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Proverbs 20 New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

Chapter 20

Wine is arrogant, strong drink is riotous;
    none who are intoxicated by them are wise.[a]
The terror of a king is like the roar of a lion;
    those who incur his anger forfeit their lives.
A person gains honor by avoiding strife,
    while every fool starts a quarrel.[b]
In seedtime sluggards do not plow;
    when they look for the harvest, it is not there.
The intention of the human heart is deep water,
    but the intelligent draw it forth.[c]
Many say, “My loyal friend,”
    but who can find someone worthy of trust?
The just walk in integrity;
    happy are their children after them!
A king seated on the throne of judgment
    dispels all evil with his glance.[d]
Who can say, “I have made my heart clean,
    I am cleansed of my sin”?[e]
10 Varying weights, varying measures,
    are both an abomination to the Lord.
11 In their actions even children can playact
    though their deeds be blameless and right.[f]
12 The ear that hears, the eye that sees—
    the Lord has made them both.[g]
13 Do not love sleep lest you be reduced to poverty;
    keep your eyes open, have your fill of food.
14 “Bad, bad!” says the buyer,
    then goes away only to boast.[h]
15 One can put on gold and abundant jewels,
    but wise lips are the most precious ornament.[i]
16 Take the garment of the one who became surety for a stranger;
    if for foreigners, exact the pledge![j]
17 Bread earned by deceit is sweet,
    but afterward the mouth is filled with gravel.
18 Plans made with advice succeed;
    with wise direction wage your war.
19 A slanderer reveals secrets;
    so have nothing to do with a babbler!
20 Those who curse father or mother—
    their lamp will go out[k] in the dead of night.
21 Possessions greedily guarded at the outset
    will not be blessed in the end.[l]
22 Do not say, “I will repay evil!”
    Wait for the Lord, who will help you.[m]
23 Varying weights are an abomination to the Lord,
    and false scales are not good.
24 Our steps are from the Lord;
    how, then, can mortals understand their way?[n]
25 It is a trap to pledge rashly a sacred gift,
    and after a vow, then to reflect.[o]
26 A wise king winnows the wicked,
    and threshes them under the cartwheel.[p]
27 A lamp from the Lord is human life-breath;
    it searches through the inmost being.[q]
28 His steadfast loyalty safeguards the king,
    and he upholds his throne by justice.
29 The glory of the young is their strength,
    and the dignity of the old is gray hair.
30 Evil is cleansed away by bloody lashes,
    and a scourging to the inmost being.


  1. 20:1 The cause stands for its effect (wine, drunken behavior). In Proverbs wine is a sign of prosperity and a symbol of feasting (3:10; 4:17; 9:2, 5) but also a potential threat to wisdom as in 20:1; 21:17; 23:29–35.
  2. 20:3 The honor that one might seek to gain from fighting comes of itself to the person who refrains from fighting.
  3. 20:5 The heart is where human plans are made and stored; they remain “deep water” until words reveal them to others. The wise know how to draw up those waters, i.e., express them. Cf. 18:4.
  4. 20:8 The royal throne is established in justice and the king is the agent of that justice.
  5. 20:9 A claim to sinlessness can be merely self-deception; see 16:2; cf. also 15:11.
  6. 20:11 The verb in colon A can mean either “to make oneself known” or “to play another person” (as in Gn 42:7 and 1 Kgs 14:5, 6). The second meaning makes a better parallel to colon B. The meaning is that if a child can playact, an adult can do so even more. Actions do not always reveal character.
  7. 20:12 Human judgments are not ultimate; the Lord expects proper use of these faculties.
  8. 20:14 Bartering invites playacting and masking one’s true intent. The truth of words depends on their context.
  9. 20:15 Wisdom is said to be preferable to gold in 3:14; 8:10, 19; 16:16. Colon B suggests that the gold and jewelry here are ornaments for the face (cf. Gn 24:53; Ex 3:22; Is 61:10). Wise lips are the most beautiful adornment, for they display the wisdom of the heart.
  10. 20:16 The text is not clear. See 27:13. Caution in becoming surety is always advised (cf. 6:1–3), and it is especially advisable with strangers.
  11. 20:20 Their lamp will go out: misfortune, even death, awaits them; cf. 13:9; Ex 21:17.
  12. 20:21 By definition, an inheritance is not gained by one’s own efforts but is received as a gift. If, when one first receives the inheritance, one drives everyone away, one treats it as if one acquired it by one’s own efforts. In an agricultural society, an inheritance would often be a field that would require God’s blessing to be fertile.
  13. 20:22 Appointing oneself an agent of divine retribution is dangerous. Better to wait for God to effect justice. Cf. 24:17–18.
  14. 20:24 An indication of the Lord’s inscrutable providence; cf. Jer 10:23; see Prv 21:2; cf. also 14:12.
  15. 20:25 This verse cautions against making vows without proper reflection; cf. Dt 23:22–25; Eccl 5:4–5.
  16. 20:26 The king is responsible for effecting justice. Judgment is portrayed in agricultural imagery—exposing grain to a current of air so that the chaff is blown away, and passing a wheel over the cereal to break the husk. Winnowing as image for judgment is found throughout the Bible.
  17. 20:27 A parallel is drawn between the life-breath that is God’s gift (Jb 32:8; 33:2) coursing through the human body (Is 2:22) and the lamp of God, which can be a symbol of divine scrutiny. In Zep 1:12, God declares, “And in that day I will search through Jerusalem with lamps.”
New American Bible (Revised Edition) (NABRE)

Scripture texts, prefaces, introductions, footnotes and cross references used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.


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