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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 20

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3004. B.C. 1000.

Verse 1

Proverbs 20:1. Wine is a mocker Wine immoderately drank makes men mockers or scoffers at God and men: see Hosea 7:5. Or, is a mocker to the sinner himself, makes a mock of him, deprives him of his understanding, and causes him to speak and act like a fool, and thereby renders him ridiculous, and exposes him to shame, contempt, and insult. Strong drink is raging Excites unruly passions in men’s minds, and makes them full of rage and fury. “When wine is in,” says one, “wit is out,” and then the man, according as his natural temper is, either mocks like a fool, or rages like a madman. The word המה , here rendered raging, says Bishop Patrick, signifies “that discomposed, unquiet, and restless state of mind which expresses itself in wild and tumultuous motions.” Whosoever is deceived thereby Namely, by wine or strong drink; is not wise Is a fool or a madman, because he deprives himself of the use of his reason. Thus, “the first precept in this chapter is against drunkenness, as an enemy to wisdom, even in common things; much more in those of everlasting consequence: for it commonly expels out of men’s minds all reverence, both to God and others, inclining them to take the license to say or do any thing without restraint or discretion.” Therefore, though it pretends to be a sociable thing, it renders men unfit for society, making them abusive with their tongues, and outrageous in their passions.

Verses 2-3

Proverbs 20:2-3. The fear of a king, &c. See on Proverbs 16:14; Proverbs 19:12. It is an honour to a man to cease from strife Either to prevent it, or, if it be begun, to put an end to it: which, although proud and profane persons esteem dishonourable to them, would indeed be their glory, because it would be an evidence of their wisdom and power over their passions, and of their respect and obedience to their sovereign Lord, in which their honour and happiness consist; but every fool will be meddling Namely, with matters of strife; he is always ready to begin strife, and obstinate in the continuance of it.

Verse 4

Proverbs 20:4. The sluggard will not plough by reason of cold The cold of the ploughing season, being in the latter end of autumn, and toward winter, or early in the spring. He hates and avoids all laborious and difficult work, although his own necessity and interest oblige him to do it; therefore shall he beg, and have nothing And not obtain any alms; not even in harvest, that time of plenty and bounty, because men’s hearts are justly hardened against that man, who, by his own sloth and wilfulness, hath brought himself to want.

Verse 5

Proverbs 20:5. Counsel in the heart of man Either, 1st, Ability to give counsel; or, 2d, The design or purpose of doing something of importance; for the word עצה , here rendered counsel, is frequently used in both senses, but the latter seems most proper here; it is like deep water Is there in great abundance, or is secret and hard to be discovered; but a man of understanding will draw it out By prudent questions and discourses, and a diligent observation of his words and actions. In other words, “Though the designs and intentions of another man, especially one who hath a deep understanding, are as hard to be found out as waters which lie in the secret caverns of the earth; yet there are persons of such penetration, that they will find means to discover them and draw them out.” “There are six ways,” says Lord Bacon, in his Advancement of Learning, lib. 8. cap. 2, “whereby the knowledge of men may be drawn out and disclosed; by their faces and countenances, by words, by deeds, by their nature, by their ends, and by the relations of others.”

Verses 6-7

Proverbs 20:6-7. Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness “Most men are ready enough to claim to themselves a large share of piety and virtue;” but a faithful man who can find? “Where is that man of true and undissembled virtue to be found, who studies rather to be, than to seem, good?” There are but few such. Schultens. The just man walketh in his integrity He proves himself to be righteous, not only by his profession, which is spoken of in the former sentence, but by his upright and unblameable conversation. His children are blessed after him By virtue of that covenant which God hath made with such men, which is not confined to their persons, but entails blessings upon their posterity.

Verse 8

Proverbs 20:8. A king that sitteth in the throne of judgment That makes it his great care and business to execute justice and judgment among his people, especially if he do this in his own person, as it was usual for kings to do in ancient times, and see things with his own eyes; scattereth away all evil Effectually suppresses, or removes, all wickedness; with his eyes With his very looks, or by his diligent inspection.

Verse 9

Proverbs 20:9 . Who can say, I have made my heart clean? No man can say that he hath made his own heart clean: but God can create in man a clean heart, as David expresses himself, Psalms 51:10, (on which see the note,) and can renew a right spirit within him; I am pure from my sin No man can render himself pure, either from the guilt of his past sins, or from the power or pollution of his corrupt inclinations and passions; but God surely, according to his promise, if we confess our sins, past and present, with humiliation, contrition, and godly sorrow for them, and rely on him, who gave himself for his church, that he might sanctify and cleanse it, and render it a glorious church without spot or wrinkle, or any such thing, can, and will freely and fully forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He can justify us from all things, communicate to us a divine nature, and stamp his whole image on our souls.

Verse 11

Proverbs 20:11. A child is known by his doings Children discover their inclinations or dispositions by their childish speeches and carriages, as not having yet learned the art of dissembling: whether his work be, or rather, will be, pure That is, the future disposition and conduct of a man may be very probably conjectured from his childish manners.

Verse 13

Proverbs 20:13. Love not sleep That is, immoderate sleep, nor sloth, or idleness. Take sleep because necessity requires it, not from any love to it; lest thou come to poverty Lest thou reduce thyself to beggary. Persons that indulge themselves in sleep to excess, not only lose the time which they spend therein, but contract a listless, indolent disposition and habit, and are generally half asleep, or never well awake, and therefore, of course, come to poverty. Open thine eyes Awake out of sleep, shake off sloth, and betake thyself to thy employment with diligence and vigour. Thou shalt be satisfied with bread If thou do not grow rich, yet thou shalt have what is sufficient for the supply of thy own wants, and the wants of those dependant upon thee.

Verse 14

Proverbs 20:14. It is naught, it is naught. The commodity is but of little worth; saith the buyer Namely, to the seller; he discommends it, that he may bring down the price of it; but when he is gone his way Having purchased the article upon his own terms; then he boasteth That by his subtlety he hath overreached the seller, and obtained a great advantage to himself, and he laughs at his simplicity in selling it at so low a price. This Solomon notices as a common but very blameable practice.

Verse 15

Proverbs 20:15 . There is gold, &c. Namely, in the world, in divers persons’ hands, by whom it is much prized; but the lips of knowledge Wise speeches, proceeding from a well-informed and upright mind, are a precious jewel Are of far greater worth, both to him that utters them, and to those that receive and improve them to their own benefit.

Verse 16

Proverbs 20:16. Take his garment, &c. Namely, as a pledge, without which he ought not to be trusted, because, by the action referred to, he shows himself to be foolish, and takes the ready way to make himself a beggar; that is surety for a stranger A person unknown to him; and a pledge of him who is surety for a strange woman For a harlot, so called chap. 2:16, and elsewhere. “It is rank folly,” says Bishop Patrick, in his interpretation of this verse, “to trust him, who is so rash as to be bound for one, whose ability and fidelity are utterly unknown to him; especially for a woman, whose loose way of life makes her credit justly suspected: therefore, have nothing to do with such an inconsiderate person, without the utmost security that he can give thee, for the payment of what he owes thee.”

Verse 17

Proverbs 20:17. Bread of deceit Gain or pleasure procured by unrighteous courses; is sweet to a man And the more sweet, because it is unlawfully obtained; such pleasure doth the carnal mind take in the success of its wicked projects! Observe, reader, all the pleasures and profits of sin are bread of deceit; they are stolen; they are forbidden fruit; and they deceive men; for they do not perform what they promise. For a time, indeed, they are, perhaps, rolled under the tongue as a sweet morsel, and the sinner blesses himself in them, but afterward his mouth shall be filled with gravel His bread of deceit will be bitter and pernicious, and produce pain and sickness in his stomach; when his conscience is awakened, when he sees himself cheated, and becomes apprehensive of the wrath of God against him for his sin, how painful and distressing then is the thought of it!

Verse 18

Proverbs 20:18. Every purpose is established by counsel “Rashness spoils the best designs, which must be carried on prudently, and with good advice, if we would have them to prove successful.” And with good advice make war Warlike expeditions are not to be undertaken without great deliberation. It should be maturely considered, whether the war ought to be begun or not; whether it be just, whether it be prudent. And, when it is begun, how, and by what arts, it may be successfully prosecuted: for skill is as necessary as courage. Going to law is a kind of going to war, and therefore should not be done without good advice.

Verse 21

Proverbs 20:21. An inheritance may be gotten hastily An estate is sometimes soon gained, even in the very beginning of a man’s labours for it: in which case, it may be presumed that some indirect and unrighteous means have been used for the getting of it, because riches are very seldom given by God, or gotten by men, without men’s diligence. But this, as well as many other proverbs, are to be understood of the common course of things, which may admit of many exceptions. For sometimes merchants or others gain a large property speedily, suppose by a successful voyage, or by some other prosperous event. But the end thereof shall not be blessed Namely, the end of what was not righteously obtained: it was suddenly raised, and shall be as suddenly ruined: it shall wither by God’s just judgment, and come to nothing.

Verse 22

Proverbs 20:22. Say not thou, I will recompense evil While we live in the world, we must expect to have injuries done us, affronts given, and much trouble wrongfully created to us. But we must not revenge ourselves; no, not so much as design or think of any such thing. We must not say, no, not in our hearts, I will return evil for evil; but must wait on the Lord, to whom it belongs to execute vengeance, and to deliver his people from all their enemies. We must refer ourselves to him, and leave it to him to plead our cause, or reckon with those that do us wrong, in such a way and manner as he shall think fit, and in his own due time.

Verse 24

Proverbs 20:24. Man’s goings are of the Lord All men’s purposes and actions are so entirely subject to the control of God’s overruling providence, and so liable to be frustrated or changed, as he shall see good, and to be directed to ends so far distant from those they thought of and intended, that it is impossible for any man to know what shall be the event of any of his undertakings. The intention of this proverb is, to show that the events of human life are neither ordered nor foreseen by man’s, but only by God’s providence; and therefore that men should only mind to do their duty, and then quietly depend upon God for a good issue to their endeavours.

Verse 25

Proverbs 20:25. It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy He is insnared in a crime, who takes away, and applies to his own use, any thing consecrated to God, and intended to be used in support of his worship and service; or who alienates any holy thing, and employs it to a secular purpose, which is here called devouring it: and after vows to make inquiry After a man hath made vows, to consider whether he can possibly, or may lawfully, keep them; or to inquire of others for ways to break them, and to satisfy his conscience in so doing. “There are two pieces of profaneness,” says Bishop Patrick, in his paraphrase on this verse, “which entangle him that is guilty of them in great troubles, nay, often bring ruin upon him: 1st, When he makes no distinction between things holy and common; but converts that which was consecrated to God (the first-fruits, suppose, or such like sacred thing) to his own proper use; and, 2d, When he vows, in his distress, to give something unto God, but having obtained his desires, studies how he may be loosed from his obligations.”

Verse 26

Proverbs 20:26. A wise king Who seriously minds his duty, and his true interest; scattereth the wicked Breaks their companies and confederacies, and forces them to flee several ways for their own safety; or drives them from his presence, and from the society of good men, as the chaff is separated from the corn, by the husbandmen, and driven away by the wind; as the word מזרה , here used, commonly signifies; and to which the next clause hath some reference. And bringeth the wheel over them Punishes them as their offences deserve, alluding to the cart-wheel, which was anciently turned over the sheaves, to beat the corn out of them. In other words, expressive of the plain meaning, “A good king separates the bad from the good, by a due execution of his laws; which is like winnowing the corn, after the chaff is separated from it, by drawing the wheel over it.”

Verse 27

Proverbs 20:27. The spirit of a man That is, the rational soul; is the candle, &c. Is a clear and glorious light, set up in man for his information and direction. It is said to be the candle of the Lord, because it comes from God in a more immediate manner than the body, Ecclesiastes 12:7; and because it is in God’s stead, to observe and judge all our actions. Searching all the inward parts of the belly Discerning not only man’s outward actions, which are visible to others, but his most inward thoughts and affections. The belly is here put for the heart, as it is frequently. The soul can reflect upon, and judge of, its own dispositions and actions; and by the use of the means which God hath appointed, especially the word of God, and prayer for supernatural light, may arrive at a certain knowledge of its state and condition, in reference to God and salvation.

Verse 28

Proverbs 20:28. Mercy Clemency to offenders, and bounty to worthy indigent persons; and truth Faithfulness in keeping his word and promises inviolably; preserve the king Because they engage God to guard him, and gain him the reverence and affections of his people, which is, under God, a king’s greatest safety and happiness. And his throne is upheld by mercy Which is again mentioned, to show that although to exercise mercy be an act of grace, and therefore, in some sort, free, yet princes are obliged to it both by their duty and by their interest, because it is a singular means of their preservation.

Verse 29

Proverbs 20:29. The glory of young men That wherein they glory as their privilege above old men; is their strength Namely, of body, and vigour and courage of mind; their fitness for action, their ability to go through business, and overcome difficulties which the aged and weak cannot grapple with. Their strength is their glory, provided they use it well, namely, in the service of God and their country, and not of their lusts; and that they be not proud of it, nor trust to it, remembering that it may soon become weakness, and that while they retain it, its being made a comfort to themselves, and useful to others, depends entirely on the blessing of God. And the beauty of old men is the gray head That which makes old men venerable is their gravity and experience, which qualify them to give counsel in matters of doubt and difficulty, which are important. The design of this proverb is to declare the peculiar advantages which persons of different ages possess, and the mutual need which they have one of another; and thereby to excite them to mutual love and assistance, and to make every one contented with his own age and condition; and neither to envy nor despise his brother, for the difference of his age and situation in life, as is very usual among men.

Verse 30

Proverbs 20:30. The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil Grievous wounds which make men black and blue, or severe punishments, are the means which are frequently most effectual to reclaim a wicked man, and to purge out his corruptions; so do stripes Hebrew, ומכות , and stripes, which answer to wounds in the former clause; the inward parts of the belly Hebrew, חדרי בשׂן , literally, the chambers of the belly, that is, the inward recesses of the mind. The sense of the whole is, Grievous wounds, or stripes, cleanse not only the outward man, by keeping it from evil actions, but even the inward man, by expelling or subduing vile affections; which is a great and blessed benefit of afflictions.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 20". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/proverbs-20.html. 1857.
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