Proverbs 20
Matthew Poole's Commentary
Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.
Wine is a mocker; wine immoderately drunk makes men mockers or scoffers at God and men. Compare Hosea 7:5.

Strong drink is raging; makes men full of rage and passion.

Is not wise; is a fool, or a madman, because he depriveth himself of the use of his reason.

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, passively taken, the terror which the wrath of a king causeth, by comparing this with Proverbs 19:12.

Sinneth against his own soul; exposeth himself to manifest danger of death.

It is an honour for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.
To cease from strife; either to prevent it, or, if it be begun, to put an end to it; which, although proud and profane persons esteem dishonourable to them, is indeed their glory, because it is an evidence of their great wisdom and power over their passions, and of their respect and obedience to their sovereign Lord, in which their honour and happiness consists.

Will be meddling, to wit, with matters of strife; he is always ready to begin strife, and obstinate in the continuance of it.

The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold; therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing.
By reason of the cold of the ploughing season, which is in autumn and towards winter. He hates and avoids all laborious and difficult work, although his own necessity and interest oblige him to it.

And have nothing; and not obtain an alms; not in that time of plenty and bounty, because men’s hearts are justly hardened against that man who by his own sloth and wilfulness hath brought himself to want.

Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.
Counsel; either,

1. Wisdom or ability to give good counsel; or,

2. Designs or purposes of doing something of moment; for this word is frequently used in both senses, but the last seems fittest here.

Is like deep water; either,

1. Is there in great abundance; or,

2. Is secret and hard to be discovered.

Will draw it out, by prudent questions and discourses, and a diligent observation of his words and actions.

Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?
Most men are forward to profess religion, and speak of their own good deeds; but a faithful man, one who is indeed what he seemeth and professeth himself to be,

who can find? there are but few such to be found.

The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.
The just man walketh in his integrity; he proveth himself to be so not only by his profession, of which he spoke in the former verse, but by his sincere and unblamable conversation. His children are blessed after him, by virtue of that covenant which God hath made with such men, which is not confined to their persons, but entaileth blessings upon their posterity.

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; that makes it his great care and business to execute judgment and justice among his people, especially if he do this in his own person, as was usual in ancient times, and sees things with his own eyes. As for the phrase, the sign or gesture is here put for the thing signified by it.

Scattereth away all evil, effectually punisheth and suppresseth all wickedness, with his eyes; with his very looks, or by his diligent inspection into affairs.

Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?
Who can say? no man living upon earth can say this truly and sincerely. Compare 1 Kings 8:46 Job 14:4 15:14 Ecclesiastes 7:20 1Jo 1:8. I am pure from my sin; I am perfectly free from all guilt and filth of sin in my heart and life.

Divers weights, and divers measures, both of them are alike abomination to the LORD.
Divers weights and divers measures; one greater and true for public show, and one lesser and false for private use, when they had an opportunity of deceiving.

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; young children discover their inclinations or dispositions even by their childish speeches and carriages, as not having yet learnt the art of dissembling.

Whether his work be pure; or rather, will be pure; for it is not expressed in the Hebrew, and therefore may be either way supplied. The sense is, The future disposition and conversation of a man may very probably be conjectured from his childish manners.

The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the LORD hath made even both of them.
It is God alone who gives us our senses and natural faculties, and the use and exercise of them, and especially a power of employing them aright to see and observe the works of God, and to hear and receive his word and all wholesome instructions; whence he leaves it to us to gather, that God doth exactly see and hear all men’s words and actions, though it be never so secret. He names

the eye and

ear, because these are the two senses by which instructions are conveyed to the mind; but under them he seems to comprehend all other senses and powers of soul or body, by a synecdoche.

Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty; open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread.
Love not sleep, i.e. immoderate sleep, or sloth, or idleness. Take sleep because necessity requires it, not from any love to it.

Open thine eyes; awake out of sleep, shake off sloth, and betake thyself to thy employment with diligence and rigour.

It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer: but when he is gone his way, then he boasteth.
It is naught; the commodity is but of little worth. Saith the buyer, to wit, to the seller; he discommends it, that he may bring down the price of it.

Gone his way, with the commodity purchased.

He boasteth that by his wit he hath overreached the seller, and got a great advantage to himself. This he notes as a common but reprovable practice.

There is gold, and a multitude of rubies: but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.
There is gold, to wit, in the world, in divers men’s hands, by whom it is highly prized.

But the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel; but wise speeches proceeding from an understanding or honest heart are of far greater worth and use, both to him that uttereth them, and to those that receive and improve them to their own benefit.

Take his garment that is surety for a stranger: and take a pledge of him for a strange woman.
Take his garment, to wit, as a pledge, without which he ought not to be trusted, because by this action he showeth himself to be a fool, and he taketh the ready way to beggary.

Object. This precept contradicts that law which forbade the taking of a garment for a pledge, Exodus 22:26.

Answ. It doth not contradict it, for the cases vastly differ; for that law concerned only the poor, who were forced to borrow for their own necessity, and therefore deserve pity; whereas this teacheth only those who are or would be thought rich and sufficient security for others, and who borrow not for their own need, but for a mere stranger, for which folly they deserve to be severely punished. Besides, this may be only a prediction, though it be delivered in the form of a precept, as many predictions are; and so shows what may be expected by him that is guilty of such folly, even that he shall be stripped of his garments and other necessaries. For a stranger; for a foreigner, or a person unknown to him. Take a pledge of him that is surety; which words are to be understood out of the foregoing clause. For a strange woman; for a harlot, who is so called, Proverbs 2:16, and elsewhere.

Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel.
Bread of deceit; gain or pleasure procured by unrighteous courses.

His mouth shall be filled with gravel; it shall be bitter and pernicious at last, like gritty bread, which offends the teeth and stomach. It will certainly bring upon him the horrors of a guilty conscience, and the wrath and judgments of the Almighty God.

Every purpose is established by counsel: and with good advice make war.
Every purpose is established by counsel; the way to bring our purposes and desires to a good effect, is to manage them with serious consideration and good advice. And; or, therefore. This is necessary in every common undertaking, and much more in a thing of such high importance as war is.

He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets: therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.
He that goeth about as a tale-bearer revealeth secrets; he that delighteth in and accustometh himself to the practice of spreading tales or evil reports, will not forbear to publish the greatest secrets which are committed to his trust. Or, as others render it, and as the words lie in the Hebrew text,

He that revealeth secrets, ( contrary to his promise or the trust reposed in him, you may by that token be assured that,)

he doth and will go about as a tale-bearer. He who divulgeth secrets cannot or will not forbear to publish other things, and so is not fit to be trusted with any thing.

Therefore, to prevent that mischief Heb. and. So the following sentence is not inferred from the former, but only added to it.

Meddle not with him, avoid frequent and familiar society and conversation with him, that flattereth with his lips; by which artifice he seeks to gain thy affections, and to fish out all thy secrets, which he may impart to others, whom he may oblige hereby, and so render his company more acceptable.

Whoso curseth his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in obscure darkness.
Or his mother, Heb. and his mother; which is used for or, Exodus 12:5 Leviticus 6:3, and elsewhere.

His lamp; his comfort and happiness, his name and memory, which are oft compared in Scripture to

a lamp or light; shall be put out in obscure darkness; shall utterly perish; he shall die childless, and with ignominy.

An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; but the end thereof shall not be blessed.
An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning; an estate sometimes is got suddenly, in the very beginning of a man’s labours for it; in which case it may be presumed that some indirect and unrighteous courses were used for the getting of it, because riches are very seldom given by God, or gotten by men, without men’s diligence. But this, as well as many other proverbs, are to be understood of the common course, although it admit of some exceptions. For sometimes merchants or others get great estates speedily by one happy voyage, or by some other prosperous event. This translation follows the Hebrew marginal reading, but according to the textual reading it may be thus rendered and understood; An inheritance gotten in the beginning (to wit, of a man’s endeavours) is abominable, to wit, unto God, being supposed to be unjustly gotten, as was now said.

The end thereof shall not be blessed; at last it shall be cursed and wither by God’s just judgment.

Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.
Say not thou in thy heart; give not way to any such evil thoughts or purposes.

Wait on the Lord, to whom it belongs to execute vengeance, and to deliver his people from all their enemies.

Divers weights are an abomination unto the LORD; and a false balance is not good.
Divers weights are an abomination unto the Lord; of which See Poole "Proverbs 20:10".

Is not good; is very wicked and hateful to God and men.

Man's goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own way?
Man’s goings, all men’s purposes and actions,

are of the Lord; are ordered and overruled by God’s wise and powerful providence to accomplish his own counsel and good pleasure, and not what men list or intend.

His own way; either,

1. What course he ought to take; which he cannot know without God’s direction and assistance: compare Proverbs 16:9 Jeremiah 10:23. Or,

2. What is the issue of his designs will be, whether they shall succeed or be disappointed; the way being taken for the end or event to which it leads, as it is in many other places. The scope of the proverb is to show that all the events of human life are neither ordered nor foreseen by man’s, but only by God’s providence, and therefore men should only mind the doing of their duty, and then quietly depend upon God for a good issue to their endeavours.

It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make inquiry.
It is a snare; it brings guilt and God’s curse and vengeance upon him.

That which is holy, i.e. those meats or drinks which were devoted or consecrated to God; under which one kind he comprehends and forbids all alienation of sacred or dedicated things from God to a man’s private use or benefit; of which see Leviticus 27:9 Deu 23:21 Malachi 3:8,9 Ac 5:1, &c.

After vows to make inquiry; after a man hath made vows to consider whether he can possibly or may lawfullly keep them, and to invent or inquire of others all ways possible to break his vow, and to satisfy or deceive his conscience in so doing; which inquiry is justly censured as a sin and snare, because it is an evidence of a covetous or irreligious mind, and is the ready way and first step towards the open violation of it.

A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them.
A wise king, who seriously minds his duty and his true interest,

scattereth the wicked; breaks their companies and confederacies, and forceth them to flee several ways for their own safety; driveth them from his presence, and from the society of honest men, as the chaff is by the husbandman separated from the corn, and driven away by the wind, of which this Hebrew word is commonly used, and to which the next clause hath some reference.

Bringeth the wheel over them, as the cart-wheel was anciently turned over the sheaves to beat the corn out of them, Isaiah 28:27,28. He punisheth them severely, as their offences deserve. This or such-like punishments were not unusual among the Eastern nations, as we may gather from 2 Samuel 8:2 12:31 Amos 1:3.

The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly.
The spirit, i.e. the reasonable soul.

Is the candle; is a clear and glorious light set up in man for his information and direction.

Of the Lord; so called, partly because it comes from God in a more immediate and peculiar manner than the body doth, Ecclesiastes 12:7; and partly because it is in God’s stead to observe and judge all a man’s actions.

Searching all the inward parts of the belly; discerning not only his outward actions, which are visible to others, but his most inward and secret thoughts and affections, which no other man can see, 1 Corinthians 2:11. The belly is here put for the heart, as it is frequently. The soul can reflect upon and judge of its own dispositions and actions; which plainly showeth that the heart is not so deceitful, but that a man by diligent study of it, and the use of the means appointed by God, may arrive at a certain knowledge of its state and condition, in reference to God and to salvation.

Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy.
Mercy; clemency to offenders, and bounty to worthy and to indigent persons; and truth; faithfulness in keeping his word and promises inviolably; preserve the king, because they engage God to guard him, and gain him the reverence and affections of his people, which is a king’s greatest safety and happiness.

Mercy is again mentioned, to show that although it be an act of grace, and therefore in some sort free, yet princes are obliged to it, both by their duty and by their interest, because it is a singular means of their preservation.

The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head.
The glory of young men; that wherein they glory as their privilege above old men.

The beauty of old men is the grey head, i.e. their old age, expressed by the outward sign of it, wherein they glory as their peculiar privilege, as a testimony of their piety and God’s blessing, and as a token of their great experience and wisdom. The design of this proverb is to declare the several advantages of several ages, and the mutual need they have one of another, and thereby to engage them to mutual love and assistance, and to friendly converse, and to make every one contented with his own age and condition, and not to envy nor yet despise his brother, or the difference of their ages, as is very usual among men.

The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.
The blueness of a wound, grievous wounds, which make men black and blue, or severe punishments,

cleanseth away evil; are the most effectual means to reclaim a wicked man, and to purge out his corruption.

So do stripes, Heb. and stripes, which answer to the wounds in the former clause,

the inward parts of the belly; either,

1. Which pierce even to the inward parts of the belly; and so we are to understand out of the former branch, cleanse away evil. Or,

2. They cleanse the inward parts of the belly, i.e. of the heart. So this is an addition to the former clause, and the sense of the whole is, Grievous wounds or stripes do cleanse not only the outward man, by keeping it from evil actions, but even the inward man, by expelling or subduing vile affections; which is mentioned as a great and blessed benefit of afflictions.

Matthew Poole's Commentary

Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

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