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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Proverbs 20

 

 


Verse 1

1. A mocker לצ, (lets.) Of this word Gesenius says, that it means a frivolous and impudent person, who sets at naught and scoffs at the most sacred precepts and duties of religion, piety, and morals.

Strong drink שׁכר, (shekhar,) Greek, sikera. Jerome says, that in Hebrew any inebriating liquor is called shekhar, whether made of grain, the juice of apples, honey, dates, or any other fruit. It is probably used here in a more generic sense than יין, (yayin,) wine: meaning any kind of intoxicating drink. Of “strong drink,” is predicated המה, (homeh,) turbulence: to be noisy, clamorous, boisterous; to be in a tumult or uproar. Taking the above together, they are highly descriptive of drunkenness.

Stuart says, The common idea that “strong drink, in the Scriptures, means something stronger than wine, is destitute of any good foundation. None of the fruits yielded a juice so intoxicating as that of the grape. Wine was the strongest drink of the Hebrews, if the drinks that were drugged be excepted.” (See note on Proverbs 9:2.)

Inebriating liquors, whether wine or anything else, are “mockers,” deceivers. They deceive those who drink them, leading imperceptibly, in many cases, to habits of tippling and drunkenness, and make those who indulge in them setters at naught of all duties and obligations.

Whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise — Or, shall not become wise. “When wine is in, wit is out.” Strong drink is an enemy to wisdom even in common things; how much more in those of everlasting moment! It usually expels from the mind all reverence for God and respect for man, and causes men to throw off restraint and lose discretion.


Verse 2

2. The fear of a king — The dread, terror, which a king inspires in those brought before him.

Provoketh him — Stirs him up to anger.

Sinneth against his own soul — Against his life, or himself; forfeits his life. Comp. Proverbs 6:32; Proverbs 8:36; Proverbs 16:14; Proverbs 19:12.


Verse 3

3. Cease from — Or, keep aloof from, dwell apart from.

Every fool will be meddling יתגלע, (yithgalla’h.) For a similar rendering of a cognate word see Proverbs 17:14; Proverbs 18:1. Zockler reads, “Breaketh forth:”

Miller, “Pushes recklessly on:” Stuart, “Involves himself:” Conant, “Gets angry.” Compare Proverbs 19:11.


Verse 4

4. Not plough by reason of the cold מחר, (mehhoreph.) The word without the prefix means, the autumn, which is made also to include winter. In Palestine the people begin ploughing in September, and sow their early wheat by the middle of October. Very cold days meantime may occur, with wind, rain, and sleet, but there is seldom a long season of cold weather. There are two important lessons in this proverb. First, An indolent man is deterred by the smallest difficulty from undertaking the most needed work; secondly, He who neglects the work appropriate to the season will suffer the most serious consequences. The principle has its application to the whole of this life, as well as to the particular parts of it. Life is the seed-time, the future life, the harvest. See Land and Book, vol. 207. Comp. 2 Thessalonians 3:10.


Verse 5

5. Counsel in the heart — The purposes, plans, which a man may form and keep secret.

Is like deep water — Difficult to be fathomed, or found out.

But a man of understanding — An intelligent, prudent, shrewd man.

Will draw it out — Will discover it. It may need to be gently and wisely drawn from him by sagacious inquiries, thus eliciting his secret designs.

The figure of thus “drawing out” the man’s plans is taken from the practice of drawing water from a deep well. Compare Proverbs 18:4; Exodus 2:16; Exodus 2:19; John 4:11.


Verse 6

6. Most… proclaim… own goodness — Will make known, or publish, his own kindness. The point seems to be, that there are many professors of virtue and religion; but a true man, a truly virtuous and pious man, being unobtrusive, is hard to find. The expression מי ימצא, (mi yimtsa,) who can find? according to a Hebrew idiom, may have the force of a wish: O that I might find a faithful man. Comp. Proverbs 13:17; Proverbs 14:5; Proverbs 31:10. For the general meaning, see Psalms 116:11; Romans 3:4.


Verse 7

7. The just man — An upright man. The critics transpose: He that walks in his integrity, a righteous man, (or is a righteous man,) happy are his children after him. Comp. Proverbs 14:26; Genesis 24:67; Job 21:21.


Verse 8

8. A king… scattereth Searches, or winnows out. Meaning, probably, that the ruler who does his duty in his office; who acts justly, impartially, faithfully and energetically, not trusting too much to others, but as far as possible looking to the careful administration of the laws by his subordinates — will scatter iniquity as with the flash of his eye. Compare Proverbs 16:10; Isaiah 11:4 — where the same thing is predicated of a wise king.


Verse 9

9. Made my heart clean — Morally pure. This is an expression of human consciousness in respect to the impurity and imperfection of man. No man can claim either that he has never sinned, (has no sin, 1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10,) or that he has by any work or deed of his own purified his heart and made himself clean. There were modes, temporary and unsatisfactory, of purification and pardon under the old dispensation, (see Numbers xix, and Hebrews 9,) but it remained for the gospel dispensation to declare that only the blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, cleanseth us from all sin. 1 John 1, 7. A Christian may be assured, or conscious, not that he has made himself clean, but that, through the great atoning sacrifice, his sins are all washed away. By faith he is justified, sanctified. Comp. Job 14:14; Job 15:14; Psalms 51:5; Psalms 51:7; 1 Kings 8:46; Ecclesiastes 7:20; 1 John 1:10; 1 John 3:20; James 3:2. In the Septuagint the verses of the chapter are somewhat transposed; after Proverbs 20:9 come in Proverbs 20:20-22; then Proverbs 20:10-13; then Proverbs 20:23, and so regularly on to Proverbs 20:30.


Verse 10

10. Divers weights measures — Literally, a stone and a stone, an epha and an epha, which some interpret to mean a double weight and a double epha; that is, two of each, one true and the other false, one greater than the other, one to buy with and the other to sell with. But the repetition here denotes not plurality but diversity, and hence is well enough rendered by our word “divers.” The epha was a measure equal to about one and a half (some say one and one ninth) bushels, English. The tricks of trade were not unknown in the early times. Compare Proverbs 11:1; Proverbs 17:5; and Proverbs 20:23 below.


Verse 11

11. Even a child is known by his doings — Known as to character. Even in childhood a sagacious observer may often predict the future development. “A child,” נער, (na’har,) a boy, a youth, shows himself, makes known his character. Miller translates the latter clause, “Is he pure? is he just also? is his work right?” that is, his work is the test of his purity.

If this be so with a child, much more with a man. The Septuagint lacks this verse, and has instead, “A youth, when in company with a godly man, will be restrained in his devices, and then his way will be straight.”


Verse 12

12. Hearing ear… seeing eye — The point of the proverb probably consists in what is implied, namely, that as Jehovah made the eye, he must needs see; as he made the ear, he surely hears; and will call to an account for the use of these precious gifts. Comp. Exodus 4:11; Psalms 94:9; Proverbs 15:3.


Verse 13

13. Love not sleep — Love it not for itself — its ease and indulgence — but use it only for the refreshment of nature.

Open thine eyes — Be wide awake and diligent.

Thou shalt be satisfied — Literally, be satisfied. The imperative is frequently used for the indicative future. Sleep is a great blessing, and needful to health, vigour, and activity; but one may contract the habit of sleeping more than is needful. Some men work with body or mind when they ought to be sleeping. Others sleep when they ought to be working. Judgment, prudence, and self-denial are necessary in this as in other matters. Instead of “Love not sleep,” the Septuagint has, “Love not to speak ill,” etc. Compare Proverbs 12:11; Proverbs 19:15.


Verse 14

14. It is naught — “Bad, bad!” says the buyer; but he trips off and then praises himself — boasts of his good bargain. A common occurrence. Some of the old interpreters understand this differently, thus: “It is bad, it is bad!” says the possessor; but when it is gone then he praises it. The force of this would be, we only prize blessings after they are lost. This is true, but probably is not the meaning of this proverb.


Verse 15

15. Rubies — By some rendered pearls, but later critics prefer red corals.

Precious jewel — A precious vessel, vase, or instrument. The word כלי, (keli,) is of large use in the Hebrew. The proverb implies that lips of knowledge — those communicating valuable knowledge — are rarer than gold or pearls. Possibly it may mean that wisdom, joined with eloquence, can accomplish more than gold or pearls.


Verse 16

16. Take his garment that is surety — There is in this verse a various reading which produces some difficulty in interpretation. In the second member, the text has, נכרים, (nokhriyyam,) strangers, masculine plural, but the Masorites read in the margin, נכריה, (nokhriyyah,) feminine singular, a strange woman. This reading is followed in our version. Most critics, however, prefer the reading of the Hebrew text, “stranger.” Stuart translates: “Take his garment when he has pledged himself to a stranger, and because of strangers distrain him.” Conant substantially the same. Zockler, the latter clause: “And for strangers make him a bond-man.” The Geneva Bible reads the latter clause, “Take a pledge of him for the stranger.” The imperative here, as is often the case, may be considered an energetic and predictive future: he that headlong goes security for strangers will have his garments taken and his goods seized; that is, he will suffer severely for it. Comp. Proverbs 6:1-5, and notes there; Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 17:18; Proverbs 27:13.


Verse 17

17. Bread of deceit — Enjoyments and possessions acquired by fraud, or any illicit means. (Compare Proverbs 23:3; Proverbs 9:17.)

Filled with gravel — Comp. Lamentations 3:16. His unlawful gratifications will be turned to grievous annoyances.


Verse 18

18. Every purpose, etc. — Or, thou shall establish purposes, plans, enterprises, etc., by counsel — thus thou shall make them sure and successful.

With good advice make war — This is a precept for rulers, guarding them against rash enterprises, and especially against plunging into a war for insufficient reasons, or without due preparations and sufficient resources, or consideration of probable results. The same principles apply, in a private sphere, to litigations in civil courts. Comp. Proverbs 24:6; Proverbs 15:22; Luke 14:31.


Verse 19

19. A talebearer — A scandalmonger. Comp. Proverbs 11:13.

Meddle not with him that flattereth — Associate not with a man who cannot keep his mouth shut; a contemptible blabber. Comp. Proverbs 13:3.


Verse 20

20. Whose curseth his father or his mother — The word may mean, either by speaking of them lightly or contemptuously, or especially uttering against them imprecations, and thus in the boldest manner transgressing the fifth commandment.

His lamp — Denoting life, happiness, descendants.

Shall be put out — Extinguished. This is a threatening of heavy calamity. Some understand it to import an extinction of posterity. His lamp shall be quenched, his family shall become extinct. Under the law, those who ill treated their parents were put to death. Leviticus 20:9; Exodus 20:12; Exodus 21:17; Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10.


Verse 21

21. Inheritance… gotten hastily — It is implied that the hastily gotten wealth is gotten unfairly — by some dishonest or dishonourable means — in consequence of which God’s blessing does not accompany it, and that it will not be permanent. As a matter of observation, it is a generally received truth, “Quickly got, quickly gone.” Instead of quickly gotten, Gesenius suggests greedily gotten. Conant reads: “A heritage abhorred;” that is, one so obtained as to be abhorred. Comp. Zechariah 11:8. Zockler understands the proverb to be related to the one preceding, and to refer to wicked sons who despise and curse their parents, and possibly drive them off, being in haste to seize upon the inheritance. Compare Luke 15:12; Proverbs 19:26.


Verse 22

22. Recompense evil — Take vengeance, inflict punishment, render evil for evil.

He shall save thee — Or help thee; or, let him help thee: not only do right by thee, but save thee from further injuries. So generally understood. But Miller connects this verse with the preceding, and renders: “Say not, I will make the evil good” — that is, I will do good with the gains unjustly gotten, and thus atone for the wrong. Whether or not this exposition is precisely the meaning of the proverb, it yields a good sense. Men sometimes snatch at gains which their conscience disallows, thinking to afterward repair the evil. Compare Proverbs 24:29; Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 3:8; Romans 12:17; 1 Peter 3:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:15.


Verse 23

23. Divers weights… abomination — Compare Proverbs 20:10, and Proverbs 11:1. For the expression not good, (a litotes,) comp. Proverbs 17:26; Proverbs 18:5.


Verse 24

24. Man’s goings are of the Lord — The results of his steps or ways are of God’s appointing.

How can a man then understand his own way — So understand it as infallibly to insure success. Mr. Benson well expresses the meaning of the proverb: “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.” Compare Proverbs 16:9; Psalms 37:23; Jeremiah 10:23.


Verse 25

25. Devoureth that which is holy — Having become so by its dedication to God. The probability is, that this verse should be rendered thus: “A rash utterance of consecration is a snare unto a man;” that is, may ensnare him, or bring him into difficulty.

After vows to make inquiry — And as a sequence either regret the vow or withhold the thing devoted. A parallel passage is found in Ecclesiastes 5:2. Comp. also Numbers 30:3, on vows. The passage cautions against making rash vows and afterwards inquiring into their lawfulness, convenience, or practicability. Comp. Psalms 15:4. All this should be considered first. Compare Mark 7:11. The Geneva Bible reads thus: “It is a destruction for a man to deuoure that which is sanctified, and after the vowes to inquire;” and explains thus: “that is, to applie or take to his owne vse which was appointed to God’s, and then inquire how thei may be exempted from faute,” (fault.)


Verse 26

26. A wise king scattereth the wicked, etc. — Conjectures are numerous as to the import of this verse. Some think it may refer to the scattering (sowing) of grain in the field, and afterwards rolling it in. So transgressors are scattered and crushed beneath the earth. Others think that it refers to the threshing of grain, which was sometimes done by cattle drawing a cart or other wheeled vehicle after them, thus crushing the stalks and separating the grain from the husks. So Patrick: “He despises them all, and threshes them so severely that the country is clean purged and pure from such wicked wretches.” As there is no record anywhere in the Bible of punishment by the wheel, it is probable that this passage is to be understood metaphorically of “the wheel” in threshing grain. Threshing and winnowing are elsewhere used as the symbols of punishment. Comp. Amos 1:3; Isaiah 17:13; Isaiah 28:29; Psalms 1:4.


Verse 27

27. The spirit נשׁמה, (neshamah,) construct נשׁמת, (nishmath,) Genesis 2:7; not רוח, (rua’hh,) spirit, a word with which it is sometimes coupled, kindred to which is the word nephesh, the breath, inspiration, or inbreathing of the Almighty, which giveth understanding. (Job 32:8.)

Inward parts of the belly — Put by synecdoche for “the inner man.” Comp. Proverbs 20:30; Proverbs 18:8; 1 Corinthians 2:10. “Who knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of man which is in him;” that is, a man is conscious of the schemes, plans, and purposes of his own mind; and no man can know these but himself, unless he reveals them. Man’s intelligent consciousness — that by which he cognises the operations of his own mind — and his moral consciousness — conscience — by which he discerns his moral status and the moral quality of his thoughts, emotions, passions, and the actions that proceed from them — this intelligent self-consciousness, implying a rational and moral nature, is the gift of Jehovah — the lamp or light of Jehovah within him, distinguishing him from all other beings in this world. Compare Romans 1:19-20; Matthew 6:22-23; John 1:4; John 1:9.


Verse 28

28. Mercy and truth — Or, goodwill and truth: truth, goodwill, and kindness towards his subjects — truth and faithfulness in all his dealings with them — will secure the approbation and admiration of the people, and make the throne secure. Compare Psalms 25:21; Psalms 101:1; Proverbs 29:14.


Verse 29

29. The glory of young men — Literally, choice men, young warriors.

Is their strength — Their strength is the quality in which they most glory, and which they most delight in exhibiting.

And the beauty (better, ornament) of old men is the gray head — Their age, שׂיבה, (sebhah,) hoariness, taken as the symbol of old age, and used for old age itself. The sense of the proverb I suppose to be this: Robust young men glory in their strength, old men in their gray hairs, that is, in their age. Every observant man has noticed that fact.


Verse 30

30. The blueness of a wound — Meaning, that punishment or correction, even to such degree as to produce”blueness,” or marks, is likely to produce reformation. It is generally agreed that the first part of this verse refers to stripes caused by punishment. Some, as Stuart, interpret it of such strokes going down deep into the body. It is very evident that these old saints had no qualms of conscience about corporal punishment.

Stripes… inward parts חדרי בשׂן, (hhadhre baten,) chambers of the body, is used in other places by metonymy for the “inner man,” the soul, the spirit, the mind. So, possibly, the term is used here; and if so, would imply that corporal punishment alone was not an effectual remedy, but inward smitings — those of the conscience and soul — penitence, heart-wounds, and aches, which, under the divine blessing and influence, would lead to a new and better life. For last clause, compare Proverbs 20:27. Miller insists on this rendering: “The welts of a wound cleanse, though as an evil; so do stripes the very chambers of the belly.” The welts — the tumid and purple confines of a wound — are an evil; that is, painful, etc.; but they purge away the sore: so stripes cleanse the inward parts, etc. The Septuagint reads this verse thus: “Bruises and contusions befall bad men; and plagues shall come into the inward parts of their belly.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Proverbs 20:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/proverbs-20.html. 1874-1909.

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