Wine and beer are personified as people of degraded character: a mocker (cf. Pro_19:25, Pro_19:29) and a brawler. The idea is that wine mocks the one who drinks it and beer makes him aggressive. Yayin, the most common word for wine, usually referred to fermented grape juice but sometimes was unfermented. Beer (šēḵār, rendered “strong drink” in the KJV) referred to drinks made from barley, dates, or pomegranates. It was intoxicating (Isa_28:7) and was forbidden for priests (Lev_10:9), Nazirites (Num_6:1-3), and others (Isa_5:11). Intoxicating drinks can lead people astray, causing them to do foolish things. Other passages in Proverbs that condemn drunkenness are Pro_23:20-21, Pro_23:29-35; Pro_31:4-5.
Kings are mentioned in Pro_20:2, Pro_20:8, Pro_20:26. A king’s wrath (cf. Pro_14:35; Pro_16:14) is like the roar of a lion (cf. Pro_19:12; Pro_28:15). It is dangerous to anger a ruler because he has power to take an offender’s life. In fact making any person angry may pose problems.
Avoiding strife is honorable, though the way some people are quick to quarrel would make one think they thought quarreling is honorable. Such people are fools. Arguments can be avoided by overlooking insults (Pro_12:16), by dropping issues that are potentially volatile (Pro_17:14), and by getting rid of mockers (Pro_22:10).
In the Middle East the season for plowing and planting is the winter, the rainy season. A sluggard avoids the discomfort and work of plowing a muddy field in the cold, so at harvesttime he looks for a crop from his field but he has nothing. Without effort and advance planning there are few results; lack of work leads to lack of benefits.
A person’s plans are like deep waters (cf. Pro_18:4) which a wise person can draw out. That is, a discerning person can help another bring to the surface his true thoughts, intentions, or motives. Often a wise counselor can help a person examine his true motives - thoughts he may not fully understand otherwise.
Loyalty (ḥeseḏ, unfailing love) and faithfulness are desirable qualities (cf. Pro_3:3; Pro_19:22), but not everyone who claims to have them actually does. In fact faithfulness is usually missing. Keeping one’s word and being loyal to one’s commitments are important.
Pro_20:7-11 refer to various kinds of conduct. Usually a righteous man, a person who consistently behaves aright and is blameless (morally whole; cf. Pro_2:7; Pro_10:9), has children who are blessed. His children, seeing his example of integrity, are encouraged to be the same kind of people.
Kings often served as chief judges (e.g., Solomon, 1Ki_3:16-28). By carefully examining (with his eyes) a case, a just king could detect (winnow or sift out; cf. Pro_20:26) evil motives and actions. He could not easily be fooled.
Some people may claim to be perfect and without sin, but such a claim is false. What they claim (cf. Pro_20:6) does not match what they are. All have sinned (Rom_3:9-12, Rom_3:23; cf. 1Ki_8:46; Ecc_7:20).
One evidence of a person’s impure motives and depraved actions (Pro_20:9) is his dishonesty in business dealings (cf. Pro_20:23). God hates (see comments on Pro_6:16; and comments on Pro_11:20) differing weights and… measures used in selling or buying merchandise to get more money dishonestly (see comments on Pro_11:1; cf. Pro_16:11).
As already indicated (Pro_20:6), what a person says does not always indicate what he is. This is true of children as well. Their actions and conduct reveal what they are like, whether they are pure (cf. Pro_20:9) and right (cf. Pro_20:7). One’s behavior reflects his character. Therefore it is important not only to listen with one’s ears to what people say but also to observe with ones eyes what people do (Pro_20:12). Both senses should be used to see if people are consistent.
Laziness, here spoken of as sleep (cf. Pro_6:9-10; Pro_19:15), leads to poverty (cf. Pro_6:11; Pro_10:4; Pro_19:15), but diligence, referred to here as staying awake, leads to abundance of food (cf. Pro_10:4). Sleeping when one ought to be working results in lack of food (cf. Pro_10:5).
Sometimes a shrewd buyer will downplay to a seller the value of a product in order to get its price lowered. Then having bought it, the buyer brags about the “deal” he got. Though merely stated as a fact, the verse implies that this action is wrong and that a person who sells products needs to be on guard against dishonest bargain hunters.
Gold and rubies, though rare and valuable (cf. Pro_3:13-15), are in abundance compared with the rare and valuable ability to speak knowledge, to speak wise, appropriate words that fit the occasion.
This verse is repeated verbatim in Pro_27:13. A debtor’s outer garment could be taken by a creditor as collateral to guarantee that the debtor would pay (Exo_22:26). Here a creditor is commanded to take the garment of a person who cosigns for a stranger, especially if the stranger is a wayward woman. Obviously without the garment as a pledge the creditor is taking a big risk that he may never be paid by the debtor or the cosigner! Other Proverbs passages that refer to the danger of cosigning for debts are Pro_6:1-5 (see comments there); Pro_11:15; Pro_17:18; Pro_22:26-27.
The taste of food gained dishonestly (cf. dishonest dealings in Pro_20:10, Pro_20:14) may at first seem sweet (cf. “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious,” Pro_9:17) but eventually it is as unpleasant as eating gravel. This contrasts the short-range pleasure of sin with its long-range consequences. Sin, usually attractive in its immediate payoff, ultimately turns on its host (cf. Pro_7:14-23).
Getting advice from others when making plans (cf. Pro_15:22), particularly in warfare (cf. Pro_11:14; Pro_24:6; Luk_14:31), is important.
Since gossiping betrays a confidence (also stated in Pro_11:13), a person ought to be careful with whom he shares secrets. Gossiping is also denounced in Pro_16:28; Pro_18:8; Pro_26:20, Pro_26:22. So people who talk too much should be avoided because they will probably divulge information that should be kept confidential.
In the Old Testament a person who cursed his parents violated the fifth commandment (Exo_20:12) and committed a capital offense. Death was the penalty for cursing (and rebelling against) parents (Exo_21:17; Lev_20:9). To have one’s lamp… snuffed out was a picturesque way of referring to death (see comments on Pro_13:9; cf. Pro_24:20; Job_18:5-6; Job_21:17). Pitch darkness is literally, “pupil (of the eye) of darkness,” referring to the darkest part of the night (see comments on “apple” in Pro_7:2).
An inheritance quickly gained may refer to getting one’s inheritance prematurely by request, as in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luk_15:11-20) or by dishonesty (as in Pro_19:26). Such wealth may be squandered and often squelches initiative and work. As a result, the recipient is not… blessed at the end, or later.
Pro_20:22-24 each refer to the Lord’s involvement with man’s actions. To take vengeance in one’s hands is wrong (cf. Pro_17:13; Pro_24:29; Deu_32:35; Rom_12:19). It is far better to leave the punishment of injustice in the Lord’s hands, for in time He will deliver.
This verse is similar to Pro_20:10, except that in Pro_20:10 dishonest weights and measures are referred to, whereas here dishonest weights and scales are mentioned. See the comments on Pro_11:1.
The Lord guides a man’s steps (cf. David’s similar statement in Psa_37:23), that is, God directs his decisions and conduct (cf. Pro_16:1, Pro_16:9; Pro_19:21). Since God has the ultimate “say” in one’s life, it is often difficult for a person to understand fully his own way.
Making rash promises without thinking them through is dangerous (cf. Deu_23:21-23; Ecc_5:4-5). Making a vow rashly and then considering what he did can get a person in as much trouble as if he stepped into an animal trap. It is better to think before acting.
Kings are responsible to separate the wicked from the righteous and to try to correct the behavior of the wicked by inflicting punishment. The first of these responsibilities is suggested by winnowing (cf. Pro_20:8) and the second by threshing. In farming, grain is threshed before it is winnowed. In threshing, a sledge with spikes is pulled over the stalks of grain to separate the grain from the stalks and to free the seeds from the seed coverings (the chaff). In winnowing the farmer tosses up the grain so that the wind can carry away the unwanted chaff. A king (or other ruler) should see that the wicked are detected and punished. This is important in maintaining order and justice.
A king ferrets out sinners (Pro_20:26) and the Lord ferrets out one’s inner heart. Just as a lamp shows up what is in the darkness, so God reveals what is in man’s spirit and searches out his inmost being (cf. Pro_20:30).
Love ḥeseḏ, “loyal love”; cf. Pro_20:6) and faithfulness (cf. Pro_3:3; Pro_14:22; Pro_16:6) are necessary requirements for an effective ruler. Loyalty (love) keeps him on the throne (cf. Pro_16:12); disloyalty and unreliability could cause people to replace him with a different ruler.
In Hebrew culture the young and the old each had a particular excellence not possessed by the other. The young took pride in their physical strength, the older in their wisdom, revealed by their gray hair (cf. Pro_16:31).
The purpose of corporal punishment (blows… wounds… beatings) is not to inflict pain but to veer one’s conduct from sin. Such punishment, however, is not merely to change a person’s conduct out of fear of physical pain but to help him mature (to
purge his inmost being; cf. Pro_20:27).
The Bible Knowledge Commentary
An Exposition of the Scriptures by Dallas Seminary Faculty
Based on the New International Version
John F. Walvoord
Roy B. Zuck
Cook Communications Ministries