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I.  (:1-4) 4 TYPES OF FOOLS

Lindsay Wilson: Context: Verses 1–4 give examples of the consequences of negative behaviour: becoming unwise, forfeiting one’s life, losing honour and finding no harvest. Verse 1 makes a link with the previous chapter by using the word mocker (lēṣ, placed first in the Hebrew text for emphasis), picking up on various forms of the word used in 19:25, 28, 29. Verse 2 repeats much of 19:12; verse 4 recalls 19:12, 24; while strife and quarrelling in verse 3 pick up on similar pictures in 19:13, 26.

A.  (:1) The Drunkard

Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler,

And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.

Paul Koptak: The use of šgh suggests that to stagger from drink is to err both in one’s steps and one’s judgment (Isa. 28:7). The “brawler” (homeh) is loud and noisy, like the foolish women of Proverbs 7:11 and 9:13. This proverb recognizes that alcohol can impair one’s judgment (cf. 21:17; 23:29–35; 31:4–5) and therefore compares it to two figures known to be a negative influence.

Allen Ross: The excessive use of intoxicants excites the drinker to boisterous behavior and aggressive and belligerent attitudes; it confuses the senses so that he is out of control. Whoever overimbibes is unwise; it just is not sensible to drink to excess (Toy, 382).

Tremper Longman: Wisdom requires clear thinking, an ability to make decisions. Wine clouds judgment and thus may end up causing a person a lot of trouble. This proverb is not necessarily advocating abstinence from alcoholic drinks. If it did, it would be out of kilter with the rest of the OT. In any case, the description that is associated with personified wine and strong drink (as a mocker and carouser, respectively) suggests overindulgence. However, wine must be consumed in moderation and only at certain times. Later in Proverbs (31:4–7) as well as Ecclesiastes (10:16–17), it is especially leaders who are warned against the use of alcohol since it clouds their judgment. After all, leaders’ judgments affect more than their own well-being. Often, if one drinks too much wine, it leads them to harass or mock others, but the reference here is ambiguous and may well refer to wine mocking the person who drinks too much.

Richard Clifford: Wine and strong drink are personified according to their effects on human beings. So powerful is alcohol in inducing disrespect toward others that it can be called a scoffer. In Proverbs wine is not only a sign of prosperity and symbol of feasting (3:10; 9:2, 5) but also a threat to wisdom (21:17; 23:29–35; 31:4). The saying plays on straying from the path in a literal sense (Ezek. 34:6) and in a figurative sense (1 Sam. 26:21 and Job 19:4). Drink causes one to stagger and to stray from the right path (Isa. 28:7).

Charles Bridges: The history of the world from the days of Noah (Genesis 9:21) proves that the love of wine . . . and beer is a most insidious vice.  The wretched victims are convinced too late that they have been mocked and led astray.  Not only does it overcome them before they are aware, but it promises pleasures that it can never give.  And yet so mighty is the spell that the overcome slave consents to be mocked again and again.

Its power turns humans into a level below the beasts as it turns each of its victims into a brawler.  Reason surrenders to lust, appetite, or passion.  Surely, then, whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

George Mylne: Wine deceives and mocks those who use it to excess, and punishes those who abuse it as an instrument of dishonor to him who gave it to men to cheer their hearts. It promises refreshment but it steals away men’s senses, until it makes them the objects of scorn to the sober. It made the venerable patriarch Noah a laughing-stock to his own son. It deprives men of their reason, and gives the government of the mind to the passions; and then those who were men of good behavior in their sober moments become insolent and brawling. When the king of Israel was made drunk with bottles of wine, he forgot his dignity, and stretched out his hand with scorners.

Wine has been the beginning of many quarrels which have ended in wounds and blood. For it rouses the passions, it turns suspicions into certainties in the eye of the drunkard, and thus inflames resentments into irreconcilable animosities. It gives full range to all the hidden vices of the soul, and produces new vices of a dangerous kind. It destroys the power of reason, and infuses into the soul all the fury of a wild beast!

B.  (:2) The Provoker

The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion;

He who provokes him to anger forfeits his own life.

Paul Koptak: Continuing the association of noise and danger from the previous verse, the king’s wrath is here likened to a lion’s roar. The wise take warning, but fools provoke it and pay with their lives (lit., “sins against his soul,” ḥoṭeh napšo; cf. 19:2). The first line is nearly identical to 19:12, except for the word “wrath” in place of “rage.” The earlier verse added a word about the king’s favor as life-giving dew, whereas here the threat of death is made explicit.

Richard Clifford: A king may be awe-inspiring but he can also be dangerous. A lion was a common royal symbol in the ancient Near East. The symbol shows all too clearly a king’s majesty and danger to ordinary mortals.

Tremper Longman: The first colon is very similar to 19:12. The king is a powerful person in an ancient Near Eastern society. His dread can be destructive since he holds the power of life and death, as explicated in the second colon. The image of a lion makes the danger particularly clear.

Allen Ross: The simple idea is that one would do well to stay away from any angry person, especially a king who cannot be treated like other men (Whybray, 113; see also 16:14; 19:12).

George Mylne: If the fear occasioned by the displeasure of a king is so intolerable then what must it be to encounter the wrath of him whose voice is not only like the roaring of a lion but like the sound of many thunders. His voice shakes the Heaven and the earth, and neither men nor devils shall be able to endure the terrors of it. To sin against Christ is to sin not only against our lives but against our immortal souls!

C.  (:3) The Quarreler         

Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man,

But any fool will quarrel.

Paul Koptak: The bite of the saying may be that those who quarrel will not gain the respect they fight for but will actually lose standing in the community.

Richard Clifford: Nowhere is the difference between the foolish and the wise as clear as in disputes. The wise keep away from them, whereas fools get embroiled (e.g., 13:10; 15:18; 18:6; 22:10). Paradoxically, the honor one might gain from winning a fight comes without fighting to the person who does not get involved. Honor will never be given to the fool who plunges intemperately into quarrels.

Tremper Longman: Proverbs is a book that frequently advocates conflict avoidance. Often fights, even if based on a real offense, create more trouble than they are worth. The wise person lets things lie, while the stupid person doesn’t hesitate to enter the fray. It is the pride of the stupid person and the humility of the wise person that motivate their respective behaviors.

Allen Ross: One cannot avoid strife entirely but should avoid every unnecessary confrontation. As McKane, 537, says, the honorable person stops short of undignified and unedifying wrangling; it is this person who has the capacity of preserving a working relationship with even the most difficult people (see also 17:14, 28; 18:2).

Charles Bridges: To drop the matter in a dispute (17:14) is an honorable act (16:32; Romans 12:21); it is a triumph over the flesh.  For how often is strife fed by the folly of man’s pride rather than extinguished by a peaceful and loving spirit.  But to put on meekness and patience and to let God’s peace rule in our hearts are the characteristics of God’s elect as we follow the example of our divine Master (Colossians 3:12-15).

George Mylne: Every fool is quick to quarrel. For a fool is so self-conceited, that he can bear no contradiction. He is so insolent, that he will have a hand in every other man’s business. He is so proud, that he cannot bear to be found in the wrong. He is so stubborn, that he will have the last word, although his lips should prove his destruction.

D.  (:4) The Sluggard

The sluggard does not plow after the autumn,

So he begs during the harvest and has nothing.

Paul Koptak: The comic example of the sluggard who makes no preparation but still looks for a result recommends both foresight and industry (cf. 6:8). Coming after 20:3, it may also recommend shifting one’s energies away from conflict and toward something more productive.

Tremper Longman: Winter (October to March) was the time for plowing in Palestine. The lazy cannot get themselves to do such an onerous task. However, actions—or in this case a lack of actions—have consequences. If one does not do the work at the beginning of the agricultural season, then how can one expect to reap (literally) the benefits? In colon 2 the context indicates that what they ask after is the crop, and the answer is “nothing”; there is nothing in the field. Lazy persons do not do the work necessary to have adequate food when they need it.


Lindsay Wilson: Context: In verses 5–7 there is a focus on more positive characteristics (understanding, steadfast love, faithful, righteous, blessed). This cluster of virtues (and the corresponding opposites) extends like an umbrella over the sayings that follow and offers a way forward. The question of verse 6b (‘a faithful person who can find?’) operates as a challenge to the reader to be that kind of person.

A.  (:5) A Faithful Man Exercises Perception Based on His Discernment

A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water,

But a man of understanding draws it out.

Paul Koptak: Like water from the bottom of the well, human “purposes” (ʿeṣab, “counsel”; cf. 8:14; 19:20; 21:30) can be drawn out if one has the proper equipment—in this case, “understanding.” Similar to the proverb in 18:4, this comparison is between the hidden recesses of the human heart (ʿeṣab, cf. Isa. 29:15) and wisdom’s access to them. The saying is probably a paradigmatic teaser, introducing those that follow on the intention of the heart (esp. Prov. 20:9).

John MacArthur: The wise man has keen discernment reaching to the deepest intentions of the heart to grasp wise counsel (18:4; Heb. 4:12).

Allen Ross: Those who are wise can discern the motives of the heart. This saying is one continuous sentence, though it exhibits a bit of an antithesis. The counsel or purpose (ʿēṣâ) in the heart is first compared to “deep waters.” This figure probably means that one’s motives are difficult to “fathom”—it takes a counselor with “understanding” (tebûnâ) to “draw them out.” The line shows how important good counseling is. Plaut, 209, notes that if we are not aware of our motivations, others who are wise may enable us to discover them. Of course, there is always the need for discernment as to how much should be dredged from within the heart. McKane, 536, takes a slightly different approach, interpreting the “deep waters” to mean profound ideas (as in 18:4). Accordingly, it would take the wise to use their skills of clarification and interpretation.

Lindsay Wilson: The key aspect of deep water (in the light of drawing it out in v. 5b) is that it makes an object harder to identify or find. The object in this case is the plan or purpose (‘ēṣâ, as in 19:20, 21) in a person’s heart – one’s core commitment or goal in life – but even such an elusive reality is able to be revealed by one who is following the path of wisdom, the person of understanding (28:11). Lucas (2015: 140) puts it well: “The wise person has the discernment to understand what is beneath the surface and express it in appropriate words.”

George Mylne: A man of sagacity has a knowledge of human nature, which assists him in finding out the plans and designs of particular men. He can avail himself of their gestures, their general course of behavior, their behavior in particular instances; and on sudden emergencies, their silence, their words, even when they are disguising their thoughts; their connections and company, their interests and humors, to form our judgment of their thoughts and designs. And by this means, he is often enabled to guard himself and his good name from the snares of the wicked. Wisdom is profitable, you see, not only for the life to come but likewise for the present life but hypocrisy and deceit profits little. It is often detected by men it is always known to God; and the day is coming in which he will make manifest the secrets of all hearts.

B.  (:6) A Faithful Man (Loyal Friend) Is Hard to Find

Many a man proclaims his own loyalty,

But who can find a trustworthy man?

Richard Clifford: The adjectives in colon A and colon B, “loyal” and “of trust” have virtually the same meaning, for they often occur as a fixed pair. The antithesis is not, therefore, between being loyal and being trustworthy but between having a reputation for a virtue and actually practicing it, between untested and tested friendship. Friendship is proved when trouble comes.

Tremper Longman: The proverb may be roughly understood as saying “talk is cheap.” People are willing to claim they are loyal, but when the chips are down, will these same people actually come through? The word translated “tell” (qārāʾ) is more literally “call out,” pointing to a kind of public assertion. The term “loyal” (ḥesed) denotes the kind of love that flows between covenant partners. In other words, these people will say that they are bound by love, with the implication that they will assist when threats emerge, but the question of the second colon implies that these are often false claims. The proverb will put the wise on warning not to accept all claims of friendship at face value.

C.  (:7-11) A Faithful Man Is Characterized by Integrity

  1. (:7)  Legacy of Integrity

A righteous man who walks in his integrity—

How blessed are his sons after him.

Paul Koptak: The saying assures readers that whoever walks in integrity (19:1; 28:6) is called a ṣaddiq (“righteous one”); blessed are the descendants who share in the honor. Here is a legacy or inheritance one cannot sell, buy, or lose (cf. 10:7; 13:22; 17:2). “Children” can also be the beneficiaries of a parent’s faith (14:26).

Tremper Longman: The point of the proverb seems to be found in the second colon, which expresses the influence of the righteous on those who observe them closely, particularly the children (which may imply not just one but many generations—descendants). And this is the most natural way of understanding their influence; the righteous are good role models to those who watch their lifestyle.

Caleb Nelson: So a good man who walks in his integrity — his children are blessed. They have the best legacy one could receive. That’s not a monetary inheritance, but a moral and spiritual one. We all know that what you see in childhood forms your baseline, your default. If your baseline is that parents argue with each other, dislike each other, divorce each other, then guess what you’re naturally going to replicate in your own home and life? But if your baseline is that parents love each other, pray together, shepherd the family together, delight in Jesus individually and with the rest of the family, then guess what you’re naturally going to replicate in your own life? Brothers and sisters, a good man leaves a blessing to his children merely by being good to them.

George Mylne: The integrity of the just man, is not like the pretended integrity of the moralist, for it includes piety, justice, sobriety, and a conscientious regard to every precept of God, without excluding those who appear to vain men to be of small importance, or those who most directly oppose the prevailing disposition of the mind. The just man walks in his integrity, for his righteousness is not like the morning cloud but like the light of the sun, which shines more and more unto the perfect day. God tries him the devil and the world, and the flesh, solicit him to sin but he will not turn aside into the ways of iniquity. Or if he should, he will not continue to walk in them but returns with bitter regret to that good and straight way, which leads unto life, and continues in that path until the end of his life, for his heart is set upon it, and upon that heavenly city to which it leads.

  1. (:8)  Integrity in Dispensing Justice and Restraining Evil

A king who sits on the throne of justice

Disperses all evil with his eyes.

Caleb Nelson: The eyes of the king, set as judge, disperse all evil. They scatter it away. How? Through the fear they inspire. A judge I know tells me from time to time that he sees the worst people at their best. Why are they at their best? Because the eyes of the judge are upon them! They see him, and they know he’s watching them, and they know that judges and kings don’t take kindly to evildoers actually doing evil right in front of their noses! Indeed, it’s been a theory of mine for a long time that if you’re speeding when you come over the hill and see the police cruiser, the cop will give you a break as long as you immediately slam on the brakes. Doing so shows that you have proper respect for him, while cruising on by doing 10 over shows that you really don’t care.

George Mylne: Kings have majesty in their countenances, and when they preserve their dignity of character, their eyes are dreadful to the breakers of the law. This awe of royalty is impressed by God upon the minds of men, for the peace and benefit of human society. Kings are obliged to use that authority with which the Most High God has dignified them as his ministers for the encouragement of virtue, and the suppression of vice.

Richard Clifford: A king’s throne is established in justice (16:12; 20:28; 25:5; 29:14), and the king is the agent of that justice. A king effects God’s intent by putting down the wicked and upholding the righteous. Justice is not merely a personal virtue of a particular king but belongs to the office. The king sits to give judgment. The Hebrew verb “to scatter” can mean “to winnow” and may refer to winnowing in a metaphorical sense—separating the good from the bad.

Tremper Longman: This is the picture of the just and wise king, who dissipates evil through his deliberate application of law in his kingdom. Because of his just determination of law, criminal elements are fragmented and unable to coalesce into a substantial threat to order. The reference to the king’s eyes may reflect the idea that nothing escapes his notice. Wisdom is a quality especially required for the exercise of proper legal judgment.

Allen Ross: This proverb names justice (dîn; “to judge,” NIV) as the basis of his administration and then uses the image of winnowing to show that he removes evil from his realm (see Ps 101). The verse could apply to any person in authority, but certainly the principle stands that a just government roots out the evils of society (Plaut, 210). Unfortunately, no government has ever lived up to this ideal.

Sid S. Buzzell: Kings often served as chief judges (e.g., Solomon, 1 Kings 3:16-28).  By carefully examining (with his eyes) a case, a just king could detect (winnow or sift out; cf. Prov. 20:26) evil motives and actions.  He could not easily be fooled.

Matthew Henry: The happy effect of a good government.

The presence of the prince goes far towards the putting of wickedness out of countenance; if he inspect his affairs himself, those that are employed under him will be kept in awe and restrained from doing wrong. If great men be good men, and will use their power as they may and ought, what good may they do and what evil may they prevent!

  1. (:9)  Integrity and Humility in Confessing Sin

Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart,

I am pure from my sin ‘?

Tremper Longman: This proverb seeks to bring self-awareness to the wise, who are also the righteous and may sometimes be tempted to self-righteousness. Even the wise must be aware that they are not perfect. They too need to grapple with sin. Even the “innocent” Job recognized that he too had faults (Job 9:2). Not to know this would lead to a wrong self-assessment and then to errors in behavior and speech. Even so, a number of Proverbs implicitly recognize that some people are “righteous” and others are “wicked.” This proverb relativizes this otherwise fairly strict dichotomy.

Allen Ross: Many passages affirm the inevitability of our sinfulness (Ge 6:5; 1Ki 8:46; Ps 143:2), and Psalm 51:7 teaches that one can claim to be pure only if made pure by divine forgiveness. The sages here reflect the weakness of humanity. McKane, 548, says that one “can never be certain that his mind is pure and that he is without alloy of sin. Even when he has no good reason to believe otherwise and might draw such a conclusion in good faith, he cannot be certain that he is not self-deceived and has failed to plumb unsuspected depths of duplicity and perversion which Yahweh will take into account.” So this proverb should bring us to personal humility and engender in us an understanding of the failures of others.

Charles Bridges: A sinner in his self-delusion may conceive himself to be a saint.  But it is impossible for a saint ever to consider himself in this way.  Who can say, . . . “I am clean and without sin”?  What?  No vain thoughts, no sinful imagination dwelling within?  No ignorance, no pride, no coldness, no worldliness, no unbelief indulged in?  The more we search the heart, the more its impurity will confront us.  Only vain people can boast that they have pure hearts.  But the boast, far from showing their goodness, demonstrates their blindness.  Man is so depraved that he cannot understand his own depravity.

  1. (:10)  Integrity in Business

Differing weights and differing measures,

Both of them are abominable to the LORD.

Richard Clifford: Different weights are signs of a dishonest trader. Deuteronomy 25:13 makes the same condemnation: “You shall not have in your sack a stone and a stone, [one] large and [the other] small.” The “stone” is a weight of indeterminate heaviness. An ephah is a dry measure equal to one-tenth of a homer or kor, estimated to be 1.5 or 2.5 pecks, three-eighths or two-thirds of a U.S. bushel. It was the most common dry measure. Altering weights is an abomination to Yahweh, who is the guarantor of the just order of the world.

  1. (:11)  Integrity in Deeds

It is by his deeds that a lad distinguishes himself

If his conduct is pure and right.

Tremper Longman: The debate in this proverb surrounds the first verb, which can mean either “to disguise” or “to make known” in the hitpael. The versions go both ways, as do modern commentators, though most contemporary translations opt for the second meaning, as illustrated by the NRSV:

Even children make themselves known by their acts,

by whether what they do is pure and right.

If the NRSV interpretation is the right one, then the idea is that children, like adults (the force of “even”), demonstrate their integrity by their actions. This may well be right, but it seems tautologous even for a proverb.

The alternate interpretation at least has interest going for it. If it is correct, then the intention is to warn people that appearances can be deceiving and to encourage them to keep their eyes open in dealing with children as well as with adults.

Ernest Lucas: The verb in v. 11a can mean either ‘to make oneself known’ (ESV) or ‘to dissemble’ (NJPSV, ESV footnote). Taken in the first sense the proverb is a version of ‘by their fruits you shall know them’ and may be advice to parents to discern the character of a child so that any remedial training can be begun early. If taken in the second sense it is a warning that appearances can be deceptive, and so discernment is needed to determine the true character of the child.

Matthew Henry: The tree is known by its fruits, a man by his doings, even a young tree by its first fruits, a child by his childish things, whether his work be clean only, appearing good (the word is used ch. 16:2), or whether it be right, that is, really good. This intimates,

  1. That children will discover themselves. One may soon see what their temper is, and which way their inclination leads them, according as their constitution is. Children have not learned the art of dissembling and concealing their bent as grown people have.
  2. That parents should observe their children, that they may discover their disposition and genius, and both manage and dispose of them accordingly, drive the nail that will go and draw out that which goes amiss. Wisdom is herein profitable to direct.