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Chapter 18

One who is alienated seeks a pretext,
    with all persistence picks a quarrel.
Fools take no delight in understanding,
    but only in displaying what they think.[a]
With wickedness comes contempt,
    and with disgrace, scorn.
The words of one’s mouth are deep waters,
    the spring of wisdom, a running brook.[b](A)
It is not good to favor the guilty,
    nor to reject the claim of the just.(B)
The lips of fools walk into a fight,
    and their mouths are asking for a beating.[c]
The mouths of fools are their ruin;
    their lips are a deadly snare.(C)
The words of a talebearer are like dainty morsels:
    they sink into one’s inmost being.(D)
Those slack in their work
    are kin to the destroyer.
10 [d]The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
    the just run to it and are safe.
11 The wealth of the rich is their strong city;(E)
    they fancy it a high wall.
12 Before disaster the heart is haughty,(F)
    but before honor is humility.
13 Whoever answers before listening,(G)
    theirs is folly and shame.[e]
14 One’s spirit supports one when ill,
    but a broken spirit who can bear?[f]
15 The heart of the intelligent acquires knowledge,
    and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.[g]
16 Gifts clear the way for people,
    winning access to the great.(H)
17 Those who plead the case first seem to be in the right;
    then the opponent comes and cross-examines them.[h]
18 The lot puts an end to disputes,
    and decides a controversy between the mighty.[i]
19 A brother offended is more unyielding than a stronghold;
    such strife is more daunting than castle gates.[j]
20 With the fruit of one’s mouth one’s belly is filled,
    with the produce of one’s lips one is sated.[k](I)
21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue;(J)
    those who choose one shall eat its fruit.[l]
22 To find a wife is to find happiness,
    a favor granted by the Lord.(K)
23 The poor implore,
    but the rich answer harshly.
24 There are friends who bring ruin,
    but there are true friends more loyal than a brother.(L)


  1. 18:2 One grows in wisdom by listening to others, but fools take delight in expounding the contents of their minds.
  2. 18:4 Words express a person’s thoughts (“deep waters”), which in turn become accessible to others. Cf. 20:5a.
  3. 18:6 The bold personification of lips and mouth is similar to Ps 73:9, “They set their mouths against the heavens, their tongues roam the earth.” Careless words can lead one into serious trouble.
  4. 18:10–11 Contrast this judgment with the observation in 10:15.
  5. 18:13 To speak without first listening is characteristic of a fool; cf. 10:14; Sir 11:8.
  6. 18:14 The paradox is that something as slight as a column of air offers protection against the encroachment of death. If it is stilled, nothing, no matter how powerful, can substitute for it.
  7. 18:15 “Knowledge” here refers to what one knows, not knowledge in itself. The mind acquires and stores it, the ear strains toward it.
  8. 18:17 A persuasive speech in court can easily make one forget there is another side to the question. When the other party speaks, people realize they made a premature judgment. The experience at court is a lesson for daily life: there are two sides to every question.
  9. 18:18 See note on 16:33.
  10. 18:19 The Greek version, followed by several ancient versions, has the opposite meaning: “A brother helped by a brother is like a strong and lofty city; it is strong like a well-founded palace.” The Greek is secondary as is shown by the need to supply the phrase “by a brother”; further, the parallelism is inadequate. The Hebrew is to be preferred.
  11. 18:20 Fruit from the earth is our ordinary sustenance, but “the fruit of one’s lips,” i.e., our words, also affect our well-being. If our words and our deeds are right, then we are blessed, our “belly is filled.”
  12. 18:21 This enigmatic saying has provoked many interpretations, e.g., judicious speech brings a reward; those who love the tongue in the sense of rattling on must face the consequences of their loquacity. This translation interprets the verb “love” in colon B in its occasional sense of “choose” (e.g., 12:1; 20:13; Dt 4:37) and interprets its pronominal object as referring to both death and life in colon A. Death and life are set before every person (cf. Dt 30:15–20) and we have the power to choose either one by the quality of our deeds. Words (= “the tongue”) are regarded here as the defining actions of human beings.