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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 20

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

Verse 1

“Wine” and “strong drink” are personified as themselves doing what they make men do. The latter (see Leviticus 10:9 note) is here, probably, the “palm-wine” of Syria.

Verse 2

Sinneth against his own soul - i. e., Against his own life (compare Habakkuk 2:10).

Verse 3

Meddling - See Proverbs 17:14 note.

Verse 4

Plowing time in Palestine is in November and December, when the wind blows commonly from the North.

Verse 5

The contest between reticence on the one side and pertinacity in search on the other is represented as by a parable. The well may be very deep (compare the marginal reference), but the man of understanding” has enough skill to draw up the water even to the last drop. Every question is, as it were, a turning of the windlass.

Verse 6

Goodness - With the special sense of bounty, beneficence. Contrast promise and performance. People boast of their liberality, yet we look in vain for the fulfillment of actual obligations.

Verse 9

A warning voice against the spirit, which, ignorant of its own guilt, is forward to condemn others.

Verse 10

See Proverbs 11:1 : Here perhaps, as a companion to Proverbs 20:9, with a wider application to all judging one man by rules which we do not apply to ourselves or to another.

Verse 11

The graces or the faults of children are not trifles. “The child is father of the man;” and the earliest actions are prophecies of the future, whether it will be pure and right, or unclean and evil.

Verse 12

Not only do we owe the gifts of sight and hearing to Yahweh, but He, being the giver, will also call us to account for them (compare Psalms 94:9).

Verse 13

Open thine eyes - Be vigilant and active. That is the secret of prosperity.

Verse 14

Naught - Bad, worthless 2 Kings 2:19.

Verse 15

A precious jewel - literally, “A vessel of preciousness,” i. e., most precious of all are “the lips of knowledge.”

Verse 16

The warning against suretiship and lust are here repeated and combined (compare Proverbs 27:13). The judge tells the creditor to seize the goods of the surety who has been weak enough to pledge himself for those who are alien to him, instead of those of the actual debtor. The reading of the the King James Version recalls in the second clause the history of Tamar Genesis 38:17-18. The Hebrew text, however, gives “strangers” in the masculine plural, and is probably right, the feminine being the reading of the margin, probably adopted from Proverbs 27:13.

Verse 17

“To eat gravel” was a Hebrew Lamentations 3:16, and is an Arabic, phrase for getting into trouble. So “bread,” got by deceit, tastes sweet at first, but ends by leaving the hunger of the soul unsatisfied. There is a pleasure in the sense of cleverness felt after a hard bargain or a successful fraud, which must be met by bidding men look on the after consequences.

Verse 19

Flattereth - literally, “The man who opens his lips,” who has no reticence; such a man, with or without intending it, does the work of a talebearer.

Verse 20

A connecting link between Leviticus 20:9 and Matthew 15:4. The words, “his lamp shall be put out,” describe the failure of outward happiness.

Verse 21

Or, An inheritance gotten hastily (greedily sought after by unjust means) at the beginning, the end thereof shall not be blessed. Another reading gives, “an inheritance loathed, (compare Zechariah 11:8), or with a curse upon it.” The King James Version agrees with the versions.

Verse 22

God’s awarding to everyone according to his works, is the true check to the spirit of vindictiveness (compare Romans 12:17, Romans 12:19). Note that man is not told to wait on the Lord in expectation of seeing vengeance on his enemies, but “He shall save thee.” The difference of the two hopes, in their effect upon the man’s character, is incalculable.

Verse 24

The order of a man’s life is a mystery even to himself. He knows not where he is going, or for what God is educating him.

Verse 25

Better, It is a snare to a man to utter a vow (of consecration) rashly, and after vows to inquire whether he can fulfill them. Both clauses are a protest against the besetting sin of rash and hasty vows. Compare the marginal reference.

Verse 26

The wheel - The threshing wheel Isaiah 28:27-28, which passes over the grain and separates the grain from the chaff. The proverb involves therefore the idea of the division of the good from the evil, no less than that of the punishment of the latter.

Verse 27

The spirit of man - The “breath” of Genesis 2:7, the higher life, above that which he has in common with lower animals, coming to him direct from God. Such a life, with all its powers of insight, consciousness, reflection, is as a lamp which God has lighted, throwing its rays into the darkest recesses of the heart. A still higher truth is proclaimed in the Prologue of John’s Gospel. The candle, or lamp of Yahweh, derives its light from “the Light that lighteth every man,” even the Eternal Word.

Verse 30

Better, The blueness of a wound is a cleansing of evil, so are the stripes that go down to the inward parts of the belly.

The open sores of wounds left by the scourge, unclean and foul as they seem, are yet a cleansing, purifying process for evil; so also are the stripes that reach the inward parts of the belly, i. e., the sharp reproofs, the stings of conscience, which penetrate where no scourge can reach, into the inner life of man. Chastisement, whatever be its nature, must be real; the scourge must leave its mark, the reproof must go deep.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Proverbs 20". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/proverbs-20.html. 1870.
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