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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Proverbs 24

Verses 17-22

III. COLLECTION 3: THIRTY SAYINGS OF THE WISE 22:17-24:22

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.

EmphasisSection
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 1-2

Previously the writer cited the ruinous end of evil companions as motivation to avoid their company (Proverbs 23:20-21). Here, it is their essential character that is the basis for the same advice.

Verses 3-4

The house in view is probably one’s life experience-including literal houses, one’s household, his business, etc. (cf. Matthew 7:24-27). If it takes wisdom to build a house, it takes even more wisdom to build a household. Wisdom is essential for all domestic enterprises.

"The replacement of book shelves by television sets and of the study by the ’den’ in modern homes (regressing from human to bestial habitats!) is a sad commentary on our times." [Note: Plaut, p. 247.]

Verses 5-6

Again we see that the wise person is not completely self-reliant. He recognizes his own imperfection and looks to others to supplement his own personal deficiencies. "Wage war" means to seek to overcome any obstacle one may face in life. Wise strategy is always more important than mere strength.

As Christians, we need to overcome the obstacle of understanding the meaning of Scripture before we can apply it to our own lives and explain it to others. For this, God has given us a multitude of counselors in the writers of commentaries and other Bible study aids. The Christian is a fool who does not listen to these counselors by reading what they have written to supplement and challenge his or her own study and understanding of the text.

Verse 7

Wisdom is beyond the fool’s reach. Therefore he does not, if he has any wisdom at all, seek to give advice in the decision-making places of his world. [Note: See Kidner’s subject study on the fool, pp. 39-42.]

"This saying inferentially commends becoming competently wise by warning against being an incompetent fool." [Note: Waltke, The Book . . . 31, p. 273.]

Verses 8-9

Other people will despise the person who dreams up plans that end in evil. Such planning is sin and the work of a fool. Fools are not necessarily unintelligent, but their plans often result in sin. [Note: McKane, p. 399.]

Verse 10

The day of distress is a day when trouble comes. If a person does not persevere but quits under the pressure of trouble, he shows that he does not have strength of character, which is a fruit of possessing wisdom (cf. Proverbs 24:5 a). We never know our true strength until we find ourselves in situations that demand much from us. Weak people plead adverse conditions so they can justify quitting. [Note: Kidner, p. 154.]

Verses 11-12

The people carried away in Proverbs 24:11 are evidently innocent captives or oppressed individuals. We have a responsibility to help such people. If we claim ignorance of their condition as a reason for not helping them, we need to remember that God knows the true condition of our heart and will requite us accordingly. We are responsible to rescue those who are in mortal danger. This includes warning and teaching those who are hastening to destruction. [Note: Toy, p. 445.]

"In Proverbs 24:12 Yahweh is represented as one ’who weighs the heart.’ This figure goes back to the Egyptian god Thoth, who is often represented as standing at the judgment of the dead beside the scales with the human heart." [Note: Waltke, "The Book . . .," p. 237.]

The concept of God weighing the heart was also very old in Israelite theology going back as far as the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:17-19).

Verses 13-14

The writer pictured the pleasantness and desirability of wisdom in this saying. Widsom prepares for the future. Folly does not.

"Wisdom has all the immediate sweetness of honey, but also the additional characteristic of a pleasure that lasts for eternity." [Note: M. L. Malbim, The Book of Proverbs, p. 248.]

Verses 15-16

To make a point, the speaker spoke to his son as though he were addressing a wicked man in this saying. This device gives the warning more force since the wicked man’s main concern is his own self-interest. The point is that the righteous is resilient because he trusts in God. Furthermore, God defends the righteous. Virtue triumphs in the end. [Note: Whybray, The Book . . ., p. 140.]

Verses 17-18

To complete the thought, we might add at the end of this saying: "and turn it on you." Gloating over someone else’s misfortune is a practice God disapproves-even if the other person is the adversary of the righteous (cf. Matthew 5:44). Fear of God’s displeasure should warn the wise away from this attitude and activity.

"In truth the proverb teaches that the LORD will not promote further moral ugliness by maintaining the situation that exacerbates it." [Note: Waltke, The Book . . . 31, p. p. 285.]

Verses 19-20

"Fret" (Heb. tithar) means to burn up emotionally. The sage again addressed the problem of envying wicked people who enjoy temporary prosperity (cf. Proverbs 23:17; Proverbs 24:1). The "lamp" is the life of the wicked. The wicked are doomed; they will have no good outcome for their lives. [Note: Toy, p. 449.]

Verses 21-22

The change in view is deviation from the will of God or the laws of the king. The phrase "both of them" (Proverbs 24:22) refers to God and the king. The structure is again chiastic to emphasize the central thought of the proverb. People should fear God and the government because they both punish rebels (cf. Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:17).

This concludes the so-called 30 sayings of the wise, as is clear from Proverbs 24:23 a.

Verses 23-25

This saying advocates justice and straight talk. It is particularly relevant for judges of all kinds.

Verses 23-34

IV. COLLECTION 4: SIX MORE SAYINGS OF THE WISE 24:23-34

The first sentence in Proverbs 24:23 indicates that what follows was not part of the collection of 30 sayings that preceded. Other wise men (lit. sages) evidently provided these proverbs.

Verse 26

One paraphrase of this verse is as follows: "The right word spoken seals all, like a kiss on the lips." [Note: Knox cited by Kidner, p. 156. See Waltke, The Book . . . 31, p. 293, for information about kissing customs in the ancient Near East.] Truthful speech is a mark of friendship.

"As a sincere kiss shows affection and is desirable, so an honest (and perhaps straightforward) answer shows a person’s concern and therefore is welcomed." [Note: Buzzell, p. 959.]

Verse 27

The farmer must pay more attention to the cultivation of his fields than to his personal comfort. Likewise everyone should put a well-ordered life, including a measure of financial security, ahead of getting married and starting a family. In a broader application, we should keep first things first. [Note: Whybray, The Book . . ., p. 153.]

Verse 28

Being a witness against a neighbor means testifying against him. Keep quiet unless your testimony is necessary, and keep truthful when you do speak.

Verse 29

The quotation in this verse, which the sage advised against, expresses the opposite of the golden rule (cf. Proverbs 20:22; Matthew 5:43-45; Romans 12:9).

Verses 30-34

"Poverty comes as a robber," in that it overtakes the sluggard surprisingly, and or suddenly. Continued laziness typically leads to poverty.

These sections of 36 wise sayings begin and end with a reference to the poor (cf. Proverbs 22:22-23; Proverbs 24:30-34). Poverty has some obvious connections with folly, though not every poor person is a fool.

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Proverbs 24". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/proverbs-24.html. 2012.