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A.  (:22-23) Don’t Exploit the Poor

  1. (:22)  Admonition

Do not rob the poor because he is poor,

Or crush the afflicted at the gate;

Paul Koptak: While the poverty of these people is reason enough to treat them kindly, most likely the phrase chides the exploiters who see their powerless prey as easy pickings; they crush the poor in court (lit., “at the gate,” where legal matters were decided). Ironically, those who try to use the system to do wrong will find out that they are called to an even higher court. The double use of rib in “take up their case” (22:23; lit., “strive a striving”; cf. 23:11) echoes the voice of the prophets, who portray Yahweh as judge, prosecutor, and executor (Isa. 1:17; 3:13; 19:20; 41:21; Jer. 2:9; 25:31; Hos. 4:1; Mic. 6:2; 7:9).

Tremper Longman: To rob anyone is a crime, but to rob the poor, who are already in difficult straits, is particularly heinous (see also Exod. 22:21–23; 23:6; Deut. 24:14–15). The same is true about the oppression of those who are already afflicted. To do so publicly is a particularly bad thing to do. The reference to “the gate” at the least points toward a public setting, and probably more specifically to a legal setting.

Charles Bridges: To exploit the poor because he is poor and so has no means of protection is a cowardly aggravation of the sin [of robbery and oppression].  To crush the needy in court perverts God’s sacred authority that was given to protect the needy.  God is most resisted in wronging those who cannot resist and defend themselves.  “The threatenings of God against the robbers of the poor are sometimes laughed at by the rich and great.  But they will find them in due time to be awful realities” (Lawson).  “Weak though they [the poor] are, they have a strong one to take their part” (Sanderson).  God will plead their case.  And wo to the man against whom he pleads.  The accumulation of divine vengeance is heaped upon this sin.

George Mylne: The gate was in ancient times, among the eastern nations, the place of judgment, and therefore this instruction is be understood to respect judges. They are forbidden to take advantage of the friendless and indigent circumstances of the poor and afflicted to oppress them by perverting justice in favor to the rich. The Scripture forbids us to show favoritism to a poor man in his cause but it is far worse, and more ordinary, and therefore more frequently forbidden, to oppress a poor man in judgement. This is a crying sin, which contains, together with injustice, the most unmerciful cruelty, and is a plain evidence of inhuman and cowardly disposition.

  1. (:23)  Motivation

For the LORD will plead their case,

And take the life of those who rob them.

Allen Ross: The motivation is that the Lord will plead or “take up their case” and will turn the plundering back on the guilty. Here again the Lord is revealed as champion of the defenseless.

Peter Wallace: The poor are already in a fragile condition. They don’t have much. They need someone to plead their cause – they need someone to come to their defense. So if you don’t – then the LORD will! But when he does, he will destroy those who sought to destroy the poor.

B.  (:24-25) Don’t Associate with a Hothead

  1. (:24)  Admonition

Do not associate with a man given to anger;

Or go with a hot-tempered man,

Peter Wallace: If you are dealing with a man given to anger – if anger and wrath is what characterizes him, do not look to him as a mentor – do not tie your fate to his. Because the more closely you are connected to him, the more likely you will be entangled in his ways – you may even learn to be like him yourself!

What is meant by a “man given to anger”? This is a great phrase in Hebrew: “baal af” – master of a nose. Make no friendship with a master of a nose! The Hebrew word for nose is translated “anger” over 200 times in the OT. In fact, it means “anger” more often than it means nose! Every time you see the “anger of the LORD burned against” someone – it is literally, “the nose of the LORD burned against…” because when you get angry, your nose burns!

Tremper Longman: The book of Proverbs teaches that we must associate with people of wisdom and avoid those who practice foolish behavior (1:8–19). Otherwise, as this passage states, their bad behavior will rub off on us and so will the negative consequences due them. In this case, angry behavior is specifically named as something to be avoided. This passage is talking not just about an occasional outburst of anger but rather about people characterized by their anger. This shows a lack of self-discipline and an absence of emotional intelligence.

  1. (:25)  Motivation

Lest you learn his ways,

And find a snare for yourself.

Allen Ross: The “one easily angered” (ʾîš ḥēmôt, lit., “a man of heat” // baʿal ʾāp, “a hot-tempered man”) is denounced here primarily because such conduct is injurious, although the implication is that it is also morally wrong (Toy, 426).

Charles Bridges: Being friends of a hot-tempered man is like living in a house that is on fire.  How quickly does a young person, living with a proud man, become like him and turn into an overbearing person.  Evil ways, especially those that our temperaments incline toward, are more quickly learned than good ways.  We learn to be angry more easily than to be mee.  We pass on disease, not health.  So it is a rule of self-preservation, no less than the rule of God, not to make friends with hot-tempered people.

George Mylne: Friendship has a mighty influence upon our conduct. “Bad company corrupts good character.” When we see bad things practiced by those we love, the horror of them abates, and we are insensibly drawn to the practice of them. And if we make angry men our friends and companions, we are in great danger of becoming like to them, on another account. Although we should be good-natured yet their unreasonable behavior will be apt, on many occasions, to set our temper on fire, and from occasional bursts of anger, we may be led by degrees to contract obstinate habits of getting angry on every trifling occasion. For habit is produced by frequent acts, and in time becomes a second nature.

C.  (:26-27) Don’t Give Pledges for Debt

  1. (:26)  Admonition

Do not be among those who give pledges,

Among those who become sureties for debts.

Tremper Longman: Whatever the circumstance, giving a loan is a mistake, because a loan expects a return of the money.  And if giving a loan is a mistake, it is even more of a mistake to be a guarantor of a loan. Such people may find their very bed repossessed.

Peter Wallace: Don’t put at risk that which you cannot afford to lose! But also – as we’ve seen in Proverbs before – why would you be tempted to put up security for debts? Because this is an easy way to make money! Someone comes to you and says: “Hey, I need $1,000. I’ll pay you $1,100 next year, if you’ll loan me the thousand now!” You could make $100 (10% interest!) without doing anything!!

The Law did not allow Israelites to charge each other interest. The idea was that you should not profit off each other – and the assumption was that the only reason why you would borrow money was because you were in dire need.

In our day, we use debt very differently. But the basic principle at stake here is important: do not try to get something for nothing. Do not take advantage of others for your own selfish gain. But along with that is the warning: whatever you risk – you may lose!

  1. (:27)  Rationale

If you have nothing with which to pay,

Why should he take your bed from under you?

Allen Ross: The risk is that if someone lacks the means to pay, his creditors may take his bed, i.e., his last possession (cf. our expressions “the shirt off his back” or “the kitchen sink”). “Bed” may be a metonymy for the garment that covers the bed (cf. Ex 22:26).

George Mylne: Religion, you see, allows and requires us to pay a proper attention to our own interest and comfort. It requires no instances of self-denial but such as are more for our own interest, than self-gratification in those instances would be. It does not forbid us to love ourselves, when it requires us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Indeed, we cannot hurt ourselves, for the most part, without hurting some other men also. What can we do for the poor, for our families, for our friends if our bed is taken away from beneath us?

D.  (:28-29) Don’t Try to Increase Wealth Selfishly or Illegally

  1. (:28) Admonition – Don’t Mess with Property Boundaries

Do not move the ancient boundary

Which your fathers have set.

Paul Koptak: The prohibition here against moving the boundary stone stands alone, with no accompanying motivation or reason (a reason is given in the similar 23:10). The personal pronoun emphasizing “your forefathers” implies that the person on the other side of the property line is kin. The only other reference to the boundary marker in Proverbs names the widow (15:25; cf. Deut. 19:14). To move that marker for financial gain is therefore to defraud those most vulnerable. If Proverbs 22:24–25 and 26–27 are about self-protection, the surrounding verses (22:23 and 28) are directed toward protecting and caring for the powerless of society.

Allen Ross: The boundaries were sacred because God owned the land and had given it to the ancestors as their inheritance; to extend one’s land at another’s expense was a major violation of covenant and oath. Of course, property disputes and wars ancient and modern arise because both sides can point to times when their ancestors owned the land.

Tremper Longman: Though important throughout the ancient Near East, there is reason to think that the connection between the land and the people of Israel was an even more critical issue. After all, the land was distributed by divine choice to the tribes and then to individual families after settlement. The land was God’s gift in fulfillment of his promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3). Indeed, if for any reason a family was separated from its ancestral lands (perhaps for reasons of debt), their property would be returned to them during the Jubilee Year, which occurred every fifty years (Lev. 25:24–34).

The removal of a boundary stone would be an attempt to encroach on or even totally possess the land of another person. Not even a king should take the land of another (the Naboth incident in 1 Kings 21). We don’t know what Israelite boundary stones looked like, but they may have been similar in function to the Babylonian kudurru, a stone marker that included a description of the property. Other passages that have to do with the prohibition of the removal of a boundary stone include Deut. 19:14; 27:17; Job 24:2; Prov. 23:10; Hosea 5:10.

George Mylne: Landmarks are means of preserving peace, as well as maintaining justice, and therefore the removing of them is a breach both of peace and honesty. It is so great a sin, that a solemn curse was pronounced against it from Mont Ebal. It is more than three thousand years since this curse was pronounced, and we learn from it that land marks were a very ancient means of distinguishing property. It is the will of God that men should know what is their own, and that every unrighteous invasion of another man’s property, is an abomination to him.

Matthew Henry: We may infer hence that a deference is to be paid, in all civil matters, to usages that have prevailed time out of mind and the settled constitutions of government, in which it becomes us to acquiesce, lest an attempt to change it, under pretence of changing it for the better, prove of dangerous consequence.

Peter Wallace: So how do you increase wealth properly?! There is but one saying on that in this section! Verse 29:

  1. (:29) Balancing Exhortation — Excellence in Work

Do you see a man skilled in his work?

He will stand before kings;

He will not stand before obscure men.

Peter Wallace: This is not arrogance or selfishness – this is integrity – this is wholeness. This is the world is operating as it should.

Paul Koptak: A three-line saying in verse 29 interrupts the series of prohibitions with a rhetorical question and answer that holds up excellence and pride in work. Mind your own business, it seems to say, neither cheating the poor or getting mixed up in bad company. Do your work well and live well, and you will have the king as your employer, a coveted association (cf. 23:1). If earlier proverbs about the king stressed his responsibilities for executing justice and his capacities for discerning evil intention (22:8), these instructions give advice about working for such a person. One advances through competence and integrity, not cunning or careerism.

Tremper Longman: This proverb states that those who work hard and with skill will succeed in their careers. They will work for the most powerful and influential people inthe society, while those who are not diligent will spend their careers working for people on the lower end of the social stratum.

George Mylne: If the diligent man does not obtain the honor of standing before kings, his industry, with God’s blessing, will, for the most part, preserve him from the disgrace of standing before obscure men. Some women, by their industry, joined with other virtues, have obtained the honor of an alliance with the noblest families, of which Rebecca and Ruth are famous instances.


A.  (:1-3) Don’t Overindulge When Invited to a Ruler’s Feast

When you sit down to dine with a ruler, Consider carefully what is before you;

2 And put a knife to your throat, If you are a man of great appetite. 3 Do not

desire his delicacies, For it is deceptive food.

Paul Koptak: Putting a knife to the throat is not a threat of death but rather holding a knife to one’s desire, for the word nepeš can mean “throat” or “appetite.”  The “delicacies” uses the same word for the savory food Jacob cooked to deceive his father (Gen. 27:17, 31); certainly this “food is deceptive,” for it is (lit.) the “bread of lies.”

Richard Clifford: Important is the double meaning of “set before you,” which refers both to the food and the host: Consider carefully the food/host before you and put your knife not to your food to satisfy your hunger but to your gullet to restrain your hunger. Unless you do, you will obtain neither food nor favor. The versions missed the play in Hebrew lĕ̌pāneykā, “before you,” which can refer both to food set before one (e.g., Gen. 18:8;24:33; 1 Sam. 9:24) and to a human being standing before one (e.g., Gen. 18:22; Deut. 10:11; Judg. 9:39). The versions (which all read MT) take it only of food and end up in considerable confusion.

Allen Ross: This passage warns against overindulging in the ruler’s food, because that could ruin one’s chances for advancement. The expression “put a knife to your throat” (v.2) means “to curb your appetite, control yourself” (like “bite your tongue”; see Delitzsch, 2:104). The reason is that the ruler’s food may be “deceptive” (kezābîm)—it is not what it seems. So the warning is not to indulge in his impressive feast; the ruler wants something from you or is observing you (Delitzsch, 2:105).

Tremper Longman: Dining is actually an opportunity for people to manifest the type of self-control that demonstrates wisdom. Just as the wise are to control their emotional expressions and the frequency and content of their speech, so also they must not let their appetites get control of them. Nowhere would this be a larger temptation than at the sumptuous table of a ruler. If the ruler sees a potential adviser’s appetite carry him away, then how could the ruler trust him? In this way, the food is “false”: it is a potential trap that would cause the prospective courtier to lose an opportunity.

Lindsay Wilson: While it is quite natural to desire the fine food served, it can come with strings attached. It is described as ‘food of lies’ or deceptive food. It pretends to be a gift, but as a modern proverb says, there is no such thing as a free lunch. A ruler may have a hidden agenda, perhaps buying our loyalty or silence for some future occasion.

Charles Bridges: Suppose we are invited to a meal with a ruler.  We are given this wise warning: Note well what is before you.  Think about where you are.  What besetting temptation may attack you?  What impression is your behavior likely to make?  If your appetite is out of control, ungodly people may criticize you, and you may be a stumbling-block to the weak (1 Corinthians 8:9; Romans 14:21).

B.  (:4-5) Don’t Set Your Hopes on Fleeting Wealth

Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, Cease from your consideration of it.

5 When you set your eyes on it, it is gone. For wealth certainly makes itself wings, Like an eagle that flies toward the heavens.

Paul Koptak: The image seems to say, “Let your eyes stay put on that which lasts instead of flying around to fleeting riches.”  Like the “bread of lies,” riches are also deceptive (23:3); therefore one should not become weary in their pursuit but have the “wisdom” (root byn, as in “note well” in 23:1) to know when to stop or “show restraint” (cf. 23:2).

Charles Bridges: Here we are warned about covetousness.  If riches come as a result of God’s blessing, receive them thankfully, and consecrate them wisely and freely to him.  But to wear yourself out trying to become rich is to follow earthly wisdom, not the wisdom from above.

Allen Ross: People should not wear themselves out trying to get rich, because riches disappear quickly. “Amenemope” (ch. 7; 9:10–11) says, “They have made themselves wings like geese and are flown away to the heavens” (cf. ANET, 9.10–10.5). In the ancient world the figure of a bird flying off symbolized fleeting wealth. It is therefore folly to be a slave to it (see also Lk 12:20; 1Ti 6:7–10). Besides, as m. ʾAbot 2:8 warns, this behavior will only add to the anxiety.

Tremper Longman: This proverb helps people put riches in a proper perspective. As with poverty, there are dangers that are also a part of being rich (30:7–9; see also Eccles. 5:13–17). Christian readers will note a similar sentiment toward the transience of riches in Matt. 6:19, which talks of “treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal” (NRSV).

George Mylne: In our fallen condition, we must labor and sweat for our subsistence but that kind of labor is useful both to the body and mind. The labor after riches here forbidden, and is exceedingly hurtful to both. It arises from an immoderate esteem of present things, and an aspiring mind. It is joined with a distrust of God’s providence, and a hurry and distraction of men’s thoughts, which renders them unfit for the service of God. It destroys all relish for the comforts of life, which might be enjoyed at present and is a continual incentive to unmerciful and unjust behavior. It is a pity that we do not more attentively consider the alarming things that are said by our Lord, and the apostle Paul, on this subject. . .

Those who place their happiness on worldly wealth, build their foundation on the sand. Their joy is short, and dashed with a large infusion of fear and vexation. Their disappointment is certain; their end is dreadful for those who mind earthly things above heavenly things, are enemies of the cross of Christ, and their end is destruction. But true Christians seek for the true riches, their conversation is in Heaven, and their treasure is in a place where there is no moth nor rust, nor any of those feathers which compose the eagle wings of riches, with which they flee away.

C.  (:6-8) Don’t Accept Hospitality from the Selfish

Do not eat the bread of a selfish man, Or desire his delicacies;

7 For as he thinks within himself, so he is. He says to you, ‘Eat and drink!’ But his heart is not with you.

8 You will vomit up the morsel you have eaten, And waste your compliments.

Allen Ross: It is a mistake to accept hospitality from a stingy person, for his lack of sincerity will make the evening unpleasant.

Paul Koptak: Framing the instruction on riches is another vignette about sitting down to eat, but this time the host’s character is clearly stated. He is (lit.) “bad of eye” (NIV “stingy”), in contrast to the generous person with a good eye (cf. 22:9; 28:22). Like the ruler of 23:1, he also has a table of deceptive delicacies (cf. 23:3), for he says, “Eat and drink,” but does not mean it. Perhaps this is a grudging host who sees an unexpected guest as an imposition instead of a chance to show hospitality, halfheartedly offering the welcome that was so important to ancient oriental culture.  Therefore, the teacher advises not moderation but total avoidance: “Do not eat” (23:6). People usually vomit from eating too much, but in this case even a little of this food will not stay down, so everything is lost—the meal and the compliments.

Like chasing riches that fly away (23:4–5), craving these delicacies only leads to loss and emptiness. The “compliments” are (lit.) the “pleasing [words]” of 22:18, which the wise student stores on the advice of the teacher. Here, however, they are put to a wrong purpose, namely, flattery for greedy gain instead of wise servanthood. Together, the three teachings of 23:1–8 make it clear that meals are about a lot more than food. Usually a meal is a sign of hospitality and friendship to all who come by; yet there are other meals where either guest or host is tested, where motives other than friendship are present. Just as Woman Wisdom offered a banquet of life and Woman Folly a meal of death (9:1–18), so here food and appetite are used as metaphors for the attitude one brings to riches and the kind of “teaching” one desires.

Richard Clifford: To the author of Proverbs, uninvited banqueters are thieves who will suffer the same consequences as those who rob the poor in Amenemope, chap. 11. They cannot keep their unjust gain. Since the setting is a banquet, they vomit up their ill-gotten gains. Like the previous two admonitions, this one warns against strategies to advance one’s career by any means other than fidelity to wisdom and to the vocation of sage.

Lindsay Wilson: Verse 7 indicates that such a person has a façade of being generous, but is not like that on the inside. The only other place where the expression is used in the OT is in 28:22, where it refers to one who chases after wealth. So it describes someone who is greedy and not wanting to share, yet still wanting to have a name for being generous. Verse 7a does not clarify the matter, as it has been variously translated (see nrsv: ‘for like a hair in the throat, so are they’, and esv: for he is like one who is inwardly calculating). The esv probably best grasps the sense, but the verb ‘think’ or ‘calculate’ occurs only here in the OT. Although these stingy people urge you to eat and drink, they do not really mean it in their heart or inner self (v. 7b). The meaning of verse 8 is clear (you will vomit up what you have eaten and waste your kind words), but the reason for this is not set out. There may have been something bad about the food, but more likely it is a vivid expression for being revolted when you realize the hypocrisy of the host.

D.  (:9) Don’t Offer Wisdom to Fools

Do not speak in the hearing of a fool,

For he will despise the wisdom of your words.

Allen Ross: A “fool” (kesîl) despises wisdom, so it is a waste of time to try to teach him. There is no specific connection to Egyptian literature, but the general concept is there that a fool rejects discipline and instruction, often scorning the teacher who tries to change him.

Tremper Longman: The wisest advice will bounce off the ears of fools. Even worse, it will bring on their hostility. Fools are set against wisdom, particularly if that wisdom involves any kind of criticism of their behavior. Jesus makes a similar comment in the Gospels when he admonishes his disciples: “Don’t give what is holy to unholy people. Don’t give pearls to swine! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you” (Matt. 7:6 NLT).

Lindsay Wilson: The reason for refraining from speaking in the presence of fools (those who have rejected the way of wisdom) is that they will treat wise words as of little value (1:7b; 9:7–8a; 18:2). They will refuse to be shaped by them, and so speaking to them is actually a waste of time and effort. Fools will not be educated into God’s kingdom.

E.  (:10-11) Don’t Steal Private Property or Take Advantage of the Vulnerable

Do not move the ancient boundary, Or go into the fields of the fatherless;

11 For their Redeemer is strong; He will plead their case against you.

Paul Koptak: Systems of law were created to protect the poor and defenseless; the legal terminology suggests that anyone who misuses the system to abuse them will have it used against himself instead.