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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 20

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-30

ε) Admonition to avoid drunkenness, sloth, a contentious spirit, etc

Chap. 20

1          Wine is a mocker, strong drink boisterous,

whosoever is led astray thereby is not wise.

2     As the roaring of a lion is the dread of the king;

he that provoketh him sinneth against his own soul.

3     It is an honor to a man to dwell far from strife,

but every fool breaketh forth.

4     The sluggard plougheth not because of the cold;

he seeketh in harvest and hath nothing.

5     Counsel in the heart of a man is as deep waters,

but a wise man draweth it out.

6     Many proclaim each his own grace;

but a faithful man who can find?

7     He who in his innocence walketh uprightly,

blessed are his children after him!

8     A king sitting on his throne,

searcheth out all evil with his eyes.

9     Who can say, I have made my heart clean,

I am pure from my sin?

10     Divers weights and divers measures,

an abomination to Jehovah are they both.

11     Even a child maketh himself known in his deeds,

whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.

12     The ear that heareth, and the eye that seeth—

Jehovah hath created them both.

13     Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty;

open thine eyes, and be satisfied with thy bread.

14     “It is bad, it is bad!” saith the buyer,

but when he is gone his way then he boasteth.

15     There is gold, and a multitude of pearls;

but a precious vase are lips of knowledge.

16     Take his garment that is surety for a stranger,

and for strangers make him a bondsman.

17     Bread of deceit is sweet to a man,

but afterward his mouth is filled with gravel.

18     Plans are established by counsel,

and with good advice make war.

19     He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets;

with him that openeth wide his lips have nothing to do.

20     He that curseth father and mother,

his light goeth out in utter darkness.

21     An inheritance that is hastily gained in the beginning,

its end will not be blessed.

22     Say not: Let me avenge the evil!

wait on Jehovah; he will help thee.

23     An abomination to Jehovah are diverse weights,

and a deceitful balance is not good.

24     Man’s steps are of Jehovah;

man—how shall he understand his way?

25     It is a snare to a man that he hath vowed hastily,

and after vows to inquire.

26     A wise king sifteth the wicked,

and bringeth the (threshing) wheel over them.

27     The spirit of man is a candle of Jehovah,

searching all the chambers of the body.

28     Grace and truth preserve the king,

and he upholdeth his throne by mercy.

29     The glory of young men is their strength,

and the honor of old men is the grey head.

30     Wounding stripes are a correction of evil,

and strokes in the inner chambers of the body.


Proverbs 20:2. מתעברו is either to be pointed with Hitzig מְתַעְבְּרֹו (partic. with suffix from a denominative verb of Aramaic form תַּעְבֵּר “to throw into a passion, to excite wrath” [עֶבְרָה] or, which is probably simpler, with Ewald, Bertheau [Fuerst], etc., to conceive of it as a Hithp. participle, whose ordinary meaning, “to become excited against any one,” (comp. Proverbs 26:17) here passes over into the transitive idea, “to excite some one against one’s self, to call some one forth against one’s self.” Altogether too artificial, and in conflict with the old versions (LXX: ὁ παροξύνων αὐτόν; Vulg.: qui provocat eum) is Umbreit’s explanation: “he that arouseth himself (riseth up) against him [the king].” [E. V., H., B., M., etc., agree with our author; De W. and Noyes, with Umbreit].

Proverbs 20:3. שֶׁבֶת is according to the Masoretic punctuation the Infinitive of יָשַׁב [as in Isaiah 30:7] and not, as most of the recent interpreters [among them Umbreit, Ewald, Hitzig, [Fuerst, M., etc.]], regard it, a substantive from the root שָׁבַת, for which derivation certainly no other support could be adduced than Exodus 21:19.

Proverbs 20:4. The K’ri וְשָׁאַל is doubtless preferable to the K’thibh יְשָׁאֵל (Psalms 109:10), for “to beg in harvest” would give a meaning too intense. [Song of Song of Solomon 2:0, S., etc.].—Hitzig changes מֵחֹרֶף into מַחְרֵף, which, according to Arabic analogies, should mean “a fruit basket;” he then reads יִשְׁאַל “he demands, desires,” and obtains the meaning:

“A pannier [?] the sluggard doth not provide [?],
“trieth to borrow [?] in harvest, and nothing cometh of it [?],”

Proverbs 20:9. [טָהַרְתִּי, cited by Bött. § 948, c, as one of the examples of the “stative” perfect, used to describe spiritual states. יאֹמַר, one of his examples of the “Fiens licitum” the Imperf. used to express what can be: “who can say;” § 950, β.—A.]

Proverbs 20:16. [לְקַח standing emphatically at the beginning of a verse, one of the few instances of the full Imperative form; Bött. § 1101, 2—A.].

Proverbs 20:18. Ewald proposes instead of עֲשֵׂה to read the Infin. עֲשׂה, as in Proverbs 21:3; but the Imperative seems more appropriate, and gives to the expression greater vivacity.

Proverbs 20:22. [וְי֣שַׁ֥ע לָֽךְ, one of the few examples of double accent, the penultimate accent marking the rhythm, that on the ultima sustaining its vowel; Bött. § 482, e.g.—The Jussive form with ו consec. is used to assert a sure result; Bött. “affirmativ consecutiv.”—A.]

Proverbs 20:25. יָלַע, essentially identical with לָעָה, signifies, according to the Arabic, “to speak inconsiderately, to promise thoughtlessly;” קֹדֶשׁ is here not a substantive, but an Infinitive continuing the finite verb. According to this simple explanation, which is lexically well justified, Ewald’s conception of ילע as a substantive, which should be pointed. יֶלַע, and translated, “hasty vow,” may be dismissed as superfluous; and also the derivation preferred by Jerome, Luther and others of the older expositors, from the root לוע “to swallow” [Vulgate: devorare sanctos; Luther: “das Heilips Histern”]. [Gesen and Fuerst are authorities for the view adopted by our author, while Bött., with great positiveness [§ 964, 5 and n. 7] pronounces the form a Jussive form with a “permissive” meaning, from לוע or לעע; “let him only, i.e. if he only hurry or hasten too much.”—A.]

Proverbs 20:29. [בַּֽחוּרִים, young men, juvenes, as distinguished from בְּחוּרִים, youth, juvenias; comp. Bött., § 408, β.—A.]


1.Proverbs 20:1-5. Various precepts of prudence and integrity, (especially directed against drunkenness, a contentious spirit and indolence).—Wine is a mocker. The spirit of wine, and in like manner that of “mead” or “strong drink” (שֵׁכָר, σίκερα, Luke 1:15),1 a frequent accompaniment or substitute of wine (comp. Leviticus 10:9; Numbers 6:3; Judges 13:4 sq.; Isaiah 5:11; Isaiah 28:7, etc.), appears here “personified, or represented as in a sense an evil demon, which excites to frivolous wantonness, to wild and boisterous action, and by the confusion of the senses into which it plunges man, robs him of all clear self-possession” (Elster).—Whosoever is led astray thereby is not wise. With this phrase “to stagger, or reel because of or under something” comp. Proverbs 5:19. For the general meaning, Isaiah 28:7.

Proverbs 20:2. With clause a compare Proverbs 19:12 (which is literally identical with the clause before us, except that this has אֵימָה, “dread” [terrible word, an utterance that spreads terror] instead of זַעַף).—He that provoketh him sinneth against his own soul. For the first phrase see Critical Notes.—“Sinneth against his own soul” (נַפְשׁוֹ, an accusative of respect); comp. kindred although not identical expressions in Proverbs 8:36; Proverbs 6:32.

Proverbs 20:3. It is an honor to a man to dwell far from strife. See Critical Notes. To “dwell far from strife” is an apt expression to describe the quiet, peaceable demeanor of the wise man, in contrast with the passionate activity of the contentious multitude. For the meaning and use of the verb of clause b, יִתְגַּלָּע, comp. Proverbs 17:14; Proverbs 18:1; with the meaning of the whole expression comp. Proverbs 19:11.

Proverbs 20:4. The sluggard plougheth not because of the cold, that is, because the season in which his field should be cared for is too disagreeably rough and cold for him. [For illustration see Thomson’s Land and Book, I., 207]. In consequence of this indolent procedure “he seeketh in harvest”—for fruits of his field—“and there is nothing.” See Critical Notes. [Rueetschi, ubi supra, p. 149, retaining the general meaning, objects that the term here used is not the one that of itself describes the cold and stormy harvest time; he therefore retains the temporal meaning of the preposition, and renders, “from the time of the (fruit) harvest onward,” etc., this being the proper time for the ploughing and sowing, a time which none can suffer to pass by.—A.]

Proverbs 20:5. Counsel in the heart of man is as deep waters, etc.; i.e. the purpose that one has formed may be difficult to fathom (see the same figure, Proverbs 18:4); a wise man nevertheless draws him out, elicits from him his secret, and brings it to light. דָּלָה means to “draw” water with a bucket (דְּלִי, Isaiah 40:15), to bring it up laboriously from a deep place (Exodus 2:16; Exodus 2:19)—a metaphor suggested by the figure in clause a, and evidently very expressive.

2.Proverbs 20:6-11. On the general sinfulness of men.—Many proclaim each his own grace (or love). The verb which is originally to “call” is here to “proclaim, to boast of,” prædicare. אִישׁ, “each individual” of the “many a man,” the mass or majority of men.—But a faithful man who can find? For the phrase “a man of fidelity,” comp. Proverbs 13:17; Proverbs 14:5; for the general meaning, Psalms 116:11; Romans 3:4.

Proverbs 20:7. He who in his innocence walketh upright. Thus, taking צַדִּיק attributively, as an adjective subordinated to the participle, the LXX, Vulg., Syr., had already treated the construction, and later Ewald and Hitzig [and Kamph.]; while recent expositors generally render, “is a righteous man” [H. and N.], or in other instances treat the “righteous” as the subject (Umbreit, Elster, etc.), [S. and M., E. V., and De W.].—With this benediction upon the descendants of the righteous in clause b comp. Proverbs 14:26; with the אַחֲרָיו “after him,” i.e. after his death, Genesis 24:67; Job 21:21.

Proverbs 20:8. A king … searcheth out all evil with his eyes. The natural reference is to the king as he corresponds with his ideal, that he be the representative on earth of God, the supreme Judge. Comp. Proverbs 16:10; also Isaiah 11:4, where similar attributes to these are ascribed to the Messiah, as the ideal typically perfect king. With this use of the verb “to sift or winnow,” to separate, comp. Proverbs 20:26.

Proverbs 20:9. Who can say: I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin? The question naturally conveys a decided negative by implication: “No one can say,” etc.; comp. Proverbs 20:6 b, and Proverbs 20:24 b. It is not a permanent purity, a “having kept one’s self pure” (from birth onward) that is the subject of the emphatic denial in this proverb (in opposition to Bertheau’s view), but a having attained to moral perfection, the having really conquered all the sin’s that were in existence before, that is denied. We should therefore bring into comparison not passages like Job 14:4; Job 15:14; Psalms 51:5 (7), but such as 1 Kings 8:46; Ecc 7:20; 1 John 1:8; James 3:2, etc. With this expression, “I have made my heart clean,” comp. Psalms 73:13.

Proverbs 20:10 draws attention to deception in business intercourse as a peculiar and prominent form of that universal sinfulness which has just been spoken of as having no exceptions. Comp. Proverbs 11:1, and Proverbs 20:23 below. With the language in clause b compare Proverbs 17:15 b.

Proverbs 20:11. Even a child maketh himself known in his deeds. With regard to the גַּם, “even,” which does not belong to the word next following, but to the נַעַר, “child” (as Geier, Umbreit, Elster, Hitzig rightly interpret), comp. remarks on Proverbs 19:2.—“His deeds” Ewald and Umbreit are inclined to render by “plays, sports,” in disregard of the uniform meaning of the word, and in opposition to the only correct construction of the “even.” מַעֲלָלִים is rather the works, the actions, the individual results of the child’s self-determination, from which it may even now be with confidence inferred of what sort “his work” is, i.e. the entire inner tendency of his life, his character (if one prefers the notion), the nature of his spirit (Hitzig).—That this thought also stands related to the fact of universal sinfulness needs no fuller demonstration. Comp. the familiar German proverb, “Was ein Dörnchen werden will spilzt sich bei Zeiten” [what means to become a thorn is early sharpening].

3.Proverbs 20:12-19. Admonitions to confidence in God, to industry, prudence and integrity.—The ear that heareth, and the eye that seeth—Jehovah hath created them both. An allusion, plainly, not to the adaptation, the divine purpose and direction in the functions of hearing and seeing (Hitzig), but to God’s omniscience as a powerful motive to the fear of God and confidence in Him; comp. Proverbs 15:3, and especially Psalms 94:9.

Proverbs 20:13. With a compare Proverbs 6:9-10.—Open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread. The imperative clause, “be satisfied with bread,” has here the meaning of a consecutive clause, as in Proverbs 3:4, [This illustrates what Bött., § 957, 6, calls the “desponsive” use of the Imperative, conveying sure promises]. With this language compare Proverbs 12:11. To “open the eyes” is naturally the opposite of sleep and drowsiness, and therefore the description of wakeful, vigorous, active conduct.

Proverbs 20:14. “It is bad, it is bad!” saith the buyer, but when he is gone his way (וְאֹזֵל לִוֹ, for which we should perhaps with Hitzig read וְאָזַל לוֹ, corresponds with the German, “und trollt er sich” [when he takes himself off], when he has gone his way) then he boasteth, i.e. of the good bargain that he has made. The verse therefore censures the well-known craft, the deceitful misrepresentation, with which business men seek to buy their wares as cheap as possible, below their real value if they can. In opposition to the true meaning of קֹנֶה, as well as inconsistently with the idea of boasting in the second clause, Schultens and Elster (and Luther likewise) render: “It is bad, it is bad!” saith the owner (?) of his possession; but when it is gone(?) then he boasteth of it (?).”

Proverbs 20:15. There is indeed gold and a multitude of pearls, etc. As these precious things are compared in Proverbs 3:14-15; Proverbs 8:11, with intelligent, wise dispositions and discourse, so are they here compared with wise lips, that is, with the organ of wise discourse. In this connection we should doubtless notice the difference between “gold and pearls” as valuable native material, not yet wrought into articles of ornament, and on the other hand, the lips as an artistic “vase” or other “vessel” (that has come forth from the hand of the divine artificer, and is adorned and embellished by man’s wise use of it).

Proverbs 20:16. Comp. Proverbs 6:1-5; Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 17:18. Instead of the warnings that are there found against foolish suretyship, we have here in a livelier style a demand to give over at once, without hesitation as bondsman any such inconsiderate surety.—And for strangers make him a surety. Instead of the K’ri “for a strange woman,” i. e., an adulteress, we should unquestionably retain here the K’thibh, “for strangers, unknown people;” while in the corresponding passage, Proverbs 27:13, נָכְרִיָה “the strange woman” is undoubtedly the correct reading.

Proverbs 20:17. Bread of deceit is sweet to a man, i.e., enjoyments and possessions secured by means of deceit; comp. Proverbs 23:3; Proverbs 9:17.—For this use of “sand, gravel,” (an appropriate emblem to describe a thing not to be enjoyed) comp. Lamentations 3:16.

Proverbs 20:18. Plans are established by counsel. עֵצָה here equivalent to סוֹד, counsel which one takes with another,—comp. Proverbs 15:22.—And with good advice make war. The “advice” or management (comp. Proverbs 1:5) is plainly contemplated as the result of the counsel that has been taken; comp. Proverbs 24:6.

Proverbs 20:19. With clause a compare Proverbs 11:13; with b, Proverbs 13:3.

4.Proverbs 20:20-23. Against hatred of parents, legacy-hunting, revenge, deceit.—He that curseth father and mother, and so in the boldest way transgresses the fifth commandment of the law, (Exodus 20:12, comp. Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9).—His light goeth out in utter darkness. The same figure is used also in Proverbs 13:9, here as there serving to illustrate the hopeless destruction of life and prosperity.—In regard to אִישׁוֹן, the “pupil of the eye, blackness, midnight”—for which the K’ri unnecessarily demands the Aramaic אֱשׁוּן—comp. notes on Proverbs 7:9.

Proverbs 20:21. An inheritance that hath been hastily gained in the beginning. In favor of the K’ri מְבֹחֶלֶת, “hurried, hastened” (comp.Esther 8:14; Esther 8:14, and also remarks above on Proverbs 13:11), we have the testimony of the ancient versions, the parallel in Proverbs 28:20; Proverbs 28:22, and besides the position of this verse after verse 20. For it is precisely the wayward son, who despises and curses his parents, that will be very readily disposed to seize upon his inheritance before the time against their will (comp. Luke 15:12), and possibly even to drive his parents violently out of their possession (comp. Proverbs 19:26). That no blessing can rest upon such possessions, that as they were unrighteously acquired at first so they must in the end be wasted and come to nought, is a truth which clause b in a simple way brings to view. The K’thibh מְבֹהֶלֶת would either signify “cursed,” in accordance with Zechariah 11:8 (so Elster, e.g., regards it), or in accordance with the Arabic, “acquired by avarice” (so Umbreit). [H., N., W., S., M., Bertheau, Kamph, etc., agree in supporting the exposition adopted by our author].

Proverbs 20:22. Say not: let me avenge the evil; i.e., do not desire to requite evil with evil, do not avenge thyself for offences that have been done thee; comp. Proverbs 24:29; Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:17; 1 Peter 3:9.—The second member of clause b is evidently a consecutive clause, as the Jussive frequently is after the Imperative; comp. Isa 8:10; 2 Kings 5:10. The Vulgate correctly renders “el liberabit te,” while the LXX, Rosenmueller, Ewald, etc., treat the words as a final clause; “that he may keep thee.”

Proverbs 20:23. Comp. Proverbs 20:10. A deceitful balance is not good; (Z., “is shameful,” lit. is “not good, is no good,” as in Proverbs 17:26; Proverbs 18:5); a litotes, expressing the idea of that which is very base.

6. Proverbs 20:24-30. Miscellaneous admonitions to the fear of God and integrity.—From Jehovah are man’s steps; comp. Proverbs 16:9; Psalms 37:23. The “steps” are naturally “not acts in their subjective ethical aspect, but these acts according to their result, their several issues in a parallel series of experiences,—and therefore those events depending on the action of man which make up its external counterpart” (Hitzig).—In regard to the emphatic negative import of the question in clause b, compare remarks on Proverbs 20:9.

Proverbs 20:25. Before the יָלַע קֹדֶשׁ [he hath vowed hastily] there should be supplied the conjunction אִם, “if;” therefore render literally “it is a snare to a man, vows he hastily,” i.e., if he in a hasty manner promises to devote a thing to God as sacred (as κορβᾶν, Mark 7:11). See Critical notes.—Furthermore hasty consecrations, and in like manner, according to clause b the hasty assumption of vows, are here called a “snare” (קֹדֶשׁ, comp. remarks on Proverbs 18:7), because he who makes the rash vow afterward easily repents of it, and falls under the temptation sinfully to break or to recall his vow (comp. Numbers 30:3; Ecclesiastes 5:3).

Proverbs 20:26. A wise king sifteth the wicked. To “sift” or “winnow” expresses here, just as it does in Proverbs 20:8, a discriminating separation of the chaff from the grain; comp. for this familiar and pertinent figure Psalms 1:4; Isaiah 17:13; Amos 9:9.—And bringeth the wheel over them, i.e., the wheel of the threshing cart (Isaiah 28:27 sq.), which however is contemplated here not so much as an instrument of harvesting, as rather in the light of a means and emblem of the severe punishment of captive enemies (in accordance with 2Sa 12:31; 1 Chronicles 20:3; Amos 1:3). There is therefore no offence to be taken in view of the fact that in the operation of threshing the crushing with the wheel preceded the winnowing or sifting, while here it is not mentioned until after it (in reply to Bertheau).

Proverbs 20:27. The spirit of man is a candle of Jehovah; lit., “man’s breath,” for this is the first meaning of the Hebrew term נְשָׁמָה (Genesis 2:7); yet it is not the soul which pervades and animates all the members of the body (as Hiteig renders), according to the view of many of the elder expositors, as also Starke, Von Gerlach, etc., but the spirit, as the higher manifestation of soul-life, or if any one prefers, the reason, self-consciousness (Umbreit, Elster) that is intended by the expression. For all analogies are wanting, at least within the range of the Bible, for a comparison of the soul with a light (the Arabic maxim in Kazwini Cosmog. I. 355, in which the soul, Nephesch, is designated the light of the body, plainly has no bearing on our present object). On the contrary the inner light or eye, (τὸ φῶς τὸ ἐν σοὶ) of which the Lord speaks in Matthew 6:22-23, is unquestionably an organ or factor of the higher spiritual soul, more precisely designated as the νοῦς or the reason. In support of the idea that נְשָׁמָה in the passage before us signifies essentially this and nothing else, there may be adduced the identity of נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים with רוּחַ חַיִּים as indicated by a comparison of Genesis 6:17 with Genesis 2:7. The expression “candle of Jehovah” moreover seems o point rather to the spirit as that factor in human personality which proceeds immediately from God, than to the soul which inheres in the physical life, and does not rise essentially above it.2—[Wordsw. and some other English expositors understand the allusion to be specifically to the conscience; the majority are content with the more comprehensive term spirit, including intellectual and moral factors.—A.].—Searching all the chambers of the body, i.e., looking through its whole interior,—which clearly suggests the ruling relation of this “searcher” to the body, the sphere of its activity, and so is very pertinent with respect to the spirit, but not to the soul. In regard to the “chambers of the body” comp. Proverbs 20:36 and Proverbs 18:8.

Proverbs 20:28. Grace and truth preserve the king. “Mercy and truth,” or “love and truth,” not quite in the sense of Proverbs 3:3; the attributes of a king are intended by the terms, which should rather be rendered “grace and truth.” With this idea of “preserving” comp. Psalms 25:21; with that of “upholding” in clause b, Isaiah 9:6.

Proverbs 20:29. Comp. Proverbs 16:31; Proverbs 17:6.

Proverbs 20:30. Wounding stripes are a correction of evil and strokes (that reach) to the chambers of the body; i.e., stripes or blows that cause wounds, such as one administers to his son under severe discipline (comp. Proverbs 19:18), have this beneficial effect, that they intend a salutary infliction or correction “on the evil” in this son, as a scouring of the rust which has gathered on a metal cleanses and brightens the metal. And not merely does such an external chastening as this accomplish the sharp correction of the son: it penetrates deep into the inmost parts of the body (comp. remarks on Proverbs 20:27), i.e., to the innermost foundations of his personal life and consciousness, and so exerts a reforming influence on him. Thus Ewald and Elster correctly render, and substantially Umbreit also (comp. Luther’s version, which expresses the true meaning at least in general), while Bertheau regards תַּמְרוּק, “remedial application,” as the subject, and (after the analogy of Esther 2:3; Esther 2:9; Esther 2:12) understands it to refer to “the application of ointments and perfumes for beautifying” (! ?); Hitzig, however, naturally emends again, and by changing תַּמְרוּק to תָּמֹר יֶקֶב obtains the meaning: “Wounding stripes drop (?) into the cup of the wicked (?) and strokes into the chambers of the body.”—[Our English version is defective from its obscurity: The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil. Recent expositors are clearer in their renderings, and differ but slightly in their choice of terms. Stuart; Wounding stripes (H.; the bruises of a wound) are the remedy for the base (H.; are a cleanser in a wicked man); N. and M.; The scars (stripes) of a wound are a cleansing from evil; Wordsw., paraphrasing somewhat more: The stripes of a wound are the (only) wiping away of (certain cases of) evil.]


It is evidently impossible to derive the many maxims of the chapter from a single primary and fundamental thought. The warning against drunkenness or the passion of the intemperate, which introduces the diversified series, has in the further progress of the discourse no successor whatsoever of similar form, and could be retained as the theme or the germinal thought for the whole only by the most artificial operations, such as Stöcker, e.g., and others of former times undertook (comp. the introductory paragraph to the Homiletic hints). Much more readily might a contentious and revengeful spirit be regarded as the chief object of the admonitory representations and suggestions of this section (see Proverbs 20:2-3; Proverbs 20:6; Proverbs 20:14; Proverbs 20:19; Proverbs 20:22). But a space at least equally large is given to the dissuasions from indolence and deceit (Proverbs 20:4; Proverbs 20:10; Proverbs 20:13-14; Proverbs 20:17; Proverbs 20:23), and again to the commendations, somewhat more general in their form, of wise and upright conduct (Proverbs 20:7; Proverbs 20:9; Proverbs 20:11; Proverbs 20:15; Proverbs 20:18; Proverbs 20:24-26; Proverbs 20:29). Only a single group of proverbs in this chap. stands out from the mass of diverse and isolated maxims and aphorisms, as contemplating one object with considerable compactness and unity of view. This is the division which relates to the general sinfulness of men (Proverbs 20:6-11). And this in fact presents also the richest and most important doctrinal material which the chapter anywhere contains. Starting with the fact, alas! too palpable, that really faithful men, i.e., men who are on all sides reliable, free from all falsehood and untruth, are to be found nowhere on the earth (Proverbs 20:6; chap. John 8:46, and the passages cited above in notes to Proverbs 20:6), the representation brings into the foreground the ideal of moral innocence, uprightness, and the practical prosperity which belongs to it, as this ought actually to be realized by humanity (Proverbs 20:7). It then at once suggests the crying contrast which exists between the real moral condition of humanity and the ethical aim of its perfect state, pointing to the manifold and numberless forms of evil in conflict with which, in judicial exposures and punishments of which, earthly kings even now are engaged (Proverbs 20:8). It next gives an outright expression to the universal need of purification and improvement (Proverbs 20:9), and then brings forward a special and conspicuous examample of the deceitful acts and endeavors of all men, so odious to God (Proverbs 20:10). It concludes at length with a hint of that corruption in the devices and impulses of the human heart which appears even in the earliest periods of youth (Proverbs 20:11; Genesis 8:21). The most important of these utterances, which are perhaps intentionally arranged as they are with reference to the very line of thought that has been indicated, is at all events the testimony given in Proverbs 20:9 to the impossibility of ever attaining in this present human life to a complete moral purity and perfection. We have here a proverb which, in addition to the universality, guiltiness and penal desert, of the original corruption of human nature, attests very distinctly also its permanent character, i.e., its continued obstinate and ineradicable inherence in the soul and body of man, its “tenacitas, sive pertinax inhæsio,” by virtue of which a certain spark of evil (or tinder for evil), a concealed germ and root of sinful lust (fomes peccati s. concupiscentia) remains in all men, even the most sanctified and morally elevated, until their very death. This proverb is also especially noteworthy, because “in contrast with the style of conception which is elsewhere predominant in the proverbs, according to which the imperfection of all human piety is but slightly emphasized, and he who is relatively pious is allowed to pass as righteous, it gives expression to the unsatisfying nature of all moral endeavors, as never conducting to the full extirpation of the sense of guilt, and a perfect feeling of peace with God; it accordingly suggests the need of a higher revelation, in which the sense of guilt, and of an ever imperfect fulfilment of duty shall finally be wholly overcome” (Elster).

Memorable doctrinal and ethical truths are furthermore contained, particularly in ver.1, with its significant personification of the demon of mockery, and wild, boisterous recklessness, which as it were lurks concealed in wine and other intoxicating drinks;—in Proverbs 20:12; Proverbs 20:24, with their allusion to the mightily pervading influence of God, the Omniscient, overall the acts and fates of men;—in Proverbs 20:22, with its dissuasion from avenging one’s self, and the spirit of retaliation, so suggestive of the New Testament command of love to enemies;—in Proverbs 20:25, with its warning against the hasty assumption of religious vows;—in Proverbs 20:27, with its beautiful illustration of the all-embracing authority, and the moulding influence which man’s spirit, as his inward divine light, must exercise over his entire physical and spiritual life (and in the normal self-determination does actually exercise);—and finally, in Proverbs 20:28, with its admirable exaltation of the loving, faithful, upright disposition of kings as the firmest prop to their thrones. Compare above, the Exegetical explanations of all these passages.

[Lawson (on Proverbs 20:7): The integrity of the just man is not like the pretended integrity of the moralist, for it includes piety, justice, sobriety, and a conscientious regard to every precept of God, without excluding those that appear to vain men to be of small importance, or those that most directly oppose the prevailing disposition of the mind.—Chalmers (on Proverbs 20:27): In order to salvation, the Spirit must deal with the subjective mind, and illuminate the ruling faculty there, as well as set the objective word before us, which is of His own inspiration. A more vivid conscience will give us a livelier sense of God’s law; a more discerning consciousness, reaching to all the thoughts and tendencies of the inner man, will give us a more convincing view of our sad and manifold deficiencies from that law.]


Homily on the chapter as a whole: The general sinfulness and need of salvation on the part of all men, demonstrated 1) from the magnitude and variety of the vices that prevail in humanity; 2) from the rareness of a sincere striving after virtue; 3) from the absolute impossibility of finding complete purity and holiness except in Christ.—Stöcker (less in harmony with the proper and chief contents of the chapter; comp. what has been said above): Of intemperance in drinking, and its evil consequences: 1) Delineation of the ἀσωτία vini; 2) Reference to the incommoda (the inconveniences), and 3) to the remedia ebrietatis (the remedies of drunkenness).—In like manner Wohlfarth, Calwer Handb., etc.; against the intemperance and the wildness of the scoffer.

Proverbs 20:1-5. Starke (on Proverbs 20:1): He who is inclined to physical drunkenness will not be vigorous spiritually; Ephesians 5:18 (comp. Von Gerlach: A wild, unconscious excitement is far from a holy wisdom).—Geier (on Proverbs 20:2): The wrath of an earthly king is intolerable; how much more the infinite eternal wrath of the King of all kings against persistent sinners at the judgment!—[Lawson (on Proverbs 20:3): A fool is so self-conceited that he can bear no contradiction; so impertinent that he will have a hand in every other man’s business; so proud that he cannot bear to be found in the wrong; and so stubborn that he will have the last word, although his lips should prove his destruction].—Zeltner (on Proverbs 20:4); On observing times (Romans 12:11;. Ephesians 5:18) everything depends in physical as well as spiritual things.—J. Lange (on Proverbs 20:5); For the testing, searching, and discriminating between spirits, there should be a man who is furnished with the spirit of Christ.

Proverbs 20:6-11. Zeltner (on Proverbs 20:6): It is far better to show one’s self in fact pious, benevolent, true and upright, than merely to be so regarded and proclaimed.—[Trapp (on Proverbs 20:7): Personal goodness is profitable to posterity; yet not of merit, but of free grace, and for the promise’ sake].—Starke (on Proverbs 20:8): When Christ, the Lord and King of the whole world, shall at length sit in judgment, then will all evil be driven away by His all holy eyes, brought to an end and punished.—(On verse 9): The justified have and keep sins within them even to their death; but they do not let these rule in them, Romans 6:11. He betrays his spiritual pride and his entanglement in gross error, who imagines, and, it may be, also maintains, that he has within himself no more sins, 1 John 1:8-9.—(On Proverbs 20:11): He that has charge of the training of children, benefits not them only, but the whole of human society, when he incites flexible, well-disposed spirits to good, and seeks to draw away the vile from evil with care and strictness.

Proverbs 20:12-19. Melanchthon (on Proverbs 20:12): To the successful conduct of a state two things are always needful: 1) good counsels of the rulers, and 2) willing obedience of the subjects. Both Solomon declares to be gifts of God, when he describes Him as the Creator both of the hearing ear and of the seeing eye.—Geier (on Proverbs 20:12): It is God from whom we possess all good as well in temporal as in spiritual things (James 1:16): as He has given us eyes and ears, so will He also give us a new heart (Ezekiel 11:19).—Zeltner (on Proverbs 20:14): Acknowledge with thanks God’s present bounties, as long as thou hast them, and employ them aright, that God may not suddenly take them from thee, and thou then for the first time become aware what thou hast lost.—Egard (on Proverbs 20:17): It is the way of sin and fleshly lust that it at first seems attractive to man, but afterward, when conscience wakes, causes great disquiet and anguish.—[Lord Bacon (on Proverbs 20:18): The greatest trust between man and man is the trust of giving counsel … Things will have their first or second agitation; if they be not tossed upon the waves of counsel, they will be tossed upon the waves of fortune, and be full of inconstancy, doing and undoing, like the reeling of a drunken man.]—Tübingen Bible (on Proverbs 20:18): To wage war is allowed, for there are righteous wars; but they must be conducted with reason and reflection (compare General York’s prayer and motto at the beginning of every battle: “The beginning, middle, end, O Lord, direct for the best!”).—J. Lange (on Proverbs 20:19): Rather hear him much who reveals to thee what harms thee, than him who flatters thee.—Von Gerlach (same verse): In all inconsiderate talking about others there is always some delight in evil or slander running along through it; just as also all tattling and idle gossip of this kind always has something exceedingly dangerous in it.

Proverbs 20:20-23. Melanchthon (on Proverbs 20:21): It is of moment always to wait for God’s ordinary call, to distinguish the necessary from the unnecessary, and to attempt nothing outside of our lawful calling.—Lange (same verse): That for which one strives with inconsiderate craving in unlawful ways turns not into blessing, but to a curse.—Zeltner (on Proverbs 20:22): To withstand passion, to wait in patience for the Lord’s help, and to plead for the welfare of the evil doer is the beat revenge on an enemy.—Berleburg Bible (same verse): Revenge always springs from pride; thou wouldst willingly be like God, and be thine own helper, avenger and judge; this pride then kindles thine anger within thee, so that thou for heat and violence canst not wait until God disposes of the matter for thee.—[Lawson: By indulging your revengeful spirit, you do yourself a greater hurt than your greatest enemy can do you, for you gratify his ill nature when you suffer it to make a deep impression on your spirit, without which it could do you little or no hurt; but by committing your cause to God, you turn his ill-will to your great advantages making it an occasion for the exercise of the noblest graces, which are attended with the sweetest fruits, and with the rich blessing of God.]

Proverbs 20:24-30. Geier (on Proverbs 20:24): No one can rightly begin and walk in the way to the kingdom of heaven, who would enter without Christ; John 14:6; John 15:5.—[Chalmers (on Proverbs 20:24): Man can no more comprehend the whole meaning of his own history, than he can comprehend the whole mind of that God who is the Sovereign Lord and Ordainer of all things.]—Berleburg Bible (on Proverbs 20:25): In vows it is important to reflect with the utmost circumspection, before one forms a definite purpose. But what one has once vowed, against it he should seek no pretext of any kind to annul it.—Starke (on Proverbs 20:25): The outward service of God without real devotion becomes a snare to many, by which they deceive their souls and plunge into ruin.—(On Proverbs 20:27): Know the nobility of the human soul, this candle of the Lord! Beware therefore of all conceit of wisdom and contempt of others about thee. Give rather to the illumination of Divine grace its influence on all the powers of thy soul, that when thine understanding is sufficiently enlightened thy will also may be reformed.—[Stoddard: The Spirit does not work by giving a testimony, but by assisting natural conscience to do its work. Natural conscience is the instrument in the hand of God to accuse, condemn, terrify, and to urge to duty.]—A. Schröder (on Proverbs 20:28—in the Sonntagsfeier, 1840): How the relation of the king to his people and of the people to their king can be a blessed one solely through the purity and sincerity of both).—Rust (same verse—same source, issue for 1834); Of the exalted blessing which a living Christianity ensures to all the relations of the State.—Lange (on Proverbs 20:29): Art thou still a youth in Christian relations; prove thy strength by conquest over thyself; art thou become grey and experienced in them, prove thy wisdom by love and a blameless life; 1 John 2:13-14.—(On Proverbs 20:30): There is much evil about and within us from which we must be cleansed and purified; God uses to this end the inward and outward trials of this life.—Comp. Luther’s marginal comment on Proverbs 20:30 : “Mali non verbis sed verberibus emendantur; pain is as needful as eating and drinking.”


[1]For a full and valuable discussion of the meaning of these and kindred terms, see an article by Dr. Laurie in the Bibliotheca Sacra, January, 1869.—A.

[2] Von Rudloff, Lehre vom Menschen, 2d Ed., p. 48, also takes a correct view of the passage.

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Proverbs 20". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/proverbs-20.html. 1857-84.
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