Proverbs 22:20

Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge,
– Proverbs 22:20

The word for excellent things has been subjected to various difficult interpretations. It is variously translated as captain, lord, instrument of musick, great measure, measure, prince, and excellent things in this proverb. The word means a triple, or at least carries the idea of three in its range, which is why some take the word to indicate the number thirty. There are also extra-biblical incentives to take the word to mean thirty. However, trying to make this collection of proverbs fit the scheme of Thirty Sayings seems a stretch.

The word has a musical application, a military application, and an application to measurement—third part. Kidner suggested “chief proverbs.” I liked Toy’s summary conclusion in his commentary on verses 17-21, “Notwithstanding the difficulties of the text, the general thought of the paragraph is plain : the pupil is to devote himself to study, in order that his religious life may be firmly established, and that he may be able to give wise counsel to those who seek advice.” 1

So what do we do with this word? Verses 17-21 form an introductory paragraph to this collection of proverbs. It’s notable the word is coupled with written, since the transmission of proverbs referred to in the book is primarily oral. We can at least assume excellent things refers to a deliberate and orderly arrangement of the proverbs written. This would be similar in sense to the statement at the conclusion of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 12:9-14).

The word for counsels means plans and the word for knowledge means understanding, or skill. The purpose of the proverbs in this collection is to enable the learner to make intelligent plans. In other words, wisdom equips the learner to know what to do.

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series


  1. Toy, Crawford Howell. A critical and exegetical commentary on the Book of Proverbs (Kindle Locations 9157-9160). Kindle Edition.

Proverbs 22:19

That thy trust may be in the LORD, I have made known to thee this day, even to thee.
– Proverbs 22:19

This verse continues the benefits of the humble commitment to acquire wisdom. Growing in wisdom means a deepening trust in the Lord God. This gives us a view of the true nature of wisdom. Wisdom is not to grow our heads so we trust in our own intelligence. Acquiring true wisdom will mean fearing the Lord, forsaking your own inclinations, and faithfully clinging to him (Proverbs 3:5-7).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 22:18

For it is a pleasant thing if thou keep them within thee; they shall withal be fitted in thy lips.
– Proverbs 22:18

Verse 18 continues from the previous with blessings for bending your ear, listening to wise sayings, and committing to understanding. A pleasant thing kept within refers to a store, or treasure of delightful wisdom (Proverbs 2:10; 3:17; 24:13-14). The word for fitted means set up, or established. This doesn’t refer to recitation of maxims, but rather acquiring wisdom that means discernment, and appropriate and timely applications of understanding. Acquiring wisdom is not merely about expanding our mental faculties, but about gaining understanding and speaking wisdom to others (Proverbs 10:13, 21; 15:7; 16:21; 25:11). This is the cycle of wisdom. If you listen and keep the words of the wise, you become wise and speak words the simple should attend to (Proverbs 13:20).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 22:17

The next section in Proverbs begins in Proverbs 22:17 and goes through Proverbs 24:34. This section is titled, “The Words of the Wise,” per 22:17. Solomon did not write these proverbs but rather collected them as wise sayings from his predecessors. The collection has over 70 proverbs that are typically two to three verses in length, and do not follow the two-line structure of the Proverbs of Solomon. The collection features three sections—22:17-21; 22:22-24:22; 24:23-34—touching on various wisdom themes common to Proverbs. The first section is a short introductory section, calling for attention to wisdom and enumerating blessings of wisdom that treasures up wisdom, deepens trust in the Lord, creates stability in the life, and fits the lips to speak sound wisdom to others.

Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge.
– Proverbs 22:17

The word for bow down means to stretch, or bend. The word for hear means to listen with attention. You must think about what you hear and strive for understanding. The word for apply means to set and the word for heart indicates the mind. The word for knowledge means perception, or understanding. Wisdom continually calls us to listen and exercise all our faculties to understand and retain the words of wisdom (Proverbs 2:1-5; 3:1; 5:1-2; 8:33-34; 23:12). Wisdom teaches effort must be expended and wisdom sought for diligently (Proverbs 2:2-6). The reminiscent exhortation to hear gives three imperatives to the prospective learner—bend your ear and listen to “the words of the wise,” and commit your faculties to “my knowledge.” We might also add, expect repetition.

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 22:16

He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.
– Proverbs 22:16

The wording of this proverb is difficult and interpretations vary. The word for oppresseth means to press upon, or defraud. The word refers to extortion of the poor, which can indicate needy and/or weak. Giving to the rich refers to giving gifts, or even bribes. Wisdom warns against the folly and evil of both bribery and extortion (Proverbs 17:23; 22:22-23; 28:3). The end of this way is want, or poverty. This proverb ends the large collection of the Proverbs of Solomon, which form the largest section of this book.

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 22:15

Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.
– Proverbs 22:15

The word for foolishness is common in Proverbs, occurring about 19 times. The word includes the ideas of silliness and stubbornness. Solomon gives the true born-that-way argument. Children come into the world ignorant and obstinate. The heart, or mind, is tied up in foolishness. Wisdom teaches instruction, correction, and chastisement are needed to grow a person in wisdom. How they are progressing in wisdom will be evident in their response to these (Proverbs 1:5, 7, 22, 29-30; 15:5). Chastisement comes through the rod of correction, emphasizing the need for more than just words to drive out folly. Parents must be diligent to instruct, correct, and chastise while their fools are young (Proverbs 13:24; 19:18). To neglect or withhold such correction is a failure to love the child and to reinforce their folly (Proverbs 23:13-14; 29:15). A fool who matures in his folly becomes practically incorrigible (Proverbs 27:22).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 22:14

The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the LORD shall fall therein.
– Proverbs 22:14

Though the strange woman featured often in the fatherly addresses of chapters 1-9, she is scarcely mentioned in the large collection of proverbs that form the bulk of this book. The reference to deep pit means a hazard, or a trap. The reference to the mouth means the danger of listening to her flatteries (Proverbs 2:16; 5:3-4; 6:24; 7:5). The word for abhorred means enraged and refers to the subjects of God’s wrath. They fall in the deep pit as judgment for forsaking the way of the Lord.

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 22:13

The slothful man saith, There is lion without, I shall be slain in the streets.
– Proverbs 22:13

Readers of Proverbs are well acquainted with the sluggard by this point. Despite all counsel and evidence to the contrary, the sluggard thinks he knows best (Proverbs 26:16). Here he justifies not working by the preposterous excuse of a lion in the street. The sluggard seeks the easier, more comfortable, route (Proverbs 20:4). The word for slothful means lazy. He, of course, intends to get to work, but it is always after (Proverbs 6:9-10). He needs just a little more sleep and to give the lions time to clear out.

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Proverbs 22:12

The eyes of the LORD preserve knowledge, and he overthroweth the words of the transgressor.
– Proverbs 22:12

The phrase, eyes of the Lord, is used in Proverbs to refer to God’s sovereign and complete knowledge of the doings of man (Proverbs 5:21; 15:3). God’s omniscient observation is inescapable. The word for preserve means guard, or watch. The word for knowledge means perception, or understanding. The contrast with the second phrase gives us the sense of truth for knowledge. The open, searching eyes of Yahweh sees the doings of man and preserves the truth, or right record, of events. The first phrase hints to Yahweh as judge and the second phrase makes that clear. The word for transgressor means treacherous, or deceitful. Such falsehood will be overthrown, or destroyed, by the truth. The eyes of Yahweh not only see a man’s actions, but his thoughts and intentions in them as well (Proverbs 15:11; 16:2; 17:3; 21:2).

Listen to the Proverbs sermon series

Next Page »