Search Bible Outlines and commentaries


He who is surety for a stranger will surely suffer for it,

But he who hates going surety is safe.

Bruce Waltke: This verse is a janus, forming a transition between speech that harms oneself, unlike the safety of counselors (vv. 8–14), and the danger of benevolent but risky wealth (vv. 15–21).  “The use of wealth requires good sense not to squander it on kind but risky causes such as going bail or guaranteeing a loan for a stranger.”  The next subunit contrasts kindness with ill-gotten wealth.

Charles Bridges: He who puts up security for another will surely suffer, but whoever refuses to strike hands in pledge is safe.  This is a repeated warning against putting up security for another (see 6:1-5) and is meant to inculcate circumspection, not to excuse selfishness or to dry up the sources of helpful sympathy.  This must not be done for a stranger (27:13) whose character is unknown to us.  For such incautious kindness, too often done at the expense of the family, will make us suffer.

Tremper Longman: The book of Proverbs calls on people of means to be generous toward those in need (29:7, 14). However, it frequently warns against helping others make loans. In the first place, the Torah is against loans with interest to fellow Israelites (Exod. 22:25–27). Apparently, the Hebrew Bible does not have the same scruples when it comes to outsiders. The tenor of this proverb seems to be that a person could lose money from securing a loan for a non-Israelite. The potential downside erases any possible upside. See also 6:1–5; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26; 27:13.


Caleb Nelson: The Character Qualities that Get Results, vv. 16-22

  1. Graciousness, Not Violence, v. 16
  2. Mercy, Not Cruelty, v. 17
  3. Sowing Righteousness, Not Doing Shoddy Work, v. 18
  4. Righteousness, Not Evil, v. 19
  5. Blamelessness, Not Perversion, v. 20
  6. Righteous Childrearing, Not Movement Creation, v. 21
  7. Discretion, Not Beauty, v. 22

Righteousness really gets results. Righteousness has surpassing cash-value. That is the message of most of our passage. But our passage also winds up with a reminder that whether you desire righteousness is an outstanding predictor of your future. The message here is not just that it’s good to be good, but even that to be good and to want good is to experience greater earthly success and receive an eternal reward.

Peter Wallace: Verses 16-22 form an inclusio with the references to the gracious woman and the woman without discretion.

But our chiasm works its way in as Verse 17 speaks of the kind man and the cruel man, while verse 21 speaks of the evil man and the offspring of the righteous.

Verses 18 and 20 contrast the wages of the righteous and the wicked (V18) and the way the LORD looks at them (V20).

At the center of the chiasm is verse 19—which puts the focus on life and death, reminding us of Proverbs 1-9.

Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live,

but he who pursues evil will die.

A.  (:16-17) Practicing Graciousness and Mercy

  1. (:16) Graciousness

A gracious woman attains honor,

And violent men attain riches.

Bruce Waltke: A single gracious woman gains glory and wealth, but many powerful men gain merely temporary wealth. Social esteem is of greater value than wealth gained by “rude victories” (see 11:28; 22:1; 30:8). The greater gain of a single woman over fierce men (pl.) signals the superiority of “grace” to brute force. Although gracious (ḥēn; see 3:4, 22) could refer to her physical beauty (as in 31:30; see 4:9; 5:19), more probably her inner beauty is in view. Prov. 31:31 in fact discounts physical beauty, and the indiscreet beauty in 11:22 has as much honor as a ring of gold in a swine’s snout (cf. Eccl. 8:1; 1 Tim. 2:9, 10; 1 Pet. 3:3, 4). Her noble traits of character, such as loyalty to her husband, win the community’s favor (see 31:10–31) Womanēšet) contrasts with “violent men”; both in gender and in number she is physically weaker than they. Nevertheless, through her nobility she lays hold of and retains (titmōk; see 3:18) honor (kābôd), which entails wealth (see 3:16; 8:18; 22:4). In opposition to her stand the violent men (ʿārîṣîm). The verbal root of ʿārîṣîm means “to tremble,” “to fear,” and BDB glosses it by “terrifying” (Ezek. 28:7), “ruthless” (Ps. 37:35), and “awe-inspiring” (in the bad sense, Isa. 25:3), to which the NIV adds “fierce” (Isa. 49:25), “cruel” (Jer. 15:21), and “mighty” (Jer. 20:11) and HALOT, “tyrant.”  Here it is bound with “cruel” (11:17). Arrogance is the inalienable possession of this formidable enemy (Isa. 13:11; cf. Ps. 86:14). Their breath is like a storm driving against a wall (Isa. 25:4). Its parallels are “wicked” (rāšāʿ, Job 15:20; 27:13), “mocker” (lēṣ), “those who have an eye for evil” (Isa. 29:20), and “men without regard for God” (Ps. 54:3[5]). Despots lay hold of (yitmekû) wealth (ʿōšer), which often has a favorable sense (Prov. 3:16; 8:18; 13:8; 14:24; 22:4) but does not necessarily bring social esteem (22:1), can alienate from God (30:8), and can provide a false security (11:28). The tyrants’ best achievement becomes an invidious enemy of their lives; they possess neither the lasting fame nor the true fortune they sought (see 10:2; 11:4).

Charles Bridges: A kindhearted woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth.  Everywhere the great value of godliness greets us.  What admirable characteristics it gives to women (31:10).  A kindhearted woman is known, not by her outward beauty, but by her “inner self” (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:3-4).

  • Deborah was “a mother in Israel” and the adviser of a wayward people (Judges 4:4; 5:7).
  • Esther used her influence over her heathen husband for the good of her nation (Esther 7:3-4; 9:12-13, 25).
  • Dorcas was commended for her active usefulness (Acts 9:36).

Such people should always receive honor and respect.

Tremper Longman: “graceful” is clearly contrasted with “violent.” Someone who is characterized by grace, thus making that one graceful (ḥēn), is someone who acts for the benefit of others, not expecting a return. The reward that comes to such a woman is honor. She is respected and loved by others for her actions. On the other hand, “violence” implies a willingness to take what is wanted, by force if necessary. The ending on the participle of the verb for “violent” (ʿrṣ) is masculine plural, thus providing a contrast with the singular woman of the first colon. The reward of such violence is wealth, which sounds good on the surface, but to make sense of the contrast, I think we must understand “only wealth.” That is, wealth without honor. To be sure, Proverbs does not regard wealth as bad in and of itself, and in the right context it indeed signifies a blessing of God (3:9–10; 8:17–21). But Proverbs also recognizes that evil people can get wealth (13:11) and that such wealth often will harm those who have it (21:6). Indeed, when riches are said to be a blessing, it is often said to be accompanied by honor (3:16). It is, after all, much better to be poor with honor (and wisdom) than rich without it (15:16, 17; 16:8, 16; 17:1; 22:1; 28:6).

  1. (:17) Mercy

The merciful man does himself good,

But the cruel man does himself harm.

Bruce Waltke: Perhaps vv. 16 and 17 are connected by ḥēngracious” and ḥesedkind.”

Charles Bridges: A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself.  Kindness is not natural benevolence, without God or godliness.  It is the fruit of the Spirit, the image of our Father, and being gripped by the love of Christ (Galatians 5:22; 2 Corinthians 8:9; Colossians 3:13).  It is not pity in words and looks.  It is when our neighbor’s trouble descends into the depths of our hearts and draws out from there our inner compassion.  On the great day God will hoor this before the assembled universe (Matthew 25:34-36).

Allen Ross: This saying contrasts the consequences of dispositions: “kindness” (ḥesed) is healthy, but anger brings trouble. One’s health and well-being are at risk if the personality is volatile. We may say that such raging works against a person as a part of divine justice.

Tremper Longman: Two classes of people are contrasted in this proverb. It offers itself as an observation, but as such it also clearly intends to give implicit advice. After all, one course of action leads to benefit, while the other to harm. The observation, then, is how certain actions lead to certain benefits.

The first class is composed of people whose lives are characterized by “covenant love” (ḥesed). This is the kind of love that God shows to people who are bound in a covenant relationship with him. It is a love where the interests of the other party are paramount. A person who loves another in such a way protects and does not harm the other (so other translations interpret this word as “kind” or “merciful”). This would be contrasted to cruel people, who harm others for their own gain.

The paradox of the proverb is that those who look out for others because of covenant love find that their lives are better in some unspecified way. On the other hand, those who are cruel to others end up hurting themselves.

As McKane rightly points out, this proverb shows that “there is a harmony between enlightened self-interest and the common good.”  In other words, community and the individual are not always pitted against each other.

Lindsay Wilson: The contrast in verse 17 is between kindness which leads to benefit, and cruelty which leads to hurt. This receives an interesting twist in noting that people who are kind benefit themselves . . . and, similarly, cruel people hurt themselves. The focus is not on God rewarding or punishing such people, but rather that a person’s character leads to certain consequences.

B.  (:18-19) Practicing Righteousness

  1. (:18) Sowing Righteousness

The wicked earns deceptive wages,

But he who sows righteousness gets a true reward.

Charles Bridges: The wicked man earns deceptive wages, and his life ends in disappointment (Hebrews 3:13; Romans 6:21). . .  But the sure reward of the righteous makes a great contrast. . .  It will probably be given to us as it is given to the farmer who has to patiently wait for the harvest.  But whenever it is given, no matter how long it is delayed, it is a sure reward.  Remember, righteousness is the seed,and happiness is the harvest.

Bruce Waltke: The metaphor evokes several truths.

(1)  Sowing entails timely effort and investment with the hope of a reward (see 11:27; cf. Ps. 126:5; Matt. 6:20; Luke 16:9). “There is no conflict between striving after the highest degree of self-realization and serving the common good.”

(2)  One reaps what one sows; “Sow for yourself righteousness [šedāqâ], reap the fruit of kindness [ḥesed]” (Job 4:8; Hos. 10:12; Prov. 22:8; 2 Cor. 9:6; Gal. 6:7).

(3)  One reaps in fact a hundred times more than one sows (Matt. 19:29).

(4)  The picture of broadcasting seed invokes the notion of performing many kind acts everywhere.

(5)  The “sower” depends on God, who mysteriously provides the increase.

(6)  The temporal distance between the sowing and reaping suggests that the righteous waits for his reward (Jas. 5:7, 8). The word “true” is necessarily added because in the agricultural realm the harvest is somewhat uncertain; not so in the moral sphere (cf. Pss. 19:11[12]; 37:3–6; Isa. 32:17–18; Rev. 22:12).

  1. (:19) Steadfast in Righteousness

He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life,

And he who pursues evil will bring about his own death.

Paul Koptak: the point is clear that immediate pursuits determine ultimate destinations.

Tremper Longman: This observation, like the previous two, clearly describes opposite actions that lead to opposite conclusions. Once again, the consequences are such that they are intended to influence behavior. The nature of righteousness and the pursuit of evil are not specified, but the rest of the book fills out the picture.

C.  (:20-21) Blameless Life Leads to a Blessed Legacy

Bruce Waltke: God’s attitude toward individuals (disgust/pleasure) in v. 20 corresponds to the outcome of their lives (inescapable trouble/deliverance) in v. 21.

  1. (:20) Blameless Life

The perverse in heart are an abomination to the LORD,

But the blameless in their walk are His delight.

Bruce Waltke: The heart is the source of moral conduct. The LORD is the final court of appeal, and although he alone can evaluate the heart, one’s way proves whether the heart is blameless. Only he hands out life and death. The proverb calls for a transformation of human affections to correspond with God’s affections. One must be sincere in his heart and constant in his way. No in-between ground is granted.

Allen Ross: The “perverse heart” is a twisted mind, i.e., the whole spiritual being is influenced toward evil. This inclination is an abomination to the Lord. Conversely, to please God one should follow a blameless course of life (see 2:21; 17:20).

  1. (:21) Blessed Legacy

Assuredly, the evil man will not go unpunished,

But the descendants of the righteous will be delivered.

D.  (:22) Summary Metaphor – Inward Grace Is What Counts

As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout,

So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.

Paul Koptak: The proverb stands out against the background of its context just the way the beauty of a gold ring stands out against the background of an ugly snout. The picture of a beautiful ornament placed where it will be covered in mud and swill suggests that physical beauty without character is also not fitting, out of place. “Shows no discretion” is (lit.) “turns away from discernment”; the root meaning of the verb ṭʿm is “to taste” (as in “taste and see that the LORD is good,” Ps. 34:8). The meaning was extended to include “discernment,” as in Psalm 119:66: “Teach me knowledge and good judgment, for I believe in your commands.” Beauty and good judgment were both found in Abigail (1 Sam. 25:3, 33).

Bruce Waltke: The metaphor involves the pig’s obnoxious habit of eating swill and rooting in dung and its insensibility in wasting and tarnishing the precious ornament. . .

Having left whatever sensible judgment of moral behavior this woman once cultivated and/or had, it implies that she has turned herself into a boorish animal in her dress, speech, and behavior. In fact, she is worse than a pig. The sow by nature is boorish, but this woman “turns aside” from her dignity. The misplaced ornaments, instead of enhancing her beauty, make her look foolishly wasteful, grotesque, and repulsive. Instead of gaining honor by her natural gift, she wins ridicule (11:16). The proverb instructs youth to give priority to inner grace, not outward beauty.

Charles Bridges: Beauty is indeed to be honored as a gift from God.  Yet in itself it is a fading vanity.  If the woman lacks discretion, her beauty is as misplaced and as unbecoming as a gold ring in a pig’s snout.  Is the ornament going to make the filthy animal beautiful?  No.  This unnatural combination makes it forever an object of disgust.  All the charms of beauty are lost on a foolish woman.  Instead of retaining her honor, she only brings disgrace on herself.

Tremper Longman: The sage, though, is writing from the perspective of the man. As one looks at a pig and sees only the gold ring, so is a man who is so enamored by a woman’s physical beauty that he does not recognize her lack of discretion. The sage is warning those who will listen that the beauty is not worth all the problems that a woman’s indiscretion will bring to him. Later, in the poem concerning the virtuous woman, the sage will affirm that what is really important is not charm or beauty, but rather a woman’s fear of Yahweh. “Beauty without wisdom is the height of incongruity.”


Chiastic structure in this section with verse 25 receiving the focus at the heart.

Bruce Waltke: Verses 23 and 27 form a frame around this subunit. They are yoked together by the catchword ṭôbgood” (vv. 23a, 27a) and by generalizations about the topic of desires and their paradoxical fulfillment.  Within this frame, vv. 23–25 flesh out the paradox that the giver gains and the victimizer victimizes himself (see vv. 17–21). More specifically, the liberality of the giver in v. 25 elaborates on his generosity in v. 24a, and his hoarding in v. 26a elaborates on his stinginess in v. 24b.  Catchwords unite the quatrains of vv. 23–24 and of vv. 25–26.

Peter Wallace: Verses 23-31 continue the theme of benevolence in community, focusing around the question of how do you use your wealth in this life?

We see the familiar eschatological focus in verse 23 the desire of the righteous ends only in good; the expectation of the wicked in wrath.

What is your attitude toward your wealth? One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want. Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.

Do not hoard grain in order to drive up prices, but sell it so that others may live and bless you!

Do not trust in your riches, because in the end, they will fail. Rather — use your riches to love God and neighbor!

Verse 30 comes to the heart of the matter: The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.

Jesus has borne good fruit—because he is indeed the tree of life.

A.  (:23) Seeking Good Should Be the Goal

The desire of the righteous is only good,

But the expectation of the wicked is wrath.

Paul Koptak: The righteous desiring good, receive good; the wicked, hoping for gain, receive their own destruction in return. In this way, the hope or expectation of the wicked dies with them. This verse makes the connection of the verses in 11:20–23 clear, pitting good desires against wicked hope.

Bruce Waltke: The desire of the righteous (taʾawat ṣaddiqîm; see 10:24b) denotes their aspirations rooted in their nature to do good to others. . .  The wrath the wicked hoped to inflict on others comes on them. They hoped for prosperity by overthrowing others, but they are rewarded instead with God’s wrath.

Allen Ross: The consequences of hope are determined by moral character. God rewards the righteous with prosperity; wrath eventually comes on the wicked.

Lindsay Wilson: The desire of the righteous – which might include pleasing God, having your character shaped by wisdom, and treating others rightly – results in what is good. On the other hand, the self-focused hope or expected outcomes of the wicked lead only to wrath, which seems elliptical for (a day of) wrath or judgment (see also 11:5–8). The implication is clear: make your goals those of the righteous, not those of the wicked.

B.  (:24) Liberality Rewarded over Withholding – Hoarding Makes You Poor

There is one who scatters, yet increases all the more,

And there is one who withholds what is justly due, but it results only in want.

George Mylne: Liberality is one eminent branch of the character of the righteous but because there are many objections in the heart of man against the practice of it, urgent motives are here addressed to us. The instructions delivered in this and the four following verses, will, if they are but believed, be a sufficient answer to every objection.

Jonathan Akin: Some things that seem wise in human eyes are actually foolish in God’s economy.  Human wisdom would say being stingy with wealth is a way to hold on to is, but divine wisdom says giving wealth away is what will enrich a person.  That instruction may seem counterintuitive, but it is godly wisdom.

C.  (:25) Generosity Rewarded with Prosperity – Generosity Makes You Rich

The generous man will be prosperous,

And he who waters will himself be watered.

Bruce Waltke: This verse elaborates the truth of reciprocity (v. 24) by two images:

  • fat” from the realm of animal husbandry and
  • drench” from the realm of horticulture.

The double image functions to underscore the certainty of reciprocity for being generous (see 10:26).

D.  (:26) Liberality Rewarded over Withholding

He who withholds grain, the people will curse him,

 But blessing will be on the head of him who sells it.

BruceWaltke: The paradox that generosity gains and niggardliness negates is now put in terms of selling grain, presumably at normal market value versus hoarding it implicitly in starvation to drive up the price. As for the one who withholds (mōnēaʿ; see 1:15) refers to the trader who holds back from sale life’s subsistence, exploiting the need of others to advantage himself.

Tremper Longman: As with the previous two verses, the teaching encourages generosity or at least distribution over against hoarding. The principle again is that good benefits accrue to those who have the interests of the community in mind.

E.  (:27) Seeking Good Should Be the Goal

He who diligently seeks good seeks favor,

But he who searches after evil, it will come to him.

Bruce Waltke: The synonyms for seeking, both of which connote energetic activity to fulfill desires, show that the benevolent serve the needy out of the desires of the heart, not out of duress, self-interest, or hypocrisy. Moreover, they are pious because they seek God’s favor, though they win human applause. The proverb admonishes its audience to be like Jesus, who went about doing good and was rewarded with eternal life (cf. Matt. 25:35, 36; Jas. 1:27). The truth, “seek, and you will find,” takes on new meaning: what you seek for others, you will find for yourself (cf. Matt. 6:33; 7:7).

Charles Bridges: All of us are living with a stupendous measure of vital activity for good or for evil.  Man was never intended, least of all the Christian, to be idle.  Our divine Master went about doing good, always actively helping people.  Anyone who dos not live like this is a counterfeit.  Usefulness is everything.  We should feel ashamed of our depravity – that we could ever spend a day without seeking good.  Nor must we wait to have opportunity brought to us.  We mut seek it diligently, getting up early and springing with joy to the work.  Let us wake to the conscious responsibility of having the means of blessing our fellow sinners in our hands.  Let us each do what we can.  Whether this is a little or a lot, do it prayerfully, and faithfully.  Do not be put off by trifling obstacles.  Do not let your inability to do a great deal prevent you from doing what you are capable of.  God honors a little strength (Revelation 3:8), the single talent (2 Corinthians 8:12), provided that it is dedicated to his service.


A.  (:28) Focus of Faith Determines Success

He who trusts in his riches will fall,

But the righteous will flourish like the green leaf.

Allen Ross: Security and prosperity are determined by the object of faith. The righteous trust in the Lord and flourish. The image of the “green leaf” is a figure of prosperity and fertility throughout the ancient Near East. The image of falling uses the analogy of the physical act to portray coming to ruin in life.

B.  (:29) Futility of the Foolish

He who troubles his own house will inherit wind,

And the foolish will be servant to the wisehearted.

Lindsay Wilson: This makes good sense if finances are still in view, rather than describing the kind of trouble people may bring to their household. The foolish use of money would lead to them being shut out from receiving any substantial inheritance – all they get is wind!  Such a person is the fool of the second half of the verse and will rightly be only a servant to those who are wise of heart.

George Mylne: A man is a plague to his family:

  • when he is of a domineering and quarrelsome temper bursting into passion at every trifling omission of his will and pleasure;
  • when by covetousness he oppresses his servants and children with bondage and hard labor, scarcely allowing them to enjoy life;
  • when by prodigality he wastes the bread and portion of his children;
  • when, by his disregard to mercy and justice he brings the curse of God on himself and his house;
  • when, by impiety he neglects the spiritual welfare of his family, and encourages them in evil by a bad example.

The troubler of his house shall possess vanity, disappointment, and misery. The evils that he brings to his dependents, are doubled to himself. Those who might be his best friends he makes his enemies. And his vices, so troublesome to others produce in the end torment and ruin to himself. He has all the marks of a fool, and through the natural consequences of his folly, and the merited judgment of God he is likely to be reduced to a slavish dependence on the wise of heart, who show their wisdom by such a government of their families, as promotes the holiness and happiness of those whom Providence has entrusted to their care.

Caleb Nelson: Solomon says that the fool who lacks the capacity for self-direction toward the good will end up as a slave to a wiser person. In our society, this slavery takes the form of terrible credit scores, welfare checks, and subsidized housing or even outright homelessness — but it is nonetheless a form of slavery in a very real sense. Be a fool, and become a slave.

C.  (:30) Fruit of the Righteous

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,

And he who is wise wins souls.

D.  (:31) Just Retribution for Both

If the righteous will be rewarded in the earth,

How much more the wicked and the sinner!

Lindsay Wilson: As a summary of the chapter, this verse affirms that the righteous will be rewarded and the wicked punished in this life (on earth). This reveals that the focus of wisdom is on retribution in this life, which is developed in NT terms to focus also on the life to come.

Paul Koptak: it seems clear enough that a straightforward statement of just rewards both summarizes the theme of the chapter and lends its assurance that Yahweh hates perversity and loves righteousness; therefore, rewards will be forthcoming (cf. Prov. 11:21).

Tremper Longman: The verse addresses the issue of retribution. The rhetorical question format of the verse may assume that there was some question about this, as surely there must have been and as books like Ecclesiastes (7:15–18) and Job seem to confirm. Proverbs suggests that if all things are equal, retribution will happen on earth.

However, one might misunderstand this verse to say that the righteous are paid back with blessing and the wicked with punishment. The verse may actually suggest that even the righteous are paid back for their less heinous offenses (see Eccles. 7:20 for the acknowledgment that the righteous also commit offenses).  If so, how much more will those who are worse get what is coming to them?

This seems to be the understanding of 1 Pet. 4:18, which quotes the Greek version:

If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner? (NRSV)

George Mylne: Believers smart for sins committed through infirmity, fully forgiven through the blood of Christ, and sincerely lamented by themselves. But who knows the power of God’s anger in crushing the wicked, when the day of grace is past, and the time is come to make the praise of God known in the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction! “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved then what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”