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A.  (:1) What’s Better than Riches?

A good name is to be more desired than great riches,

Favor is better than silver and gold.

Richard Clifford: Human beings are inherently social and find their happiness in society. Without the acceptance by others that is founded on esteem and trust, one becomes an unfulfilled outsider. Riches, though more immediately alluring, are less essential to the human spirit than that which enables someone to live happily with others—a good name.

Paul Koptak: If one chooses riches above all else, the actions that follow will break relationships of trust and tarnish one’s name. Wealth in itself is not condemned in Proverbs, but it is always secondary to honorable relationships and reputation. The “good name” (šem) implies that good character will make itself known around town. “Esteemed” (ḥen) uses a word translated elsewhere as “favor” (3:4; 13:15; 28:23) or “grace” (1:9; 3:34; 4:9); it is translated as “gracious” in 22:11.

Tremper Longman: It is better to be in a healthy relationship with other human beings than it is to have an abundance of impersonal material possessions. If one has to choose between the two, and that is not always the case, it is better to choose the things that bring us into more intimate relationship with other people.

Allen Ross: The point is that a good reputation excels other blessings in life (see m. ʾAbot 4:17). Kidner, 146, says that our proper joy is “not in the power we wield, but in the love in which we are held.”

Charles Bridges: It is far better that others should tarnish our name than that we should wound our consciences.  “Two things there are,” says St. Augustine, “about which everyone should be especially chary [vigilant] and tender: his conscience and his credit.  But his conscience must be his first concern.  His name and his credit must be content to come in the second place.  Let him first be sure to guard his conscience well; then he may give attention to his name.  Let his top priority be to secure everything inside him, by making peace with God and in his own heart.  Once this is done, and not before this happens, he can look further afield if he wants to and strengthen his reputation with and before the world” (Bishop Sanderson).

George Mylne: Riches are greatly esteemed in the world, and, under the management of wisdom, serve very valuable purposes but they don’t contribute so much to the quiet and happiness of life, as the esteem and love of our neighbors; nor do they qualify us so much to honor God and do good to men. Paul does not require it as a qualification in church rulers to be rich but he requires that, along with knowledge and good behavior, they should have a good report among Christians, and even heathen. . .

We must value our character above money, and avoid everything that is base, although it might promote our outward estate. We must not only attend to the secret duties of religion but those also that recommend it to the world, and take all care that our good be not evil spoken of, and that the gospel meets with no reproach by our misconduct. We should be thankful to God, if we enjoy the benefit of a good name, and employ our influence for the advancement of his glory but we must abhor the thoughts of making any sinful compliances with the course of the world for the sake of our credit, remembering that instructive saying of God, “Those who honor me, I will honor but those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed.”

B.  (:2) What Do the Rich and Poor Have in Common?

The rich and the poor have a common bond,

The LORD is the maker of them all.

Tremper Longman: On the surface, those who are rich and those who are poor have plenty of differences. In most societies, ancient Israelite as well as modern, the two keep a healthy distance between themselves. Even in Proverbs, the two social classes are discussed separately, and, all things being equal, the wise devise living strategies that will bring them material blessings, while the poor often, but not always (13:23), are poor because of poor life choices (particularly laziness: 6:6–11; etc.). However, this proverb reminds all, probably particularly the rich, that the poor are human beings, fashioned by the same Creator. This observation should lead the rich to avoid oppressing those who have less than they do. The idea of these two classes meeting together should likely be understood more in the sense of “have (the following) in common” rather than the idea of mixing in the real world, though that happens to a limited extent. See also 14:31; 17:5; 29:13.

Lindsay Wilson: Verse 2 is ostensibly about both the rich and the poor, but the real focus is on the poor. No-one would think that the rich are not made by God, but in practice many treat the poor as if they do not have any significance derived from being made by God. While there is a difference, there is no distinction in value (so they lit. meet together, esv = ‘have this in common’, niv, nrsv). A common theme in Proverbs is that God has created the poor (14:31; 17:5), while other sayings remind us of our obligation to the poor because of God (19:17; 22:22–23; 29:13).

Charles Bridges: There is great diversity in the circumstances of mankind.  Yet the difference is mainly superficial, and the equality in all important matters is clear for all to see.  The rich and the poor, apparently so remote from each other, have much in common.  All are born into the world.  All come into the world naked, helpless, unconscious beings.  All stand before God.  All are dependent on God for their birth.  All are subject to the same sorrows, illnesses, and temptations.  At the gate of the invisible world the distinction of riches and poverty is dropped.

George Mylne: Such is the vanity which generally attends riches and power that great men often treat people of lowly station, as if they were some lower rank of animals. The poor and rich are made of the same blood, and the same glorious power is displayed in the formation of their bodies, and the creation of their souls. They breath the same vital air, and enjoy the light of the same sun. They owe their support equally to the earth and shall return to the same dust. Their souls are equally precious, and shall dwell in the same eternal habitations unless there is a distinction between them of a very different kind from that which makes the rich too often to trample upon the poor, and the poor to return their contempt with the no less criminal passion of envy. They are alike lost in Adam, and have the same right to salvation, through Christ revealed in the gospel. They meet together in the same family, and church, and nation, and they are useful to each other, if they comply with the designs of providence.

C.  (:3) How Do the Naïve Get Themselves into Trouble?

The prudent sees the evil and hides himself,

But the naive go on, and are punished for it.

Paul Koptak: The prudent one practices foresight, looking ahead to see the consequences that issue from choices (12:16, 23; 14:8, 15, 18; and here 22:3 [cf. 27:12]). The word for “danger” (raʿah) is translated as “evil, wicked” (11:19, 27; 16:27, 30; 17:13; 24:1, 16) or “trouble, harm” (1:33; 3:29–30; 13:21; 16:4; 27:12), depending on context; both meanings may be intended here. The prudent, knowing the effects of evil, see it coming and hide, while the simple, not even knowing the danger (chs. 1; 7; 9), walk straight toward it (cf. 22:5).

Allen Ross: The prudent know where the dangers and pitfalls are in life; they are wary. They are the product of training in wisdom and discipline, for one of the purposes of Proverbs is to make the naive (petî) wary (ʿārûm; see 1:4). The simple person is unwary, uncritical, and credulous; he is not equipped to survive in this world and so blunders into trouble (McKane, 563).

George Mylne: Many of the feathered tribes, before the cold sets in, fly away to warmer climates. How then do you say that we are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us, if you are more senseless than the beasts of the earth, and less wise than the birds of Heaven? Will you call yourselves reasonable creatures, when neither reason nor revelation can make you so prudent about your best interests, as instinct alone renders animals that cannot boast of these precious gifts.

D.  (:4) What Produces Riches?

The reward of humility and the fear of the LORD

Are riches, honor and life.

Richard Clifford: Humiliation can lead one to know one’s place in God’s world, which is one definition of “fear of the Lord.” And fear of the Lord, or revering Yahweh, brings the blessings of wealth, honor, and long life. The axiom probably is meant to counter the view that humiliation is an unqualified evil. On the contrary, a humbling can help one recognize one’s place and foster an earnest search for God who is the source of all blessings.

Tremper Longman: Those who fear Yahweh and thus know their place in the cosmos are by definition humble. They know they are not the center of the universe. The proverb describes the rewards to such persons, who are truly wise, as wealth, honor, and life.

Allen Ross: This verse simply lists two spiritual qualifications (humility and fear) and three rewards (wealth, honor, and life).

George Mylne: Christian humility is that which has the promises belonging to it, and it is always joined with the fear of the Lord. It arises from an apprehension of the glorious excellencies of God. For when our eyes are open to his awesome majesty we cannot but perceive our own baseness. When we behold his spotless purity we must be ashamed of our own loathsomeness. When we contemplate his solemn authority we feel our obligations to deny our own perverse wills. When his sovereignty is felt we cannot but yield the management of all our concerns into his hand. When we have the knowledge of his righteousness we are obliged to renounce our own works, and submit to the righteousness of God.

E.  (:5-6) How Do You Avoid the Pitfalls of Life?

  1. (:5)  Guarding Your Way

Thorns and snares are in the way of the perverse;

He who guards himself will be far from them.

Tremper Longman: The idea behind the proverb is fairly clear. It is simply that the lives (represented by the path) of crooked people are beset by all kinds of obstacles. Therefore, those who care about the course of their lives ought to stay far removed from such people. This proverb fits in with those that encourage people to associate only with the wise and to avoid connections with fools.

  1. (:6)  Proper Training of a Child

Train up a child in the way he should go,

Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Allen Ross: In the book of Proverbs there are only two “ways” a child can go: the way of the wise and the righteous, or the way of the fool and the wicked. Moreover, it is difficult to explain why a natural bent needs training. . .  McKane, 564, agrees that “according to his way” must mean the way he ought to go: “There is only one right way—the way of life—and the educational discipline which directs young men along this way is uniform.”

Richard Clifford: The interpretation that best explains the phrase “according to his way” is to take the command as ironic (like the ironic command in 19:27). Let a boy do what he wants and he will become a self-willed adult incapable of change!

Paul Koptak: “Way he should go” is (lit.) “at the beginning of his way” (darko); thus, four views on the proverb have been proposed.

  1. The moral view stresses the good way;
  2. the vocational view stresses the position a young man would take in society or court;
  3. the personal aptitude view stresses the learner’s capacities;
  4. and in the personal demands view, the proverb ironically observes that a spoiled child will never change.

In my judgment, the proverb speaks not so much of early childhood training as of the initiation to adulthood and the teaching of its expectations and responsibilities.

Tremper Longman: Additionally problematic is the way that people understand the second colon. It sounds like a promise, but a proverb does not give a promise. The book of Proverbs advises its hearers in ways that are most likely to lead them to desired consequences if all things are equal. It is much more likely that a child will be a responsible adult if trained in the right path. However, there is also the possibility that the child might come under the negative influence of peers or be led astray in some other way. The point is that this proverb encourages parents to train their children, but does not guarantee that if they do so their children will never stray. This insight into the form of the proverb is particularly important for parents to grasp when their adult children have not turned out well; otherwise, the verse becomes a sledgehammer of guilt—a purpose that it was not intended to carry. On the other side, the proverb should not become a reason for pride if one’s children turn out well either. The proverb is simply an encouragement to do the right thing when it comes to raising one’s children.

Lindsay Wilson: Some find here a promise that if they bring their children up in the ways of God, then they can guarantee that their children will be believers. Yet this is confusing a proverb with a promise. A proverb describes what is typically true, not what is universally true. Not all children of godly parents do follow God, and it is simply not in our power to make someone else trust in God – that is God’s work. This proverb gives us encouragement to value the influence we can have on our children and youth by noting that godly training has a real lasting effect on how they turn out.

F.  (:7) What Is the Relationship between the Rich and the Poor?

The rich rules over the poor,

And the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.

Tremper Longman: The proverb begins with an observation that is hard to gainsay. Those with material means usually call the shots in a society. The wealthy are those who hire the poor and therefore can tell them what to do. The wealthy are typically in positions of government that dictate societal rules. It is not necessarily the case that the proverb is approving of this, but it is a good guess to suggest that this proverb implies that it is better to be a wealthy person ruling over the poor than vice versa.

This preferential reading is certainly supported by the second colon, though typically the sages discourage lending rather than borrowing (6:1–5; 11:15; etc.). However, there is no question who in the borrower/lender relationship has the bulk of the power. Thus, there is no doubt but that this proverb discourages borrowing.

Paul Koptak: The rich rule over poor, with implication that only one party has access to the power that money brings. The second line adds that those who borrow, whether by necessity or choice, put themselves under that power. Many commentators take this saying as a warning to the poor against borrowing, but perhaps a more general observation about the responsibilities of power is intended (cf. 22:9, 16; 18:23).


A.  (:8) Proven Strategy for Achieving Futility

He who sows iniquity will reap vanity,

And the rod of his fury will perish.

Paul Koptak: This version of “you reap what you sow” (cf. Job 4:8; Gal. 6:7) extends the idea of responsibility from Proverbs 22:7. One can share with the poor or oppress them (22:9, 16), but each action will receive the same treatment in turn.

Tremper Longman: This proverb expresses the simple idea of retribution. Those who do bad things will suffer bad things themselves. They may try to hurt others with “the rod of their fury,” but their efforts will be thwarted.  The proverb does not say how this will come about, and indeed sometimes, if not often, it appears that this simple idea of retribution does not work out in actual life. However, understood as a general principle and not as a guarantee, one can recognize the truth of this “live by the sword, die by the sword” principle (cf. Matt. 26:52).

Lindsay Wilson: The warning in verse 8 is not to use power unjustly. The imagery of sowing, and reaping what we sow, builds in accountability to the rich not to use their wealth in an unfair and self-serving way. Those who act unjustly will reap trouble or disaster. The second part of verse 8 repeats this warning by noting that their symbol of power (their staff or club or sceptre) will come to an end and be no more (kālâ, a verb that has the sense of being completed, used up, finished; fail, esv, nrsv; ‘broken’ niv). Power used in the wrong way will become powerless.

B.  (:9) Proven Strategy for Attaining Blessing

He who is generous will be blessed,

For he gives some of his food to the poor.

Allen Ross: There is a reward for being generous to the poor. The generous person is here ṭôb-ʿayin (“a good eye”), in contrast to the “evil eye,” which is stingy and covetous. This person has a benevolent disposition, keen social conscience, and concern for the poor. The irony is that because he is not the prisoner of his selfish desires, he achieves the highest degree of self-fulfillment (McKane, 569).

C.  (:10) Proven Strategy for Dealing with Contention

Drive out the scoffer, and contention will go out,

Even strife and dishonor will cease.

Paul Koptak: The proverb does not advocate the suppression of conflict, only unnecessary arguing. Whereas many conflicts can be worked out with attention to proper process, not all are due to misunderstanding. “Sometimes,” said a humorist, “people just act like jerks.”

Tremper Longman: Mockers are those who pick fights. They respond to criticism in a defensive manner. In general, they are self-protective people who respond to any perceived assault with a counterattack. Thus, the solution to a situation of conflict may be to get rid of the troublemaker. In other words, this proverb says that it is often not the situation but rather the people involved in a situation who cause problems. Sometimes it is necessary to remove a difficult individual to preserve the harmony of a community.

Allen Ross: One can think of a heckler who is present only to disrupt a meeting; before serious discussions can begin, he will have to be removed.

D.  (:11) Proven Strategy for Winning the Support of Rulers

He who loves purity of heart

And whose speech is gracious, the king is his friend.

Richard Clifford: The route to power is through wisdom, which the saying defines as speaking gracious words from a true heart. The implicit corollary of the axiom is that it is dangerous to worm one’s way into the king’s confidence by dishonorable means. As God’s chosen, the king will see through such tricks and vent his wrath upon those who try them. Cf. 14:35; 16:13; 20:2.

Tremper Longman: Those who do have a pure heart will speak gracious words, because words are the reflection of the heart (16:23). The result is positive. Such people have the king as a friend, and it is always good to have friends in high places.

George Mylne: The pureness of heart, here meant, consists chiefly in sincerity and uprightness, and stands opposed to all deception and hypocrisy. A pure heart is necessary to grace in the lips, which must be directed by an honest heart, and admit no pollution of flattery and doubleness, which so much stains the communication of a great part of mankind. The lips may assume an appearance of purity and sincerity, when there is none in the heart but this empty appearance cannot be long supported. A very small degree of sagacity will enable a man soon to discover it, and the discovery is attended with abhorrence.

Grace in the lips is necessary to reveal pureness of heart. We ought always to speak the words of truth but we ought to speak it in the most pleasing manner possible, that we may not render it unacceptable by our manner of representing it. Daniel showed his integrity and politeness at once, by the manner of his address to Nebuchadnezzar, when he was called to give him very disagreeable information.

Every man ought to be a friend to the man of integrity, and the king himself, if he is not an absolute fool, will be a friend to him who joins purity of heart with gracefulness of tongue. Daniel, the captive, on this account, found favor with two haughty kings of Babylon.

E.  (:12) Proven Strategy for Maintaining Integrity

The eyes of the LORD preserve knowledge,

But He overthrows the words of the treacherous man.

Richard Clifford: The axiom states that Yahweh scrutinizes and safeguards the knowledge that comes to expression in words. If one’s words do not express faithfully what one knows, Yahweh will subvert those deceptive words. In Ex. 23:8 and Deut. 16:19, a bribe “undermines the words” (sillēp dĕbārîm) of the innocent person in a legal trial. REB assumes a legal context: “The Lord keeps watch over every claim at law, / and upsets the perjurer’s case.” God watches the plans of the human heart and subverts lying words.

Allen Ross: The Lord ensures that truth, not deception, succeeds. The lines are in antithetical parallelism, contrasting how God deals with truth and error: He “frustrates” the words of the “traitor” (bōgēd; “unfaithful,” NIV), but he keeps “watch over knowledge.” The point is clear enough—the Lord acts to vindicate the truth.

F.  (:13) Proven Strategy for Wasting Life as a Sluggard

The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside;

I shall be slain in the streets!’

Richard Clifford: The sluggard always has a reason not to act, no matter how ridiculous.

Charles Bridges: The sluggard is a coward.  He has no love for his work, and therefore he is always ready to invent some flimsy excuse that will prevent him from doing his duty.  He shrinks back from any work that is likely to involve him in any trouble.  Imagined dangers frighten hi from real and present duties.

G.  (:14) Proven Strategy for Manifesting a Cursed Existence

The mouth of an adulteress is a deep pit;

He who is cursed of the LORD will fall into it.

Tremper Longman: The woman is strange in that she acts outside of the bounds of traditional social and religious mores restricting intimate sexual relationships to the commitment of marriage. The woman’s mouth is particularly attractive to young men, not simply because of her kisses but even more because of the flattery that appeals to the man’s vanity (5:3; 6:24; 7:5). But though attractive on the surface, her mouth is a source of great danger, into which those who succumb to temptation will fall. Here the latter are described not as fools, but rather as those with whom God is angry, though the two are not ultimately separate groups.

Charles Bridges: Adultery is indeed a deep pit.  It is easy to fall into but hard, nest to impossible, to get out of.  For this sin overwhelms the body, the mind, and the conscience.  There is no more humbling proof of the total depravity of human nature than the fact that those affections that were originally given for the purest enjoyments of life can become the corrupt spring of such a defilement.  The sin and snare seem to be inflicted on those who willfully reject God.  They have turned away from instruction; they have hated reproof; they have given themselves over to their wicked desires.  They have clearly abandoned God.  Must not God’s holiness and justice be against those who deliberately choose evil and reject both God’s warnings and love?  They are under the Lord’s wrath.

H.  (:15) Proven Strategy for Disciplining Children

Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child;

The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.

Richard Clifford: Folly is attached to the heart of a youngster in the way that the outer membranous covering (the husk or hull) is attached to a seed. The agricultural metaphor is maintained in colon B, where “rod” (šēbet) means both a rod that is applied to the back of the recalcitrant (13:24; 23:13–14) and a “flail” (see 22:8b).

Matthew Henry: We have here two very sad considerations:

  1. That corruption is woven into our nature. Sin is foolishness; it is contrary both to our right reason and to our true interest. It is in the heart; there is an inward inclination to sin, to speak and act foolishly. It is in the heart of children; they bring it into the world with them; it is what they were shapen and conceived in. It is not only found there, but it is bound there; it is annexed to the heart (so some); vicious dispositions cleave closely to the soul, are bound to it as the cion to the stock into which it is grafted, which quite alters the property. There is a knot tied between the soul and sin, a true lover’s knot; they two became one flesh. It is true of ourselves, it is true of our children, whom we have begotten in our own likeness. O God! thou knowest this foolishness.
  2. That correction is necessary to the cure of it. It will not be got out by fair means and gentle methods; there must be strictness and severity, and that which will cause grief. Children need to be corrected, and kept under discipline, by their parents; and we all need to be corrected by our heavenly Father (Heb. 12:6, 7), and under the correction we must stroke down folly and kiss the rod.

I.  (:16) Proven Strategy for Achieving Poverty

He who oppresses the poor to make much for himself

Or who gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.

Richard Clifford: Who in their right mind would give to the wealthy? On reflection, however, colon B makes sense. Many people try to bribe the wealthy or ingratiate themselves with them by means of presents. The rich may accept the money and presents but are sufficiently cunning not to be fooled or coerced. The rich will always do what they want. Those who curry favor with them end up the poorer. The seemingly absurd antithesis memorably expresses the great gulf between the poor and the rich.

Allen Ross: The punishment for extortion and bribery is poverty. The Hebrew is a little cryptic: “Oppressing the lowly, it is gain for him; he who gives to the rich, it is loss.” Perhaps both are to be seen as folly and resulting in poverty, the first being an immoral act (ʿōšēq, “oppresses”) that God will punish and the second being a waste of money.

Tremper Longman: It is clear that the subject of the first colon is the oppressor of the poor. This is followed by an infinitive clause “to multiply for himself,” and we understand this phrase as referring to the intention of the oppressor to get rich off the poor. The second colon mentions another class of people, those who give, probably gifts or maybe bribes, to the rich, likely with the intention of getting more in return. The final phrase seems to indicate that these two strategies will fail. After all, if someone tries to multiply their riches on the backs of the poor, it is like trying to squeeze water from a stone. And those who give to the wealthy to get back more will also fail. The right way to proceed is to give generously to the poor; these are the ones who will get a good return for their money (28:27).

Charles Bridges: These two ideas seem to contradict each other.  But both of the people described are devoid of God’s love and love for their brother.  Both seek to please themselves.  The one who gives gifts to the rich hopes to receive something in return.  Both actions, paradoxical as it may seem, lead to the road of poverty.  “Sin pays its servants very bad wages; for it gives the very reverse of what is promised.  While the sin of oppression promises mountains of gold, it brings them poverty and ruin (Jeremiah 12:13-15).  Injuries done to the poor are sorely resented by the God of mercy, who is the poor man’s friend and will break in pieces his oppressor” (Lawson).