Proverbs 20
Barnes' Notes
Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.
"Wine" and "strong drink" are personified as themselves doing what they make men do. The latter (see Leviticus 10:9 note) is here, probably, the "palm-wine" of Syria.

The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul.
Sinneth against his own soul - i. e., Against his own life (compare Habakkuk 2:10).

It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.
Meddling - See Proverbs 17:14 note.

The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.
Plowing time in Palestine is in November and December, when the wind blows commonly from the North.

Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.
The contest between reticence on the one side and pertinacity in search on the other is represented as by a parable. The well may be very deep (compare the marginal reference), but the man of understanding" has enough skill to draw up the water even to the last drop. Every question is, as it were, a turning of the windlass.

Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?
Goodness - With the special sense of bounty, beneficence. Contrast promise and performance. People boast of their liberality, yet we look in vain for the fulfillment of actual obligations.

The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.
A king that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes.
Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?
A warning voice against the spirit, which, ignorant of its own guilt, is forward to condemn others.

Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the LORD.
See Proverbs 11:1 : Here perhaps, as a companion to Proverbs 20:9, with a wider application to all judging one man by rules which we do not apply to ourselves or to another.

Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.
The graces or the faults of children are not trifles. "The child is father of the man;" and the earliest actions are prophecies of the future, whether it will be pure and right, or unclean and evil.

The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them.
Not only do we owe the gifts of sight and hearing to Yahweh, but He, being the giver, will also call us to account for them (compare Psalm 94:9).

Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty; open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread.
Open thine eyes - Be vigilant and active. That is the secret of prosperity.

It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.
Naught - Bad, worthless 2 Kings 2:19.

There is gold, and a multitude of rubies: but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.
A precious jewel - literally, "A vessel of preciousness," i. e., most precious of all are "the lips of knowledge."

Take his garment that is surety for a stranger: and take a pledge of him for a strange woman.
The warning against suretiship and lust are here repeated and combined (compare Proverbs 27:13). The judge tells the creditor to seize the goods of the surety who has been weak enough to pledge himself for those who are alien to him, instead of those of the actual debtor. The reading of the the King James Version recalls in the second clause the history of Tamar Genesis 38:17-18. The Hebrew text, however, gives "strangers" in the masculine plural, and is probably right, the feminine being the reading of the margin, probably adopted from Proverbs 27:13.

Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.
"To eat gravel" was a Hebrew Lam 3:16, and is an Arabic, phrase for getting into trouble. So "bread," got by deceit, tastes sweet at first, but ends by leaving the hunger of the soul unsatisfied. There is a pleasure in the sense of cleverness felt after a hard bargain or a successful fraud, which must be met by bidding men look on the after consequences.

Every purpose is established by counsel: and with good advice make war.
He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.
Flattereth - literally, "The man who opens his lips," who has no reticence; such a man, with or without intending it, does the work of a talebearer.

Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness.
A connecting link between Leviticus 20:9 and Matthew 15:4. The words, "his lamp shall be put out," describe the failure of outward happiness.

An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed.
Or, An inheritance gotten hastily (greedily sought after by unjust means) at the beginning, the end thereof shall not be blessed. Another reading gives, "an inheritance loathed, (compare Zechariah 11:8), or with a curse upon it." The King James Version agrees with the versions.

Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.
God's awarding to everyone according to his works, is the true check to the spirit of vindictiveness (compare Romans 12:17, Romans 12:19). Note that man is not told to wait on the Lord in expectation of seeing vengeance on his enemies, but "He shall save thee." The difference of the two hopes, in their effect upon the man's character, is incalculable.

Divers weights are an abomination unto the LORD; and a false balance is not good.
Man's goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own way?
The order of a man's life is a mystery even to himself. He knows not where he is going, or for what God is educating him.

It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make inquiry.
Better, It is a snare to a man to utter a vow (of consecration) rashly, and after vows to inquire whether he can fulfill them. Both clauses are a protest against the besetting sin of rash and hasty vows. Compare the marginal reference.

A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them.
The wheel - The threshing wheel Isaiah 28:27-28, which passes over the grain and separates the grain from the chaff. The proverb involves therefore the idea of the division of the good from the evil, no less than that of the punishment of the latter.

The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly.
The spirit of man - The "breath" of Genesis 2:7, the higher life, above that which he has in common with lower animals, coming to him direct from God. Such a life, with all its powers of insight, consciousness, reflection, is as a lamp which God has lighted, throwing its rays into the darkest recesses of the heart. A still higher truth is proclaimed in the Prologue of John's Gospel. The candle, or lamp of Yahweh, derives its light from "the Light that lighteth every man," even the Eternal Word.

Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy.
The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head.
The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.
Better, The blueness of a wound is a cleansing of evil, so are the stripes that go down to the inward parts of the belly.

The open sores of wounds left by the scourge, unclean and foul as they seem, are yet a cleansing, purifying process for evil; so also are the stripes that reach the inward parts of the belly, i. e., the sharp reproofs, the stings of conscience, which penetrate where no scourge can reach, into the inner life of man. Chastisement, whatever be its nature, must be real; the scourge must leave its mark, the reproof must go deep.

Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

Bible Hub
Proverbs 19
Top of Page
Top of Page