Proverbs 20


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.


Verse 1. Wine is a mocker] It deceives by its fragrance,

intoxicates by its strength, and renders the intoxicated


Strong drink] shechar, any strong fermented liquor,

whether of the vine, date, or palm species.

Verse 2. The fear of a king] Almost the same with Pr 19:12,

which see.

Verse 3. It is an honour for a man] The same sentiment as

Pr 19:11.

Verse 4. The sluggard will not plough] For other parts of this

character, see the preceding chapter. 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

pretence of unfavourable weather, neglects cultivating his land

till the proper time is elapsed.

Verse 5. 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


Verse 6. Most men will proclaim] Many men merciful ben clepid: a

feithful man forsoth, who schal finde?-Old MS. Bible.

Verse 8. 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.

Verse 9. Who can say, I have made my 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.

Verse 10. 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.

Verse 11. 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.

Verse 12. 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.

Verse 13. 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.

Verse 14. 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 theatre, 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 each. He

stood up, and in a single sentence redeemed his pledge:-


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.

Verse 15. There is gold] Gold is valuable, silver is valuable,

and so are jewels; but the teachings of sound knowledge are more

valuable than all.

Verse 16. 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.

Verse 17. Bread of deceit is sweet] Property acquired by

falsehood, speculation, &c., without labour, is pleasant to the

unprincipled, slothful man; but there is a curse in it, and the

issue will prove it.

Verse 18. 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.

Verse 20. Whoso curseth his father] Such persons were put to

death under the law; see Ex 21:17; Le 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.

Verse 21. 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 public nuisance and

curse. How many honest men have been ruined by such!

Verse 22. 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.

Verse 24. 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


Verse 25. 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.

Verse 26. 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.

Verse 27. 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.

Verse 28. 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.

Verse 29. The glory of young men is their strength] Scarcely any

young man affects to be wise, learned, &c.; 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, &c., and are fond of being reputed wise, and of

having respect paid to their understanding and experience.

Verse 30. The blueness of a wound] chabburoth, from

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 together? 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.

Copyright information for Clarke