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Chapter 20

Conduct of the Wise and the Foolish

There is an admonition that is untimely,[a]
    but the silent person is the wise one.
It is much better to admonish than to lose one’s temper;
    one who admits a fault will be kept from disgrace.
Like a eunuch lusting to violate a young woman
    is the one who does right under compulsion.[b]
One is silent and is thought wise;
    another, for being talkative, is disliked.
One is silent, having nothing to say;
    another is silent, biding his time.(A)
The wise remain silent till the right time comes,
    but a boasting fool misses the proper time.
Whoever talks too much is detested;
    whoever pretends to authority is hated.

There is the misfortune that brings success;[c]
    and there is the gain that turns into loss.
10 There is the gift that profits you nothing,
    and there is the gift that must be paid back double.
11 There is the loss for the sake of glory,
    and there is the one who rises above humble circumstances.
12 There is one who buys much for little,
    but pays for it seven times over.
13 The wise make themselves beloved by a few words,
    but the courtesies of fools are wasted.
14 A gift from a fool will do you no good,
    for in his eyes this one gift is equal to many.
15 He gives little, criticizes often,
    and opens his mouth like a town crier.
He lends today and asks for it tomorrow;
    such a person is hateful.
16 A fool says, “I have no friends
    nor thanks for my generosity.”
Those who eat his bread have a mocking tongue.
17 How many will ridicule him, and how often!

18 A slip on the floor is better than a slip of the tongue;[d]
    in like manner the downfall of the wicked comes quickly.
19 A coarse person, an untimely story;
    the ignorant are always ready to offer it.
20 A proverb spoken by a fool is unwelcome,
    for he does not tell it at the proper time.

21 There is a person whose poverty prevents him from sinning,
    but when he takes his rest he has no regrets.
22 There is a person who is destroyed through shame,
    and ruined by foolish posturing.
23 There is one who promises a friend out of shame,
    and so makes an enemy needlessly.

24 A lie is a foul blot in a person,
    yet it is always on the lips of the ignorant.
25 A thief is better than an inveterate liar,
    yet both will suffer ruin.
26 A liar’s way leads to dishonor,
    and his shame remains ever with him.

27 The wise gain promotion with few words,[e]
    the prudent please the great.
28 Those who work the land have abundant crops,
    and those who please the great are pardoned their faults.
29 Favors and gifts blind the eyes;
    like a muzzle over the mouth they silence reproofs.(B)
30 Hidden wisdom and unseen treasure—
    what value has either?
31 Better are those who hide their folly
    than those who hide their wisdom.[f]


  1. 20:1–8 The wise know the proper times for speech and silence, that is, the occasions when the most benefit can be gained from them. On the ambiguity of silences, see Prv 17:27–28.
  2. 20:4 Force can prevent an external act of sin or compel a good deed, but it does not eliminate the internal sin or desire of wrongdoing.
  3. 20:9–17 In a series of paradoxes the author indicates how much true and lasting values differ from apparent ones.
  4. 20:18–26 The ill-timed speech brings disaster (vv. 18–20); human respect may lead to rash promises and enmity (vv. 22–23); lies bring dishonor and lasting disgrace (vv. 24–26).
  5. 20:27–31 Through prudent speech the wise gain honor and esteem among the great (vv. 27–28). They must beware, however, of accepting bribes, lest they share in evil through silence when they should reprove (vv. 29–31).
  6. 20:31

    Other ancient texts read as v. 32:

    It is better to await the inevitable while serving the Lord

    than to be the ungoverned helmsman for the careening of one’s life.

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