Search Bible Outlines and commentaries

Lindsay Wilson: While Van Leeuwen regards these verses as a loosely structured section, Waltke has shown that they divide into two parallel sections (vv. 1–10 and 11–21), with the hinge verse 22 (or Janus) at the end. He suggests that each section begins with ‘to whom to listen’, then defines ‘impossible relationships’, before outlining some ‘positive teachings about friendship’. There are only two extended three-line verses (tricola), found in verses 10 and 22, again supporting a twofold division. Verse 11 begins with a resumptive address, Be wise, my son, which is also an indication of a new start. The theme of friendship is already prominent in the book (usually in individual sayings or pairs about friends or neighbours, e.g. 14:20–21; 17:17–18; 18:24), but is here developed at greater length. . .

While not everything in these verses relates to the theme of friendship, they give both positive and negative information about being a good friend, and what kind of friends we should seek or avoid. Virtues like honesty, faithfulness and loyalty loom large, while various forms of folly destroy friendships. In several verses we can see that what we are like on the inside (our hearts) will show forth in the way we treat others and develop friendships.

Paul Koptak: So These proverbs elevate praise over boasting and the near neighbor over the distant relative, valuing those face-to-face relationships that refine us like precious metal and hone us sharp like iron blades. The matters of character are inevitably communal, for our hearts are both proved and improved through interaction. Read in their literary “communities,” these sayings teach us to assess and encourage good character in ourselves, but also in others. The pastoral poem reminds us that we demonstrate good character as we live in committed relationships with one another.



Lindsay Wilson: Waltke suggests that verses 1–2 set out the need for appropriate praise in friendship, while verses 3–4 explain that foolish, angry and jealous people cannot make good friends. Each of the three pairs in verses 5–10 offer positive insights into friendship:

  • the need for rebuke (vv. 5–6);
  • the causes of failed relationship (vv. 7–8; Waltke thinks it may refer to marriage – ‘gratifying one’s appetites in the right way, and . . . the loss of the most intimate of friendships, that of a husband and wife’);
  • and the need for a friend’s counsel and help (vv. 9–10).

A.  (:1-2) The Folly of Boasting

  1. (:1) About the Future — Don’t Claim to Control the Future

Do not boast about tomorrow,

For you do not know what a day may bring forth.

Tremper Longman: Boasting in the future would entail a claim of one’s control over the future, and as we already learned in Proverbs, though one can plan the future, the future is ultimately in the hands of God (16:1, 3, 9, 33).

Allen Ross: Presumption about the future is dangerous because the future is uncertain. Line one is the instruction and line two the reason. The warning is, “Do not boast about tomorrow” (i.e., a metonymy for what you will do in the future). The verse is not ruling out wise planning for the future, only one’s overconfident sense of ability to control the future—and no one can presume on God’s future.

Rather, humility is required; one “must live from day to day, grateful for the life one has from God, with the awareness that it may be withdrawn at any time and that he must not speak or plan as if he himself had full disposal of his destiny and power over the future” (McKane, 607). See the development of the idea in James 4:13–16 and in Matthew 6:34 with the instruction not to worry (see also Lk 12:20).

Matthew Henry: God has wisely kept us in the dark concerning future events, and reserved to himself the knowledge of them, as a flower of the crown, that he may train us up in a dependence upon himself and a continued readiness for every event, Acts 1:7.

Caleb Nelson: Now, the text does not say “Don’t plan for tomorrow.” It doesn’t say “Just let tomorrow happen.” It says not to brag about tomorrow. It says not to inflate expectations, your own and others’, for what tomorrow might hold. James puts it more specifically; he tells us to say “If the Lord wills, we will go here or there or do this and that.”

So keep your mouth shut; don’t brag up how wonderful tomorrow will be. But furthermore, hold your plans loosely. Practice entrusting yourself to providence even as you prepare and work and plan as hard as you can. The wise son takes the uncertainty of life into account, but he is never overwhelmed by it.

  1. (:2) About Yourself — Don’t Sing Your Own Praises

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;

A stranger, and not your own lips.

Richard Clifford: The triliteral root hll in the qal conjugation means “to praise,” and the root contributes to a wordplay: Just as one cannot take tomorrow for granted (hthll in v. 1, hithpael conjugation) so one cannot praise oneself (hll in v. 2). Honor is granted, not taken.

Paul Koptak: In Proverbs, lips were made for building up one another with teaching and correction, not for building up ourselves.

Lindsay Wilson: Part of the godly character promoted by Proverbs is humility (e.g. 22:4), and such boasting or self-praise is crossing over the line. Verse 2 offers a better way forward in waiting for others to praise you. Here is where friends come in, for a friend can affirm (hālal, praise) your achievements and plans. This means that we should be proactive in affirming our friends, but we are also encouraged to wait patiently and humbly for this approval from others rather than congratulating ourselves. The views of others are more likely to be an accurate reflection than our own inflated views of ourselves.

Allen Ross: Self-praise is a form of pride, even if it begins with little things (such as whom you know, where you have been, etc.), and it does not establish a reputation. The reputation comes from what others think of you. “Someone else” in this proverb is literally “stranger” (zār)—a person who may speak more objectively about your accomplishments and abilities.

Charles Bridges: “Praise,” says an old expositor, “is a comely garment.  But though you wear it yourself, someone else must put it on you, or else it will never sit well on you.  Praise is sweet music, but it never sounds well when it comes from our own mouth.  If it comes from another person’s mouth, it is a pleasant sound to everyone who hears it.  Praise is a rich treasure, but it will never make you rich unless someone else says it” (Jermin).

B.  (:3-4) Provocation and Jealousy Damage Relationships

  1. (:3)  Provocation (Vexation) Is Hard to Bear

A stone is heavy and the sand weighty,

But the provocation of a fool is heavier than both of them.

Tremper Longman: Even today, we talk about a “heavy mood” when feeling oppressed. We even can talk about how a mood “weighs heavily” on people and those around them.

Lindsay Wilson: There are certain characteristics which, amongst other things, damage or prevent the wholesome relationships on which friendship is based. The taunting or provoking from a fool is like a heavy dead weight; it is unnecessary baggage that prevents us from living life (v. 3). Such provocation is distracting and causes us to slow down, even though there is no need to do so. Anger and fury/wrath too channel our energy away from building relationships, as does the suspicion that is an integral part of jealousy (v. 4; 6:34). All of these characteristics urge us to respond defensively, and so close down rather than open up relationships. Two implications emerge.

  1. First, we should avoid these characteristics in our existing friendships.
  2. Second, we should not seek to develop friendships with those dominated by anger, jealousy or foolish provocation.

Allen Ross: Stone and sand are heavy, and whoever carries them knows the work is exhausting and painful. But more tiring is the fool’s provocation, for the mental effort it takes to deal with it is more wearying than physical work; the fool brings a spiritual malaise for others to endure (McKane, 609).

Caleb Nelson: Brothers and sisters, if you indulge in the folly of provoking people to anger by your words, actions, demeanor, etc., then you are foolishly attacking friendship. The wise son cultivates friends; the fool wrecks friendship by being hopelessly provoking. He makes people mad. In the worst case scenario, he makes people mad and enjoys it.

  1. (:4)  Jealousy Is Worse than Anger

Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood,

But who can stand before jealousy?

Paul Koptak: Just as boasting is a burdensome form of folly (27:1, 3), so the raging fires of anger and fury are small matters compared with the quiet burn of jealousy (6:34; 14:30; cf. the discussion of envy in ch. 26). We may think ourselves burdened by the folly of others, but who among us has not been knocked down by our own jealousy?

Tremper Longman: Jealousy is the angry desire to keep what we possess and are afraid someone else wants. The Hebrew word may also imply envy, which is the angry desire for what someone else possesses.  . .   The rhetorical question implies the answer “No one.” Jealousy/envy creates a destructive energy decimating all who fall into its path.

Caleb Nelson: Perhaps the worst offender in this list of anti-friendship activities is jealousy. Who can stand before it? The text seems to imply that no friendship can stand up to jealousy. Now, one way to take this is by remembering what C.S. Lewis says, that friendship is the most inclusive of loves. A friendship is not harmed by including another friend; indeed, the more friends the stronger the friendship, in important ways. If you are jealous of the fact that your friends have other friends, you are not truly their friend. You have ulterior motives. The very desire for exclusivity is a sign that the relationship you’re looking for is not one of friendship, but of something else. Let me put it this way: If you’re my friend, and you get upset when I tell you about a good time with another friend, then our friendship is headed for the rocks. Jealousy is a good thing in our relationship with our spouse and with God. It is a great evil in friendship.

C.  (:5-6) Genuine vs. Hypocritical Friendship

  1. (:5)  Value of Correction vs. Hypocrisy

Better is open rebuke

Than love that is concealed.

Richard Clifford: Here, “reproof” (which can be discomforting) is better than affectionate words (“love” is abstract for concrete) in view of the fact that a reproof imparts wisdom. True love does not hide the truth that needs to be told. False love keeps silent from fear or indifference.

Lindsay Wilson: If friends are on our side, their words of correction will not be motivated by malice, but rather a concern for our well-being and improvement. As Lucas (2015: 173) points out, ‘growth in wisdom requires openness to correction.’ Friends will call us to account when we are self-indulgent, inconsiderate or rude. Of course, in doing so they risk the friendship (for not everyone likes to be rebuked), but they are genuinely seeking our best interests. Such bold and caring initiatives are better than hidden love, in other words, unexpressed care and friendship. Some people are afraid to voice their care for others, perhaps fearing that it will not be reciprocated. Yet this hidden love is of little value for others, and certainly of much less worth than a caring rebuke.

Allen Ross: “Hidden love” is a love that is too timid, too afraid, or not trusting enough to admit that reproof is a part of genuine love (McKane, 610). A love that manifests no rebuke is morally useless (Toy, 483). In fact, one might question whether or not it is sincere (see also 28:23; 29:3).

George Mylne: There are two qualities very requisite in a friend — love and faithfulness. The last is as necessary as the first, to make our friendships really beneficial to us. There are some who love us with sincerity and warmth and yet lack the courage that is necessary to make them faithful in reproving us when we deserve to be reproved. But reproof, although it should be severe and cutting, is better than love which does not reveal itself in needful rebukes.

  1. (:6)  Value of a Friend’s Correction vs. an Enemy’s Deceitful Kiss

Faithful are the wounds of a friend,

But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.

Tremper Longman: That the bruises are those of a friend and are declared trustworthy means that they are inflicted with the good purpose of correction. In other words, the bruises must be the result of constructive criticism brought to bear by a friend. On the other hand, this is contrasted with the pleasant speech and actions of someone who is really an enemy (“the hater”) but acts as if they like others and want to affirm them. One must look behind the surface of actions to see what the motives are. Kisses are not always what they seem to be. The paradigmatic example of this is Judas’s kiss of betrayal in Matt. 26:48–50.

Paul Koptak: We might say that hidden love is no love at all, for it does the loved one no good; reproof, even if it comes with anger (27:4), is painful but profitable. Hiddenness can be a sign of wisdom when one does not blurt out every thought, but it can also be a sign of hatred, as verse 6 shows. The enemy who kisses is (lit.) “one who hates” (root śnʾ; cf. 26:28; “malicious” in 26:24, 26); “multiplies” or “excessive” denotes some form of deception.  Friendship sometimes brings praise (27:2) and sometimes wounds (27:6; cf. 20:30), but those wounds are also faithful (“trusted,” ʾmn).

Lindsay Wilson: The contrast in verse 6 is between these helpful rebukes and those who pretend love and affection even though they are ‘haters’ (the same word for enemies as in 26:24). Both an enemy’s ‘pretend love’ and an unexpressed real love are less useful to a friend than the open, caring rebuke by one who wants the best for us. So too in our relationships we need to express correction – although in appropriate ways – even at the risk of being misunderstood.

D.  (:7-8) Value and Nurture the Marriage Relationship

  1. (:7)  Don’t Take Marriage for Granted

A sated man loathes honey,

But to a famished man any bitter thing is sweet.

Richard Clifford: Bitter can be more appetizing than sweet depending on one’s appetite. If one is sated then even honey loses its appeal, but to a starving person, everything tastes good. Hunger is the best sauce. The play on throat and self (or soul) is common in Proverbs.

Allen Ross: Those who have great needs are more appreciative than those who are satisfied. The verse contrasts the one who is “full” (nepeš śebē ʿâ) with the one who is “hungry” (nepeš reʿēbâ); the former loathes honey, and the latter finds even bitter things sweet. The word nepeš in each half refers to the whole person with all one’s appetites.

  1. (:8)  Don’t Look Outside the Marriage for Intimacy

Like a bird that wanders from her nest,

So is a man who wanders from his home.

Paul Koptak: The theme of reversed expectations continues into this pair of proverbs about rejection. One whose hunger is satisfied literally walks past or tramples honey (5:3; 16:33; 24:13; 25:16, 27), while someone who strays from home is like the bird that leaves the safety of the nest. However, if you are hungry, even the bitter tastes sweet, and so we should be glad for the homes we have. . .   so here a young man leaves the nest of security and heads toward potential harm (cf. 27:12). Together, the proverbs warn against taking anything for granted.

Lindsay Nelson: While these verses need not be confined to a marriage relationship, this does seem to be their primary referent in view of the language of straying from our home in verse 8b. The idea is reminiscent of 5:15 and its call to drink water from your own cistern, being delighted by your spouse’s charms and intoxicated with her love (5:19–20). Here the image is of a honey pot, which is a genuine source of energy and refreshment. . .    Our goal is not to be smothered in our marriage, nor is it to have a marriage that is distant and empty of intimacy. In such situations we may be tempted to ‘stray from the nest’ (v. 8a) and seek sexual and relational ‘honey’ from people other than our spouse. We need instead to value and nurture our marriage and its exclusive relationship.

Allen Ross: To stray from home is to lose security. The parallelism compares a bird that “strays” (nôdedet) from a nest with the man who “strays” (nôdēd) from home. The reason for his straying is not given, but it could be because of exile, eviction, business, or irresponsible actions. Kidner, 165, thinks the sage condemns the one wandering because he has deserted his charge and forfeited his prospects; he is a rolling stone, but not a pilgrim or fugitive. The saying may be more general and simply asserts that those who wander lack the security of their home and can no longer contribute to their community life.

Matthew Henry: Those that thus desert the post assigned to them are like a bird that wanders from her nest. It is an instance of their folly; they are like a silly bird; they are always wavering, like the wandering bird that hops from bough to bough and rests nowhere. It is unsafe; the bird that wanders is exposed; a man’s place is his castle; he that quits it makes himself an easy prey to the fowler. When the bird wanders from her nest the eggs and young ones there are neglected. Those that love to be abroad leave their work at home undone. Let every man therefore, in the calling wherein he is called, therein abide, therein abide with God.

E.  (:9-10) Benefit from the Counsel and Help of Friends and Close Neighbors

  1. (:9)  Desire the Counsel of Close Friends

Oil and perfume make the heart glad,

So a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.

Lindsay Wilson: The real point of verse 9 is to picture friendship as very sweet and desirable.

Allen Ross: Advice from a friend is pleasant. The emblem is the joy that perfume and incense bring to people, and the point is the value of the advice of a friend.

  1. (:10)  Value the Help of a Close Neighbor in Times of Crisis

Do not forsake your own friend or your father’s friend,

And do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity;

Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother far away.

Lindsay Nelson: Verse 10 makes an amazing claim . . . that friendship is stronger than a blood relationship. This is not to minimize fraternal responsibilities, but rather to lift up the value of a friend or neighbour. Verse 10a–b admonishes hearers not to turn away from (‘abandon/leave’; Fox 2009: 808 suggests ‘ignore’ here) their personal or family friend in order to go to a blood relative (brother) when disaster strikes. We will receive better care from a neighbour who is physically close than a brother who is distant. In other words, we need to value strongly the support and help of friends and neighbours, for they will be of greater value in times of crisis.

Richard Clifford: Cultivate old family friends and neighbors; do not automatically count on kin for help in time of trouble, for neighbors and friends are ready at hand.

This tripartite verse ends a subsection in the chapter. Verses 22 and 27 are likewise tripartite and end subsections in the chapter (Meinhold).

Tremper Longman: The first colon advises the hearer not to burn any bridges with friends. Interestingly, this proverb mentions not only one’s own friends but also those of one’s father. The implication is that when trouble comes or help is needed, one can gain it not only from one’s immediate circle of friends but also from one’s family’s friends, so all these relationships need to be maintained.

The second colon is more puzzling. It advises that one not go to, not appeal to, a brother when trouble comes. For some reason, a brother is seen as less likely to provide assistance in trouble. One can speculate about why friends are privileged over brothers in this proverb. Friends are associated with a person by choice and affection, whereas a brother has no say. However, one might still think that, particularly in an ancient society, relatives would help even if they did not like the person. Perhaps the key to understanding is the last colon, where the brother is thought to live at a distance. Maybe the friend is someone close and the brother far away. But again, ancient society was not as mobile as modern society, so one wonders how often brothers would be split by such great distance.


A.  (:11-12) Importance of Wisdom and Discernment

  1. (:11) Importance of Wisdom

Be wise, my son, and make my heart glad,

That I may reply to him who reproaches me.

Lindsay Wilson: The student or son is addressed by the parent or teacher at the beginning of this new section, and called on to be wise and make the teacher’s heart glad (23:15, 25). Of course, this is not the end goal. An imperative followed by an imperfect is a purpose construction, and the aim here is that the teacher should respond in words to (i.e. answer) the one who reproaches him. The teacher wants to defend the wise character of the pupil, probably so that others will see him as wise and listen to him.

Tremper Longman: If the son pursues wisdom rather than folly, then the father’s enemies won’t have any fodder for their verbal attacks on the family. That the wisdom of children positively affects their parents may be seen in 10:1.

  1. (:12) Importance of Discernment

A prudent man sees evil and hides himself,

The naive proceed and pay the penalty.

Tremper Longman: It is easy to avoid problems if one sees them coming. The prudent have that sense, and this allows them to work around the problems. On the other hand, the naive just plunge ahead and suffer the consequences of their foolish actions. This statement could serve as motivation for working at the acquisition of wisdom.  See the identical proverb at 22:3.

Caleb Nelson: How do you gain shrewdness, the ability to see moral, physical, and financial hazards coming and to evade them? You gain it by experiencing God’s world — but only if you experience that world in the fear of God. . .

Brothers and sisters, are you constantly scanning for the outcome? Are you looking five minutes, five years, and five decades into the future, asking what the outcome of this decision will be? Do you make your decisions with an eye to preventing foreseeable evils? Do you ask yourself “What could possibly go wrong?” and then guard against those consequences? Are you in it for the long haul? Or do you prefer the simple-mindedness of going about your business until foreseeable disaster strikes?

B.  (:13-14) Importance of Avoiding Negative Outcomes

  1. (:13) Guard against Potential Loss

Take his garment when he becomes surety for a stranger;

And for an adulterous woman hold him in pledge.

Allen Ross: People must be held to their obligations no matter how foolishly they were made. The verse is essentially the same as 20:16.

  1. (:14)  Refrain from Inappropriate Speech

He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning,

It will be reckoned a curse to him.

Allen Ross: On the surface it appears to be describing one who comes in early and loud with his blessing or greeting; he is considered a nuisance (“it will be taken as a curse”). But “blesses” and “curse” could mean more; they could refer to the loud adulation of a hypocrite, the person who goes to great length to create the impression of piety and friendship but is considered a curse by the one who hears him.

C.  (:15-16) Contentious Wife Is Both Unbearable and Uncontrollable

  1. (:15)  Contentious Wife Is Unbearable

A constant dripping on a day of steady rain

And a contentious woman are alike;

Paul Koptak: If the loud neighbor is annoying, worse is the quarrelsome wife, here again compared to a leaky and potentially dangerous roof (cf. 19:13); like the constant dripping, the arguments seem to have no end.

  1. (:16)  Contentious Wife Is Uncontrollable

He who would restrain her restrains the wind,

And grasps oil with his right hand.

Tremper Longman: The metaphor highlights just how annoying and depressing a contentious wife can be. It seems clear that 27:15 is connected to v. 16 in that the opening verb of v. 16 has a third-person feminine object suffix that must refer to the contentious woman, although the proverb can apply to any contentious person. However, the meaning of the verse is difficult. In terms of 16a, it may be making the point that a contentious woman is hard to hide. The wind cannot be controlled and, though invisible, has noticeable and sometimes chaotic effects. One may try to hide the fact that his wife is contentious, but it is her very contentiousness that will not allow him to control her.

However, if v. 16a is enigmatic, v. 16b is downright obscure. In its original historical setting, what oil on the hand signified was probably well known, but we have lost touch with what it means. Some suggestions include the following. Murphy translates, “And his right hand meets oil.” He argues that, like the wind metaphor, it speaks of the inability to control the contentious woman. Trying to grab and control her is like trying to grab something when oil is on your hand. To get this interpretation, Murphy must emend the verb.  Clifford translates, “The oil on her hand announces her presence,” and suggests that the oil is her perfume, which gives her presence away. He does not address the fact that the possessive pronominal suffix on “hand” is masculine and not feminine.  In the final analysis, we simply have to declare that the Hebrew is difficult.

Richard Clifford: The saying is completely obscure and any translation is guesswork. In the view of many commentators the verse continues v. 15; the feminine singular suffix of “those who would hide her” refers to the wife in v. 15b. If v. 16 is a continuation of the previous verse, then v. 15 speaks of the effect of the wife within the house and v. 16 of the effects outside. One can no more hide a quarrelsome wife from one’s neighbors than one can hide a storm wind. Meinhold conjectures that in colon B the woman’s perfume (oil) on her fingers gives her presence away, another illustration that concealing her is futile.

Paul Koptak: perhaps it is best to say that just as wind cannot be shut away, so the hand makes a poor container for oil. The point is clear that little can be done with a contentious person, female or male (cf. 26:21).

Lindsay Wilson: Verse 16 adds the further point that such a woman cannot be restrained or kept in place. This is clarified by the rest of the verse, comparing any attempt to restrain her as being as ambitious as controlling (lit. ‘restraining’ again) wind or grabbing hold of (lit. ‘calling’, qārā’) oil in our hands. Looking back over verses 13–16, it is clear that we should avoid friends like the fools of verse 13, the unaware neighbour of verse 14 and the quarrelsome wife of verse 15.

D.  (:17-18) Importance of Interaction and Faithful Service

Paul Koptak: Two proverbs speak about good relations with neighbors and employers. In verse 17, the point is clear enough; we all want friends who will keep us sharp through challenging conversation and personal feedback. The comparison with striking iron points out the need for two to hone the edge (cf. Ezek. 21:14–16); one (lit.) “sharpens the face [cf. Prov. 27:19] of his neighbor” (reaʿ; cf. 27:9, 10, 14).The imagery of verse 18 is straightforward also, for it is common knowledge that those who tend a garden enjoy its produce. Bringing the two proverbs together and setting them in context, readers learn that it is by serving well and keeping the employer sharp that servants receive the “honor” (kabed, 27:18; cf. 26:1, 8, “heavy” in 27:3) that so many seek (27:1–2).

  1. (:17)  Wisdom Requires Interaction with Others

Iron sharpens iron,

So one man sharpens another.

Richard Clifford: The verse is a fresh way of saying that one learns by conversing with others. Conversation makes one wise, “sharp.” One cannot become wise by oneself.

Lindsay Wilson: We need to have our rough edges knocked off, and we need to do the same to our friends. All of us are works in progress. Longman (2006: 481) comments, ‘The wisdom enterprise is a community effort.’ This is the beginning of a list of positive characteristics that promote friendship.

  1. (:18)  Faithful Service Has Its Own Rewards

He who tends the fig tree will eat its fruit;

And he who cares for his master will be honored.

Richard Clifford: The fixed pair is used here to make an earthy comparison — caring for a fig tree is like caring for a master. A dutiful farmer eats the fruits of the tree. A dutiful servant can expect to share in the honor and prestige of the master.

Lindsay Wilson: Verse 18 describes those who are faithful and loyal to their assigned task. The farmer who cares for the fig tree will be able to eat its fruit, while the person who guards or looks after (šōmēr) a master will be rewarded (lit. honoured). Faithfully performing a duty of care to another is a valuable practice.

Tremper Longman: The proverb encourages the wise to take good care of those who employ them for their professional services. The proverb pivots on the use of “fruit” for consequences or rewards. Just as those who “protect” (or perhaps simply “take care of”) a fig tree will have the benefit of the fruit, so those who guard (again perhaps “take care of”) their employer will have good reward, here “honor,” but the word may also imply beneficial material reward.

E.  (:19-20) Self Awareness Focuses on Our Inward Character and Desires

  1. (:19)  The Heart Reflects Inward Character

As in water face reflects face,

So the heart of man reflects man.

Richard Clifford: The phrase “face to face” of colon A is found in Deut. 34:10 and Ezek. 20:35 in contexts of speaking directly and intimately to someone (though with the preposition ’el, “to,” rather than l, “to,” as here). The heart is the faculty of reflection and deciding, and the mouth, lips, tongue, face (see 15:14) give voice to the heart. When two people speak directly, “face to face,” they ultimately speak “heart to heart.” The heart (the interior of a person) communicates to others through words and looks. Words are the route to the core of a person. Verse 17 is somewhat similar.

Lindsay Wilson: it is what we are like on the inside (our heart) that really counts. As a reflection in water shows what we really look like (i.e. acts as a mirror), our heart shows what we are really like. The niv captures it well: ‘one’s life reflects the heart.’

Tremper Longman: the heart tells the story of the person. The heart is a general reference to one’s character. Thus, character defines who and what a person is.

On the other hand, perhaps the second line is saying that the heart reflects the person to another person. So it is not so much self-revelation, but rather revelation of another.

In any case, the idea, taught elsewhere in Proverbs, is that the heart of a person is what counts. Other proverbs mention that one’s words reflect the heart of a person (12:23; 16:23; 18:4).

Matthew Henry: This shows us that there is a way,

  1. Of knowing ourselves. As the water is a looking-glass in which we may see our faces by reflection, so there are mirrors by which the heart of a man is discovered to a man, that is, to himself. Let a man examine his own conscience, his thoughts, affections, and intentions. Let him behold his natural face in the glass of the divine law (Jam. 1:23), and he may discern what kind of man he is and what is his true character, which it will be of great use to every man rightly to know.
  2. Of knowing one another by ourselves; for, as there is a similitude between the face of a man and the reflection of it in the water, so there is between one man’s heart and another’s for God has fashioned men’s hearts alike; and in many cases we may judge of others by ourselves.
  1. (:20)  Insatiable Desires Rooted in Human Depravity

Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied,

Nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied.

Paul Koptak: if kind hearts can reflect one another in friendship, it is also true that greedy eyes can devour another’s life.

Lindsay Wilson: Godly contentment is a precious gift to share with others, and will promote healthy relationships, but it does not come naturally to us.

Tremper Longman: There is always room for one more dead person; they cannot get enough. Like death, human craving can never be satisfied. One can never have enough money, power, pleasure, relationship, love, and on and on. The proverb helps people become self-aware and also aware of what makes other people tick. If we know that desires are never truly satisfied, then perhaps this may help to slow our pursuit of needless things. Ecclesiastes is well aware of this endless cycle of desire, and it comes to a pessimistic conclusion concerning the meaning of life (2:10–11; 5:10; etc.). Pursuing ultimate satisfaction is like chasing the wind.

F.  (:21-22) Your Inward Character = Your Essential DNA

  1. (:21)  Character Is Tested by Response to Public Praise

The crucible is for silver and the furnace for gold,

And a man is tested by the praise accorded him.

Richard Clifford: The refining of ore was done in a thick-walled smelting oven partially buried in the ground. Small openings in the oven let steam out and oxygen in. The fire was fueled by charcoal (26:21). The smelting process shows whether the ores are precious or worthless, true silver or gold. How does one assess the true worth of a human being? One is known by the quality of one’s friends. What kind of people approve of what I do?

Paul Koptak: the way we react to the praise of others reveals our motives, honorable and dishonorable (cf. 17:3).

Lindsay Wilson: Precious metals like silver and gold can be tested to show positively their level of purity (17:3a). A person being tested by praise can have either sense. How people receive praise can reveal whether they seek to be affirmed, or whether they seek what is right. Yet who or what a person praises, or what people praise about this person (depending on whether the suffix is subjective or objective), can also reveal what they are committed to. Praise in friendship is a vital way of nourishing relationships with others.

Tremper Longman: We speculate that receiving praise from another provides a tremendous temptation for self-boasting. Refusing to let that produce pride is not an easy task. However, if one resists, then the person will be better off for the effort.

George Mylne: The refining pot tries silver, and the furnace reveals whether gold be genuine and pure, so praise bestowed upon a man, reveals the reigning temper of his mind. If a wise and humble man is praised, he will not be thereby elevated in his own mind. If the criticism conferred upon him is not just, he will not think himself warranted to lay any stress upon it, for it is an evidence of pride when a man despises undeserved reproaches and yet prides himself on commendations which are equally groundless, and therefore equally vain. If it is a piece of baseness to be dejected by undeserved reproaches then it is a piece of vanity to be puffed up by praise.

  1. (:22)  Folly Cannot Be Eradicated

Though you pound a fool in a mortar

with a pestle along with crushed grain,

Yet his folly will not depart from him.

Richard Clifford: Mortar and pestle were not the means for ridding grain of its useless husk, but were ordinarily used for grinding olives, resins, and spices. The point is that even if you used the extraordinary means of mortar and pestle, you could never rid a fool of perverse folly, so deeply ingrained is it.

Paul Koptak: Verse 22 presents another metaphor of processing natural material. Unlike the crucible and furnace that separate, a mortar and pestle grind grain that has already been removed from its husk by the thresher. The point is that folly cannot be separated from the fool, for it is too deeply ingrained.

Lindsay Wilson: This final verse sits outside the section on friendship, but as a three-line verse it rounds it off. It uses a vivid image of grinding a fool with a pestle and mortar, but still not being able to remove his folly from him. For folly is not simply something that can be put on and taken off as we please (like a coat); rather, it is ingrained in fools, part of their DNA so that it affects all that they do and say.


Richard Clifford: These verses constitute a five-line poem on the advantages of field and flocks over other forms of wealth. Natural assets are less subject to risk than hoarded treasure because they renew themselves. Vegetation comes up from the earth every year; sheep and goats are transformed into food and clothing. Field and flock produce “enough” (v. 27a) basic foodstuffs, in contrast perhaps to the excess that accumulated treasure can buy. The teaching is traditional but the wit and perspective of this poem are remarkable.

Tremper Longman: This proverb unit seems to advocate a fundamental dependence on renewable resources, such as letting fresh grass replace dried grass and gathering vegetation from the mountains as crops for food. Lambs and goats provide food, milk, and clothes. All that is really necessary for life are associated with the things that are part of a farmer’s daily life. Dreaming of treasures and diadems may distract people from what is really important over the long haul.

Lindsay Wilson: Advice to Leaders — The image of a leader as a shepherd is used in both the OT and NT (e.g. Jer. 23:1–4; 1 Pet. 5:1–4). The key admonition is given in verse 23 (look after your animals); a reason for the advice (beginning with for, ) follows in verse 24; while verses 25–27 elaborate on what will happen when you do so, effectively operating as further motivation to take notice.

Caleb Nelson: The final portion of our passage highlights the creational goodness that God has built into the world, and teaches contentment with work and the produce of the earth and the animals that God has placed on it. The principle of sowing and reaping is at its best here, in working the earth that God has given. Pay attention to your flock, and it will take care of you.

A.  (:23-24) Key Exhortation to Shepherd-Leader

  1. (:23)  Pay Attention to the Condition of Your Valuable Flock

Know well the condition of your flocks,

And pay attention to your herds;

Richard Clifford: “Be aware” and “give attention” have a double meaning: take care of your flocks, attend to the kind of wealth they provide. The antithesis to flocks as a form of wealth is ḥōsen (“hoard, treasure”), which is particularly vulnerable to theft or seizure (Jer. 20:5 and Ezek. 22:25).

Matthew Henry: A command given us to be diligent in our callings. It is directed to husbandmen and shepherds, and those that deal in cattle, but it is to be extended to all other lawful callings; whatever our business is, within doors or without, we must apply our minds to it. This command intimates,

  1. That we ought to have some business to do in this world and not to live in idleness.
  2. We ought rightly and fully to understand our business, and know what we have to do, and not meddle with that which we do not understand.
  3. We ought to have an eye to it ourselves, and not turn over all the care of it to others. We should, with our own eyes, inspect the state of our flocks, it is the master’s eye that makes them fat.
  4. We must be discreet and considerate in the management of our business, know the state of things, and look well to them, that nothing may be lost, no opportunity let slip, but every thing done in proper time and order, and so as to turn to the best advantage.
  5. We must be diligent and take pains; not only sit down and contrive, but be up and doing: “Set thy heart to thy herds, as one in care; lay thy hands, lay thy bones, to thy business.”
  1. (:24)  Reason: Riches and Power Are Fleeting

For riches are not forever,

Nor does a crown endure to all generations.

Paul Koptak: Unlike a herd that will replenish itself if cared for, riches can be squandered and lost for good. So also a crown is not guaranteed from generation to generation if a healthy relationship with the subjects is ignored (cf. 14:28). One never arrives at the place where work is not necessary. Images of harvest and plenty illustrate the rewards of proper attention to the farm, where gathering hay to feed the animals in turn provides homespun goods and fields in trade (27:25–26).

Lindsay Wilson: The clear thrust of the verse is that what we currently take for granted is not guaranteed to last. This is a good reason to look after those in our care in the present.

B.  (:25-27) Value of Renewable Natural Assets

Richard Clifford: Unproductive wealth is contrasted with vegetable and animal abundance. Unlike stored-up treasure that is subject to theft or seizure, grassland renews itself and sustains herds. The ecosystem of animals and grassland provides sustenance for human beings. Year after year beast and field provide clothing, money to purchase more pastureland, and food for an entire household.

Lindsay Wilson: These verses describe the implied consequences of properly looking after our animals. The principles behind these observations (they will prosper when cared for, and provide benefits to us) have further implications for leaders in general. Time invested in those in our charge will benefit us as well as them.

  1. (:25) Renewable Feature of Vegetation and Herbs

When the grass disappears, the new growth is seen,

And the herbs of the mountains are gathered in,

George Mylne: God has given us great testimonies of his goodness, in giving us rain from Heaven and fruitful seasons. By his kind providence the springing of the earth is blessed, and the hills are covered with herbage, which may be gathered for the use of those beasts which serve for the use of man. Does God stretch out his hand with blessings and shall man, ungratefully and foolishly despise the bounty, and lose the benefit of it by his own neglect and sloth? If God puts a price into our hands, to get either heavenly wisdom or the needful blessings of life then we are fools if we have not heart to employ it for the intended purpose. The valleys and the mountains, which rejoice and sing to God, cry out against sluggish men. The necessity and advantage of industry and care are very visible.

  1. (:26-27) Resourceful Value of Lambs and Goats

a.  (:26)  Source of Clothing and Generational Wealth

The lambs will be for your clothing,

And the goats will bring the price of a field,

George Mylne: By industry you shall have clothing, and food, and rent for your fields, or money to buy new possessions. You shall not perhaps be able to procure the luxuries of life but these are not to be sought after. You shall have a comfortable maintenance for yourselves and your families; your maid servants shall have plenty of that food that is proper and convenient for them.

b.  (:27)  Source of Physical Sustenance

And there will be goats’ milk enough for your food,

For the food of your household,

And sustenance for your maidens.

Paul Koptak: Verses 26–27 describe the payoff for diligence, the second line of each describing the abundance that buys fields and feeds family and servants. “Plenty” in verse 27 translates the same word used for eating just “enough” honey in 25:16; having “enough” is for sharing, not gorging, so the servants who look after their employers should be cared for in turn (27:18). While some interpreters think the message of the poem was directed to landed young men called into service at the court, the metaphor for attentiveness and diligence applies to many areas of life (cf. 2 Tim. 2:6).

Lindsay Wilson: It is a picture of fullness, life as it should be. We care for the animals; the animals provide for us. Thinking more widely, as leaders provide for those for whom they are responsible, the community will prosper and all will be provided for. . .

Whenever we are entrusted with responsibilities of leadership, we ought to act for the flourishing of those in our care. This will prosper both them and us. Malchow (1985: 243–244) points out that this small unit leads neatly into (and he thinks, introduces) chapters 28 – 29, which he argues are directed to future rulers.