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Proverbs 20-21 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.

Chapter 21

A king’s heart is channeled water in the hand of the Lord;
    God directs it where he pleases.[r]
All your ways may be straight in your own eyes,
    but it is the Lord who weighs hearts.
To do what is right and just
    is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.[s]
Haughty eyes and a proud heart—
    the lamp of the wicked will fail.[t]
The plans of the diligent end in profit,
    but those of the hasty end in loss.[u]
Trying to get rich by lying
    is chasing a bubble over deadly snares.
The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,
    because they refuse to do what is right.
One’s path may be winding and unfamiliar,
    but one’s conduct is blameless and right.[v]
It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop
    than in a mansion with a quarrelsome woman.[w]
10 The soul of the wicked desires evil;
    their neighbor finds no pity in their eyes.
11 When scoffers are punished the naive become wise;
    when the wise succeed, they gain knowledge.
12 The Righteous One appraises the house of the wicked,
    bringing down the wicked to ruin.[x]
13 Those who shut their ears to the cry of the poor
    will themselves call out and not be answered.
14 A secret gift allays anger,
    and a present concealed, violent wrath.[y]
15 When justice is done it is a joy for the just,
    downfall for evildoers.[z]
16 Whoever strays from the way of good sense
    will abide in the assembly of the shades.[aa]
17 The lover of pleasure will suffer want;
    the lover of wine and perfume will never be rich.
18 The wicked serve as ransom for the just,
    and the faithless for the upright.[ab]
19 It is better to dwell in a wilderness
    than with a quarrelsome wife and trouble.
20 Precious treasure and oil are in the house of the wise,
    but the fool consumes them.
21 Whoever pursues justice and kindness
    will find life and honor.[ac]
22 The wise person storms the city of the mighty,
    and overthrows the stronghold in which they trust.
23 Those who guard mouth and tongue
    guard themselves[ad] from trouble.
24 Proud, boastful—scoffer is the name:
    those who act with overbearing pride.
25 The desire of sluggards will slay them,
    for their hands refuse to work.[ae]
26 Some are consumed with avarice all the day,
    but the just give unsparingly.
27 The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination,
    the more so when they offer it with bad intent.
28 The false witness will perish,
    but one who listens will give lasting testimony.
29 The face of the wicked hardens,
    but the upright maintains a straight course.[af]
30 No wisdom, no understanding,
    no counsel prevail against the Lord.
31 The horse is equipped for the day of battle,
    but victory is the Lord’s.


  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.”
  18. 21:1 “Channeled water” in Is 32:2 and Prv 5:16 is water that fertilizes arid land. It takes great skill to direct water, whether it be water to fertilize fields or cosmic floods harnessed at creation, for water is powerful and seems to have a mind of its own. It also requires great skill to direct the heart of a king, for it is inscrutable and beyond ordinary human control.
  19. 21:3 External rites or sacrifices do not please God unless accompanied by internal worship and right moral conduct; cf. 15:8; 21:27; Is 1:11–15; Am 5:22; Mal 1:12.
  20. 21:4 Heart and eyes depict, respectively, the inner and the outer person. “Haughty eyes” peering out from a “proud heart” show a thoroughly arrogant person. How can such a person flourish! Their lamp, which signifies life, will go out.
  21. 21:5 The antitheses are diligent and impetuous. The metaphor characterizing each type is taken from the world of commerce. Planning is important; bustle leads to waste.
  22. 21:8 One cannot always read others’ hearts from their behavior. Unconventional conduct need not indicate evil motives.
  23. 21:9 In Proverbs, two great obstacles to a happy household are foolish children and quarrelsome spouses. The nagging wife is also mentioned in 19:13 and 27:15; 25:24 is a duplicate.
  24. 21:12 It is difficult to ascertain the subject of the saying. Some hold it is the Lord, the “Righteous One,” who is normally the executor of justice in Proverbs. Others believe it is the just person who is the agent of divine justice. “Righteous One” is a title for God in Is 24:16. The best argument for making God the subject of the verb is that elsewhere in Proverbs righteous human beings never do anything to the wicked; only God does.
  25. 21:14 Proverbs offers several remedies for anger—a soft word (15:1), patience, and a bribe. The last remedy implies a certain disdain for the disordered passion of anger, for it can be so easily assuaged by a discreetly offered “gift.”
  26. 21:15 The second line is a duplicate of 10:29b.
  27. 21:16 Assembly of the shades: those who dwell in Sheol.
  28. 21:18 In this bold paradox, the ransom that protects the righteous is the wicked person who attracts, like a lightning rod, the divine wrath that might have been directed at the righteous.
  29. 21:21 The paradox is that one comes upon something other than what one pursued. The way to (long and healthy) life and honor is the vigorous pursuit of virtue.
  30. 21:23 Themselves: see note on 13:3. To guard your “self” (lit., “throat,” the moist and breathing center of the body, by metonymy, “life”), you must guard your tongue. Speech in Proverbs is the quintessential human activity and often has a meaning broader than speech alone; it can stand for all human activity. Acting rightly is the best way to protect yourself from evil.
  31. 21:25 Desire, or appetite, is the impulse toward food and drink (see Ps 42:3) which spurs animals and human beings into action. But sluggards cannot lift hand to mouth; they bury their hand in the dish (19:24), and so their appetite is thwarted.
  32. 21:29 The wicked cannot deter the righteous from walking the straight path, i.e., from practicing virtue.
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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