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Lindsay Wilson: These verses deal with both the righteous and the wicked, but there is a greater emphasis on the wicked. In most verses both are mentioned, but sometimes there is a focus only on the wicked (vv. 3, 9). The righteous are never the subject of an entire verse.


A.  Inward Disposition of the Wicked = Unrealistic Fear

The wicked flee when no one is pursuing,

Charles Bridges: When conscience is roused, guilt is the parent of Fear.  Adam knew no rear until he became a guilty creature.

But if guilt brings fear, the removal of guilt gives confidence.

Lindsay Wilson: This preliminary verse introduces the two categories of the righteous (plural) and the wicked (singular adjective, rāš‘ā, used as a collective noun; the verb is plural). There is a comic picture of the wicked fleeing for their lives even though no-one is pursuing them.

Richard Clifford: The phrase “flees though none pursue” occurs in Lev. 26:17, 36 in a curse for disobedience to the covenant. In Leviticus the phrase means flight that continues even when the enemy has ceased pursuing; the terror is so profound that one cannot stop running. It is the opposite of the lion-like confidence mentioned in colon B. Wicked behavior sets in motion a chain of ills that leads to a life of fear.

B.  Inward Disposition of the Righteous = Courageous Boldness

But the righteous are bold as a lion.

Allen Ross: The faith of the righteous builds confidence. This observation is presented in contrast to the fear of the wicked, who flee when “no one pursues.” The proverb implies that the wicked, prompted by a guilty conscience or a fear of judgment, become fearful and suspicious of everyone. But the righteous, who seek favor with God and humankind, have a clear conscience and thus no need to look over their shoulders, as it were (Kidner, 168). The righteous can have the confidence (yibṭāḥ; “are bold,” NIV) to live righteously under God’s providence.


A.  (:2) Righteousness Leads to Stability in Government

By the transgression of a land many are its princes,

But by a man of understanding and knowledge, so it endures.

Richard Clifford: The first colon states the paradox that rebellion, far from doing away with rulers, actually multiplies them by introducing new factions or ensuring a succession of leaders in unstable times (Ehrlich).

Paul Koptak: A land of deficient character is cursed with a succession of rulers, making the nation vulnerable to attack. Surprisingly, the second line does not contrast rebellion with a people’s repentance (cf. the famous 2 Chron. 7:14) but with a single person of “understanding and knowledge” (lit., “one who knows”; cf. yadaʿ in Prov. 27:23). Rulers like this maintain order (cf. 29:4); the proverb assumes that a people will rebel unless led by a person of wisdom.

Tremper Longman: Basically, the point is that the offense of a land will lead to a proliferation of leaders, which is not a good thing. Long-lived benevolent rulers are the best circumstance for a nation, providing security. The offense may well be a rebellion, which itself could inject instability into a country. The many leaders may point to the fragmentation of a previously united land or perhaps to a succession of leaders as they violently jockey for power.

Lindsay Wilson: The idea is that when the people are rebellious, there are many vying for power, which unsettles the nation. Yet stability or order prevails when there is one person clearly in charge who is someone of character (understanding and knowledge). The Hebrew reads literally, ‘so it will endure’, but the thrust is that the society will be characterized by order and stability.

B.  (:3) Oppression Strips the Lowly of Their Sustenance

A poor man who oppresses the lowly

Is like a driving rain which leaves no food.

Allen Ross: The Hebrew has “a poor man” (geber rāš) “oppresses the poor” (weʿōšēq dallîm). The problem is that the poor in the book of Proverbs are not oppressors and do not have the power to be such. So commentators assume rāš is incorrect. By slight changes the reading “ruler” can be obtained, and it seems to fit the verse and the book better. If the reading “poor man” is retained, then the oppression includes betrayal—one would expect a poor man to have sympathy for others who are impoverished, but in fact that is not the case.

Tremper Longman: Those who try to get something out of the poor are trying to get “blood out of a rock,” as the modern saying goes. This proverb envisions a particularly pitiful scene as poor people oppress poor people, leading to devastating results. People who have nothing try to get something from people who have nothing, which leads to nothing. The rains that wash away food may refer to crop-destroying rains that ruin a harvest (see 26:1).

Lindsay Wilson: While the poor may have expected help from their fellows who understood being needy, how much more burdensome it would be if they added to the oppression. Their actions are described as heavy rain that will destroy the crops (26:1), taking away even the last prospect of food from the grain that was planted.

Caleb Nelson: The poor man who oppresses the poor is a horrible thing. He is like a rain that crushes the grain before it can be harvested. Don’t oppress the poor. How can you do that? Overcharging, voting for candidates and policies that do harm, ignoring poor people, failing to give to the poor — all of these are ways you and I can oppress the poor. Another way you can harm the poor is by charging interest, conceived of as a continuously increasing charge for the use of money. Usury is bad at all times, but interest exacted from the poor is downright evil. The one who makes money by usury is simply gathering a fortune that will be spent by someone who is kind to the poor.

C.  (:4) Law Keepers Restrain the Wicked

Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,

But those who keep the law strive with them.

Paul Koptak: Verses 4–5 should be read together, since the first line of each describes the absence of wise guidance and the rise of evil. The second lines (like the contrasts of 28:1–2) state that those who understand will also act to resist injustice. By implication, the righteous not only keep their ways straight but make sure others do the same, standing presumably with the strength of a lion (28:1).

D.  (:5) The Godly Embrace Justice

Evil men do not understand justice,

But those who seek the LORD understand all things.

Charles Bridges: Evil men do not understand justice.  They do not know the true standard of right and wrong, the true way to God, or the end of God’s dealings with them.  Their ignorance is deliberate.  The most distinguished scholar is a fool in understanding about justice.  Unless he is humbled in the consciousness of his ignorance and seeks light from above, he will perish in gross darkness.

Richard Clifford: The phrase “to understand justice” means to be wise or act wisely as in Job 32:9. This verse plays on the phrase: People bent on evil are not wise, they do not know judgment in the sense that they do not see the divine justice that eventually will catch up with them. On the other hand, those seeking Yahweh understand “all things,” including Yahweh’s rewarding them and punishing the wicked.

Tremper Longman: Understanding involves more than mere awareness of a concept of justice. It implies that they appreciate it. Evil people don’t want to understand justice because they live lives that are at odds with justice. On the other hand, those who desire to be in relationship with Yahweh do understand. One question we may ask is, What does the proverb mean by “everything”? It would seem a strange arrogance to claim complete understanding of anything in the universe. It probably is best to delimit the “everything” to matters of justice. Those who seek Yahweh, after all, are wise, and they want to know what Yahweh’s will is. Yahweh defines the nature of justice, so by pursuing Yahweh, they come to know what justice entails.

Allen Ross: Only people attuned to the divine will can fully perceive what justice is. Without that standard, legal activity easily becomes self-serving.


A.  (:6) Integrity Valued over Wealth

Better is the poor who walks in his integrity,

Than he who is crooked though he be rich.

Tremper Longman: Nothing is wrong with wealth in and of itself, but if a decision must be made, it is clear that integrity is more important, and riches should be sacrificed.  The metaphor of walking on a path, so familiar from chaps. 1-9, underlies this proverb.  There are two paths, one good (here described as “blameless”) and one bad (here “crooked/twisted”).

George Mylne: Gold and silver glitter in our eyes, and dazzle our sight to such a degree, that a rich sinner appears more respectable than a saint in rags. The fatal consequence is, that men labor rather to be rich than holy. To direct our practice aright, it is necessary to have our unreasonable judgements of things corrected, and to esteem the poorest saint above the most prosperous transgressor.

Uprightness is so valuable in itself, that it gives a luster to the possessors of it beyond what all the dignity and wealth of the world can do but double-mindedness and insincerity are so vile, that they stain the glory of the highest man on earth. Let us therefore choose the portion of God’s people, however lowly they are, and pray that we may not have our portion with the men of the world, although their bellies should be filled with God’s bounty.

B.  (:7) Law Keepers Honor Their Parents

He who keeps the law is a discerning son,

But he who is a companion of gluttons humiliates his father.

Tremper Longman: In the present proverb, even associating with gluttons is condemned, though association may presume participation.

George Mylne: Do you wish to give comfort to your parents, and to reflect honor upon them? Let religion be your great business, and choose for your companions, those who fear the Lord. But have no fellowship with dissipated youths. Let not their mirth and humor allure you into their company. For you may as soon touch pitch and not be defiled as have fellowship with wicked men, without being in a lesser or greater degree corrupted.

Matthew Henry: Wickedness is not only a reproach to the sinner himself, but to all that are akin to him. He that keeps rakish company, and spends his time and money with them, not only grieves his parents, but shames them; it turns to their disrepute, as if they had not done their duty to him. They are ashamed that a child of theirs should be scandalous and abusive to their neighbours.


A.  (:8) Gain Wealth Unethically and It Will Soon Be Redistributed

He who increases his wealth by interest and usury,

Gathers it for him who is gracious to the poor.

Richard Clifford: The point here is that profit gained from gouging those in need will ultimately be redistributed to the needy from whom it was originally taken. The profit will find its way into the hands of a generous person who understands that Israelites are kin and not to be exploited.

Paul Koptak: Gouging on loans may be one of the forms of the oppression mentioned in verse 3. Israelites were to charge no interest at all to those in great need, for to the poor, any interest would be “exorbitant” (Ex. 22:25; Lev. 25:36; Deut. 23:19). If one gets rich doing just that, the interest must be great indeed; it is poetic justice that the ill-gotten wealth goes to one who will give it back to the poor (cf. Prov. 28:27).

B.  (:9) Ignore God’s Law and Your Prayers Will Be an Abomination

He who turns away his ear from listening to the law,

Even his prayer is an abomination.

Richard Clifford: In this example of poetic justice, those who turn a deaf ear to the instruction that ultimately comes from God (mediated through teachers or parents) will find their own words to God rejected.

Paul Koptak: If you won’t listen to God, God will not listen to you. This proverb suggests that everything about this person is an “abomination” (toʿebah; NIV “detestable”) to God, even the act of prayer, for it is disingenuous.

C.  (:10) Lead the Righteous Astray and Inherit Evil

He who leads the upright astray in an evil way

Will himself fall into his own pit,

But the blameless will inherit good.

Richard Clifford: In this example of poetic justice, those who turn a deaf ear to the instruction that ultimately comes from God (mediated through teachers or parents) will find their own words to God rejected.

Tremper Longman: It is bad enough being wicked, but it is doubly bad to make those who are walking on the straight path go astray.  Those who might be tempted to influence the righteous to act wickedly are warned that they are the ones who will suffer.  Here and elsewhere in Proverbs, the wicked are told they will experience the pain that they want to inflict on others.  On the other hand and in contrast, the blameless, those who do act with integrity and wisdom, will inherit good things.

Allen Ross: Destruction awaits those who corrupt others; rewards await those who have integrity. Judgment is certain for those who lead the upright into evil; they will fall into their own trap. The line shows that the wicked will be caught in their own devices; but it also shows that the righteous are corruptible—they can be led into morally bad conduct (“an evil path”; see 26:27; Mt 23:15).

D.  (:11) Puff Yourself Up and Everyone Will See You Lack Substance

The rich man is wise in his own eyes,

But the poor who has understanding sees through him.

Richard Clifford: According to this observation on the effect of wealth and of poverty on wisdom, the social position of the wealthy can mislead them. To be wise in one’s own eyes is a sign of folly (3:7; 26:5, 12). The irony is that a rich person’s social inferior is actually superior, for wisdom is more valuable than pearls (8:10–11) and enables one to judge others accurately.

Tremper Longman: This proverb strikes out at pretense.  The contrast between the wealthy and the poor is just to make the contrast between those who pretend and those who can see through the pretense all the more dramatic.  In Proverbs, wealth is better than poverty, but as people use wealth to self-delude and delude others, then wealth is worse than poverty.  The expression “in their own eyes” is used in a number of places in Proverbs (3:7; 12:15; 26:5; 30:12) to refer to self-presumption.  Wealth can sometimes cloud the mind so that the rich think they have more resources than they do.  It can breed conceit and a felling of self-reliance.  On the other hand, a person of understanding, even if poor, can see through this pretense.

Charles Bridges: Although riches do not always bring wisdom, the rich man often pretends to have it and ascribes his success to his own sagacity, though he may be manifestly simple and foolish.  Yet the universe does not possess a more dignified character than the poor man who has discernment.


A.  Righteous Leadership Leads to Glory

When the righteous triumph, there is great glory,

Richard Clifford: When the righteous exult in the sense of triumphing over their foes and coming into power, oppression ceases and the city flourishes. But when the wicked rise in triumph, people go into hiding; there is no public celebration.

B.  Wicked Leadership Leads to Terror

But when the wicked rise, men hide themselves.

Tremper Longman: Righteousness is the ethical side of wisdom, and wickedness the ethical side of folly.  The proverb comments on community benefits of wisdom versus the disadvantage of folly.  The righteous rejoice when wisdom prevails, and when wisdom prevails there is success, not just for the individual but also for the society as a whole.  Much glory accrues to the community where wisdom makes its influence felt.  This wisdom influence is probably gained by the presence of wise leaders.  The second colon describes the reaction of the people when wicked fools “rise up” and take control.  They hide for fear that bad consequences will fall on them, through either abuse or neglect.

Matthew Henry: The advancement of the wicked is the eclipsing of the beauty of a nation: When the wicked rise and get head they make head against all that is sacred, and then a man is hidden, a good man is thrust into obscurity, is necessitated to abscond for his own safety; corruptions prevail so generally that, as in Elijah’s time, there seem to be no good men left, the wicked walk so thickly on every side.

Lindsay Wilson: The first refrain contrasts the different outcomes for the righteous and the wicked coming to prominence. When the righteous triumph (it can mean either ‘exult/rejoice’ or ‘prevail/triumph’), the consequence is great glory or honour or reason for pride (perhaps even ‘great elation’, niv). This is highly desirable. However, when the wicked rise (to power), this is a great shame or dishonour, and so the people are hidden, or hide themselves.  The prevailing of the righteous brings great benefit to the community, while the rise of the wicked leads to a society scattered in shame.