Proverbs 20:1-30

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In an intoxicated state, people often behave in a senseless manner, saying and doing things that they would never do when sober. With overindulgence in drinking causing them to make fools of themselves, wine is rightly designated as a ridiculer (something that is intemperate or unrestrained [LXX]). When drunk, individuals often get involved in noisy quarrels or fights. From this standpoint, “strong drink” is a brawler (something that is insolent [LXX]). Anyone who goes astray from liquor or on account of excessive drinking is “not wise,” for the outcome can never be good. (20:1)

The “dread” or “terror” that can originate from a king is like the frightening roar of a lion. According to the Septuagint, a “king’s threat does not differ from the fury of a lion,” for both are terrifying. One who incites a king to anger “sins against his soul” or forfeits his own life. (20:2)

The honorable course for a man is to cease from disputing or getting involved in strife. “All” senseless individuals “will burst out” in it. They are quick to take offense and to speak rashly. (20:3; see the Notes section.)

When plowing should be done after the precipitation during the rainy season has softened the soil, the lazy man does not do it, probably excusing his idleness because of the cold weather. Therefore, at the time of the harvest, he will have nothing to reap. (20:4; see the Notes section.)

“Deep waters” conceal what lies beneath the surface. Likewise, the “counsel,” advice, intent, or purpose in the “heart of a man” or in his thoughts may be hidden from others. A discerning man, however, is one who can draw it out or cause it to be revealed. He is able to evaluate what is and is not said and may use specific questions to ascertain previously concealed thoughts. (20:5)

“Many a man” (an “earthling”) will proclaim himself to be loyal, kind, or compassionate, but the claim is often an expression of mere words without the support of deeds. The question is, “Who can find a faithful” or trustworthy man?” This question implies that a man deserving of trust is hard to find. The Septuagint rendering represents a “man” as “great,” a “compassionate man” as “precious,” and the dependable or trustworthy man as a “job to find” or difficult to locate among men. (20:6)

A “righteous man walks” or conducts himself “in integrity” or in an upright manner. His praiseworthy conduct has a good effect on his offspring. His “sons after him” are “happy,” blessed, or fortunate, enjoying a state of security and well-being. The Septuagint says that the one who “behaves blamelessly in righteousness” would be leaving his children “happy,” blessed, or fortunate. (20:7)

Seated on the “throne of judgment,” the “king scatters” or “winnows all evil with his eyes.” He discerns guilt and scatters evil. By having lawless individuals punished, he scatters them as if blowing them away like chaff before a wind. The Septuagint refers to a “righteous king” and indicates that no evil can resist “before his eyes” or in his presence, suggesting that he will not tolerate bad. (20:8)

All humans are sinful, falling short of the divine standard of blamelessness. Therefore, no one has a valid basis for saying, “I have purified my heart [my inmost self or thought]; I am clean from my sin.” (20:9; see the Notes section.)

In business transactions, dishonest persons used a larger than standard weight or dry measure when buying and a smaller one when selling. The use of different weights (literally, “stone and a stone” [“a large and a small weight” (LXX)] and dry measures (literally, “ephah and an ephah” [c. 22 liters or c. 20 dry quarts]; “double measure” [LXX]) are an “abomination to YHWH” or something loathsome to him. (20:10)

By his acts, a boy makes known whether “his work” is “pure and upright.” The thought could be that what a youngster does as a child reveals what his behavior will be in the future, whether it will be honest and right. (20:11; see the Notes section.)

YHWH has made the “hearing ear” and the “seeing eye.” The implied thought may be that he is fully aware of all human activity, for he, as the Creator of the faculties of hearing and seeing, hears and sees everything. It is also possible that the implied intent of the proverb is to admonish people to act in harmony with the purpose of the ear and the eye, listening to what is true and promotes upright conduct and seeing or perceiving what is the wise course to pursue. (20:12)

To “love sleep” is an evidence of laziness, for the sluggard prolongs the time spent in bed beyond what is essential for rest. Excessive sleep wastes the time that could be spent in productive work. Therefore, the lover of sleep is headed for poverty. To open the eyes appears to mean to be awake and alert in order to work so as to possess the means for obtaining food and thus to be “satisfied with bread.” (20:13; see the Notes section.)

Apparently the buyer says to the seller, “bad, bad,” intending to obtain the item he wants for much less than the seller’s desired price. Then, after purchasing the item and leaving, the buyer boasts, probably because of having made a good buy. (20:14; see the Notes section.)

The costly item besides “gold” is referred to as peniním in the extant Hebrew text. This Hebrew word has been understood to designate “pearls,” “rubies,” “coral,” and “red coral.” The proverb appears to indicate that, although “gold” and abundant pearls, rubies, coral, or red coral are precious, “lips of knowledge,” or lips that impart vital knowledge, have even greater value. They are designated as a “precious vessel.” (20:15)

A man who made himself responsible for the indebtedness of others in case of their failure to fulfill their obligations placed himself at great risk. The consequence of loss for this foolhardy action is expressed with the imperative, “Take his garment.” This imperative suggests a permanent seizure (unlike the case of a man who gave his garment as a pledge but to whom it had to be returned every evening [Exodus 22:25, 26; Deuteronomy 24:12, 13]). In the next phrase, the meaning depends on whether the qere reading or that of the main text is chosen. According to the qere reading, the reference is to a foreign woman or a harlot, and the reading of the main text is the plural “foreigners” or “strangers.” The difference in the meaning of the text is reflected in the varying renderings of modern translations. “Take his garment, for he has put up security for a stranger; get collateral if it is for foreigners.” (HCSB) “Take the coat of someone who promises to pay a stranger’s debts, and keep it until he pays what the stranger owes.” (NCV) “Take the garment of anyone who pledges his word for a stranger; hold it as security for the unknown person.” (REB) “Take the garment of one who puts up security for a stranger; hold it in pledge if he does it for a wayward woman.” (NIV) “Seize his garment, for he stood surety for another; take it as a pledge, [for he stood surety] for an unfamiliar woman.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) (20:16)

Bread or food obtained by deceit may be sweet or pleasurable to a man. He may be delighted about having gained a benefit through corrupt means. The final outcome, however, can be very different, for he is subject to being exposed as dishonest and punished. Therefore, what initially appeared pleasurable to his taste can, in the end, be comparable to having his mouth filled with grit. (20:17)

“By counsel” or by good advice, “plans are established,” having been formulated on a sound basis after careful deliberation. For waging warfare, wise guidance was needed to bring the conflict to a successful conclusion. (20:18)

A gossip or slanderer “reveals secrets,” private talk, or matters that should be kept confidential. In view of the problems caused by one who “opens” his lips or who exercises no restraint in what he says, a person must avoid associating with him. (20:19)

Anyone who curses his father and his mother will have his “lamp extinguished” in deep darkness. This could indicate that his future would be dark, with his life ending without any posterity to continue his line of descent. According to the Septuagint (20:9a), the “pupils of his eyes will see darkness” or no bright prospects. (20:20)

An “inheritance” that is obtained “hastily” in the “beginning” may designate possessions that are quickly or greedily acquired or gained through corrupt means and which the individual intends to be passed on to his offspring. In the end, however, this inheritance would not be “blessed,” suggesting that it would not prosper but would dwindle. At the end, there would not be much, if anything, left for the descendants to inherit. Another possibility is that the reference is to an inheritance that is acquired prematurely but is soon squandered. (20:21 [20:9b (LXX)])

The admonition is for one to avoid trying to get even. Instead of saying, “I will repay evil [my enemy (LXX])],” a person should put his hope in, or wait upon, YHWH (the Lord [LXX]) to act, and he will effect deliverance or provide help. (20:22 [20:9c (LXX)])

This proverb, like the one in verse 10 focuses on fraudulent business practices. Two different weights (a “stone and a stone” [a “double weight” (LXX)]), one for buying and one for selling, are an “abomination to YHWH [the Lord (LXX)].” A “false” or rigged balance is “not good [before him (LXX)],” for he regards it as abhorrent. (20:23)

Humans do not have full control over their life or over the outcome of their plans. The proverb emphasizes that YHWH is the one who does. He is represented as directing or guiding a man’s steps. In view of his lack of control and the uncertainties a man faces, the question is, “How can a man [an earthling (a mortal [LXX])] understand his way [ways (LXX)]” (or know the course his life will take)? (20:24)

To designate something as devoted to God, a man may rashly cry out, “Holy!” After making his vows, he may give thought to what he has done and realize that it will be very difficult to fulfill what he has obligated himself to do. Accordingly, his rash vowing (“hastily sanctifying anything of his own” [LXX]) will prove to be a “snare” for him. The Septuagint says that “regret comes.” (20:25)

A “wise king” does not tolerate wicked individuals. He “scatters” or winnows them (the “impious” or ungodly ones [LXX]), punishing them in a manner that is comparable to what happens to chaff when the wind blows it away. The reference to his turning a “wheel over them” may apply to his punishing them as if threshing them. Harvested grain could be threshed by repeatedly rolling a sledge with wheels over it. (20:26)

The “breath of man” (the “earthling”) is the “lamp of YHWH [light of the Lord (LXX)], searching all parts of the belly.” “Breath” or the “life breath” animates every part of a person. As the “lamp of YHWH,” the breath appears to be represented as the means by which YHWH can search or examine every part of a man, with nothing being hidden. (20:27)

“Loyalty,” kindness, or compassionate concern (“mercy” [LXX]) and “truth,” faithfulness, or trustworthiness are qualities that preserve a king. When evident in a ruler’s administration of governmental affairs, “loyalty” and “truth” contribute to the preservation of stability throughout the realm. A king’s “throne” or royal authority is upheld by “loyalty,” kindness, or compassionate concern. According to the Septuagint rendering, “mercy” and “truth” will encircle the king’s throne “with righteousness,” assuring that all subjects can expect to be treated justly and kindly. (20:28)

Physical strength distinguishes young men and is their glory or a basis for pride. The “beauty” or splendor of old men is their “gray hair,” for it is representative of the wisdom and experience acquired over a period of many years. In the Septuagint, the focus is not on the “strength” of young men but the reference is to “wisdom” as being their “ornament.” (20:29)

Evil deeds merit punishment, and this can serve to restrain the punished person from repeating the serious wrongdoing and to change his life for the better. Inflicted “wounds” can purge “evil,” and “strokes” the “innermost parts of the belly” or can have a beneficial effect on the inner self of the individual. (20:30; see the Notes section.)

Notes

In verse 3, the Septuagint rendering differs somewhat from the extant Hebrew text. “For a man” it is “glory” or “honor” “to turn from reproaching,” not permitting the reviling to affect him adversely. Every “fool” is closely joined to or involved with such matters.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 4 refers to a lazy person as not being ashamed when reproached (apparently for his idleness). This is also the case with a man who borrows grain at the time of the harvest or when he should have had grain from his own crop.

In the Septuagint, the proverbs found in verses 20 through 22 in the extant Hebrew text are found after verse 9.

In verse 11, the initial phrase of the Septuagint continues the thought about deceptive weights and measures. It says that the one who makes these “will be bound by his practices.” This could mean that he will encounter serious difficulties in his business transactions, for sooner or later he will be exposed as dishonest. The Septuagint then continues with wording that somewhat parallels the extant Hebrew text but expresses the basic thought differently. In the case of a young man who acts according to a “holy,” undefiled, or blameless person, his way or course of life “will be straight,” not fraught with obstacles and not deviating from what is right.

The Septuagint rendering of verse 13 departs significantly from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. “Do not love [or make it a habit] to speak evil [of others], so that you not be removed [or perish]. Open your eyes and be filled with loaves of bread.”

The proverbs in the extant Hebrew text of verses 14 through 19 are missing in the Septuagint.

In verse 30, the Septuagint rendering differs from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. “Evil men” meet with “bruises and breaks,” apparently from severe beatings that result in wounds and broken bones. “Plagues,” blows, or calamities come “into the chambers” or “inmost parts of the belly,” affecting the inmost self of the individual.