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Lindsay Wilson: These verses explore the fundamental stance of the fool compared with that of a person of integrity.

A.  (:1) Value of Integrity vs. Perverse Speech

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity

Than he who is perverse in speech and is a fool.

Paul Koptak: The “better than” sayings typically speak to matters of poverty and wealth (cf. 15:16–17; 16:8; 17:1) or satirize the fool (17:12); this is the first to combine the themes. The contrast is surprising, for one expects “rich” to parallel “poor” (cf. 28:6).  However, a blameless walk and a crooked tongue mix metaphors in typical proverbial style, the path of the feet and words of the mouth serving as expressions of either wisdom or folly. Most striking is the juxtaposition of folly and perversity, an association that has only been implied before. Verses 1–3 are linked together by the vocabulary of feet walking on the path and the theme of the destructive results of folly.

Richard Clifford: The familiar biblical metaphors of life as a path and straight and crooked as moral terms are employed to state that a poor person of integrity is better than a wealthy reprobate. Wealth is not a criterion for judging moral worth.

Lindsay Wilson: The distinguishing characteristic of fools in verse 1b is that their speech is crooked or perversely twisted from what it should be.

Tremper Longman: Fools are not only dull of mind and do stupid things; they also are evil people. In particular, according to this proverb, they speak in a way that does not faithfully reflect reality (“crooked lips”). The “walking” metaphor in colon 1 is an allusion to the metaphor of life as a path, which is strongly developed in the first nine chapters of the book.

Charles Bridges: Poverty is never a disgrace, except when it is the result of wrong behavior.  But when it is adorned with blameless character, it is most honorable.  Better a poor man than a person who is elevated in his own sight because of his riches and is given over to being perverse.  Often men put under their feet those whom God carries in his heart.  Man honors the perverse for their riches and despises the poor because of their poverty.  But what does the rich man have if he does not have God?  And what is a poor man lacking if he has God?  It is better to be in a wilderness with God than in Canaan without him.  Judge wisdom according to God’s standard.  God judges by character, not by status.  Estimate the value of everything in the light of eternity.  Death will strip the poor of his rags and the rich of his purple and bring them both naked to the earth, from which they came.

George Mylne: In short, the upright man, however poor and lowly, is not only a man of better dispositions and behavior than the rich worldling but he is also incomparably happier and richer, and shall be rich as long as God himself is rich!

Be satisfied and thankful, you who are taught by the Spirit of God, to walk in integrity. You are rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom and in this world you have and shall have everything that infinite wisdom and divine love sees fit for you!

Here the poor may see a certain method of being rich, or of obtaining what is far better than riches. Do not labor to be rich in gold and silver but seek after that which Christ calls the true riches, and which he will dispense unto those who seek them in his appointed way.

Let not the rich man glory in his wealth if he is perverse in his lips, he is poor and miserable, and blind, and naked; and the esteem of men will not counterbalance the abhorrence of God. Go to Christ under deep impressions of your poverty, and buy from him gold tried in the fire, and you shall be truly rich!

B.  (:2) Value of Knowledge vs. Presumption

Also it is not good for a person to be without knowledge,

And he who makes haste with his feet errs.

Paul Koptak: By implication, the proverb holds out patience and caution as knowledgeable companions of desire.

Tremper Longman: This proverb may be close to the well-known English aphorism “Haste makes waste.” If one is impulsive, not thinking before acting, then one is going to commit errors. Desire propels one toward acting in a way that fulfills those desires, but this proverb warns the hearer to think before doing anything.

Allen Ross: Zeal, without knowledge

Ill-advised and thoughtless zeal leads to failure. The lines are loosely synonymous. In the first the word nepeš means “vitality, drive,” so it describes the eager “zeal” of a person. Without knowledge this will be unsuccessful (“not good”). Neither is there success for those who are “hasty” (ʾāṣ beraglayim, lit., “hasty with the feet”) and “miss the way” (ḥôṭē ʾ; see Jdg 20:16; Job 5:24). Kidner, 132, underscores “how negative is the achievement of the man who wants tangible and quick rewards”—he will miss the way. The passage reminds us that we must know the time and the direction for action, or zealous effort will be a futile activity.

Matthew Henry: Two things are here declared to be of bad consequence:

  1. Ignorance: To be without the knowledge of the soul is not good, so some read it. Know we not our own selves, our own hearts? A soul without knowledge is not good; it is a great privilege that we have souls, but, if these souls have not knowledge, what the better are we? If man has not understanding, he is as the beasts, Ps. 49:20. An ignorant soul cannot be a good soul. That the soul be without knowledge is not safe, nor pleasant; what good can the soul do, of what is it good for, if it be without knowledge?
  2. Rashness: He that hastes with his feet (that does things inconsiderately and with precipitation, and will not take time to ponder the path of his feet) sins; he cannot but often miss the mark and take many a false step, which those prevent that consider their ways. As good not know as not consider.

C.  (:3) Negative Outcomes from Foolishness

The foolishness of man subverts his way,

And his heart rages against the LORD.

Paul Koptak: The second line may intentionally move in two directions. The heart that rages against Yahweh is certainly the source of all folly, but it may also be a result. The fool, having ruined his life all by himself, now wants to blame God for his misfortune!

Lindsay Wilson: The destructive nature of folly is seen in verse 3, where the consequence of people’s folly is that their pathway is twisted or ruined (as in 21:12). The essence of their folly is that at the core of their being (their heart), they are angry or enraged against God.  They have missed the foundation of the fear of the Lord (1:7; 9:10).

Tremper Longman: This proverb first observes that it is people’s stupidity that keeps them from getting ahead in life. The metaphor of the path is well known throughout Proverbs, particularly in the first nine chapters, as a metaphor of the course of one’s life. Stupidity keeps people from making progress.

Even so, such people do not blame themselves and then try to correct their errors by learning right strategies for living. Rather, they rage against God, whom they blame for all their troubles. Since they do not put the blame for their problems in the right place, they cannot possibly improve their lives. As Whybray rightly comments, “Folly and blasphemy are closely linked here.”

Charles Bridges: The fool rushes into the sin and most unreasonably rages against the Lord.  He blames his crosses not on his own perverseness, but on God’s injustice.  But God is free from all blame.  He showed the better way, but man chose the worse way.  God has issued warnings through his Word and through the conscience.  But man, deaf to these warnings, plunges into misery and, while eating the fruit of his own ways, rages against the Lor.  Such is the pride and blasphemy of a proud spirit.  The criminal blames the judge for his righteous sentence.

George Mylne: When our way is sinful, we soon feel the miserable consequences of our folly. For wretchedness, in one form or other, follows sin, as the shadow follows the body. But we are so reluctant to blame ourselves for the consequences of our own folly, that our hearts will rather fret against the Lord, as if he were the cause of our ruin! Adam laid the blame of his sin upon the woman, whom God gave to be with him, indirectly transferring his own folly to his Maker and it is natural and common for men to follow the example of their common parent.


Lindsay Wilson: These verses are a likely section. The virtual duplication found in verses 5 and 9, dealing with a false witness, draws the unit together and gives a setting of a legal dispute. Verse 4, developed in verses 6 and 7, could also have in view a legal or court setting in which the rich, or those offering a bribe, hold sway, while the poor are left friendless. Verse 8 is less connected to the rest of the group, but it may imply that the one who guards understanding (i.e. holds on to the path of wisdom) will succeed in legal matters.

A.  (:4-7) Wealth and Friendship

  1. (:4)  Attractiveness of Wealth

Wealth adds many friends,

But a poor man is separated from his friend.

Lindsay Wilson: The wealthy do not gain friends because they are nicer people (see 18:23), but because they can offer some form of inducement – money now or a favour in the future. Verse 4a is developed in verse 6, where many seek the favour of a high-status or generous person (the Hebrew word can mean a willing or generous person [esv] or a noble [niv]; see 17:7, 26). The parallel in verse 6b makes the motivation clear – such a person gives gifts (lit. ‘a person of gifts’). This explains verse 4b, since a poor person, by way of contrast, cannot afford to give lavish gifts or promise favours. These are observations about how society often works, with justice giving way to self-interest. The proverbs are not endorsing these practices.

Allen Ross: People will run after the rich in the hope of gaining something, but they will avoid the poor out of fear that the poor might be trying to gain something from them.

  1. (:5)  Punishment for the Liar

A false witness will not go unpunished,

And he who tells lies will not escape.

Paul Koptak: False words and lies are often paired to denote the betrayal of the neighbor/friend relationship.

Lindsay Wilson: vv. 5, 9 — These virtually identical proverbs have a clear judicial setting, with witness clearly being legal terminology. There is no concern with the process (how the false witness is punished, who orders it, etc.), but the verses simply focus on the fact that one who seeks to pervert justice will also justly receive punishment, and will not be cleared of guilt or exempt from punishment (see 6:29; 11:21; 17:5; 28:20). The passive sense might suggest that God will do this, but no special attention is drawn to his work. The second half of each verse describes this false witness as one who breathes out or testifies (the verb could mean either) lies (see similar language in 6:19; 14:5, 25). The sole variation in the two verses would be of little comfort for those who seek to twist justice. They will not escape/go free (v. 5b); they will perish or be destroyed (v. 9b).

Matthew Henry: This intimates that that which emboldens them in the sin is the hope of impunity, it being a sin which commonly escapes punishment from men, though the law is strict, Deu. 19:18, 19. But it shall not escape the righteous judgment of God, who is jealous, and will not suffer his name to be profaned; we know where all liars will have their everlasting portion.

  1. (:6)  Solicitation of Influential People

Many will entreat the favor of a generous man,

And every man is a friend to him who gives gifts.

Tremper Longman: People present themselves positively to those from whom they expect to gain favors. Rulers are usually wealthy and have positions of influence, and thus people are nice to them, at least to their faces, hoping to gain advantages. The same is true with anyone else known to bring gifts.

The purpose of the proverb, if there is one, is harder to ferret out. Is this advice on how to gain favor with the rich and influential? Is it making fun of people who act positively toward others out of self-interest? Is it critical? At least it informs those who read it of the reality of the situation so that they can act accordingly. This verse makes a point similar to 19:4.

Allen Ross: People seek the friendship of influential people. . .  As with Proverbs 18:23–24, this proverb acknowledges the value of gifts in life, especially in business and politics.

  1. (:7)  Avoidance of the Poor

All the brothers of a poor man hate him;

How much more do his friends go far from him!

He pursues them with words, but they are gone.

Paul Koptak: It is a portrait of superficial friendship, practiced even by one’s family.

Lindsay Wilson: The general sense is that the poor person unsuccessfully pleads for support from those supposedly ‘close’ to him. They are either not found, or unwilling to speak in his favour.

Allen Ross: The basic meaning of the passage is clear, however; the idea of “hate,” in the sense of “reject,” tells how superficial friends and relatives will abandon the poor man. The plight of Job captures such abandonment.

George Mylne: The best of men have often complained in the time of their afflictions, that they were forsaken and abhorred by those whom they most loved, and those from whom they had reason to expect the greatest kindness. But how do they reveal their hatred? By behaving like strangers, and turning a deaf ear to their entreaties for help. This is a sufficient evidence of hatred in the wise man’s view, and therefore we may justly conclude, that there is more of this abominable sin in the world than those who are chargeable with it will be willing to acknowledge.

B.  (:8) Value of Wisdom

He who gets wisdom loves his own soul;

He who keeps understanding will find good.

Richard Clifford: Wisdom is the great means to happiness and prosperity. One should acquire it in preference to silver and gold (2:2–4). The acquisition of wisdom is the greatest benefit one can obtain for oneself. It is true self-interest, for with wisdom come all other gifts (3:13–20). To preserve and guard that wisdom is prosperity, literally “to find good,” as in 16:20; 17:20; 18:22.

Lindsay Wilson: In verse 8 it is the person who wants to be shaped by wisdom who is described as loving his [own] life. The parallel in verse 8b is that such a person guards understanding with the aim of finding what is good. Verse 8 thus describes the person of integrity mentioned in verse 1, and outlined in more detail in chapters 1 – 9.

Tremper Longman: I understand the first colon as saying that those who want to improve their character want the best for themselves, and the second colon as more specifically talking about one aspect of character: competence, practical knowledge.

In this last line, self-interest is used as a motivation. Why should people work at character development? Because it is in their best interest.

Charles Bridges: To get wisdom, therefore, whatever the cost, is to love our own soul.  One should be ashamed even to ask the question, will Christ or the world have our love, trust, time, and talents?  It is like comparing pebbles with pearls, dust with diamonds, dross with gold.  To follow our way is to destroy ourselves and not to love our souls.

Matthew Henry: Those are here encouraged,

  1. That take pains to get wisdom, to get knowledge, and grace, and acquaintance with God; those that do so show that they love their own souls, and will be found to have done themselves the greatest kindness imaginable. No man ever hated his own flesh, but loves that, yet many are wanting in love to their own souls, for only those love their souls, and consequently love themselves, aright, that get wisdom, true wisdom.
  2. That take care to keep it when they have got it; it is health, and wealth, and honour, and all, to the soul, and therefore he that keeps understanding, as he shows that he loves his own soul, so he shall certainly find good, all good. He that retains the good lessons he has learnt, and orders his conversation according to them, shall find the benefit and comfort of it in his own soul and shall be happy here and for ever.

C.  (:9) Lying Will Turn Around and Bite You

A false witness will not go unpunished,

And he who tells lies will perish.

Richard Clifford: Perjurers who try to convict others will themselves be convicted, and those who seek to destroy others by legal means will be destroyed by the same means. The justice system will recoil upon those who abuse it.


A.  (:10) Inappropriate Scenarios

Luxury is not fitting for a fool;

Much less for a slave to rule over princes.

Lindsay Wilson: Verse 10 outlines two scenarios that are not fitting: a fool living in luxury and a slave ruling princes. The first is the obvious outworking of the wisdom principle that wisdom, not folly, will lead to success (e.g. 3:13–18), as 26:1 comments, it is not fitting for a fool to gain honour. However, the Hebrew intensifying expression beginning the second part of verse 10 (often in evv, ‘much less/worse’) indicates that the real thrust of the proverb is in a court setting. This will also be picked up in verse 12, and may well be implied in verse 11. In light of verse 10a, the target of verse 10b is a foolish slave (30:22), not a former slave like the wise Joseph (Gen. 41:37–57). While verse 10b may involve a wider endorsement of an established social order, its primary focus is on the value of wisdom in ruling.

 B.  (:11-12) Avoiding Anger

  1. (:11) Forbearance

A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger,

And it is his glory to overlook a transgression.

Paul Koptak: Verses 11–12 are linked by the theme of anger and forbearance. The virtue of “patience” is here associated with wisdom (cf. the root śkl for the “prudent wife” in 19:14). The patient person is (lit.) “long of nose,” meaning that it takes a long time for the nose to get hot in anger (cf. 16:32). It is one’s glory to overlook an offense (cf. 17:9) instead of seeking strife (cf. 17:19; 29:22). Ironically, it is when we seek to protect our honor or status by quarreling that we stand to lose it the most.

Tremper Longman: Those with wisdom (“insight” is associated with ḥokmâ) avoid conflict. Here they do so by controlling their emotions. Sometimes when responding to an annoying offense, people make more trouble and annoyance for themselves. Thus, the wise are not quick to respond angrily to someone. God himself is slow to take offense (Exod. 34:6; Mic. 7:18).

McKane: The virtue which is indicated here is more than a forgiving temper; it includes also the ability to shrug off insults and the absence of a brooding hypersensitivity. It is the ability to deny to an adversary the pleasure of hearing a yelp of pain even when his words have inflicted a wound, of making large allowances for human frailties and keeping the lines of communication open. It contains elements of toughness and self-discipline; it is the capacity to stifle a hot, emotional rejoinder and to sleep on an insult.

Derek Kidner: Good sense (RSV) and glory point to the practical and the moral worth of this quality; both of them amply demonstrated by the early history of David. The word for glory is sometimes translated ‘beauty’ (e.g. Exod. 28:2): it suggests adornment, and so brings out here the glowing colours of a virtue which in practice may look drably unassertive. God himself declares his ‘almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity’.

  1. (:12) Powerful Impact of the King’s Disposition

The king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion,

But his favor is like dew on the grass.

Paul Koptak: If it is wise to practice patience and restrain one’s anger, it is also wise to do everything possible to keep from provoking anger in one more powerful.

Allen Ross: A king has the power to terrify or to refresh. Through the use of two similes, the verse contrasts the king’s “rage” (zaʿap) with his “pleasure” or “favor” (reṣônô). The first simile, the roar of a lion, presents him at his most dangerous attitude (see 20:2; Am 3:4). But the second portrays him as benevolent. For similar teachings see Proverbs 16:14–15; 20:2; 28:15. For a picture of the ideal king, see 2 Samuel 23:3–4. This proverb advises the king’s subjects to use tact and the king to cultivate kindness.

Matthew Henry: To make subjects faithful and dutiful to their princes. Let them be restrained from all disloyalty by the consideration of the dreadful consequence of having the government against them; and let them be encouraged in all good services to the public by the hopes of the favour of their prince.

C.  (:13-14) Quarrelsome Wife vs. Prudent Wife

  1. (:13) Quarrelsome Wife

A foolish son is destruction to his father,

And the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping.

Paul Koptak: The continual dripping of the quarrelsome wife is not like the annoyance of a leaky faucet; the dripping roof is destructive and dangerous, a fitting parallel for the ruin of the foolish son.

Lindsay Wilson: In a family-based society members of a family can do either great good or great harm to their relatives. A foolish child (not just a son) can destroy a parent’s reputation, circumstances or even life. In Israelite society there was clear teaching about the importance of disciplining as well as discipling their offspring (see 13:24).

Tremper Longman: The perspective is that of the senior male of the household and deals with two important relationships. On the one hand, a son who makes foolish life decisions is a disaster to a father (see 10:1; etc.). After all, a foolish son ends up in all kinds of trouble that the father feels intently because of his love for the child. The second intimate relationship that can be a source of annoyance is his wife (21:9, 19; 25:24). Nagging is here likened to the torture of dripping water. It is not an overwhelming force, but it wears one down.

  1. (:14) Prudent Wife

House and wealth are an inheritance from fathers,

But a prudent wife is from the LORD.

Paul Koptak: The contrast between the quarrelsome wife (19:13) and the one who is prudent (root śkl = “wisdom” in 19:11) extends the picture of the happy and prosperous home.

Allen Ross: The verse contrasts wealth that can be inherited from a father with a “prudent” (maśkālet) wife who is from the Lord. The verse does not answer questions about unhappy marriages or bad wives; rather, it simply affirms that when a marriage turns out well, one should credit God (cf. 18:22; 31:10–31).


A.  (:15) Laziness and Its Consequences

Laziness casts into a deep sleep,

And an idle man will suffer hunger.

Allen Ross: Those who are lazy waste time and lose money. These loosely synonymous clauses stress one basic point. “Laziness” (ʿaṣlâ) brings on a “deep sleep.” Tardēmâ is used to describe complete inactivity (see Ge 2:21; Jn 1:5); here it probably signifies lethargy (Whybray, 110). This individual wastes time that is needed to provide for himself and his family. Parallel is the “shiftless man” (remîyâ) who goes hungry. Once again the first line presents the cause (“deep sleep”) and the second the effect (“goes hungry”).

B.  (:16) Obedience to Instruction

He who keeps the commandment keeps his soul,

But he who is careless of his ways will die.

Paul Koptak: “Instructions” is (lit.) “command” (miṣwah; cf. 6:23; 13:13), a word often used of parental teaching (2:1; 4:4; 7:2). In the context of Proverbs it points to the directions for living that one ignores at one’s peril. To refuse their guidance is to despise one’s way, to be careless about where one walks.

Richard Clifford: Respect for legitimate authority benefits oneself.

C.  (:17) Generosity to Those in Need Will Be Rewarded

He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD,

And He will repay him for his good deed.

Matthew Henry: The duty of charity described. It includes two things:

  1. Compassion, which is the inward principle of charity in the heart; it is to have pity on the poor. Those that have not a penny for the poor, yet may have pity for them, a charitable concern and sympathy; and, if a man give all his goods to feed the poor and have not this charity in his heart, it is nothing, 1 Co. 13:3. We must draw out our souls to the hungry, Isa. 58:10.
  2. Bounty and liberality. We must not only pity the poor, but give, according to their necessity and our ability, Jam. 2:15, 16. That which he has given.

D.  (:18) Benefit of Discipline

Discipline your son while there is hope,

And do not desire his death.

Allen Ross: It is necessary to discipline (ysr) children to prevent their premature death. Proverbs here and elsewhere teaches that to refrain from discipline allows a child to grow up stupid or wicked and thereby possibly incur death as a result of bad behavior (Whybray, 110). The motivation for such discipline is that “there is hope” (tiqwâ), an excellent reason to keep at it. The clause in the second half literally reads, “Do not lift up your life to kill him”; that is, do not make the kind of decisions that will lead to his death (i.e., to allow him to go astray through neglect). The idea in ysr includes both chastisement and instruction.

Charles Bridges: It is a false idea to say, “Children will be children.”  It only makes us pass over their faults and think that their tempers and waywardness are too trifling to require prompt correction.  In this way, sin winked at in its beginning hardens and becomes deep-rooted corruption.  For who would neglect their most trifling bodily ailment that might grow into a serious disease?  Oh, what grace and wisdom are needed to discipline our minds, judgment, and affections so that we can train up our children to serve God, which will be their greatest happiness.

E.  (:19) No Rescue for the Habitually Hot-Tempered

A man of great anger shall bear the penalty,

For if you rescue him, you will only have to do it again.

Tremper Longman: This proverb makes an observation about people who are characteristically angry. They contain the seeds of their own punishment. They grow angry and bring people’s resentment on them. The observation is actually addressed not to people who cannot control their anger, but to those who help them get out of scrapes. It is a reminder that the problem is habitual. Perhaps the implicit message is not to try to rescue such people; like the fool who does not deserve a response (26:4), the angry person should not be helped.

F.  (:20) Acceptance of Counsel

Listen to counsel and accept discipline,

That you may be wise the rest of your days.

Allen Ross: By accepting advice and discipline, one becomes wise. This proverb is one continuous thought, the second half providing the purpose of the advice. The vocabulary reminds the reader of chs. 1–9: “Listen to advice [ʿēṣâ] and accept instruction [mûsār; lit., ‘discipline’].” This advice is in all probability the teachings of the sages that will make one wise. “In the end” there will be maturity from all the discipline, and there will be steadfast perseverance in the path of life.

G.  (:21) Human Plans Only Established by Divine Sovereignty

Many are the plans in a man’s heart,

But the counsel of the LORD, it will stand.

Allen Ross: The success of our plans depends on God’s will. In the form of a contrast, the proverb teaches that only those plans that God approves will succeed (see 16:1, 9). People have many “plans,” but the Lord’s counsel or “purpose” will stand. Humans are diverse and uncertain; God is absolutely wise and sure, as Toy, 378, reminds us. Midrash Mishlê applies this passage to the accounts of Pharaoh, Absalom, and Haman.

H.  (:22) Importance of Loyal Kindness

What is desirable in a man is his kindness,

And it is better to be a poor man than a liar.

Richard Clifford: “Liars” in colon B means perjurers, as often in Proverbs (6:19; 14:5, 25; 19:9; 21:28), that is, those who violate an oath sworn before God, presumably for a bribe. There is a play on the word “desire.” One’s desire should not be money but fidelity in fulfilling one’s responsibility. Better to forego money than to perjure oneself in court.

Tremper Longman: Those in a covenant relationship must stay true to their word. Lying is a fundamental breach of trust, often spoken against in Proverbs (6:16–19; 13:5; 14:5; 25:18).

I.  (:23) Foundational Refrain of Fearing the Lord

The fear of the LORD leads to life,

So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.

Tremper Longman: In Gen. 19 and in Judg. 19, we have stories of travelers who lodge for the evening in a strange town and face incredible evil, even though they have sought refuge in someone’s home. These stories inform us that travel in the ancient world was not a secure matter, and the only sure recourse was Yahweh.

Allen Ross: Piety brings a life of contentment and safety. The saying uses synthetic parallelism, the second part carrying the idea of life further. “Life” is probably a metonymy for all the blessings and prosperity in life. Its essential feature is “contentment” (śābēaʿ; “content,” NIV) that lodges without being visited by calamity or “trouble” (rāʿ). The vocabulary is vivid: “rests” is metaphorical for abide, and “untouched” means without any intervention to alter one’s destiny. When one lives a life of piety, the Lord provides a quality of life that cannot be disrupted by such evil.

J.  (:24) Folly of Laziness

The sluggard buries his hand in the dish,

And will not even bring it back to his mouth.

Paul Koptak: In contrast with the verse before, this proverb lampoons one who goes unsatisfied (cf. the identical proverb in 26:15). Like the picture of laziness and hunger in 19:15, this satiric saying imagines one who even finds the effort of eating to be too much. The contradiction may hold the key: Most sluggards do want something for nothing; here, the irony of sloth comes out in a humorous sight that hides the stinger. Although no one is really that lazy, the exaggeration shows that sloth will leave one hungry.


A.  (:25) Different Responses to Discipline

Strike a scoffer and the naive may become shrewd,

But reprove one who has understanding and he will gain knowledge.

Richard Clifford: The contrasts are striking—to beat and to rebuke; the inability of the scoffer to learn even from a beating and the ability of the intelligent person to learn from the slightest gesture. The latter point is wittily and subtly made in colon A: even a naive onlooker learns the lesson a scoffer being beaten does not.

Tremper Longman: “Mockers” (lēṣ) cannot learn because they become defensive concerning their mistakes. They will make fun of those who try to instruct them. However, this proverb points out that the effort to educate them through the kind of physical punishment often associated with learning in Proverbs may not help them (because they can be beaten silly with no effect; cf. 17:10); yet such punishment will teach a lesson to an immature person, whose defenses are not so high.

Allen Ross: Discipline affects people differently. The antithetical proverb shows the different ways discipline works. Three types of people are noted here: the “mocker” (lēṣ) with a closed mind, the “simple” or simpleton (petî) with an empty mind, and the “discerning” (nābôn) with an open mind (Kidner, 135). The simpleton learns by observing punishment given to the scoffer. Although the punishment will have no effect on the scoffer, it should still be given, for the petî will learn what the lēṣ does not (McKane, 525–26). The discerning person, however, will learn from verbal rebuke, even if it is painful truth.

B.  (:26) Mistreatment of Parents Is Shameful and Disgraceful

He who assaults his father and drives his mother away

Is a shameful and disgraceful son.

Paul Koptak: The symbolism of this proverb makes sense when read in reverse: The shameful son (cf. 19:13) brings ruin on the house, which is tantamount to robbing father and evicting mother. The proverb may be hyperbolic, like the saying on the sluggard (19:24) and the parable of the son who threw away half his father’s estate (Luke 15:11–24). Yet Jesus also had harsh words for the Pharisee’s practice of Corban (Mark 7:9–13), so the danger of failing to honor and care for parents is real (Deut. 5:16), especially when the son’s foolishness has left the parents destitute.

Richard Clifford: Children’s shameful conduct ruins the house, personified in the parents.

C.  (:27) Consequences of Rejecting Discipline

Cease listening, my son, to discipline,

And you will stray from the words of knowledge.

Lindsay Wilson: Once people stop being shaped by wisdom (lit. ‘hearing/obeying discipline/instruction’), they will go astray from words of knowledge. The lazy person, the foolish scoffer, the violent child and the wicked false witness are all examples of people who do not want to be moulded by wisdom and her life-giving words.

Tremper Longman: The sage warns the son not to think that he will reach a point where no more instruction is necessary. Gathering wisdom is a lifelong process.

D.  (:28) Corrupt Witnesses Subvert Justice

A rascally witness makes a mockery of justice,

And the mouth of the wicked spreads iniquity.

Paul Koptak: This enigmatic proverb incorporates images scattered throughout the chapter; the corrupt witness breathes lies (19:1, 5, 9, 22) and in so doing mocks the very idea of justice (19:25, 29). “Gulps down evil” is ambiguous, pointing to the greedy appetite of the wicked but also hinting at final rewards (cf. 18:20–21). Desire without knowledge is not good (19:2), for you may swallow poison!

Richard Clifford: The sounds of bĕlîya‘al, “malicious,” repeat in yālîṣ, “mocks,” and in yĕballa‘, “swallows.” The sounds relate malice and mocking the judicial system, implying that the motive of a lying witness is the witness’s ingesting of evil, that is, active collusion with evil (see 4:17).

E.  (:29) Certainty of Retribution for Fools

Judgments are prepared for scoffers,

And blows for the back of fools.

Richard Clifford: Completing the thought of v. 28 on the scoffers who contemn the judicial process, v. 29 asserts that their punishment is as inevitable as that of fools. Just as their mouths took in injustice (v. 28) so will their backs take blows. Scoffers deny that God acts purposefully or with justice. Punishment awaits them (divine passive).