Search Bible Outlines and commentaries

Richard Clifford: According to its topics, the chapter falls into three parts, each marked by repetition of key words: vv. 1–12, 13–16, and 17–28. In vv. 1–12, “fool” occurs eleven times, being found in every verse but v. 2.Sluggard” occurs in every verse of vv. 13–16.


A.  (:1-3) Fools Deserve Their Reproach

  1. (:1)  Honor Is Not Appropriate for Fools

Like snow in summer and like rain in harvest,

So honor is not fitting for a fool.

Allen Ross: The sage warns against elevating and acclaiming those who are worthless.

Richard Clifford: Certain kinds of weather do not fit certain seasons, so also with honor and fools. Palestine has only two seasons, the dry summer (April to September) and the rainy winter (October to March). Rain and snow are virtually unknown in summer. Harvesttime can be barley harvest in April-May, or wheat harvest four weeks later, or the fruit harvest (including olives and grapes) in late summer and early fall as in Isa. 16:9. “Honor” is given those who live wisely; one cannot pin a medal on oneself. A fool has no more chance of seeing honor than summer has of seeing rain. The phrase “not fitting/unseemly [for a fool]” occurs also in 17:7 and 19:10.

Tremper Longman: Fools have no honor, or at least no honor that they deserve. Indeed, the comparison may imply that on the off chance that snow came in the summer or rain at harvest, it would do great damage. After all, the only time in the Bible that rain came during harvest was through divine intervention, and when it came, it threatened great harm to the harvest (1 Sam. 12:17–25).

George Mylne: It belongs to God to determine our station in life, and to us to believe that he has determined it in his wisdom and goodness, and to fulfill the duties of it without aspiring to those honors that God has not been pleased to bestow upon us. Those that are in stations of honor ought not to trust for honor to their stations but to seek it by wisdom, without which, their exalted situation will only render their disgrace more visible.

  1. (:2)  Curses Only Land Where Deserved

Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying,

So a curse without cause does not alight.

Lindsay Wilson: A curse (words designed to damage someone) that is undeserved (ḥinnām can mean either, as here, ‘without cause’ or ‘without success’) does not come to a(n impliedly innocent) person.

Charles Bridges: When you see a bird wandering about, or a swallow flying hither and thither, you are not afraid of any hurt from them. They will not touch you but fly back to their nests. You have no more reason to be afraid of hurt from unmerited curses, whoever the people are that pronounce them. They will fly back to the place from which they came, and light with dreadful vengeance on the heads of those who profaned their Maker’s name, and gave scope to their own malice in uttering them. For as they delight in cursing they shall have cursing for their portion; and unless the pardoning mercy of God prevents, their curses will enter into their bones.

Matthew Henry: The Safety of Innocency — He that is cursed without cause, whether by furious imprecations or solemn anathemas, the curse shall do him no more harm than the bird that flies over his head, than Goliath’s curses did to David, 1 Sa. 17:43. It will fly away like the sparrow or the wild dove, which go nobody knows where, till they return to their proper place, as the curse will at length return upon the head of him that uttered it.

  1. (:3)  A Rod Is the Best Instrument of Instruction for Stupid Fools

A whip is for the horse,

a bridle for the donkey,

And a rod for the back of fools.

Richard Clifford: By implication a fool is a stupid animal. Other biblical passages make the same point: “Do not be like a horse or mule; they do not understand. With bit and bridle their temper is curbed” (Ps. 32:9) According to Prov. 19:25, fools do not learn from what they see or hear but only from the blows inflicted on them. In 10:13 blows come to the back of a fool.

Paul Koptak: Whips make horses move, halters lead donkeys, and rods punish fools (cf. 10:13). If a rod is recommended, it is assumed that the fool is no smarter than these beasts of burden

Tremper Longman: In comparison with a whip for the horse and a bridle for the donkey, the idea is surely that the only hope for getting fools to go in the right direction is the use of a rod. “By implication a fool is a stupid animal.”  Elsewhere, however, even the rod of discipline is seen to be fruitless when applied to fools. They just simply are hell-bent on going in the wrong direction.

Allen Ross: The point of here is that the “fool” (kesîl) is as difficult to manage as a donkey or horse. Neither the fool nor these animals respond to reason but must be driven by whip, halter, or rod.

Matthew Henry: Princes, instead of giving honour to a fool (v. 1), must put disgrace upon him — instead of putting power into his hand, must exercise power over him. A horse unbroken needs a whip for correction, and an ass a bridle for direction and to check him when he would turn out of the way; so a vicious man, who will not be under the guidance and restraint of religion and reason, ought to be whipped and bridled, to be rebuked severely, and made to smart for what he has done amiss, and to be restrained from offending any more.

B.  (:4-5) Fools Must Either Be Ignored or Addressed Appropriately

Lindsay Wilson: Few proverbs are designed to cover every situation. ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’ and ‘many hands make light work’ both seem to be true, but they cannot both apply to the same situation at the same time. Similarly, Proverbs tells us that we need wisdom to know when not to answer fools according to their folly (v. 4) and when to answer (v. 5). Both are true and helpful as proverbs, but we need to discern which is the best proverb for any specific circumstance. So, if we try to reason with fools, we can get caught up with their pointless talk and so become foolish ourselves (v. 4). We are not to do that. However, sometimes we need to show that a fool’s argument leads logically to undesirable conclusions, or to rebut it by reasoned argument. This will alert fools to the fact that their views are untenable. The difficulty is knowing when to rebuke and when to ignore.

  1. (:4)  Avoid Futile Debates – Dangerous to Respond to Fools

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,

Lest you also be like him.

Allen Ross: One should not stoop to a fool’s level of thought. To get into an argument with a fool in that way will only make one look like a fool as well.

Tremper Longman: Proverbs are not universally true laws but circumstantially relevant principles. In short, the answer depends on the nature of the fool with whom one is engaged in conversation. In other words, the wise person must assess whether this is a fool who will simply drain one’s energy with no positive results or whether an answer will prove fruitful to the fool or perhaps to those who overhear. The wise not only know the proverb but also can read the circumstances and the people with whom they dialogue.

George Mylne: It does not befit the followers of Jesus to return railing for railing, or one angry word for another but in whatever manner others talk, our tongues ought still to be governed by the law of meekness and charity.

There are no cases in which this rule is more frequently transgressed than in religious disputes. Passion and railing, when they are employed in the support of truth, appear to many to be just expressions of Christian zeal; and that noble and necessary grace of humility has been brought into suspicion, and regarded with a very jealous eye, by reason of those who have substituted passion in its place, and called it by a name to which it is as well entitled as the prince of darkness is to be called an angel of light.

  1. (:5)  Confront His Fatal Flaw – Necessary to Respond to Fools

Answer a fool as his folly deserves,

Lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Richard Clifford: “According to his folly” refers to the fool’s malicious and ignorant style. How easy it is to adapt that style through association! Proverbs 23:9 advised, “Do not speak in the ear of a fool, / for he will despise your wise words.” Granted the discomfort and even danger of such association, someone has to speak up for wisdom. One cannot simply allow fools to hold forth unreproved. The wise have a duty not to remain silent.

George Mylne: Let us seek wisdom from God, that we may know when we should speak, and when we should be silent; and that we may be preserved from speaking such things as are improper for the mouths of saints, and taught to give an answer with meekness and prudence to the words of wise men or fools, as occasion requires.

C.  (:6-10) Fools Can’t Be Trusted

  1. (:6)  Unfaithful Messengers

He cuts off his own feet, and drinks violence

Who sends a message by the hand of a fool.

Richard Clifford: To send a fool as an emissary is to harm oneself and bear the consequences of garbled or deliberately misstated messages.

Tremper Longman: Perhaps this suggests that the message will never be delivered. In the second place, it is compared to “drinking violence,” which may suggest that the one who sent the message will be harmed due to the incompetence of the one who carries his message. Precisely how harm will come is not specified, but it could come in a number of ways. Perhaps a lost message, the garbled nature of the message as delivered, or even the disrespectful way in which a fool might deliver a message—any of these may lead the intended recipient to seek revenge. Perhaps simply the fact that the message is not delivered or is delivered in a negative way will lead to some bad response or no response, which may harm the sender financially. One can compare this warning about the foolish messenger to 10:26, which lampoons the lazy messenger, a type of foolish messenger.

Allen Ross: Sending a messenger is like having another pair of feet; but sending a fool on the mission is not only no help, it is like cutting off the pair of feet one has — it is a setback! “Violence” (ḥāmās) is injustice or violent social wrongs and “drinking violence” is metaphorical for suffering violence; that is, sending a fool on a mission will only have injurious consequences. The verse gives the consequences in line one and the condition that causes them in line two. It is better not to send a message in the first place than to use a fool to deliver it.

  1. (:7)  Impotent Communicators of Truth

Like the legs which hang down from the lame,

So is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

Richard Clifford: As the legs of a physically handicapped person are useless for movement, so a proverb in the mouth of fools is useless for discernment. A proverb is effective only when applied rightly to a situation (25:11), and fools do not know how to apply it.

Tremper Longman: Such a person may know the proverb, but since proverbs are only true or helpful if uttered in the right context to the right person, then its knowledge and use will prove as ineffective as the legs of a paralyzed person.

Allen Ross: The fool does not understand the “proverb” (māšāl), has not implemented it, and cannot use it or teach it correctly or profitably.

George Mylne: A lame man is very awkward in his manner of walking. But a fool appears with a still worse grace, when he presumes to talk of subjects beyond his reach, or to speak in praise of those virtues to which he is a total stranger in his practice. A clown would be laughed at, if he were to talk about wisdom and knowledge. It would fill a person with indignation, to hear a thief speak in praise of justice, a drunkard commend temperance, or a hypocrite talk in praise of holiness. Our tongues and our lives must be of a piece, otherwise all our professions will serve no other purpose but to condemn ourselves, and to procure us a portion in the eternal world with hypocrites. A grave and wise sentence befits the mouth of a wise and holy man. It is very unfitting in a Christian to be silent on occasions when he is called to glorify God or edify men. It is still more unfitting in a saint, to allow himself on any occasion in foolish and vain talking.

  1. (:8)  Dangerous to Give Honor to Fools

Like one who binds a stone in a sling,

So is he who gives honor to a fool.

Richard Clifford: Another possibility is “to tie a stone to a sling,” the point being that a sling that cannot release its stone is an example of what is out of place (NRSV, REB).

Paul Koptak: The point seems obvious; in contemporary terms, giving glory to a fool is like loading a gun. Giving honor is not only inappropriate for the fool (26:1), it is also dangerous. And there may be more here; tying the stone in the sling makes it ineffective, and the one who swings it could get hurt. Similarly, the fool who thinks he is wise is a danger to himself and others, but mostly to himself.

Allen Ross: “Bind” fits the idea the best. Whybray, 152, explains that only someone who does not know how a sling works would do such a stupid thing. So to honor a fool is absurd, because what is intended cannot be accomplished—he will remain a fool.

Charles Bridges: Like tying a stone in a sling is the giving of honor to a fool.  The sling makes the stone tied in it an instrument of death.  The honor given to a fool makes him a cure to his fellow creatures.  The prime favorite of a despot, had not God restrained him, would have been the murderer of the chosen nation (Esther 3:1-5).  It is dangerous indeed to place unqualified people in places of authority.  “It is like putting a sword or a loaded pistol into a madman’s hand” (Scott).

  1. (:9)  Oblivious to the Power of a Proverb

Like a thorn which falls into the hand of a drunkard,

So is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

Richard Clifford: Proverbs are not simply for quoting but for performance, for applying to a situation. A proverb is “a word spoken at the right moment” (25:11). Fools cite them but cannot apply them aptly. Their proverbs are like thorns that attach themselves to clothing.

Lindsay Wilson: Chapters 1-9 have insisted that the way of wisdom involves starting with the right foundation, the fear of the Lord; choosing to follow Lady Wisdom rather than Dame Folly; and allowing wisdom to shape our character. We cannot bypass any of these steps without slipping back into folly. Only when we have put these elements in place will we be able to use the proverbial sayings to convey wisdom and bring life. Fools disqualify themselves from using proverbs rightly.

Allen Ross: The picture is of a drunk who does not know how to handle the thornbush because he cannot control his movements and so gets hurt (see McKane, 599). A fool can read or speak a proverb but will be intellectually and spiritually unfit to handle it; he will misuse it and misapply it.

Matthew Henry: Some give this sense of it: The sharpest saying, by which a sinner, one would think, should be pricked to the heart, makes no more impression upon a fool, no, though it come out of his own mouth, than the scratch of a thorn does upon the hand of a man when he is drunk, who then feels it not nor complains of it, ch. 23:35.

  1. (:10)  Potential for Harm

Like an archer who wounds everyone,

So is he who hires a fool or who hires those who pass by.

Paul Koptak: Sending a fool creates danger for all (26:18).

Tremper Longman: The comparison here has the same grammatical structure as the preceding verse, the two items simply being placed next to each other. In this case, the objects of the teaching are those who hire a fool or someone who is simply passing by. We are already well acquainted with the fool and understand why someone who hires such a person may be spreading harm (the point of the archer comparison). Fools will not do the job, or if they do, they will do it in an incorrect fashion. The problem with hiring a passerby is that one does not know the nature of the person employed and thus also runs the great danger of causing havoc.

Allen Ross: Anyone who hires a fool or a stranger gives him ample opportunity to do great damage. The undisciplined hireling will have the same effect as an archer’s shooting at random.

D.  (:11) Fools Don’t Learn from Their Folly

Like a dog that returns to its vomit

Is a fool who repeats his folly.

Paul Koptak: Fools repeat their folly, and those who think themselves wise are even worse off.

Lindsay Wilson: The problem is not that fools need to be instructed; they need to have foundational and ongoing change as outlined in chapters 1-9. They need to embrace the way of wisdom and decisively turn away from folly.

Tremper Longman: One of the characteristics of fools is their unwillingness to listen to correction. They make mistakes, but since they will not listen to criticism, they are doomed to repeat those mistakes. For this reason, they are compared to a dog that throws up and then eats its vomit. The presumption is that the dog throws up because the food does not agree with it. In spite of that, it eats it again! Second Peter 2:22 makes use of the first colon to refer to false teachers within the Christian community. They knew “the right way to live” (2:21 NLT) but then rejected it, thus returning to their old lifestyle.

E.  (:12) Fatal Flaw: Wise in His Own Eyes = Self Conceit

Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?

There is more hope for a fool than for him.

Lindsay Wilson: This final verse avoids the imagery of verses 6–11 and builds on the depiction of a fool in these verses. In the light of verses 6–11, a fool has no prospect of a worthwhile and productive life. Now verse 12 adds that people who are wise in their own eyes are worse off than a fool (see also 29:20). The phrase wise in his own eyes, used of a fool in verse 5, elsewhere describes a fool who will not listen to advice (12:15), a lazy person (26:16) and a rich person lacking understanding (28:11). It refers to those who are self-sufficient rather than grounding their lives in wisdom.

There is further ammunition here to discourage young people from taking the way of folly, and relying on those who have chosen that path. Folly is not only a pointless option; it is a deadly one. Life is too valuable to be wasted on folly. Yet even the wisdom of proverbs needs to be used properly. In the hands of a fool it can be useless or dangerous. The fundamental step of rejecting folly and embracing wisdom, grounded in the fear of the Lord used to shape our character, is absolutely essential.

Tremper Longman: Human beings are not inherently wise, so it is the ultimate hubris to think oneself wise (3:5, 7; 27:1; 28:11, 26). Humility, not pride, is a quality of the wise.

The sad nature of this self-wisdom is that there is less hope for such persons than for a fool. Now, one may well respond that those who are wise in their own eyes are fools, but here the proverb is saying they are even worse than fools.

Charles Bridges: He struts around in his own conceit.  He is wise in his own eyes.  The false persuasion that he has gained wisdom utterly precludes him from gaining it.  He thinks himself to be wise because he does not know what it is to be wise.

George Mylne: Woe to those who are wise in their own conceit, and prudent in their eyes. They depend on wind and vanity. Or if they really possess some of that kind of wisdom which a fool may have, they lean on a broken reed, which will go into their arms and pierce them, and rend their souls with eternal remorse, because, in their vain opinion of their own understandings, they rejected the light of the world. “For judgment,” says our Lord, “am I come into this world, that those who do not see might see and that those who see might be made blind.” None are more blind than those who are readiest to say, with the Pharisees, “Are we blind also?” They say that they see, and take away all excuse from themselves, and shall have the mortification, at the great day, to find that God has revealed those things unto babes, which he has hidden from the wise and prudent.


A.  (:13) Always Makes Excuses for His Laziness

The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion in the road!

A lion is in the open square!’

B.  (:14) Always Lies Around Doing Nothing Productive

As the door turns on its hinges,

So does the sluggard on his bed.

Richard Clifford: The sluggard will no more get up to act than a door will leave its hinges and walk.

Lindsay Wilson: It is someone who is taking advantage of any excuse not to go where useful work will be required.

McKane: The sluggard’s turning in his bed is the greatest degree of movement to which he aspires.

C.  (:15) Always Fails to Finish Any Task

The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;

He is weary of bringing it to his mouth again.

Allen Ross: The sluggard is too lazy even to eat (see 19:24).

D.  (:16) Fatal Flaw: Wise in His Own Eyes = Self Conceit

The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes

Than seven men who can give a discreet answer.

Paul Koptak: Although the proverbs have associated the sluggard’s behavior with folly, he does not see it that way, and perhaps this is his greatest folly of all. He is “wise in his own eyes,” the hopeless status described in verses 5 and 12. The “seven” may be a sign of collective strength or an allusion to the Mesopotamian myth of seven sages who brought culture and learning to the human race before the great flood.

Tremper Longman: The problem with lazy people, and probably the reason they perpetuate their self-destructive behavior, is that they are “wise in their own eyes” (see also 3:7; 26:12). As such, they are unwilling to hear the criticism of other people. Indeed, here they claim a sevenfold wisdom, that they are wiser than even seven (the symbolic number for “never-ending” or “many”) discerning people.


Lindsay Wilson: There is great concern about the right use of words. At the very least, this means not using them to fuel gossip or quarrels that destroy relationships and communities. Even nice-sounding words can be used to wound and destroy, so we need to be on the watch for those who speak deceptively. Speech that builds up will come from a godly heart and a transformed character. We need to be careful to avoid speech that tears down and destroys.

A.  (:17) The Meddler

“Like one who takes a dog by the ears

Is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him.

Lindsay Wilson: Quarrels and gossip dominate this section. The first three verses are designed to show people the folly of joining in or, even worse, provoking a quarrel. One of the problematic aspects of quarrels is that they spread quickly. Joining in on a dispute simply escalates matters. Verse 17 outlines the danger to ourselves of intervening, using a vivid analogy. It is like grabbing a stray dog by the ears. While the outcome of this action is not specified, it implies that the dog will turn to attack the one who has hold of its ears.

Tremper Longman: The comparison suggests that those who butt into a fight that they have no part in are asking for the same consequence. Both parties may well turn against the person who tries to step in to help or take one of the two sides. The comparison is an observation, but it certainly functions as a warning.

B.  (:18-19) The Madman (Practical Joker)

Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows and death,

So is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, ‘Was I not joking?’

Paul Koptak: Continuing the theme of verse 17, the extended saying of verses 18–19 depicts one who does not take seriously the ruinous effects of his actions.

Richard Clifford: One who misuses words is like someone who misuses weapons. A misused word can be as powerful as a deadly weapon. There may be a play on the verb in v. 19a, rimmāh, “beguile, deceive,” which has the same consonants as rāmāh, “to shoot [arrows]; to cast” (Jer. 4:29 and Ps. 78:9, so Meinhold).

The excuse in v. 19 (śāḥaq) is ambivalent. Is it “I was only having fun” or “I was taking delight”?  In 10:23a the wicked take delight in doing evil. In any case, misusing words is a perilous business.

Lindsay Wilson: An even more graphic image is used in verses 18–19 to describe deceiving our neighbour then turning around and saying, ‘I was only joking.’ Having provoked a person to anger by our deceit, we sometimes imagine that it will all go away by saying, ‘Just kidding’, but that only makes people angrier. It is like adding a match to petrol.

Allen Ross: The practical joker is immature and thinks only of his own laughs. Plaut, 270, advises that “the only worthwhile humor is that which laughs with, not at others.” By comparing the joker to a madman, the sage describes him as irresponsible and dangerous — he may hurt people while thinking it is all good fun.

George Mylne: A jest is not in every case unlawful but it is unwise and wicked, under pretense of jesting, to expose our friends and neighbors to scorn, or to say something that will inflame their passions, and kindle up strife and contention. It is still worse to deceive and flatter them into something that will prove hurtful to their interests, or harmful to their souls, and then to pretend that we were only amusing ourselves with a little harmless diversion! No diversion is harmless that puts an honest man to the blush, or wounds his spirit or his interests. He who sports himself in this rude and unchristian manner, is like a real or pretended madman, who amuses himself with casting about at random firebrands, and arrows, and other instruments of death. Let those who would be jokers at the expense of friendship and charity, consider in what class of men Solomon so justly places them, and be ashamed. He counts them not only fools but madmen, and ranks them with the worst kind of madmen, in the height of their rage.

C.  (:20-22) The Gossip

Richard Clifford: The three proverbs have a common theme —the destructive power of slanderous and angry words. Certain words are repeated: “wood” and “fire” in vv. 20a and 21a; “slanderer” in vv. 20b and 22a; “quarrel/quarreler” in vv. 20b and 21b.

Paul Koptak: Gossip is the wood for quarrel’s fires, so remove the fuel and the fire goes out (26:20). But the potential for monetary gain in legal disputes (“strife” uses the term rib; cf. 26:17) traces the problem to the real source, the “man of quarrel” who feeds the fire. Taken together, one can see the need to excise both the behavior and the person who stirs up quarrels, just as one takes away wood to put out a fire. If quarrels can be profitable, morsels of “gossip” can be tasty, going down to the inmost parts; the metaphor may indicate that they have a negative influence on one’s mind and heart.

Matthew Henry: Those who by insinuating base characters, revealing secrets, and misrepresenting words and actions, do what they can to make relations, friends, and neighbours, jealous one of another, to alienate them one from another, and sow discord among them, are to be banished out of families and all societies, and then strife will as surely cease as the fire will go out when it has no fuel; the contenders will better understand one another and come to a better temper; old stories will soon be forgotten when there are no new ones told to keep up the remembrance of them, and both sides will see how they have been imposed upon by a common enemy. Whisperers and backbiters are incendiaries not to be suffered.

  1. (:20-21)  Fuels the Fire of Contention

For lack of wood the fire goes out,

And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.

Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,

So is a contentious man to kindle strife.

Lindsay Wilson: Just as wood keeps a fire burning, and without it the flames would die out, so gossip acts as an accelerant to a quarrel. The point is repeated in verse 21, with both charcoal and wood acting as fuel for the fire. A quarrelsome individual is a person of strife or contention (both the qere and ketib readings have a similar meaning), not a person of peace who builds up society, and is described as causing a dispute or quarrel to keep burning. The idea of gossip, introduced in verse 20, is explored in verse 22 in another vivid image. Gossip is peculiarly attractive and enticing – making ourselves look better by putting others down. It is so seductive that it sometimes happens even as we ‘share a prayer point’ about a situation. Thus, gossip is compared to delicious bites of food that fill our body with delight (18:8). Of course, it is implied that this is self-deception, since gossip worsens and sometimes creates disputes.

Tremper Longman: Gossips create conflict because they are secretly telling negative stories about people. When those people or their friends discover that they are the brunt of people’s negative talk, they will get mad.

Allen Ross: His quarreling is like piling fuel on the fire—strife flairs up again and again.

  1. (:22)  Feeds the Appetite of Internal Corruption

The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels,

And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.

D.  (:23-28) The Hater and Deceiver

Lindsay Wilson: A negative heart is explicit in verses 23–25, and implied in verses 26–28. As elsewhere in Proverbs, the problem is not confined to what we do, but who we are on the inside.

  1. (:23-26)  Concealed Hate Cannot Deceive Forever

a.  (:23) Glaze Attempts to Cover Internal Malice

Like an earthen vessel overlaid with silver dross

Are burning lips and a wicked heart.

Richard Clifford: Glaze was applied to clay pottery to make it smooth and attractive, an apt metaphor for the smooth words coming from a hateful heart. Cf. 15:7.

Lindsay Wilson: An earthenware pot covered by a silver glaze looks so much more impressive than it actually is. Similarly, speech on fire (for a cause? lit. lips ‘burning/set ablaze’ or perhaps ‘pursuing’), but underneath this apparent zeal is an evil heart, describes a person whose core goal in life is not to promote good in the community.

Tremper Longman: The first proverb presents its teaching in an imaginative way. It begins by describing how silver can cover clay in order to produce a beautiful jar. However, the silver is only paper thin, and once one penetrates to the inside, one sees that the silver gives way to ordinary clay. The surface gives the illusion of a completely silver vessel, but that is not the reality. The same is true of the smooth speech of someone with evil intentions.

b.  (:24-25) Deceivers Cannot Be Trusted

1)  (:24)  Hidden Hate

He who hates disguises it with his lips,

But he lays up deceit in his heart.

Tremper Longman: It characterizes those who hate as often hiding their emotions. They dissimulate, probably by saying nice things, while inside their hatred burns. This kind of dissimulation is dangerous because one will find an attack coming out of nowhere, perhaps from someone thought to be an ally or friend.

Allen Ross: Hypocritical words may hide a wicked heart. This verse repeats the sentiment of v.23 (and continues through v.27). Here the “malicious man” (śônē ʾ) “disguises” (yinnākēr) the “deceit” (mirmâ) in his heart by what he says.

2)  (:25)  Lying Lips

When he speaks graciously, do not believe him,

For there are seven abominations in his heart.

Tremper Longman: It is a call to be skeptical or critical of the speech of others. Always be looking for signs that others are not honestly reflecting their true feelings. This lack of trust is based on what they really are like on the inside. Here, the strong statement concerning “seven abominations” is used. In the first place, “seven” is a symbolic number representing “completion or abundance.” Hence, they are totally abominable.

Allen Ross: This verse may have in mind a person who has already proven untrustworthy but who now is using speech to conceal and to put into action his evil plans.

c.  (:26) Guile Will Eventually Be Publicly Exposed

Though his hatred covers itself with guile,

His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.

Richard Clifford: The Hebrew verbs “to reveal” and “to cover” are also contrasted in Isa. 26:21 and Prov. 11:13. Verses 23–25 show how hatred can be concealed; this verse states it cannot be fully concealed but will eventually out.

Allen Ross: Retribution certain — Concealed malice will inevitably be made known. The proverb is concerned with how evil will be exposed. The lines are in antithetical parallelism, the first stating that “malice” (śinʾâ) may be concealed “by deception” and the second affirming that his evil will be exposed publicly. That righteousness will ultimately be victorious informs this saying.

  1. (:27)  What Goes Around Comes Around

He who digs a pit will fall into it,

And he who rolls a stone, it will come back on him.

Lindsay Wilson: There are many ways in which we can try to hurt others, but the two that are mentioned in this verse are digging a (hidden) pit or trap, and rolling a stone to cause damage. In both scenarios, those who seek to harm others are caught in their own wrongdoing, receiving what they intended to inflict on others.

  1. (:28) Liars Are Destructive

A lying tongue hates those it crushes,

And a flattering mouth works ruin.

Matthew Henry: There are two sorts of lies equally detestable:

  1. A slandering lie, which avowedly hates those it is spoken of: A lying tongue hates those that are afflicted by it; it afflicts them by calumnies and reproaches because it hates them, and can thus smite them secretly where they are without defence; and it hates them because it has afflicted them and made them its enemies. The mischief of this is open and obvious; it afflicts, it hates, and owns it, and everybody sees it.
  2. A flattering lie, which secretly works the ruin of those it is spoken to. In the former the mischief is plain, and men guard against it as well as they can, but in this it is little suspected, and men betray themselves by being credulous of their own praises and the compliments that are passed upon them. A wise man therefore will be more afraid of a flatterer that kisses and kills than of a slanderer that proclaims war.

Tremper Longman: Flattery may be taken as a specific type of lying. Without conviction, it exaggerates the positive points of another person. Flattery may be used to set a person up to be taken advantage of. Flattery may also cause those who are flattered to think too highly of themselves and so act in a way that is detrimental.

Allen Ross: Only pain and ruin can come from deception.

Charles Bridges: Rarely do we see a solitary sin.  One sin breeds another.  Lying and malice are linked together here.  But again and again watch out for a flattering mouth.  Alas, where is this type of man not welcomed as a friend?  From some favorable position he presents an attractive face.  But a closer view reveals him to be a subtle, murderous enemy who works ruin.

So how should we deal with a flatterer?  Homer puts it into his hero’s heart to regard hi as a fiend of hell.  Our safety, then, is in flight, or at least in frowning resistance.  We should be “as much troubled,” said a godly man, “by unjust praises as by unjust slanderers” (Philip Henry).  We must show clearly that those who praise us most please us least.  Pray for wisdom to discover the snare, for gracious principles to raise us up above vain praises, for self-denial, for the capacity to be content and even thankful without such flatteries.  This will be our security.