Proverbs 20
Clarke's Commentary
Against wine and strong drink. We should avoid contentions. The sluggard. The righteous man. Weights and measures. Tale-bearers. The wicked son. The wise king. The glory of young men. The beauty of old men. The benefit of correction.

Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.
Wine is a mocker - It deceives by its fragrance, intoxicates by its strength, and renders the intoxicated ridiculous.

Strong drink - שכר shechar, any strong fermented liquor, whether of the vine, date, or palm species.

The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul.
The fear of a king - Almost the same with Proverbs 19:12 (note), which see.

It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.
It is an honoer for a man - The same sentiment as Proverbs 19:11.

The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.
The sluggard will not plough - For other parts of this character, see the preceding chapter, Proverbs 19 (note). It is seldom that there is a season of very cold weather in Palestine; very cold days sometimes occur, with wind, rain, and sleet. They begin their ploughing in the latter end of September, and sow their early wheat by the middle of October. And this is often the case in England itself. The meaning of the proverb is: the slothful man, under the pretense of unfavorable weather, neglects cultivating his land till the proper time is elapsed.

Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.
Counsel in the heart of man - Men of the deepest and most comprehensive minds are rarely apt, unsolicited, to join in any discourse, in which they might appear even to the greatest advantage; but a man of understanding will elicit this, by questions framed for the purpose, and thus pump up the salubrious waters from the deep and capacious well. The metaphor is fine and expressive.

Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?
Most men will proclaim - Many men merciful ben clepid: a feithful man forsoth, who schal finde? Old MS. Bible.

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.
A king that sitteth in the throne of judgment - Kings should see to the administration of the laws, as well as of the state transactions, of their kingdom. In the British constitution there is a court for the king, called the King's Bench, where he should sit, and where he is always supposed to be sitting. The eyes - the presence, of the monarch in such a place, scatter evil - he sees into the case himself, and gives right judgment, for he can have no self-interest. Corrupt judges, and falsifying counsellors, cannot stand before him; and the villain is too deeply struck with the majesty and state of the monarch, to face out iniquity before him.

Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?
Who can say, I have made any heart clean - No man. But thousands can testify that the blood of Jesus Christ has cleansed them from all unrighteousness. And he is pure from his sin, who is justified freely through the redemption that is in Jesus.

Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the LORD.
Divers weights and divers measures - A peise and a peise; - Old MS. Bible: from the French pois, weight. Hebrew: "A stone and a stone; an ephah and an ephah." One the standard, the other below it; one to buy with, the other to sell by.

Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.
Even a child is known by his doings - That is, in general terms, the effect shows the nature of the cause. "A childe is known by his conversation," says Coverdale. A child is easily detected when he has done evil; he immediately begins to excuse and vindicate himself, and profess his innocence, almost before accusation takes place. Some think the words should be understood, every child will dissemble; this amounts nearly to the meaning given above, But probably the principal this intended by the wise man is, that we may easily learn from the child what the man will be. In general, they give indications of those trades and callings for which they are adapted by nature. And, on the whole, we cannot go by a surer guide in preparing our children for future life, than by observing their early propensities. The future engineer is seen in the little handicraftsman of two years old. Many children are crossed in these early propensities to a particular calling, to their great prejudice, and the loss of their parents, as they seldom settle at, or succeed in, the business to which they are tied, and to which nature has given them no tendency. These infantine predilections to particular callings, we should consider as indications of Divine Providence, and its calling of them to that work for which they are peculiarly fitted.

The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them.
The hearing ear and the seeing eye - Every good we possess comes from God; and we should neither use our eyes, nor our ears, nor any thing we possess, but in strict subserviency to his will.

Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty; open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread.
Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty - Sleep, indescribable in its nature, is an indescribable blessing; but how often is it turned into a curse! It is like food; a certain measure of it restores and invigorates exhausted nature; more than that oppresses and destroys life. A lover of sleep is a paltry, insignificant character.

It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.
It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer - How apt are men to decry the goods they wish to purchase, in order that they may get them at a cheaper rate; and, when they have made their bargain and carried it off, boast to others at how much less than its value they have obtained it! Are such honest men? Is such knavery actionable? Can such be punished only in another world? St. Augustine tells us a pleasant story on this subject: A certain mountebank published, in the full theater, that at the next entertainment he would show to every man present what was in his heart. The time came, and the concourse was immense; all waited, with deathlike silence, to hear what he would say to eaeh. He stood up, and in a single sentence redeemed his pledge: -

Vili vultis Emere, et Caro Vendere.

You all wish to Buy Cheap, and Sell Dear."

He was applauded; for every one felt it to be a description of his own heart, and was satisfied that all others were similar. "In quo dicto levissimi scenici omnes tamen conscientias invenerunt suas.' - De Trinitate, lib. xiii., c. 3; Oper. vol. vii., col. 930.

There is gold, and a multitude of rubies: but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.
There is gold - Gold is valuable, silver is valuable, and so are jewels; but the teachings of sound knowledge are more valuable than all.

Take his garment that is surety for a stranger: and take a pledge of him for a strange woman.
Take his garment that is surety for a stranger - I suppose the meaning to be, If a stranger or unknown person become surety in a case, greater caution should be used, and such security taken from this stranger as would prevent him from running away from his engagements.

Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.
Bread of deceit is sweet - Property acquired by falsehood, speculation, etc., without labor, is pleasant to the unprincipled, slothful man; but there is a curse in it, and the issue will prove it.

Every purpose is established by counsel: and with good advice make war.
With good advice make war, - Perhaps there is not a precept in this whole book so little regarded as this. Most of the wars that are undertaken are wars of injustice, ambition, aggrandizement, and caprice, which can have had no previous good counsel. A minister, who is perhaps neither a good nor a great man, counsels his king to make war; the cabinet must be brought into it, and a sufficient number out of the states of the kingdom gained over to support it. By and by, what was begun through caprice must be maintained through necessity. Places must be created, and offices must be filled with needy dependents, whose interest it may be to protract the war, till they get enough to pay their debts, and secure independence for life. And for these most important ends the blood of the country is spilled, and the treasures of the people exhausted! I have met with a fact precisely of this kind under the reign of Louis XIV.

He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.
Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness.
Whoso curseth his father - Such persons were put to death under the law; see Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9, and here it is said, Their lamp shall be put out - they shall have no posterity; God shall cut them off both root and branch.

An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed.
An inheritance - gotten hastily - Gotten by speculation; by lucky hits; not in the fair progressive way of traffic, in which money has its natural increase. All such inheritances are short-lived; God's blessing is not in them, because they are not the produce of industry; and they lead to idleness, pride, fraud and knavery. A speculation in trade is a pubiic nuisance and curse. How many honest men have been ruined by such!

Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.
I will recompense evil - Wait on the Lord; judgment is his, and his judgments are sure. In the mean time pray for the conversion of your enemy.

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?
Man's goings are of the Lord - He, by his providence, governs all the great concerns of the world. Man often traverses these operations; but he does it to his own damage. An old writer quaintly says: "They who will carve for themselves shall cut their fingers."

It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make inquiry.
Who devoureth that which is holy - It is a sin to take that which belongs to God, his worship, or his work, and devote it to one's own use.

And after vows to make inquiry - That is, if a man be inwardly making a rash vow, the fitness or unfitness, the necessity, expediency, and propriety of the thing should be first carefully considered. But how foolish to make the vow first, and afterwards to inquire whether it was right in the sight of God to do it! This equally condemns all rash and inconsiderate conduct. My old MS. Bible translates, Falling is of men often to vowen to seyntis, and after, the vouw is agen brawen. Is it possible that Wiclif could have translated this verse thus? as it strongly countenances vows to and invocations of saints.

A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them.
Bringeth the wheel over them - He threshes them in his anger, as the wheel does the grain on the threshing-floor. Every one knows that grain was separated from its husks, in Palestine, by the feet of the oxen trampling among the sheaves, or bringing a rough-shod wheel over them. Asiatic kings often threshed their people, to bring out their property; but this is not what is intended here.

The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly.
The spirit of man is the candle of the Lord - God has given to every man a mind, which he so enlightens by his own Spirit, that the man knows how to distinguish good from evil; and conscience, which springs from this, searches the inmost recesses of the soul.

Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy.
Mercy and truth preserve the king - These are the brightest jewels in the royal crown; and those kings who are most governed by them have the stablest government.

The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head.
The glory of young men is their strength - Scarcely any young man affects to be wise, learned, etc.; but all delight to show their strength and to be reputed strong. Agility, one evidence of strength, their particularly affect; and hence their various trials of strength and fleetness in public exercises.

And the beauty of old men is the gray head - They no longer affect strength and agility, but they affect wisdom, experience, prudent counsels, etc., and are fond of being reputed wise, and of having respect paid to their understanding and experience.

The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.
The blueness of a wound - חברות chabburoth, from חבר chabar, to unite, to join together. Does it not refer to the cicatrice of a wound when, in its healing, the two lips are brought topether? By this union the wound is healed; and by the previous discharge the lace-rated ends of fibres and blood-vessels are purged away. So stripes, though they hurt for the time, become the means of correcting and discharging the moral evil of the inmost soul, the vice of the heart, the easily-besetting sin.

In this chapter, verses fourteen to nineteen, inclusive, are wanting in the Septuagint and Arabic; and the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth, come in after the twenty-second. It is difficult to account for these variations, unless they were occasioned by the change of leaves in MSS.

Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke [1831].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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