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Deeper Commentary

Pro 20:1 Wine is a mocker, and beer is a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise-
"Strong drink is a brawler" (RV). This is a metonymy- a drunk man is a brawler, not alcoholic drinks of themselves. But "strong drink" is put for 'a drunk man'. Alcohol is the alcoholic, and vice versa. This is some comfort for families of alcoholics who lament how alcohol so dominates their family member, and who marvel at the extent to which it is really so- that alcohol is the alcoholic, and the alcoholic lives for alcohol.

Solomon’s warnings  against  alcohol were totally   disregarded  by Solomon in his later search for fulfilment  in  the  flesh (Ecc. 2:3). His alcoholism contradicted his own earlier condemnations of drink as being for the  unwise  (e.g.  Prov. 20:1). Thus by turning to drink he was throwing  off  his  former  wisdom, even though his access to it remained  with him (Ecc. 2:9; cp. 'But I still believe the Truth, you know').

Pro 20:2 The terror of a king is like the roaring of a lion; whoever provokes him to anger forfeits his own life-
Solomon writes inspired truth in Proverbs of course, but it is inevitable that much of what he writes about the need to respect the man who has wisdom, and his superiority over all others, was written with an eye to his own self-justification. He even writes as if the king must be accepted as automatically infallible: “A divine sentence is in the lips of the king; his mouth transgresseth not in judgment… the fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul” (Prov. 16:10; 20:2 AV). It was really Solomon's self-justification. 

Pro 20:3 It is an honour for a man to keep aloof from strife; but every fool will be quarrelling-
The many exhortations to keep away from strife and "meddling" (AV) are fair enough. But it seems Solomon also had another agenda in pushing this; he didn't want his reign and policies to be questioned. He and his teaching were to be accepted without question. So often an appeal for "peace" is really a guise for insisting that a particular agenda is accepted.

Pro 20:4 The lazy will not plough by reason of the winter; therefore he shall beg in harvest, and have nothing-
The Proverbs contain repeated condemnation of laziness. Lack of a zealous work ethic is a rejection of wisdom, according to Solomon. As Solomon explains in Ecc. 1, he was an active person, not lazy by nature. And yet he lacked spirituality. He claimed that his service of God was due to his spirituality, but it was in reality merely a semblance of serving God when it was really just reinforcing his own personality type. His mocking of the "sluggard" or "lazy one" is so frequent (Prov. 6:6,9; 10:26; 13:4; 15:19; 19:24; 20:4; 21:25; 22:13; 24:30; 26:13-16). But it is a reflection of his own works-based approach to righteousness; the 'wise' "do" good things, and the wicked don't do enough good things. Personal spiritual mindedness and relationship with God are simply not emphasized.

Solomon had elsewhere taught in Prov. 17:5 that "Whoever mocks the poor reproaches his Maker. He who is glad at calamity shall not be unpunished". Yet Solomon's teachings about poverty do very often mock them and draw caricatures about them (e.g. Prov. 20:4), for he implies at several points that poverty is due to unwisdom and laziness, and the blessing of wisdom is wealth (:6 LXX). Yet again we see Solomon failing to personalize his wisdom; he disobeyed it because he seems to have reasoned that mere possession of Divine truth was all that was required for acceptability with God. And the same mistake is seen in so many.

Pro 20:5 Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out-
The thought is as in Prov. 18:4 LXX "A word in the heart of a man is a deep water, and a river and fountain of life spring forth". The sense may be that if a word of wisdom is placed within a man's heart, it becomes a fountain of life for others. The Lord uses a similar figure in Jn. 7:38,39 for the water of life which can pour from a man's innermost being, once he truly accepts the word of the Gospel. When He says that this was "as the scripture has said", this may be one of the passages He had in mind. Our witness to others is therefore from our innermost being, from the word of the Gospel believed and firmly lodged in the deepest heart. The person of understanding who draws out this water from another sounds like the Queen of Sheba drawing wisdom from Solomon; so again, he sees himself as the man with true counsel in his heart.

Pro 20:6 Many men claim to be men of unfailing love, but who can find a faithful man?-
LXX "a merciful man precious: but it is hard to find a faithful man". "Unfailing love" is chesed, the word for "grace". It could be that Solomon in his utilitarian, secular way is saying that a man of grace is not as much use as a man who is faithful / trustworthy to Solomon's cause.

Pro 20:7 A righteous man walks in integrity; blessed are his children after him-
Solomon has as usual his own agenda of self justification in view here. The man who 'walked in integrity' is without doubt David (s.w. 1 Kings 9:4; Ps. 26:1,11; 101:2). Solomon assumed that because his father had walked in integrity, then he as his child would automatically be blessed. But he was choosing to misunderstand the conditional nature of the promises to him in 1 Kings 9:4; if he walked himself in integrity "as David your father walked", then he would be the prophetically blessed son of David.  

Pro 20:8 A king who sits on the throne of judgment scatters away all evil with his eyes-
Clearly Solomon has himself in view. He had asked for wisdom in order to be able to judge Israel rightly; but he became lifted up in pride by the mere fact of possessing the Divine truths he is collecting together in the book of Proverbs. And he assumes that therefore he has correct judgment just by reason of who he is, rather than on account of putting into operation the wisdom given him. See on :11.

Pro 20:9 Who can say, I have made my heart pure. I am clean and without sin?-
David claimed to have cleansed his heart (Ps. 26:2,6; 73:13). Solomon uses the same word in saying that nobody can say "I have cleansed my heart" (Prov. 20:9); as if disagreeing with his father David on this point. Solomon may be suggesting that all you can do is live an externally clean life, you can never cleanse your heart- and this refusal to allow the Holy Spirit to cleanse him inwardly is what led to his apostasy. For disregarding deep, core level spiritual mindedness and trusting on externalities... is a sure path to spiritual disaster. And Solomon took it.

Pro 20:10 Differing weights and differing measures, both of them alike are an abomination to Yahweh-
Abomination" is the common word for idols (e.g. Dt. 7:25,26). Idolatry is here interpreted as things like pride and telling lies (:17). These seven things are the essence of idolatry. There is a recurring nature to them, just as idols got a grip on the mind of the worshipper. Solomon often uses the word for quiet, secret sins, words and the matters of the heart, internal attitudes and judgments (Prov. 11:1,20; 12:22; 13:19; 15:26; 16:5; 17:15; 20:10,23; 24:9; 26:25; 28:9; 29:27). And this of course is the essence of idolatry in our age; this is the practical force to us of all Biblical teaching about idolatry.

Pro 20:11 Even a child makes himself known by his doings, whether his work is pure, or whether it is right-
This may continue the idea of :8, that Solomon thinks he can intuitively judge purity and impurity in human hearts; all people, even children, can be easily discerned by their deeds; so Solomon claims. They can indeed be known by God, but no amount of possession of Divine truths gives someone the power to judge each person rightly, let alone to claim that such judgment is simple and intuitively obvious to them. And so many have followed Solomon in this; their possession of some Divine truths has led them to assume that they can accurately judge others, and their intuitive gut feeling about people they therefore assume to be perfectly correct Divine judgment. 

Pro 20:12 The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, Yahweh has made even both of them-
This is in the context of Solomon's claim that as a just judge endowed with Divine wisdom, he knows the truth about all the cases which come before him (see on :8,11). The God who has ultimate awareness, hearing and seeing all things, has given such awareness to Solomon the judge; so Solomon liked to think. 

Pro 20:13 Don’t love sleep, lest you come to poverty. Open your eyes, and you shall be satisfied with bread-
This continues Solomon's rhetoric against laziness and his insistence that poverty comes as a result of idleness. He argues that if lazy people even just opened their eyes, they would be satisfied with bread. Solomon on one hand teaches pity towards the poor (Prov. 14:21,31; 19:17; 28:8). But on the other, he mocks the poor as being poor because of their unwisdom, believing that wealth is given in response to wisdom. He is very conflicted in his attitude to the poor. The Divine revelation of truth to him was clearly that he should be generous to the poor. But he fences against this in other places by saying that the poor are being punished for their unwisdom. So like us when we encounter need that requires our generosity, he hedges his position very carefully; rather than accepting the simple force of the wisdom given to him, that pity to the poor as it were transfers our wealth from earth to heaven, and we will receive it back in due time (see on Prov. 19:17).

Solomon speaks often of how hard work will "satisfy with bread" (Prov. 12:11; 20:13; 28:19). David his father uses the phrase in the context of saying that being 'satisfied with bread' is part of God's gracious blessing (Ps. 132:15). We see here how Solomon became focused upon works, rather than faith in the blessings which come from Divine grace. And yet he uses the words his father had used; but he interprets them as justification of works rather than acceptance of grace.

Pro 20:14 It’s no good, it’s no good, says the buyer; but when he is gone his way, then he boasts-
The idea is that he boasts at what a wonderful deal he has got. The verse may simply be an observation upon how things are, but I suggest it be read along with :15. The gold and rubies are bought for a very low price, but all the same, lips of knowledge are worth even more than them. Perhaps the Lord quarried His parable of the treasure hid in a field from these verses. The man gives all that he has to by all means buy the field which contains the treasure, but that treasure is the knowledge of the Gospel.

Pro 20:15 There is gold and abundance of rubies; but the lips of knowledge are a rare jewel-
See on :14. The words of Job 28:18 are repeatedly quoted in Proverbs (Prov. 3:15; 8:11; 20:15). "Wisdom" in Proverbs refers not so much to nuggets of truth, but to a way of life in relationship with God; for that is the context in the source passage in Job 28:18 cp. 28. 

Pro 20:16 Take the garment of one who puts up collateral for a stranger-
The law of Moses didn't forbid giving or taking collateral for loans, it accepted this would happen (Ex. 22:25-27). But Solomon in the Proverbs is quite obsessed with forbidding it in very strong terms (Prov. 6:1-3; 11:15; 17:18; 20:16; 22:26; 27:13- all quite some emphasis). Perhaps Solomon recalled some bad experience in his family because of this. There is the otherwise curious statement in 1 Sam. 17:18 that David's brothers, Solomon's uncles, were to return a collateral. Perhaps this ruined the family and Solomon's wisdom has some human element in it, reflecting his own bad experiences in his family life. But there is nothing wrong with giving or taking collateral for a loan; what is condemned in God's law is the abuse of the debtor and the abuse of the situation. Indeed David and Hezekiah ask God to be collateral for their needs and debts in various ways (Ps. 119:122; Is. 38:14). And God gives the Holy Spirit in our hearts as collateral on His debt, as He sees it, to save us (2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14); and in response we give our hearts as a pledge to Him (Jer. 30:21 Heb.). So forbidding the practice seems out of step with the spirit of grace. It would mean asking of God what we are unprepared to do for others. Solomon had not known need, neither material nor spiritual, and it shows in his attitude to this matter. It makes hollow all Solomon's exhortations to be generous to your poor neighbour and to be a brother in adversity to your neighbour (Prov. 14:21; 17:17). Solomon is here reasoning from the viewpoint of secular wisdom.

And hold him in pledge for a wayward woman-
The  blindness  of  Solomon  is  driven  home time and again; he knew Divine truth, but the more he knew it, the more he lived the very opposite, failing to grasp the deeply personal relevance of truth to himself. A whole string of passages in Proverbs warn of  the  "strange"  (AV) woman  (2:16;  5:20; 6:24; 7:5; 20:16; 23:27;  27:13). Yet the very same word (translated "outlandish", AV) is  used  in  Neh. 13:26 concerning  the women Solomon married. The antidote to  succumbing to the wicked woman was to have wisdom- according to Proverbs. And Solomon apparently had wisdom. Yet he succumbed to the wicked woman. He was writing Song of Solomon at the same time as Proverbs. The reason for this must be that Solomon didn't really have wisdom. Yet we know that he was given it in abundance. The resolution of this seems to be that Solomon asked  for  wisdom  in  order  to  lead  Israel  rather than for himself,  he used that wisdom to judge Israel and to educate the surrounding  nations.  But  none of it percolated to himself. As custodians  of  true  doctrine-  for  that is what we are- we are likely to suffer from over familiarity with it. We can become so accustomed  to 'handling' it, as we strengthen each other, as we preach,  that  the personal bearing of the Truth becomes totally lost  upon us, as it was totally lost upon Solomon.

Pro 20:17 Fraudulent food is sweet to a man, but afterwards his mouth is filled with gravel-
"Fraudulent" is 'deceit'. The allusion is to Ahithophel, who had betrayed Solomon's father David, when once they had eaten bread together, although in deceit (Ps. 41:9). And he then committed suicide, to which the mouth of a corpse being filled with gravel may allude. Always Solomon seems to have in view the justification of David and condemnation of his opposition.

Pro 20:18 Plans are established by advice; by wise guidance you wage war!-
Solomon's advice to his son sounds all well and good; but Rehoboam was given two different paths of advice by his advisors. Again, Solomon's words are true, but simplistic. Because as Rehoboam's case shows, the issue is not so much having advisors per se, but deciding which advisors to listen to. Solomon too had advisors (1 Kings 12:6), but did what he wanted, making this Proverb somewhat hollow when applied to himself.

Pro 20:19 He who goes about as a tale-bearer reveals secrets; therefore don’t keep company with him who opens wide his lips-
"Opens wide" is the word for "enticed". Solomon's idea of avoiding sin was in resisting the enticement of very sinful people (s.w. Prov. 1:10; 16:29). He pays no attention to the heart, whereas the Biblical message is always that sin is to be avoided in the heart. Spiritual mindedness, rather than mere disassociation from sinners, is of the essence. Dt. 11:16 warns that our heart should not be enticed (s.w.); but Solomon sees enticement as merely from very sinful individuals.

Solomon rightly condemns gossip and the stirring up of divisions. But he is writing up his Divinely given wisdom at the start of his reign, where there were various groups of opposition to him. These groupings had all arisen from the divisions which arose after his parents' sin with each other; they were a consequence for David's sin, which Nathan had prophesied. Inevitably, David's behaviour had invited all manner of gossip and strife. But Solomon seems to blame this on the gossipers, and carefully considers they alone are guilty; for he is ever glorifying and whitewashing his father David.

Pro 20:20 Whoever curses his father or his mother, his lamp shall be put out in blackness of darkness-
A "lamp" was understood as the inheritance and continuation as king (1 Kings 15:4). Solomon here has in view how his half brother Absalom, and indeed his other half brothers, had contended with him for the throne; but their "lamp" in this sense had been extinguished. And he likes to imply that this was because they had cursed their father David, whereas Solomon revered him.

Pro 20:21 An inheritance quickly gained at the beginning won’t be blessed in the end-
If indeed :20 is referring to Absalom, this may also allude to him; implying Absalom and Solomon's other competitors for the throne had sought to grab the inheritance of their father David, but had not retained it in the end.

Pro 20:22 Don’t say, I will pay back evil. Wait for Yahweh, and He will save you-
Solomon considered that much evil had been done to him and his father David by the various contenders for the throne. Solomon had been careful to cut down all such opposition when he became king, not  following the example of David when he became king, in being so gracious to the house of Saul his contenders. But here he rather hypocritically claims he had not repaid evil, alluding to how David had not repaid evil by killing Saul when he could have done, but had waited for Yahweh to remove Saul and establish his kingdom.  

Pro 20:23 Yahweh detests differing weights, and dishonest scales are not pleasing-
AV "are an abomination". This repeats Prov. 11:1. "Abomination" is the common word for idols (e.g. Dt. 7:25,26). Idolatry is here interpreted as things like dishonest scales and a quiet desire to repay evil (:22). These internal things are the essence of idolatry. Solomon often uses the word "abomination" for quiet, secret sins, words and the matters of the heart, internal attitudes and judgments (Prov. 11:1,20; 12:22; 13:19; 15:26; 16:5; 17:15; 20:10,23; 24:9; 26:25; 28:9; 29:27). And this of course is the essence of idolatry in our age; this is the practical force to us of all Biblical teaching about idolatry.

But the context here is of Solomon claiming that his wisdom makes him a correct judge of men (:26). This is likewise the context of Prov. 16:11: "Honest balances and scales are Yahweh’s; all the weights in the bag are His work". The stress may be on the fact that Yahweh is the ultimate judge, weighing all things in perfectly accurate balances and with ultimately true weighting. This then leads on to the implication in :26 and Prov. 16:12 that a true king, and Solomon refers to himself, cannot judge wrongly because he is king on God's behalf. His judgment must therefore be accepted as correct, because he is king on behalf of Yahweh, the ultimately true and fair judge. Hence Prov. 16:11 LXX "or the throne of rule is established by righteousness". But this is reasoning which is biased towards Solomon's self justification, and desire to cement himself as the unquestioned moral judge and teacher of Israel- although personally he was so far from it.

Pro 20:24 A man’s steps are from Yahweh; how then can man understand his way?-
David here quotes his father's words in Ps. 37:23: "The steps of a good man are ordered by Yahweh". Man without God's help cannot therefore understand his "way". But God understands man's way because He alone understands the way of wisdom (Job 28:23 s.w.), and therefore David prays to be "made to understand the way" (s.w. Ps. 119:27). And Solomon has used this phrase about wisdom empowers man to understand his way (Prov. 14:8). The only way to understand life's way is therefore from the God who is ordering it; unaided, without His gift of wisdom, we cannot understand it. See on :27; Prov. 21:29.  

Pro 20:25 It is a snare to a man to make a rash dedication, then later to consider his vows-
The reference is to the way that it was common in those days, as it still is in Semitic languages and cultures, to make very extreme promises of dedication which could not then be kept. Clearly Solomon has in view Jephthah's rash vow. But he also surely alludes to his half brother Absalom's attempted putsch to wrest the throne from David and Solomon, which used the guise of having made a vow he needed to perform (s.w. 2 Sam. 15:7,8). So again and again we see Solomon saying what is true and wise enough, but always with some underlying narrative justifying himself and his father.  

Pro 20:26 A wise king winnows out the wicked, and drives the threshing wheel over them-
Solomon uses language elsewhere used about Messiah’s final judgment when he says this. He felt that his judgment must be that of God, therefore he had to be right, because he ‘had wisdom’, he ‘had the truth’; he assumed that because he was the king, therefore his heart would inevitably be guided by the Lord (Prov. 21:1), and he could judge and condemn others. This is where abusing the knowledge or possession of Divine truths can lead. See on :23.

Pro 20:27 The spirit of man is Yahweh’s lamp, searching all his innermost parts-
This must be understood in the context of :24. There is as it were cooperation between God and man in order to understand our ways. Without the lamp of His word and involvement in our spirit, the unaided spirit of man cannot search out himself with any real meaning. Our self examination is in this sense God's, although we may not be conscious of it.  

Pro 20:28 Love and faithfulness keep the king safe; his throne is sustained by love-
"Mercy and truth" ("love and faithfulness") were to be the basis of David's throne because that is what upheld God's throne. And David was to reign on God's behalf, his throne was to be as God's throne (Is. 16:5; Ps. 89:14; 101:1). Solomon liked to imagine that his throne was likewise upheld by God as His throne, also on the basis of "mercy and truth" ("grace and justice"). But he assumed that would happen automatically, whereas David's response to this is given in Ps. 101- he vows that he will personally reign in "grace and justice", whereas Solomon assumes that God will provide the "grace and justice" ("mercy and truth") as it were automatically. “Mercy and truth preserve the king, and he upholdeth his throne by mercy” (Prov. 20:28 RVmg.) says as much- the promises (“mercy and truth” usually refer to God’s promises) had been given to David and just because of that, Solomon was sure that his throne and kingdom would thereby be upheld. He forgot the crucial need for personal, obedient relationship with God.

Pro 20:29 The glory of young men is their strength. The splendour of old men is their gray hair-
This is true in an outline, broad brush sense. But Solomon is not merely describing things how they are for the sake of it. He seems to be painting a word picture of how he saw himself, the strong, glorious young man, along with his splendid father David.

Pro 20:30 Wounding blows cleanse away evil, and beatings purge the innermost parts
Again this is true, but Solomon by the end of his reign  was beating his people (1 Kings 12:11); he came to consider that most of God's people were fools, needing to be cleansed by his punishment of them. Because they had refused the rebuke of his wisdom, he thought that therefore he could lash them. Those who are lifted up with pride at their possession of "truth" often come to despise and abuse others.