Proverbs 19:1-29

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Better is a poor man who “is walking in his integrity” (or one whose conduct is above reproach) than a man who is “twisted in his lips” or untruthful in speech and senseless, living a corrupt life as a fool. (19:1; see the Notes section.)

It is not good for a “soul” or a person to be “without knowledge,” the knowledge that is needed to make wise decisions and to avoid foolish actions. A man who is “hurrying with his feet,” acting impulsively, errs. His thoughtlessness will lead to his taking the wrong course. (19:2; see the Notes section.)

A man may ruin “his way [ways (LXX)]” or wreck his life. Even though the fault is his own, he (literally, “his heart” or he in his thoughts) becomes angry with YHWH [God (LXX)], blaming him for his troubles. (19:3)

In the case of the rich, their “wealth adds many companions” or contributes to their gaining many new friends. A lowly or poor man, however, “is separated from his companion.” Seeing no personal benefit in the relationship and not wanting to help his impoverished friend, the former companion distances himself. The Septuagint says that the poor man is forsaken even by his existing or only friend. (19:4)

A false or untruthful witness will not remain unpunished, and one who tells lies “will not escape” retribution. In the Septuagint, the concluding phrase refers to the one who “accuses unjustly” as not escaping. (19:5)

The expression “soften the face” (or “make the face pleasant”) applies to seeking to gain favorable attention. In view of the authority nobles or princes had, many entreated them. In the case of a man who gave presents, everyone wanted to be his companion or friend. (19:6; see the Notes section.)

“Brothers” of an impoverished man often distance themselves from him, selfishly choosing not to come to his aid. When failing to show love or compassion, they reveal themselves as persons who hate their brother. The poor man’s friends are even more inclined to stay far away from him. He appears to be represented as pursuing them with words, possibly with pleas for aid, but they are not there for him. (19:7; see the Notes section.)

In this context, to acquire “heart” (“prudence” [LXX]) denotes to acquire good sense. The individual doing so “loves his soul,” himself, or his life. He who “guards understanding [prudence (LXX)],” treasuring discernment and making sure that he is acting wisely, “will find good” or will prosper. (19:8)

The proverb about a false or untruthful witness is a repetition of the wording of verse 5, with the exception being the concluding verb (“will perish” instead of “will not escape”). According to the Septuagint, “whoever will kindle evil will perish by it.” (19:9)

For a fool to live in luxury is not fitting, for he will only misuse the abundance he has or waste it. It is even less fitting for a “servant to rule over princes [to rule with arrogance (LXX)],” or to exercise authority over persons who have the knowledge and experience to administer affairs justly and wisely. (19:10)

A man’s prudence or sensibleness contributes to his exercising control of his temper. He is not quick to flare up in anger over offenses or slights. Overlooking or forgiving an offense, not lashing out in rage, is to his credit. It adds to his honor or dignity in the sight of observers. There is “beauty,” glory, or something truly laudable for him not to respond in an uncontrolled way to offenses, treating them as if they had not occurred. The Septuagint says that a “merciful man,” one who is compassionate and forgiving, is patient or slow to anger, and “his boast comes upon lawless ones” or transgressors. This could mean that he triumphs over transgressors, for he does not become like them. (19:11)

When a king is enraged, the expression of his anger (“threat” [LXX]) is comparable to the roar of a lion. His favor, however, is like the dew that refreshes vegetation. (19:12)

A foolish son, one who conducts himself in a senseless and debauched manner, is the “ruin” (“disgrace” [LXX]) of his father, bringing trouble and shame into his father’s life. The quarreling of a wife is like the annoying and continual dripping from a leaking roof, with the irritation therefrom driving one away. (19:13; see the Notes section.)

The inheritance from responsible fathers is a “house and wealth.” A “prudent wife,” however, is “from YHWH .” She is a real credit to her husband and a blessing. The husband will value her highly as YHWH’s gift to him. The Septuagint says that a “woman is joined [or suited] to a man by God.” (19:14)

Laziness results in nothing being accomplished and so is comparable to causing deep sleep — a time during which there is no activity. A “slack soul” or a lazy man will go hungry, for he will have no funds for obtaining food. (19:15)

Although not specifically identified, the “commandment” may be God’s commandment or law. The one who keeps or observes it will keep or preserve his “soul” or life. A number of modern translations are more specific in their renderings than is the original Hebrew text. “Keep God’s law and you will live longer.” (GNT, Second Edition) “Obey the Lord’s teachings and you will live.” (CEV) An individual who “despises his ways,” giving no thought to the manner in which he is conducting his life, will perish. (19:16)

One who shows favor, or who responds mercifully with aid, to the lowly, poor, or afflicted person “is lending to YHWH [God (LXX)],” for God considers this as being done for him. YHWH, therefore, will repay the compassionate one (“according to his gift” [LXX]). (19:17)

While there still is hope for a son to be corrected, a father should chastise him, not withholding needed discipline when the boy is young. According to the Septuagint, the son will be hopeful if he is disciplined or instructed. A father should not let the situation deteriorate to the point where he “lifts up his soul” to put him to death. The expression about “lifting up the soul” has been variously understood, and this is reflected in the renderings of modern translations. “Do not desire his death.” (NAB) “Don’t be intent on killing him.” (HCSB) “Only be careful not to flog him to death.” (REB) “Do not get so angry as to kill him.” (NJB) “If you don’t punish them [your children], you are destroying them.” (CEV) “If you don’t [discipline your children], you are helping them destroy themselves.” (GNT, Second Edition) The Septuagint rendering directs the father not to be roused in his “soul” or in himself to “arrogance.” (19:18)

A man given to “great wrath” should bear the consequences for his outbursts of fury, paying the penalty that may be imposed upon him. Anyone who would attempt to deliver him from the troubles he brings upon himself will end up doing it repeatedly. (19:19; see the Notes section.)

Listening to counsel or sound advice and accepting discipline or instruction can make one wise “for the future” (literally, the “end” or “latter part”), conducting oneself sensibly and avoiding the problems associated with foolish behavior. In the Septuagint, the admonition is for the son to listen to the “discipline” of his father so that he may become wise in his “last” or future days. (19:20)

In his “heart” or in his thoughts, a man may have “many plans,” but this does not mean that he will have success in accomplishing what he intends to do. Everything depends upon what YHWH (the “Lord” [LXX]) may purpose or permit. His “counsel” or purpose “will stand” or be firmly established (“remains forever” [literally, “remains into the age] [LXX]). It will never fail to be fulfilled. (19:21)

The quality that is desired in a man (an “earthling”) is steadfast love, loyalty, or a compassionate concern for others. According to the Septuagint, “compassion” is a man’s “fruit,” which could mean that it is “gain” (like produce) for a man. Though a man may be poor (a “righteous poor man” [LXX]), he is better than a liar (a “rich liar” [LXX]). (19:22)

The “fear of YHWH” (or a reverential regard for him and a wholesome dread of acting contrary to his will) leads “to life.” One who has this fear is motivated to avoid corrupt and senseless behavior that can result in a premature death. As a person who is devoted to YHWH, he will be “satisfied” or content and secure, not being visited by evil, calamity, or harm. The verb that is linked to the Hebrew word for “satisfied” is lin (stay overnight, spend the night, or dwell). Modern translations vary in their renderings. “One eats and sleeps without being visited by misfortune.” (NAB) “He who is full of it [the fear of the Lord] will rest untouched by evil.” (REB) “Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.” (NIV) “It [the fear of Yahweh] brings food and shelter, without fear of evil.” (NJB) The Septuagint rendering indicates that the one without fear of the Lord “will dwell in places where knowledge does not visit” (or “does not keep guard”). This suggests that the individual would be without the vital knowledge that leads to life. (19:23)

Laziness is represented in an extreme form. The sluggard has “hidden his hand in a bowl,” suggesting that the hand is concealed by the food the bowl contains. Yet his laziness prevents him from bringing his hand to his mouth with the nourishment that is within his grasp. (19:24; see the Notes section.)

Striking a ridiculer or punishing him can serve to teach a simpleton (or one who is inexperienced in life and easily influenced) to avoid like conduct. Upon seeing the scoffer punished, the person lacking in knowledge and experience can thus “learn prudence,” becoming sensible in his behavior. A person who does have understanding should still be reproved if he errs seriously. The valid reproof will make it possible for the individual to gain knowledge [literally, “discern knowledge”], the knowledge needed to correct his course. It is also possible that the expression “discern knowledge” indicates that the reproved one will understand the reason for and the appropriateness of the reproof. (19:25; see the Notes section.)

Disregard for parents is shameful and disgraceful. For a son to mistreat his father or to drive his mother away from her place “causes shame and brings disgrace.” The Septuagint says that “he will be disgraced and reproached.” (19:26)

For a son to stop listening to correction or instruction would lead to his straying from “words of knowledge” or from the sound advice that had been imparted to him. The resultant wayward conduct would prove to be ruinous. According to the Septuagint, a son who failed to guard the discipline, correction, or instruction of his father would meditate on “evil sayings.” With his thoughts focused on things that are bad or corrupt, he would conduct himself in a lawless manner. (19:27)

A “witness of belial” is one whose testimony is false. Through his lying words, he would make himself guilty of mocking justice. The “mouth of wicked ones swallows trouble.” For corrupt individuals, the trouble they bring upon others is like eagerly consumed nourishment to them. According to the Septuagint, the “mouth of impious” or “ungodly ones will swallow judgments,” possibly indicating that they will fight against justice. (19:28; see the Notes section.)

Condemnatory “judgments” (“whips” [LXX]) are “established” or “prepared” (LXX) for ridiculers (“licentious ones” [LXX]). In view of their scoffing at what is right and acting in corrupt ways, they merit being punished. Fools, or individuals who choose to act senselessly and lawlessly, also deserve punishment (“flogging for [their] backs”). (19:29)

Notes

The proverbs found in verses 1 and 2 in the extant Hebrew text are missing in the Septuagint.

In verse 6, the Septuagint refers to many as attending to the “faces [or persons] of kings.” It concludes with the words, “But every evil man becomes an insult to a man” (or becomes another man’s object of reproach).

In verse 7, the concluding phrase about the pursuit with words is obscure in the Hebrew text. This has resulted in a variety of renderings in modern translations. “The man who picks his words keeps to the point.” (REB) “He goes in search of words, but there are none to be had.” (NJB) “He who pursues words — they are of no avail.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Though he pursues them with pleading, they are nowhere to be found.” (NIV) “When you really need them [your relatives and friends], they are not there.” (CEV) The rendering of the Septuagint departs considerably from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. “Everyone who hates a poor brother also will be far from friendship. Good insight comes near to the ones perceiving it, and a sensible man will find it. Whoever does much evil completes evil, and the one who incites [quarrels] with words will not be delivered.”

The concluding phrase of the Septuagint in verse 13 does not correspond to the reading of the extant Hebrew text. It says that “vows” paid from the “hire of a prostitute” are “not pure.”

The opening words of verse 15 in the Septuagint do not mention laziness. It says that “cowardice” or fear “restrains the soul [or person] of an unmanly one.”

In verse 19 of the Septuagint, the reference is to an “evil-minded” or malicious man as one to be punished severely. If he causes harm, “he will even add his soul.” This could mean that he would jeopardize his life.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 25 does not focus on laziness. It refers to one who unjustly hides his hands in his bosom (or the upper fold of his garment). This may relate to one who conceals a bribe. Regarding the hands, the Septuagint continues, “not even in any way” will he “bring them to [his] mouth.” The certainty is expressed in the Greek text with two words for “not,” and the thought could be that his hands will not reveal whatever may be hidden.

The wording of verse 25 in the Septuagint expresses the basic thought of the extant Hebrew text somewhat differently. “When a pest [a pestilent person] is being whipped, a fool will become more prudent. But if you reprove a sensible man, he will acquire perception.”

The initial phrase of verse 28 in the Septuagint departs significantly from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. It says that the one giving surety for a foolish child despises right or justice. His senseless action would be contrary to doing what is right or just.