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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 22

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-16


Chapters 1-9, as we have seen, contain discourses that someone, probably Solomon, wrote urging his son to choose the way of wisdom for his life. However, Kidner believed that if Solomon had written the first nine chapters, Proverbs 10:1 would read, "These also are proverbs of Solomon." [Note: Kidner, p. 22.] At Proverbs 10:1, we begin the part of the book that sets forth what "the wise way" is in a variety of life situations.

"Until now the book of Proverbs has been identifying the truly wise man. From this point on, it will describe how such a man should conduct his life from day to day. This logical topical order appears in many New Testament epistles, where the saved person is first identified, and then the daily life he should live is described [e.g., Romans 1-5, 6-8; Ephesians 1-3, 4-6]." [Note: Irving L. Jensen, Proverbs, p. 64.]

"The main thought is that moral goodness and industry bring prosperity, and wickedness and indolence adversity . . ." [Note: Toy, p. 196.]

There are 184 maxims in chapters 10-15 and 191 in chapters 16-22 for a total of 375. [Note: Jensen, p. 65.] A maxim is a succinct or pithy saying that has some proven truth to it, a general rule, principle, or truth. This group represents only a few of the 3,000 proverbs Solomon wrote (1 Kings 4:32). Waltke wrote that the Book of Proverbs contains 930 sayings. [Note: Waltke, The Book . . ., p. xxi.] Most of the proverbs in this section are one verse long and contain two lines each; they are couplets. The second line contrasts, compares, or completes the idea expressed in the first line. This is Hebrew parallelism. In chapters 10-15, most couplets contain antithetic parallelism. The key word is "but." In chapters 16-22, there are more synonymous parallelisms marked by the conjunction "and." There are also continuous sentences in which the second line continues the thought of the first line (e.g., Proverbs 14:26). Some couplets contain comparisons in which the relative value of two things is set forth (e.g., Proverbs 11:31). Some contain a statement in the first line followed by an explanation in the second line (e.g., Proverbs 20:2). [Note: For further discussion, see R. N. Whybray, The Book of Proverbs, pp. 57-59.]

Is there any logic to the arrangement of these seemingly unrelated proverbs? In some places there is a general association of ideas, and in some places there is a recurring key word (e.g., "king" in Proverbs 16:12-15, and "Yahweh" in Proverbs 16:1-7). However, many of these couplets have no logical connection with what immediately precedes or follows in the context. This anthology style is typical of other ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature.

"The absence of a systematic arrangement is due to the traditional character of the contents. There is no need of a closely knit argument; striking images, incisive wording are all that is required to give a fresh appeal to the truth of familiar viewpoints." [Note: Frankfort, p. 61.]

"It is also surprising to find lofty precepts mixed with more ’trivial’ apothegms. Of course, this is a misconception based on the modern-day viewpoint of life. From the sages’ perspective each proverb is an expression of ’wisdom,’ which is . . . the fixed order of reality. Viewed from this perspective no sentence is trivial . . ." [Note: Waltke, "The Book . . .," p. 226.]

Why did the Holy Spirit not arrange these proverbs topically so we could study all of them that deal with one subject together? Perhaps He did so because the method He chose is "a course of education in the life of wisdom." [Note: Kidner, p. 22.]

"As we read Proverbs chapter by chapter, the Spirit of God has the freedom to teach us about many subjects, and we never know from day to day which topic we’ll need the most. Just as the Bible itself isn’t arranged like a systematic theology, neither is Proverbs. What Solomon wrote is more like a kaleidoscope than a stained-glass window: We never know what the next pattern will be." [Note: Wiersbe, p. 16. See also p. 59.]

In the notes that follow (on Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16), I have commented only on those proverbs that appear to me to need clarification in the NASB.

Verses 1-16

B. How to Please God 16:1-22:16

There is a shift in emphasis in Solomon’s anthology here. Pleasing God (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:33; Colossians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 1 John 3:22) becomes a greater factor in the proverbs that follow, whereas those in chapters 10-15 had living successfully more in view. Nevertheless, this is only a change in proportion of emphasis. Both ends are present in both sections of the book (chs. 10-15 and Proverbs 16:1 to Proverbs 22:16).

Verses 1-16

4. Further advice for pleasing God 19:1-22:16

As was true in the chapter 10-15 section, this one (Proverbs 16:1 to Proverbs 22:16) also becomes more difficult to outline as it ends, because there are fewer groupings of proverbs.

Verse 1

"In our modern, hedonistic, pleasure-seeking culture, character and reputation have a way of being ignored if not actually denigrated. True value must be seen, however, not in what one has but in what he or she truly is. A good name is an asset whose currency is unaffected by the boom or bust of the material world." [Note: Merrill, p. 495.]

Verse 6

"Train" (Heb. hanak) means to dedicate (cf. Deuteronomy 20:5; 1 Kings 8:63; 2 Chronicles 7:5; Daniel 3:2). It has the idea of narrowing and in this verse implies channeling the child’s conduct into the way of wisdom. That guidance might include dedicating him or her to God and preparing the child for future responsibilities and adulthood. [Note: Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, p. 252.]

"In the way he should go" is literally "according to his way." It may mean according to his personality, temperament, responses, or stage in life. On the other hand, it could mean the way in which he ought to go. The Hebrew grammar permits either interpretation. However the context favors the latter view. "Way" in Proverbs usually means the path a person takes through life, not one’s personality, disposition, or stage in life. Consequently, the verse is saying the parent should train up a child in the way of wisdom, i.e., to live in the fear of God. [Note: Ross, pp. 1061-62; Toy, p. 415; McKane, p. 564; Kidner, p. 147; and Greenstone, p. 234.]

The second part of this verse has challenged the faith of many a godly parent. Obviously many children who have received good training have repudiated the way of wisdom later in life. The explanation for this seemingly broken promise lies in a correct understanding of what a proverb is.

"A proverb is a literary device whereby a general truth is brought to bear on a specific situation. Many of the proverbs are not absolute guarantees for they express truths that are necessarily conditioned by prevailing circumstances. For example, Proverbs 22:3-4; Proverbs 22:9; Proverbs 22:11; Proverbs 22:16; Proverbs 22:29 do not express promises that are always binding. Though the proverbs are generally and usually true, occasional exceptions may be noted. This may be because of the self-will or deliberate disobedience of an individual who chooses to go his own way-the way of folly instead of the way of wisdom . . . It is generally true, however, that most children who are brought up in Christian homes, under the influence of godly parents who teach and live God’s standards (cf. Ephesians 6:4), follow that training." [Note: Buzzell, p. 953.]

This proverb clearly does not state a Scriptural promise. Rather, the revelation of Scripture elsewhere is that God allows people to make their own decisions. He does not force them to do what is right (cf. Proverbs 2:11-15; Proverbs 5:11-14; Ezekiel 18:20).

"In sum, the proverb promises the educator that his original, and early, moral initiative has a permanent effect on a person for good. But that is not the whole truth about religious education." [Note: Waltke, The Book . . . 31, p. 206.]

Verse 7

This verse does not forbid borrowing. In Israel the Jews borrowed from one another. The Mosaic Law permitted this but condemned charging other Jews interest (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19; Deuteronomy 28:12; Deuteronomy 28:44), though the Israelites could charge foreigners interest (Deuteronomy 23:20). The New Testament does not forbid borrowing either, though it forbids not paying debts (Romans 13:6-8). It may be unwise to go into debt in some situations, but it is going too far to say that the Bible condemns going into debt.

"While a certain amount of honest debt is expected in today’s world, and everybody wants to achieve a good credit rating, we must be careful not to mistake presumption for faith. As the familiar adage puts it, ’When your outgo exceeds your income, then your upkeep is your downfall.’" [Note: Wiersbe, p. 93.]

This verse warns the borrower that he puts himself in a vulnerable position by borrowing. He becomes dependent on another or others by borrowing. An unscrupulous lender might take advantage of him. Most lenders will not take unfair advantage of someone who borrows from them, but the borrower should be aware of this possibility.

"The verse may be referring to the apparently common practice of Israelites selling themselves into slavery to pay off debts (see Exodus 21:2-7). It is not appreciably different from the modern debtor who is working to pay off bills." [Note: Ross, p. 1062.]

Verse 8

This verse provides encouragement for the oppressed. The last line assures the sufferer that God will eventually break the oppressing rod of the person who sows iniquity.

Verse 16

The gifts given to the rich are to secure their favor, not out of love for them (cf. Proverbs 14:31; Proverbs 19:17; Proverbs 28:3).

Verses 17-21

A. Introduction to the 30 Sayings 22:17-21

As in chapters 1-9, the writer began this section of the book with an exhortation to hear and give heed to the words of wisdom that follow. The reason the writer gave the following proverbs introduces the 30 sayings.

"This extended introduction reminds us that the wise sayings were not curiosity pieces; they were revelation, and revelation demands a response." [Note: Ross, p. 1065.]

First, there is a call (Proverbs 22:17) followed by three motivations: a pleasing store of wisdom (Proverbs 22:18), a deeper trust in the Lord (Proverbs 22:19), and a greater reliability (Proverbs 22:20-21). [Note: Kidner, p. 149.]

The Hebrew word translated "excellent things" (Proverbs 22:20; slswm) has also been rendered "heretofore" (RV margin), "triply" (Septuagint, Vulgate), and "30 sayings" (RSV, NIV). Since 30 sayings follow, that seems to be the best option for translation. "Him who sent you" (Proverbs 22:21) is probably the original reader’s teacher, who may have been his father.

"Notwithstanding the difficulties of the text, the general thought of the paragraph is plain: the pupil is to devote himself to study, in order that his religious life may be firmly established, and that he may be able to give wise counsel to those who seek advice." [Note: Toy, pp. 424-25.]

"Even the most brilliant moral sayings are powerless without personal application." [Note: Waltke, The Book . . . 31, p. 223.]

Verses 17-22


A third major section of the Book of Proverbs begins with Proverbs 22:17. This is clear from several indicators. The proverbs lengthen out again from the typical one-verse couplet that characterizes Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16 (cf. chs. 1-9). Also, the phrase "my son" appears again, as in chapters 1-9. Third, we read in Proverbs 22:20 (in the Hebrew text) that a group of 30 sayings will follow. The NASB translators rendered this verse, "Have I not written to you excellent things . . ."

The emphasis in Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:34, which includes the fourth collection of proverbs (six more sayings of the wise, Proverbs 24:23-34), is on the importance of applying the instruction previously given.

The value of wisdomchs. 1-9
The examples of wisdomProverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16
The application of wisdomProverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:34

The reason many scholars believe Solomon did not write the 36 sayings of the wise (Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:34) is this: the title, "These also are sayings of the wise [or sages, plural]," in Proverbs 24:23 a suggests several writers rather than one.

"The plur. sages points to the existence of a special class of wise men, who were oral teachers or writers. The utterances of these men formed a distinct body of thought, part of which is preserved in the Book of Proverbs . . ." [Note: Toy, p. 451.]

The word "also" in Proverbs 24:23 a apparently refers to the similar title in Proverbs 22:17, suggesting that these sages, not Solomon, wrote the proverbs in Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:22.

The 36 sayings divide into two groups: "the [30] words of the wise" (Proverbs 22:17), and six more "sayings of the wise" (Proverbs 24:23).

Many scholars have called attention to the similarities between Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:22, the 30 sayings of the wise, and The Instruction of Amen-em-Ope. [Note: E.g., McKane, pp. 369-74. For an introduction to other similar ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature, see Harris, pp. 555-57; or Waltke, The Book . . ., pp. 28-31, who cited eight other similar pre-Solomonic Egyptian texts.] The Instruction of Amen-em-Ope is a piece of Egyptian wisdom literature that scholars have dated in the New Kingdom period (ca. 1558-1085 B.C.). Both sets of proverbs contain 30 sayings each, both use the "my son" terminology, and both follow the same structural design. This design includes an introduction stating why the writer gave the instruction followed by 30 independent sections of sayings on diverse subjects. However, a difference between these two collections is significant. The writer or writers of the biblical proverbs, evidently not Solomon, said their purpose was that the readers’ "trust may be in the Lord" (Proverbs 22:19). However, Amen-em-Ope expressed no such hope or any belief in a personal God. As mentioned earlier, the biblical writers’ purpose and faith distinguish the Book of Proverbs from all other ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature. [Note: For an introduction to the study of comparative ancient Near Eastern wisdom literature, see Waltke, "The Book . . .," pp. 221-38.]

Verse 22

B. The 30 Sayings 22:22-24:22

Waltke titled the first 10 sayings "a Decalogue of sayings about wealth." [Note: Ibid., p. 225.]

Verses 22-23

Note the chiastic structure in these four lines that unifies the thought of the passage: violence, litigation, litigation, violence. The point of this first saying is that God will avenge the poor on those who oppress them.

Verses 24-25

The influence of a hothead can prove detrimental (cf. Proverbs 1:10-19; Proverbs 14:17; Proverbs 14:29; Proverbs 15:1).

Verses 26-27

Solomon previously warned of the folly of making promises to cover the debts of others (Proverbs 6:1-5; Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 17:18; Proverbs 20:16). This is a good way to lose what one has.

Verse 28

Moving boundaries in fields, usually marked by stone pillars or piles of stones (cairns), resulted in individuals losing and gaining property and wealth. In Israel, this was also a sin against God, since God owned and apportioned all the land (cf. Deuteronomy 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:17; Job 24:2). The warning is against appropriating someone else’s property, not disrespecting historical markers.

"Probably the boundary stone was moved annually only about an inconspicuous half-inch, which in time could add up to a sizeable land grab." [Note: Ibid., p. 235.]

Verse 29

The quality of a person’s work, not his bribes or flattery, will ultimately determine how his career progresses. Therefore a person should seek to improve his or her skills.

"Anyone who puts his workmanship before his prospects towers above the thrusters and climbers of the adjacent paragraphs." [Note: Kidner, p. 150.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Proverbs 22". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/proverbs-22.html. 2012.
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