Proverbs 20
Proverbs 20 Kingcomments Bible Studies

Be Careful With Wine and Strong Drink

“Wine” and “strong drink” are represented as acting persons, emphatically identifying these dangerous beverages with the person who abuses them. Their use is not forbidden by God’s Word, except in some cases (Deu 14:26; Lev 10:9). However, a strong warning does sound against excessive use, for it produces mockery (Isa 28:7; 14; 22) and causes unrest, which is often accompanied by violence. The consequences are disastrous. This can be seen in marriages and families and in traffic accidents, sometimes even resulting in death. Alcohol destroys more than you can imagine.

The excessive use of intoxicants excites the drinker to nonsensical talk and aggressive and combative behavior. It confuses the senses so that he has no self-control. A person who is drunk starts mocking what is sacred. He also crosses the boundaries of morality and decency. He staggers and swoons, brawls, utters debauched language and becomes buffoonish. He is intoxicated and no longer knows what he is doing (Gen 9:21-22; Gen 19:30-38). The counterpart of drunkenness with its associated debauchery is being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18).

The warning against alcohol abuse is meant to make it clear that he who is drunk cannot keep his course straight, thus proving that he is not wise. The (Dutch) saying ‘when the wine is in the man, wisdom is in the can’ also pithily expresses this. Those who are wise and want to stay wise will only take a little wine in certain cases (1Tim 5:23).

Fear of the King Keeps From Dispute

“The terror of a king” is likened to “the growling of a lion”, which implies the threat of judgment (Pro 20:2). It is a warning not to sin against him. Whoever does so brings his anger upon him. To sin against him is to sin against his own life.

The king is presented here in his impressive majesty that demands awe. Whoever does not take this into account is playing with his life. This applies to our attitude toward the Lord Jesus. He is our Savior, but He is also our impressive Lord. At His coming to earth to judge, He will roar like a lion (Amos 1:2).

Pro 20:3 connects to Pro 20:2. Honorable and wise people will avoid conflict with other people. Certainly, they will avoid disagreement with the king and with God and not let it come to a confrontation (cf. Mt 5:25-26). The contrast is between “keeping away from strife” and getting involved in “quarrel” as soon as an opportunity for quarrel arises. The first description is the way of the wise, the way of honor and dignity. The second is the way, the manner, of a fool. Not every fool is a sluggard or a drunkard, but many fools do love to interfere with and stir up quarrel.

The Excuse of the Sluggard Not to Work

A farmer who is too lazy to plow and sow at the right time will not find a harvest. His excuse for not plowing is that it is winter. He has no desire to expose himself to the cold and wet winter weather. It is much more pleasant in his cozy warm and dry farmhouse. The sluggard will always find an excuse with which to camouflage his laziness. He does not consider himself a sluggard, but thinks that circumstances are against him.

This character is typical of all those who want yield, possession or money without putting effort into it. They want results without effort. The whole attitude of a sluggard makes it clear that he lives for the present, while the future does not interest him. The wise person works with an eye to the future (cf. Gal 6:9). He is constantly at work, in season and out of season (2Tim 4:2).

Because the sluggard has neglected to plow, he will have nothing during the harvest. He will then go begging from those who did labor and did reap. For this he is not ashamed. People who are lazy and therefore suffer from lack also think that others will take care of them. They have no vision of the future and no sense of shame. But those to whom the sluggard knocks know him and send him away empty-handed. This is in accordance with Paul’s word: “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat either” (2Thes 3:10).

God Sees Through the Heart of Every Man

He who is wise can discern what is going on in the heart (Pro 20:5). This is true of his own heart as well as that of others. The counsel or purpose in the heart is compared to “deep waters”. The picture indicates that a person’s plan is difficult to fathom. It takes “understanding” to bring it to the surface, to “draw it out”. We can gain that understanding by fearing the LORD and listening to the Word of God (Heb 4:12-13). If we don’t know clearly what someone is up to, we can still find out through our dealings with God.

Christ is “a man of understanding”. To Him all the deliberations of every person’s heart are perfectly revealed. He can let us know if we live in fellowship with Him. On the day of judgment, He will bring out and demonstrate the plans and deliberations of every man’s heart (1Cor 4:5). No one needs to tell Him what is in man, for He does know it (Jn 2:25).

Many people do not know the deceitfulness of their own heart. They proclaim their “own loyalty” (Pro 20:6). So did the Pharisees on the corners of the streets with their righteousness (Mt 6:2; Mt 23:5) and even before God (Lk 18:11-12). And they are not yet outdated. We can condemn the Pharisee who openly boasts of his good qualities, but what about ourselves? We can show humility with the intention of being honored for it. This is on the same level. We may not boast aloud, but we still like it when others see how dedicated we are.

Opposed to boasting about a certain goodness is “a trustworthy man”. Therein lies the fact that someone who boasts about himself is not trustworthy. Such a person promises all kinds of things with much boasting, but does not keep his promises. A trustworthy person is not full of himself, but of the other. He is focused on the other, he is there for the other. But where is such a person to be found? The question indicates that such a person is rare (cf. Pro 31:10; Psa 12:1).

The good Samaritan did not proclaim his lovingkindness, but showed it. He was trustworthy. It is not about what someone says he is, but what someone does.

“A righteous man” is one who lives in accordance with the law of God (Pro 20:7). His life flows from the “integrity” of his heart. That integrity is in his heart because he lives in fellowship with God. There is nothing deceitful in his actions. He who lives in this way is a blessing to those around him, and first and foremost to those with whom he lives in the closest relationship: his sons. They are called “blessed” because they grow up and are raised in this atmosphere of integrity. This is the most beautiful legacy parents can leave their children.

“A king” who speaks justice distinguishes between good and evil (Pro 20:8). The throne speaks of government in general; “the throne of justice” speaks of the exercise of justice. One cannot appeal against this justice. Here the emphasis is on separation from evil. Dispersing has the meaning of making pure. He will do this “with his eyes”, indicating perfect understanding. He is concerned with removing “all evil” from his kingdom (Psa 101:8).

No king or government has ever lived up to this ideal. The Lord Jesus will do what it says here. Thus, when He sits on the throne of His glory, He will “separate the nations from one another, like the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Mt 25:31-32). He will then send the goats to eternal fire, while the sheep may inherit the kingdom (Mt 25:33-46). He has eyes that see and fathom all things (Psa 11:4).

No one can say he is pure in his thinking and doing (Pro 20:9). There are those who claim this, but they lie (1Jn 1:8; 10). With a rhetorical question, the wise affirm that no one is without sin (Ecc 7:20; Gen 6:5; 1Kgs 8:46; Psa 143:2; Rom 3:9). A person can say that he has cleansed his heart only when he has confessed his sins through which he may know that they have been forgiven by God (1Jn 1:9). Cleansing does not lie in man himself, but outside of him, in God. God can forgive by virtue of the work of His Son on the cross.

The proverb has particular significance for practice. In our practice as believers, we must be aware that we are weak and that we do not always know our hearts through and through. Nor can we always fully fathom our motives. Paul was aware of this. He placed the judgment of his life in the hands of the Lord. He says: “For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord” (1Cor 4:4).

Do Not Measure With Two Measures

One of the things that make a person’s heart impure and are charged as sin is measuring with differing weights and measures. By using two different weights, a light one for selling and a heavy one for buying, the merchant seeks to enrich himself at the expense of the buyer and seller, respectively. The same applies to the use of two different measures of contents (Pro 20:23; Pro 11:1; Deu 25:13-16).

Emphatically, the wise man says that “both of them are abominable to the LORD”. God abhors dishonesty in business and will bring His judgment on it. Deceptive weighing stones and content measures are just two examples of fraud and deception. They result from man’s greed. God hates these dealings because He is perfectly just, honest and trustworthy and wants to see these qualities in the dealings of those who are named after His Name. Deceptive dealings go against His nature and against the nature of everyone who has His nature.

Deeds Show the Character

The behavior a person shows, even already at a young age, reveals his character (1Sam 3:18-21). It is like the tree that is known by its fruit (Mt 7:16). Behavior shows what is in a person. Parents can recognize certain traits in a child’s behavior. Therefore, they should pay close attention to how the child behaves and speaks. They can correct unpleasant character traits and encourage good character traits through education, discipline and their own example.

The Hearing Ear and the Seeing Eye

God provided the human body not only with ears and eyes, but also with the ability to make proper use of them. What shapes our life comes primarily from what our ears hear and our eyes see. It is one of the characteristics of God Himself that He hears and sees (Psa 94:9; Exo 4:11) in contrast to dead idols (Psa 115:4-7). The hearing ear and the seeing eye must be consecrated to Him.

Therefore, it is not merely about physical function, such as perceiving sound and light. More so, with the ear it is about the spiritual ability to obey what has been heard. This shows that what has been said has been listened to and understood. The eye involves the spiritual ability to discern between good and evil.

We have ears to hear God’s Word, what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev 2:7). We have eyes to see Jesus (Heb 12:2). We can pray to have enlightened eyes of the heart to see and enjoy our spiritual blessings (Eph 1:17-18).

Do Not Sleep, but Be Awake and Work

Sleep is a blessing. It is a gift from God that allows our body to rest after a day of work and regain its strength for the next day. However, the warning sounds not to love sleep. He who loves sleep is a sluggard, and laziness leads to poverty. Sleep is a great blessing, but it becomes a curse if we prefer sleep to work.

When sleep has done its beneficent work, the eyes must open to get to work. He who knows his responsibility and goes to work with diligence will be satiated with bread. He will have enough to eat.

Be Honest in Word and Walk

Here we hear a buyer complaining about how bad the sale is for him (Pro 20:14). Once he has negotiated and paid his low price through his dramatic performance, he leaves and then boasts about it. This doesn’t even have to mean that he tells others how clever he has been. He can just also just inwardly rejoice extraordinarily that he has been so smart and the seller so stupid. What matters is that he glories in his arrogance (Jam 4:16).

Bargain hunting is not evil and neither is haggling. This verse is a warning to an inexperienced seller not to be fooled by pathetic or intimidating buyers. Being handy in business is one thing, but making a deceptive performance in a negotiation to buy far below the value of the product is unacceptable to God and unworthy of a member of His people.

A person can be rich in earthly treasures (Pro 20:15). A lot of people in the world are. But the real wealth is that of having “lips of knowledge”. Such lips are “a precious thing”. It is rare to find someone who speaks with knowledge. Lips that speak knowledge are lips that teach knowledge, that speak well thought out words. Lips of knowledge a person gets through the long and hard work of education.

This involves the knowledge of Christ and of God’s standards for life. This knowledge is applied to all situations in life. As a result, one knows how to behave as a wise person in them. The result is that God is honored and one’s neighbor is blessed. What a tremendously precious thing such lips are in a world like ours.

In Pro 20:16, the wise one urges the creditor toward one who has been foolish enough to become “surety for a stranger” to even take the surety’s garment. Becoming surety has been discussed before (Pro 6:1; Pro 11:15; Pro 17:18) and is always strongly discouraged, especially in the case of a stranger. It is a proverb that should discourage becoming surety for another.

It marks the stupidity of those who do so. Such a person must bear the consequences. He is literally stripped. His garment goes to strangers as pledge. Then he never sees it again. The warning is that you are in danger of losing everything to the creditor, who can pawn your things to strangers if you become surety.

Good things acquired dishonestly bring no satisfaction (Pro 20:17). There is such a thing as “enjoying the passing pleasure of sin” (Heb 11:25), but it is indeed only temporary. The aftertaste is very bitter. Not only is there a lack of taste and nourishment in what has been stolen, but the consequence is that nothing at all can be eaten with pleasure. Gravel ruins the teeth so that food can no longer be consumed with taste (Lam 3:16). Eating becomes difficult and hurts. God causes this result.

We see it in the eating the first “bread obtained by falsehood” eaten by man. We also see the consequences. Adam and Eve ate bread obtained by falsehood when they took the fruit from the tree of which God had told them not to eat (Gen 2:16-17; Gen 3:1-6). The fruit looked very attractive and no doubt the taste will have been exquisite. But what dramatic consequences resulted from eating that bread of falsehood. The truth of this proverb, which applies to everything acquired in a lying way, repeats itself daily. Satan is still out to tempt people to eat of the bread he offers, which is always bread obtained by falsehood (Pro 9:17).

To Deal With War and Slander

For a plan to have a chance of success, there must be consultation (Pro 20:18). Consult first and then act. This is especially true for consultation with God, but also with other people. Only after mature deliberation can war be made (2Sam 17:1-14; 2Sam 18:6-15). First, strategy must be discussed and goals set. Above all, it must be considered whether there are enough men and equipment, otherwise a different plan must be made (Lk 14:31-32).

We can apply this to the struggle for survival in this life. We live spiritually in war zone. Satan is lord and master of the world. He has also already infiltrated large parts of Christendom. Therefore, we must determine our strategy on how to resist him. God’s Word provides us with the armor for this purpose (Eph 6:10-18).

War is open enmity; slander or gossip is enmity on the sly (Pro 20:19). Slander is an extremely deadly weapon. It is dangerous to associate with a slanderer or gossiper. If someone ‘entrusts’ you with another person’s secret, you may be sure he will pass on the secret you entrust to him to another in the same way. Therefore, do not get involved with someone who always wants to talk to you about others, but avoid such a person.

Just as the gossiper gossips with you about others, he also gossips with others about you. He will also always say that you are the only one to whom he confides his secret. The less contact you have with a gossiper, the better. The warning is that you should be very careful about whom you entrust your secrets to.

To Curse and Pluck Parents

He who curses one of his parents will die in utter darkness (Pro 20:20). For such a person “the black darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 1:13). The law commands that father and mother must be honored (Exo 20:12; Deu 5:16; Eph 6:1-3). Failure to do so is already a serious violation of the law. What happens here goes even further. It is the opposite. Instead of honoring the parents, they are cursed.

Only severe judgment can be passed on that (Exo 21:17; Lev 20:9; Deu 27:16; Mt 15:4-6). The lamp, here the symbol of light and life, is extinguished in utter darkness. The curser not only dies, but ends up in utter darkness. All connection with life and light is severed. He himself ends up in that which he wished for his parents.

An inheritance is not given to someone until the testator has died (Pro 20:21). The issue here is an inheritance that is acquired too soon. This means that it was acquired illegitimately and unjustly, with greed being the driving force. There is no patience to wait for the time God determines, but there is anticipation. It fits the mentality that is omnipresent today: wanting to have something and wanting it NOW.

We find an example of this in the parable of the prodigal son. He had no patience to wait for his father’s death and asked him for the portion of the inheritance to which he was entitled (Lk 15:12). In doing so, he prematurely declared his father dead. He quickly lost his property and ended up with the pigs. It is also possible for someone to drive his parents out of their inheritance by making life impossible for them (Pro 19:26). He who wants to snatch an inheritance in an evil, unjust way will always find a means. But he “will not be blessed in the end”.

Do Not Repay Evil With Evil

We live in a world where we can expect harm will be done to us (Pro 20:22). Therefore, we are told how to respond. We should not take justice into our own hands, but leave repayment to God. This requires both patience and trust. Patience to wait for His time and trust that He will deliver.

The righteous should not take vengeance for evil, for only God has the right to justly retaliate for evil and is perfectly capable of doing so (Rom 12:19). God’s work here focuses on the positive side. He is seen here as Redeemer and not as Avenger, which He also is. It does not say that the righteous must wait until he will see God’s judgment on his enemies, but until he will be redeemed. That is a big difference in expectation.

Few lessons are more difficult to learn than that of entrusting all our affairs to the Lord’s hands, especially when we feel we have been wronged and mistreated. David is an example for us in this. Much injustice was done to him by Saul. Yet he always waited on the LORD for his redemption and did not anticipate God’s time for his kingship by taking revenge on Saul. Our great example is the Lord Jesus “Who did not revile in return while being reviled, while suffering, uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1Pet 2:23).

Pro 20:23 repeats Pro 20:10 in slightly different words. It is quite possible that this is done in view of its connection with the preceding verse. We then have to do with a warning against revenge by tampering with weights out of revenge on the other person in order to get even and to disadvantage him.

The Limits of Man

God’s control over a man’s life is beyond human perception and comprehension (Pro 20:24). Since God ultimately controls everything that happens, no man can be completely sure what the way ahead of him looks like. It is important for a man to become aware of this (Jer 10:23; Psa 37:23).

Man can sometimes act as if he is lord and master of his life while forgetting that he is totally dependent on God’s support and guidance. Then it is good to remember this proverb. It also applies to the believer who goes his way with the Lord. He, too, often cannot understand how his way in a particular situation could have run the way it did. Sometimes he sees it later in his life (Gen 50:20). In any case, we will see it when we are with the Lord.

Making a thoughtless holy vow (Pro 20:25) is an example of forgetting what the wise man said in the previous verse. One who makes a holy vow thoughtlessly walks into a trap because he does not know whether he can keep the vow. If, after he has made the vow, he realizes that he cannot or will not fulfill what he has promised, it is too late (Ecc 5:5; Deu 23:22-23). It is better to wait to make the vow until one has carefully considered the consequences of the decision. Because Jephthah acted impulsively, he lightly made a vow that he never would have made had he known what it involved (Jdg 11:30-40).

The vow in question is to declare something holy, that is, to consecrate it to the LORD. An example of such a vow is the vow of young people not to marry because they want to remain sexually pure or to serve the Lord. It is a holy vow, but it may well prove to be a trap because they have not carefully considered what God’s Word says about its terms (1Cor 7:37).

A Wise King Sees Through Man

A wise king purifies his kingdom from wicked people (Pro 20:26). He can identify the wicked and judge them justly. He scatters them so that they will not unite and cannot take any joint action against him. Also, as punishment, he drives the threshing wheel over them (Isa 28:27-28), as it were to thresh them like chaff.

Just as a king searches his country to rid it of wickedness, the LORD searches the heart of a man to search all its motives (Pro 20:27). God has provided each person with a spirit so that he can evaluate his actions and motives. He is the “God of the spirits of all flesh” (Num 16:22). He breathed spirit into man at his creation (Gen 2:7). As a result, man possesses moral, intellectual and spiritual abilities and is able to know and please God.

The spirit in man serves as a conscience, represented in the “lamp of the LORD”. Man knows what is right and wrong through his conscience (Rom 2:14-15). This is further elaborated in the second line of verse. The searching of the spirit, the lamp, enables man to know himself (1Cor 2:11a; cf. Job 32:8; Zec 12:1). When a person’s spiritual life is functioning properly – that is, it is surrendered to God – and controlled by His Word, there will be increasingly less self-deception or indifference toward righteousness.

“Loyalty and truth” are prominent characteristics of a king (Pro 20:28). A king who exhibits these characteristics in his government will be protected by them. The people will have no reason to rebel against him, but will gladly submit to his authority. His actions in kindness “upholds his throne”. This is quite different from the thrones of the world that are established on tyranny and oppression.

In their fullness, these characteristics are present in Christ. When He appears as King, they will become perfectly visible in His government.

Strength as Glory and Gray Hair as Honor

Both “young men” and “old men” have something beautiful. This observation reminds us that there are several honorable mentions in life. For young men it is “their strength” and for old men it is “their gray hair”. The grayness symbolizes all that is valuable in old age. We see dignity, wisdom, honor, experience.

The generations are not contrasted, as if there were a generation gap. Solomon does not put one above the other, but presents of each generation what is its ornament and glory. Thus they stand side by side, each with its own brilliance. Young men symbolize strength of body, vision, energy. Old men are characterized by dignity, wisdom, honor and experience gained over the years, which is symbolized in their gray hair. It is important that the two generations do not despise each other, but appreciate each other.

Both adornments can be seen successively in a person’s life. A young man adorned with strength will realize that he owes it to God and may use it to serve Him and not to shine through it himself. He will then grow into someone who is an elder whose gray hair is the glory.

These growth stages are also there in the spiritual life. In the family of God, besides babies in the faith, there is also mention of young men and fathers in the faith (1Jn 2:13-17). Of the young men in faith, their strength is also mentioned as a characteristic. John writes to them that they are “strong” and adds that this is because “the Word of God abides in you and you have overcome the evil one” (1Jn 2:14). They have used their adornment, their strength, well, not to impress themselves with it, but to grow spiritually. Such young men will become fathers in the faith.

The Purifying Work of Stripes and Strokes

This verse looks like an advertisement promoting a health remedy. That remedy is “physical punishment”. The ‘package insert’ also states that its application should not be done softly. Its application is important for mental health. Physical punishment has a spiritual benefit. Physical punishment makes the conscience aware of failure and leads to confession and repentance.

What Solomon recommends seems primitive, crude and old-fashioned, and is even criminalized today in a growing number of countries. But pain sends a signal. He who does not feel pain is in danger of losing his life. To not give physical punishment is to disable a mechanism that can save lives.

Painful experiences (injuries), besides leading to confession and repentance, result in inner cleansing. Peace comes in the heart. For this reason, we must recognize the value of pain.

© 2023 Author G. de Koning

All rights reserved. No part of the publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.

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