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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Proverbs 20

Verse 1

Be Careful With Wine and Strong Drink

“Wine” and “strong drink” are presented as acting persons, whereby these dangerous drinks are emphatically identified with the person that is abusing them. The use of it is not prohibited by God’s Word, except for some cases (Deuteronomy 14:26; Leviticus 10:9). There is actually a powerful warning against excessive use, for that results in mockery (Isaiah 28:7; Isaiah 28:14Isaiah 28:22) and causes turmoil, which often goes together with violence. The consequences are disastrous. That is visible in marriages and families and in traffic accidents, with sometimes even fatal consequences. Alcohol damages more than you like to think.

The excessive use of intoxicants stimulates the drinker to foolish talk and aggressive behavior. It confuses the senses, so that you lose self-control. Someone who is drunk, will mock at everything that is holy. He also crosses the borders of morals and decency. He staggers and waggles, uses debauched language and becomes touchy. He is drunken and doesn’t know anymore what he is doing (Genesis 9:21-Song of Solomon :; Genesis 19:30-Zechariah :). The counterpart of drunkenness with the debauchery attached to it is to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18).

The warning against alcohol abuse is intended to make clear that he who is drunk cannot really keep the right course and in that way he shows not to be wise. The saying ‘when wine is in, the wit is out’ reflects it concisely. He who is wise and wants to remain that way, will take some wine only in certain cases (1 Timothy 5:23).

Verses 2-3

Fear of the King Keeps From Dispute

“The terror of a king”, is compared with “the growling of a lion”, which implies the threat of the judgment (Proverbs 20:2). It is a warning not to sin against him. He who does, asks for his wrath over him. To sin against him is sinning against his own life.

The king is presented here in his impressive majesty that asks for respect. Whoever does not consider that plays with his life. This applies to our attitude towards the Lord Jesus. He is our Savior, but He is also our awesome Lord. At His coming to the earth to judge, He will growl like a lion (Amos 1:2).

Proverbs 20:3 connects to Proverbs 20:2. Honorable and wise people will avoid conflicts with other people. Certainly, they will avoid conflict with the king and with God and will not allow it be led to a confrontation (cf. Matthew 5:25-Ezekiel :). The contrast is between “keeping away from strife” and “will quarrel” as soon as there is an opportunity for a quarrel.

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 drunk, but many fools like to quarrel and to ignite it.

Verse 4

The Excuse of the Sluggard Not to Work

A farmer who is too lazy to plow and to sow at the right moment, will have no harvest. His excuse for not plowing is that it is winter. He does not like to expose himself to the cold and wet winter weather. In his pleasant warmth and dry farm it is much more pleasant. The sluggard will always find an excuse to cover up his laziness in that way. He does not think that he is a sluggard, but thinks that all circumstances are against him.

This character is characteristic for all who want to have harvest, possessions or money without making any effort for it. They want to have results without efforts. The whole attitude of a sluggard makes clear that he lives for today, while he doesn’t care about the future. The wise man works with a view to the future (cf. Galatians 6:9). He is continually working, in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2).

Because the sluggard failed to plow, he will have nothing in the harvest. He will then have to beg help from those who did make efforts and have harvested. He is not ashamed of that. People who are lazy and therefore suffer lack, also think that others will take care of them. They have no vision about the future or any feelings of shame. But those to whom the sluggard asks for help, know him and send him away empty handed. This is in agreement with the word of Paul: “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat either” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

Verses 5-9

God Sees Through the Heart of Every Man

He who is wise, can discern what is in the heart (Proverbs 20:5). That applies to both his own heart and that of others. The plan or intention in the heart is compared to “deep waters”. The picture indicates that one’s motives are difficult to see through. “Understanding” is needed to “draw them out”. We can get that understanding by fearing the LORD and listening to God’s Word (Hebrews 4:12-1 Chronicles :). If we do not know what one has planned, we still can get to know it through our relationship with God.

Christ is ‘a Man with understanding’. All plans of everyone’s heart are totally open for Him. He can reveal that to us when we live in fellowship with Him. In the day of judgment He will draw the plans and considerations out of each man and reveal them (1 Corinthians 4:5). Nobody needs to tell Him what is in man, for He knows that (John 2:25).

Many people do not know the deception of their own heart. They proclaim their “own loyalty” (Proverbs 20:6). The Pharisees did that in the corners of the streets (Matthew 6:2; Matthew 23:5) and even towards God (Luke 18:11-2 Kings :). And they have not died out yet. We may judge the Pharisee who openly boasts in his good qualities, but what about us? We may have a humble attitude with the intention to receive honor for it. That lies on the same level. We may not loudly boast, but we still like it when others see how devout we are.

The contrast of boasting in a certain kindness is “a trustworthy man”. That means that one who is full of himself, is not trustworthy. Such a person makes promises for all kinds of things with a lot of boasting, but does not fulfill them. A trustworthy man is not full of himself, but of the other person. He is focused on the other, he is there for the other man. But where do we find such man? The question indicates that such a person is difficult to find (cf. Proverbs 31:10; Psalms 12:1).

The good Samaritan did not shout about his kindness, but showed it. He was trustworthy. It is not about what one says he is, but about what one does.

“A righteous man” is someone who lives according to the right of God (Proverbs 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 no deception in his actions. He who lives that way, is a blessing to his environment and in the first place to those with whom he has the closest relationship: his children. They are called “blessed” because they grow up and are raised in this atmosphere of integrity. This is the most beautiful inheritance that parents can leave to their children.

“A king” who speaks justice, discerns good from evil (Proverbs 20:8). The throne speaks of government in general, “the throne of justice” speaks of the exertion of justice. One cannot appeal against this right. Here the emphasis is on the separation from the evil. Dispersion has the meaning of the purification of something. He will do that “with his eyes”, which indicates full understanding. For him it is all about removing “all evil” from his kingdom (Psalms 101:7-Ruth :).

No king or government has ever fulfilled this ideal. The Lord Jesus will do what is written here. He will, when He sits on His throne of glory, “separate the nations from one another, like the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matthew 25:31-Jonah :). He will then send the goats to the eternal fire, while the sheep will inherit the kingdom (Matthew 25:33-1 Corinthians :). He has eyes that see and fathom everything (Psalms 11:4).

Nobody can say that he is pure in his thoughts and deeds (Proverbs 20:9). There are people who claim that they are, but they are lying (1 John 1:8; 1 John 1:10). With the rhetorical question the wise confirms that nobody is without sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Genesis 6:5; 1 Kings 8:46; Psalms 143:2; Romans 3:9). One can only say that he has purified his heart when he has confessed his sins, by which he may know that they are forgiven by God (1 John 1:9). Purification is not in man himself, but outside of him, in God. God can forgive on the ground of the work of His Son on the cross.

The proverb is especially meaningful for the practice. In our practice as believers we should be aware that we are weak and that we do not always know our hearts through and through. We also cannot always fully fathom our motives. Paul was aware of that. He put 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” (1 Corinthians 4:4).

Verse 10

Do Not Measure With Two Measures

One of the things that make the heart of man impure and are considered as sin, is the measuring with two measures. By using two differing weights, a light one for the selling and a heavy one for the buying, the salesman tries to enrich himself at the expense of the buyer or the seller. The same goes for the use of two differing measurements (Proverbs 20:23; Proverbs 11:1; Deuteronomy 25:13-Nehemiah :).

The wise says emphatically that “both of them are abominable to the LORD”. God hates dishonesty in doing business and will judge with His judgment about it. Deceptive weights and measurements are only two examples of fraud and deception. They come forth from the greed of man. God hates this kind of dealings because He is perfectly righteous, honest and faithful and He also wants to see these characteristics in the way of doing business from those who are called after His Name. Doing business in a deceptive way is in contrast to His nature and to the nature of everyone who has His nature.

Verse 11

Deeds Show the Character

The behavior that one shows, even at a young age already, reveals his character (1 Samuel 3:18-Ecclesiastes :). It is like a tree that is known by its fruit (Matthew 7:16). Behavior shows what is in a person. Parents can recognize certain characteristics in the behavior of a child. Therefore they should pay attention to how the child behaves itself and how it speaks. They can correct bad traits and stimulate good ones by the means of education, discipline and their own example.

Verse 12

The Hearing Ear and the Seeing Eye

God has not only provided the human body with ears and eyes, but also with the capacity of using them properly. What shapes our lives, is especially by what our ears hear and our eyes see. It is one of the features of God Himself that He hears and sees (Psalms 94:9; Exodus 4:11) in contrast to the dead idols (Psalms 115:4-Judges :). The hearing ear and the seeing eye should therefore be devoted to Him.

It is therefore not only about the physical function, like the observation of sound and light. Regarding the ear, it is more about the spiritual capacity to obey what one has heard. In this way one shows that he has listened well to what has been said and that he has understood it. Regarding the eye it is the spiritual capacity to discern between good and evil.

We have ears to hear God’s Word, to hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 2:7). We have eyes to see Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). We can pray that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened, in order to see and enjoy our spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:17-Job :).

Verse 13

Do Not Sleep, but Be Awake and Work

Sleep is a blessing. It is a present from God, so that our body can come to rest after a day of working, in order to get strength again for the next day. The warning, however, is not to love sleep. Whoever loves sleep, is a sluggard, which will lead to poverty. Sleep is a great blessing, but becomes a curse when we rather sleep than work.

If sleep has done its beneficial work, the eyes are to be opened to go to work. Whoever knows his responsibility and starts to work diligently, will be satisfied with bread. He will have enough to eat.

Verses 14-17

Be Honest in Words and Deeds

Here it is about a buyer who is complaining about a bad purchase (Proverbs 20:14). When he has stipulated a low price by his dramatic presentation of business and paid it, he goes away and boasts about it. That even doesn’t mean that he tells others how smart he was. He can just inwardly be very happy about the fact that he was so smart and the seller so stupid. The point is that he boasts in his badness (James 4:16).

Bargain hunting is not bad, nor is haggling. This verse is a warning for an inexperienced seller not to let himself to be misled by buyers who are pretending to be pitiful or who are intimidating. It is one thing to do business, but it is inacceptable to God and unworthy of being a member of His people to give a false presentation of things in a deal, in order to buy a product far below its value.

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

Thereby it is about the knowledge of Christ and of God’s standard for life. This knowledge is applied to all situations in life. In that way one knows how to behave himself as a wise man in those situations. The result is that God is being honored and the neighbor is blessed. What an enormously precious thing are such lips in a world like ours.

In Proverbs 20:16 the wise man exhorts the creditor towards someone who has been so foolish to become surety for a stranger, to even take the garment of the stranger. Becoming surety has already been dealt with (Proverbs 6:1; Proverbs 11:15Proverbs 17:18) and it is still being strongly advised not to do it, certainly when a stranger is involved. It is a proverb that should discourage one to become surety for another person.

It makes clear the foolishness of someone who does that. Such a person has to bear the consequences of it. He will literally be undressed. His garment will be held in pledge for foreigners. He will never get it back. The warning is that you run the risk of losing everything to the creditor who can hold your possessions in pledge when you become surety.

Good things that have been gained dishonestly, do not bring satisfaction (Proverbs 20:17). There is a thing like “enjoying the passing pleasure of sin” (Hebrews 11:25), but it is indeed just temporary. The after taste is very bitter. It is not only about a lack of taste and food in what has been stolen, but the result is also that one cannot enjoy eating anything at all anymore. Gravel destroys the teeth so that one cannot enjoy the food anymore when he eats (Lamentations 3:16). Eating becomes difficult and it hurts. God makes this happen.

We see it with the eating of the first “bread obtained by falsehood” which was eaten by man. We also see its consequences. Adam and Eve ate bread obtained by falsehood when they took from the fruit of the tree of which God had said to them not to eat of it (Genesis 3:1-1 Kings :; Genesis 2:16-Esther :). The fruit looked very attractive and the taste must have been undoubtedly excellent. But how dramatic were the consequences of the eating from that very bread. The truth of this proverb, which is applicable to everything that has been falsely gained, repeats itself daily. Satan is still seeking to tempt people to eat from the bread that he offers, which is always bread obtained by falsehood (Proverbs 9:17).

Verses 18-19

To Deal With War and Slander

If we want a plan to be successful, then we should do it by consultation (Proverbs 20:18). Get consultation first and only then act. That applies especially to consultation with God, but also with other people. Only by wise guidance one can make war (2 Samuel 17:1-2 Chronicles :; 2 Samuel 18:6-Ezra :). First the strategy should be discussed and the goals must be set. It must also be considered whether they have enough men and material, for otherwise another plan has to be made (Luke 14:31-Jonah :).

We can apply this to the warfare to survive in this life. In a spiritual view we live in a war field. Satan is lord and master in the world. He has already been infiltrated in great parts of Christianity. Therefore we should determine our strategy how to resist him. God’s Word therefore offers us the armor (Ephesians 6:10-Job :).

War is a public hostility; slander or gossip is hostility in secret (Proverbs 20:19). Slander is an extremely lethal weapon. It is dangerous to associate with a slanderer or gossiper. When someone ‘entrusts’ you with a secret of someone else, be sure that he will tell another person the secret that you entrust to him. Therefore, do not associate with someone who wants to talk with you about other people, but avoid such a person.

Like the gossiper gossips about others to you, he also does that with others about you. He will always say that you are the only one to whom he entrusts his secret. The less contact you have with a gossiper, the better it is. The warning is that you have to know well whom you entrust your secrets to.

Verses 20-21

To Curse and Pluck Parents

He who curses one of his parents will die in complete darkness (Proverbs 20:20). For such a person “the black darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 1:13). The law says that father and mother are to be honored (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Ephesians 6:1-Leviticus :). When that does not happen, it is already a serious violation of the law. What happens here goes deeper. It is the contrary. Instead of honoring the parents, they are cursed.

Only a heavy judgment can be made about that (Exodus 21:17; Leviticus 20:9; Deuteronomy 27:16; Matthew 15:4-Joshua :). The lamp, the symbol of light and life here, is extinguished in full darkness. The curser not only dies, but ends up in full darkness. All connection with life and light is being broken. He himself ends up in what he wished for his parents.

An inheritance is only given to someone when the testator has died (Proverbs 20:21). It is about an inheritance here, which is gained too soon. That means that it has been gained unlawfully and unrightfully, whereby greed is the motivation. There is no more patience to wait on the time that God determines, but people grab in advance. It fits to the mentality that prevails everywhere today: wanting to have something and wanting to have it NOW.

We find an example of it in the parable of the lost son. He had no patience to wait until his father had died, but asked him for the part of the inheritance to which he was entitled (Luke 15:12). In that way he declared his father prematurely dead. He lost his possessions quickly and ended up with the pigs. It is also possible that one drives his parents out of their inheritance by making their lives unbearable (Proverbs 19:26). Whoever seeks to get an inheritance in an evil unrighteous way, will always find a way to do so. But there “it will not be blessed in the end”.

Verses 22-23

Do Not Repay Evil With Evil

We live in a world where we can expect to be done wrong (Proverbs 20:22). Therefore we are told how to respond to that. We should not take the law into our own hands, but leave vengeance to God. That demands patience and confidence – patience to wait for His time and confidence that He will save.

The righteous must not take vengeance for the evil, because only God has the right to repay the evil in a righteous way and is fully able to do that (Romans 12:19). The work of God here is focused on the positive side. He is seen here as Redeemer and not as Avenger, which He also is. It is not said that the righteous must wait until he will see God’s judgment over his enemies, but until he will be redeemed. That is a great difference in expectation.

A few lessons are more difficult to learn than that of entrusting all of our circumstances to the hand of the Lord, especially when we feel that injustice has been done to us and that we have been abused. David is an example for us in this. Much injustice had been done to him by Saul. Nevertheless he kept on waiting for the LORD for his salvation and did not grab his chance prematurely for his kingship by taking vengeance 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” (1 Peter 2:23).

Proverbs 20:23 repeats slightly other words to Proverbs 20:10. It is very well possible that this happens with a view to the context with the previous verse. Here we are dealing with a warning against taking vengeance on another person by differing weights, in order to repay him or to harm him.

Verses 24-25

The Limits of Man

God’s control over the life of a person lies outside the human perception and understanding (Proverbs 20:24). Because God finally directs everything that happens, no man can be totally sure of how the way that lies before him looks like. It is important that one become aware of that (Jeremiah 10:23; Psalms 37:23).

Man may act like he is lord and master of his own life, while he forgets that he is completely dependent upon God’s support and guidance. Then it is good to consider this proverb. It also applies to the believer who goes the way with the Lord. He too cannot often understand how things ended up in a certain situation just as they have happened. Sometimes he sees that later in his life (Genesis 50:20). Anyway, we will see it when we are with the Lord.

Making a vow rashly (Proverbs 20:25) is an example of forgetting what the wise man has said in the previous verse. Whoever rashly makes a holy vow, is in a trap, because he does not know whether he can fulfill that vow. When he, after he has made the vow, realizes that he cannot or will not fulfill what he has promised, it is too late (Ecclesiastes 5:5; Deuteronomy 23:22-Isaiah :). It is better for one to wait with making the vow until he has carefully considered the consequences of the decision. Because Jephthah acted impulsively, he made a vow lightly which he never would have made if he knew what it meant (Judges 11:30-Matthew :).

Here it is about the oath to declare something to be holy, meaning to devote to the LORD. An example of such an oath is the oath of young men not to marry, because they want to remain sexually pure or to serve the Lord. It is a sanctified oath, but may sometime seem to be a trap, because they have not considered well what God’s Word says about the conditions regarding that (1 Corinthians 7:37).

Verses 26-28

A Wise King Sees Through Man

A wise king purifies his kingdom from the wicked (Proverbs 20:26). He is able to identify evildoers and judge them righteously. He winnows them, so that they will not unify and stand up against him. He also drives the threshing wheel of his cart over them as a punishment (Isaiah 28:27-Hosea :), to thresh them as the chaff, as it were.

Like a king goes through his land to liberate it from the wicked, the LORD goes through the heart of a man to search all its motives (Proverbs 20:27). God has provided every man with a spirit so that he can evaluate his acts and motives. He is the “God of the spirits of all flesh“ (Numbers 16:22). He breathed the spirit into man when He created him (Genesis 2:7). Therefore man has moral, intellectual and spiritual capacities and is he 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 good and bad through his conscience (Romans 2:14-Ezra :). This is explained further in the second line of the verse. The searching of the spirit, the lamp, makes it possible that man knows himself (1 Corinthians 2:11; cf. Job 32:8; Zechariah 12:1). When one’s spiritual life functions well – meaning that it is surrendered to God – and is controlled by His Word, there will be less and less self-deception or indifference regarding righteousness.

“Loyalty and truth” are important characteristics of a king (Proverbs 20:28). A king who shows these characteristics in his government, is protected by that. The people will have no reason to resist against him, but will be willing to subject themselves to his authority. His performance in kindness “upholds his throne”. That is quite different than the thrones in the world that are established by tyranny and oppression.

In their fullness these features are present in Christ. When He will appear as King, they will become fully visible in His kingdom.

Verse 29

Strength as Glory and Gray Hair as Honor

Both “young men” and “old men” have something wonderful. This perception reminds us that there are several honorable mentions in life. For young men it is “their strength” and for old men it is “gray hair”. The gray hair is a symbol for everything that is valuable to the old age. We see dignity, wisdom, honor, experience.

The generations are not put in contrast to each other, as if there is a generation gap. Solomon does not favor the one above the other, but presents each generation of what its strength and glory is. In that way they stand next to each other, each with their own shining. Young men symbolize the strength of the body, vision, energy. Old people are characterized by dignity, wisdom, honor and experience that they have had through the years, which is symbolized by their gray hair. It is important that both generations do not despise one another, but value one another.

Both glories can be visible in a human’s life. A young man who is glorified by power, will be aware that it has been given to him by God and that he is allowed to use it to serve Him and not to honor himself. He will then grow further to become an elder whose gray hair is his glory.

These growth stages are also in the spiritual life. Beside babes in faith in the family of God, young ones and fathers are also spoken about in faith (1 John 2:13-Esther :). Of the young ones in faith, also their power is mentioned as a characteristic. John writes to them that they are “strong” and writes in addition that this is because “the Word of God abides in you and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:14). They have therefore used their glory, their power, well, not to impress others, but to grow spiritually. Such young ones will become fathers in faith.

Verse 30

The Purifying Work of Stripes and Strokes

This verse looks like an advertisement that praises a health product. That product is called ‘physical punishment’. In the ‘information leaflet’ it is also said that the application of it must not happen mildly. The application is important to the spiritual 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, rough and old fashioned and is even being criminalized today in more and more countries. But pain is sending a signal. He who does not feel pain, runs the risk to lose his life. By not giving physical punishment, we switch off the mechanism that can save lives.

Physical experiences (wounds) have, beside that they result in confession and repentance, also an inward purification as a result. Peace enters into the heart. Therefore we should recognize the value of pain.

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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Proverbs 20". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/proverbs-20.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.