Search Bible Outlines and commentaries

Lindsay Wilson: In this section on wicked characters, there appear to be six sections with negative figures mentioned: a hateful friend, false witness, faithless man/tormentor, enemy, backbiter/bad wife and the wicked (so Bryce 1972). Verse 27b operates as an inclusio with verse 2, while verse 27a picks up the honey imagery of verse 16. . .

Bracketed by a concern for God’s glory, this section draws attention to how to behave in the presence of those in authority. Carefulness rather than self-indulgence is the key to such potentially dangerous yet rewarding opportunities. The largely positive advice of verses 6–15 is about knowing our place, seeking to resolve broken relationships and speaking wisely, faithfully and patiently. Furthermore, verses 16–27 warn us about actions and characters to avoid if we wish to do well in such a setting. We need to have self-control, avoiding false witness and false trust. Our actions and words need to be appropriate to the context, and seek to be transformative. If we do this, we will bring life and promote the well-being of the community.


A.  (:16) Lack of Self Control in Eating

Have you found honey?

Eat only what you need,

Lest you have it in excess and vomit it.

Paul Koptak: Like the pair at 25:4–5, here a metaphor is applied to a specific situation. Another saying on temperance recognizes that honey is a treat few will refuse (24:13), but the taste can, as the abbot said to Romeo, become “loathsome in its own deliciousness.” The intense flavor that makes honey so desirable is also what demands moderation (23:1–3, 6–8). Just as too much of a good thing becomes the opposite, so friends and neighbors are good, even sweet, as long as visits are not too frequent or too long. The phrase “too much of xx” is repeated to underline the point, as is the admonition to (lit.) “make rare” one’s steps, using the root often translated as “precious” for stones or jewels (3:15; 20:15; 24:14).

Lindsay Wilson: Self-control of our appetites is commended in verse 16, with the figure of the glutton implied as the alternative. Honey is not only used for survival in a desert culture, but can also be added to rich food as an extra touch (honey is viewed positively in 16:24; 24:13). However, excessive consumption of any food is unhealthy. This may lead to vomiting, which involves the loss of any nutritional value, as well as the unpleasant experience of bringing up food.

Charles Bridges: In earthly pleasure, however, we can never forget how slight the boundary line is between the lawful and the forbidden path.  Sin and danger begin on the extremity of virtue.  For does not the legitimate indulgence of appetite to its utmost point bring us to the bring and often hurry us to the allowance of gluttony?

George Mylne: The God who has replenished the earth with his goodness, has not required us to lead a beggarly and uncomfortable life. He allows us to eat as much honey, and to enjoy as much of every earthly comfort as is sufficient for us, to strengthen our bodies, and to refresh our spirits. All that he forbids is that excess in eating and drinking, and other physical enjoyments, which would enfeeble our frame, clog our souls, and end in bitterness.

John Lawrence: Having good things is profitable to us.  It is when we allow these good things to go beyond where they should that good things become a problem – and possibly even an addiction.  Moderation is wise in just about every area of life.  To moderate ourselves makes us take time to consider what we really need.  Yet, because of the fall of man into sin, we are no longer wired for moderation.  We are wired for the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life.  That kind of wiring can get us in serious trouble.  When we overindulge our desires – we can build that desire into something that we no longer control.  Our desires control us.  We see this in every kind of addiction.  The addict can no longer control their desires.  Their desires control them – and dominates them to the point of being able to command them what they WILL do.  This leads to an “out of control” lifestyle – which becomes horribly destructive to the one caught in it.

The wisdom of God is to live life in moderation – especially when it comes to anything that flies in the “lust” zones of our lives.  What is good can become what is overdone.  When it reaches these levels it then can become that which makes us sick – sick in body, but also sick in our minds and our spirits as well.  Knowing this the wise man approaches all things with a desire that they remain under the control of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of Scripture.  This is how he avoids trouble that comes from fallen desires gone wild.

B.  (:17) Lack of Self Control in Visiting Neighbors

Let your foot rarely be in your neighbor’s house,

Lest he become weary of you and hate you.

Richard Clifford: Too much of a good and delightful thing, honey or friendship, can be a bad thing. Restraint safeguards the pleasure.

Tremper Longman: It is not that the sage recommends having nothing to do with one’s neighbors. It is a matter of overdoing it and, as our own expression states it, “overstaying your welcome.” A person who does so will become a nuisance rather than a friend or a help. While both of these proverbs have their applications in a particular aspect of life (eating and social relationships), they still raise the question of application even more broadly. Too much of virtually any good thing will have negative consequences.

Allen Ross: The motivation for the warning is that familiarity breeds contempt.

George Mylne: The freedom of friendship does not consist in a liberty to weary one another but in a liberty to contribute to one another’s happiness and comfort.

Matthew Henry: He that sponges upon his friend loses him. How much better a friend then is God than any other friend; for we need not withdraw our foot from his house, the throne of his grace (ch. 8:34); the oftener we come to him the better and the more welcome.


Paul Koptak: This trio of sayings uses experiences of pain to describe people who cannot be trusted or counted on. Linked with the verse before by the repetition of “neighbor,” verse 18 compares weapons designed for war with false testimony, which is also designed to injure (Ex. 20:16). Unlike the soft tongue that is strong enough to break bones (Prov. 25:15), weapons like these are meant to coerce, not persuade. Bad teeth and lame feet cannot be relied on to do their jobs; moreover, they are often painful. Therefore, trusting in unfaithful people is a lot like bearing down on a sore foot or trying to eat with an aching tooth; the word for “unfaithful” may even denote treachery (bgd, 25:19; cf. 11:3; 21:18).

One who sings songs to a heavy heart (25:20) probably does not mean to cause pain, but the poor timing has the effect of pulling off a needed coat or dissolving soda with vinegar (cf. 25:11–12 on right timing).  In each case, what is needed is lost or missing, particularly the word of comfort or understanding. Each action is inappropriate and therefore hurtful.

A.  (:18) Failure to Testify Truthfully

Like a club and a sword and a sharp arrow

Is a man who bears false witness against his neighbor.

Richard Clifford: Three horrific weapons of war are listed, each capable of inflicting a fatal wound upon an enemy. Such is any individual who tells judicial lies that lead to a finding of guilt. The lie need not lead to capital punishment, for a guilty verdict destroys one’s place in the community, which is a kind of death sentence. Proverbs often states its abhorrence of perjury (6:19; 12:17; 14:5; 19:5, 9).

Charles Bridges: What a picture there is here of cruelty and malice.  The tongue becomes the weapon of death.  Open perjury, like a sword or a sharp arrow, pierces the fountain of life.  And little better are those calumnies and unkind insinuations, all breaches of love, uttered so freely in common conversation.  “Consider, you who indulge in such conversation, whether you care about those you gossip about.  Do you think that you act as Jael did with Sisera, or Joab did with Abner?  Would you shrink with horror at the thought of beating out your neighbor’s brains with a hammer, or of killing a person with a sword or a sharp arrow?  Why then do you indulge in a similar barbarity?  Why do you seek to destroy others’ reputation, which is as dear to men as their life, and so wound all their best interests by mangling their character?” (Lawson).

B.  (:19) Failure of Reliability

Like a bad tooth and an unsteady foot

Is confidence in a faithless man in time of trouble.

Richard Clifford: Teeth and legs are things we rely on without thinking about them and hence we are stunned when they fail. That is what it is like when a friend whose support we took for granted or a thing we relied on implicitly betrays us in a crisis.

Lindsay Wilson: Verse 19 is fairly straightforward, describing the folly of trusting in those who are treacherous or will betray us. Again this is a metaphor, but the force of calling someone a bad tooth or an unstable foot is to make a comparison. Do not rely on what is unreliable. An unstable foot might collapse as we put pressure on it, and a weak tooth might break if we eat something hard. In order to be useful as a foot or tooth, there needs to be good grounds for trusting them. A treacherous person – one given to betrayal – is even less trustworthy.

Tremper Longman: The comparison invites the hearer to think about the character of one’s associates and assess whether they will help or hurt when trouble starts up.

C.  (:20) Failure to Demonstrate Empathy

Like one who takes off a garment on a cold day,

or like vinegar on soda,

Is he who sings songs to a troubled heart.

Lindsay Wilson: The incongruity of singing songs (usually songs of joy or praise) to someone with a heavy heart is the key idea of the verse, and this is seen to be as odd as taking off some clothes on a cold day, or pouring vinegar on a wound (which would irritate, but not bring relief). The word ‘wound’ (neter) could alternatively mean natron, a form of sodium carbonate used in making soap (hence esv soda), but ‘wound’ fits better with the anomaly in the verse.

Tremper Longman: It makes things worse to sing a happy song when someone is down. Removing a garment certainly does not help warm a cold person. Vinegar also reacts violently when mixed with soda (mixing an acid with an alkali). Happiness just aggravates a troubled heart. This would instruct a sage as to how to approach a depressed individual.

Charles Bridges: Though no unkindness is intended, inconsiderate levity or even excessive cheerfulness is like a sword in the bones.  The tenderness that shows a brother’s tears, knows how to weep with those who weep, and directs the mourner to the mourner’s friend and God – this is Christian sympathy, a precious balm for the broken heart.


A.  (:21-22) Canceling Vindictiveness by Blessing Your Enemy

  1. (:21)  Command

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;

And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink;

Tremper Longman: This proverb presents a remarkable statement of compassion toward enemies that works against this natural inclination. Instead of harming opponents when their weakness presents an opportunity, we are to help them!

The motivation to do this does not appeal to many modern readers, who may prefer a more lofty reasoning. Such behavior, it is said, will actually be a form of vengeance. One’s enemies will be exasperated by the acts of compassion. Furthermore, God will reward the one who acts in such a way.

George Mylne: It is easy for us to say that we forgive our enemies but do we make it evident in our works that we forgive them in love? We may bring our minds without very great difficulty to overlook their injuries, and to bury them in silence but a sullen disdain of injuries is no Christian grace. Our duty is to wish real happiness to our enemies in this world and the next, and to show the truth of our love in praying for them, and in doing them good as opportunity presents, and their needs require.

  1. (:22)  Rationale

For you will heap burning coals on his head,

And the LORD will reward you.

Paul Koptak: Interpretations have for the most part followed one of two options set forth in antiquity:

  1. the burning coals either symbolize “burning pangs of shame” that lead to repentance (Augustine and Jerome)
  2. or the final punishment of an enemy who refuses to be reconciled, even after being fed (Origen and Chrysostom).

Allen Ross: The imagery of the “burning coals” represents pangs of conscience, more readily affected by kindness than by violence. These burning coals produce the sharp pain of contrition through regret (see 18:19; 20:22; 24:17; Ge 42–45; 1Sa 24:18–20; cf. Paul’s use in Ro 12:20).

Lindsay Wilson: Paul picks up these verses in Romans 12:17–21 in a context of peacemaking, and urges his readers not to take revenge, leaving that with God, but to act honourably even when others have wronged us, and to pursue peace. It takes on a similar thrust here.

Tremper Longman: I include myself in the vast majority who have no doubt that it refers to some kind of punishment or pain inflicted on the enemy.

B.  (:23-24) Condemning Contentious Behavior

  1. (:23)  Backbiting Speech

The north wind brings forth rain,

And a backbiting tongue, an angry countenance.

Lindsay Wilson: These verses ‘portray things that precipitate conflict’ (Van Leeuwen, 1988: 85). As surely as the north wind brings rain (this may suggest an Egyptian origin, since in Israel the rain comes from the Mediterranean to the west), so backbiting speech creates anger in others (v. 23). Backbiting – hidden words spoken behind someone’s back – provokes a strong reaction in return when the truth comes out. Suggestions, comments and other words, whose purpose is to undermine another and gain something for ourselves, destroy trust and community.

Allen Ross: One problem in the verse concerns the north wind, for it is the west wind that brings rain to Palestine (1Ki 18:41–44). Toy, 468, suggests that the expression is general and means a northwest wind (possibly even in error). McKane, 583, summarizes and refutes the view of J. P. M. van der Ploeg (“Prov. 25:23,” VT 3 [1953]: 189–92) that the saying may have originated outside the land, perhaps in Egypt; if so, the saying is being used in a geographical area in which it doesn’t apply. Whybray, 149, suggests the solution lies with the verb teḥôlēl; rather than meaning “brings forth,” perhaps it means more literally “distresses” (i.e., “repels, holds back”). His interpretation then is that as the north wind holds back the rain, so an angry glance prevents slander. In this case “sly tongue” denotes a “quiet tongue” that drives anger away. I prefer the basic meaning that as northerly winds bring rain, the sly tongue brings angry looks. The verse stresses inevitable results.

  1. (:24)  Marital Contention

It is better to live in a corner of the roof

Than in a house shared with a contentious woman.

Richard Clifford: This humorous saying is one of several about domestic unhappiness. Better to live outdoors in discomfort than indoors with an angry spouse.

Lindsay Wilson: Verse 24, similar to 21:19, alerts us to how destructive marital discord can be, initiated by either the husband or wife. We are urged to stay away from such conflict, probably for our own good as much as for the rest of the household.

C.  (:25-26) Contrasting Examples of Community Impact

  1. (:25)  Refreshing Good News

Like cold water to a weary soul,

So is good news from a distant land.

Paul Koptak: A pair of similes compare good and bad sources of drinking water to the positive and negative experiences of life. To people who relied on messengers instead of e-mail, good news from a faraway land was like cold water on a parched throat. The news might be of family, or it might be about the success of a king’s army. The word for “cold” is rare; its root is used only six times in the Old Testament, and the only other occurrence in Proverbs associates cool temper with restrained speech (17:27). Both verse 25 and the saying in verse 13 bring together images of cool refreshment with a messenger.

Lindsay Wilson: A balance of two contrasting ‘water images’ (Lucas 2015) is presented in these verses. Good news from a distant land is refreshing and energizing, in the same way that a drink of cold water revives a person who is thirsty (alternatively, nepeš could mean ‘throat’ that is parched). News from a far land could be about a friend or family member, or even business interests established a long distance away. Without news there is anxiety; with good news there is fresh encouragement.

  1. (:26)  Unsettling Spoiling of the Righteous

Like a trampled spring and a polluted well

Is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.

Paul Koptak: As refreshing as a cold drink can be, it is not always available, however; sometimes the source is contaminated. Verse 26 plays on expectations; one expects a spring to provide drinkable water and one expects the righteous to remain true to character. Ezekiel rebuked both the Egyptian pharaoh and the leaders of Israel for stirring up the water with their feet, making it muddy and unusable (Ezek. 32:2; 34:18). Whether the “righteous man who gives way to the wicked” is a victim or someone who fails to stand for righteousness and protect others (cf. Prov. 24:11), the outcome for those who need the clear water of fair treatment is the same.

Lindsay Wilson: The second image is one of a valuable thing spoiled. A fresh source of water like a spring or fountain is life-giving, but when muddied or polluted (corrupted, made useless), it can no longer fulfil its purpose. Righteous people can greatly benefit a community, but this is frustrated if they give way to (lit. ‘totter, shake, slip’) or crumble before the wicked. Whybray (1994: 370) sees here a recognition that ‘the wicked do sometimes triumph over the righteous.’ If the righteous cease to live righteously, they will allow wickedness to spread. Edmund Burke famously said, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.’

Tremper Longman: This verse envisions “a righteous person who staggers [from môṭ] before a wicked person”! This is not the way it is supposed to be, but this proverb acknowledges that sometimes it does happen that the righteous will be ill-treated in favor of the godless. But such a situation is not right. It is like a poisoned water source.

Allen Ross: This verse has often been interpreted to refer to the loss of integrity by the righteous. Perowne, 161, says, “To see a righteous man moved from his steadfastness through fear or favour in the presence of the wicked is as disheartening as to find the stream turbid and defiled, at which you were longing to quench your thirst.” But the line may refer to the loss of social standing and position by plots of the wicked (Toy, 470). For the righteous so to fall indicates that the world is out of joint (see also McKane, 593).

George Mylne: A righteous man falls down before the wicked when he is oppressed and cannot obtain justice but is obliged to submit to injury and violence. When such injustice prevails in a country, everything is in a state of disorder. The fountain of justice is poisoned. The public administration, instead of being public blessing, is a general curse. Those who should be the fathers and guardians of the poor, are worse than street robbers, for they not only pillage them of their property but grind their faces, and pull of their skins and pick their bones.

He who poisons a public well or fountain, deserves a thousand deaths. Just so, those who corrupt the fountains of justice must be equally criminal in the sight of God. He is an enemy not to men only but to God, by giving encouragement to wickedness, and suppressing goodness, and perverting an ordinance of God into an engine for serving the designs of Satan! Those righteous men who fall before the wicked, must take care that they fall not into sin, for they are strongly tempted to it by their unjust circumstances.

When wicked men drive the righteous into sin, the fountains become corrupt, in another and worse sense than that now mentioned. For those who are like springs of water for the refreshment of their neighbors becoming polluted and loathsome, are a means of perverting and poisoning those who are too much disposed to judge of religion and duty from the behavior of religious people. When the righteous persist under temptation in duty, they have rich sources of comfort in the promises of God, and the doctrine of a future judgment.

Matthew Henry: [2 Possible applications:]

  1. For the righteous to be oppressed, and run down, and trampled upon, by the violence or subtlety of evil men, to be displaced and thrust into obscurity, this is the troubling of the fountains of justice and corrupting the very springs of government, ch. 28:12, 28; 29:2. 3.
  2. For the righteous to be cowardly, to truckle to the wicked, to be afraid of opposing his wickedness and basely to yield to him, this is a reflection upon religion, a discouragement to good men, and strengthens the hands of sinners in their sins, and so is like a troubled fountain and a corrupt spring.


A.  (:27) Advocating Moderation and Humility

It is not good to eat much honey,

Nor is it glory to search out one’s own glory.

Paul Koptak: Two proverbs about self-discipline and restraint use metaphors drawn from the field and the city. Honey again is used to recommend moderation (cf. 25:16), but this time in comparison with seeking one’s own honors (lit., “the search of their glory is glory,” or “to seek glory upon glory,” repeating the roots ḥkr and kbd from 25:2).  If kings find their glory in searching out the matters of wisdom and right rule, so should those who read these sayings, forsaking the quest for honor (25:6–7).  A person who does not know when to stop eating honey or to refrain from seeking accolades is a person who lacks self-control—not only troublesome to others but also dangerous to self, vulnerable like a city breached by attackers. Self-discipline is self-defense. This teaching on glory and folly continues into the next chapter.

Lindsay Wilson: The first half of this verse closes off the section beginning at verse 16 with another reminder about self-control. While it is specifically about honey, it is meant to deal with issues of gluttony in general. The second half of the verse forms an inclusio with verse 2 and its focus on God’s glory.  Here, the corollary of searching out God’s glory is that we should not try to seek our own glory (so esv).

George Mylne: We must value our own reputation because it enables us to be useful to men, and to glorify God. But when we indulge an unbridled desire after honor from men we forget our chief end, we disqualify ourselves for the most important duties, and we expose ourselves to the worst temptations. If our fortune were equal to that of Caesar, our ambition might draw us to equal in crimes of that cut-throat of mankind.

The humble are sensible that they deserve shame rather than honor, and would be content that all their honor were taken from them, that it might be ascribed unto God to whom it truly belongs.

The vain and proud would rob God Almighty of his crown that they might set it upon their own heads. But God will not allow them to escape without a punishment suited to their crime.

B.  (:28) Exposing the Vulnerability of Not Governing Self

Like a city that is broken into and without walls

Is a man who has no control over his spirit.

Richard Clifford: Walls protect a city from the danger without and self-control protects a person from the danger within. Egyptian instructions and Proverbs hold up as a model the person who is not dominated by inner passions, who restrains it, who is “cool” in the Egyptian idiom.

Charles Bridges: Many examples of this moral weakness are less shameful and yet scarcely less harmful to the soul.  Every sign of irritation, every spark of pride burning in the heart, long before it shows itself in the countenance or on the tongue, must be firmly resisted.  A man may talk about self-control as if the reins are in his own hands.  But he who has been born of the Spirit and who has been taught about the plague that is in his own heart knows that effective self-control is a divine grace, and not a natural power.

George Mylne: It is necessary for our happiness and peace, that we should have the government of our own spirits. He who possesses not himself, possesses nothing although he should possess all other things. As a city that is broken down, and without walls, is exposed to the invasion of every enemy so the man who has not a mastery over his own desires and affections, is a ready prey to every devil. His imagination is tainted, his corrupt desires are inflamed, and his active powers hurried into the most criminal excesses by every slight temptation.

A city in flames, or a ship seized by a drunken and mutinous crew, are not so terrible spectacles as a soul where the judgment and reason are laid desolate by intemperate passions and appetites. What harms have been wrought, and what oceans of blood have been poured out by the passion of anger alone, when it was unrestrained by the principle of conscience?

Bryce Morgan: the imagery of the city conveys the idea that the person who lacks self-control is defeated and defenseless when it comes to temptation. Self-control is the ability to say “no” to yourself whenever your desires are unhealthy.

If we think about the opposite of the imagery used in verse 28, then I think we can say that, in some way, having self-control, that practicing self-control, leads to protection and preservation.

But as it stands, the proverb seems to be saying that the man or woman who lacks self-control has been morally, has been spiritually, overrun by whatever was tempting them. Therefore if the self, if you, are not in control, something else is. The second half of II Peter 2:19 puts it this way:

For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.