Search Bible Outlines and commentaries


Lindsay Wilson: The distinctive teaching of these proverbs is about the folly of pride (vv. 18–19), which seems connected to the pursuit of wealth (šālāl, spoil or plunder, v. 19b) but which is ultimately self-destructive (v. 18). Against this backdrop of pride, readers are urged to choose wisdom rather than wealth (v. 16), to avoid evil ways and preserve their life (v. 17), and to trust in the Lord (v. 20). The path of the proud is yet another example of folly when compared to all that wisdom has to offer.

A.  (:16) Choose Wisdom over Wealth

How much better it is to get wisdom than gold!

And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver.

Paul Koptak: Everything that has been said about Yahweh and the king is now taken as evidence for the supreme value of wisdom. Because it is a currency of life and death (16:4–5, 14–15), wisdom is to be desired above wealth.

Richard Clifford: Traditionally, wisdom is declared more precious than gold and silver (see 3:14 and Job 28). Gold and silver can buy much, to be sure, but wisdom paves the way for God to give life, wealth, and honor. Such gifts can only be given; they cannot be bought. Gold and silver thus have less value than wisdom.

Allen Ross: This didactic saying follows the pattern of the “better” sayings. Wisdom and wealth are not incompatible, but this comparison is between wealth without wisdom and wisdom without wealth. McKane, 489, says, “Wealth without wisdom may be vulgarity or greed or ruthless individualism.” The point of the verse is to encourage people to acquire wisdom and understanding (cf. 3:14).

Lindsay Wilson: The seduction of wealth is that it can give a sense of power and status, and so lead easily to pride. The focus is broadened out in verse 17 with references to a wise person’s fundamental path through life (highway, way). The language used here of turning aside (13:14; 14:27; 15:24; 16:6) from evil, guarding one’s way and preserving one’s life has earlier been used of character (šmr and nṣr in 2:11). The foundational choice of those who choose the straight path (the upright) leads to a godly character which offers true life.

Peter Wallace: If you have the choice between wisdom and money, choose wisdom. Wisdom is that good. Money can buy any earthly good, in some fashion, except happiness and true love. But wisdom can provide life, love, and happiness too.

This means that you shouldn’t worship work. You shouldn’t spend all your time working and none of it getting wisdom. You shouldn’t worship stuff, such that you’re so busy buying and enjoying that you fail to consider Jesus, the wisdom of God. You shouldn’t worship experiences, good as they are, such that you fail to consider how much better wisdom is than any of the things He made.

Do you adore wisdom? Do you work for wisdom, walk in wisdom, follow wisdom, seek wisdom? Brothers and sisters, Christ is personified wisdom and we know that He’s better than money. But internalized wisdom is better than money too. There’s nothing wrong with thinking about money. But if you think about money, not wisdom, you’re not wise and you’re ultimately not rich either.

How do we actually imbibe the notion that wisdom is better than money? How can you get to the place in life where you’re content to let goods and kindred go if keeping them would cost you Christ? You have to focus your attention on the good of wisdom. You have to taste and see that He is good. You have to have experience of how blessed it is to be with Jesus.

B.  (:17) Watch Your Way

The highway of the upright is to depart from evil;

He who watches his way preserves his life.

Richard Clifford: In the metaphorical system of the two ways, the way of the righteous is protected. Those who stay on the way save themselves from trouble. One must constantly choose to stay on the path. Colon A declares that the good way avoids trouble and colon B affirms the effort of staying on it. The saying is given unity by sibilants; in colon B, CōCēC CaCCô (C = consonant) occurs twice, giving an aphoristic tone. The verse is the exact midpoint of the book, according to the Masorah.

Allen Ross: Righteous living is a safeguard against calamity. The parallelism of these lines is probably synthetic: the first asserts that integrity avoids evil, and the second explains further that the person who guards his way protects his life. In the first colon the point of righteous living is made with the image of a “highway” (mesillâ), a raised and well-graded road. This well-cared-for life, this integrity, turns from or “avoids evil” (sûr mērāʿ, with ʿ in the sense of “sinful living”). The metaphor of the “way” (mesillâ // darkô) is carried into the second colon: he “guards” his way and thereby safeguards his life.

C.  (:18-19) Warning against the Folly of Pride

  1. (:18) Pride Trips Up

Pride goes before destruction,

And a haughty spirit before stumbling.

Paul Koptak: The synonymous lines repeat the picture of arrogant people raising themselves up, only to trip and fall low.

Allen Ross: Many similar sayings have warned against pride and arrogance. An Arabic proverb says, “The nose is in the heavens, the seat is in the mire.” McKane, 490, sees another implication in the words of this proverb: “‘Disintegration’ suggests a contrast with the man who has achieved wholeness [šālôm] by submitting to mûsār and learning wisdom; and ‘stumbling’ a contrast with the safe road along which the teacher directs his attentive and receptive pupils.”

Tremper Longman: Pride does not allow one to listen to criticism and thereby correct misperceptions and harmful patterns of behavior, whereas humility does.

Matthew Henry:

  1. Pride will have a fall. Those that are of a haughty spirit, that think of themselves above what is meet, and look with contempt upon others, that with their pride affront God and disquiet others, will be brought down, either by repentance or by ruin. It is the honour of God to humble the proud, Job 40:11, 12. It is the act of justice that those who have lifted up themselves should be laid low. Pharaoh, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, were instances of this. Men cannot punish pride, but either admire it or fear it, and therefore God will take the punishing of it into his own hands. Let him alone to deal with proud men.
  2. Proud men are frequently most proud, and insolent, and haughty, just before their destruction, so that it is a certain presage that they are upon the brink of it. When proud men set God’s judgments at defiance, and think themselves at the greatest distance from them, it is a sign that they are at the door.
  1. (:19) Hang with the Humble

It is better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly,

Than to divide the spoil with the proud.

Richard Clifford: The phrase “humble of spirit” links the saying to “haughty spirit” in the previous verse. Sharing booty is an act of victory in war, which of itself is not a bad thing. What makes the sharing of booty bad, however, is when the group that shares it attributes the victory entirely to their own prowess. Contrasted with them are the humble, perhaps those defeated and despoiled by the self-centered victors. The proud will eventually lose their gains, whereas those who are humble win God’s favor.

Allen Ross: The “proud” and the “lowly” here are ethical and religious descriptions for the proud rebel, who is overbearing and oppressive, and for the humble person, who submits to God and is unassuming and inoffensive (cf. Toy, 328). One should cultivate a humble spirit regardless of economic status, but one should never share the loot of those antagonistic to God.

Tremper Longman: Humility is valued because it is not the road to pride. Further, read in conjunction with the previous proverb, if wealth comes to the wise, it is likely to be short-lived or a prelude to disaster anyway. The “needy” are contrasted with those who “divide plunder,” a warfare term for the victorious dividing the spoils among themselves. Perhaps having won the victory breeds pride, if the victory is thought to come because of human skill or strength.

Charles Bridges: Examine secret faults.  Trace them to their source.  Maybe we have a subtle confidence in gifts, attainments, and privileges. Then praise your God for his painful discipline, the preserving mercy from ruinous self-exaltation.  Truly the way down the valley of humiliation is deep and rugged.  Humility, therefore, is the great preserving grace.  The contrite tax collector was safe, though the boasting Pharisee was confounded (Luke 18:14).  Better – more happy, more honorable, more acceptable to God and man – are the lowly in spirit than the haughty who only end up by being destroyed.  It is better to have a humble spirit than a lofty position in this world.  But who believes this?  Most men strive to rise; few desire to lie low.  May your example, blessed Savior, keep me low!  “When Majesty,” said pious Bernard, “humbled himself, shall the worm swell with pride?”

Matthew Henry: Humility, though it should expose us to contempt in the world, yet while it recommends us to the favour of God, qualifies us for his gracious visits, prepares us for his glory, secures us from many temptations, and preserves the quiet and repose of our own souls, is much better than that high-spiritedness which, though it carry away the honour and wealth of the world, makes God a man’s enemy and the devil his master.


A.  (:20) Trust in the Lord

He who gives attention to the word shall find good,

And blessed is he who trusts in the LORD.

Paul Koptak: “Trust” (cf. 3:5) is an active confidence; more than believing in God’s protection and provision, trust believes that God’s way is the best way and so gladly follows it.

Richard Clifford: The point seems to be that success and happiness depend on both God and our own efforts. Neither can be neglected.

Allen Ross: The person who trusts in the Lord and “gives heed to instruction” will be blessed by him; he will find earthly prosperity and heavenly bliss from living a life that is right with God.

B.  (:21) Gain a Reputation for Discernment and Sweet Speech

The wise in heart will be called discerning,

And sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.

Paul Koptak: This proverb begins a series on wisdom and speaking. The connection between heart and lips is made once again, here to demonstrate how reputation can also enhance teaching. If the first line stresses the fruits for the wise one, the second stresses the effect on others. Once again, the charge to gain wisdom carries with it a second charge to pass it on to others by means of persuasive teaching (lit., “sweetness of lips”; NIV “pleasant words”).

Richard Clifford: To win a reputation for wisdom, one must be both discerning and eloquent.

Tremper Longman: It is a bit hard to see a precise connection between the two cola here. The first observes that those in whom wisdom has sunk deep roots will be recognized and acclaimed as those who possess “understanding” (a word associated with “wisdom” and hard to distinguish from “wisdom” and “knowledge”). The second line suggests that one’s teaching is better received or enhanced in some other way by “sweet lips.” This may refer to eloquence or to the kindly attitude by which the sage presents material.

Matthew Henry: Those that with their wisdom have a happy elocution, that deliver their sentiments easily and with a good grace, are communicative of their wisdom and have words at will, and good language as well as good sense, increase learning; they diffuse and propagate knowledge to others, and do good work with it, and by that means increase their own stock. They add doctrine, improve sciences, and do service to the commonwealth of learning. To him that has, and uses what he has, more shall be given.

C.  (:22) Understanding Differentiates between Life and Folly

Understanding is a fountain of life to him who has it,

But the discipline of fools is folly.

Paul Koptak: Is the sense of the proverb that the fool is chastised, or that folly is the only instruction they know, so don’t bother to teach them (cf. 26:4–5)? Both are possible, but the contrast with the fountain of life lends weight to the first interpretation.

Charles Bridges: When understanding is enlightened so it can appreciate spiritual things in their spiritual glory, notions become principles.  Feelings then flow from light and are filled with life.  The book of God shines out with new glory.  Every verse is a sunbeam.  Every promise is irradiated with divine love.  What had previously been meaningless noise now becomes spirit and life.  This spiritual understanding is indeed a fountain of life.  Even if it is not always bubbling, there is a supply of water flowing all the time from the spring.

Richard Clifford: Intelligence benefits the one who has it (13:14). It is a fountain of life, a source of the blessings of long and healthy life, wealth, and repute. Other “fountains of life” in Proverbs are the words of the wise (10:11; 13:14) and the fear of the Lord (14:27). The second colon is difficult. Syntactically, it could mean “to educate fools is folly” (so McKane), but that translation seems too simple. Most commentators take mûsār not in its usual sense of “discipline, training” but of “punishment” (on the basis of 13:24 and 22:15). JPSV, for example, renders, “and folly is the punishment of fools.” The ordinary meaning of mûsār makes sense, however. As long as perverse folly is the discipline of fools, they will remain fools and eventually bring retribution on their heads. Such faulty training is the very antithesis of “fountain of life.”

D.  (:23) Persuasive Speech Flows from a Discerning Heart

The heart of the wise teaches his mouth,

And adds persuasiveness to his lips.

Allen Ross: Those who are wise ensure that they say wise things. The parallelism is synthetic, the first asserting that the wise heart “guides” the mouth, and the second line adding that he increases the reception of what he says (see v.21).

Tremper Longman: This proverb is based on the sages’ understanding that one’s words are a reflection of one’s heart. One who is wise at heart will say intelligent and helpful things to enhance another’s learning. Notice the close parallel between 16:21b and the second colon of this verse.

Charles Bridges: Man’s religion begins with the head, but God’s religion begins with the heart. . .  Experiential application realizes the glow of evangelical light and warmth.  Let me look mainly not to intellectual or theological attainments, but to heavenly teaching.  Let me seek that my heart is taught first and foremost.  Then let it teach my mouth, so that my lips promote instruction for the praise of my God and the edifying of his church.

E.  (:24) Sweet Speech Brings Healing

Pleasant words are a honeycomb,

Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Allen Ross: Pleasant words are comforting and encouraging. The subject matter here is ʾimrê-nō ʿam (“pleasant words”). They are first described as “a honeycomb” (see Ps 19:10[11]). Then the added predicates are “sweet” (mātôq) and “healing” (marpē ʾ). One may recall, in line with the use of this imagery, how Jonathan’s eyes brightened when he ate the honeycomb (1Sa 14:27); such is the uplifting effect of pleasant words.

Matthew Henry:

  1. They are like the honey-comb, sweet to the soul, which tastes in them that the Lord is gracious; nothing more grateful and agreeable to the new man than the word of God, and those words which are borrowed from it, Ps. 119:103.
  2. They are wholesome. Many things are pleasant that are not profitable, but these pleasant words are health to the bones, to the inward man, as well as sweet to the soul. They make the bones, which sin has broken and put out of joint, to rejoice. The bones are the strength of the body; and the good word of God is a means of spiritual strength, curing the diseases that weaken us.


Paul Koptak: Negative images dominate this cluster, particularly the villainous person. Note that many key words from 16:20–24 recur but as a mirror image of evil (“way,” “mouth,” “lips”), especially the reversal of “finds good” (ṭob, “prospers”) in 16:20 to “not good” (loʾ ṭob) in 16:29.

Lindsay Wilson: In contrast to the previous and following sections, verses 25–30 (with the possible exception of v. 26) focus on negative images, expressed in various forms of evil behaviour. They describe the way of the wicked (v. 25), the worthless person or scoundrel (v. 27), the perverse gossip (v. 28) and the violent person (v. 29) who acts as a deceiver (v. 30). There is concentration on both their plans and actions. Clifford (1999: 161) sees a progression in the second lines of verses 27–29 from thought (v. 27) to speech (v. 28) to actions harming others (v. 29). Indeed, each of verses 27–29 begin with the same word (’îš, a person), binding them together. Even the seemingly anomalous verse 26 may refer to someone being driven by hunger to do something (unspecified) that he or she should not do.

Caleb Nelson: The Folly of Badmouthing, vv. 25-30

  1. A Reminder: What Seems Good Isn’t Always, v. 25
  2. The Ambiguity of Working to fill your mouth, v. 26
  3. The Man of Wickedness Speaks Ill, v. 27
  4. The Man of Perversity Sows Discord, v. 28
  5. A Man of Violence Seduces Others, vv. 29-30

A.  (:25) Independent but Self-Deluded Living

There is a way which seems right to a man,

But its end is the way of death.

Allen Ross: the contrast is with the “way” that seems right and the “ways of death” (darkê-māwet; “leads to death,” NIV), which in the end provide the reality for the shortsighted evaluation.

Lindsay Wilson: This proverb is identical to 14:12. The context of both proverbs is a group of negative characters. This is not a description of all people, for the focus is on the wicked, that is to say, those whose end point is the way of death. The wicked may think that they are in control of their life, but, like the guests of Dame Folly (9:18), it will end in an untimely death.

Charles Bridges: Again we have this solemn, searching warning.  For the danger of self-delusion is so dreadful that we are only kept safe if we are constantly given warnings.  This is not because we do not understand, but because we love to sin.  Our judgment is perverted because our heart is blind.  It is no proof that a way is right because it seems right.  All the ways of a man are right in his own eyes; yet, in the end they lead to death.

It seems as if we must travel along the road of disobedience.  It appears to be only a slight deviation, but it is punished because in reality it is witchcraft and idolatry.  The way of deceit often appears to be right, as if it is an easy way to escape from a difficulty.

It is madness to dream about heaven when every step is the way to hell.  For the end . . . leads to death.  It is the enemy’s great purpose to stop us from seeing the end, so that our road seems to be right.  The paths that lead to death are many.  But there is only one way to life, and nobody can come to the Father except by Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  Oh, the transcendent mercy of the eyes opened to see the awful danger of our own way, ad our ears opened to hear the voice behind us saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (see Isaiah 30:21; Jeremiah 6:16).

B.  (:26) Motivated by Selfish Needs

A worker’s appetite works for him,

For his hunger urges him on.

Richard Clifford: Our proverb paradoxically asserts that a person does not toil to fill the gullet but that the gullet itself “toils” in the sense that appetite forces one to work.

Allen Ross: Hunger drives people to work diligently. Here is a classification of labor and its primary incentive—need. “Labor” (ʿāmēl) is boring drudgery; motivations are necessary to its continuance, and hunger is the most frequent motivation. The word “appetite” is literally “soul” (nepeš), that part of human nature that craves food; for the “life” (nepeš) is a bundle of appetites. The second clause adds an explanatory idea: his “mouth” (pîhû; “his hunger,” NIV) presses him on.

Lindsay Wilson: On the one hand, it could simply mean that the hunger or appetite of workers (lit. life or soul, but sometimes it means hunger or appetite, as in 6:30; 10:3; 13:25) makes them keep on working in order to get food to satisfy their stomach. If so, it is just a description of a normal human process that we are geared to work in order to meet our physical needs. However, given the negative examples that surround it, it is more likely to imply that their hunger causes them to act in a way that is not right, but becomes desirable because of the extent of their hunger. If so, their needs are driving them to act wrongly.

C.  (:27-30) Examples of Destructive Speech

  1. (:27) Pictured as a Scorching Fire

A worthless man digs up evil,

While his words are as a scorching fire.

Ernest Lucas: Verses 27-29 each begin with the phrase ‘a man of X’ in Hebrew, and v. 30 is linked to them by the catchwords ‘dishonest’ (v. 28a), ‘lips’ (v. 27b, Heb.) and ‘evil’ (v. 27a).

Paul Koptak: Like the portrait of the scoundrel in 6:12–19, this evil person’s thoughts, words, and actions are intent on hurting others. If a laborer toils to feed self and family (16:26), a scoundrel “plots” (lit., “digs a pit”) to entrap the unsuspecting, working not to provide for himself but to take what others have. The second line likens evil speech to this action, adding that it also burns like fire. A “scorching fire” quickly spreads, destroying everything in its path as it burns out of control.

Richard Clifford: When anyone’s intent is malicious, his words are a destructive fire. There is a play on ’îš bĕlîya‘al, “scoundrel,” and ’ēš, “fire.”

  1. (:28) Spreading Strife and Slander

A perverse man spreads strife,

And a slanderer separates intimate friends.

Paul Koptak: The similarity between the two lines is the absence of goodwill and unity. The difference is that one can do it loudly as one stirs up dissension or quietly and secretly through gossip and tale-bearing. Both are equally devastating to community (cf. 26:20 and 22; also 18:8).

Richard Clifford: The second type of malicious person is the backbiter. Such people destroy human relationships, which are founded on affection and trust. A gossip’s words are filled with insinuations that destroy trust and respect.

Allen Ross: Slanderers and gossips cause divisions. The wicked is described as “a perverse man” (ʾîš tahpukôt, lit., “a man of falsehoods, a liar”) and a “gossip” (nirgān), viz., one who whispers and murmurs (18:8; 26:20, 22). This kind of person destroys close friendships (ʾallûp) by what he says.

  1. (:29) Enticing Others to Violence

A man of violence entices his neighbor,

And leads him in a way that is not good.

Paul Koptak: A strong contrast stands here between the teacher who spreads health and peace and the “teacher” who spreads division and finally violence by word and example (cf. 4:14–17). The phrase “not good” may point to the antithesis of choosing wisdom; every other occurrence of the word “good” (ṭob) associates it with wisdom’s way (16:8, 16, 19, 20, 32). Enticement is ultimately deception that pretends to be speaking good when in fact it is “not good.”

Allen Ross: Violent people influence others toward violence (note the synthetic parallelism, the second part adding to the first). The man of violence (ḥāmās; GK 2805) will influence his acquaintances toward violence. Ḥāmās often refers to sins against society, social injustices, and crimes. The “path that is not good” must refer to habits of crime. The point is to warn people to keep away from such villains.

  1. (:30) Compounding Wicked Speech with Perverse Body Language

He who winks his eyes does so to devise perverse things;

He who compresses his lips brings evil to pass.

Richard Clifford: The saying probably rounds off the series that began in v. 27. Proverbs constantly stresses the intimate relationship between thought and expression, heart and tongue. External behavior gives a clue to intent. Such is the point of these physiological observations.

Allen Ross: Two expressions are depicted here: winking the eye and pursing the lips. Facial expressions often reveal whether someone is plotting something evil (see 6:13–14). Mannerisms and character are closely linked.


Paul Koptak: The final three verses of this chapter hardly seem related to one another, yet there is a common thread of final victory.

  • The virtues of a lifelong commitment to righteousness yield a long life (16:31),
  • the one who commands control of self is the true conqueror (16:32),
  • and lots of chance point to the final decision of Yahweh (16:33).

Human will can be directed toward faithfulness, longsuffering, and a determined openness to God’s will.

A.  (:31) Maintain Righteousness until Receiving the Reward of Respect in Old Age

A gray head is a crown of glory;

It is found in the way of righteousness.

Richard Clifford: Nature, as it were, bestows a glorious crown—the gray hair of a senior or elderly person. “Glorious crown” (’ăṭeret tip’eret) rhymes in Hebrew. Gray hair is a synecdoche for old age (Lev. 19:32): “You shall rise before gray hair and honor the visage of an elder.” Colon B explains where the glory comes from—not from a long life as such but from a long righteous life. Cf. 24:5–6.

Allen Ross: there is something commendable about old age that can remember a long walk with God through life and can anticipate unbroken fellowship with him in glory.

Tremper Longman: The idea of age as reward may also be seen in the light of the teaching that wisdom allows one to grow old, while fools will die prematurely. This is presupposed in the constantly offered enticement that wisdom leads to life, while folly leads to death. Again, this is not an absolute principle in Proverbs, but a generally true one.

B.  (:32) Maintain Self Control over Your Emotions

He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,

And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.

Paul Koptak: Better to exhibit self-control than to control others. In an age when kings used stone reliefs to depict their prowess in war, this praise of the patience that maintains social order may have been shaped to surprise hearers with its common sense.

C.  (:33) Maintain Confidence in God’s Providence Ruling Every Decision

The lot is cast into the lap,

But its every decision is from the LORD.

Paul Koptak: People cast lots in order to discern Yahweh’s will and so hope to find success. Most likely, “lot” refers to the use of Urim and Thummim (Ex. 28:30–31; Lev. 8:8; 16:8–10); among other uses, lots were used to make decisions about going to war (cf. Num. 27:21; 1 Sam. 23:9–12).  The “decision” (mišpaṭ) is a judgment, and Yahweh’s judgments are for justice (mišpaṭ, Prov. 16:8) and honesty (16:11). A “lap” (ḥeq) is formed by the folds of one’s garment. Thus, both lots cast into the folds and weight stones drawn out of the bag point to Yahweh’s desire for decisions that reflect his will (cf. 16:11). Like the opening proverbs, however, the role of human planning in the final outworking of God’s plans is left in mysterious tension.

Richard Clifford: The issue is similar to 16:1: We can plan something, but it is not in our power to bring it to consummation. Cf. 18:18 and 1 Sam. 14:41–42.

Matthew Henry:

  1. The divine Providence orders and directs those things which to us are perfectly casual and fortuitous. Nothing comes to pass by chance, nor is an event determined by a blind fortune, but everything by the will and counsel of God. What man has neither eye nor hand in God is intimately concerned in.
  2. When solemn appeals are made to Providence by the casting of lots, for the deciding of that matter of moment which could not otherwise be at all, or not so well, decided, God must be eyed in it, by prayer, that it may be disposed aright (Give a perfect lot, 1 Sa. 14:41; Acts 1:24), and by acquiescing in it when it is disposed, being satisfied that the hand of God is in it and that hand directed by infinite wisdom. All the disposals of Providence concerning our affairs we must look upon to be the directing of our lot, the determining of what we referred to God, and must be reconciled to them accordingly.

Charles Bridges: The instructive lesson to learn from this proverb is that there is no waste in the most minute circumstances.  Who can fail to see the hand of God, most wonderful in the most apparently casual contingencies, overruling all second causes to fulfill his will while they work their own?  “When kingdoms are tossed up and downlike a tennis ball, not one event can fly out of the bounds of God’s providence.  The smallest are not below it.  Not a sparrow falls to the ground without it.  Not a hair, but it is numbered by it” (Polhill).