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Asbury Bible Commentary – III. The Proverbs of Solomon (10:1–22:16)
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III. The Proverbs of Solomon (10:1–22:16)

With this section begins a different style of proverb, the two-line, often antithetical, saying commonly thought to be the normal form for the proverb. The commentary will often treat the sayings separately. However, where in a chapter several may be grouped together by common subject matter, they will be discussed as a group.

Chapter 10

V. 1. There are no isolated lives, for we all live in a web of relationships and our actions affect those close to us.

Vv. 2-4. These verses center around wealth. The Lord has so structured the universe as to benefit the righteous. Even ill-gotten treasure is not a lasting benefit. Wealth is not showered upon the righteous; it must be earned through diligent work. The lazy will go hungry.

Vv. 6-7. These verses contrast the fate of the righteous and the wicked. In wisdom literature little is known about an afterlife. The highest hope was for a long life blessed by peace, wealth, and many descendants. When life ended, one's children and friends would bless the memory of the righteous and curse that of the wicked.

V. 8. A contrast is made between one ready to receive instruction and one who speaks without knowledge.

V. 9. Life is often seen as a pathway characterized by the inner disposition of a person. The wise, righteous, and knowledgeable walk a straight path, while the wicked have a perverted or twisted life.

Vv. 10, 11, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 31, 32. These verses each deal with speaking wisdom or its opposite, evil or foolishness. The words of the wise are valuable, for their effect is to help a community and to give life. They may be few in number, but they are fitted for the occasion and are based on knowledge of things as they truly are. The fool's words may be many, but wisdom is not measured by volume. The words of the wicked bring ruin, judgment, violence, and sin. In the end wisdom will be established, and wicked words will lead to destruction.

V. 12. The end results of the actions of love and hatred are contrasted.

V. 15. Wealth insulates the rich from many of the blows that the poor suffer.

Vv. 16, 24, 25, 27, 28, 29, 30. These verses contrast the end result or wages of the righteous and the wicked. Wisdom follows the path of life as established by the Lord and thus finds life, joy, refuge in time of trouble, stability, and one's deepest desires. The wicked will be suddenly swept away by destruction as their life lacks permanence. What they dread will come upon them, for they have no refuge.

V. 17. Wisdom and folly both affect the lives of others.

V. 23. One's values are revealed in one's pleasures.

V. 26. Trusting an important matter to someone who is lazy is the same as inflicting oneself with an irritant.

Chapter 11

V. 1. Yahweh demands honesty in business practices.

V. 2. The egotist does not learn except in disgrace, but the humble gains wisdom.

Vv. 3, 5-8, 18, 19, 21, 23, 31. These verses contrast the rewards of the righteous and the wicked. Wisdom concentrates on this world and has little to say about a future life. Therefore, each must receive the fruit of his or her ways in this life. The wicked will be trapped by their evil desires and destroyed. When they die, all is lost. The integrity of the righteous guides them in life, rescuing them from trouble and granting what is good.

Vv. 4, 28. Wealth has limitations that are exceeded by righteousness.

Vv. 9, 12, 13. The mouth has the power to bless and curse. It can destroy, denigrate, and disclose confidential material. The wise know what to say, when to say it, and when to be silent.

Vv. 10, 11. The life-styles of the righteous and the wicked directly affect the well-being of their communities. They can be blessed or destroyed. Thus they rejoice in the success of the righteous and in the death of the wicked.

V. 14. The security of a people lies in the wisdom of their leaders.

V. 15. See 6:1.

Vv. 16, 17, 24-27. Kindness and generosity not only help others, but they rebound to expand the quality of one's own life. The cruel and ruthless who hoard their resources earn the curses of the people and store up destruction for themselves.

V. 20. Behind the moral order of the universe stands a God who takes pleasure in those who are blameless and is displeased with those whose values are perverted. This is the basic theology of the wisdom teacher.

V. 22. Physical beauty unmatched by moral purity is as incongruous as a gold ring in a pig's snout.

V. 29. A fool destroys his own inheritance, and instead of becoming the head of his own family ends up serving one who is wiser.

V. 30. RSV follows the Greek, while the NIV attempts to make sense of the Hebrew. “Wins souls” means preserving lives.

Chapter 12

Vv. 1, 15. Wisdom is not gained easily. One must be willing to take correction to learn. This quality separates the wise from the fool.

V. 2. Behind the moral order stands a moral God guaranteeing it.

Vv. 3, 7, 12, 13, 21, 26. These verses contrast the wicked who are transitory and destined to be overthrown with the righteous who are established and unmoved. The wicked are betrayed by their pursuit of evil (v. 12) and their own words (v. 13). The first part of v. 26 is difficult but suggests that the righteous are careful in making friends and thus are not led astray.

V. 4. One's spouse may be a source of honor or disgrace.

Vv. 5, 6, 8, 20. The advice of the righteous is just, wise, and salvatory, and it promotes joy. The plans of the wicked are deceitful, violent, and evil, for they arise out of a warped or perverted mind.

Vv. 9, 10, 11, 24, 27. These verses deal with diligence in labor, mostly farm labor. The wise perform without boasting. They are industrious and reap the rewards of hard work. The lazy and those who chase dreams end up with nothing, or worse, serving others.

Vv. 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22, 23. These verses deal with good speech, which is as rewarding as rigorous toil. Wisdom is characterized by listening to advice but being slow to give it, by overlooking an insult, and by being truthful. Yahweh delights in such persons. The fool is right in his own sight, easy to offend, reckless, and a liar who offends Yahweh.

V. 25. Encouraging words lift the one bowed down with stress.

V. 28. The path of righteousness leads to life, not death. It may be too strong to suggest that this verse speaks of immortality.

Chapter 13

Vv. 1, 13, 14, 18. Learning wisdom brings its own rewards, including honor and life itself. The mocker or arrogant person who refuses instruction solicits poverty and death.

Vv. 2, 3. Words have power. The wise use them judiciously and gain by them. Misuse brings violence and ruin.

Vv. 4, 11. Diligence in work and saving brings wealth. Indolence gains nothing and squanders what it has.

Vv. 5, 6, 9, 21, 25. The rewards of the righteous are contrasted with the afflictions of the wicked. The righteous who hate false words enjoy prosperity while being protected from harm by their own integrity. The wicked suffer disgrace, hunger, misfortune, and violence. While the lamp (life) of one increases, the light (life) of the other is extinguished.

V. 7. Appearances may be deceiving.

V. 8. While wealth enables the rich to buy freedom, the poor do not fear captivity, for no one would kidnap them for ransom.

V. 10. The closed mind of the proud begets strife, but the wise seek advice.

Vv. 12, 19. The satisfaction of hope or its frustration affects one's mental and physical well-being. A fool, however, refuses to give up a desire, which in the end means disaster.

V. 15. The insight of wisdom and the way of treachery are contrasted in their results.

V. 16. Knowledge guides the prudent; folly betrays the fool.

V. 17. The integrity of a messenger should be considered before entrusting that one with an important matter.

V. 20. One's character is affected by one's associates.

Vv. 22, 23. These two proverbs deal with justice but in opposing views. In a just world ordered by God, the children of the righteous gain not only their inheritance but eventually even that of the wicked. When injustice rules, even the produce of the fertile fields of the poor is swept away.

V. 24. Discipline is a normal part of growing up. Without it a child would not develop into a productive citizen. The proverb does not justify abuse.

Chapter 14

V. 1. Wisdom and folly are personified, both words being feminine. It is the nature of wisdom to build and of folly to destroy.

Vv. 2, 16, 26, 27, 31. To fear or reverence Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom. Those who do reverence him conduct their lives in an ethically upright manner, shunning evil and providing for the poor. He in turn gives life and protection from deadly snares.

Vv. 3, 7. Proper speech is a continual theme. The words of the wise protect, but the fool's words return like a punishing rod. Stay away from the fool, because he has no knowledge to give you.

Vv. 4, 23. These verses refer to productivity. An ox is needed to pull a plow on a productive farm. Work produces results. Talk produces nothing.

Vv. 5, 25. The setting is the courtroom where honest witnesses are necessary for justice.

Vv. 6, 33. It is not difficult to find wisdom, but the mocker cannot find it because of his attitude.

Vv. 8, 11, 14, 15, 18, 22, 24. These seemingly diverse sayings deal with giving thought to the outcome of actions. The wise consider their ways and the end results. They exercise knowledge in their planning, choosing what is good in life. The foolish and simple reap the folly of their ways.

V. 9. The righteous work at keeping the favor or goodwill of the community, but the fool does not make amends for his guilt.

Vv. 10, 13. The heart is the seat of thinking, willing, knowing, and feeling in OT anthropology. One's heart can experience both joy and grief that no one else may know, and discern the reality of a situation.

V. 12. Only the end of a matter may reveal its true nature.

Vv. 17, 29. The wise do not make hasty decisions, but the quick-tempered make foolish ones.

V. 19. In God's justice the wicked will eventually honor the righteous.

Vv. 20, 21. The normal course of events is for the poor to be shunned and the rich to be sought after. Yet those who are blessed by God are those who care for their neighbors, especially those who are poor.

V. 30. One's mental state affects one's physical well-being.

V. 32. While the RSV and NEB follow the Greek, substituting “integrity” or “honesty” for “death” (NIV), there is no good reason to reject the Hebrew unless one has prejudged that Proverbs cannot refer to life after death. The verse clearly indicates that in death the righteous have more to look forward to than simply the grave.

V. 34. The moral qualities of a nation either add to or detract from its stature among the peoples of the world.

V. 35. This verse is a saying on kingship that exults wisdom.

Chapter 15

Vv. 1, 4, 18, 23. The power of speech may be used for beneficial or destructive purposes. It can incite anger or calm one down, heal or inflict damage to another's spirit. How much better it is when appropriate words are spoken at the proper time that they might benefit the hearer.

Vv. 2, 7, 28. This set of sayings is similar to the first set, but it contrasts the effects of the words of the wise or righteous with those of the fool or wicked. The one brings forth knowledge while the latter bubbles out foolishness or evil.

Vv. 3, 8, 9, 11, 25, 26, 29. Yahweh keeps constant watch over his creation, judging both the good and the evil. He opposes the wicked and the proud, rejecting their prayers and sacrifices. As a moral God, he despises their way of life and their evil designs, defending the helpless (widows) against them. He shows his love to the righteous by hearing their prayers.

Vv. 5, 10, 12, 14, 19, 21, 31, 32, 33. The person who is wise and understanding seeks knowledge and is humble enough to listen to correction. This one receives honor from Yahweh while walking the straight, or righteous, path, which leads to life. The fool spurns correction and instruction and receives the harsh disciplines with which the path of folly rewards its victims. In rejecting instruction the fool rejects life itself and treads a path that is blocked (hedged) by briers and leads to death.

V. 6. Those who order their lives according to the plan of God are the righteous who will receive the benefits of this life, including its wealth. The wicked's prosperity will be swept away by calamity.

Vv. 13, 15, 30. The word heart for the Hebrew meant more the mind and will than the emotions. These verses speak of the disposition of the mind that looks for and rejoices in the good in life and in turn promotes good health. Heartache and oppression, however, can crush one's spirit.

Vv. 16, 17. This couplet extols quality of life over wealth. Reverence for Yahweh and love are to be preferred over wealth and feasting, which are accompanied by turmoil and hatred.

V. 20. See commentary on 10:1.

V. 22. See commentary on 11:14.

V. 27. The values a person has affects the quality of life even in the home. Greed brings trouble while honesty promotes life.

Chapter 16

This chapter begins with two collections of proverbs. Vv. 1-9 deal with the sovereignty of Yahweh, and vv. 10-15 with kingship. A third collection on types of evil persons is found in vv. 27-30. It is impossible to tell when the verses were compiled or who was responsible for their arrangement. It does indicate that at some point attempts were made to order some proverbs by topic.

Vv. 1-9. The theme of the sovereignty of God holds these verses together. It is he who created all things and has determined their purposes and ends, even the destruction of the wicked. The results of one's plans are governed by Yahweh's will. This does not mean that the freedom of a person is abrogated. One is still invited to commit one's way to Yahweh, to live a life of love, faithfulness, and righteousness. He will judge both motives and deeds to reward or punish as appropriate. To humanity belongs the choice of aligning with or against Yahweh, to choose a path. But it is Yahweh's to create paths and their results.

Vv. 10-15. Parallel to the sovereignty of God is the sovereignty of the king. While the king's sovereignty is relative to that of God, he still holds the power of life and death over his subjects. His anger can mean death, and one would do well to appease it quickly. As God's representative he desires justice, righteousness, and honesty in his administration. To those who please him his favor is as rewarding as rain in the spring.

V. 16. See commentary on 8:10.

V. 17. Life is depicted as a road with dangerous turns. The upright guard their way and thus their lives.

Vv. 18, 19. These verses contrast the way of pride and humility. Humility is to be preferred over the ill-gotten wealth of the proud who are headed for a fall (disaster of some sort).

V. 20. Instead of instruction read “the word.” The one who meditates on the word of Yahweh and trusts him is indeed blessed.

Vv. 21, 23, 24. Proper speech is a trait of wisdom. The one who knows how to speak well provides instruction to others and benefits for himself.

V. 22. This verse contrasts the benefits of understanding (prudence) and folly.

V. 25. See commentary on 14:12.

V. 26. Necessity drives one to work. Find the right motivation, and the job will get done.

Vv. 27-30. These verses describe the wickedness performed by four types of evil persons. Perverse speech is used to stir up strife to entice others to join in their evil schemes.

V. 31. Long life is a reward of righteousness.

V. 32. Inner strength is more beneficial than bold exploits.

V. 33. The last verse concludes the chapter by returning to the theme of the first section; the sovereignty of Yahweh ultimately rules.

Chapter 17

V. 1. See commentary on 15:17.

V. 2. Wisdom is deed as well as knowledge. The servant will inherit, for ability is more important than position.

V. 3. There is an appropriate refining process for everything.

Vv. 4, 10. The character of a listener determines what will be heard.

V. 5. See commentary on 14:31.

Vv. 6, 21, 25. The actions of one generation bring honor or shame to the other. See commentary on 10:1.

V. 7. Speech reveals the nature of and should be suited to the speaker. Read “eloquent” in place of “arrogant.”

Vv. 8, 23. Bribes are effective means of achieving one's goals, but efficiency is not the ultimate value. Perversion of justice is wrong.

V. 9. See commentary on 10:12.

Vv. 11, 19, 20. Evil persons bring about their own destruction, reaping the evil they have done to others.

V. 12. This is a humorous verse ridiculing the fool.

V. 13. What evil one does to a friend will be visited upon that person's family, e.g., David's crime against Uriah (2Sa 12:9-10).

V. 14. It is better never to start a quarrel than to try to end one.

Vv. 15, 26. Yahweh demands justice in the courtroom.

V. 16. This is a humorous verse about students who have resources but no ability.

V. 17. Friendship and betrayal prove themselves in adversity.

V. 18. See commentary on 6:1-5.

V. 22. See commentary on 12:25; 15:13.

V. 24. Wisdom concentrates on the problem at hand; folly daydreams about the future.

Vv. 27, 28. Restrained speech is a mark of wisdom.

Chapter 18

V. 1. This is a difficult verse in the Hebrew that has the general sense of condemning antisocial behavior.

Vv. 2, 6, 7. The speech of the fool brings trouble to the speaker.

V. 3. The companions of wickedness are a social disgrace.

V. 4. This is a cryptic verse conveying the general idea that one's words reveal the depth of one's character.

V. 5. This is a verse about justice. See commentary on 17:26.

V. 8. this is a comment on human nature, which likes to listen to whispered information about others.

V. 9. Not to finish a task is no different from destroying what has been completed.

Vv. 10, 11. Yahweh provides ultimate protection, but wealth also offers its level of security. There is no contradiction between the two proverbs. Both are true, the first ultimately and the second pragmatically.

V. 12. See commentary on 16:18-19.

V. 13. The fool has the answers before hearing the question.

V. 14. See commentary on 12:25; 15:13.

V. 15. The wise seek knowledge (cf. 8:10).

V. 16. See commentary on 17:8.

V. 17. A position may appear sound until it is closely examined.

V. 18. Disputes were sometimes settled by asking Yahweh to decide the issue by influencing the casting of lots. The disputants were bound by oath to accept the outcome as the will of Yahweh.

V. 19. This is a cryptic verse that notes that hurt feelings are more difficult to overcome than the defenses of a city.

Vv. 20, 21. Words have power and may be used to bring satisfaction.

V. 22. Domestic tranquility is greatly valued. A good spouse is a gift of God.

V. 23. This verse describes a harsh reality of life. Wealth brings power. See commentary on v. 11; 10:15.

V. 24. To make a friend means to take on an obligation. Too many companions who need assistance may bring one to ruin. A true friend stands by one even in adversity.

Chapter 19

V. 1. See commentary on 15:16, 17.

V. 2. Knowledge, not quick action, brings success.

V. 3. It is easier for a fool to blame God than to take responsibility for failure.

Vv. 4, 6, 7. Wealth brings friends while poverty suffers alone.

Vv. 5, 9, 28. Those who violate the commandment about bearing false witness (Ex 20:16) will be punished. False witnesses destroy the foundation of justice.

Vv. 8, 20. Valuing wisdom brings richness to life.

Vv. 10, 11. In this couplet about social order the first verse notes an absurdity that is disruptive; the second describes how it is maintained.

V. 12. See commentary on 16:14, 15.

Vv. 13, 14. This is a couplet about the home. The first describes destructive forces, the second describes beneficial forces. See commentary on 18:22.

Vv. 15, 24. Sloth ends in hunger.

V. 16. See commentary on 13:13.

V. 17. See commentary on 14:31.

Vv. 18, 19. This couplet concerns discipline. The child may yet be saved by discipline for bad behavior, but uncontrolled anger of an adult will bring repeated punishment.

V. 21. See commentary on 16:1-9.

V. 22. Honesty and loyalty have higher value than wealth.

V. 23. See commentary on 18:10.

Vv. 25, 29. Adjust teaching methods to fit the student. Corporeal punishment was often used in the schools of the scribes.

V. 26. Dishonor is earned by one who violates the commandment about honoring parents (Ex 20:12).

V. 27. A word of caution to the student. Wrong actions produce wrong results.

Chapter 20

V. 1. Especially the young need the warning against the dissipation that drunkenness brings. Lack of discipline is the opposite of wisdom.

V. 2. See commentary on 16:10-15.

V. 3. See commentary on 18:6, 11.

V. 4. Those who are too lazy to prepare will reap no rewards.

V. 5. The wise who study human nature will understand the depths of motivation often superficially concealed.

Vv. 6, 11. One's character is proved by deeds, not words.

Vv. 7, 9. The greatest inheritance is the example of the blameless life. Yet it comes not by one's own efforts. The grace of God sustains.

Vv. 8, 26. The ruler is responsible for justice. In wisdom he is to discern between the righteous and the wicked.

Vv. 10, 23. See commentary on 11:1.

Vv. 12, 13. Instruction to the student to use diligently what God has created. “Stay awake” means “open your eyes.”

V. 14. This is a humorous observation on business.

V. 15. See commentary on 3:14, 15 and 8:10, 11.

V. 16. This is advice to the lender. See commentary on 6:1-5 for the borrower. “Woman” is incorrect here as the Hebrew word “strangers” is masculine.

V. 17. Evil in the long run does not pay. See commentary on 9:17.

V. 18. See commentary on 11:14; 15:22.

V. 19. See commentary on 11:13.

V. 20. See commentary on 19:26.

V. 21. Instruction on business: Knowledge is needed to manage money, or even an inheritance will be gone.

V. 22. Vengeance is not wise. Leave it in Yahweh's hands.

V. 24. See commentary on 16:1-9.

V. 25. To pronounce a thing holy or sacred is to dedicate it to God. One should not be hasty even in making religious vows.

V. 27. “Lamp” symbolizes one searching a room. See commentary on 15:11.

V. 28. These qualities, not force, must ultimately secure a government.

V. 29. Each age has its own benefits to be enjoyed. See commentary on 16:31.

V. 30. “Evil” refers to bad actions, not wickedness. See commentary on 19:25.

Chapter 21

Vv. 1, 2. See commentary on 16:1-15. The sovereignty of God directs even the king.

Vv. 3, 4, 21. These verses show contrast in values. Justice and righteousness are more important than sacrifice. See commentary on 15:8. They with love (loyalty) lead to life and honor. “Lamp” symbolizes a wicked life-style.

Vv. 5, 6, 7, 8. These verses contrast wisdom and wickedness in securing wealth. Wise persons make plans and do justly. The wicked act in haste with lies and violence. What they gain is eventually lost.

Vv. 9, 19. These verses are observations on domestic tranquility. Peace is preferred over comfort.

Vv. 10, 12, 13, 15. These verses are observations on justice. The wicked who are evil and ruled by evil do not want justice done. But the Righteous One, God, ultimately guarantees justice, and the righteous rejoice in it.

V. 11. See commentary on 19:25.

V. 14. See commentary on 17:8.

V. 16. The wanderer finds only death.

Vv. 17, 20. Lack of discipline spells financial ruin.

V. 18. “Ransom” means to suffer the evil fate the wicked planned for the righteous. See commentary on 11:8.

V. 22. See commentary on 16:32.

V. 23. See commentary on 13:3.

V. 24. This is a description of the mocker, an insolent person.

Vv. 25, 26. See commentary on 19:15.

V. 27. See commentary on 15:8.

V. 28. See commentary on 19:5, 28. The last line is difficult. Either the one who accepts the false testimony also will die, or the one who hears the truth will speak it.

V. 29. This verse is difficult in Hebrew. The wicked speak boldly, but the righteous have substance in their manner of living.

Vv. 30, 31. See commentary on 16:1-9. Even wisdom's highest values are secondary to obedience to Yahweh.

Chapter 22

V. 1. Reputation is more valuable than wealth.

V. 2. See commentary on 16:1-9.

V. 3. See commentary on 14:15, 16.

V. 4. See commentary on 21:21.

V. 5. The wise avoid the hardships of the wicked.

V. 6. One should be trained for a vocation according to his/her talents and inclinations.

V. 7. To money belongs power over others. See commentary on 10:15.

V. 8. The wicked will finally destroy themselves.

V. 9. See commentary on 19:17.

V. 10. See commentary on 18:6-8.

V. 11. Advice to students to seek high moral standards. See commentary on 14:35.

V. 12. See commentary on 15:3.

V. 13. This verse contains humorous sayings on the excuses of the lazy.

V. 14. See commentary on 2:16-22; ch. 5.

V. 15. See commentary on 13:24.

V. 16. See commentary on 14:31.