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Paul Koptak: While chapter 29 does not fall into an obvious outline, the repetition of “thrive” (root rbh, “increase”) in 29:2 and 16 and the recurrence of “wise/wisdom” in between (29:3, 8, 9, 11, 15) ties the first half together.


A man who hardens his neck after much reproof

Will suddenly be broken beyond remedy.

Paul Koptak: The ox that would not bend its neck for a yoke became a symbol for recalcitrant Israel (Ex. 32:9; Deut. 9:6; 2 Kings 17:14; Isa. 48:4). We would expect “stiff-necked” (lit., “make the neck hard”) to be in contrast with “broken,” but like a clay jar that shatters (šaber), such a person is “destroyed,” broken beyond repair. A rebuke is a wound (Prov. 27:5–8), but it is given to prevent something much worse. Those who refuse this means of prevention will be denied any means of restoration (cf. 6:15b, which repeats the second line of this verse).

Lindsay Wilson: Proverbs suggests that the way we respond to being rebuked or corrected reveals whether we are a person of wisdom or folly (e.g. 9:8, using the verb related to the noun here). Here ‘a man of rebuke’, a Hebrew way of describing one who has often been corrected, shows his folly in that he responds by hardening his neck, a phrase used in Exodus 32-34 for those who refuse to be shaped by God (Exod. 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9). The consequence of resisting this reproof is that we will be broken or fractured (to continue the imagery of bones) in such a way that there will be no healing or fixing. This verse fits outside the four subsections of chapters 28-29, and so functions as a key warning: do not refuse the shaping of wisdom, for the consequences of doing so are disastrous. Waltke (2005: 429) proposes that this verse is deliberately placed in the structural centre of Proverbs 28-29 in order to emphasize the danger of resisting the reproof of these chapters.

Tremper Longman: The proverb addresses the danger of not listening to those who constructively criticize.  Those who are repeatedly warned about behavior that has potentially dangerous consequences but do no listen (are stiff-necked) will find all of a sudden that the consequences have caught up with them, and they will have moved beyond the point where an easy fix is possible.  The purpose of the proverb is not just to explain why some people reach a bad end but also to encourage the wise not to reject criticism.

George Mylne: Asa, king of Judah, was a godly man and yet when he was reproved by a prophet, he stormed instead of repenting. This piece of history shows us that we must not despair of reforming those who depart from the path of duty, although they are not reclaimed by the first admonition. Perhaps they may relent at the second or third admonition, and then we are richly recompensed for our trouble. But woe to that man who is stubborn and obstinate after many reproofs. He despises a merciful appointment of God for his recovery, and tramples upon precious pearls. He refuses to bow before the Lord and he shall be dashed in pieces like a potter’s vessel! He perhaps designs to reform at some other time but he is hardened in sin, and puts off his intended repentance until judgment comes upon him unexpectedly, and he is ruined forever! The reproofs which he received will then be like hot thunderbolts to him, and the remembrance of them will feed the worm that never dies.

Matthew Henry: The issue of this obstinacy is to be greatly dreaded: Those that go on in sin, in spite of admonition, shall be destroyed; those that will not be reformed must expect to be ruined; if the rods answer not the end, expect the axes. They shall be suddenly destroyed, in the midst of their security, and without remedy; they have sinned against the preventing remedy, and therefore let them not expect any recovering remedy. Hell is remediless destruction. They shall be destroyed, and no healing, so the word is. If God wounds, who can heal?


A.  (:2) Morality of the Leader Impacts the Nation

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,

But when a wicked man rules, people groan.

Richard Clifford: People’s response to a righteous or a wicked ruler is expressed in sound—shouts of joy or groans of pain.

Paul Koptak: Clearly, one bad ruler can do great harm and cause many to groan. Wisdom and folly are never experienced in isolation, but their effects are especially pronounced when practiced by someone in authority.

B.  (:3) Morality of Children Impact Their Parents

A man who loves wisdom makes his father glad,

But he who keeps company with harlots wastes his wealth.

Tremper Longman: Here the trouble caused by sleeping with prostitutes is financial.  That does not mean that this is the only problem with associating with prostitutes; after all, proverbs are not nuanced or exhaustive statements.  And it is true that prostitutes are expensive women.

Allen Ross: Wisdom ensures joy and prosperity for the family. Here again the lines are antithetical: in contrast to the wise person, who brings “joy” to his father, is the son who brings grief by squandering his wealth on “prostitutes” (zônôt). Whybray, 168, notes that since wealth was a sign of God’s blessing, it was essential for an honorable standing in the community; to waste it was a shameful betrayal of the family. Moreover, it would break a father’s heart to see his son become a pauper through vice (McKane, 653). For the financial consequences of vice, see chs. 1–9 (esp. 5:10; 6:31).


A.  (:4) Impact of a Just Ruler on the Stability of Society

The king gives stability to the land by justice,

But a man who takes bribes overthrows it.

Paul Koptak: The phrase reads a “man of that which is lifted up” (terumot, NIV “bribes”), an allusion to sacrifices of worship (Ex. 25:2–3). It is used here as a metaphor for rulers who help themselves to the “offering”—perhaps through taxes or by fraud (TNK). “Justice” (root špṭ; cf. Prov. 29:14, 26) is the highest responsibility of the king.

Allen Ross: The idea of “bribes” is not the point; this king breaks the backs of the people with demands for monetary gifts (see 1Sa 8:11–18), thus causing divisions and strife.

George Mylne: But the fountains of justice are poisoned, and the pillars of it subverted by a prince that is too fond of money. He perverts law into oppression, and makes his subjects unhappy. He destroys the foundations of his own throne, and plunges himself and his people into inexpressible miseries. He brings down the judgments of God upon a land, and is himself one of the greatest judgments that an angry God can inflict upon a nation.

Matthew Henry:

  1. The happiness of a people under a good government. The care and business of a prince should be to establish the land, to maintain its fundamental laws, to settle the minds of his subjects and make them easy, to secure their liberties and properties from hostilities and for posterity, and to set in order the things that are wanting; this he must do by judgment, by wise counsels, and by the steady administration of justice, without respect of persons, which will have these good effects.
  2. The misery of a people under a bad government: A man of oblations (so it is in the margin) overthrows the land; a man that is either sacrilegious or superstitious, or that invades the priest’s office, as Saul and Uzziah—or a man that aims at nothing but getting money, and will, for a good bribe, connive at the most guilty, and, in hope of one, persecute the innocent—such governors as these will ruin a country.

B.  (:5) Treachery of Flattery

A man who flatters his neighbor

Is spreading a net for his steps.

Richard Clifford: This saying states the lethal effect of seductive words through a striking image: to address seductive words to another’s face is to cast a net at the person’s feet.

Tremper Longman: Flattery is different from encouragement because the latter is based on the truth.  As the proverb indicates, flattery hypes people but does not help them; rather, it harms them.  The harm is communicated here by the image of the net that is spread out.  Just as a net is set out in secret and camouflaged from the prey, so flattery sets up people for a fall. . .  the flatterer is buttering up the recipients in order to gain an advantage over them or a favor from them.

Allen Ross: This flattering (maḥalîq) works by deception and guile, for the word literally means “deals smoothly.” McKane, 636, says, “The sycophant is not to be trusted, for words which are too smooth and too obviously designed to gratify are a form of premeditated malice and a cloak for evil conduct.”

Charles Bridges: The doctrine of man’s goodness, strength, or freedom; innocent infirmities; venial offenses; softening down the statements of man’s total corruption; a general gospel without application; its promises and privileges without the balance of its trials and obligations – all this is frightful flattery.  Unwary souls are misled.

George Mylne: But although the flatterer has no other design but to selfishly insinuate himself into the friendship of the person whom he caresses he may be justly said to spread a net for his feet, by betraying him into the hands of his worst enemy.

We all flatter ourselves; and our self-flattery makes the praises of other flatterers welcome, and these gratify and feed our pride, so that we are in double danger of falling into the condemnation of the devil. If flattery is a net then we ought to be on our guard against it, and to keep a suspicious eye upon those who praise us to our faces.

Birds are silly animals, and there is no wonder that they allow themselves to be caught in the snare of the fowler; and yet when they find themselves fast in the snare, they flutter, and use every possible effort to escape. Men are like silly birds when they are caught in this net and they are sillier than birds, when, after all, they make the flatterer welcome to their houses, and his fair words welcome to their ears!

C.  (:6) Snare of Sin and Its Downward Spiral

By transgression an evil man is ensnared,

But the righteous sings and rejoices.

Tremper Longman: Sin complicates life, setting traps for the sinner.  On the other hand, righteous behavior leads to rejoicing.  The Christian takes the long view on retribution.  Although in the short run the righteous may suffer for their righteousness, the future brings rejoicing.

George Mylne: Wicked men are ensnared, either when they are seduced to sin, or when they are involved in miseries from which they cannot deliver themselves and in both these senses, they find a snare in their transgression. One act of sin makes way for another act, and the second for a third. The repetition of many sinful acts produces a settled habit, which gains an irresistible power over the soul, so that the sinner who meant to repent after he had indulged himself for a time in the pleasures of sin, finds himself quite indisposed to put his resolutions in practice, and walks on in his trespasses until destruction comes upon him without remedy! Besides this, one kind of sin prepares the way for another that is worse, because the natural effect of sin is to stupefy the understanding, and harden the heart. He who has entered into the way of the ungodly, proceeds, in the next place, to stand in the counsel of the wicked, and then sits down in the seat of the scorner.

D.  (:7) Concern for Justice for the Poor

The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor,

The wicked does not understand such concern.

Charles Bridges: Selfishness, however, not truth, justice, or mercy, is the standard of the wicked.  But fearful is it to sit in the place of God as his representative, only to pervert his judgment for selfish aggrandizement.  For “he who rejects the complaint of the poor and beats them off with big words and terror in his looks, either out of the hardness of his heart or the love of ease, when he might have leisure to give them audience if he were so minded and to take notice of their grievances cannot justly excuse himself by pleading, ‘Behold, we knew it not’” (Bishop Sanderson).


Paul Koptak: A series of character sketches in verses 8–10 is marked by the Hebrew word for “man” at the start of each verse (ʾiš; plural, ʾanše), pitting the “mockers” and “bloodthirsty men” against a single “wise man.”

A.  (:8) Mockers Inflame Society

Scorners set a city aflame,

But wise men turn away anger.

Tremper Longman: Mockers are radical fools.  They not only lack wisdom; they also ridicule those who do.  When they have influence over a city, whether officially or by their own assertions, they rock it in negative ways.  They are those who would take a bad situation and intensify it into a riot.  On the other hand, the wise are coolheaded.  In a bad situation, they would calm tempers for the good of the community.

Allen Ross: The wise maintain peace and harmony in society. This contrast tells how the wise “turn away anger” rather than “stir up” strife. The “men of scoffing” or “mockers” are “men who laugh at moral obligations and stir up the baser passions of their fellow citizens (Isa. 28:14)” (Toy, 508–9). The idea of “stir up” is from the Hebrew yāpîḥû (“blow,” as in “blow up a flame,” i.e., kindle a fire; see also its use in 6:19; 12:17, where it suggests to “puff out” words). Such scoffers make dangerous situations worse, whereas the wise calm things down and ensure peace in the community.

Charles Bridges: The man who scorns being bound by common restraint will stir up a city by his presumption or set it on fire by bringing the fire of divine anger upon it.  Happily, wise men are scattered through the land, and their energy and prudence turns away divine wrath.  “Proud and foolish men kindle the fire that wise and good men must extinguish” (Henry).

B.  (:9) Foolish Men Respond Emotionally in Disputes

When a wise man has a controversy with a foolish man,

The foolish man either rages or laughs, and there is no rest.

George Mylne: Those who keep the law contend with the wicked; and prudence must direct us in what manner we should contend with them. Men have very different dispositions; some must be addressed with severe and sharp reproofs, that they may feel the iniquity of their conduct. But others are to be addressed in the language of mildness and gentleness, and will be won to goodness, although they could not be driven to it. We find that the prophets sometimes thundered, and sometimes wept, and sometimes allured men by the language of love, to repentance. God, who is well acquainted with all the springs of conduct in human nature, taught them to deal with men in these various ways but experience proved how generally this proverb agreed with the temper of foolish men. For the prophets seldom had much success in their exhortations, though diversified with all that wisdom and prudence in which God abounded towards men. The forerunner of our Lord, who was greater than the former prophets, lamented unto the people of his generation and yet they did not mourn. Our Lord himself preached unto them, and the people wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. But they only wondered and did not generally repent.

Let us endeavor to turn the wicked to the wisdom of the just by all the prudent methods competent to our station. If we do not succeed in our charitable endeavors, our reward is with the Lord and obstinate sinners must give an account to the Judge of the living and the dead.

C.  (:10) Bloodthirsty Men Threaten Men of Integrity

Men of bloodshed hate the blameless,

But the upright are concerned for his life.

Richard Clifford: Murderous people hate a blameless person but the upright seek his life in a positive sense. “To seek the life of” is here turned on its head.

Allen Ross: Bloodthirsty men loathe the integrity of the upright. Because the wicked despise all sense of decency or “integrity” (tām), they seek to destroy it. The second line forms a contrast; literally it reads, “as for the upright, they seek his life [napšô].” “Seeking a life” was usually a hostile act, but here the contrast requires the idea of “seek to preserve a life” (interpreted differently by the NIV). McKane, 637, is satisfied that here “seek” means to seek the welfare of someone; thus it means that the upright “have regard for” men of integrity.

D.  (:11) Hot-tempered Fools Show No Restraint

A fool always loses his temper,

But a wise man holds it back.

Tremper Longman: Fools may not listen well, but they certainly talk a lot.  Their talk gets them into trouble and also agitates others.  They are not emotionally intelligent, and their talk will often inappropriately express emotions that will only inflame a situation.

On the other hand, the wise, who are coolheaded, speak only when necessary and helpful.  They also can cleanup the mess started by the speech of fools.

George Mylne: The wise man is sensible that it is as much his duty to practice the wisdom of the serpent, as the harmlessness of the dove. He will take care what he says, when he finds himself or sees others under the influence of passion, and will abstain from talking with which he can do no good.

Matthew Henry:

  1. It is a piece of weakness to be very open: He is a fool who utters all his mind,—who tells every thing he knows, and has in his mouth instantly whatever he has in his thoughts, and can keep no counsel,—who, whatever is started in discourse, quickly shoots his bolt,—who, when he is provoked, will say any thing that comes uppermost, whoever is reflected upon by it,—who, when he is to speak of any business, will say all he thinks, and yet never thinks he says enough, whether choice or refuse, corn or chaff, pertinent or impertinent, you shall have it all.
  2. It is a piece of wisdom to be upon the reserve: A wise man will not utter all his mind at once, but will take time for a second thought, or reserve the present thought for a fitter time, when it will be more pertinent and likely to answer his intention; he will not deliver himself in a continued speech, or starched discourse, but with pauses, that he may hear what is to be objected and answer it.


Lindsay Wilson: These verses are clearly addressed to those aspiring to rule. The ruler is mentioned in verse 12, the king in verse 14, and verse 13 refers to one who has the power to oppress others. There is great power in modelling. This is especially evident in verse 12, where the negative example of a king’s behaviour (listening to false matters/words) results in all the lower officials becoming wicked. They put into practice what they see in the actions of those in authority. With power comes responsibility.

A.  (:12) Cancer of Corruption in Leadership

If a ruler pays attention to falsehood,

All his ministers become wicked.

B.  (:13) Common Life and Grace to All Classes of Society

The poor man and the oppressor have this in common:

The LORD gives light to the eyes of both.

C.  (:14) Concern for Justice for the Poor Prospers a Kingdom

If a king judges the poor with truth,

His throne will be established forever.

Paul Koptak: This saying links with the one before on the theme of the poor; set in contrast to the person who oppresses them is the king who judges with fairness (or “faithfulness,” ʾemet). Kidner catches the sense well: “The test of a man in power, and his hidden strength, is the extent to which he keeps faith with those who can put least pressure on him.”  Association with Yahweh who judges the poor faithfully is strong, as is the theme of stability (29:4; cf. 20:28; Ps. 72:4–7, 12–14).

Tremper Longman: This proverb bolsters the teaching that the righteous wise are characterized by compassion for the poor.  This is particularly the case for the king, who is charged by Yahweh to care for all the socially vulnerable.  Those in power are not to exploit those who are weak, but rather to take care of them.  Here the king who does so is encouraged by the possibility of a strong reign.

Allen Ross: The duration of an administration depends on its moral character. This verse shows the importance of guaranteeing that fair and just treatment is given to all (judging with “fairness” [ʾemet, lit., “truth”]), especially the poor. To fail to do so is immoral (see 16:12; 20:28; 25:5; 31:5).


The rod and reproof give wisdom,

But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.

Lindsay Wilson: This subsection ends where it began in verse 3 with a family setting. The value of parental discipline and correction is again affirmed (13:1; 15:5; 22:6; 23:13–14), with a reminder that leaving children to their own devices is not the path to freedom but to folly and shame. The apparent kindness of indulging children makes it more difficult for them to grow into the people God wants them to be. The language of shame reminds us that the OT culture was a community one where people were expected to promote honour and to avoid bringing shame on their family or community.

Matthew Henry: Parents, in educating their children, must consider,

  1. The benefit of due correction. They must not only tell their children what is good and evil, but they must chide them, and correct them too, if need be, when they either neglect that which is good or do that which is evil. If a reproof will serve without the rod, it is well, but the rod must never be used without a rational and grave reproof; and then, though it may be a present uneasiness both to the father and to the child, yet it will give wisdom. Vexatio dat intellectum—Vexation sharpens the intellect. The child will take warning, and so will get wisdom.
  2. The mischief of undue indulgence: A child that is not restrained or reproved, but is left to himself, as Adonijah was, to follow his own inclinations, may do well if he will, but, if he take to ill courses, nobody will hinder him; it is a thousand to one but he proves a disgrace to his family, and brings his mother, who fondled him and humoured him in his licentiousness, to shame, to poverty, to reproach, and perhaps will himself be abusive to her and give her ill language.


When the wicked increase, transgression increases;

But the righteous will see their fall.

Charles Bridges: The faithful Christian minister, conscious of his inability to stem the ever-flowing torrent of iniquity, would sink in despair but for the assured confidence that he is on the conquering side, that his cause, being the cause of his Lord, must eventually prevail.