them.
11:4. The contrast between riches and righteousness is striking. Righteousness is more valuable than money (cf. 16:8; Ezk 7:19). This proverb probably applies the principle especially to ill-gotten gain (cf. Pr 10:2). Those who gain wealth at others’ expense cannot bribe their way out of the day of wrath, which includes God’s judgment in both the here and the hereafter. The righteous avoid that fate altogether (see comments on 2:20–23). Righteousness puts them on the path of life and so delivers from death.
11:5. The two paths, so prominent in chaps. 1–9 (see esp. 4:10–19), are reviewed here. The paths are altogether different. For the righteous and blameless, it is smooth. For the wicked, it is treacherous and strewn with stumbling blocks to make him stumble and fall. Granting that this is a fallen world and often the righteous are persecuted, Solomon and others who love Lady Wisdom have observed generally that the righteous have a more peaceful and contented life—and certainly a better destiny—than do the wicked (see Introduction: Retribution).
11:6. From what will the upright be delivered by their righteousness? Probably from the very thing that ensnares the treacherous, their own "evil desires" (NIV). This translation of behawwat is stronger than the NASB’s greed, which is too narrow (although greed is certainly one kind of evil desire). Such cravings are ultimately deadly (cf. Jms 1:14–15).
11:7. The aspirations of the wicked man—no doubt shaped by his cravings—cannot survive death. That which he expects and hopes for (namely, his own pleasure and security) will remain unfulfilled when he dies. The second line explains why, though its translation is admittedly difficult. The NIV probably best captures the idea: "all he expected from his power comes to nothing." Whatever resources he trusted to get his way will prove to be wanting.
11:8. The righteous man has a far better resource: the Lord himself. Trouble in this life is only temporary because he will be delivered from it by the Lord either in this life or the next. His short-lived place of trouble will be taken more permanently by the wicked, whose destiny is trouble because of God’s judicial action against the wicked perhaps in this life and certainly in eternity.
11:9. The godless man does not just ruin himself. He also destroys his neighbor by what he says. Most likely the wicked man does so by communicating to his unwary associates the destructive folly he himself lives by, which spreads like a disease. But because they are wise and know better, the righteous are not taken in by his noxious counsel and so will be delivered from it.
11:10–11. Two things can make a city/community rejoice: the prosperity of the righteous or the perishing of the wicked (v. 10). Verse 11 explains why. The blessing of the upright may refer either to God’s blessing on the righteous (which has positive effects on his neighbors) or the righteous man’s effectual prayer for blessing to come upon his neighbors (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 492). Either way, his city will benefit through its righteous citizens. In contrast, the wicked’s words are a destructive instrument in his community. "The wicked slander, deceive, and abuse others, and this engenders conflict, uncertainty, and oppression all around them" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 535).
11:12. This proverb deals a devastating blow to judgmentalism. Only a fool despises his neighbor and so insults him. In contrast, a man of understanding keeps silent. Wise people do so because they are not proud. "The most misleading way to feel wise is to feel superior …, for one is denying that God is the only competent judge of human worth" (Kidner, Proverbs, 91). In addition, the wise respect and love their neighbors because every person bears the image of the Lord, the Creator of all (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 493). And even if one’s neighbor is a fool who deserves rebuke, the wise man will still be slow to speak his mind.
11:13. Choose your confidants carefully. A talebearer is a slanderer, one who is "malicious rather than indiscreet; he is an informer, out to hurt" (Kidner, Proverbs, 91; cf. Lv 19:16; Ezk 22:9). So for his own selfish ends he reveals secrets given to him in confidence, even if another is harmed by it. A true friend, one who is trustworthy and faithful, conceals those confidences.
11:14. This proverb pertains particularly to a political and military context because it is talking about a people rather than individuals and so refers to a nation (hence involves political or military matters). That sense picks up on the impact of the righteous in the city (vv. 10–11). If a people do not want to fall but to have victory ("deliverance"), they need wise guidance best provided by an abundance of counselors. It is best to "get all the advice you can" because it is "fatally easy to shut out disquieting voices" (Kidner, Proverbs, 91–92). What goes for a people also goes for a person.
11:15. Here is wise counsel about cosigning a loan for a casual acquaintance. The implication is that when the debt is not paid by the stranger, the guarantor will be responsible for the debt and so suffer financial loss. Better to hate those kinds of financial agreements and be financially secure (see 6:1–5).
11:16–17. A gracious woman is reminiscent of the excellent wife (cf. 31:10–31) and of wisdom herself (chap. 8). Surprisingly, she is compared to a gang of ruthless men because both she and they can take hold of (attain) something apparently desirable. The gang can seize riches by their brutality, but such wealth is limited (11:4, 28), probably short lived (13:11), and ultimately self-destructive (2:8–19). What she gains is honor, which is not only more valuable and permanent than wealth (22:1), but often includes it (3:16; 8:18; 22:4). Hers is the better way. This becomes more apparent in v. 17. Like her, a man who is merciful and kind to others will actually benefit himself, whereas the man who is cruel to others ultimately ends up hurting himself.
11:18–19. It really does not pay to be wicked. Such a man earns deceptive wages that are both "unsatisfying and transitory" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 538). In contrast, he who sows righteousness will reap a far more reliable, true reward. The beginning of v. 19 is best translated "Yes indeed!" (Hb. ken) (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 502) and suggests that this proverb unpacks v. 18. The righteous reap life itself. The wicked reap death—deceptive wages indeed!
11:20–21. God detests the perverse in heart but finds delight in those whose walk is blameless. One who is perverse "is set against God and community to serve self" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 502). One’s character (heart) will inevitably manifest itself in one’s behavior (walk). It is sometimes said that God hates the sin but loves the sinner, but this proverb (v. 21) does not make such neat distinctions. God’s disposition toward sinners has sobering implications. For the evil man, there is the certainty that he will not go unpunished. God’s wrath is finally inescapable (cf. Rm 1:18–2:16). But the righteous will be delivered from that fate. The descendants do not refer to progeny of the righteous but to individuals who live according to this wisdom principle.
11:22. Physical beauty is overrated. Dress a sow up with a ring of gold, and you still have a swine—a most detestable creature in ancient Israel because pork was the epitome of nonkosher food (Lv 11:1–8). So too is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion, "the God-given gift of discrimination enabling good judgment (1Sm 25:22; Jb 12:20; Ps 119:66)" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 504). Her tasteless behavior defaces her beauty. No matter how beautiful a woman might be, she becomes abhorrent to those around her if her character and behavior is loathsome. Those concerned with outward appearance should take note and prioritize wisely.
11:23. This proverb is ambiguous in comparing the righteous and wicked. The issue of the comparison is either the nature or the result of their aspirations. Although both are possible (perhaps even at the same time; cf. Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 505–6), the second line makes the latter, the result, more likely. The NIV captures well the idea: "The desire of the righteous ends only in good, but the hope of the wicked only in wrath." The proverb is thus a reminder of God’s righteous judgment.
11:24–27. The wise are generous. A person who scatters is someone who gives freely, particularly to those in need (cf. Ps 112:9; Pr 19:17), and he contrasts directly with the miser who withholds what is justly due (cf. Dt 15:7–11; 1Tm 6:17–19). Paradoxically, the resources of the generous increase whereas the resources of the hoarder will only dwindle, result[ing] … in want, (Pr 11:24). So the altruist’s generous giving will rebound back to him all the more (v. 25). Verse 26 specifies the principle. In a time of want, a grain dealer who withholds grain to drive up the price is compared to the one who sells it to those who need it. The people will curse the former and bless the latter in prayers to the Lord, who presumably repays in kind. Verse 27 captures a similar idea: "what you seek for others you will get yourself" (Kidner, Proverbs, 94). The one who diligently seeks to do good to others will receive favor from the Lord Himself, resulting in His blessing. The one who seeks after evil to inflict on others will suffer similar harm. Seek and you will find, so be careful what you seek.
11:28. It is folly for a man to trust in his riches because in doing so he will fall. Money is notoriously unreliable for those who rely on it (23:5; 10:2; 1Tm 6:17). In contrast the righteous will flourish like healthy foliage, because they trust in the Lord who is altogether reliable (Pr 3:5; 16:3, 20; 22:19; 28:25; 29:25).
11:29. This proverb probably profiles a foolish son. He troubles his family, his own house, whether by bad decisions, wasting resources, alienating relationships, turning away from the Lord, or something else. As a result, he will inherit the wind, that is, nothing. Left in poverty, without an inheritance, he will become a servant to the wisehearted, those too wise to get themselves into such straights.
11:30. He who is righteous and wise is a great blessing to others. His fruit—the beneficial effects of his words and deeds—are a veritable tree of life (cf. 3:18), conferring "healing and abundant, eternal life" to the community (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 513). Furthermore, he wins souls. This disputed phrase more literally means to "take souls," that is, through his words and deeds he wins others over to the way of wisdom, righteousness, obedience to the Lord, and life.
11:31. This proverb deals with God’s retribution here in the earth. The two lines present a "stronger-to-weaker" argument: if the first line is true, how much more the second. The righteous will be rewarded, is better translated "repaid" (ESV) or "receive their due" (NIV) for their behavior. It carries a negative sense of warning here. This is the way Peter (following the LXX) understood this proverb (1Pt 4:15–19; see comments there). That is, even the righteous cannot escape judgment for sin on this earth. If so, how much more should the wicked and the sinner expect punishment. "In other words, nobody sins with impunity; not even a Moses or a David, much less the confirmed rebel" (cf. Jr 25:29; Ezk. 18:24; Kidner, Proverbs, 95).
12:1. This proverb assumes we all make mistakes; the only question is what we do with them. Those who are humble enough to eagerly receive discipline and correction demonstrate their wisdom. Those who in pride hate such reproof are brutishly stupid.
12:2–3. Wisdom has a moral dimension, and so the wise know to choose what is right. They know that the Lord as judge will favor the good man and condemn the evil schemer. Moreover, they know that righteousness is far more stable and secure than wickedness.
12:4. Here is good advice for the bachelor. Find an excellent wife, or more literally, "a woman of strength" (chayil) and godly character. She is described in more detail in 31:10–31 and illustrated by Ruth who is also called a woman of excellence (Ru 3:11). To her husband, such a noble woman is like a valuable crown, bringing him honor. In contrast is a wife who shames her husband in public and private. She is like a cancerous growth that is rottenness in his bones. "She undermines him by being unfaithful (Pr 2:17), contentious (19:13; 21:9, 19) and/or impious and incompetent (cf. 31:10–31)" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 522). And rather than her being a source of pride for him before others, he suffers with her in private (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 548).
12:5–6. The righteous have just intentions (thoughts). The selfish intentions of the wicked lie hidden in their deceitful advice. Verse 6 may be talking about the effect of their respective advice on others when the goals of the wicked (personal advancement through harming others) in contrast to those of the upright (serving and strengthening the community) become clear. Like a bloody ambush, the deceptive words of the wicked will destroy those who heed them, in contrast to the words of the upright, which will deliver those who listen. But the wording of this proverb is ambiguous, and so it may be talking about the effect of their words on themselves, either as self-destructive or self-preserving. The former of the two seems more likely, though the ambiguity may be intentional to include both.
12:7. This proverb again compares the instability of the wicked with the stability of the righteous (cf. 10:25; 12:3). The former are overthrown and destroyed, presumably by God, whether directly or indirectly. The stability of the latter extends even to their house (one’s dwelling or line of descendants or both; see comments on 14:11).
12:8–9. Wisdom is noteworthy. A man with insight—"the ability to recognize the true nature of a situation or circumstance" and act appropriately (Longman, Proverbs, 273)—will be praised by others who take note, and for good reason. In contrast, the person with a perverse mind is incapable of thinking clearly and also acts accordingly, only to earn contempt from others. But social esteem has its limits (v. 9). Verse 9 is a "better this than that" proverb that establishes priorities. Here there is a priority higher than reputation. In short, it is better to have food without an impressive reputation among one’s peers than to engage arrogantly in self-promotion when one does not have food. A person with a servant in ancient Israel may not necessarily have been rich, but he would probably have enough to feed himself (cf. Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 525–26). Even if he is lightly esteemed in society, he is still better off than a starving pauper who honors himself, that is, who tries to "play the great man" (ESV).
12:10. This proverb compares the sensitivities of the righteous and the wicked. In his disposition to look out for the needs of others, the righteous even considers the needs of his animal and cares for it. In stark contrast, the self-absorbed wicked man is just plain mean, cruel even in his most compassionate moments. Thus the righteous is compassionate even to the most insignificant, whereas the wicked is cruel even at his best.
12:11. Dreamers beware! "Frivolity fills no cupboard" (Kidner, Proverbs, 96). The person who works hard in productive pursuits, such as working his land, will have plenty to eat. But it is foolish nonsense to chase worthless things instead, vain pursuits or fantasies that cannot put bread on the table.
12:12. There are several textual and interpretive difficulties in this proverb, and so there are also several possible interpretations. But broadly speaking, the proverb may be comparing the wicked and righteous either in regard to what they produce or in regard to their stability (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 529). The noun booty is better translated "net" (so KJV) or "snare," although both translations are connected (booty being what one snares). If the proverb focuses upon what they produce, then the wicked will accumulate things by means of his violence against others. In contrast, the Lord produces a thriving life for the righteous. If stability is the point, then it maintains that the wicked are pursuing their own deadly trap whereas the healthy root of the righteous continually yields fruit for the righteous. Interestingly, both ideas are picked up in the next two proverbs in regard to words.
12:13–14. An evil man[’s] offending words (the transgression of his lips) bring trouble, but to whom? The Hebrew text is more ambiguous than the NASB. So it may be that they ensnare the gullible, a trap that the righteous escape. Or, as the NASB indicates, the wicked’s offending words (whether slander, gossip, or lying) bring trouble on his own head, whereas the words of the righteous keep him out of such trouble. The latter is more likely, particularly in connection with principle of retribution laid out in v. 14. What you sow you reap, whether in word or deed. The principle is applied particularly to the righteous, who finds satisfaction in the good fruit produced by his words and deeds.
12:15. The fool is cocksure. He is convinced that what he is doing (his way) is right. Why would he need anyone’s corrective counsel when he already has everything figured out? The wise man knows that he does not have it all figured out, so he is teachable, seeking and heeding the wise counsel of others.
12:16. The fool displays his anger at once because he is proud and lacks self-control. In contrast, the prudent man demonstrates a humble self-control that conceals dishonor in the sense that he overlooks insults (cf. 10:12; 17:9; 19:11).
12:17. The statement that a truthful witness tells what is right whereas a false witness deceives may seem like mere truism. But the point is more profound: one’s words reflect one’s character—and affect others. Wise people of honest character are particularly important in a legal setting, since justice requires reliable witnesses and is subverted by false ones.
12:18. Rash outbursts (like that of Moses referred to in Ps 106:33) can be as harmful to others as thrusts of a sword, whereas wise words, spoken with soothing care, bring healing. The wise are peacemakers, effecting reconciliation and not inciting conflict.
12:19. Truth endures, providing a sure foundation, established forever. Lies eventually are discovered, and any of their gains are only temporary, for a moment. The proverb may also be talking about the fate of those who engage in either behavior, thereby reiterating the theme of the stability of the wise/righteous and the insecurity of the foolish/wicked.
12:20. The two lines of this proverb contrast those who devise evil and counselors of peace. On the one hand, those who plot evil are deceptive at heart. They promote strife in the community, ultimately to their own misery (perhaps because the evil they plot boomerangs back on them; Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 538). On the other hand, those who counsel peace are honest at heart. They promote harmony in their community, and experience a fulfilling sense of joy as a result.
12:21. This proverb may be a broad statement of retribution: God keeps the righteous from all harm (the kind of harm that afflicts the wicked when He judges them), but the wicked get their fill of trouble (punishment in judgment). If so, then it is a general principle, not an ironclad contract—a mistaken interpretation Job’s friends made. But the proverb may be more specific than that, bearing a close connection with the previous proverb. The term harm (’awen) "always refers to wickedness (e.g., 6:12; 10:29; 17:4) or (less frequently) to its consequences (e.g., 22:8; Jb 21:19; Ps 41:7)" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 557). Here it may involve harm that is a result of evil scheming. If so, by not lingering in evil, the righteous never experience the kind of harm that backfires on the wicked.
12:22. This proverb provides all the motivation one should need to be honest. The Lord deplores liars and their lying, but He delight[s] in those whose dealings are honest (cf. v. 17).
12:23. A prudent man is not a self-promoter. A man of careful words, he does not show off his knowledge, but keeps it in store for the right time. The fool, in contrast, has no such caution. Careless with words, he proclaims his folly and thereby reveals his true self (his heart).
12:24. Diligence pays off. Those who are diligent will rule, attaining authority and independence by their hard work. But the slacker will be put to forced labor. In ancient Israel, forced labor was a kind of tax (e.g., 1Kg 5:13), and it may be that local leaders would have chosen their least productive members to meet their quota of laborers (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 558). In any case, though the slacker seeks to avoid work, he is forced to do the most menial, onerous chores. So "the diligent rise to the top and the lazy sink to the bottom" (Allen Ross, Proverbs, EBC 5 [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 973.
12:25. An encouraging word is powerful, a glad antidote to an anxiety that weighs down the heart (very core of a person). The good word that encourages may take many forms depending on the circumstances, from giving the person a wider perspective (so Longman, Proverbs, 279) to strengthening him to face the cause of his anxiety (Kidner, Proverbs, 99).
12:26. The translation and interpretation of this proverb, particularly the first line, is disputed. The NIV paraphrases one option: "A righteous man is cautious in friendship." The NASB gives another one: The righteous is a guide to his neighbor. Although both are possible, the NASB is preferable since it fits better with the second line. If so, the righteous and wicked differ markedly in their sense of direction. The former knows the right way so well he is able to guide others; the latter do not know the right way and so wander astray to their destruction.
12:27. This proverb contrasts the slacker with the diligent (cf. v. 24) and presents another interpretive conundrum (cf. v. 26). The image in the first line may be that the lazy man is too slothful either to cook what he has caught or even to bother hunting it in the first place. The word roast could also be translated "catch." So the proverb is either about cooking the food or catching the food, but in either case, he has nothing to eat. The Hebrew text of the second line is difficult grammatically, but the ESV may best capture its sense, particularly in contrast to the first line: "the diligent man will get his precious wealth." The proverb would thus contrast the starvation of the slacker with the prosperity of the diligent.
12:28. The first line is clear enough, and it reiterates a major theme in the first section of Proverbs. The way of righteousness is the path of life (cf. 3:1–20; 4:10–19). The Hebrew of the second line is difficult to interpret, depending in part on whether one understands the text to say no death or "to death." In the latter sense, the line would present another contrast and read: "But another path leads to death" (HCSB). Yet the NASB probably represents the stronger interpretation: And in its pathway there is no death. If so, this proverb indicates that the way of righteousness includes immortality—a powerful motivation indeed!
13:1–3. It is crucial both to listen and speak wisely. The wise son is contrasted with the most intransigent of fools, the scoffer. The wise son is teachable, accepting correction from his father. The incorrigible mocker is so set in his folly that he scoffs at such correction. Verse 2 may be intentionally ambiguous. If the subject of the first line is indefinite (one rather than he enjoys good things [emphasis added]), then the proverb addresses both listening and speaking, forming a transition from listening in v. 1 to speaking in v. 3 (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 552–53). A wise man speaks wise words; this produces (the sense of fruit) good things both for himself and for those who heed him (like the wise son in v. 1). Conversely, because a treacherous person (like the mocker in v. 1) craves violence, his words aim to hurt others while ultimately coming back to harm himself. For these reasons, a wise man guards his words carefully whereas the fool has a big mouth (v. 3). It really is a matter of life and death because rash words—be they hasty "promises, assertions, disclosures"—produce ruin, whether "financial, social, physical, spiritual" (Kidner, Proverbs, 101).
13:4. This is another contrast between sloth and diligence (cf. 12:24, 27). The sluggard is left only with whatever things he craves, which remain unfulfilled because he is too lazy to fulfill them. But the diligent will have his "desires" (better than the NASB’s soul) fully satisfied (made fat). Hard work pays off (cf. 13:25).
13:5. The righteous man hates falsehood, which implies at least that he will not be ashamed and may even be honored for his honesty. In contrast, since the wicked man presumably is loose with the truth, he will be disgraced. He acts disgustingly (brings a stench) and so becomes shameful. Think, for example, of a man who never gets around to keeping his promises.
13:6. Here righteousness and wickedness are given human qualities. Personified Righteousness protects the one whose way is blameless, whereas personified Wickedness leads the sinner astray to his own ruin. The better companion on life’s path is obvious for anyone with sense.
13:7–8. Real wealth is not always obvious. Sometimes a person who is really poor pretends to be rich and someone who is quite wealthy pretends to be poor. The verbs here are ambiguous: both persons may be pretenders, or paradoxically they may actually be rich (or poor) monetarily and yet poor (or rich) in more important ways (cf. Lk 12:21; 2Co 6:10). At the very least, this proverb demonstrates that appearances can be deceiving. Proverbs 13:8 reiterates the point. One would think that the wealthy would enjoy greater security, but this is not necessarily so. The word rebuke probably carries the connotation of "threat." Thus, whereas the rich may have the resources to pay off a kidnapper or blackmailer, the poor man is not vulnerable to such threats in the first place. Lacking resources, he "offers too small a target" (Kidner, Proverbs, 102).
13:9. Light and lamp are metaphors for life, including quality of life (cf. Jb 18:5–6; 21:17; Pr 24:20). In the case of the righteous, their light rejoices. Though the verb yismach regularly does mean "to rejoice," here it probably carries the meaning "to shine brightly" (Koehler et al., HALOT, 1335). Nevertheless the two are interconnected. The righteous receive life and enjoy it. The prospects of the wicked are grimmer: an extinguished lamp. They thus face catastrophe and death.
13:10. Insolence is always present when there is strife; pride drives quarrels. Those who are wise have a humble spirit that listens first and is willing to accept good counsel, thus avoiding quarrels. Kidner notes that strife is not a difference of opinion but a "clash of competing and unyielding personalities" (Proverbs, 102).
13:11–12. Patience is a virtue. Its advantage is seen in the accumulation of wealth (v. 11). Occasionally, some lazy people actually produce wealth, short lived though it might be. The NASB’s wealth obtained by fraud is probably too specific. Better to think of it as wealth acquired "by unsound means," or "easy money" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 561). This could include anything from legal get-rich-quick schemes (such as gambling) to fraudulent ventures to blatant robbery. Such wealth dwindles. One who gathers by labor (lit., "by hand") is one who works diligently and patiently. Unlike the fool’s "easy come, easy go" wealth, this wise man’s wealth will increase, even if gradually. Patience is also advantageous in a broader sense (v. 12). When one’s hopes and expectations are delayed, one becomes heartsick—discouraged, frustrated, even depressed. When one’s hopes and expectations are fulfilled, it brings to one’s soul joyful vitality, like a tree of life. This general observation counsels patience to the righteous and wise (who will not finally be disappointed) and warns the wicked and foolish, whose hopes will remain elusive.
13:13–15. The wise are not just teachable; they are also obedient to that teaching (v. 13). The teaching is described as the word and the commandment, referring to God’s Word in general and to wisdom teaching in particular (Longman, Proverbs, 287–88). To fear those teachings is to respect them so that one obeys, in contrast to one who despises and disregards those teachings. The latter "will pay for it" (the NIV’s helpful paraphrase of the NASB’s more literal will be in debt to it) in judgment; the former will be rewarded. Verse 14 clarifies why. The teaching[s] of the wise, like a bubbling fountain, give life and vitality. They also help those who listen to avoid death traps laid by the wicked and foolish. Verse 15 continues in the same vein. A person with good sense wins favor from both God and man. In contrast, the way of the treacherous or unfaithful ends in their destruction. In the second line, the NASB’s hard is difficult to justify, and so it is best to go with "destruction," following the LXX.
13:16. Jesus said that a good and bad tree are recognized by their fruit (cf. Mt 7:20); the same could be said for the wise and foolish. Even if the prudent man is not a self-promoter (cf. Pr 12:23), his knowledge is still evident in how he acts. Similarly, the fool inevitably puts his folly on display, both in word and deed. One’s character is thus "written all over one’s conduct" (Kidner, Proverbs, 104).
13:17. In the ancient world, messengers played crucial roles in government, commerce, and personal relationships. Much therefore depended on reliable, faithful messengers. A wicked messenger gets into adversity/trouble, either while trying to accomplish his mission or after he botches it. Because he is unreliable, he arrives late or distorts the message or just does not bother delivering it at all, bringing harm both to himself and to those who employ him. In contrast, the faithful envoy brings healing. His task well done, he fosters well-being in the community and for himself.
13:18. There are huge advantages to those who are disciplined enough to accept correction (reproof) (cf. 12:1; 13:1). Wealth and honor (note the connection in 3:16) come to them, as opposed to the poverty and shame awaiting proud fools who disregard corrective advice.
13:19. This proverb may be contrasting the desires of the righteous, which when inevitably realized will be sweet to them, with the evil desires of fools, which prevent them from experiencing the joy of the righteous. But the first line seems like a general principle: it is a joy to have one’s legitimate desire realized (whatever the nature of that desire). That being the case, fools find delight in evil realized. The point is that one’s desires reveal one’s character.
13:20. A man is shaped by his friends. If he hangs around with wise men then he will become wise. If he associates with fools, the results are equally predictable. Becoming a fool himself, he will suffer the harm that fools should expect. The proverb may also suggest that one’s character is demonstrated by one’s choice of friends.
13:21–22. The next two proverbs address recompense for the sinner and the righteous. The first personifies evil (adversity) and good (prosperity). "In this personification the evil that sinners inflict on others turns around to destroy them, and the good that the righteous bestowed on others justly rewards them" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 572). So like a relentless stalker, adversity pursues sinners, and it will inevitably find them. In the second line, against the NASB, prosperity is likely the subject, and the verb (will be rewarded) is active rather than passive. That is, prosperity will reward the righteous. The next proverb addresses the staying power of that prosperity (v. 22). The blessing of the good man endures, left as an inheritance for subsequent generations of his family. In contrast, any wealth that the sinner might store up is short lived for him, only to be passed on ultimately to the righteous.
13:23. People are not always poor because of laziness or foolishness; sometimes they are just plain victims of injustice. Diligently working one’s field, which can produce plenty of food, may not be enough to keep one out of poverty if there is injustice in the land. For the rich and powerful may sweep away the land’s yield, leaving one destitute.
13:24. Parents who love their children discipline them. If folly is bound up in the heart of a child (22:15), and that folly is deadly, then a parent who withholds (spares) his rod not only spoils his son, but he may even push him toward his death (23:14; 19:18). This is hate indeed. But loving one’s child calls for diligent discipline to root out the folly in his heart, and sometimes "it will take more than words to dislodge it" (Kidner, Proverbs, 51). The rod may be a metonymy for discipline of various sorts, but it clearly includes, and probably emphasizes, physical discipline. This text supports neither the physical abuse of children nor the abandonment of physical discipline. Neither extreme is loving because neither looks out for the child’s best interests (see 19:18–19; 20:30; 22:15; 23:13–14 and comments there).
13:25. This proverb connects righteousness with plenty, and wickedness with want. As in 10:3, here too God’s retributive justice stands behind the saying. God gives the righteous … enough to satisfy his appetite, but the wicked starve, their appetite unfulfilled. Although this may apply literally, it surely carries emotional and spiritual applications as well. Jesus made a similar point (Mt 6:25–34, esp. v. 33).
14:1. It is crucial that a man choose his wife carefully, not only because she directly affects his life (cf. 12:4) but because she directly shapes his whole household. The wise woman promotes the well-being of her family in a variety of ways (cf. 31:10–31) and thereby builds her house. The foolish woman destroys her household in the various ways that folly manifests itself—such as arrogance, foolish speech, impatience, incompetence, lack of self-control, or unfaithfulness (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 584). Each kind of potential wife recalls either Lady Wisdom or Woman Folly (cf. chap. 9).
14:2. One’s walk is a matter of worship. Fearing the Lord, wisdom, and ethics are all interconnected (cf. 1:7; 9:10). So a man whose lifestyle is upright (keeping within ethical boundaries) demonstrates that he fears the Lord, and one whose lifestyle is devious reveals that he despises Him.
14:3. The first line is ambiguous. The NASB and other translations emend the Hebrew text to read rod for his back. But without emendation the text reads "rod of pride," and there seems no good reason to justify the emendation. The image may suggest that the fool’s words are like a shoot (cf. Is 11:1) which sprouts from pride, and in light of the parallel, the rod likely has a punitive connotation. Thus the fool’s words not only display his pride, but also bring their own punishment, a fate the wise avoid. In contrast, the words of the wise will protect them from trouble.
14:4. Productivity requires investment. This proverb uses an agricultural illustration. Oxen are needed to produce an increase in crops, but oxen require feeding and clean up. Having no oxen requires no investment because the feeding trough remains empty and therefore clean. But if one wants the revenue that comes by the strength of the ox, then one needs to invest the labor and resources to own oxen.
14:5–6. One’s character makes a difference on what comes out of a person (v. 5). An honest person does not utter lies; a dishonest person utters lies—or better, "breathes out lies" (so ESV; cf. 12:17). Furthermore, one’s character makes a difference on what goes into a person. A scoffer is too arrogant and intractable to ever really take wisdom to heart, even though he seeks it on his own terms. But one who has understanding has an easy time taking in more wise knowledge.
14:7. This proverb exhorts those who would be wise to leave the presence of a fool. The fool’s companion will never find any words of knowledge with him, and his foolishness may rub off on his companion (cf. 13:20; 1Co 15:33).
14:8. Self-awareness is crucial. The wisdom of the sensible gives him insight into his own way of life. He knows what he is about, where he should go, and the blessings that result. In contrast, the foolishness of fools deceives the fool himself so that he is not aware of how foolish he is, or the disaster that awaits him on his path.
14:9. The word sin here is better translated "guilt," or even "guilt offering." Although some argue that "guilt" is the subject (i.e., guilt mocks fools), it is more likely the object (as in the NASB). In mocking guilt, fools care not a whit about incurring guilt before God and man, much less about making amends. Clearly, the upright do, and so they enjoy acceptance (or good will) from God and among themselves.
14:10–13. These four proverbs each relate to the idea that appearances can be deceiving.
14:10. No one really knows the internal experiences of another. The gamut of a person’s feelings, from bitterness to joy, cannot be fully shared with another human. Our dealings with each other must reflect our awareness that in some sense we are each something of a stranger to the other, no matter how close we are. Only the Lord fully knows the human heart (15:11)—in all its individuality and complexity.
14:11. This proverb compares the destinies of the wicked and righteous in a rather paradoxical sense. The wicked’s house may seem more permanent and prosperous than the tent of the upright. Nevertheless, the former will be destroyed whereas the latter will not only endure but also flourish. One’s house or tent here are synonymous terms for all that belongs to a person—his life, family, and possessions.
14:12. A man may judge a particular path to be right (yashar). Since this term can also mean "straight" or "smooth," it is probably intentionally ambiguous, referring to a way that seems ethical and/or prudent. That is, the path one chooses may seem to be the easiest path or the best way to success or morally acceptable. But in the end it leads to death. Since a foolish, immoral path can appear to be neither foolish nor immoral, the wise man will not lean on his own understanding but trust in the Lord, seeking His insight and wisdom (cf. 3:5–6).
14:13. "Outward merriment may mask heartache, but in the end grief will manifest itself" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 592). This side of glory, happiness has its limitations (v. 13a) and is not permanent in any case (v. 13b). This sobering proverb reminds the wise not to accept people’s laughter at face value and to look for a more enduring joy (cf. Jn 16:20–24; 17:13; Rv 21:3–4).
14:14. This verse compares a good man with a backslider, one who rebelliously turns away from the Lord and his way. Each face the same outcome: they will both get their fill of their own ways (the main verb in the second line is implied from the first line). This may simply refer to retributive judgment; each type will fully reap what he sows (cf. Gl 6:7). Or it may mean that each finds satisfaction in what he does, which in the case of the rebel is shortsighted, foolish, and ultimately deadly (so Peter A. Steveson, A Commentary on Proverbs [Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2001], 189–90; Longman, Proverbs, 301).
14:15–17. In various ways, the next three proverbs reinforce the idea that the wise are cautious before the Lord.
14:15. The naive are gullible. They take things at face value and do not bother to ponder matters more carefully before acting, inevitably getting into trouble. The sensible man, in contrast, avoids such trouble because he considers matters more carefully before he acts. Look before you leap!
14:16. The NKJV better captures the Hebrew text of this proverb: "A wise man fears and departs from evil, but a fool rages and is self-confident." The wise man fears the consequences of foolish and evil decisions and so is cautious to avoid evil. This would contrast with the fool who is so arrogantly overconfident that he exercises little self-control over his temper. More likely, in this proverb the wise man fears the Lord (cf. 1:7) and so turns away from evil (cf. 3:7). The fool, then, rages against the Lord—arrogant overconfidence indeed!
14:17. A quick-tempered man acts foolishly because he is rash and careless. But being more intentional is not enough, because there is someone even worse: the man who intentionally plots evil. To be sure, he is far more deliberate than the hothead, but his discipline is bent toward evil purposes. Such a person is hated, certainly by others who catch him in his schemes, but more importantly by the Lord, who will judge him.
14:18–19. Wisdom is prestigious. It brings honor (i.e., the wise are crowned with knowledge). Those who are naive, and remain so, inherit foolishness. They can expect the shame that is the fool’s lot—some inheritance! In contrast, the knowledge of the sensible is like a crown, which is not only plainly evident in their lives but also honors them. Wisdom (manifested in righteousness) also brings triumph. The righteous will rule over wicked (v. 19). The gates of the righteous probably allude to the city gates, where the righteous dispense justice to the wicked (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 580). This is a general principle (e.g., Joseph and Mordecai) that has exceptions in our fallen world but is inevitably true in the long run (Longman, Proverbs, 303; cf. Lk 16:19–31; Rv 5:10; 20:4; 22:5).
14:20–21. Verse 20 makes a general observation about human life. "It is a principle of human nature that most people would rather be in the company of wealthy persons than of poor persons. The latter typically have needs that require attention, whereas the former have resources that may prove a benefit to others" (Longman, Proverbs, 303). Obviously, then, being poor is not advantageous. But being rich has its disadvantages as well, since the rich person is besieged by many "fair-weather friends" (Kidner, Proverbs, 109) who hang around for what they can get out him (cf. Ec 5:11). The righteous go against the grain of this reality (Pr 14:21). Realizing that it is a sin to despise one’s neighbor, particularly the needy poor around him, he is gracious to them. That is, he "esteems his neighbor as worthy of favor, and so actively accepts him and does acts of kindness for him" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 599). Such a person is indeed blessed (happy), enjoying the Lord’s favor.
14:22. Those who plan good or evil will be "paid in their own coin" (Kidner, Proverbs, 110). Plotters of evil will go astray from the path of life to their destruction. But those who devise good will encounter loving kindness (chesed) and faithfulness (truth; emet) from others and from the Lord.
14:23–24. Being foolish is not worth it. All hard work is profitable, but a fool’s mere talk is worthless and leads only to poverty (v. 23). Sluggards take note. Moreover, with wisdom comes honor (a crown; cf. v. 18) and wealth (cf. 3:16), but folly is its own, and only, reward (v. 23).
14:25. The proverb in 14:5 described the character of honest and dishonest witnesses; this proverb speaks to what is at stake. In a legal context, people’s lives are at stake. Truth-telling saves lives, but perjurers threaten lives by their selfish deceit.
14:26–27. The wise man fears the Lord. Doing so brings him protection from folly and evil, and through his influence, protects his family as well (v. 26). The fear of the Lord is thus like a fountain of life that saves him (and those whom he influences) from death (v. 27).
14:28. A wise king promotes the good of his people. A prosperous, vital people who grow numerous only increase his splendor. But a king whose policies cause his people to waste away or abandon him is ruined. "A king without much of a nation is not much of a king" (Longman, Proverbs, 306). Wise leaders know that policies that are good for their followers are good for them.
14:29–30. Self-control is enormously beneficial. In the form of patience, it promotes great understanding, while impatience only promotes folly (v. 29). Patience exhibits a self-control that leaves room for deliberate action, depends on trust in the Lord, and reflects His own patience (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 605–6). In the form of a tranquil heart—an emotional stability—self-control promotes physical health (v. 30). Those whose passion runs hot (such as those with fervid jealousy) literally undermine their physical well-being.
14:31. Though poverty may sometimes result from folly and wickedness, that is not always so (cf. 13:23), and in any case does not justify mistreating the poor. All human beings, rich and poor alike, are created as ones who bear the image of God. So to oppress the needy ultimately shows Him contempt, and to be gracious to them honors Him. Abusing the poor is thus not only wicked, it is foolish, putting one under divine censure. The righteous wise treat the poor with dignity and generous love as to the Lord Himself (cf. Mt 25:31–46).
14:32. This proverb looks toward the ultimate end of the wicked and righteous. The former will finally be thrust down to ruin. The righteous, in contrast, has different expectations when he dies. He has a refuge in the Lord. That is, the righteous trust in the Lord when they die, knowing that they will not be cast down to destruction.
14:33. This difficult proverb has occasioned several interpretations, including adding "not" to the second line (following LXX). But it is probably best to see this as two very different responses to wisdom (so Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 610). The NIV captures the sense: "Wisdom reposes in the heart of the discerning, and even among fools she lets herself be known." Personified Wisdom reveals herself to all (9:1–6), even to fools, but only the discerning take her to heart. She is at rest there because she belongs with those who are like her.
14:34–35. A nation needs both righteousness and wisdom. A truly great nation is characterized by righteousness, exercising a concern for and justly dealing with others (v. 34). In contrast, a sinful nation is a disgrace. "Ultimately a nation’s exaltation depends on its piety and ethics, not on its political, military, and/or economic greatness" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 612). A nation also needs wise officials, and kings who want their nation to prosper know this. So an insightful servant of the king enjoys his favor, but a foolish official who inevitably acts shamefully will face the king’s anger (v. 35).
15:1–2. Wise speech is both restrained and edifying. In confrontational situations, it takes self-control to respond (answer) gently (v. 1), but doing so is constructive. It turns away wrath, which can sabotage fruitful dialogue, sour relationships, and damage others. Far worse is to escalate anger with a harsh response that seeks to hurt others. Wise, thoughtful speech is also edifying because it promotes knowledge and does so in a winsome way (v. 2). In contrast, unrestrained "fools just vomit up their nonsense" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 589), damaging others as well as themselves.
15:3. The Lord sees everything everywhere. His omnipresence and omniscience should be a warning to the evil and an encouragement to the good.
15:4. Words can be soothing and healing, like a tree of life (cf. Ezk 47:7, 12; Rv 22:2). But life-fostering words never distort or deceive. Such perversion of speech crushes the spirit, devastating one’s emotional and spiritual well-being. The wise speak sensitively, but they speak the truth nonetheless.
15:5. A young man who rejects his father’s correction may consider himself too clever to need it, but really he is a fool. It is the one who takes reproof to heart who becomes truly shrewd (sensible), having the capacity to "maneuver his way through life to his best advantage" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 590).
15:6. The righteous accrue great wealth, their house like a great vault containing many kinds of valuable resources. The wicked simply accrue trouble or ruin. The resources of the former bless both themselves and others, since the righteous are concerned for others. Similarly, the wicked brings trouble to others, but then ultimately that trouble rebounds back on himself (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 619).
15:7. The parallel between lips and hearts suggests that one’s words flow from who one is. Since the wise have taken knowledge to heart, their words spread it. Fools simply have no knowledge to spread, but only foolishness.
15:8–9. The Lord delights in the righteous but deplores the wicked. Merely being religious is not enough (v. 8). The wicked may offer a sacrifice, but the Lord considers it an abomination (cf. 1Sm 15:22). Yet even a prayer offered by the upright is His delight. "It is the sacrificer, not the sacrifice, that is the issue" (Roland Murphy, Proverbs, WBC [Nashville: Nelson, 1998], 112). What goes for their religious practice also applies to their way of life, which reveals the character of each (Pr 15:9). Note how the one enjoying the Lord’s loving favor actually pursues righteousness—a truly devoted heart indeed!
15:10. The Lord may despise the wicked’s way (v. 9), but the wicked apostate—he who forsakes the way of the Lord—returns the favor. He finds discipline (punishment) rooted in God’s wisdom to be distasteful. Though the NASB and other translations indicate that the wicked should expect stern discipline (grievous punishment) in the first line, Longman’s translation (Proverbs, 315) is probably better: "Discipline is evil to those who abandon the way" (cf. KJV). That is, he considers such reproof to be evil (cf. vv. 5, 12) and so he hates it (cf. Clifford, Proverbs, 152). His end is made clear: he … will die.
15:11. Sheol is the grave and Abaddon the place of destruction. Together they refer to the realm of death. This dark, distant, impenetrable place (cf. Ps 88:11–12) lie[s] open before the Lord; His omniscience—and by extension, His sovereignty—reaches even here. If so, then how much more does He know and rule over human hearts (cf. Pr 15:3). "The Moral Governor’s probing, penetrating, all-seeing gaze tests the motives governing their actions (16:2; 17:3; 21:2; 24:12), and no one can escape his demand for an answer" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 623).
15:12. A scoffer dislikes anyone who reproves him so he stays away from the wise. Being the most arrogant kind of fool, he has no interest in wisdom’s correction, nor the courage to change.
15:13–15. These three proverbs all deal with the human heart. First, the heart affects one’s exterior and interior life (v. 13). Joy in one’s heart typically shows in one’s cheerful countenance (though not always; cf. Ec 7:3), whereas a sad heart is dispiriting, leading to "a crushed, downtrodden, attitude" (Murphy, Proverbs, 112–13) and sapping one of vitality. Second, the character of one’s heart is reflected in what one finds satisfying (Pr 15:14). The NIV better captures the first line: "the discerning heart seeks knowledge." In contrast, the fool at heart simply feeds his face with folly. Third, the heart shapes one’s outlook on circumstances (v. 15). A person who is afflicted with poverty or in some other way may have a very difficult daily life, and yet with a cheerful heart he can still enjoy life as if it were a continual feast of celebration (cf. Php 4:4–13; 2Co 12:7–10; Heb 10:34). This proverb thus reverses the typical assumption that circumstances determine the heart’s outlook.
15:16–17. There are certain things more valuable than wealth. The fear of the Lord certainly is (v. 16). It more than compensates for a lack of wealth (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 595). Indeed, even great wealth without it brings turmoil. After all, one who rests in the Lord does not face the anxiety of those who trust in their riches (cf. Ec 5:10–19). Love is also more valuable than wealth (Pr 15:17; cf. 17:1). A simple meal of vegetables, served with love, is far more pleasant than a sumptuous feast garnished with hatred. Just ask anyone whose home is torn by strife.
15:18. "Quarrels depend on people far more than on subject-matter," and so the "storm-centre" of strife is the hot-tempered man (Kidner, Proverbs, 115). The patient, self-controlled man has the opposite effect; he calms a dispute and defuses contentious situations.
15:19. The lazy is contrasted with the upright. This is a reminder that laziness is not only a wisdom issue but also a moral one. The slacker’s way is like a hedge of thorns blocking his path. It may be that this is his silly excuse for not going anywhere (so Clifford, Proverbs, 153; cf. 22:13; 26:13). But more likely it indicates that although a sluggard craves an easy life, he can expect a difficult and painful one. This contrasts with the path of the upright, which is clear and smooth like a highway.
15:20. This proverb reiterates the idea in 10:1 that the wise son makes his father glad and certainly his mother as well. But this proverb extends the idea further: a foolish man actually despises his mother (and father) by actions that not only grieve his parents, but also demonstrate a callous disrespect for them. He rejects their wise teaching (cf. v. 5) and cares not a whit for how his folly affects them.
15:21. The fool is so senseless that folly is a joy to him and that is his doom (cf. 10:23). It is the only joy he will get. "The wise, who realize the danger, walks the straight and narrow" (Clifford, Proverbs, 153, emphasis added), and by implication, enjoys the far greater blessings of that path.
15:22. Good, successful planning requires many counselors (cf. 11:14). This, of course, assumes they are wise—no small matter, as Rehoboam found out (1Kg 12; Longman, Proverbs, 320). More counselors are better in order "to offset the weaknesses, ignorance, and limitations of each individual" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 633).
15:23. It is a great joy for someone to give an answer that is appropriate to the situation and to do so in a timely manner. Obviously, an apt, timely answer requires wisdom. But it also reflects the right approach to wisdom’s sayings, which must be applied to the right situation at the right time (see "Structure and Genre" in Introduction; cf. Longman, Proverbs, 320).
15:24. The two ways of Proverbs are in view here, with the path of life going upward and the way of death descending to Sheol below. The wise person knows to take the former and keep away from the latter. The upward direction of the path of life means more than just success; its ultimate destination is heaven, where God dwells and eternal life is found, as Scripture teaches elsewhere (e.g., Php 3:20; Col 3:1–2; 1Jn 5:11–12, 20; cf. Longman, Proverbs, 321).
15:25–27. In biblical times, widows were among society’s most vulnerable. Here a proud, wealthy man is portrayed greedily adding to his holdings by annexing the property (removing the boundary marker) of a poor widow who has no one to defend her (cf. 23:10–11; Dt 19:14; 1Kg 21; Is 5:8–9). His triumph, however, is short lived, because the Lord will tear down his house and preserve the boundary of her land. "The reliable Lord himself, not fickle chance or uncertain social safety nets, assumes responsibility to take away from the proud their family, fame, and fortune and to restore life to the widow" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 1–15, 636). The broader principle in Pr 15:26 explains why. The wicked’s evil plans reflect his desire to harm others, and the Lord deplores this. In contrast, the pleasant or friendly (Koehler et al., HALOT, 706) words and actions of those who are kind to others are pure and therefore well pleasing to him. Verse 27 presents a similar idea. The one who is greedy for illicit profits, such as taking bribes, usually does so at others’ expense. Putting himself under God’s wrath, he can expect to bring ruin on himself and his own house, in contrast to the one who hates such behavior (cf. 1:10–19).
15:28. Prudent speech is a moral issue, reflecting one’s character. Before he speaks, the righteous first reflects on what he will say, and how and when he will say it. He exercises self-control and a concern about the effect of his words on others. The wicked cares about neither, and his glib, evil words show it.
15:29. The wicked are on their own. The Lord is far from them. "Distance and closeness are here not a matter of space but of the ability to communicate, to speak and be heard" (Clifford, Proverbs, 154; cf. Ps 145:18). Thus the Lord hears and responds to the prayer of the righteous. The wicked miss out on the blessing of His presence and His help in time of need.
15:30. Joy is contagious. A person with good news and the happy demeanor to show it (bright eyes) brings joy to another. The messenger’s happy communication, both verbal and nonverbal, cheers (gladden[s] the heart) the other person and refreshes his whole person (puts fat on the bones).
15:31–33. To be wise one must be teachable. He who accepts wise reproof fosters his own life and shows that he belongs in good company, the community of the wise (v. 31). This is why someone who refuses to listen (neglects discipline) simply despises himself (v. 32a). His self-destructiveness demonstrates that he lacks the good sense (understanding) of the one who will accept reproof (v. 32b). In the end, it takes humility to be wise (v. 33). The fear of the Lord—reverentially worshipping Him in submission—makes instruction leading to wisdom possible. This disposition is tied closely to humility (cf. 22:4). So if someone wants the honor that comes with being wise, he must humbly receive instruction from the Lord and His sages.
16:1–9. These proverbs all address the theme of God’s sovereignty over human affairs. Verses 1 and 9 are similar, forming a literary envelope for the section.
16:1. A man may plan in his heart what he is going to say, but what he actually ends up saying is from the Lord. The same could be said for his actions (cf. v. 9). Nothing that a person plans to do can come to pass apart from God’s sovereign will.
16:2. Human beings have an almost unlimited capacity to justify and rationalize anything they do, but such evaluations are superficial. "Deeper within lies the spirit and the heart, and God sees into them (15:11), even when a man can not or will not do so himself (1Sm 16:7b)" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 608). So the Lord weighs people’s motives, or more literally, their "spirits," which includes but is not limited to motives. The weighing imagery likely reflects "an ancient Egyptian belief that a person’s heart is weighed against truth after death" (Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15–31, NICOT [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005], 10). God alone is true evaluator of human action, a reality that the wise recognize (cf. 1Co 4:4).
16:3. Given God’s sovereignty (v. 1) and human limitation (v. 2), the wise entrust (commit) all that they do to the Lord. Such trust includes submitting one’s plans to the Lord. When those plans accord with His will, they will be realized. It is a principle Christians articulate every time they pray, "if it be your will" (cf. Mt 6:10; Lk 22:42; Ac 18:21; Jms 4:15).
16:4. In God’s sovereign plan, everything has its own purpose. This even includes the wicked, who were made for the day of evil. Some maintain that this proverb attests to God’s retributive justice (i.e., the wicked and righteous will each get their due), whereas others hold that God uses all things (including evil) to accomplish His good purposes (Ec 3:1–8; Gn 50:18–20; Rm 8:28). More likely, the proverb is broad enough to include both: everything, including evil, "will be put to some use and matched with its proper fate" (Kidner, Proverbs, 118).
16:5. The "proper fate" of one kind of wicked person, the proud in heart, is laid out here. Because the Lord considers this disposition such an abomination, He guarantees that all such people will not go unpunished. Since He is sovereign, their judgment is assured.
16:6–7. A right relationship with the sovereign Lord has profound significance. First, it addresses the sin problem (v. 6). Some argue that the covenant love (lovingkindness) and faithfulness (truth) here belong to the Lord (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 612), or that they belong to humans but are directed toward other humans, effecting reconciliation (so Murphy, Proverbs, 121). More likely, they are the human response to God, particularly in light of their parallel with the fear of the Lord. Mere ritual sacrifice is not enough (cf. 1Sm 15:22; Hs 6:6; Mc 6:6–8); iniquity is atoned for in the lives of those whose trust in God is expressed by their love and faithfulness to Him. Similarly, the believer’s ongoing fear of the Lord will help to keep him away from evil in the future. Second, a right relationship with God brings favor with God and man (Pr 16:7). The God-fearer’s ways being well pleasing to the Lord, God also brings him into good favor with other human beings, including even his enemies who come to be at peace with him. Some argue that this peace may actually be more like forced surrender (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 14–15) or that at least his enemies are no longer a factor for him to worry about (Kidner, Proverbs, 119; cf. 29:25; Rm 8:31).
16:8. Righteousness—being just in dealing with others—is more valuable than wealth. Unjust gain is worthless; it is better not to have it at all. Surely the Lord himself, though unmentioned, stands behind this principle. In His economy, unjust gain is short lived and perilous (cf. 10:2; 11:4).
16:9. What is true of a man’s answers (cf. v. 1) is true of his actions as well. The Lord sovereignly directs a man’s steps. "Human beings can plan, but plans do not get put into operation and do not find success unless Yahweh so decrees it" (Longman, Proverbs, 331).
16:10–15. These proverbs cluster around life under the rule of a king.
16:10. The king’s judicial verdict has the practical force of a divine oracle. When he is just, he bears God’s authority and speaks, as it were, for God Himself (cf. 1Kg 3:28). Citizens should take note (Rm 13:1–7). But so should the king. He "should not betray justice" (Pr 16:10b NIV) because he too "is a man under authority" (Kidner, Proverbs, 119; Dt 17:18–19).
16:11. Fair commerce depends on accurate weights and measurements, and the Lord Himself takes great concern for this matter (cf. 11:1). "God is the ultimate source of standards, and any distortion in their accuracy offends him directly (Prv 20:10, 23)" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 615). A wise king who fears the Lord will share the same concerns in his realm.
16:12. Although it is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts (emphasis added), just as it is for any person, the emphasis of this verse is perhaps better translated it is "an abomination to kings." Kings should hate evil deeds in their kingdom (cf. 20:26). This is because a righteous, just kingdom is in their own best interests, establishing their throne. Any king who tolerates injustice in his domain—or worse, promotes it himself—may foster rebellion—or worse, bring God’s righteous justice down on his own unjust administration.
16:13. Wise kings also delight in certain things, like the righteous lips of one who speaks right. To speak in such a way is to speak with integrity. A prudent king loves such wise, honest advisors because they do not misrepresent reality but help him craft a successful policy (Longman, Proverbs, 332).
16:14. A king is powerful, and so his fury is dangerous, a harbinger of death as if delivered by messengers. Here is another benefit of a wise counselor. He can appease that wrath, whether against others or even himself. This has obvious advantages to the wise man or any other possible object of the king’s wrath, but it may even benefit the king himself in the long run (cf. 1Sm 25; Dn 2).
16:15. The king’s favor is as life-promoting as his wrath is deadly. The light of a king’s face marks his goodwill and favor. This presages abundant prosperity for the object of his favor, much like a cloud with the spring rain anticipated an abundant harvest, which in Israel’s climate was so dependent on those late rains.
16:16. Wisdom is simply more valuable than gold or silver. Without wisdom, wealth may well be morally tainted and is certainly ephemeral. In contrast, wisdom regularly delivers God’s favor, life, and honor as well as wealth. This verse marks the midpoint of Proverbs and so may serve to reiterate one of the book’s major purposes: the admonition to get wisdom (Longman, Proverbs, 334).
16:17. The path of the upright is a clear, smooth highway leading inexorably to life. The wise man will be careful to remain on it (watches his way). In doing so, he avoids evil and its consequences and ultimately preserves his life.
16:18–19. Arrogant pride is self-destructive (v. 18). The haughty will "stumble to their perdition" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 26). They are foolishly self-sufficient and unwilling to humbly receive the instruction and correction so necessary for wisdom’s blessings. This is why humility is so valuable (v. 19). Those who divide the spoil have been triumphant and share the booty among themselves; they are contrasted with those who are lowly and needy—perhaps even as a result of being defeated in battle (Clifford, Proverbs, 160). Yet humility even in demeaning poverty is better than profitable victory when accompanied with pride. Pride makes victorious gain short lived. This is true particularly if it is an ill-gotten gain that the arrogant wrest from the poor (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 27).
16:20. The statement that he who gives attention to the word will find good is ambiguous and could be understood in at least two ways. The first of these is captured in this rendering: "The one who understands a matter finds success" (HCSB). This suggests that the wise bring their insight into a situation and have success. A second interpretation could be: "Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers" (NIV). That instruction, translated more literally, is the word of God as revealed through the sages. Although the first view is certainly taught in Proverbs, the second view is preferable because it is more directly parallel with the second line. So the person who fears and trusts in the Lord will also heed His instruction and, becoming wise, will prosper greatly.
16:21–24. Wise people influence others positively. They certainly are noticed (v. 21). Being wise in heart, they develop a reputation for being discerning (understanding), and their wisdom rubs off on their community through their pleasing, winsome (sweetness of) speech. Their influence is like a fountain of life, promoting full, abundant living for one who has it (v. 22). On the other hand, fools do not possess the good sense (understanding) of the wise but instead the only training (discipline) fools offer others is in folly (cf. 13:13–16). The influence of the wise derives from their very character (v. 23). Their wise heart instructs them to speak prudently and persuasively. And what they have to say is compelling (v. 24). Like a honeycomb, their wise words are both pleasant and healing to the soul and body (the bones).
16:25. See 14:12 (and comments there), which is identical. Its repetition here may implicitly compare the beneficial sweetness of wisdom in v. 24 with the deadly sweetness of folly here (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 621).
16:26. A worker’s appetite and hunger (lit., "mouth") is advantageous to him because it urges him on in his efforts. Such appetites have their limits to be sure. They are insufficient to stir the sluggard (13:4), and when viewed more broadly are not finally satiated (Ec 6:7). Thus Scripture presents us with other motivations for hard work as well (see Eph 4:28; 6:5–9).
16:27–30. There are several kinds of troublemakers. First, there is the worthless man (v. 27). He works hard to dig up evil. This metaphor may suggest mining and thus looking for evil to use against others (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 622); or it may suggest digging a pit for others to fall into and thus plotting against them (Clifford, Proverbs, 161–62; cf. NIV; ESV). In either case, his harmful words are as devastating to others as a scorching fire. Second, there is the perverse man (v. 28). Because he "turns the moral order on its head" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 33), he actually sets out to foment strife and undermine community. The slanderer illustrates such perversity by separating even intimate friends through his calumnies. Third, there is the man of violence (v. 29). In this case, the evil he perpetrates is not so much against the victim of his violence as it is against his neighbor whom he seduces to join him in his crime (cf. 1:10–19). But his way is not good because it is both evil and self-destructive. Verse 30 could be understood in two ways. It may be saying that troublemakers can be recognized through subtleties of body language, like winking one’s eyes or pursing one’s lips (at least in the culture of that day). Or, it may be that these actions are nonverbal signals passed between conspirators to plot and carry out evil. If so, then it may refer to the signals shared by violent gang members in v. 29 (so Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 34), or it may just describe another kind of troublemaker: the conspirator.
16:31. Gray hair, an indication of old age, is a glorious crown. It marks the blessing of a long life that results from following the way of righteousness (cf. 3:1–2, 16). In that sense, the elderly who have lived long in righteousness and wisdom should be honored and respected.
16:32. A patient man, one who is slow to anger, is truly self-controlled (rules his own spirit). He is better than a mighty man who captures a city. He is better primarily because the self-controlled man demonstrates a power even greater than a conqueror might have. For a mighty man may still lack self-control, which is a sign of true weakness (25:28). Furthermore, the self-controlled man displays what only wisdom can bring. But a mighty man may unwisely trust his own strength (Ps 33:16), oppose God (Ps 52), or demonstrate his folly in other ways (e.g., Abimelech, Jdg 9).
16:33. Though the exact nature of the lot is unclear, it was probably something like dice used to determine God’s will in decision-making (e.g., Lv 16:8; Nm 26:55; Est 3:7; 1Ch 25:8; 1Sm 14:40–42; Pr 18:18; Ac 1:26). This proverb explains why: its every decision is from the Lord. "The underlying belief is that the Lord, who determines all things, also determines the way the lots turn out" (Murphy, Proverbs, 124). The wise recognize and trust in God’s sovereign providence.
17:1. A peaceful home is of great value. It even makes an unsavory morsel of dry bread palatable in comparison to feasting with strife. This phrase literally reads "sacrifices of strife," and it probably alludes ironically to peace offerings. These offerings left the worshipper with meat for a celebratory feast. But if the peace offering meal becomes a "strife offering" meal, one is better off with a quiet snack of dry bread.
17:2. It was rare for a servant to be adopted into a family, much less to experience a role reversal with a son. Yet wisdom is so powerful that it "can transcend natural boundaries and expectations" (Clifford, Proverbs, 164). Folly can have an equally potent effect as well, and any son who acts shamefully should take note lest he become subject even to his own slave.
17:3. The Lord tests human hearts. Workers in precious metals heat silver or gold to purify them or to demonstrate their purity. Similarly, the sovereign Lord uses trials of life to the same ends. Since He already knows the human heart (cf. 15:11), the Lord uses those trials "not for finding a person out but for sorting him out" (Kidner, Proverbs, 123). Furthermore, they may prove revelatory to the person himself, who needs God’s refining work on his own deceptive heart (Jr 17:9) in order to reveal the sin that needs to be addressed (Ps 139:23–24).
17:4. An evildoer and liar not only dispenses wicked, destructive words (lies, gossip, slander, etc.), he also pays attention to them, revealing his evil character. "Evil words die without a welcome; and the welcome gives us away" (Kidner, Proverbs, 123).
17:5. One might show contempt for others overtly (mocks) or covertly (rejoices at calamity). But in either case, showing contempt for other human beings who experience misfortune, whether poverty or some other calamity, is both wicked and foolish. It is wicked because, in ridiculing an image-bearer, it actually taunts the Maker Himself. It is foolish because it makes the one showing contempt liable to God’s just punishment.
17:6. When wisdom permeates a family, blessings flow between generations. Righteous, wise old men (cf. 16:31) will rightly take pride in their wise grandchildren as a glorious crown (cf. 10:1). Similarly, later generations return the favor by glorying in the wise heritage of their ancestors (fathers). It truly is a mutual-admiration society, and for good reason.
17:7. The fool here (nabal) is an "overbearing, crudely godless man as in Psalm 14:1 or 1 Samuel 25:25" (Kidner, Proverbs, 123). The notion that such a person would communicate with eloquence "is as grotesque as a ring of gold in a swine’s snout (11:22)" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 47). But even more outrageous is a nobleman (prince) who lies. Both types speak in a way out of keeping with their nature, or at least what they purport to be (in the case of the prince). Worse still, both are dangerous to others, though the lying prince probably more so (given his greater power).
17:8. Here is the viewpoint of one who offers bribes. To him, a bribe is like a charm or, literally, a magic stone that brings favor (Koehler et al., HALOT, 332). He expects it to bring prosperity wherever he uses it. For him, "money talks" (Kidner, Proverbs, 123). Proverbs gives a negative verdict on this viewpoint. Bribes pervert justice (v. 23) and so put one under God’s judgment (v. 15). Thus any "success" is short lived.
17:9. Since love "bears all things" (1Co 13:7), loving others requires overlooking (conceals) their offenses. And if one wishes to maintain an intimate friendship, he never repeats such offenses. This could involve either gossiping about that person’s faults to others or harping on that person’s faults in front of him. Both actions alienate.
17:10. A wise man gets it, but fools don’t. A person with understanding allows a wise rebuke to penetrate deep into his soul and effect change. A fool is so dense that even a hundred blows (more than twice the legal limit, Dt 25:1–3) are not enough to get through to him and effect change. David repented with a word (2Sm 12:1–7; 24:13–14) and Peter by a mere look (Lk 22:61–62), but far more dramatic steps were still not enough for Pharaoh (Ex 9:34–35), Ahaz (2Ch 28:22), or Israel (Is 1:5; 9:13; Jr 5:3) (Charles Bridges, An Exposition of Proverbs [1846; repr., Marshallton, DE: National Foundation for Christian Education, n.d.], 261–62).
17:11. At heart, an evil man is a rebel against God. As such, he can expect that a cruel messenger will be sent against him, whether angelic (cf. Ps 78:49) or human (cf. Pr 16:14). Rebels will not go unpunished.
17:12. A she bear robbed of her cubs is surely dangerous (2Sm 17:8). But more dangerous still is a fool in his folly. This humorous proverb encourages people to avoid fools as they would an enraged beast.
17:13. Proverbs warns against paying back evil for evil (cf. 20:22). But some people are so wicked that they actually go much further, practicing a perverse "gratitude" that returns evil for good. This proverb maintains that such a person will sow far worse than he reaps. Evil will visit him like an unwanted house guest who refuses to leave (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 53–54). "He will suffer harm unremittingly, and his family with him" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 631). How much better the way of Christ (Mt 5:43–45; cf. Rm 12:14, 17, 21).
17:14. Starting a quarrel is like the letting out of water, that is, opening a sluice gate or breaching a dam. "Opening such a sluice lets loose more than one can predict, control or retrieve" (Kidner, Proverbs, 125). So it is wise to abandon the quarrel before it breaks out in the first place. Wisdom defuses potentially explosive strife rather than stirring it up (cf. 15:1; 20:3).
17:15. The Lord detests injustice; all those who judge others unjustly are an abomination to Him. Injustice turns the law on its head (cf. Lv 19:15; Dt 16:18–20; 25:1; Is 5:20; Hab 1:4). In a legal setting, it involves declaring the guilty to be innocent (justifies the wicked) or the innocent to be guilty (condemns the righteous). Such injustice is possible outside the courtroom as well. It can happen whenever people pronounce an unjust verdict on someone else’s character (cf. Pr 28:5; Ps 11:3).
17:16. You cannot buy wisdom with money. A fool might think he can. But lacking sense, he lacks the capacity and character to receive wisdom, so he is just wasting his money. It is a mistaken notion too often repeated in modern education.
17:17. Some see the two lines of this proverb as antithetical; that is, it is better to have a brother than a friend in times of real adversity. But the two hardly need compete. Anyone who truly loves us—friend or family—does so at all times, including the hard times. "The saying does not identify true love with family relationships as such but, more generally, with constancy in difficult times" (Clifford, Proverbs, 166).
17:18. Whereas a true friend helps the one he loves, he does not do so foolishly. To become a guarantor, providing surety for another’s loan is lacking sense (cf. 6:1–5). "Risking one’s present security on the fidelity of the neighbor to pay back his loan and on an uncertain future is the mark of a senseless person" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 58). There are better ways to help those in need, like simply giving generously.
17:19. A person who loves transgression either enjoys offending people or relishes harping on other people’s past offenses. In either case—and it may well be purposely ambiguous—such a person presumably also loves strife because he must enjoy being in the midst of the turmoil and conflict his behavior creates. To raise one’s door in the second line likely refers to an ostentatious doorway and home, and by extension, to pride. Taken together, both lines may suggest that it takes arrogance to be itching for a fight; and in seeking to destroy others, such people are ultimately aiming for their own destruction.
17:20. A crooked mind manifests itself in a perverted tongue. The wicked person twists the truth in his character and speech. As a result, he falls into calamity (evil) rather than finding prosperity (good).
17:21. A fool is sure to disappoint his father (or mother) (cf. 10:1; 13:1; 15:20). Indeed, his parents will suffer anguish over him (see similar comments on v. 25; 10:1b–c).
17:22. There is a close connection between body and soul. Good medicine and drie[d] up bones depict good and bad health respectively. The difference between a joyful heart and broken spirit "depends more on a person’s spiritual resources than on his circumstances" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 61; cf. 15:15; Ac 16:25).
17:23. The phrase receives a bribe is ambiguous in Hebrew. The phrase "takes a bribe from the bosom" captures the ambiguity of the Hebrew. That is, one might take a bribe secretly from one’s own pocket to offer a bribe or from another’s pocket to receive it. The ambiguity is probably purposeful. One who offers or receives bribes to pervert the ways of justice is wicked indeed, and his surreptitious behavior shows that he knows it.
17:24. This proverb may be saying that the wise man focuses on attaining wisdom whereas the fool’s attention wanders, distracting him from such worthwhile pursuits (cf. NIV). But it is likely that the proverb deals more with proximity than concentration. So for a perceptive man (one who has understanding) wisdom is already close at hand (in his presence); being receptive, he is attentive to and takes advantage of wisdom’s lessons in daily life. In contrast, wisdom is far away to the fool. He "may search the world for wisdom, but he will not find it, because he does not realize its proximity" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 636), nor is he prepared to receive it even if he did (cf. v. 16).
17:25. A foolish son brings grief and bitterness to his parents (see similar comments on v. 21; 10:1b–c.)
17:26. This proverb clearly deals with injustice, but it presents three key interpretive issues. First, also (Hb. gam) is better translated "even," applying directly to the infinitive: i.e., "even to fine" (cf. Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 46n66). Second, for in the second line is better translated "against." That is, it is "against what is upright" to strike the noble (Longman, Proverbs, 351). Third, the noble in Hebrew parallels the righteous and so speaks of one noble in character rather than a member of the nobility. Therefore, this proverb indicates that it is not right even to fine those who are righteous, much less to strike or flog them. Government officials who act in such ways are an abomination to the Lord (cf. v. 15).
17:27–28. One who is wise is self-controlled (v. 27). He restrains his words and his temper (i.e., he is not hotheaded but has a cool spirit). Such restraint can even help a fool (v. 28). Keeping his mouth shut can actually make him appear to be wise, at least for a time before his words finally erupt and betray him (cf. 10:8; 18:2). In any case, the point is clear enough: if restrained words benefit the fool, how much more the wise (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 65).
18:1–2. A person needs others to be wise. Radical individuality—doing your own thing—is foolish (v. 1). When one separates himself from others to pursue his own agenda (desire), he quarrels against or "defies" (NIV) all sound judgment. Absent the wisdom of many counselors (cf. 15:22), his only counselor is a fool—himself. This is a warning to the wise "against headstrong, self-centered decisions" (Steveson, Commentary on Proverbs, 241). Similarly, the fool has a "closed mind, open mouth" (Kidner, Proverbs, 127) (v. 2). He has no taste for learning understanding from the wise (cf. 2:2; 5:1). He is far more interested in spouting his own opinions, thereby revealing the fool that he is.
18:3. In this proverb, a wicked man is parallel with dishonor (or shame), and contempt is parallel with scorn. The proverb thus indicates that a wicked person acts shamefully, and in so doing rightly receives the contempt and reproach of the community.
18:4. The interpretation of this proverb hinges on whether deep waters is a negative or positive image. If negative, it indicates that a man’s words conceal what is deep within him (cf. 20:5), in contrast to the accessibility of life-giving wisdom. More likely, however, the image is positive, and the two lines are synthetic rather than antithetical. If so, the entire proverb describes the words of a wise man. The image of deep waters would therefore suggest that his words are refreshing (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 639), or they are "profound and sometimes mysterious, requiring reflection and interpretation" (Longman, Proverbs, 354; cf. 1:6). Moreover, they are a source of wisdom to others (a fountain of wisdom) and are a life-giving bubbling brook.
18:5. This proverb again addresses injustice (cf. 17:15, 26). To show partiality to the wicked is to pardon them; to thrust aside the righteous in judgment is to condemn them (Clifford, Proverbs, 170). Both judicial acts are not good. Clearly this is a moral judgment (as 17:15 makes clear), but it may also have a pragmatic nuance. Injustice is "not useful" and "downright deleterious" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 639).
18:6–7. A fool talks himself into trouble (Kidner, Proverbs, 128). His words bring strife that hurts himself and possibly others (v. 6). It is as if he is asking for a beating; his mouth calls for blows. Worse still, his words destroy him (v. 7). They bring on his ruin and trigger a deadly snare for his life/soul.
18:8. A whisperer is a gossip. The gossip he spreads is as irresistible to others as dainty morsels of fine food. That is why gossip spreads; people enjoy it. Indeed, they greedily devour it so that it goes down into their innermost parts. Such penetration inevitably shapes the hearer’s thought and character for the worse. Gossip is thus "dangerous because of the flaw in human character which ensures that it is avidly listened to and remembered" (R. N. Whybray, The Book of Proverbs, CBC [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972], 104–5). The wise will neither spread gossip (17:9) nor keep company with gossips (20:19) but will follow Jeremiah’s better example of devouring the words of the Lord, not the morsels of a whisperer (Jr 15:16).
18:9. The Lord values hard, diligent work (cf. 10:4; 13:4). A person slack in his work bears a family resemblance to a person who destroys the work of others. The one who in his laziness fails to complete a work or do it well is little better than the villain who destroys it. They both end up with much the same result. It is not a family tree to be envied.
18:10–11. The wise trust in the Lord, and for good reason (v. 10; cf. 3:5–6). He is a strong tower who keeps His people safe. God’s name describes who He is and therefore refers to the Lord Himself (cf. Ex 3:14–15; 6:3; Ps 135:13). The righteous wisely run to Him in difficult times for His protection. In contrast, the wealthy man trusts in his own wealth (v. 11; cf. 10:15). To him, his riches are a strong, fortified city to get him out of trouble in difficult times. But wealth is unreliable in difficult times (see 11:28 and comments there), and its efficacy is limited in any case (cf. Ps 52:5–7). So his security is a "castle in the air," more imagined than real. "The world thinks that the unseen is the unreal. But it is not the man of God (10) but the man of property, who must draw on his imagination … to feel secure" (Kidner, Proverbs, 128–9).
18:12. Haughty pride precedes destruction (cf. 16:18), but humility precedes honor (cf. 15:33). There is a causal connection between the elements in each pair. This proverb may relate to the previous two, comparing those who humbly rely on the Lord with those who arrogantly trust their own resources (so Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 77–78); or it may be comparing those too proud to hear wisdom with those humble enough to receive wise correction (so Longman, Proverbs, 357); or its application may be more general.
18:13. This is another reminder that the wise are slow to speak, unlike the fool. In this case, the wise man listens to others and hears them out. The fool is so interested in airing his own views (cf. v. 2), and so uninterested in listening to others, that he speaks prematurely or even rudely interrupts. His words therefore display his folly and thus bring shame on himself.
18:14. The unity of a person’s inner and outer man appears once again (cf. 17:22); this proverb emphasizes the inner. There is something worse than physical sickness: a broken spirit. The spirit of a man is his inner emotional, psychological, spiritual life. It can sustain him even when he is physically ill. But an anxious, depressed, disturbed spirit is unendurable. Too often, the Christian’s prayer requests have the priorities exactly backwards (cf. Kidner, Proverbs, 129).
18:15. The wise are ever eager to learn of the Lord (cf. 1:5; 9:9–10; 16:20). They make it a priority to acquire knowledge and seek it (cf. 15:14). "Those who know most know best how little they know" (Kidner, Proverbs, 129).
18:16. This proverb is unabashedly realistic. Gift-giving secures opportunities and access to great men. It has always been that way. Commentators dispute whether these gifts are distinguishable from bribes and so whether this proverb encourages or discourages this practice. But since such gifts are given by those with means to gain an advantage over those who do not have those means, and since this promotes favoritism, such a system amounts to bribery and violates the principles of justice in Proverbs (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 81–82). This proverb thus presents the way things are, not the way they should be (as in 14:21). Of course, realities may force wise people at times to work within an unjust system to get things done, but they must be wary of any such accommodation lest it make the injustice worse.
18:17–19. These three proverbs all relate to disputes.
18:17. Here is a good reason not to make snap judgments. Listening to only one side of the argument (the first to plead his case) can be misleading. It may seem right, but it is better to hear all the facts and arguments before deciding. This is true whether in a law court or in life.
18:18. According to 16:33, the … lot expresses the Lord’s decision in a matter. In difficult disputes involving strife that are hard to settle, particularly when the disputants are mighty, it is best to let the Lord decide between them, in this case through use of the lot. "It would be particularly important to resolve conflicts between powerful people because their disagreements could lead to the most widespread damage, not only to themselves as individuals but also to society at large" (Longman, Proverbs, 358). The principle here is that all (including the mighty) should submit to the Lord’s will, however that will is revealed. Today, the Holy Spirit guides us particularly through His Word.
18:19. Contentions with an intimate such as a brother are especially difficult. This offended person is "a party in the closest human relation with another, whether by blood or choice, who feels wronged and has cut himself off from the other with a deep sense of personal injury" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 84). Reconciliation is so difficult because his hard feelings make him as impenetrable as a strong city or the bars of a citadel. Better to prevent such conflict in the first place (cf. 17:14). After all, "family feuds are the bitterest conflicts and civil wars are the bloodiest wars" (Clifford, Proverbs, 172).
18:20–21. A man’s words have repercussions for himself. He will feed on the produce of his mouth and lips: his words and their consequences (v. 20). In fact, he will have his fill of them. This proverb may be positive: wise words are satisfying to the speaker as well as the hearer. But the verb translated will be satisfied is ambiguous, much like the English verb "to be filled." So the proverb may also suggest that the fool will get his fill of his foolish words and their consequences. Verse 21 makes the consequences of both types explicit. In short, the tongue has the power to bring death and life to the speaker. Those who love making use of it (i.e., the tongue), whether for good or ill, will eat its fruit. That is, they will live, or die (i.e., forfeit the "abundant life"), with the consequences of their words.
18:22. A man who finds a wife has also found a blessing (a good thing). Of course, the proverb assumes that she is a good wife (cf. 19:13–14; 21:9; 31:10–31). The language of this proverb parallels 8:35, which suggests that finding a good wife is much like the blessing of finding Lady Wisdom herself. A man is wise to search for such a wife, but when he finds her, he should not forget that ultimately this favor ("goodwill," "delight") is from the Lord.
18:23. Because of his need, the poor man is forced to utter supplications, pleading for help, from the rich man. The rich, however, answers the poor man roughly or harshly. Perhaps because he is a callous man, unmoved by the need of the poor and to discourage appeals in the future (from this beggar or others) or perhaps because he is arrogant and stingy … in any case he does not help. The lesson is: Those who might fall into poverty because of foolishness should pursue wisdom and avoid such dire straits because they are unlikely to find help from the rich. At the same time, those who are wealthy should righteously emulate the Lord, who is merciful to those in need and obey His commands to care for the poor (Ps 28:2, 6; Pr 14:21, 31; 19:17).
18:24. The choice of one’s friends shapes one’s life (cf. 12:26; 13:20). If a man only makes casual friendships, this will bring him to ruin because his gaggle of fair-weather friends will let him down in difficult times. A true friend is one who sticks closer than a brother through thick and thin (cf. 17:17). The wise cultivate the latter kind of friendship.
19:1. This "better this than that" proverb asserts that "ethical qualities are more important than material possessions" (Longman, Proverbs, 364). Though being poor is a disadvantage, if the poor man is honest (walks in his integrity) he is still far better off than the lying fool whose words distort the truth—even if such a fool is wealthy (cf. 28:6). Long term, and certainly in light of eternity, honesty is the best policy (cf. 17:20; 22:5).
19:2. In the context, person (nephesh) here is better translated "desire" (so ESV), and also (Hb. gam, "even") may indicate a lesser to greater argument (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 88, 98). So it is bad (not good) when one’s desires are foolish (i.e., without wise knowledge). It is even worse when one is hasty to carry those desires out. A person who acts without planning guarantees that he will miss out on what he wants (i.e., he errs or misses his goal). Thus a fool not only pursues foolish desires, but he is also too hasty even to get them.
19:3. When a fool ruins his way due to his own foolishness, he then turns around and gets angry with (rages against) the Lord. He blames God for his problems. This blame-shifting only compounds his folly because it prevents repentance and wise change.
19:4. This proverb describes the kind of fair-weather "friends" presented in 18:24a. When a person has wealth, he can expect to have lots of friends who hang around for what they can get. But poverty has the opposite effect; any such friend will no longer associate with a poor man. The wise therefore will seek the kind of friends who stick closer than a brother (18:24b), even in times of adversity (17:17).
19:5. Proverbs indicates that liars are fools (v. 1); this proverb explains one reason why. Liars, particularly those who perjure themselves in court, will not escape judgment. Even if they get away with their lies in this world, they will not go unpunished before God’s bar of justice (cf. v. 9).
19:6–7. These proverbs once again compare the "friends" of the rich and the poor (cf. v. 4). On the one hand, the rich are popular (v. 6). A generous man (nadiyb) could also be translated "ruler" or "nobleman." Here it suggests a powerful, wealthy man who is generous. He has many friend[s] who seek his favor because he gives them gifts. But these "friends" are sycophants who are in it for themselves. The wealthy should take note. On the other hand, the poor man is not very popular because he is so needy (v. 7). People cannot get anything out of him, and they do not want to be bothered with his needs. Even his brothers (relatives) hate him and wish to be rid of him. How much more do his friends, who do not even share an obligation of family, keep their distance from him. Although the poor man pursues his friends and family with words, no one sticks around to hear his pleas for help. Both rich and poor alike need truer friends than these.
19:8. It is in one’s own best interest to acquire wisdom by heeding understanding. Such a person loves himself because he will find what is good, i.e., the blessings that come from the Lord’s wisdom.
19:9. This proverb is identical to 19:5, except for the last verb in the proverb, which specifies the judgment the liar faces: he will perish in the end.
19:10. It is inappropriate, indeed absurd, for a fool to enjoy the luxury of wealth. This only encourages him in his folly. It is even more absurd for a slave to rule over princes because this has a more widespread effect. The statement assumes that the slave is incompetent to rule (like 12:24 rather than 14:35 and 17:2). Such a one becomes an insufferable despot who brings "incompetence, mismanagement, abuse of power, corruption, and injustice; in brief, social chaos (cf. Eccl. 10:5–7)" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 105). Both states of affairs turn the world upside down, at least until God eventually restores order (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 104; cf. 1Sm 25:2, 25, 27).
19:11. It does a man credit to be slow to anger (self-controlled), which gives him the ability to overlook a transgression (offense) against him. This behavior not only demonstrates his discretion (insight) but also makes him praiseworthy (his glory), since he is reflecting God’s own patience (Ex 34:6; Mc 7:18). Paradoxically, then, "one gains glory by giving up a common means of protecting it—argument" (Clifford, Proverbs, 177), and in this way actually displays "the glowing colours of a virtue which in practice may look drably unassertive" (Kidner, Proverbs, 133).
19:12. Better to gain the king’s favor rather than provoke his wrath. The king’s wrath signals danger to life and limb, like the roaring of a lion. In contrast, his favor indicates blessing, like dew on the grass, which is so crucial to life in Israel’s arid climate (cf. Gn 27:28; Ps 133:3). Although this proverb certainly encourages royal officials to act prudently before the king, it may also encourage kings to be patient, if read in light of v. 11 (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 654).
19:13–14. One’s home life is critical. A dysfunctional home life can deliver two possible sources of domestic misery to a man (v. 13). First, his foolish son brings him destruction, whether that involves his emotional life (e.g., 10:1), his family legacy (cf. v. 14a), or some other sort of catastrophe. Second, the relentless contentions of his nagging wife, like a constant dripping of a leaky roof, wear him down and drive him to despair. On the other hand, a healthy home life is a source of tremendous blessing (v. 14). Absent a foolish son, fathers can pass on the family inheritance and thereby preserve the family’s house and wealth. Even better, at its heart is the prudent wife (cf. 14:1; 31:10–31). "A man’s fortune depends on her moral competence to grasp the problems involved in running a household and their solutions and to throw all her energies into their successful management (see 1:2; 12:4; 14:1; 18:22)" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 108). Wise fathers and sons may be able to ensure the preservation of family property, but only the Lord can bequeath to a husband the treasure of a wise wife (cf. 18:22). Of course, though stated from the man’s perspective, both proverbs could apply equally well to a woman’s experience as well.
19:15. His laziness casts the idle slacker into a deep sleep. He is in such a stupor that he is useless (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 655), unable to meet his most basic needs such as satisfying his hunger. Indeed, he would rather sleep than eat (cf. v. 24).
19:16. Obedience to the word of God given through His sage is life giving. The word keeps (shomer) is used in two senses. The one who keeps (i.e., heeds) God’s wise commandment keeps (i.e., preserves) his life. He contrasts with the one who is careless of—or more literally, who despises—his conduct. Disrespectful and unconcerned about his lifestyle and its consequences, he engages in foolish, wicked behavior that leads to his demise (i.e., he will die).
19:17. The Lord cares for the poor, even if others do not. So to be gracious to a poor man by giving to him is like lend[ing] to the Lord. God will honor this debt by repaying the benefactor for his good deed. This proverb anticipates a "faithful recompense, not necessarily one’s money back" (Kidner, Proverbs, 134), whether here or in the hereafter.
19:18–19. Sometimes "compassion" can be foolishly misplaced. Parents can exercise a "deadly leniency" (Kidner, Proverbs, 134) by failing to discipline their son (v. 18). In so doing, they allow the child to follow his own natural inclinations toward folly (cf. 22:15 and comments there), which ultimately lead to his death. Yet there is a window of opportunity, while there is hope (emphasis added), to affect one’s child for good before he is set in his foolish ways. Failure to enact timely discipline is not loving (see 13:24; 20:30; 23:13–14 and comments there); it is more like attempted murder (do not desire his death). Similarly, you do the hothead no great favor if you rescue him from the consequences of his great anger (v. 19). His anger habitually gets him into trouble, so delivering him again and again only enables him. Better to let him bear the penalty of his own behavior. Maybe then he will learn and change.
19:20. Becoming wise does not happen overnight. It requires the humble, ongoing commitment to listen to counsel and accept discipline from the wise. Then sometime in the future you will become wise. The rest of your days is better translated "your future days," and the line probably suggests that as young and experienced alike continue to hear wisdom, they grow wiser still (cf. 1:5; Longman, Proverbs, 370).
19:21. People may make many plans. They can change, and they may or may not come to fruition. In contrast, the Lord[’s] plan will stand firm and surely come to pass (cf. Ps 33:10–11). The wise will make their plans in submission to the will of God (see 16:1–9 for similar proverbs and comments there).
19:22. Kindness (chesed) here probably carries the connotation of loving loyalty, so characteristic of the Lord Himself (e.g., Ex 15:13; 34:6–7; Ps 103:17; Is 54:10) rather than simple human kindness. People rightly desire or value loyalty. Indeed, it is more desirable and valuable than wealth. That is why it is better to be poor than to be a liar who is unfaithful and does not keep his promises.
19:23. The fear of the Lord brings great blessing (cf. 9:10). It leads to life. This includes a sense of contentment (sleep satisfied) because the Lord meets one’s needs and security (untouched by evil) because the Lord delivers from calamity.
19:24. This humorous proverb pictures the sluggard as too lazy even to feed himself. Put a dish of food before him and he may summon the strength to bur[y] his hand in it, but he will never get around to lifting the food into his mouth. Perhaps he thinks himself too exhausted to do so or he does not want to be bothered or maybe he just falls asleep (Steveson, Commentary on Proverbs, 263). In any case, his sloth will lead to his starvation. The proverb may also suggest that the sluggard is too lazy to take advantage of good opportunities (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 660).
19:25. The scoffer is so closed minded that a beating will make no impression on him. Still, even if the punishment does the scoffer no good, seeing it can teach the naive to be shrewd, or at least shrewd enough to avoid such a beating (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 660). But a wise man of understanding is so sensitive that he needs no shock treatment like being beaten; a word of rebuke (reprove) is enough for him to gain even more knowledge. The wise are humbly teachable.
19:26–27. One kind of fool who brings grief to his parents (cf. 10:1) is the one who assaults his father and drives his mother away (v. 26). He might do so "by passive sloth (10:5), actively squandering the family fortune in riotous living (29:3), and/or by the overt crime of plundering the father and evicting the mother to seize the inheritance (20:20; 28:24; 30:11; 17)" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 123). Such a son shames and disgraces not only his parents but himself. Verse 27 explains how a son might sink so low. He stops listening to his parents’ discipline and so stray[s] away from the words of knowledge. But what goes for a son goes for anyone. The wise man never arrives, and he knows it. So he is always prepared to be corrected lest he wander further from wisdom.
19:28–29. A rascally (worthless) witness mocks justice by his false testimony (v. 28; cf. 1Kg 21:10, 13). He does so because he is wicked to the core. The verb spreads is better translated "swallows." He ingests iniquity; his mouth spouts what it swallows. But such wicked scoffers should not be too smug (Pr 19:29). Though they mock it, justice will be served. God will not be mocked. They can expect divine judgments or even human justice (blows for the back of fools), which they deserve.
20:1. The Bible does not condemn all uses of alcohol (cf. 3:10; 9:5; Ps 104:15; 1Tm 5:23), however, drunkenness is always condemned (cf. 21:17; 23:19–21, 29–35). Here wine and strong drink are personified as a mocker and a brawler. The one who is intoxicated (lit., "staggers") by it is not wise because drunkenness makes one lose control and act in an impudent, rowdy, or some other foolish way.
20:2–3. Like the growling of a lion poised to strike its prey, a king in his fury strikes terror in the heart of the subject who provokes him to anger—and for good reason, since the subordinate’s own life is endangered (v. 2; cf. 19:12). It is therefore wise not to upset him in the first place. Yet even if one does not rub shoulders with the king, it is still wise to avoid strife (v. 3). Any fool is quick to quarrel, but a wise man gains honor from being a peacemaker. Paradoxically, the fool is quick to defend his honor and loses it, but the wise who humbly refrains from that fight gains honor (Clifford, Proverbs, 182).
20:4. The sluggard has no foresight. He does not bother to do the hard work of plowing in the appropriate season. The phrase translated after the autumn indicates the proper time in Israel to plow. Having planted nothing, he will also reap nothing during the harvest and is forced to beg for food. His hunger will likely continue indefinitely, since, lacking any crop, he also lacks the seed for next year’s planting (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 130–31).
20:5. The interpretation of this difficult proverb hinges on three factors. First, deep water (as in 18:4) may signal something that is hidden (Clifford, Proverbs, 182) or mysterious and profound (Longman, Proverbs, 377) or refreshing (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 664). Second, the noun, plan (‘etzah) may refer either to a person’s plan or his advice. Third, the character of the man with the plan is not specified, so he could be an evil schemer, a befuddled counselee, a wise man, or the sage himself. What, then, is the man of understanding doing when he draws a plan out? He may be discerning (1) his own hidden insight (Murphy, Proverbs, 150), (2) the intentions of another person who lacks such insight (Kidner, Proverbs, 137), (3) the machinations of an evil schemer (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 131), or (4) the wise advice of a fellow sage, which is refreshing (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 664–65) or profound and challenging (Longman, Proverbs, 377). The fourth option is most likely (cf. comments on 18:4), although this "riddle of the wise" (1:6) may be purposefully ambiguous.
20:6. Talk is cheap. Many claim to be loyal and faithful, but a truly trustworthy man is rare. It is the difference between claims of friendship untested and those tested by adversity (Clifford, Proverbs, 182), between the fair-weather friend and the true intimate (cf. 17:17; 18:24).
20:7. A righteous man lives in his integrity (blamelessly) in that he fears and loves the Lord and strives to please Him. As such, he is a good role model for his sons and daughters, who follow his example and are blessed as a result
20:8. This verse depicts a righteous and wise king who rules with justice. Thus, disperses here carries the connotation of winnowing or sifting with his discerning eyes. Because he both has the power to execute justice (sits on the throne of justice) and the insight to recognize evil, he roots out all evil and expels it (cf. 25:5). This ideal will be fully realized in the messianic kingdom under the rule of King Messiah (Is 11:1–5).
20:9. This proverb clearly attests to human depravity and moral incapacity before the Lord. The rhetorical question in this verse demands the answer: no one. Before the Lord, no one has cleansed his heart so that he is pure from … sin (cf. 1Kg 8:46; Ec 7:20; Jr 17:9; Is 53:6; Rm 3:9–20). True, Proverbs repeatedly maintains a difference between the wicked and the righteous, who pursue moral purity, blamelessness, and justice (e.g., Pr 20:7–8 above). But this proverb reminds the righteous that perfection is impossible, that their purity is relative, that they cannot cleanse themselves. In short, they recognize that they are still sinners in need of God’s merciful forgiveness (cf. 28:13).
20:10. This passages again emphasizes the importance of honesty in business (cf. 11:1; 16:11). The Lord abhors differing weights and differing measures. These reflect corruption, using an unfairly large weight and measure for buying (and therefore getting more from the seller than one is due) and an unfairly small one for selling (and therefore giving less to the buyer than he is due). Such corruption, whether on the individual or governmental level, draws the Lord’s ire.
20:11. The phrase distinguish himself (yitnakker) can mean either "to be recognized" or "to dissemble." Thus even the conduct of a lad, a young person, reveals one’s character, whether it is pure and right. The ESV captures both nuances of the word: "Even a child makes himself known by his acts, by whether his conduct is pure and upright." If the verb means "to be recognized," the proverb would be saying that young person (a lad) can be recognized by his deeds, whether they are pure and right or not. That is, one’s conduct reveals one’s character. The ESV reading in the margin says, "Even a child can dissemble in his actions, though his conduct seems pure and upright." If the verb means "to dissemble," the proverb would be saying that a young person can dissemble by his actions, even if those actions seem pure and right. That is, one can be a hypocrite. Both interpretations are possible, and they would carry the same force: if this is true even of children, it is certainly true of adults as well.
20:12. The hearing ear and the seeing eye indicate true perceptiveness, "the ear that really hears and the eye that really sees" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 668). This perceptiveness is necessary for wisdom: "It is through the ready hearing of the right teaching, and through the observant eye, that one becomes wise" (Murphy, Proverbs, 151). It may also come in handy in situations like those in v. 11. The proverb stresses, however, that such insight is not self-generated but only comes from the Lord who made both of them (cf. Is 6:9–10; Mt 13:14–15).
20:13. Because he loves to sleep rather than work, the sluggard become poor (cf. 6:10; 24:33). In contrast, the diligent stay awake (open their eyes) when it is time to work and have plenty of food. This proverb commands the wise to follow the example of the latter rather than the former.
20:14. This proverb warns against the shady buyer rather than the shady salesman (Longman, Proverbs, 381). This kind of buyer is not interested in offering a fair price. He claims the product is poor quality (Bad, bad) in order to drive its price down below market value, and then boasts about his shrewdness once he has closed the deal, when he goes his way. He "is both a deceitful liar and an impious boaster" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 143). In bargaining, a wise businessman will take such a buyer’s complaints about his wares with a grain of salt.
20:15. Wisdom is more precious than gold and many jewels (cf. 3:14–15; 8:10–11). The comparison suggests more than wisdom’s greater value; it also suggests wisdom’s greater attractiveness. The word thing is better translated "ornament" paralleling the imagery of jewels (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 669). It is more appealing to be adorned with lips of knowledge (i.e., to speak with wisdom) than merely to be bedecked with jewelry.
20:16. It is foolish to guarantee the loan of a stranger (cf. 6:1–5; 11:15; 17:18; 22:26; 27:13). The one who does so can lose everything, even the garment off his back, his primary article of clothing. These may be the words of a judge or the creditor regarding the loan guarantor (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 669).
20:17. Bread obtained by falsehood literally reads "bread of deceit." This food is deceptive in two senses. First, it is obtained by fraudulent means. Second, it deceives the deceiver. It seems sweet and satisfying at first, but afterward it is as unpleasant and destructive as eating gravel (cf. the "sweet water" of Folly that actually kills, 9:17–18). "Food obtained through deceptive behavior provides deceptive nourishment" (Clifford, Proverbs, 184). What goes for food could also be extended to one’s possessions (Longman, Proverbs, 381) or that which fulfills any human drive (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 146).
20:18. The plans of the wise succeed because they seek wise consultation (cf. 11:14). This general principle is applied to battle preparation. A wise king or military leader will make war only after he seeks the wise guidance of counselors. Failure to seek counsel can have disastrous results for a nation and individual alike.
20:19–20. Fools harm others with their speech. One kind, the slanderer, goes about reveal[ing] secrets (v. 19). This is one reason people are tempted to associate with him, but it is foolish to do so. The gossip has a big mouth (more lit., he is one who "opens his lips"; Koehler et al., HALOT, 985). So it is far better to stay away from him altogether. Otherwise, he will end up spreading your secrets! Another kind of fool curses his parents (v. 20). Cursing them involves disparaging and insulting them publicly (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 672). Consequently, "his lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness" (NIV; cf. Ex 20:12). This probably suggests that he will die prematurely (Clifford, Proverbs, 185), or it might indicate that he will have no descendants (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 672). In any case, he will be judged. "As he cursed his parents, the Lord curses him" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 151; cf. Dt 27:16).
20:21. An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning indicates that it is bequeathed prematurely. The text is not clear why it is premature. If connected with cursing the parents (v. 20), it suggests ill-gotten gain, a wicked son fraudulently acquiring his inheritance early (see comments on 19:26–27). Or it could indicate that the son receives his inheritance when he is too young to handle it, possibly like the situation of the prodigal son (cf. Lk 15:11–32) or because his parents died early (Longman, Proverbs, 383). In any case, the inheritance will not be blessed in the end.
20:22. The short warning here is against personal revenge. Do not say, "I will repay evil." "The disciple looks to God to right wrongs no matter how long he must wait for divine intervention" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 153; cf. Ps 37:34; Rm 12:19–21). Far wiser than personal revenge is trusting the Lord (wait for the Lord). When He does intervene, he will save His disciple. This deliverance probably entails both caring for the victim and judging the offender. It should be noted that this proverb addresses only personal vengeance, as indicated by the first-person I (Longman, Proverbs, 383). It does not reject a government’s legitimate role in taking action for justice as God’s minister (cf. Rm 13:1–7).
20:23. This proverb reiterates the idea that God despises unfair weights (cf. v. 10), but it adds the thought that such a false scale is not good. Good probably has a pragmatic nuance here (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 674), that is, cheating is not ultimately profitable because God will take vengeance on cheaters (cf. v. 22).
20:24. Proverbs frequently encourages the wise to plan (cf. 11:14; 14:22; 15:22; 20:18; 21:5; 24:6, 27), but this cannot mitigate God’s sovereignty over all of one’s life. A man’s steps are from the Lord. Consequently no man can understand his way. "Man cannot fully plan or control the course of his life, for God is ultimately in control, and God’s plans are not transparent" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 674). Human action (cf. 16:1, 9) and wisdom are limited (cf. Ec 3:11; 8:17; 11:5), so the wise plan and act in humble submission to God’s will (cf. Pr 16:3).
20:25. This proverb pertains to rashness in making vows to the Lord, or in any area of his spiritual life (cf. Dt 23:21; Ec 5:1–7). The wise will first carefully consider, make inquiry, before making vows to consecrate some gift to the Lord (saying, It is holy!). Those who foolishly get it backwards by vowing rashly before counting the cost trap themselves, because God expects them to fulfill the vow (Dt 23:21–23). One thinks of Jephthah (Jdg 11:29–40) and of Saul, for example (1Sm 14). Such behavior is presumptuous as well as foolish.
20:26. Ancient farmers drove a threshing wheel over grain stalks to separate or winnow the grain itself from the lighter chaff, which is then scattered to the wind. The wise king winnows the wicked, scattering and expelling them from his kingdom (cf. v. 8). The imagery may also imply punishment/destruction (so Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 676). In any case, the wise king will not tolerate evil in his kingdom.
20:27. The basic point of this proverb is that God knows man inside out (cf. 15:11). The lamp of the Lord sheds light on the innermost parts of his being. This lamp is identified as a man’s breath (nishemat), which may refer to a man’s life (e.g., Gn 2:7), his spirit (cf. Jb 32:8), or even his words (which he breathes out). The second option makes best sense in the context, particularly if a man’s spirit refers to his conscience. Thus, the human conscience is used by the Lord to penetrate into our inmost being so that we can begin to see it as He does. As such it is a gift of God to expose the sin in our lives so that we do not remain ignorant of it (Steveson, Commentary on Proverbs, 279).
20:28. A king is preserved on his throne by chesed (translated loyalty in line 1 and righteousness in line 2) and ‘emet (translated truth in line 1). These refer to steadfast love and faithfulness. But is this God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to the king, or the king’s steadfast love and faithfulness to God and/or to the people? The ambiguity may be purposeful, involving all parties in a God-honoring kingdom. "It is through the kind of constant faithfulness between all the parties that productive governance can take place and the king himself can avoid usurpation or assassination" (Longman, Proverbs, 385).
20:29. This proverb compares what brings glory to young men and honor to old men. The young can take pride in their strength (cf. Lm 3:27); the old can take pride in their gray hair, an evidence of their wisdom, righteousness, and successful life (cf. Pr 16:31; Lv 19:32). The young should seek the old to grow wise, and the old should not begrudge the young their vigor (cf. 2Tm 2:2; 1Tm 4:12). After all, although both are good, wisdom is even better than strength (cf. Pr 24:5–6). So viewed in the context of Proverbs, the old probably have the better deal (Longman, Proverbs, 386).
20:30. Corporal punishment (stripes that wound; strokes) can do more than force external compliance; it can scour away evil even in the innermost parts of a person. Although it may refer to criminal punishment in the context (so Garrett, Proverbs, 179), it surely applies to parental discipline as well (cf. 13:24; 22:15). This certainly does not advocate child abuse! Appropriate corporal discipline is viewed as a good teaching tool with other forms of instruction. For a parent, it is an act of love, its effect edifying rather than deleterious (see 13:24; 19:18–19; 22:15; 23:13–14; and comments there).
21:1. This is a testimony to the "King of kings" (Kidner, Proverbs, 141). God’s sovereignty extends even to the king and the nation he leads. Just like a farmer can direct irrigation channels of water to areas in his land of his choosing, so the Lord directs the king’s heart wherever He wishes. Water is often pictured as a mighty, chaotic force in the OT, something requiring great power and skill to control (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 168). But it is also a life-giving blessing. So too the Lord masters the king, powerful though he may be, and directs him in ways that bless—or redirect blessing away from—his nation.
21:2–4. The wise are concerned foremost with the sovereign Lord’s evaluation. Verse 2 is almost identical to 16:2 (see comments there). Humans misjudge whether their way is right, either through self-deception or rebelliously turning God’s moral order on its head (cf. Gn 3:1–7). It is the Lord’s just verdict on one’s heart that counts. Proverbs 21:3 gives an important instance of God’s standards of evaluation. The Lord values righteousness and justice even more than sacrifice. He favors ethics over religious ritual. Indeed, ritual shorn of ethics is unacceptable to him (cf. 15:8–9; Is 1:11–17; Hs 6:6; Mc 6:6–8; 1Sm 15:22; Longman, Proverbs, 390). The NT may have set aside ceremonial laws of the OT (cf. Mt 12:7; Ac 10:34–35), but not its moral laws (Mt 22:27–29) (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 170). Proverbs 21:4 is another example of God’s evaluative standards. He considers haughty eyes, a proud heart, and the lamp of the wicked all to be sin. The key interpretive question here relates to the last image. The word nir might be translated "lamp" or "tillage/plowing". Commentators are divided, but either image seems to arrive at the same point. Lamp may be an image for one’s life (so Kidner, Proverbs, 141; cf. 20:20), and tillage may be used as one example of a common activity standing for all of one’s undertakings. The point is that all of the activities of the wicked—indeed, their very life—is considered sinful to the Lord. Read in light of v. 2, they are also proud through and through (externally: eyes; internally: heart) because they judge their actions right against God’s standards.
21:5–7. If the previous proverbs dealt with God’s standards of judgment, these deal with the results of His judgment on various types of wicked people.
21:5. Rather surprisingly, diligence here is contrasted with hastiness, not laziness. Perhaps rashness should be understood as a form of laziness: someone who acts with haste is too lazy to plan. In any case, the diligent, who do take time to plan, will prosper whereas the hasty will come to poverty. Haste does make waste.
21:6. Liars can sometimes amass treasures, but it is fool’s gold. Fraudulent gain is as fleeting as a windblown vapor. Worse still, those who pursue it are really pursuing death, the deceptive reward of their deceit.
21:7. Wicked men will act with violence against others in an unjust cause, but that violence will rebound back on them. It will drag them away like a fish caught in a dragnet (cf. Hab 1:15). They become "their own executioners" (Kidner, Proverbs, 142; cf. Jdg 9). Jesus Himself made a similar, if more general, point (cf. Mt 26:52).
21:8. The difference between a guilty man and a pure one is evident in their way of life or conduct. The former’s way is crooked, the latter’s upright or straight. The different paths they follow may suggest God’s judgment or blessing as well (i.e., a crooked path is much harder than a straight one), particularly in light vv. 5–7. Some commentators understand the admittedly difficult first line very differently and interpret the whole proverb accordingly. Clifford’s translation (Proverbs, 187) captures this alternate, though less likely, interpretation: "A person’s path may zigzag and be strange, but his actions are blameless and right."
21:9. Having a good wife is a blessing (18:22); having a contentious wife is not. A contentious person is always quick to quarrel. So it is better to live in a corner of a roof alone. Since roofs were flat, a man might live on one, but it would be a lonely, cramped, uncomfortable, exposed existence. Still, living in a house shared with a contentious wife is comparatively worse. The same could be said of a wife and her contentious husband. Singles who wish to get married and are wise should pray for the Lord’s blessing in finding a good mate and wait patiently for such a person. After all, being lonely is better than being in a strife-torn marriage. Just ask someone with a contentious mate.
21:10. The wicked person makes a terrible neighbor. He has a craving for evil. He is so absorbed by his own evil passions that, at best, he neglects his neighbor; at worst, he abuses him. But in neither case does he love his neighbor. The wicked person’s neighbor can expect no favor from him.
21:11. The hard-hearted scoffer gains little from his well-deserved punishment, but at least the naive onlooker can learn something and become wise (cf. 19:25). The second line is more ambiguous. Who receives knowledge when the wise is instructed? It may refer to the wise, who continue to grow in wisdom without needing to be shocked into attention (similar to 19:25). Or it may refer to the naive, who can grow in wisdom both through negative and positive examples. The latter seems preferable, since one of wisdom’s purposes is to win the naive over to wisdom (Murphy, Proverbs, 159; cf. 1:4).
21:12. Who is the righteous one in this proverb? Some maintain he is a righteous man. But it is difficult to see how he could bring the wicked to ruin, since it is the Lord who justly brings about their downfall (cf. 13:6; 20:22). The righteous one therefore is a reference to God Himself (Is 24:16). Nothing in the wicked man’s household escapes his notice, and He will judge them justly.
21:13–15. The following proverbs present various attitudes towards justice and injustice.
21:13. What goes around comes around, at least for the one who hardens his heart (shuts his ear) and fails to respond to the cry of the poor. When his time of need comes—and it will—his cries for help will receive no response. No human will pity the man with no pity; why should they? Worse still, God Himself will not respond. God cares for the poor (19:17; 22:22–23), and He expects people to do so as well (14:31). Failure to do so is wicked, and calls for his judgment, not help.
21:14. Despite the reality of v. 13, the man without pity may think he has a good reason not to respond to the cry of the poor for justice. With a gift given in secret—a bribe—he may be able to circumvent justice for a time. Some commentators argue that this proverb merely makes an observation that bribes assuage anger; since appeasing wrath is a good thing (15:1, 18), sometimes bribes may be appropriate. But Proverbs discourages bribes (15:27; 17:8, 23; 19:6; see comments on 18:16), and in this context the anger placated is probably righteous indignation (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 179). That is, the one who is righteously angry should allow his anger over injustice to lead him to right those social wrongs that incense him rather than take a bribe from a perpetrator to look the other way. So this proverb is reiterating the observation that bribes pervert justice (17:23) and the righteous hate them (15:27).
21:15. One reason the righteous hate bribes is because they love justice. The exercise of justice brings joy for the righteous, but it brings terror to workers of iniquity. After all, justice served means the wicked man’s own ruin (the word terror could be translated "ruin"). Even merely observing justice served to other wicked people reminds him of what he faces.
21:16. This proverb reiterates the two-path theology of the first nine chapters. The one who wanders away from the way of understanding will die. The rebel’s "moral wanderlust" (Kidner, Proverbs, 144) will end with his rest—in the assembly of the dead (cf. 9:18)!
21:17. Pleasure is the same word as joy in v. 15, but the parallel wine and oil clarify the kind of joy this proverb addresses. Drinking wine and anointing the body with fragrant oil are associated with festive celebration, with what we could call "partying" today (Longman, Proverbs, 395). He who loves and pursues such pleasures as an end in themselves is foolish. Pleasures cost lots of money, and being preoccupied with them discourages thrift and industry. Poverty is the result. Pleasure seekers beware.
21:18. A ransom is a penalty paid in the place of the person ransomed in order to free him. Here the wicked and the treacherous become such a substitute for the righteous and upright. This may be referring to God’s punishment of a people corporately: the wicked will bear the brunt of that punishment on behalf of the righteous, who are preserved through it (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 687). Or it may be referring to punishment unjustly plotted or meted out against the righteous: in the end, the tables will be turned on the wicked (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 181–82; cf. the story of the Jews’ deliverance told in the book of Esther). In both cases, this proverb is similar to 11:8.
21:19. This proverb is similar to v. 9 (see comments there), but with a different metaphor. In this case, living in a desert is a more preferable than living with a contentious and vexing woman.
21:20. Precious treasure may suggest a collection of fine wine (Clifford, Proverbs, 192; cf. 1Ch 27:27), particularly in connection with olive oil. Together these elements suggest that this proverb lends further commentary to Pr 21:17. The wise man deals prudently with his resources so that they can accumulate. The foolish pleasure seeker swallows them up right away. He consumes rather than conserves. No wonder he comes to poverty.
21:21. He who pursues righteousness and loving loyalty (chesed) will find them, and more (cf. 1Kg 3:10–13; Mt 6:33). The repetition of righteousness suggests that he will find what he seeks; in treating others justly, kindly, and loyally he will find others treating him the same. The addition of life and honor indicates he receives great blessings beyond what he sought.
21:22. In picturesque language this proverb indicates that wisdom is powerful (cf. 24:5–6; Ec 9:13–16). It pictures the stronghold of a city defended by mighty warriors. Its citizens confidently trust in its seemingly impenetrable defenses. Yet through wise strategy, the wise man somehow scales the city’s defensive walls, overcomes its mighty defenders, and brings it down to defeat. "Wisdom may succeed where brute force fails" (Kidner, Proverbs, 144).
21:23. There is a play on words with guards (shomer) in this proverb. He who guards (shomer) his speech watches what he says very carefully. In doing so he guards (shomer) his soul by protecting himself from trouble.
21:24. Proverbs says much about the scoffer/mocker, but this proverb actually defines him. The HCSB best captures the meaning: "The proud and arrogant person, named ‘Mocker,’ acts with excessive pride." He has an incredible overabundance of pride, so he makes fun of others and never accepts any correction.
21:25–26. The desire of the sluggard kills him because he refuse[s] to work. It may be that his desire for the necessities of life is somehow insufficient to motivate him to work (and eat). Or it may be that any motivation to work (and eat) is overwhelmed by his desire for something else—such as chasing some empty fantasy or just trying to avoid any work! The first line of v. 26 also addresses someone’s desire (craving), but it is not clear whose. It may belong to the wicked in general, whose selfish, greedy cravings are never ending. More likely it continues to describe the desire of the sluggard, who is left with nothing but his incessant (all day long) craving. In any case, neither has any capacity to give to others. Therefore, neither is a righteous person, who gives to the needy and does so generously (he does not hold back).
21:27. The Lord is not impressed by mere religious practice without a heart devoted to him (cf. Is 1:11; Jl 2:13; Am 5:21; Mt 15:8). He considers the sacrifice of the wicked to be an abomination (cf. 15:8). Perhaps they are simply going through the motions or offering carelessly or trying to maintain a hypocritical veneer. That is loathsome enough. But God considers a sacrifice offered with evil intent to be even more loathsome. This probably involves the wicked’s actually trying to solicit God’s help in some evil scheme (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 691). Attempting such a bargain only "adds insult to injury" (Kidner, Proverbs, 145).
21:28–29. Both proverbs discuss the liar. The false witness will perish and will be defeated (v. 28). The first line is clear enough, but the second line is more difficult, spurring several interpretations. It mentions the man who listens, but to what does he listen? By adding the phrase to the truth, the NASB indicates that he listens to what is true. However, it is more likely that he listens carefully to what the false witness claims. Then the discerning listener will speak lanetzach. Here this term more likely means "victoriously" rather than forever (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 163–64n44). The second line is therefore probably saying that the careful listener will be able to discern the perjurer’s lies and then expose those lies when he finally speaks, thereby winning his case (cf. Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 691). Verse 29 is similar. Here the liar is described as a wicked man who displays a bold face. That is, he is an evil, bald-faced liar (Garrett, Proverbs, 185). The ESV translation nicely captures the second line: "but the upright gives thought to his ways." He understands the ways of the liar and sees right through his charade (Garrett, Proverbs, 185). An alternate, though less likely interpretation (following the NASB) applies the proverb to the wicked more generally: they boldly follow their evil path to destruction, in contrast to the sure path of the righteous (see Longman, Proverbs, 399–400).
21:30–31. Since the Lord makes them possible, there can be no wisdom, understanding, or counsel without Him (cf. 1:7), nor can feeble human attempts at wisdom prevail against the Lord (v. 30). Verse 31 applies the principle to war. The war horse (as well as chariots) represented the best in military technology of the time (Clifford, Proverbs, 194). Yet human resources are not conclusive in determining the outcome of warfare. No success is possible apart from God’s will; victory belongs to the Lord (cf. Ps 33:16–17). "Neither wisdom (v. 30) nor might (v. 31) can attain its aims if these are contrary to God’s designs" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 693).
22:1–2. Wealth should not be valued above reputation (v. 1). A good reputation (a good name, favor) is worth more. Wealth alone cannot secure it. Only wisdom can (cf. 3:1–4), and wisdom can bring wealth to boot (cf. 3:14; Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 199). Wealth also should not give one superior airs (v. 2). The rich and the poor have a common bond: both are created by the Lord and so both are image-bearers. This reality should be a "school of virtue" for both: "the poor shall not envy the rich (Prov. 3:31), and the rich shall not despise the poor" (C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, trans. M. G. Easton, COT 6 [1874–75; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996], 322).
22:3. The word evil might refer to moral evil or to harm/danger. Either option is probably too narrow; the word is intentionally broad here (something like the word "trouble"). The prudent have the foresight to avoid trouble (evil and/or unnecessary difficulties). The naive, lacking such insight, head right towards trouble, and end up finding it. They are punished for it, either because they fall into moral evil and its consequences, or they get enmeshed in unnecessary problems that could have been avoided.
22:4. The end result (reward) of wisdom is riches, honor, and life (cf. 8:18, 35). And wisdom depends on a humility associated with the fear of the Lord. The humble who revere the Lord renounce self-sufficiency (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 202) and humbly receive wise instruction and correction from His sages.
22:5. The way of the perverse, crooked person is difficult. It is filled with thorns and deadly snares, making their life miserable—and short (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 697). The way to protect (guard) oneself—and one’s very life—is too keep far from those thorns and snares by avoiding the lifestyle of the crooked in the first place.
22:6. This well-known proverb raises several important considerations. First, to train up (or "to dedicate") a child, "means to start the youth off with a strong and perhaps even religious commitment to a certain course of action" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 204). Second, the meaning of a child’s way (lit., "his way") has been disputed. Some suggest it refers to training in accord with the child’s abilities and capacities. Others suggest it ironically refers to the child’s own desired way; let them do what they want and you will never change them (so Clifford, Proverbs, 197). But it surely refers to the way of wisdom, (the way he should go). After all, there is only one right way in Proverbs, and the second line suggests that the child does get old, which is a reward for that right way (cf. 20:29; Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 205). Third, as is true of proverbs in general, this one also is a general rule of thumb, not an unmitigated promise. This is a proverb, and proverbs describe the common experiences of God’s people over long periods of time. Typically, a child whose parents dedicate him to the right path through careful training will continue in that way to old age. This proverb does not treat children mechanistically as if a child cannot choose to walk away from the faith (e.g., 2:13), nor does it assume that humans can force God’s hand (16:1–9). Other factors outside parental control may affect outcomes as well. But this proverb stresses "parental opportunity and duty" (Kidner, Proverbs, 147), encouraging parents to do their part by raising their children well. Even parents of children who may become prodigal (Lk 15:11–32) can have real hope that when he is old he will not depart from what he has been taught as a child.
22:7. This proverb urges extreme caution about indebtedness in order to avoid becoming the lender’s slave. The first line is a frank observation: "Those with material means usually call the shots in a society" (Longman, Proverbs, 405). The same dynamic happens to the borrower: the lender has the power in the relationship. After all, the borrower owes the lender money, and should he fail to pay, in that society he could quite literally become enslaved as a debtor. The Bible does not forbid making or taking out loans (see Lv 25:35–36; Mt 5:42; Lk 6:35); however, financial and social bondage can be the result. Extreme caution is wise when incurring debt.
22:8–9. Oppression is a poor investment (v. 8). Iniquity has the connotation of injustice here (Koehler et al., HALOT, 798), particularly when seen in parallel with a rod of fury used for oppression. Will perish is better translated "will fail." Thus he who sows injustice will reap nothing (vanity) except failure. Generosity is a much better investment (v. 9). A generous (lit., "good of eye") man who gives some of his own food to the poor will be blessed. That blessing comes from the Lord Himself, who cares for the poor (cf. 19:17), and perhaps also from the poor, who thank him and speak well of him to God and man.
22:10. The scoffer has a terrible effect on the community. He is a troublemaker because he thinks he is never wrong, is defensive, and likes to dishonor others and stir things up. So when a community expels him, they also expel the contention, strife, and dishonor that accompany him. "It is often not the situation but rather the people involved in a situation who cause problems" (Longman, Proverbs, 407). A similar principle should operate in church life (cf. Mt 18:17; Ti 3:10 and comments there).
22:11. Here is some advice on how to win friends and influence people—particularly important people like the king. Become a person who loves purity of heart and who can speak graciously at the same time. Effective speech without integrity makes one a manipulative hypocrite; integrity without effective speech makes one’s influence ineffective. "It is the equal partnership of integrity and charm, the one not diminishing the other, that is the rarity" (Kidner, Proverbs, 148). It is a powerful combination that attracted the king’s favor in the past and is just as winsome today.
22:12. The Lord[’s] eyes keep watch over knowledge. To keep watch is to guard, and by extension, to preserve. Knowledge, in contrast to the words of the treacherous, probably refers to the words spoken by the wise. God therefore makes sure that wisdom succeeds whereas he brings the teachings of those who treacherously subvert wisdom to failure (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 701).
22:13. The sluggard shamelessly uses excuses to avoid work, no matter how absurd (cf. 6:6–11). Here he claims that a lion is stalking the city streets. Ancient Israel had its lions, but they hardly ever wandered city streets!
22:14. Another kind of man-eater really does stalk city streets: the adulteress (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 215; cf. 7:12). Her mouth refers to her seductive kisses and words (cf. 7:13–21). Those who succumb to her temptations fall into the deep deadly pit she places before them. Worse still, they place themselves under the Lord[’s] curse. The wording of the second line probably does not mean that the Lord curses them so that they succumb to her. More likely, it stresses that she is the means of God’s judgment on those who disregard Him and heed her seductions.
22:15. The depravity of humanity is evident in the natural inclination of children (cf. Ps 51:5). Foolishness is inherently bound up in the very character (heart) of a child. This "doctrine of ‘original folly’ " (Whybray, Book of Proverbs, 125) is no small matter; foolishness is hard to remove, and it is ultimately deadly. But there is hope for the parents who love their child: the rod of discipline will remove it far from him. It takes early, dramatic preemptive action to deal with folly, and physical discipline is a significant part of that (cf. Pr 13:24; 19:18–19; 20:30; 23:13–14 and comments there).
22:16. This proverb gives two examples of ill-gotten gain that lead ultimately to poverty (emphasis added). The first is oppressing the poor in order to enrich oneself (cf. 14:31; 17:5; 19:17). The second is offering bribes to the rich and powerful in order to get ahead. In the end, both of these are "expensive tactics" (Kidner, Proverbs, 149).
D. Thirty Sayings of the Wise (22:17–24:22)
This section differs in style from the previous section, almost like a brief version of the first nine chapters. It consists of 30 sayings of the wise, presumably collected from various wisdom teachers (22:17–24:22). Notably influential in 23:22–34 (sayings 17–19) is the Egyptian wise man Amenemope, but there are also Aramaic and Akkadian similarities as well (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 217; cf. also Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 705). Of course, Solomon adapted international wisdom sayings in a way consistent with the fear of the Lord. Scholars differ to some degree about how this section should be organized, but the structure below is fairly typical. (Each of the 30 sayings will be designated after their respective passage with a number enclosed in brackets.)
In addition, 24:23–34 comprise a brief addendum, identified as the "also sayings" of the wise so-called because of the "also" of 24:23a and discussed in the next section.
22:17–21.  This first saying functions as a prologue to the whole section. Like the lessons in the first section of Proverbs, this section begins with an exhortation to incline your ear and hear (diligently heed) these teachings (v. 17). They are called the sayings or words of the wise, but they are also described as my knowledge, suggesting that Solomon used and adapted the wisdom of other sages (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 222). The learner has ample motivation for heeding these teachings: they will have pleasant consequences for his life (v. 18). But this will only happen if he so internalizes them—keep them within—that he can readily articulate them—ready on your lips (cf. 2:10).
There are two purposes for these teachings (vv. 19–21). The first and most important is that the learner might trust … in the Lord (v. 19). This involves a personal, ongoing commitment to and reliance on Him (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 223; cf. 3:5–6), and nothing is more pleasant than that! The centrality of fearing the Lord is a crucial difference between biblical wisdom from its ANE counterparts. The sage’s other purpose for writing his counsels and knowledge (v. 20) is that the learner would know truth and speak honestly and reliably (v. 21). Honest, wise, reliable people are valuable to anyone who commissions them and are beneficial to society. The excellent things of v. 20 is better translated "thirty sayings" (cf. Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 219–20, n. 113; Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 710–12)—hence the title of this section.
22:22–23.  This saying forbids ill-gotten gain (v. 22) and then gives a motivation: God is on the side of the poor and oppressed (v. 23). These verses form a chiastic structure. So wicked, powerful people may rob the poor because, being poor, he lacks the money and power to defend himself (v. 22a). But then in turn the Lord will literally rob the life of those who rob the poor (23b). Similarly, the powerful may crush the afflicted in legal proceedings at the gate of the city, where such proceedings were held (v. 23b). But then in turn the Lord will plead their case against their oppressors (v. 23a), and He always wins his case (v. 23b)! Taking advantage of the poor and oppressed is not wise.
22:24–25.  A wise person will not associate or go about with an angry, short-tempered man (v. 24). And there is good reason not to. Anger is contagious, and so are its dire results (v. 25). The hothead’s associate will learn his ways, and becoming like him, will fall into the same deadly snare.
22:26–27.  As elsewhere in Proverbs (e.g., 6:1–5), here again making pledges (more literally, "shaking hands" in a contractual agreement) to become guarantors for other people’s debts is discouraged (v. 26). After all, the time may come that you have nothing with which to pay when the loan is called, and the creditor may take the very bed from under you. At that point, you are left with nothing.
22:28.  To move stones marking the boundary of family property represents seizing that property by fraud (when, for example, it is done little by little over time) or by brute confiscation (when oppressors take from the powerless, e.g., 15:25). In Israel, these boundaries were ancient, arranged by lot for Israel’s fathers (see comments on Jos 14–19) when Israel received the land in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant and assigned by tribal allotment by Joshua (Gn 12:1–3; 15:18; Jos 11:23ff.). The Lord considered the preservation of this allotted property important (Dt 19:14; 27:17; Lv 25:24–34), as would the wise (cf. 23:10–12).
22:29.  A man skilled in his work is noticed. And he is going places. He will stand before kings and not … before obscure men. That is, his skillful services come to be in such demand that he can serve only the upper echelons of society—and only they can afford him! It is a good motivation to work hard, continue to grow in one’s skills, and push for excellence.
23:1–3.  The context of this saying is a banquet with a ruler, a king, or some other important government official (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 720) (v. 1a). The wise will consider carefully what or who (the Hb. is ambiguous) is before him (v. 1b). That is, he will pay cautious attention to that context, and act accordingly. In particular, he will not overindulge (v. 2–3a). To put a knife to one’s throat does not suggest mere threat, but is akin to slicing one’s throat. In that situation, any man inclined to gluttony (great appetite) had better put a stop to it and not crave the delicacies the ruler places before him. And for good reason, for it is deceptive food (v. 3b). Why is it deceptive? It may be that overeating has disagreeable side effects after the fact, or that the food comes with strings attached (so Garrett, Proverbs, 195). More likely, however, the food is more than it seems: "it points to the wily character of the host, who is testing the character of the guest" (Murphy, Proverbs, 174). Demonstrating his lack of self-control, the glutton will make a poor impression on the ruler and undermine the hope of career advancement. The wise make good impressions at opportune times.
23:4–5.  "When wealth is acquired through wise effort such as diligence (10:4) and modesty (21:17) and given by the Lord," Waltke wrote, "it is a positive blessing" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 240; cf. 3:16; 10:22; 12:27). After all, in those cases it is a consequence of fearing the Lord. But wealth pursued as an end in itself is a fool’s errand. So v. 4 advises against exhausting oneself to gain wealth. To cease from your consideration literally says: "cease from your understanding." This is an encouragement to stop relying on your own understanding or schemes to acquire wealth (so rightly Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 240; cf. 3:5–6). That is, people often pursue riches to be self-sufficient and secure (cf. 18:11). But wealth is unreliable (v. 5). Set your sight on it, and it may well sprout wings and disappear, like an eagle that flies into the sky.
23:6–8.  Dining in the home of a stingy, selfish man (cf. 28:22), even though the menu contains delicacies, is unpleasant. It is best to avoid his banquet altogether (do not eat his bread) much less to desire the opportunity, because the hypocritical skinflint is really "the kind of person who is always thinking about the cost" v. 7 (NIV) and really does not want you there. Although he urges his guest to eat and drink, in his heart (which reveals his true identity) he resents his dinner guest. The result is a very unpleasant meal, where the guest feels like he wants to vomit up the dinner. Duty may demand that the guest converse pleasantly (compliments is literally "pleasing words") with the host, but that conversation is a waste. Every invitation is not worth accepting.
23:9.  Wise words are wasted on a fool. Good intentions notwithstanding, the sage’s only thanks for instructing him will be the fool’s contempt for his wisdom (cf. Jesus’ similar point in Mt 7:6). Still, Pr 26:5 indicates that there may be times to do so anyway.
23:10–11.  In words reminiscent of 22:28, this saying prohibits land grabs, particularly against vulnerable people like the fatherless (also widows, 15:25; cf. 22:28). But they are not powerless, because they have a strong Redeemer and advocate, the Lord Himself (cf. 22:22–23). A needy person’s redeemer (go’el) was a relative who advocated for him, protected his property, kept him out of slavery, and avenged his murder (Lv 25:25–35, 47–54; Nm 35:19–27; Ru 3–4; Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 245). In a surprising turn, therefore, the oppressor foolishly places himself in a precarious and vulnerable position.
23:12.  This saying exhorts the hearer to receive discipline and knowledge. He must bring the wisdom he receives through his ears to bear on his heart, rather than listen and forget.
23:13–14.  Parental discipline is difficult, but vital. Parents may be tempted to hold back discipline from their child, particularly if it includes spanking him with the rod. But if they do discipline him, he will not die (v. 13). This is probably has a double meaning: "the child will not only survive it, he will survive because of it" (Kidner, Proverbs, 152). So he will not die because wise parents love their children and exercise moderation; they are not abusive. He also will not die (i.e., you shall … rescue his soul from Sheol) because it will drive the foolishness from his heart (22:15), which, if left unchanged, will be his death (v. 14; cf. 13:24; 19:18–19; 20:30; 22:15; and comments there).
23:15–16.  A son or daughter who is wise and speaks wisely will make their parents glad. If the previous saying dealt with negative reinforcement, this is positive reinforcement. "The joy of giving one’s parents or teachers a sense of pride and satisfaction should serve as a motivation to pursue the right path" (Garrett, Proverbs, 196).
23:17–18.  The wise man should not … envy sinners in his heart (v. 17a), even if they seem to prosper for a time (cf. Ps 73, esp. v. 3, and Ps 37). Instead, he will "look up (17b) and look ahead (18)" (Kidner, Proverbs, 152). Looking up, the wise will always be zealous for the fear of the Lord (v. 17b). The NASB suggests that live is the implied verb in this line. But more likely the verb envy in the first line carries over into the second as well, only here it has the sense of being "zealous for" the fear of the Lord always (Nm 25:11, 13; Ezk 39:25). Looking ahead, the wise realize that they have good reason for their passion. Unlike the wicked, who face destruction, those who worship the Lord have a future and a hope that will not be cut off (v. 18). In the end, it is nothing short of eternal life.
23:19–21.  The father encourages his son to heed wisdom and direct his heart in its way (v. 19). This could be a separate saying in its own right, but its invitation for the son to listen, reminiscent of chaps. 1–9, anticipates the message the father wants his son to hear in the verses to follow (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 256). In this case, wisdom’s way is to not join in with heavy drinkers or gluttonous men (v. 20). And for good reason: dissipation leads to poverty (v. 21). Overindulging wastes resources rather than using them wisely (cf. 21:17, 20). Moreover, it fosters a slothful lethargy (drowsiness) that discourages work (cf. 6:10; 23:33–34). For Christians today, it is truly sobering that the saying considers gluttony no better than drunkenness.
23:22–25.  This saying encourages the son to embrace wisdom (vv. 22–23) so that he makes his parents glad (vv. 24–25). He should listen to his wise parents’ teachings (v. 22). Their being old implies that his parents are righteous and wise, and failure to listen to them is tantamount to showing contempt both for parents and wisdom—and for the commands of the Lord (cf. Ex 20:12; Eph 6:2). In commercial terms, he should buy truth, which includes wisdom and instruction and understanding (cf. Pr 1:2); they are too valuable to sell (v. 23). "Selling out" involves rejecting wisdom in favor of some foolish worldview (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 259). When a son embraces his parents’ teachings, becoming righteous and wise, he will cause his father and mother to rejoice and be glad (v. 24). Therefore, the wise son will seek to bring them joy in this manner (v. 25). The saying assumes that making his parents proud will motivate the son (Longman, Proverbs, 429)—a safe assumption, all things being equal.
23:26–28.  Here a father tenderly requests his son to give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my wise ways (v. 26). He wants his son to take delight in wisdom rather than be attracted to a harlot or someone’s adulterous wife—because these women are like a deep pit and narrow well (v. 27). Falling into either was certain death (cf. 5:5; 7:27; 9:18). These images probably also have sexual connotations. But she is more than a passive danger; she is an active one as well, like a robber who lurks in ambush (v. 28a). "She is at once the lure and the trap" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 739). She increases the faithless among men (v. 28b) because there are plenty of fools willing to heed her siren song. She only serves to undermine the moral character of society (Garrett, Proverbs, 197). Of course, the playboy is no better than she is.
23:29–35.  This saying on drunkenness, and ultimately alcoholism, begins with six interrogatory riddles (v. 29). Who cries out woe and alas (sorrow), because of all the suffering he brings on himself? Who gets into quarrels and has complaints, needless wounds, and bloodshot eyes? The answer is obvious: drunks (v. 30)! They are described as those who linger long over wine and who … taste or examine it. The tone is sarcastic. "The sots come to ‘inspect’ or ‘investigate’ wine, as it were. We can picture them hunched over their cup, staring duly at the object of their ‘study’ " (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 741). The problem is not in drinking wine per se but in becoming enamored with its charms and overindulging, something the wise do not do (v. 31). Like the seductress above, wine captivates the foolish drunk. He looks longingly at the wine, sparkling red in the cup, and dreams of it going down his throat smoothly. There is a word play here; the word for wine’s "sparkle" usually means "eye." So the alluring gaze of wine’s red "eye" will be returned by the fixed stare of the drunk’s bloodshot eyes (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 741).
In the end, wine for the drunk is as poisonous as a striking serpent, or viper (v. 32). The harmful effects of intoxication include distorted perception (v. 33a) and the breakdown of appropriate inhibitions (v. 33b). In addition, it gives the drunk a nauseating lack of balance, like a person grasping the deck or rigging of a ship tossed to and fro on the high seas (v. 34; Waltke Proverbs 15–31, 266). Moreover, it anesthetizes him to all the damaging beatings he has taken, at least temporarily (v. 35a). But the worst part of the alcoholic’s addiction is his incorrigibility (v. 35a). He longs to seek another drink as soon as he awakens from his drunken stupor, only to repeat the process in a downward spiral. The whole dark comedy thus turns tragic—a sobering picture indeed.
24:1–2.  The admonition not to be envious of evil men nor desire their company appears elsewhere in Proverbs (cf. 3:31; 13:20; 23:17–18; vv. 19–20). But here the motivation for not doing so focuses on the character of the evil men themselves. The violent schemes of their hearts (minds) are reflected in their malicious words. Such characters are repulsive. Anyone with sense would neither want to become like them nor share their ultimate fate. Yet the proverb implies that close companions will become alike and share the same fate (cf. 3:31; 23:17–18; 24:19–20; Pss 37; 73). The next two sayings show that wisdom’s way is better.
24:3–4.  By wisdom one builds, establishes, and fills a house with precious and pleasant riches. This is true literally, of course, since it takes wisdom to produce the wealth needed for such costly endeavors (cf. 3:13–20; 8:18). However, even more significantly, it applies to the incalculable blessing of a loving, harmonious, stable family life that can only come by wisdom (cf. 14:1; 31:10–31).
24:5–6.  A wise man is strong in ways that go beyond brute strength. Therefore, wisdom and strength are a powerful team; working together (8:14), wise knowledge increases power. Verse 6 illustrates the point. A king may have the power to wage war, but only when he does so with wise guidance and an abundance of counselors can he be confidant of victory (cf. 11:14; 15:22; 20:18). Prudence and power make a potent combination.
24:7.  Wisdom is too exalted, out of reach, for a fool (ewil). He "lacks the wings of piety and humility" needed to soar to such heights (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 273). So in the city gate, the forum where public policy, justice, and business was conducted, he does not open his mouth. It is not that he is unwilling to speak; the fool is always ready to spout his folly (cf. 15:2). It is rather that in such weighty matters he simply has nothing to contribute, and the leaders of the community do not give him a platform to be heard. Lacking wisdom, he is unable "to speak well, authoritatively, and constructively" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 273), and everyone knows it. In such settings, he is way out of his league.
24:8–9.  While the community may readily dismiss some fools, they will come utterly to despise others. The one who, for his own benefit, plans to do evil at others’ expense will develop a reputation as a schemer (v. 8). This is no small matter. His community recognizes his foolish scheming as sin (v. 9a). And though he may mock at violating the norms of God and society, the scoffer will suffer as a despised outcast of his community, being an abomination to men (v. 9b).
24:10–12.  Times of distress will test a person’s character (v. 10). If he is slack in difficult times, due to cowardice, laziness, or indifference he proves his limited strength of character (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 275). One such time of crisis would involve intervening on behalf of those who are being taken away to death (v. 11). The particulars of this scenario are not clear. It may involve intervening with fools whose behavior is leading them inexorably to death (e.g., 7:22–23; Longman, Proverbs, 438). More likely, it involves delivering people from life-threatening injustice, such as victims of violent criminals, evil people, and corrupt governments (so Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 747). In any case, flimsy excuses to avoid any involvement will be judged by the Lord (v. 12). The slacker may feign ignorance (saying we did not know this), but God, who weighs the hearts, perceives the truth. More ominously, God, who keeps watch over one’s life (soul), will also render to man according to his work. If a man "turns a blind eye to helping victims and does nothing to help them, the Protector of Life will turn a blind eye to him in his crisis" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 278).
24:13–14.  This saying draws a parallel between eating honey and knowing wisdom. To eat honey is good, like tasty medicine, because it not only was considered to have medicinal value for one’s body, but it also has a sweet, pleasant taste (v. 13). In a similar sense, wisdom is also both pleasant and beneficial to one’s soul (v. 14; cf. 16:24). To know and appropriate wisdom secures a person’s future rather than disappointed hope. This is because it fosters life itself, and an enjoyable life to boot. When seen in connection with the fear of the Lord and the larger biblical witness, it is also nothing less than the bliss of eternal life with the Lord Himself (cf. 23:18).
24:15–16.  Attacking the righteous is a fool’s errand. This warning is probably directed to the wicked man: criminals should not target the home and possessions of the righteous (v. 15). Verse 16 explains why: the righteous man is resilient. This does not mean he is untouchable, for even a righteous man falls into difficulty. But that difficulty is never permanent. "No matter how many times (the proverbial seven) the just one falls, he will rise again, in contrast to the stumbling of the wicked" (Murphy, Proverbs, 181–82). Their stumble into calamity is permanent. The difference between them is clear. The righteous have wisdom and, more important, the Lord to carry them through; the wicked are bereft of all such resources.
24:17–18.  If the previous saying predicted the downfall of the wicked, this saying discourages gloating when it happens. The wise person will not rejoice when his enemy falls (v. 17). But sometimes the righteous wise person rightly does that very thing (cf. 1:26; 11:10; Ex 15; Jdg 5; Ps 52:5–7), so what is different here? The clue may be found in the motivation clause in Pr 24:18. When the Lord sees it, he will be displeased by it—or more literally, it is "evil in His eyes." The son may rejoice at deliverance from oppression or the display at God’s justice, but he should never revel in human suffering itself, even of his enemies. True, his wicked enemy may be on the receiving end of God’s just anger, but his own vindictive glee over his enemy’s suffering is no better than his enemy’s sin (Kidner, Proverbs, 155). He becomes like his enemy.
Hence, in such cases, God may, at least for the time being, turn away His anger from the son’s enemy, lest He perpetuate the situation that feeds the son’s own malevolent attitude (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 285). Worse still, the saying may also imply that God will turn His anger back on the son himself. It is much better, then, to "place justice in the hands of God and stand back in silent dread of God’s power" (Garrett, Proverbs, 199; cf. 20:22; 25:21–22; Jb 31:29–30).
24:19–20.  If the previous saying encourages proper attitudes when God delivers justice, this saying encourages proper attitudes when such justice seems delayed. In times when evildoers seem to prosper, the righteous wise should not fret, that is, become agitated, infuriated, enraged. Nor should they become envious of the wicked (v. 19; cf. 3:31–33; 23:17–18; 24:1–2; Ps 73). This is because any prosperity for the wicked is short-lived, a striking contrast with that of the righteous (v. 20; cf. 23:18). Having no future because his lamp (i.e., his life) will be snuffed out, the wicked man’s long-term prospects are premature death—and worse in eternity. In times when the wicked prosper, then, righteous people will trust in the Lord rather than give way to fretting and envy, which is only "to play the fool by confusing their temporary lot with their permanent reward" (Hubbard, Proverbs, 386).
24:21–22.  Rebellion against the Lord and the king is dangerous. The wise person will thus fear them both rather than associate with rebels (v. 21; cf. 16:14; 19:12; 20:2; 1Pt 2:17). The phrase those who are given to change (shoniym, "change", "altered") is difficult, but the context indicates they are rebels. Verse 22 explains why subjection to God and king is the wiser course. Both of them will bring certain and sudden disaster (calamity) on rebels, with the resulting ruin too great to fully understand. This proverb assumes, of course, that the king himself is not a rebel to His King, the Lord, but is exercising legitimate authority derived from the Lord (cf. Rm 13:1–7).
E. More Sayings of the Wise (24:23–34)
24:23a. This clause introduces another section, similar in style to the previous one. The section is also called sayings of the wise, an addendum affixed to the previous section (22:17–24:22).
24:23b–25. The first of these "also sayings" pertains to the law court, and the basic principle is stated initially in v. 23b: for a person sitting in judgment, it is not good to show partiality (cf. 17:15, 23, 26; 18:5; 28:21). Two reasons for impartial judgment are given, one negative, one positive. Negatively, a judge who shows favoritism to someone who is guilty (wicked) by declaring him innocent (righteous) will be universally reviled; peoples and nations will curse and abhor him (v. 24). It is not just that blatant injustice is offensive; it is also detrimental to society. Positively, judges who rebuke and convict the wicked will receive a good blessing (v. 25). The people will honor rather than curse them. But beyond the praise of people, the text implies the blessing and cursing is from the Lord Himself.
24:26. This saying compares giving a right answer with kissing the lips. A right answer is a straightforward, honest response to an inquiry (Koehler et al., HALOT, 699). Such words reflect love, respect, and intimacy toward the inquirer, much like a kiss on the lips. "The greatest sign of affection and respect for another is to tell the person the truth" (Clifford, Proverbs, 217).
24:27. This saying is akin to the modern proverb, "first things first" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 772). More particularly, the wise son will first attend to his labors outside before trying to build his house. In an agrarian context, this means preparing his field so that its yield can support his household (cf. 27:23–27). More broadly, the wise will not undertake a project without appropriate preparation.
24:28–29. If taken separately, these two verses would be warning against giving false testimony (v. 28) and taking revenge (v. 29). More likely, however, they should be taken together as a unit. It pictures a person who witnesses falsely against his neighbor for revenge. Because he has no valid legal cause for testifying against his neighbor, (as in Lv 5:1), he testifies deceptively (v. 28). Yet he justifies his false testimony as payback (what he has done to me) for a previous wrong (v. 29). Unfortunately, such behavior destroys one’s personal integrity and undermines the justice system, which depends on honest testimony. Worse still, it displays a lack of trust in the Lord who judges justly in His timing (cf. 20:22; 24:12).
24:30–34. This last saying follows a story (cf. 7:6–23), and its teaching echoes 6:6–11. The wise father recalls a field, or more precisely a vineyard, owned by a sluggard who lacks sense (v. 30). His lazy neglect of his property is evident by the weeds that have overtaken it (overgrown with thistles and covered with nettles) and by the dilapidated state of (broken down) the stone wall meant to protect it (v. 31). This implies that the prosperity is no longer productive and that the lazy owner is left in poverty. On observing this example, the wise person takes the lesson to heart: I reflected … looked, and received instruction (v. 32). The lesson itself is stated clearly: because of the sluggard’s lazy neglectfulness (i.e., his preference for sleep and slumber instead of working), poverty will inevitably overtake him like a robber or armed man (vv. 33–34; cf. 6:9–11; these verses are almost identical; see comments there).
II. The Collection of Solomon’s Proverbs by King Hezekiah’s Scribes (25:1–29:27)
25:1. This title introduces a second collection of Solomonic proverbs that the men of Hezekiah, king of Judah, transcribed. Hezekiah ruled Judah from about 715–687 BC. In the wake of Assyria’s destruction of the northern kingdom (721 BC) and apostasy in Judah, he devoted himself to the Lord and led a revival (2Kg 18:1–12). Likely as part of this Hezekiah commissioned wise scholars to copy, collect, and arrange this group of proverbs from among Solomon’s 3,000 proverbs (1Kg 4:32). The proverbs of Pr 25:2–7 cluster around interacting with the king.
25:2–3. When it comes to power and wisdom, there is a hierarchy from God to king to human subjects (Waltke, Book of Proverbs, 15–31, 310). It is true that God and the king have glory, though God’s clearly outstrips the king’s (v. 2). God’s glory is displayed in the mysteries of His creation, which stress His incomprehensibility and transcendence (cf. Dt 29:29) and bring all human beings to an appropriate humility before Him (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 778). Still, wise governing means that the king must try to search out some of these mysteries (a matter). So his glory is seen in his capacity to use God-given wisdom to understand some of those mysterious matters of God’s creation, particularly those pertaining to affairs of state and to administering justice (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 311–12; cf. Solomon in 1Kg 3:9, 16–28). Similarly, the heart of kings is as inscrutable to their subjects as the mysteries of the heights of the heavens and the depths of the earth (Pr 25:3). The motivations, thought processes, and emotions behind what he does are hard to fathom, and the subject should give him due deference. Since "those who do not have either the responsibility or information for massive decisions will always be puzzled by those who do," it is best to "be humbly appreciative of the magnitude of the tasks that wise leaders perform" (Hubbard, Proverbs, 400).
25:4–5. To get silver pure enough to make a lovely silver vessel, the silversmith must remove the dross from the silver. Similarly, if the king wants his rule to be securely established in righteousness, he must remove the wicked from his royal court (cf. 20:8, 26; Ps 101:6–8). If the proverb is also addressed to his advisors, they should seek to promote righteousness in the king’s administration so that both king and nation prosper.
25:6–7b. This is direct advice to the king’s courtiers against self-promotion. In the context of the king’s court, unbridled ambition may spur a courtier to claim honor for himself or consider himself the equal of great men of high dignity and rank, but this is foolish (2Sm 1:1–16). Far better to let others promote you to higher rank than be demoted and humiliated (Pr 25:7; cf. 22:29). Jesus makes the same point (Lk 14:7–11).
25:7c–10. When addressing conflicts with a neighbor, the wise will not be quick to escalate the conflict. For one thing, the wise person will be sure he has his facts straight (vv. 7c–8). The last line of v. 7, whom your eyes have seen, is better connected to the idea of presenting your case. If so, the ESV captures the idea: "What your eyes have seen do not hastily bring to court." A rash case based on mere cursory observation rather than careful investigation is foolish. In court, such rashness will be exposed, bringing "shame" (v. 8 ESV) to the one who brought suit. What is true in a court setting is also true in life generally. Don’t be quick to argue with another based on hastily drawn conclusions, or you will make a fool of yourself.
Moreover, the wise will deal confidentially and directly with his neighbor with whom he has a dispute (vv. 9–10). In times of conflict with a neighbor, it is foolish to gossip to others about your complaint against him, (to reveal the secret of another) rather than going directly to him (v. 9). Verse 10 explains why. Those others who hear your accusations will brand you a complainer or a gossip, and that reputation will stick. If the background to these verses is the courtroom, they may be encouraging settling out of court rather than airing one’s dirty laundry publicly in the courtroom, to the shame of all involved.
25:11–12. The wise person speaks the right words at the right time (cf. 15:23). Settings of silver only enhance the inherent value of golden apples (probably in reference to jewelry or some work of art). Similarly, the inherent value of a wise word is enhanced when it is spoken in right circumstances (v. 11; Longman, Proverbs, 453). This principle is evident when it comes to giving wise reproof to someone (v. 12). Reproof given to someone unwilling to receive it is wasted. But it is altogether different when rebuke is given to someone with a listening ear, willing to receive correction. He will find the wise reprover a valued treasure, like jewelry made of fine gold.
25:13–14. Reliability is a great blessing (v. 13). Working the wheat harvest in May–June was hot labor. If it were possible, no doubt the sweating laborer would welcome the refreshing cold of snow in the midst of his hot work. A faithful messenger is similarly refreshing to those who send him (cf. 13:17). "Business transactions, political decisions, not to speak of personal communication—all depended on the reliability" of messengers (Longman, Proverbs, 454). With so much at stake, it is little wonder that senders would find refreshing comfort in a messenger who could be counted on. In contrast, unreliability is a great curse (v. 14). Some people are big talkers, but they cannot back up their promises. Clouds and wind promise rain, a huge blessing to an agrarian people living in Israel’s arid areas. So if they bring no rain, they are a huge disappointment. Similarly a man who boasts about the gifts he promises to give but does not follow through is a terrible disappointment. The wise will follow through with what they promise, and look warily on big talkers.
25:15. This proverb is counterintuitive because one would expect that the best way to deal with tough people—like a ruler, who is as hard and rigid as bone—is to be similarly tough. Yet the best approach is forbearance, patience. Wise, persistent, soft words can break through to tough people and persuade them (cf. 15:1, 4, 18; 16:14). The wise man "can bring another to his way of thinking through a patient, open, and warm disposition and through sensitive, tactful speech" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 325).
25:16–17. Too much of a good thing is no good. Honey is pleasant and beneficial to eat, but eat too much, have it in excess (saba, "to be overfilled"), and you will vomit (get sick, v. 16). Similarly, visiting a neighbor is enjoyable for both parties, but make a nuisance of yourself by pestering your friend or overstaying your welcome and you will destroy your friendship because he will become weary (saba "to be overfilled"). Even good friends need private space. Moderation preserves the pleasure of pleasant things; overindulgence destroys it (cf. v. 27; 27:7).
25:18. A club, a sword, and a sharp arrow were weapons of war meant to wound and kill others. A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is just like such weapons. Perjury is no small matter. "The perjurer is a dangerous weapon" (Garrett, Proverbs, 208) who is destructive or even deadly to others (cf. 14:25; 19:28; 1Kg 21).
25:19. A man relies on his teeth to chew and his feet to walk. So a bad or broken (Koehler, HALOT, 1271) tooth and an unsteady foot will fail him when he needs them, disappointing him and causing him pain (Longman, Proverbs, 456). Similarly, when one puts confidence in a faithless man in time of trouble, he will be disappointed and hurt by his friend’s treacherous failure in times of need. The wise will choose their friends more carefully (cf. 17:17; 18:24; 20:6).
25:20. This proverb contains two metaphors. The first is taking off a garment on a cold day. This action is inappropriate and only makes the person colder. The second is pouring vinegar on soda. There are two issues for interpreting this image. First, nater is usually translated as soda, but it could also be translated as "wound" (e.g., NLT). Second, if soda is the proper translation, what effect of mixing vinegar (acid) with soda (base) is highlighted? Is the point that the two do not mix well and react against each other, or is it that the two neutralize each other’s effects? It is more likely that the former is intended, particularly in light of the first image. Pouring vinegar on soda—or on a wound—is inappropriate and only stirs things up. In a similar vein, it is insensitive and inappropriate to sing joyful songs to a troubled heart. Doing so displays a callous impropriety that only makes the suffering of the depressed person worse. "Seasonable songs can be therapeutic (cf. 1Sm 16:15–23; 19:9; Jb 30:31; Pr 12:25), but when sung unseasonably they are painful and damaging to the spirit (cf. Ps 137:1–4; Sir 22:6a). The sensitive know how and when to sorrow and to rejoice (Ec. 3:4; Rm 12:15; 1Co 12:26; Heb 13:3)" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 329).
25:21–22. It is human nature to take vengeance on one’s enemy, particularly if that enemy is vulnerable. But the admonition here calls for a radically different way: showing kindness to one’s vulnerable enemy (v. 21). If your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him water. There are two reasons given for doing this (v. 22). First, doing so will heap burning coals on his head. This image is obscure, and commentators differ widely on its meaning. It is unlikely that it represents an inverted form of vengeance, an act of purported kindness motivated by a vindictive desire actually to gall them. After all, Proverbs discourages taking vengeance (cf. 17:13; 19:11; 20:22; 24:17–18, 29), and the second line here indicates that this is something the Lord considers good (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 331). Whether or not the image picks up on an Egyptian ritual of penitence, as some suggest, it probably does involve bringing shame to one’s enemy—painful though that may be for him (cf. 6:27–28)—with the goal that he would repent. What is clear is that such behavior pleases the Lord and so brings reward. Paul quotes these verses in Rm 12:20 as a support for not taking vengeance but overcoming evil with good.
25:23. The difficulty with this proverb rests with the very idea that the north wind brings forth rain. In ancient Israel, rain was associated with the west wind (e.g., 1Kg 18:41–46) rather than the north wind. Some suggest that it is simply a reference to a northwest wind. But a better solution is implied by the possible word play in Hebrew between tsaphon (north) and sater (backbiting), both of which suggest hiding (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 332–3). The image implies that the rain brought by the north wind is unexpected and unwelcome (Pr 26:1; 28:3). In a similar vein, the gossip produced by a secretive (backbiting) tongue is also unexpected and unwelcome, producing angry people.
25:24. See the comments on the virtually identical proverb in 21:9. Waltke suggests that its repetition in this context may highlight the idea that such conflict is also "unexpected and unwelcome." (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 334).
25:25. A drink of cold water satisfies the craving of a thirsty person weary from hard labor (weary soul could be translated as "thirsty throat"). Similarly, in a time when any news from a distant land was painfully slow in arriving for those anxiously awaiting it, word of good news was particularly satisfying to the hearer. One effect of this proverb may have been to encourage those traveling in a distant land to send good news back to their loved ones (Longman, Proverbs, 459).
25:26. In ancient Israel a trampled spring or a polluted well was a disaster (cf. Gn 26:15; Ezk 34:17–18). The righteous man is compared to a "fountain of life" because his words promote the wisdom and righteousness that brings the life to others (cf. Pr 10:11). But what happens when a righteous man … gives way before the wicked? It is as if the life-giving spring is trampled and muddied and the well of pure water polluted. This may refer to the wicked man’s triumph over the righteous man, which, though ultimately temporary (cf. 24:16), still removes his life-giving influence. More likely, however, it refers to the moral corruption of the righteous man himself, who gives in to the pressures of the wicked. "His despicable compromise disappoints, deprives, and imperils the many who have learned to rely on him for their spiritual life" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 336). Spiritual leaders take note!
25:27. Too much of a good thing, like overeating honey, is not good (cf. v. 14). The same principle is applied to self-promotion in the second line, which is best captured by the ESV’s translation: "nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory." That is, while it is good to be honored, it is neither good nor honorable to be foolishly consumed with search[ing] out praise/glory for yourself.
25:28. This proverb compares a man who has no self-control with a city that is broken into and without walls. In biblical times, the key to a city’s security was its strong walls. A city with broken … walls has clearly been defeated, disgraced, and left vulnerable to further attack. The fool without self-control is in similar straits, although his conqueror is the passions of his own spirit. They overwhelm him, disgrace him, and leave him vulnerable to further shameful outbursts. A man controlled by the Holy Spirit has far better prospects (Gl 5:22–23).
26:1–12. This section describes the fool (see Introduction: The Fool).
26:1–3. Though v. 2 is the only proverb in this section that does not specifically mention the fool, it is grouped with vv. 1 and 3 because each deal with the topic of what is appropriate and deserved. Verse 1 pertains to the fool. In Israel, the primary harvest time took place in the summer, which was hot and dry. Therefore snow in summer and … rain in harvest would be out of place, or worse, do significant damage to crops (1Sm 12:17–25). Similarly, giving honor to a fool is not fitting, and could do serious damage, indicating as it does that values are seriously skewed among people that would honor such a person. It is a fitting warning to pop culture today. Though Pr 26:2 is the only proverb in this section that does not specifically mention the fool, it is grouped with these verse (vv. 1, 3) because each deal with the topic of what is appropriate and deserved.
Verse 2 pertains to what is not fitting for the innocent. A flitting sparrow and a flying swallow do not land. Neither does a curse without cause. People may issue curses, calling down judgment on others, but unless the righteous Lord Himself backs them up, they are mere superstition—and He will not curse the innocent. Cursing the innocent is thus inappropriate and a fool’s game. "Balaam is the reluctant witness against all superstition" (Kidner, Proverbs, 162; Nm 23:8; Ps 109:28).
Proverbs 26:3 pertains once again to what is fitting for the fool. The way to control and subdue beasts like the horse and donkey is through harsh force, such as the whip and bridle. Similarly, fools are little better than beasts in their response to instruction; words are not enough to get them to restrain their folly. The only language they understand is harsh force, such as a rod for their back (cf. 10:13; 18:6; 19:25, 29)—and sometimes even that may not be enough (17:10; 27:22)! The wise know a better way to learn (cf. Ps 32:8–9).
26:4–5. Apart from the negative not (v. 4), the first lines of vv. 4 and 5 are virtually identical in Hebrew. To answer a fool according to his folly is to present wisdom in response to the fool’s nonsense in word or deed. The competing advice in these proverbs about whether to do so seems contradictory, but the juxtaposition of the two is a reminder that being wise involves not only knowing the proverbs themselves but also how and when they best apply. Taking the two proverbs separately, whether or not the wise should answer a fool according to his folly depends on the circumstances. Sometimes it is wise not to respond, lest the wise get caught up in the argument and be dragged down to the fool’s level of boorish bickering (v. 4). In such cases, the wise becomes just like the fool, and observers may consider his wisdom as no better than the fool’s nonsense. Sometimes it is better simply to avoid or ignore the fool.
At other times the wise must respond to the fool (v. 5). "If you leave the fool unchallenged, he will assume that he has impressed, intimidated, or confounded you, and he will be even more obnoxious than usual" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 793). A fool made more cocksure of himself is an even greater danger to anyone he might influence, much less to himself. In such circumstances, the wise cannot keep silent. If taken together, the two proverbs may be urging the wise "to show the fool’s folly for what it is" without ever "lowering himself to the fool’s level in a debate" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 349).
26:6. This proverb uses hyperbole to make the point that a fool makes a terrible messenger. Given the important role that messengers had, anyone who makes use of a fool for such a purpose is himself foolish. When carried by a fool, the sender’s message will surely not get through, which is like cutting off his own feet. And with his message lost, he is harming himself, much like drinking poison (drinking violence).
26:7. A lame man’s legs are useless to him for walking. So a proverb is useless for fools. Even if the fool can utter a proverb, it does him no good. After all, he is unable to understand and apply it to himself in the right way at the right time, and he is unwilling to do so even if he could. Nor does his regurgitating it to others do them good either, because he cannot communicate it skillfully to them at the right time (cf. 15:23; 25:11–12).
26:8. Honoring a fool is clearly unfitting (cf. v. 1). In the ancient world, slings, leather straps used for the hurling of rocks, were useful for hunting as well as war (Jdg 20:16; 1Sm 17:37–49; 1Ch 12:2). The phrase one who binds a stone in a sling is not entirely clear. The word bind might refer simply to putting a stone in a sling. The idea would be that an honored fool becomes as dangerous to others as a stone thrown from a sling, due to the influence he will wield (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 795). Or, more likely, binding may refer to tying the stone to the sling’s pouch so that it cannot be thrown, making the sling useless. It is a ridiculous thing to do, counterproductive to the purpose of the weapon. Similarly, giving honor to a fool is absurd, promoting that which is counterproductive to the good of society. Better to cast him out of society rather than honoring him within it (Kidner, Proverbs, 162).
26:9. This verse revisits the idea of a proverb in the mouth of fools, where a proverb proves ineffective for both the fool and those who hear him (cf. v 7). In this verse, a proverb in the mouth of a fool proves dangerous for himself and others (cf. 12:18; 13:16; 14:3; 25:20; Jb 16:1–4). A thorn which falls into the hand of a drunkard is likely not referring to a drunkard who gets his hand pierced by a thorn, but to a drunkard who puts his hand on a "stick with thorns" (cf. HCSB). He will cut himself and others when he brandishes it about. So too the fool will hurt himself and others when he communicates and applies it inappropriately (Longman, Proverbs, 466).
26:10. Here the person who hires a fool or one who pass[es] by, a stranger, is compared to an archer who wounds everyone. This archer lacks any sense of discrimination, so he fires upon friend and foe alike, causing chaos. Similarly, he who hires a fool or any passerby lacks any sense of discernment. Neither will serve him well, thus causing havoc for him and his business interests. Wise employers will know whom they hire and avoid hiring fools or untested strangers.
26:11. This proverb intentionally uses repulsive imagery to show how incorrigible the fool is. A dog was often considered detestable in the ancient world (cf. 1Sm 17:43), but its predilection to return to eat its vomit only made it more disgusting. Even though what the dog ate made it sick, the dog wants to go back to consume it once more. The fool’s proclivity never to learn but to repeat his folly is equally as disgusting, and makes just as little sense. Peter uses this analog of false teachers (2Pt 2:22).
26:12. In one sense, there is someone worse than the fool. It is a man wise in his own eyes. This person proudly thinks he has arrived at wisdom and needs no more instruction. He leans to his own understanding (3:5). There is more hope for a fool, because at least the fool might respond to some form of correction (e.g., 26:3). "Worse than a fool is a deluded fool" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 355). There may be an implicit warning to those considered wise: "As soon as the wise person can say that he is wise, he turns out to be worse than a fool" (Murphy, Proverbs, 201).
26:13–16. This cluster of verses is a "mirror of sluggards" as the previous section was a "mirror of fools." The reflection is not flattering, even if it is humorous (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 355).
26:13. Any flimsy excuse is enough to keep the sluggard from working. See comments on 22:13.
26:14. The sluggard is as attached to his bed as a door that turns on its hinges. His only activity is to turn in his bed. He is no more likely to get up from his bed and go to work than is a door to leave its hinges.
26:15. As the similar 19:24 (see comments there), here too the sluggard is too lazy to feed himself and faces starvation. Even eating makes him weary.
26:16. If the previous proverbs in this section show the sluggard to be a buffoon, this proverb shows that some are smug, self-deceived, and incorrigible. He is wise in his own eyes (cf. v. 12). In fact, he actually believes his "clever" excuses to get out of work make him wiser … than seven men who … give a discreet answer. The number seven here probably suggests a council of many wise men coming to unanimous agreement on just the right answer. The sluggard is so deluded he considers himself wiser than their corporate wisdom, so there is little hope for him (cf. v. 12).
26:17–28. These proverbs broadly address people who cause trouble, primarily through their words.
26:17. A person who grabs a passing dog (and in that cultural context, probably a wild one at that) by its sensitive ears may well get bitten. So too the busybody who meddles with a conflict not his own will regret it. Better to mind one’s own business than get caught up in someone else’s fight for no good reason.
26:18–19. A madman who shoots flaming and deadly arrows recklessly toward others causes them havoc and terrible, senseless harm (v. 18). The man who deceives his neighbor is no different, even if he claims it was just a joke (v. 19). "Deception is no laughing matter" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 799). It too causes havoc and harm to others for no good reason. The callous deceiver may claim that he was just having fun, but his idea of a good time only displays the foolish perversity of his heart (cf. 10:23). More broadly, harming others by word or deed should never be passed off as a joke.
26:20–21. Strife is like fire, and it needs certain kinds of people to stir it up. First, it requires slanderers (v. 20). Where there is no wood the fire goes out. Similarly, because the slandering whisperer only fuels contention, his absence quiets it down. "His tools of trade are innuendoes, half-truths, and facts distorted and exaggerated beyond recognition (cf. 10:18; 11:13, 28; 16:28; 18:8; 20:19)" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 360). Second, strife needs contentious people (v. 21). They kindle strife the way that charcoal fuels hot embers and wood a dying fire. Such people are itching for a fight, and they usually find one and always make a tense situation worse. Both types of troublemaker are best avoided.
26:22. This proverb is a repetition of 18:8 (see comments there). Here it probably serves to highlight the point that gossips are best avoided, not only because they stir strife, but also because they negatively shape the hearer.
26:23–28. These proverbs warn against evasive or deceptive speech. Such speech is like a glaze of silver dross covering an earthen vessel (v. 23). The vessel may look impressive, even expensive, but it is not what it seems. In truth, it is nothing but a cheap clay jar covered by a worthless sheen. Dissembling speech is here described as burning lips. In light of the parallelism, it is possible that it refers to speech that presumably burns with fervent affection (cf. ESV). Some, however, follow the LXX here and translate this as "smooth lips" (e.g., HCSB), i.e., deceptive speech. Either way, the point is much the same: speech that feigns friendship may look good, but it hides a malicious, wicked heart. The wise will take such smooth talk with a grain of salt because an enemy will use just such tactics (v. 24). He disguises his hatred by what he says, even though in his heart he plans deceptive stratagems to harm his intended victim. This is why the wise will not be quick to believe gracious, charming speech; it may hide seven abominations in an enemy’s heart (v. 25). "His heart is crammed full (‘seven’ speaks of utmost completeness) of ‘abominations’ (3:32), acts and attitudes of the most hateful horror" (Hubbard, Proverbs, 420).
Such hatred, though concealed with guile, cannot remain hidden forever (v. 26). Eventually, his wickedness will be revealed in public. While this proverb does not clarify whether this public disclosure will harm the deceiver or the deceived (Longman, Proverbs, 471), the next two proverbs suggests the ambiguity is purposeful, with the emphasis on the former. On the one hand, the trouble the liar plans for others will come back on him (v. 27). He will fall into the pit he dug to entrap another. And the large stone he tries to roll up a hill to drop on another will fall back on him and crush him. Of course, this retributive or " ‘poetic justice’ is in the hands of the Sovereign (e.g., 10:3, 29; 16:4; cf. Job 5:13)" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 366). On the other hand, it is true the liar hates and crushes his victims (v. 28a). In this sense, it appears that the flattering liar works ruin for his victim (v. 28b). But the ambiguity of this second line actually suggests retributive justice as well. Seen in light of v. 27, the liar who works for the ruin of his victim is ultimately bringing about his own ruin (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 366).
27:1–2. The wise man is no braggart. He certainly does not brag about what he has not even yet accomplished. Only a fool will boast about tomorrow (cf. 1Kg 20:11; Jr 9:23), since no one can know for certain even what today may bring forth. Humans lack the knowledge and power to control what is most immediate to them, let alone what will come later. Since both the present and future are in God’s hands, the wise make plans in the fear of the Lord, humbly trusting His disposition of events (cf. Pr 16:1, 3, 9, 33; Ps 37; Lk 12:16–21; Jms 4:13–16). Furthermore, the wise man does not brag about himself at all (Pr 27:2). Self-praise not only reflects pride but also self-deceit. Praise from another, particularly a disinterested stranger who has no cause for flattery, is more credible (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 374). Better still is the Lord’s "well done" (Jn 12:42–43). Self-praise is also misdirected. Anything praiseworthy in a man is a result of the grace of the Lord, who alone is truly worthy of praise (Jr 9:23–24; 1Co 1:26–31). Taken together, these two proverbs "espouse an attitude of humility before the sovereignty of God and the judgment of the community" (Garrett, Proverbs, 216).
27:3–4. These proverbs describe two "unbearable personalities" (Garrett, Proverbs, 216). The first is the fool who is easily provoked or angered (v. 3). Although the provocation of a fool might refer to the anger he incites in others, it more likely refers to his own bent toward feeling provoked (cf. 12:16; 29:9, 11). He is more unbearable than the physical burden of carrying a heavy stone or bag of sand. Who wants to be around the thin-skinned fool who is easily offended and knows nothing of the gracious spirit of the wise? The second unbearable type is the jealous person (v. 4). Fierce cruelty and a flood of anger are very difficult to withstand, but wrath driven by jealousy is overwhelming to both its possessor and target (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 804). "Dealing with ordinary ire is hard enough, but a fury that stems from jealousy is not open to reason or moderation" (Garrett, Proverbs, 216). The wise will avoid those who are easily aroused to jealousy and will certainly not stir it up in others (cf. 6:32–35).
27:5–6. A true friend is willing to rebuke his companion. Thus open rebuke is better than love that is concealed (v. 5). After all, correction is the way to wisdom and life; this is why both the Lord and parents will discipline their beloved children (3:11–12; 13:24). Hidden love is unwilling to reprove but remains silent in the face of needed correction. Whatever the reason for this silence—whether fear, selfishness, or negligence—it really is not very loving at all, because it does one’s friend no good. Surprisingly, this timid silence is little better than an enemy’s deceptive displays of affection (v. 6). This proverb contrasts "friendly wounds" with "wounding kisses" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 376). The former demonstrates true, faithful friendship aimed at correction, painful though it may be. The latter is diametrically opposed to friendship. Whether the kisses here are deceitful (NASB) or "excessive" (HCSB)—the Hebrew term is unclear—the point is much the same. The one who lavishes outward displays of affection on his "friend" when he should rebuke him shows that he is nothing more than a treacherous enemy.
27:7. This proverb makes the observation that what one considers appealing depends on one’s appetites. The proverb contrasts two people: one who is satisfied, or sated, and the other who is famished. But what kinds of appetites are being compared? The proverb may be contrasting sated with deprived appetites. If a man’s appetite is completely satisfied, he does not even find something good and beneficial like honey appealing. But if he is starving, he will even consider any bitter thing … sweet. "Hunger is the best sauce" (Clifford, Proverbs, 238). In this case, moderation is the way of wisdom, neither overindulging in what is pleasant (cf. 25:16–17) nor always avoiding what may be unpleasant but needful (e.g., vv. 5–6) (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 806). Or the proverb may be describing two kinds of sick appetites. "Both a person so sated in wrong things that he despises good things and a person so hungry that he perceives every bitter thing and harmful thing as sweet are sick" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 377). In this case, a healthy appetite will crave the good and reject the bad. Either nuance has a wide range of possible applications.
27:8. A bird away from her nest is unsettled, isolated, and vulnerable; so too a man away from his home. After all, his home is where he belongs. It is not clear whether the verb nadad (wanders) carries the connotation of fleeing from a troubled place or merely straying from where one belongs. Either way, the message remains: A man should value and protect his home life so that he can remain there, safe and secure.
27:9. The first line clearly states that people find costly amenities like oil and perfume pleasant. The second line mentions something equally as pleasant, but the Hebrew text is unclear about what that something is. The HCSB captures one possible way to translate it: "the sweetness of a friend is better than self-counsel," suggesting that having a friend to counsel you is more pleasing than being left alone with your own counsel. Probably more likely is the alternative, captured in the ESV (and reflected less clearly in the NASB): "and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel." A friend who cares enough to give you fervent, heartfelt counsel is truly a blessing.
27:10. This proverb continues with lessons about friends. It has three lines (rather unusual in Proverbs), with the third line clarifying the first two. It states that a friend who is a near neighbor is better than a brother who lives far away (v. 10c), presumably because the friend is more available in times of calamity. Most likely the closeness of the friend and distance of the relative could be either spatial or emotional (Garrett, Proverbs, 218). In such cases, the wise will cultivate rather than forsake close relationships with personal and family friends (v. 10a) rather than rely on distant relatives for help in difficult times (v. 10b). Thus while it is true that "a brother is born for adversity" (17:17), there are friends who stick "closer than a brother" (18:24), and sometimes it is more prudent to rely on friends than depend exclusively on relatives.
27:11. A father is affected by the character of his son (cf. 10:1). If the son is wise, he will make his father glad because he thwarts an enemy’s attempt to denigrate his father. The son is the best proof of the wisdom of his father (cf. 2Co 3:1–3; 1Th 2:19–20; 3:8).
27:12. A prudent man has foresight that the naive lack. This proverb repeats 22:3 almost verbatim (see comments there), although here it may be used in support of v. 11 (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 381)—either encouraging the wise to train their children well or the son to think ahead about how his chosen way of life affects his parents.
27:13. This proverb is very similar to 20:16 (see comments there). The only notable difference is that the "foreigner" in 20:16 is the adulterous woman here. The wise will not become entangled with people like her, alluring though her words may be (cf. chap. 7).
27:14. A true friend is not obnoxious. It is irritating for a person still groggy with sleep to be met with a loud greeting, well-intended though it might be. The second line is ironic: not only does the sleepy man find his loud friend’s bless[ing] to be a curse to himself, he will also be tempted to return his insensitive friend’s blessing with a curse.
27:15–16. Also annoying is a contentious woman. As in 19:13b (see comments there), she is compared to the constant dripping of a leaky roof on very rainy day (v. 15; cf. 21:9, 19; 25:24). Like the leak, she is irksome, unpleasant, and discouraging to her husband. Verse 16 intensifies her baleful effect on her husband, though its translation is difficult. In the first line, the verb translated restrain[s] in the NASB is probably better translated "shelters" (Koehler et al., HALOT, 1049). Apparently, then, a man with such a wife has, in effect, brought the windstorm under his own roof rather than keeping the storm out. In short, she wreaks destructive havoc within his home (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 383). Like trying to grasp oil with his right hand, the husband cannot restrain or control the contentious woman. Any hope for a more harmonious household is a fantasy.
27:17. The wise are not lone rangers. Iron was used to sharpen the edge of other iron instruments, making them more effective. In the same way, one man can sharpen another. Productive interaction with others can make people more effective and wise, particularly when it includes constructive criticism and mutual encouragement toward righteousness (cf. 13:20; 27:6). "The wisdom enterprise is a community effort" (Longman, Proverbs, 481).
27:18. This proverb compares the farmer who faithfully tends his fig tree with the faithful servant who cares for his master. As the farmer enjoys the fruit of the tree, so the servant will enjoy the honor bestowed on him by his master. Both are rewarded for their labor.
27:19.When a person looks into a still pool of water, he can see a reflection of his own face. Likewise, a man’s heart reflects the man. Although multiple interpretations of this proverb have been proffered (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 812), two seem more likely than the rest. It may mean that a person sees himself reflected in other people so that he interprets them in light of his own heart. For example, a cynical person projects his cynicism on others. Even more likely, however, the proverb likely indicates that the human heart reflects the whole person. A person’s heart defines his true identity.
27:20. Death (Sheol and Abaddon; cf. the comments on 15:11) is never satisfied. Everyone dies, and yet death still wants more (cf. 30:15–16). A man’s eyes are equally insatiable. One’s eyes here refer to one’s desires and appetites (cf. Ec 2:10; 4:8; 1Jn 2:16). Comparing such desires to death is not coincidental (Clifford, Proverbs, 240; cf. Gn 3:6; 1Jn 2:16–17). Ecclesiastes reminds the reader that desires for things under the sun can neither be satisfied nor are they satisfying. They simply distract us from a better way: the fear of the Lord and the life He brings.
27:21. The Lord uses trials to refine a person’s character like the crucible … for silver and the furnace for gold (cf. 17:3). This proverb suggests that one such refining test is the praise accorded to a man, a phrase that is somewhat ambiguous in Hebrew (literally, "a man is tested by his praise"). Some suggest from this ambiguity that a man’s character is revealed by what he praises or by the kind of people who praise him. But the kind of testing here is actually a trial used to refine people (Kidner, Proverbs, 168), and so the proverb actually indicates that people are tested by how they respond to praise they receive. Those who remain humble and thankful to the Lord, and who do not continually crave for more, are strengthened in the process (cf. 1Sm 18:7; Jn 12:42, 43).
27:22. Using a mortar and pestle was not a typical way to separate grain from its husks but suggests extreme methods (Clifford, Proverbs, 240). Yet even severe means, such as physical punishment, are still not enough to separate the incorrigible fool (ewil) from his foolishness (cf. 9:7–10; 12:15; 17:10; 26:11).
27:23–27. This section about diligence uses an agricultural illustration, though its principles have wider application. It begins by admonishing the farmer/shepherd to pay careful attention to the condition of his flocks and herds (v. 23) rather than neglecting them. Doing so requires the kind of discipline, hard work, compassion, and savvy that only wisdom can give (Waltke, Proverbs 15–31, 391). The next four verses give two reasons to support the admonition. First, riches do not last (v. 24)—not even if they derive from some kind of high position (as exemplified by a crown). A nest egg is not forever and can easily disappear (cf. 23:5). Second, unlike a nest egg, flocks and herds are renewable resources when cared for (vv. 25–27). "The ecosystem of animals and grassland provides sustenance for human beings. Year after year beast and field provide clothing, money to purchase more pastureland, and food for an entire household" (Clifford, Proverbs, 241). The point of the whole poem is to encourage the wise to "take care of your own business, and it will take care of you" (Garrett, Proverbs, 221) rather than foolishly depending on resources that are fleeting.
28:1. This proverb recalls the covenant curses of Lv 26:17, 36. The wicked have no rest. Their past activities have only created enemies—both divine and human—and a guilty conscience, so they flee even when no one is pursuing. They can expect a reckoning, and this leaves them paranoid and fearful. But not the righteous: they are bold—or better, confident—like a lion, who has no predators to fear. Because they fear the Lord (Pr 1:7), the righteous have nothing else to fear because they are in His good hands. They are not chased by enemies but are followed by a rearguard of goodness and mercy (Kidner, Proverbs, 168; cf. Ps 23:6).
28:2. The situation described here is social and political chaos, with competing princes jockeying for power. This is the result of a land’s transgression, which likely describes a rebellious spirit in general and against the Lord ultimately. Rebellion fosters rebellion and chaos. Stability comes through stable leadership, through a leader who is a man of understanding and knowledge. A wise and godly king truly is a blessing to a land.
28:3. People expect rain eventually to produce food, so there is something perverse about a driving rain that leaves no food because it damages the crops. A poor man who oppresses other poor people is equally perverse. It is so bizarre to think of poor people oppressing other poor people that some opt for an alternate understanding of the oppressor (e.g., NIV: "a ruler who oppresses the poor," a translation which misses the lesson). But a poor person who acts to oppress other poor people is precisely the point. He is an "unnatural tyrant" (Kidner, Proverbs, 169) who ought to commiserate with fellow sufferers rather than try to make their situation worse by wringing whatever little he can from them.
28:4. One’s attitude toward the wicked is a reflection of one’s values, and one’s values are measured by one’s assessment of the law. The law at least includes the instruction of the wise, though it may refer more specifically to the Mosaic Law (e.g., Ex 13:9; Ps 1:2; 19:7; 119:1; Longman, Proverbs, 488). Either way, one’s treatment of wisdom instruction/law reflects one’s appraisal of God. People therefore who forsake the law will praise the wicked, who display similar disdain toward God. But the righteous who fear the Lord and observe His instructions/law will oppose the wicked. A person’s friends and enemies say much about him and his view of God (cf. Rm 1:18–32).
28:5. Justice here probably refers to that which is right (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 410), likely in relation to the treatment other people in particular. Evil men simply do not understand it. They do not recognize the need to deal fairly with others, nor do they realize that they themselves will be subject to God’s justice as a result. In contrast, those who seek the Lord also fear Him and find wisdom (cf. 1:7). They thus understand all things, that is, in the context, all things related to justice. "The pious find their abilities to distinguish good from evil and right from wrong and to proceed with equity by seeking the Lord through his revelation" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 410).
28:6. This proverb is similar to 19:1 (see comments there). A poor honest man is better than a rich man whose ways are crooked. Crooked ways suggest both a dishonest and difficult lifestyle (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 822)—despite one’s wealth. Thus integrity is more valuable than wealth, for the latter has definite limitations while the former aligns one with the Lord.
28:7. The background to this proverb is Dt 21:18–21. There a rebellious son, one who "will not obey his father or his mother," is identified as a "glutton and a drunkard" and is sentenced to stoning. In context, the law here refers to the father’s wise instruction. A son who heeds his father’s instruction is discerning and by extension, brings joy to his parents (Pr 10:1; 27:11). In contrast, a son who is a companion to gluttons by implication has rejected his father’s wisdom for his compatriots’ folly (cf. 13:20; 23:20–21). And folly it is, because such profligates "squander all that is precious—life, food, and instruction" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 412). Little wonder he humiliates his father. (Similar themes are developed in 23:19–25.)
28:8. The Mosaic Law forbids Israelites from charging interest to fellow Israelites (Ex 22:25; Dt 23:19–20), particularly the poor among them (Dt 15:1–8). This proverb likely pictures a person enriching himself at the expense of the poor by charging them usury for life’s necessities (cf. Pr 22:16). But this is a bad long-term investment, for the rich oppressor only gathers it for him who is gracious to the poor. Behind this retributive justice stands the Lord, who blesses those who are generous and provides for the needy through them (cf. 13:22; 14:31; 19:17).
28:9. God refuses to heed the requests of those who refuse to listen to Him. As in v. 4, the law refers to instruction from the Lord, whether the teachings of the wise or the Mosaic Law more specifically. Failure to heed God’s instruction is rebellious, and God finds the prayer of the rebellious fool to be repulsive (cf. 15:8, 29).
28:10. Evil people are not satisfied in being evil themselves; they want to bring others along with them (e.g., 1:10–19). They often delight in leading the upright astray into an evil way through deception. But they only end up falling prey to their own machinations. "We are to picture a sneaky man laying a trap in a path and leading another onto it, but as they walk along, the deceiver himself also falls in" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 824). Such people are their own worst enemies because, in making themselves God’s enemy, they subject themselves to His retributive justice (cf. 26:27; Mt 5:19; 18:6; Lk 17:1–2). The blameless, who will inherit good, have chosen a much better way. But they must be vigilant, lest they fall prey to the deceptive machinations of the wicked and go astray.
28:11. His success in accumulating wealth tempts the rich man to think himself wise. Perhaps sycophants reinforce his self-perception. But wealth is not a sure sign of wisdom, and a man wise in his own eyes surely lacks wisdom (26:12; cf. 3:7; 12:15; 26:5). A poor man who has understanding is able to see right through the rich fool’s wise pretense. In that sense, his clear-sighted wisdom is more valuable than the fool’s deceptive wealth.
28:12. The triumph of the righteous in a community is a blessing to that community (cf. 11:10–11; 28:28; 29:2, 16). Because they are godly and wise, when the righteous come to power they implement policies that are good for the community and bring the blessing of God. The community therefore prospers with great glory. The opposite is true as well, when the wicked rise to power, people hide themselves in their attempt "to avoid danger, oppression, and corruption" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 825) inevitable under such evil leaders.
28:13. This is a powerful proverb about addressing one’s own sins. Cover-ups are foolish. A man may be inclined to conceal his transgressions, but he will not prosper on this path. There is a better way, which is a quintessential summary of a truly repentant person (cf. Ps 32). First, he confesses his sin, acknowledging what he did and his need for forgiveness. Such confession also entails glorifying God by acknowledging "his greatness (i.e., one cannot hide sin from him), his justice (i.e., he has the right to punish the transgressor), and his grace (i.e., he forgives and delivers; cf. Josh. 1:9)" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 417). Second, he forsakes his sins, strong evidence that he truly finds his sin evil. The resultant blessing of true repentance cannot be overstated: he will receive compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. While God Himself is the primary one who grants such mercy, this proverb may also include other people who respond compassionately to repentance.
28:14. This proverb is a beatitude for the man who fears always. But what does he continually fear? This could refer to the fear of the Lord. However, that is not clear, since "fear" here is a different Hebrew word than that usually used in the phrase "the fear of the Lord," and the Lord is not specifically mentioned here. The antithetical second line helps to clarify. A person who hardens his heart to his foolish sin will fall into calamity. He is boldly arrogant in his sinful way, unwilling to repent (cf. v. 13) and to hear wise reproof. Lacking sensitivity and insight, he has no fear of the dreadful consequences of his sinful ways. The wise, in contrast, will fear the consequences of such a sinful lifestyle. In the end, of course, that kind of fear is really inextricably bound to the fear of the Lord as well. Proverbs 14:16 is similar, although it seems to lay greater emphasis on the fear of the Lord (since "fear" there is the same Hb. term as the "fear of the Lord").
28:15–16. These two proverbs describe the tyrant. First, such a wicked ruler is dangerous like a roaring lion and a rushing bear (v. 15). He preys on his own people, impoverishing them by his ravenous appetites rather than working for their good. Second, the tyrant is a fool (v. 16). Lacking good sense (understanding), he oppresses his people for his own gain. But he only undermines himself. In contrast, the honest ruler who wisely hates unjust gain will also prolong his own days. His rule draws neither the ire of his people nor the judgment of the Lord.
28:17. This proverb is a sobering picture of justice. A man who is laden with the guilt of human blood likely describes a murderer with a guilty conscience. His guilt drives him to be a fugitive until death, or more literally to "flee to the pit" (that is the grave/death). Whether in guilty despair he is hastening toward death, or whether he is forced for the rest of his life to flee as a fugitive from avengers real or imagined, the advice here is the same. Do not support or help him, because he is facing his just deserts. This advice contrasts with the compassion that is to be shown to the innocent (24:11–12).
28:18. Here once again the two paths so prominent in Proverbs appear (cf. 4:10–19). One can walk blamelessly or follow the crooked path. The former will be delivered from the pitfalls into which the crooked suddenly fall (cf. v. 14).
28:19. This proverb is similar to 12:11 (see comments there), but this proverb further explains why the one who follows empty pursuits "lacks sense." Unlike hard work, which produces plenty of food, frivolity only produces plenty of poverty.
28:20–25. These proverbs all address those with an inordinate love for money.
28:20. A faithful man here refers to the one who is trustworthy, diligent, and reliable in his responsibilities, because of his ultimate trust in the Lord to bring him abundant blessings (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 829; cf. v. 25). He is sharply contrasted with he who makes haste to be rich. A penchant for get rich quick schemes displays a haste that inevitably fosters foolish actions (cf. 19:2; 20:21; 29:20). Worse still, it displays a passion for and trust in money that overwhelms any love for God and neighbor. Such a man thereby places himself in opposition to the Lord and consequently will not go unpunished.
28:21. One way to get rich quickly is to receive a bribe. But to show partiality is not good (cf. 24:23b–25), particularly when the person doing so is a man in a position of strength over others, such as a judge. He may be willing to transgress against others for personal gain, but he only demeans himself. Once he is willing to sell his integrity, he will often sell his services cheaply, even for a piece of bread.
28:22. A man with an evil eye likely refers to a greedy skinflint (cf. 23:6; 22:9, where the generous person is described as "good of eye"). He is not looking toward the Lord or seeking His wisdom, but only focusing on money. His avarice makes him hasten after wealth, always foolishly and often at the expense of others. Consequently, he falls under the judgment, for he will unexpectedly meet want (cf. v. 20). He has bad eyes indeed, since he cannot see the poverty coming toward him (Clifford, Proverbs, 247).
28:23. In the context of the other proverbs around it, this proverb likely refers to those who think they can gain power and wealth through flattery (Garrett, Proverbs, 227). But that is a fool’s errand. Granted, honest correction may be painful and meet resistance at first. But in the long run (afterward[s]) the wise man who rebukes another will find more favor than the flatterer (cf. 17:10; 19:25; 25:12; 27:5–6). This favor certainly comes from God and probably also from the one rebuked as well (cf. 3:4)—unless he is a fool (13:1; 15:12; cf. Waltke, Book of Proverbs: 15–31, 425–6). In any case, any benefit from flattery is short-lived.
28:24. Some love money so much that they are willing to rob their father and mother, and do so without remorse (saying it is not a transgression). This stealing might be active (taking their property) or passive (withholding support from them when they need it) (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 426). "Such children may think that they are simply taking what belongs to them by virtue of being members of the family, but in reality they are no better than a criminal from outside the family" (Longman, Proverbs, 496).
28:25. Arrogant here is better translated "greedy" (literally, "wide of throat"). Such a man has a voracious appetite for more. He is not reluctant to stir up strife to get what he wants, though the conflict will likely frustrate the prosperity he craves. He contrasts directly with the one who trusts in the Lord. "Greed is a repudiation of trust in God, for he who trusts in God accepts what God gives and does not crave more" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 831). Indeed, this man finds satisfaction in God Himself, and so finds prosperity as well (cf. Mt 6:19–34).
28:26. Contemporary thought often advocates, "Just trust your heart." Nothing could be farther from the truth of Scripture. This proverb describes a person who trusts in his own heart, relying on his own understanding and resources, as a fool, since the human heart left to its own devices is depraved, foolish, and limited (cf. Jr 17:9). In contrast, one who walks wisely is implicitly trusting in the Lord (cf. Pr 3:5–6), who is the source of all wisdom. Such a wise man will be delivered from the inevitable, disastrous fate of the fool.
28:27. The idea of greed in v. 25 is now picked up again here. God will supply the needs of the generous one who gives to the poor. But the stingy one who shuts his eyes to the needy around him will have many curses, if not from the poor whom he neglects, certainly from the Lord who judges justly. Trust stands behind either behavior. The miser trusts in his own resources, but the generous man trusts in the Lord to provide for his needs and so is free to give away resources.
28:28. This proverb is very similar to v. 12 (cf. 29:2). People lay low (hide themselves) when the wicked rise to power because their rule is disastrous to the community. But their downfall brings about the flourishing of the righteous, and that is a great boon to the community.
29:1. Proverbs repeatedly teaches that the wise heed rebuke and fools do not (e.g., 12:1; 13:1, 18; 19:25, 27). This proverb continues this theme by describing a stubborn fool who, though repeatedly reproved, refuses to listen (hardens his neck). At some point, suddenly and unexpectedly for him, his opportunity for change ends and he reaps catastrophic results, with no hope of remedy at that point.
29:2. Essentially restating the idea in 28:12, 28, this proverb highlights the emotional state of people in two different societies. A society in which the righteous flourish (increase) brings the community great joy (the people rejoice) because it is blessed. In contrast, a people led by a wicked ruler groan under his oppressive and foolish policies. Voters today should take note.
29:3. A man who loves wisdom will certainly not love cavorting with prostitutes. A man who keeps company with them only wastes his wealth and that of his family, thereby displaying a foolishness that grieves his parents. Lady Wisdom has much more to offer, wealth included (cf. 3:16). No wonder a man who cherishes wisdom makes his father glad.
29:4. A just king whose administration upholds the law equitably and fairly brings long-term stability to his land/nation. He contrasts with "a man of contributions." Whether this is a government official who taxes unfairly (so Longman, Proverbs, 502) or one who simply takes bribes (NASB) both reflect corrupt government officials concerned only with their own profit. Such a corrupt system only tears down (overthrows) the realm it is supposed to serve.
29:5. Unlike encouragement, which is rooted in truth, a person who flatters is deceptive and destructive (cf. 5:3–4; 6:24; 7:5, 21; 26:28; 28:23). Like a hunter trying to ensnare his prey, the flatterer is spreading a net to entangle the steps of his neighbor. Rather than disseminating wise, honest instruction or even rebuke (cf. v. 1), he tells people what they want to hear for his own gain. Ironically, the antecedent of his steps is ambiguous. Clearly, the victim is ensnared in the flatterer’s deceptions, but as the next proverb suggests, his web of deceit likely also endangers the flatterer himself.
29:6. This proverb can be understood in close connection with the previous one, though it also has broader application. More specifically, an evil man (such as the flatterer) is ensnared by his own deceptions while the righteous man who rejects foolish flattery sings and rejoices because he escapes the deceptions of the flatter. More broadly, "sin complicates life, setting traps for the sinner" (Longman, Proverbs, 503). The righteous one avoids such traps and benefits from the long-term blessings of righteousness.
29:7. The righteous man is truly concerned for the rights of the poor and powerless. Such concern "involves an investment of time, patient research, and willingness to risk himself in confronting injustice (cf. Job 29:12–17)" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 435). The wicked man is too callous and self-absorbed to concern himself with the plight of the poor nor even to understand such concern. But his ignorance is not bliss, for his heartlessness makes him culpable before the ultimate Judge of all.
29:8. Most likely this proverb pertains particularly to the political realm. So the scorners here likely refer to arrogant cynics with some political influence whose rhetoric inflames social unrest in a city (Murphy, Proverbs, 221; cf. Is 28:14). Their effect is disastrous to the community. Much better for society are wise men who are able to assuage anger in tense political situations, allowing space for cooler heads, and peace, to prevail. "The fanning of party strife which brings a quick sense of power" cannot compare to the " ‘peaceable wisdom’ [which] must work and wait (see Jas. 3:13–18)" (Kidner, Proverbs, 174).
29:9. This proverb concerns the outcome of controversy between the wise man and the foolish man. Some translations (e.g., NIV, HCSB) suggest that the controversy occurs in a courtroom setting, but the verb here is likely more generic, referring to any kind of controversy. Sometimes it is best for a wise man not to engage a fool in debate (cf. 26:4) because the fool will not learn. Instead, he sometimes rages, a Hebrew term also used to describe an angry bear (cf. 17:12) or the stormy seas (cf. Is 57:20–21). Or at other times he laughs, mocking the wisdom of the wise. In both cases he is restive in the face of wise reasoning, incapable of settling down to actually receive it.
29:10. The first line of this proverb is fairly straightforward. Men of bloodshed hate the blameless because their innocence represents everything that murderers are not (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 837). The second line is more difficult because neither the subject of the clause nor the meaning of the verb (lit., "seek his life") is clear. One view, reflected in the NASB, sees the upright as the subject and interprets "seeks his life" positively as being concerned for the life of the blameless. But the expression "seeks his life" is typically idiomatic for seeking to kill someone, not preserve someone’s life (unless it is an ironic reversal of an idiom). A second view also sees the upright as the subject of the clause but maintains that they seek to kill, not the blameless, but the murderer (i.e., they want to see justice done) (Longman, Proverbs, 504). A third view sees the bloodthirsty as the subject of the sentence, who then seek to kill the upright as well as the blameless. The ESV reflects this interpretation: "Bloodthirsty men hate one who is blameless and seek the life of the upright." Though all three views are possible, the last view is most likely, making the proverb a powerful sketch of the depraved character of violent people.
29:11. The fool lacks self-control, so he always loses his temper. He differs dramatically from the wise man, described as one who holds it back, although the precise meaning of the line is disputed. If the word be’achor (translated "back" in the NASB’s translation of the phrase holds it back) means "in the end," or "afterwards" (so Koehler et al., HALOT, 31; Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 439), it would suggest that the wise man is able eventually to quiet the turmoil generated by the raging fool (cf. v. 8). More likely, however, be’achor means simply means "back", suggesting that a wise man holds … back or controls his own temper.
29:12. A ruler sets the atmosphere for his whole administration. If he lets himself be influenced by falsehood, his government will become corrupt. Ultimately all his ministers will become wicked, due to the ruler’s lack of concern for integrity and justice in his government. David’s attitude is a vivid contrast (Ps 101:6–8).
29:13. Although at opposite ends of the social spectrum, the poor man and his wealthy oppressor share something in common (cf. 22:2). Both of them receive their very life (light to the eyes) from the Lord. This proverb likely functions both to encourage the poor and to warn the oppressor that both their lives are in God’s just and wise hands.
29:14. This proverb picks up on ideas in the previous two proverbs. A wise king who wishes to have a stable reign and enduring dynasty judges the poor faithfully (with truth). Therefore, he will not tolerate corrupt advisors (v. 12), nor will he be a respecter of persons (v. 13) when it comes to justice. He realizes that his strength comes not from currying favor with the rich and powerful but from dealing fairly with all, including "those who can put least pressure on him" (Kidner, Proverbs, 175). Such a king not only generates respect but also reflects the ultimate King who judges fairly (e.g., Gn 18:25).
29:15. Parents are neither wise nor loving if they let their child get his own way. For he will become a fool who brings them shame (cf. 13:24). The proverb assumes inherent human sinfulness and foolishness; children do not need to be taught sinful folly. This is why they need correction (rod and reproof), whether verbal or physical (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 442). Of course, in the hands of loving parents who wish to inculcate wisdom, neither of these are weapons of abuse but tools of love.
29:16. When the wicked increase in number and influence, their dominance is pervasive but short-lived. For with their rise also comes rising transgression against God and man, which undermines public order and stirs divine wrath (cf. v. 2 and comments there). This state of affairs is inherently unstable. In contrast, the righteous endure to see the wicked fall. This proverb is both a warning to the wicked and an encouragement to the righteous in times when the wicked seem dominant (Longman, Proverbs, 506).
29:17. Like v. 15, this proverb also stresses the importance of correcting one’s child, although here the motivation is entirely positive. Parents who do so will raise a wise son who brings them comfort and delight. These terms "suggest the image of a parent taking a deep breath and letting out a sigh of relief and pleasure at a child who has turned out well" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 840).
29:18. The term vision (chazon) is typically used of prophetic visions. In the context of Proverbs this term, like its parallel torah (law or teaching), "refers here to the sage’s inspired revelation of wisdom" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 446). Without a message from the Lord, the people will be unrestrained or running wild with disastrous consequences for the nation as a whole (Ex 32:25; Jdg 17:6). Conversely, any individual who obeys wise instruction (keeps the law) will be happy as a result of the blessings that wisdom brings.
29:19–20. Words have limitations, but their effect should never be underestimated. On the one hand, words alone are not enough to instruct a slave in wisdom (v. 19). The problem is not intellectual; he understands the instruction. The problem is volitional; there is no response to it. Thus disciplining a slave in wisdom requires a multifaceted approach going beyond words in order to motivate change. Similarly, whether it is a child facing punishment, a student facing grade reductions, or employees facing reduced pay or loss of job, words often are not enough; there may need to be other incentives (Steveson, Commentary on Proverbs, 411).
On the other hand, the power of words should not be underestimated (v. 20). A foolish man who is hasty in his words displays a reckless arrogance that fails to appreciate both the power of words and his own propensity to misuse them (cf. 10:19; 17:27–28; 26:12; Jms 1:19). A wiser man is much more cautious about himself and his words. Being hasty in word is one manifestation of being wise in one’s own eyes, which makes one worse than a fool, who might at least respond to some form of correction.
29:21. This proverb returns to the theme of disciplining slaves (cf. v. 19). A master does his slave no favors if he pampers the slave from childhood. If he does so, there will be problems in the end. The pampered slave will become manon (NASB: a son). This word is used only once in the OT, and its precise meaning is uncertain—an uncertainty reflected in the English translations (see Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 844 for a summary of options). Translating it as "arrogant, insolent, rebellious" (Koehler, HALOT, 600) is probably best, judging from the context. Failure to discipline a household slave early on will only end up frustrating both the slave and the master in the long run. It is a form of fostering unrealistic expectations.
29:22. An angry, hot-tempered man is looking for a fight (cf. 15:18; 28:25). So he readily stirs up conflict and quickly offends other people, making transgression abound. He is offensive to society and is best avoided (cf. 6:14; 15:18; 22:24–25).
29:23. Ironically, the proud man, who craves to be exalted, will be brought low while a man of lowly or humble spirit will be exalted with honor (cf. Jb 5:11; Jms 4:10). There may be many reasons for this: the proud depend on themselves and go their own way while the humble depend on God and submit to His moral order (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 450); the humble are teachable while the proud refuse to learn from their mistakes (Longman, Proverbs, 509); society finds the proud obnoxious and the humble winsome (Clifford, Proverbs, 255); or the Lord judges the proud and blesses the humble. But whatever the reason, the general principle stands.
29:24. The partner of a thief actually hates his own life. Since the partner was involved in the crime, he is unable to testify against the thief because if he testifies he will show himself guilty as well. On the other hand, his failure to testify even when he hears the oath puts him under the sanction of Lv 5:1: "If you are called to testify about something you have seen or that you know about, it is sinful to refuse to testify, and you will be punished for your sin" (NLT). His failure to testify puts him under divine judgment for protecting the wicked, thus endangering his very own life. It is a "suicidal complicity" (Kidner, Proverbs, 177).
29:25–26. The wise should trust God and not fear … man. To fear man is to be anxious about what other people think and what they can do, it is the opposite of trust in God (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 846–47; cf. Jr 15:5–8; Ps 56:5; Is 51:12–13). Therein lies the snare, for the fear of man easily overwhelms fear of the Lord and so promotes sin and folly (Clifford, Proverbs, 255). The solution is to trust in the Lord, recognizing that human power and opinion are inconsequential in comparison to the Lord. He who puts his trust in the Lord will be exalted, not in the sense of being honored but in the sense of being protected, elevated "beyond man’s reach" (Kidner, Proverbs, 177). Therefore, trusting in God protects a person from human power and from the sin and foolishness that results from fearing human opinion (cf. Ps 37:3–5; Pr 3:5–6; 18:10).
Verse 26 illustrates the point. Many people scramble to get into a ruler’s presence and seek his favor to find justice for their cause. To be sure, seeking help from other humans is not inappropriate in proper measure. But the wise never forget that justice for man comes from the Lord, who controls even the heart of the king (cf. 21:1). Since only the Lord Himself can ensure justice, "people should be clamoring to get into the presence of Yahweh" to seek His help (Longman, Proverbs, 510).
29:27. The righteous and wicked find each other’s way of life abominable. The former, who is upright in the way, serves God and others; the latter, who is unjust in his dealings with others, serves only himself (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 453–54). Their lifestyles have nothing in common. It is a fitting way to end this section of Proverbs. There are only two paths, and they are radically different. The wise will choose the path of righteousness and expect opposition from the wicked (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 848).
III. Agur’s Collection (30:1–33)
Scholars debate the contours of this section. Some end it at v. 9, others at v. 14, others still at the end of the chapter. But apart from the first verse, in this chapter there is no other explicit indicator (such as a title) that delineates the start or end of a new section. This commentary therefore treats the whole chapter as part of one collection by Agur.
A. Prologue (30:1–9)
30:1. This verse functions as the title of the section. It is described as the words of Agur the son of Jakeh. His identity is unknown. Traditionally both Jewish and non-Jewish commentators speculated that this name is a pseudonym for Solomon; however, most modern commentators reject this idea, and suggest that he was a now unknown Israelite wise man or even a Gentile proselyte. This latter option would be confirmed if one were to slightly amend massa’ (oracle) in the Hebrew text to mean "the Massaite" (i.e., a tribe descendent from Ishmael), suggesting that he was a follower of the Lord outside of the nation of Israel. However, whether or not he is a Gentile proselyte, there is no good reason to amend the text. The combination of massa’ (oracle) and ne’um (rightly translated by HCSB as "the man’s oration" rather than the NASB’s the man declares) indicate that these words are prophetic divine revelation (cf. Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 454–55, 464–67; Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 852–53; cf. Zch 12:1; 2Sm 23:1; Nm 24).
There is widespread disagreement over how to translate the second line. Are the Hebrew words proper names, as in the NASB’s to Ithiel, to Ithiel and Ucal? If so, Agur is directly addressing certain people, possibly his sons or disciples. Or are these words statements, such as the ESV’s "I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out"? Such statements do fit nicely with the words to come. No definitive answer is possible, but Waltke’s solution (which sees the first Ithiel as a proper name but then the remaining two terms as statements) is intriguing (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 454–55; 467–68, esp. notes 100–101; see Murphy, Proverbs, 225, for another option).
30:2–3. Agur’s words in vv. 2–3 are humble and self-abasing. He claims to be more stupid than any man, lacking human understanding and wisdom, bereft of knowledge of God. If this follows the statements of his weariness (v. 1), it may suggest that Agur has come to the end of an exhausting search for human wisdom in a spirit reminiscent of Qohelet in Ecclesiastes (see Introduction in Ecclesiastes). The hyperbolic tone of these verses highlights two points. First, true wisdom is not a mere human endeavor; it can only come from God to those humble enough to receive it from Him. Second, divine wisdom so received is far greater than man’s "wisdom" gained through pretentious human effort (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 854).
30:4. There are four rhetorical questions (similar to Jb 38–39) meant to highlight the gap between God and man (v. 4). They each call for the answer: no one but God. No one but God can bring divine knowledge and wisdom down to man from heaven. No one but God controls the wind and rain. No one but God has established the ends of the earth. Agur challenges the reader to name this one who reveals knowledge and controls the cosmos. (Surely you know!) This is a reminder of God’s covenant name—Yahweh—and the relationship that entails with His people. Only in relationship with Him can wisdom be found (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 474–75). "To know the name, especially the covenant name ‘Yahweh’ is to know the person of God as Creator and Redeemer (Ex. 3:13–14)" (Hubbard, Proverbs, 471)—and Revealer of wisdom.
This may help explain the puzzling reference to His son’s name. In Proverbs, the son is the one who learns wisdom from his father. This probably suggests that those who want to receive divine wisdom must be in relationship to God as father. Beyond Proverbs, in the OT the imagery of son is applied to Israel, those in covenant relationship with the Lord (e.g., Ex 4:22; Dt 14:1; Jr 3:19; Hs 11:1).
Some have taken this reference to the Son as a reference to the Messiah. As support, it is maintained that the earlier questions allude to Pr 8:27–30, describing wisdom as the architect of creation. Agur appears to be raising the idea of a Son (Ps 2:7, 12) who is with God and mediates His word (cf. Pr 30:5) to humanity. This approach sees an intentional attempt to direct attention to Israel’s messianic hope. The wisdom of the entire book and the wisdom found in the words of Solomon become representative of the Wisdom of the divine Son of God. Thus the practical wisdom of Proverbs serves an even more significant purpose than providing skill for everyday living. Rather, they point to the Son, the Messiah Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:2–3).
It is tempting to interpret Agur’s question about the son as a reference to the Messiah, and therefore, Jesus Christ. After all, He is God’s Son par excellence, who creates and sustains the world, reveals the Father, and personifies true wisdom. Moreover, the biblical theme of sonship in the OT also has Messianic overtones in places (e.g., Ps 2). Still, such rich connections should most likely not be read into Agur’s words here. Instead, Agur’s words contribute to an incipient theology of sonship that finds its richest, fullest expression in later NT revelation concerning Jesus Christ.
30:5–6. Picking up on the two key ideas in vv. 2–4, Agur encourages his readers to place their trust in God and His word. God’s infinite greatness means that every word of God is tested (v. 5a; cf. Ps 18:30). The word tested refers to the end of a metallurgical refining process which removes all impurities from metal; the word is thus completely pure and true. True protection (shield) can only come to those who trust completely (take refuge in) the Lord, heeding His word rather than their own understanding (v. 5b; cf. 3:5–6; 18:10). Given the purity and reliability of God and His Word, it would be foolish to add to His words (v. 6a; cf. Dt 4:2; 12:32; Rv 22:18–19). Such alteration only sullies the pure word with impure, false human wisdom and therefore betrays a lack of trust in God. Consequently, anyone who does so will be judged (reprove) and proved a liar.
30:7–9. Agur then turns to God in prayer with two requests (v. 7). These requests reflect the themes of God’s true wisdom and trust in God from the previous verses. The phrase before I die probably carries the sense "as long as I live" and indicates a desire for ongoing help (Hubbard, Proverbs, 473). First, he asks God to keep deception and lies far from me (v. 8a). Agur wants nothing to do with falsehood in the way he believes, speaks, and lives; he wants rather to be a man of God’s word in these ways. Second, he wants neither poverty nor riches but enough food to meet his daily needs as apportioned by God (v. 8b–c; cf. Mt 6:11; 1Tm 6:8). Proverbs 30:9 provides the explanation for his second request. Both extremes present spiritual dangers, particularly a failure to trust in the Lord in either times of need or plenty. To be filled beyond what is needed promotes a self-sufficiency that tempts a person to foolishly think He has no need to depend on the Lord. To be in want of God’s daily allotment tempts a person to take matters into his own hands and steal. Thievery dishonors God’s name because it violates His command and demonstrates lack of trust in Him (cf. Ex 20:15; Mt 6:9–11).
B. The Proverbs of Agur (30:10–33)
Agur presents several different kinds of proverbs in this section, the most notable and common of which are the so-called "numerical proverbs" (see comments on 6:16–19).
30:10. This proverb has less to do with unwarranted meddling than with oppressing the powerless. To slander involves speaking against someone furtively, whether true or not, for malicious rather than constructive purposes. It is bad enough to slander anyone, but slandering a slave before his master is a form of oppression against the powerless. The slave’s only option is to curse his slanderer. But this should not be taken lightly, since the slanderer will be found guilty by the Lord and punished accordingly.
30:11–14. These verses describe four types of fools of the worst order. The first is the kind of man who curses his parents rather than blessing them (v. 11; cf. 20:20). Such behavior—demonstrating rebellion against God and man—violates the Ten Commandments and actually calls for the death penalty in the Law (Ex 20:12; 21:17). The second type is the deluded self-righteous person who is pure in his own eyes even though his moral filthiness remains (v. 12). "Having adopted their own evil nature as their standard (cf. 4:16–17), they consider wrong as right" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 485). The third type is the arrogant person whose proud eyes are the telltale sign of his haughtiness (v. 13; cf. 6:17; 21:4). He looks down on others and certainly does not humbly fear the Lord. The fourth type is the cruel oppressor. Violent men like him are pictured as ravenous beasts which greedily devour their prey, with teeth like swords and knives for devouring the afflicted and needy, whom they brutally oppress for personal gain.
30:15a. This one sentence proverb is a fitting transition between the previous proverb and the next one. The leech has a sucker on either end of its body, its two daughters, both of whom are named Give and who perpetually cry give (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 867). The leech gorges itself insatiably on the blood of its host. Similarly, wicked oppressors (such as those in v. 14) are as rapacious as this despicable bloodsucker, as are the following three things that will not be satisfied (15b–17).
30:15b–16. These verses, the first of the numerical proverbs in this chapter (see comments on 6:16–19), describe four other items similarly insatiable. Sheol (the grave) continually craves more dead (cf. 27:20); the barren womb hungers unceasingly for a child (e.g., Gn 30:1); land (esp. for farming) always needs more water; and fire cannot ever get enough fuel. This proverb is probably making the observation that the world is full of all kinds of insatiable desires. Perhaps it is an implicit warning against uncontrolled coveting and cravings (Hubbard, Proverbs, 477; cf. Ex 20:17; Php 4:11).
30:17. Behaving respectfully toward one’s parents is a serious responsibility in Scripture (cf. Ex 20:12; Pr 15:20; 20:20; 30:11). The arrogant person who mocks and scorns his parents faces a gruesome judgment. He dies dishonored and unburied, left as carrion for ravens and eagles (a fate associated with judgment of the wicked; e.g., Is 18:6; Jr 16:4; Ezk 32:4)—his haughty eye particularly tasty morsel for the scavengers. His parental disrespect is "so unnatural that nature itself carries out the punishment" (Clifford, Proverbs, 266).
30:18–20. Agur finds four things in the world to be wondrous and mysterious (v. 18). The first three climax in the fourth (v. 19). The way of an eagle in the sky, a serpent on a rock, or a ship in the middle of the sea all share something in common, although it is not entirely clear what that is. Most likely, all three operate in an easy, appropriate—even lovely—way in their environment (Kidner, Proverbs, 180), even though it may not be readily evident how they do so. The way of a man with a maid (i.e., a virgin), likely referring to courtship and marital love, is similar. There is something wonderfully appropriate and lovely about a husband’s joining with his new bride, even though there is something mysterious about marriage as well.
The conclusion is a jarring contrast (v. 20). The adulterous woman is equally at home in her environment of adultery. Gratifying her lusts is no more remarkable than enjoying a meal; after her sinful behavior she … wipes her mouth. Perhaps the notion of eating has sexual overtones (cf. 9:17). Unlike the previous beautiful examples, there is no joy, wonder, or beauty here. The mystery, however, is how the adulteress can be so blind, callous, and smug in thinking she has done no wrong.
30:21–23. This numerical proverb lists four things that turn the social order upside down (like when the earth quakes), thereby creating an unbearable situation (v. 21). First, a slave, who is not equipped to be king and can only come to power through upheaval of the kingdom, creates havoc in the realm when he becomes king. Second, a boorish fool becomes only more unbearably obnoxious and overbearing when he is satisfied with food, that is prospers. Third, a woman who is unloved—or more literally, "hated"—will also be more intolerable once she gets a husband. Perhaps because of the pressures of marriage itself she is both cruel to her husband and haughty to her community (cf. 15:17; 17:1; 19:13; 21:9; 25:24;). Fourth, a maidservant who supplants her mistress becomes unbearable to the household in general and to the woman she dispossessed in particular (cf. Gn 16:4).
30:24–28. Here Agur names four small creatures, common in Israel, that are exceedingly wise despite their small size (v. 24). Together they show that wisdom is better than power. Though they lack strength, ants embody disciplined planning and hard work: they prepare their food in the summer to give them provision for the future (v. 25; cf. 6:6–8). "Rock badgers" (ESV), or coneys (hyrax syriacus, rabbit size rodents native to Israel), though they are not mighty and are basically defenseless, wisely choose to make their houses high in the rocks, where they are safe from predators (v. 26). Though locusts have no king, they prudently remain unified and organized, making them formidable despite their size, as is evident in the destruction of swarms of locust (v. 27; cf. Jl 2:1–11). The lizard (probably a gecko) can easily climb walls and ceilings; it is small and vulnerable enough to be captured in one’s hands (v. 28). Yet their physical skills and tenacity pay off because they gain access even to kings’ palaces (v. 28).
30:29–31. This numerical proverb lists four things that walk with a stately bearing (v. 29). Each displays power and fearless confidence within their realm and the list climaxes in the fourth example. First, the lion, being so mighty among beasts, has no need to retreat before any enemy (v. 30). Second and third, the strutting rooster (although the exact meaning of this Hb. word is uncertain) and the male goat are similarly confident as they move about the barnyard. All three of these animals aptly illustrate a mighty king accompanied by his army. His confidence is evident because none can stand against him, and only a fool would try. The lesson here is not entirely clear and is probably ambiguous on purpose (to call the wise reader to make multiple applications). Thus it may be a call for leaders to display confidence (Hubbard, Proverbs, 481), or for the wise to be confident in the Lord (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 499), or for rebels against the king to think twice!
30:32–33. Confidence is a good quality; foolish arrogance (exalting yourself) is stupid. Someone who wishes to exalt himself, and plots to do so at other people’s expense, ought to shut up instead, put his hand over his mouth, and stop self-promoting (v. 32). If he does not, he will only stir up anger in others, with inevitable results (v. 33). Just like the churning [miytz] of milk produces butter and pressing [miytz] the nose brings forth blood, so churning … anger produces strife. Plotting self-exaltation inevitably will have a bad effect, leaving one with a bloody nose—or worse!
IV. King Lemuel’s Collection (31:1–31)
Although there is some dispute over the division of the verses in this concluding section of Proverbs, some suggest vv. 1–9 is one section by King Lemuel, about whom little is known; and the poem on the excellent wife is likely a separate section, possibly by an anonymous author (vv. 10–31). However, the collection more likely includes the entire chapter since the concluding excellent wife poem is not introduced with a new title and its topic is "appropriate to the concern and experience of a queen-mother" (Hubbard, Proverbs, 485).
A. Title (31:1)
31:1. This section is described as the words of King Lemuel. His name means "for/belonging to God," but nothing is known of his identity. There is no record of any Hebrew king with this name, but some traditional interpreters have argued Lemuel is an alternate name for Solomon. It is also possible that Lemuel is a Gentile proselyte who ruled elsewhere (see comments on Agur’s identity in 30:1). If massa’ here refers to a location, he would have been King of Massa. But here the word is better translated as oracle. Like Agur’s words, Lemuel’s words are revelatory as well. They are also described as that which his mother taught him. While in Proverbs mothers instruct their sons, it is unusual to find such instruction independent of the father. "The topic of her conversation is something that a wise mother, especially the wise mother of a leader, would want to drive home to her child: women and drink are two large temptations to a man with power and money" (Longman, Proverbs, 538).
B. Admonitions to a King (31:2–9)
31:2. The opening exclamations display all the passion that only a mother could have for her son. Three times she asks King Lemuel, What? Whether she is implicitly rebuking him (e.g., ESV’s "What are you doing?") or just introducing her words (e.g., HCSB’s "What should I say?"), she is certainly getting his attention. Her description of him as son, son of my womb, and son of my vows reflects their closeness and her right to address him forthrightly, king though he may be (Longman, Proverbs, 538–9). Indeed, she was the one who bore him. Moreover, perhaps because she had difficulty conceiving (as Hannah did; cf. 1Sm 1:11), she presumably vowed repeatedly to dedicate him to God. After all, the name Lemuel means "belonging to God" (Koehler, HALOT, 532).
31:3. She first addresses the topic of his relationship to women. Clearly she is not warning Lemuel about all women; the final poem demonstrates that some women are great gifts to their husbands. She is rather warning him about a certain kind of woman, a kind which destroys kings. She is probably thinking here of his engaging in illicit sexual liaisons (e.g., 7:24–27) or maintaining a large harem (e.g., David, 2Sm 12:9–10; Solomon, 1Kg 11:1–11). Indulging his sexual desire in such ways would waste his energies and resources (strength and ways) and distract him from the business of state.
31:4–5. For similar reasons, then, it is not appropriate for kings to crave wine and strong drink (v. 4). Drunken kings can hardly maintain the sound judgment they need to uphold the law (i.e., not to forget what is decreed) and render just verdicts, particularly on behalf of all the afflicted (v. 5). Drunken kings make poor rulers, allowing injustice to flourish, and making them liable to divine judgment (cf. 20:1; 23:29–35).
31:6–9. A king certainly does not need strong drink (vv. 6–7). Although the advice here may suggest a principle that in some cases alcoholic drink (or by extension, an opiate) may be appropriate to alleviate people’s desperate sufferings (particularly those who are dying, or perishing), more likely it is sarcastic (Waltke, The Book of Proverbs 15–31, 508). Certainly a king would not face such dire circumstances. So if a king wants to give strong drink to anyone, it should be to the destitute embittered in misery and facing starvation (i.e., they are perishing) rather than himself. Then at least they can forget something worth forgetting, their poverty and trouble. Of course, getting drunk will not solve the poor man’s crushing poverty (cf. 20:1; 23:29–35). There is a more constructive course of action commanded of the king (v. 8–9). The king can open his mouth, not to imbibe liquor, but to speak up on behalf of those too unfortunate, afflicted and needy (cf. 24:11–12) to speak up for themselves (i.e., they are mute). Only the king can judge righteously, defend them, and alleviate their suffering from oppression.
C. The Excellent Wife (31:10–31)
This famous poem is an acrostic in Hebrew. Each verse begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, giving the reader the impression of a complete "A to Z" picture of this godly woman (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 514). It is probably a heroic poem, a genre which typically sings the praises of a military hero (Longman, Proverbs, 539–40). She is no less valiant, being a reflection of Lady Wisdom herself. Young men need to be reminded of the kind of women they should seek for a spouse. Plus, she serves as an example for women of all ages to emulate as well.
31:10. The excellent wife is literally called a "woman/wife of strength or valor" (‘eshet chayil). She is strong in competence and character (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 891; cf. Ru 3:11; Pr 19:14). The rhetorical question (who can find such a woman?) does not deny her existence. It rather highlights how rare and precious she is, even far beyond jewels (cf. 8:11). A man with such a wife has a rare treasure indeed (cf. 12:4).
31:11–12. Her husband can readily see her worth. He trusts in her completely, with full confidence (v. 11a). And he has good reason, for through her he will have no lack of gain (v. 11b). Gain is a military term meaning "spoil" or "booty." This suggests that she is like "a warrior in the battle of life" who wins plunder for her family, to their benefit (Longman, Proverbs, 543). Indeed, all throughout her life she is a great asset to him, committed to consistently do him good and not evil (v. 12).
31:13. Wool and flax were needed to make clothes for her family. She not only seeks to secure those materials, quite possibly by overseeing their production herself (Clifford, Proverbs, 275), but she also makes those clothes willingly and with delight, having joy in her family and her work.
31:14. She is industrious and resourceful. Like merchant ships, she trades goods she has produced domestically for food she cannot produce at home. She is thus able to secure "tasty foreign delicacies" from afar, provisioning a bountiful table that "replicates in miniature that of fabled King Solomon" (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 524; cf. 1Kg 4:21–23).
31:15. Unlike the sluggard, who cannot get out of bed to feed himself (26:14–15), the excellent wife rises early before dawn (while it is still night) to make sure the entire household, including her maidservants, has the food they need. This shows that she is compassionate, sacrificial, and hard working. The word translated food (terep) often means "prey." This may suggest she is like a lioness—strong, cunning, skillful—in providing for her own.
31:16. She is entrepreneurial. She makes sound judgments (she considers thoughtfully) in choosing the right field for development. Then, using her own earnings from her domestic labors, she buys the property and plants a vineyard on it. Presumably, the vineyard then produces grapes, wine, and raisins for her family as well as creates a profitable agribusiness.
31:17. This verse uses language that reiterates her strength and vigor. Halfhearted effort is not for her. The Hebrew text literally says that she girds her loins with strength. Girding the loins involved tucking one’s floor length tunic into one’s belt in order to allow for free movement of one’s legs for fighting or hard work. Similarly to make her arms strong may mean "that she tucks in her sleeves so that they will not encumber her in her work" (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 895). She thus prepares herself to energetically engage any task that she undertakes (cf. 10:4).
31:18–20. Her efforts pay off as she senses the gain is good from her business ventures. The image of her lamp … not going out at night could suggest that she works well into the night (i.e., her business success spurs her on to work harder). Or, that she is prosperous enough to keep the lamp burning (i.e., her successful efforts ensure the prosperity of her household and the oil does not run out). Either way, her success does not go to her head (vv. 19–20). Working the distaff and spindle (tools for spinning fabric) with her hands indicates that she personally continues to spin fabric. That is, she does not neglect her domestic responsibilities (cf. v. 13) despite her profitable business ventures (Garrett, Proverbs, 250; cf. Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 895). She wisely cares for the poor and is compassionate, stretches out her hands to the needy (cf. 14:21; 19:17; 28:27; 29:7).
31:21–22. She has foresight to provide clothes for all her household. She therefore does not have to be afraid of the cold weather (snow), because their clothes are warm. That they are also dyed scarlet suggests that their clothing is expensive and of the highest quality, since scarlet die was very expensive, and often used on wool (2Sm 1:24). Although she has been scrupulous in caring for others, as a dignified woman she takes appropriate care of herself as well (Fox, Proverbs 10–31, 896). Her bed coverings and clothing, made of fine linen and purple, are also expensive and of highest quality—even luxurious—as befits a woman of her status. While not all women could aspire to her financial status, all can emulate her industriousness and commitment to providing the best care for her family within whatever monetary means she has. She is the example of a wise woman who builds her house, and any woman who likewise wants to honor the Lord with her life in relation to her family can follow her example (cf. Pr 14:1).
31:23. The excellent wife is a credit to her husband. She only makes him better, brings him greater respect in the community (cf. 12:4), and frees him up for worthwhile pursuits. He therefore is a highly respected leader in society, one of the elders of the land who sit in the city gates, the government and business center of the city where the elders, as city leaders, made decisions for the community. Behind this great man is a great woman, and any young man with high aspirations should take note to pray for and pursue a wife like this (cf. 12:4; 18:22).
31:24. Part of her business efforts includes producing linen garments and belts and selling them to tradesmen—a truly enterprising woman indeed.
31:25. Even better than the fine clothes she produces is the fine character that adorns her like fine clothing. She is a woman of strength and dignity (honor), which are "the advantages of both youth and old age" according to 20:29 (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 531). With these qualities she smiles at the future, facing all her tomorrows with confidence. This is no cocky self-confidence or dreamy hopefulness; it reflects her wise confidence in the Lord whom she reveres (cf. v. 30).
31:26. Not only does she live wisely, but she also teaches wisdom to others. Her wise instruction is described as the teaching of kindness (chesed). This phrase probably indicates that all her instructions "to her staff, family, and friends are motivated by covenant love that treats others with the loyal consideration that characterizes God’s dealings with His people" (Hubbard, Proverbs, 496).
31:27. She diligently watches over (looks well on) everything that goes on (the ways) in her household without ever letting idleness distract her from her supervisory responsibilities. This highlights her organizational skill, attentiveness, persistence, and hard work.
31:28–29. Her family rightly recognizes what a treasure she is. Her children and husband rise up, perhaps in respect (Waltke, Book of Proverbs 15–31, 534) or to make a public proclamation (Hubbard, Proverbs, 497), and praise her (v. 28). Her husband’s words of praise are: that of all the many women (daughters) who have done nobly, she excels them all (v. 29). The word nobly is the same word (chayil) translated "excellent" in v. 10. He says that she is the most excellent of all excellent wives, the rarest of all rare jewels. In many observant Jewish homes today, it is customary on Friday evening (the beginning of Sabbath) for the husband to stand and recite (or sing) this blessing over his wife—a lovely custom indeed acknowledging her worth to him, the family, and the community.
31:30. This wife is praiseworthy from the inside, not just because of external charm and beauty. An attractive outward appearance can be deceitful because it reveals nothing about a person’s true quality and may in fact mask character deficiencies. Moreover, it is vain in any case because it is fleeting. Of course, beauty is not a negative quality, and a husband should find his wife attractive (cf. 5:19–20). But attractiveness is relatively insignificant when compared to the decisive factor making the excellent wife so praiseworthy. What matters most is that she fears the Lord (cf. 1:7; 9:10). Her relationship with the Lord makes her such an exemplar of wisdom and righteousness.
31:31. This kind of woman deserves to be rewarded (give her the product of her hands) and publicly praised (let her works praise her in the gates). A society would be wise to promote such women and the values they represent.
In sum, the excellent wife fears and trusts the Lord. More specifically, she is trustworthy, industrious, resourceful, enterprising, ebullient, sound in judgment, successful, responsible, generous, dignified, strong, kind, and supportive to her husband and family. A wise son would be wise to pursue such a wife. For in doing so he embraces Lady Wisdom. After all, the excellent wife exemplifies Lady Wisdom herself. In this sense, this description of the excellent wife is a good way to end the book of Proverbs. Only a fool would not want a companion like her.
Bridges, Charles. An Exposition of Proverbs. Marshallton, DE: National Foundation for Christian Education, n.d. First published in 1846.
Clifford, Richard J. Proverbs: A Commentary. Old Testament Library. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 1999.
Fox, Michael V. Proverbs 1–9: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.
———. Proverbs 10–31: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.
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Hubbard, David A. The Preacher’s Commentary: Proverbs. Thomas Nelson: Nashville, 1989.
Keil, C. F. and F. Delitzsch. Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 6. Translated by M. G. Easton. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996. English translation originally published in 2 vols. in 1874–75.
Kidner, Derek. Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: Tyndale, 1964.
Klein, William W., Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert L. Hubbard. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Dallas: Word, 1993.
Koehler, Ludwig, Walter Baumgartner, Johann Stamm. The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament. CD-ROM-Edition. Trans. M. Richardson. Leiden: Brill, 2000.
Longman, Tremper, III. How to Read Proverbs. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002.
———. Proverbs. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006.
Murphy, Roland. Proverbs. Word Biblical Commentary. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998.
Ross, Allen. Proverbs. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 5. Frank E. Gabelein, ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.
Steveson, Peter A. A Commentary on Proverbs. Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 2001.
Treier, Daniel J. Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011.
Waltke, Bruce K. The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1–15. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004.
———. The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 15–31. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005.
———, with Charles Yu. An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007.
Whybray, R. N. The Book of Proverbs. The Cambridge Bible Commentary on the New English Bible. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972.
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