Search Bible Outlines and commentaries


Paul Koptak: The majority of these proverbs are about speech and its effects; all are concerned with the attitudes and actions that destroy relationships and community. . .

The proverbs of chapter 18 make it clear that the isolation, self-centeredness, and poor judgment of verse 1 make themselves known through acts of speaking, as shown in verse 2. Fools have no desire to listen, only to spout their own views. The words of the mouth, like deep waters, can hide and deceive, and words like these are far removed from the life giving words of wisdom (18:4). Words can be partial to the wicked (18:5), bring strife and calamity to the fool (18:6–7), and damage both the reputation of others as well as the lives of those who have an ear for it (18:8).

A.  (:1-3) Speech Can Bring Dishonor

  1. (:1)  Folly of Isolationism

He who separates himself seeks his own desire,

He quarrels against all sound wisdom.

Paul Koptak: Individualists like this one isolate themselves from other people with no thought for their concerns and needs.

Richard Clifford: The point is that excessive devotion to one’s own ideas is an obstacle to prudent decision making. The parallelism is synonymous.

  • Colon A: Extreme devotion to one’s own ideas characterizes an antisocial person;
  • Colon B: such people contemn the clear thinking that leads to wise action. One cannot become wise by isolating oneself.

Tremper Longman: The term “antisocial” (niprād) comes from the verb prd, which suggests “someone who is divided, either internally or externally.” Our translation opts for the former since the verse describes those who are internally focused on their own desires, but such a focus would naturally separate them from the community. In the second colon, they are defined by their stance against wisdom, since “resourcefulness” is related to wisdom.

Lindsay Wilson: The subject is described as ‘one being separated’ (niprād), probably someone who goes off alone.  Such a person pursues or seeks desire, which can have a positive meaning as in 13:12 (a desire fulfilled is a tree of life), or something craved for or coveted. Most English versions translate it with a negative connotation here (e.g. ‘self-indulgent’, nrsv; ‘selfish ends’, niv; ‘goes his own way’, Murphy 1998), and that makes good sense as the second half of the verse is clearly critical of the person. Against all wisdom or sound judgment, such a person ‘bursts out’ – a verb found only in this section of Proverbs, being used of a quarrel breaking out, and parallel to strife or dispute in 17:14 and 20:3. So it has the sense here of ‘starts quarrels’ (niv).

  1. (:2)  Folly of the Self-Centered Blowhard

A fool does not delight in understanding,

But only in revealing his own mind.

Paul Koptak: Such people never engage in conversation, only monologue. Interested only in showing what he knows, the person in this verse accomplishes just the opposite. Ironically, he does “reveal his heart,” for speech always reveals character (cf. 12:16, 23; 13:16).

Charles Bridges: An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment.  A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.

Richard Clifford: Fools take no pleasure in the wisdom of others but only in telling others their own “wisdom.” As in v. 1, fools are smug and self-centered, not open to others.

Tremper Longman: The verse suggests that fools are again (see previous verse) only interested in their own desires and ideas. They do not have the patience to achieve the goals associated with wisdom (for competence, see 2:2), nor do they want to listen to people with competence. They only want to blurt out what is on their minds, thus “disclosing their hearts.”

  1. (:3)  Resulting Dishonor

When a wicked man comes, contempt also comes,

And with dishonor comes reproach.

Richard Clifford: Evil conduct leads to loss of reputation. Such a loss would be especially painful in ancient Mediterranean culture, which placed a high value on honor.

Derek Kidner: The three terms for shame give triple emphasis to this corollary of sin (the antithesis of the glory which is the corollary of holiness: Isa. 6:3; Rom. 8:30).

Lindsay Wilson: They have ‘a closed mind and an open mouth’ (Waltke 2005: 69). Most of us need to speak less and listen more. Verse 3 outlines a snowballing of folly from wickedness to a contemptuous dishonouring of others, to disgrace or shame. This is why our foundational choice of wisdom or folly (chs. 1 – 9) is so vital, as each leads to different consequences.

B.  (:4) Speech Can Be a Fountain of Wisdom

The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters;

The fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook.

Richard Clifford: With Toy, McKane, and JPSV, we take the two phrases of colon B to be in apposition to “deep waters” in colon A, that is, words express a person’s thoughts, bringing them to the surface. Those words in turn become a source of wisdom to others.

Charles Bridges: “This sentence expresses the depth, the abundance, the clearness, and the force of the counsels of the wise man” (Calmet).  When a person has immersed himself in wisdom, his words are in themselves deep waters, and as they are spoken they become as fruitful as a bubbling brook.  His wisdom is a fountain that “sends up full brooks that are ready to overflow their banks.  So plentiful is he in good discourse and wholesome counsel” (Bishop Hall).

Matthew Henry:

  1. The well-spring of wisdom is as deep waters. An intelligent knowing man has in him a good treasure of useful things, which furnishes him with something to say upon all occasions that is pertinent and profitable. This is as deep waters, which make no noise, but never run dry.
  2. The words of such a man’s mouth are as a flowing brook. What he sees cause to speak flows naturally from him and with a great deal of ease, and freedom, and natural fluency; it is clean and fresh, it is cleansing and refreshing; from his deep waters there flows what there is occasion for, to water those about him, as the brooks do the low grounds.

C.  (:5) Speech Can Promote Injustice

To show partiality to the wicked is not good,

Nor to thrust aside the righteous in judgment.

Paul Koptak: This proverb echoes the statement that one should not clear the guilty and condemn the innocent (Prov. 17:15).

Charles Bridges: For justice to happen, the cause must be heard, not the person.  Let the person be punished for his wickedness, not the wickedness be covered for the person’s sake.  When one is partial to the wicked, the rights of God are despised, and the claims of his justice are thrown away.

Tremper Longman: Proverbs is interested in proper outcomes for wicked and righteous actions. The law forbids subverting justice in Lev. 19:15 and Deut. 10:17.

D.  (:6-7) Speech Can Hurt the Speaker

  1. (:6)  Bring Strife and Physical Confrontation

A fool’s lips bring strife,

And his mouth calls for blows.

Richard Clifford: Words, especially provocative words, are so powerful that they can lead a person into trouble, almost as if one’s lips had a life of their own. Similarly concrete is the modern maxim, “Don’t let your lips get you into a place where your feet can’t get you out.”

  1. (:7)  Cause Ruin

A fool’s mouth is his ruin,

And his lips are the snare of his soul.

Richard Clifford: Verse 7 is linked to v. 6 by its use (in reversed order) of the fixed pair “mouth” and “lips.” Normally, Proverbs is concerned with the damage that foolish words do to others, but in vv. 6–7 the accent is on the damage done to the speaker.

Tremper Longman: The moral of this observation is clear: The speech (represented by the concrete body parts “mouth” and “lips”) of fools brings them great harm. They say things that get them into trouble or into fights. Wise speech helps people get out of trouble; foolish speech plunges them into harm. This proverb is similar to the previous one, though more general. Connected to the previous verse, there is a chiasmus: lips, mouth, mouth, lips.

Charles Bridges: The mouths of wild beasts devour each other.  A fool’s mouth is his own destruction.  And he is not only the cause but the agent of his own destruction.

E.  (:8) Seductive Danger of Destructive Gossip

The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels,

And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.

Richard Clifford: Slanderous gossip is likened to delicious food, which is anticipated with pleasure and devoured with gusto, and goes down to the innermost stomach. Slander is eagerly heard and printed indelibly in the memory.

Tremper Longman: Even though so harmful, people often find the words of gossips irresistible, and this proverb likens gossip to fine food that is hard not to eat, but once eaten, it penetrates deeply into a person.


[This section does not fit well with the other sections and seems to be just miscellaneous proverbs.]

Paul Koptak: This small cluster gathers around the themes strength and safety, symbolized by the high fortress and the assaults that come against it—negligence, trust in riches, and pride.

A.  (:9) Condemnation of Poor Work Ethic

He also who is slack in his work

Is brother to him who destroys.

Richard Clifford: Failure to work with care and commitment is judged equivalent to destroying. In one sense, it matters little whether a task or product is destroyed by enemies from without or ruined by the carelessness of its maker.

Tremper Longman: Those who are lazy harm themselves and others. The observation is an implicit admonition to work hard. The lazy are ultimately detrimental to society.

B.  (:10-11) Contrasting Images of Strength and Security

Paul Koptak: Verses 10–11 are linked by the images of fortress-like security—one real, one false. Someone in danger, even the slacker of 18:9, would want a place safe from destruction.

  1. (:10)  True Security in the Lord

The name of the LORD is a strong tower;

The righteous runs into it and is safe.

Tremper Longman: This verse sounds like it comes from the Psalms, with its assertion of the protective power of Yahweh’s name, and thus of Yahweh himself. The second colon may describe the behavior of the righteous person as a way of determining whether one is righteous. The use of military imagery in the next proverb invites us to read them together.

Matthew Henry: The strength of this tower is enough to protect them; the name of the Lord is all that whereby he has made himself known as God, and our God, not only his titles and attributes, but his covenant and all the promises of it; these make up a tower, a strong tower, impenetrable, impregnable, for all God’s people.

  1. (:11)  False Security in Wealth

A rich man’s wealth is his strong city,

And like a high wall in his own imagination.

Paul Koptak: Linked with the saying before by the word “high” (niśgab; here, “unscalable”), the contrast between trust in wealth and faith in the name of Yahweh stands out clearly. The difference, of course, is that wealth is only a strong city and high wall as “they imagine it,” adding a new twist to the imagery of 10:15a. Readers are reminded of the “high gate” of 17:19.

Charles Bridges: Every man as secure as his trust.  A trust in God communicates a divine and lofty spirit.  We feel that we are surrounded by God and living on high with him.  Oh, the sweet security of the weakest believer, shut up in an impregnable fortress.  But a vain trust brings a vain and proud heart, the immediate forerunner of ruin.

Matthew Henry: He makes his wealth his city, where he dwells, where he rules, with a great deal of self-complacency, as if he had a whole city under his command. It is his strong city, in which he intrenches himself, and then sets danger at defiance, as if nothing could hurt him. His scales are his pride; his wealth is his wall in which he encloses himself, and he thinks it a high wall, which cannot be scaled or got over, Job 31:24; Rev. 18:7.  How herein he cheats himself. It is a strong city, and a high wall, but it is so only in his own conceit; it will not prove to be really so, but like the house built on the sand, which will fail the builder when he most needs it.

C.  (:12) Contrasting Effects of Pride and Humility

Before destruction the heart of man is haughty,

But humility goes before honor.

Tremper Longman: Pride resists correction, and therefore the proud do not change destructive behaviors and attitudes. Though people with pride think themselves great, they will be cast down by life. On the other hand, the humble are open to correction and are more likely to achieve the kind of success that leads to honor. For similar teaching in Proverbs, see 16:18 and 15:33b for repetitions of cola 1 and 2 respectively. For the teaching that humility is the proper course, see also 11:2 and 29:23.

Charles Bridges: Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor.  We have had both of these proverbs separately (16:18; 15:33).  Surely this repetition was intended to deepen our sense of their importance.  It is hard to persuade a man that he is proud.  Everyone protests against this sin.  Yet who does not cherish the viper in his own heart?  Man so little understands that dependence upon his God constitutes the creature’s happiness, and that the principle of independence is madness, and its end destruction.  The proud walk on the edge of a fearful precipice.  Only a miracle preserves them from instant ruin.  The security of the child of God is when he lies prostrate in the dust.  If he soars high, danger is imminent, even if he is on the edge of heaven (2 Corinthians 12:1-7).


Paul Koptak: The sayings of this cluster gather around the two themes of speaking and resolving conflicts in a legal setting. Also scattered throughout are images of strength and weakness, continuing the sequence that began in 18:10.

A.  (:13) Listen before Speaking

He who gives an answer before he hears,

It is folly and shame to him.

Paul Koptak: Fools choose not to hear, only to be heard. Put another way, they only like to hear themselves talk. One way to exhibit humility is to listen carefully.

Tremper Longman: Fools speak impulsively, without really listening and reflecting on what they hear (see also 15:28; 19:2; 20:18, 25; 21:5; 29:20). They say whatever comes to mind, and what comes to their empty minds is particularly vacuous. Fools babble all sorts of things that get them into trouble and earn them the reputation of being stupid, and in this way they are humiliated.

George Mylne: How many do we find who will not change their sentiments about religion, or about people and things, upon the clearest evidence and give way to anger upon the least contradiction to their favorite notions, as if their dearest interests were attacked!

B.  (:14) Crushing Weight of a Broken Spirit

The spirit of a man can endure his sickness,

But a broken spirit who can bear?

Paul Koptak: The contrast between a spirit that holds up and one that weighs down suggests that the typical role of the spirit, working as a supportive friend in sickness (and other difficulties?), is reversed when that spirit itself is crushed down. It cannot hold one up; instead, it becomes a crushing weight itself.

Charles Bridges: A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?  Man is born is a world of trouble, and he has considerable powers of endurance.  Natural courage and vivacity of spirit will bear us up even under the pressure of ponderous evils, poverty, pain, sickness, and need.  Christian principle strengthens natural strength.  Outward troubles are bearable, yes, more than bearable, if there is peace within.

A man’s spirit sustains him is sickness.  But what if his spirit is crushed?  “If the strength that is in me is weakness, how great is that weakness” (Bishop Sanderson).  The wound to the spirit pierces more deeply than a flesh wound, as the spirit is more vital than the body.  Grief gains the victory and becomes intolerable.

C.  (:15) Priority of Seeking Knowledge

The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge,

And the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.

Paul Koptak: Here the ear seeks knowledge so that it can be received and internalized to good effect. What a contrast to the intake of gossip in 18:8!

Richard Clifford: The wise store knowledge in their hearts without lessening their desire to acquire more. Proverbs views the heart as the storehouse of observations (from ear and eyes) and the organ of decision.

Matthew Henry:

  1. Those that are prudent will seek knowledge, and apply their ear and heart to the pursuit of it, their ear to attend to the means of knowledge and their heart to mix faith with what they hear and make a good improvement of it. Those that are prudent do not think they have prudence enough, but still see they have need of more; and the more prudent a man is the more inquisitive will he be after knowledge, the knowledge of God and his duty, and the way to heaven, for that is the best knowledge.
  2. Those that prudently seek knowledge shall certainly get knowledge, for God never said to such, Seek in vain, but, Seek and you shall find. If the ear seeks it, the heart gets it, and keeps it, and is enriched by it. We must get knowledge, not only into our heads, but into our hearts, get the savour and relish of it, apply what we know to ourselves and experience the power and influence of it.

D.  (:16) Impact of Gifts (Bribes)

A man’s gift makes room for him,

And brings him before great men.

Matthew Henry: Of what great force gifts (that is, bribes) are he had intimated before, ch. 17:8, 23. Here he shows the power of gifts, that is, presents made even by inferiors to those that are above them and have much more than they have. A good present will go far,

  1. Towards a man’s liberty: A man’s gift, if he be in prison, may procure his enlargement; there are courtiers, who, if they use their interest even for oppressed innocency, expect to receive a gratuity for it. Or, if a mean man know not how to get access to a great man, he may do it by a fee to his servants or a present to himself; those will make room for him.
  2. Towards his preferment. It will bring him to sit among great men, in honour and power. See how corrupt the world is when men’s gifts will not do, though ever so great; nay, will gain that for them which they are unworthy of and unfit for; and no wonder that those take bribes in their offices who gave bribes for them. Vendere jura potest, emerat ille prius—He that bought law can sell it.

E.  (:17) Listen to Both Sides of a Dispute

The first to plead his case seems just,

Until another comes and examines him.

Richard Clifford: Truth appears gradually; one must listen to all sides. The old Latin axiom is relevant: audiatur et altera pars, “Let the other side be heard too.” Protagoras in the fifth century B.C.E. said, “There are two sides to every question.”

Matthew Henry: The plaintiff having done his evidence, it is fit that the defendant should be heard, should have leave to confront the witnesses and cross-examine them, and show the falsehood and fallacy of what has been alleged, which perhaps may make the matter appear quite otherwise than it did. We must therefore remember that we have two ears, to hear both sides before we give judgment.

F.  (:18) Settling Disputes Via Lots

The lot puts an end to contentions,

And decides between the mighty.

Tremper Longman: According to the wisdom of the sages, conflicts and fights create disorder and are to be avoided. Perhaps surprisingly, the lot is mentioned as a way of suppressing conflict. However, it must be remembered that in 16:33, the lot expresses a divine decision and is not simply the result of chance. 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. In narrative, the only example of God’s people using the lot is in a context, typically with the Urim and Thummim (Exod. 28:30), where God is explicitly said to be involved. However, most commentators believe that the preceding context of this saying implies that the lot is thought to resolve tough court cases, though there is no evidence of this happening outside of this context.

G.  (:19) Barriers to Family Reconciliation

A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city,

And contentions are like the bars of a castle.

Paul Koptak: Disputes occur between neighbors (18:17), but also between brothers. This saying observes that such conflicts are especially strong and intractable. It may be because the sense of betrayal is so great; one expects the brother to stand with, not against, so sibling conflict is the worst example of good relations perverted.

Richard Clifford: Fraternal and familial love and loyalty is a precious thing, but such love, once offended, can be the cause of bitter and undying enmity. An offended relative is compared to the fortified upper city, which was its most impregnable part. Family feuds are the bitterest conflicts and civil wars are the bloodiest wars.


A.  (:20) Satisfaction from Speech

With the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach will be satisfied;

He will be satisfied with the product of his lips.

Richard Clifford: Here the fruit is metaphorical—one’s words. Speaking is the most expressive human activity. Fruit from the ground provides sustenance to the body, but the “fruit of one’s lips” (words) also affects one’s well-being. If one’s words are right, then one is blessed, one’s belly is filled. If one’s words are wicked, one will eat the fruit of those and suffer the evil consequences.

Derek Kidner: Your words will catch up with you.

B.  (:21) Power of Speech

Death and life are in the power of the tongue,

And those who love it will eat its fruit.

Richard Clifford: The meaning is that death and life are in the power of the tongue in the sense that people will experience one or the other depending on the quality of their

words. Words are the most expressive human product (cf. 12:14; 13:2; 18:20). Colon B is in synthetic parallelism to colon A: You will eat the fruit of your choice.

C.  (:22) Value of a Wife

He who finds a wife finds a good thing,

And obtains favor from the LORD.

Tremper Longman: This verse underlines the importance of a good wife by claiming that she is a divine gift. In the introduction, we observed that Proverbs’ teaching on the difference between a good wife and the strange woman reflects the difference between a relationship with personified Wisdom and Folly, figurative language that ultimately points to the conflict between true and false religion.

D.  (:23) Economic Status Motivates Different Approaches to Life’s Problems

The poor man utters supplications,

But the rich man answers roughly.

Paul Koptak: More often than not, the poor must plead with someone who holds power over them, while the rich can answer harshly to those of lower status. Read together, the hierarchy in any such conversation between rich and poor shows itself (cf. 22:7). Is this another false use of the power of wealth as in 18:11, an example of pride as in 18:12? It is difficult to discern the economic status of the speaker of the proverb, but one can detect a note of censure against the rich. One might expect the rich man to answer kindly or gently or in some other gracious manner.

Lindsay Wilson: Verse 23 also describes two different kinds of speech, one from the powerless (the poor) and one from the powerful (the rich). The poor ask and seek to persuade, for they are in need, but it is easy for the self-sufficient to be careless about their speech, since little rests on it as far as they can see. This is not an endorsement of these practices (especially the responses of the rich who answer roughly), but is an attempt to outline how society often works. The way forward for both the rich and poor is to use the tongue to bring life not death.

George Mylne: The rich answer roughly, for their riches produce self-confidence, and that makes them insolent towards God himself.

E.  (:24) Value of Friendship

A man of many friends comes to ruin,

But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Paul Koptak: Here is the reverse image of the “unfriendly” person who separates himself in his selfishness (18:1; cf. 17:19). The word “loves” is repeated from 18:21; one who loves the power of the tongue will also love friends and neighbors.

Matthew Henry: Solomon here recommends friendship to us, and shows,

  1. What we must do that we may contract and cultivate friendship; we must show ourselves friendly. Would we have friends and keep them, we must not only not affront them, or quarrel with them, but we must love them, and make it appear that we do so by all expressions that are endearing, by being free with them, pleasing to them, visiting them and bidding them welcome, and especially by doing all the good offices we can and serving them in every thing that lies in our power; that is showing ourselves friendly.
  2. That it is worth while to do so, for we may promise ourselves a great deal of comfort in a true friend. A brother indeed is born for adversity, as he had said, ch. 17:17. In our troubles we expect comfort and relief from our relations, but sometimes there is a friend, that is nothing akin to us, the bonds of whose esteem and love prove stronger than those of nature, and, when it comes to the trial, will do more for us than a brother will. Christ is a friend to all believers that sticks closer than a brother; to him therefore let them show themselves friendly.