Proverbs 20:3

It is an honor for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling.
– Proverbs 20:3

The word for cease means to rest, or sit still. The word for strife means a dispute, or contention. The word for honor means glory and dignity. The first phrase says a noble man will avoid quarreling. Avoiding strife involves control of the tongue as well as anger (Proverbs 14:29; 18:13; 19:11; 25:8-10). The second phrase contrasts the honorable man with the fool, who is looking for strife. The word for meddling means to be obstinate, or to break out in the sense of stirring up strife. The fool delights and specializes in strife, in part due to the lack of restraint he has over his anger (Proverbs 14:17; 18:6).

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Proverbs 20:2

The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion: whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul.
– Proverbs 20:2

This proverb highlights another folly with deadly consequences. The roaring of a lion is a fitting image for the wrath of a king because the lion’s roar is backed up with the ability to kill (Proverbs 16:14-15; 19:12). A king has great power and it is foolish to provoke him. Sinning against your own soul is a figure of speech that refers to death, as in the warning of wisdom (Proverbs 8:36). To carelessly provoke the anger of a king is to put your life at risk.

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Proverbs 20:1

Chapter 20 continues the large set of proverbs called the Proverbs of Solomon, which run from chapter 10 through chapter 22. This set of proverbs has two distinct groups. The first is chapters 10-15, which mainly have an antithetical parallel structure. The second is chapters 16-22, which mainly have a synthetic parallel structure. The proverbs in this chapter cover different themes, such as temperance, human authorities, God’s sovereignty, sluggards, business ethics, etc.

Wine is a mocker; strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.

– Proverbs 20:1

This proverb introduces the subject of self-control, or temperance, which is a theme in latter proverbs (Proverbs 23:20-21, 29-35; 31:4-5). The Bible always condemns drunkenness (Deuteronomy 21:20; Isaiah 5:11-12; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 5:18; 1 Corinthians 6:10). Wisdom warns that drinking to excess leads to poverty (Proverbs 21:17; 23:21), multiplied life and relational problems (Proverbs 23:29-30), and immorality (Romans 13:13). Drunkenness is also often associated with false teaching and idolatrous worship (Isaiah 28:7-8; 56:12; Daniel 5:1-4).

The word for wine refers to fermented drinks made from grapes and such. The word for strong drink refers to fermented drinks made from grains. Wine was typically diluted and not as strong as strong drinks, though both were intoxicating when consumed in excess. The temperate use of such beverages was not forbidden (Deuteronomy 14:22-27), though it was restricted in certain situations (Leviticus 10:8-11; Numbers 6:1-4; Proverbs 31:4). We also have examples of personal choices of abstention, whether temporarily or permanently (Daniel 1:8; 10:2-3; Luke 1:15; Matthew 11:18; 27:34; Romans 14:21).

This proverb focuses on the negative effects of intoxicating drinks when abused. The word for mocker means scoffing, and the word for raging means growling, as in loud and violent. These reflect the actions of those under the influence and are the opposite of the self-control taught by wisdom. The word for deceived means to go astray, or err from the way. To be led astray by wine and strong drink is to be not wise, or a fool.

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Proverbs 19:29

Judgments are prepared for scorners, and stripes for the back of fools.
– Proverbs 19:29

The word for judgments means a sentence, or penalty. The word for stripes means blows, or strokes as with a rod. When instructions, corrections, reproofs, rebukes, and warnings fail to turn a scorner or fool, stripes will be called for (Proverbs 10:13; 18:6). It is the only means of restraining such men (Proverbs 26:3). The warning of inevitable judgment goes out to fools and scorners. They will not go unpunished (Proverbs 19:5, 9). Though punishment of a fool seldom does him good (Proverbs 27:22), it can be corrective for others who see it (Proverbs 19:25).

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Proverbs 19:28

An ungodly witness scorneth judgment: and the mouth of the wicked devoureth iniquity.
– Proverbs 19:28

The word for witness means testimony, or evidence. Proverbs has several warnings or condemnations of a false witness (Proverbs 6:19; 12:17; 14:5; 19:5, 9; 21:28; 25:18). Here it is an ungodly witness, or witness of Belial. He is a thoroughly wicked and deceitful witness. Deliberately twisted testimony scorneth, or mocks, judgment, or justice in the sense of a verdict. The word for devoureth means to swallow, or we would say gulp down. The second phrase pictures the ungodly witness as enjoying and greedily devouring iniquity, or wickedness. It reminds us of how the fool laps up foolishness (Proverbs 15:14).

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Proverbs 19:27

Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge.
– Proverbs 19:27

The wording presents difficulties in this proverb and commentators take it variously. The word for understanding means discipline, or correction. Without any modifiers, the word is positive in Proverbs. It is the good discipline and correction of wisdom. So it is not the instruction that causes to go astray, but rather the refusal to hear and heed instruction that causes to go astray. It is akin to the admonition in Proverbs 14:7. The words of knowledge lay down a good way to go. One must hear the words of knowledge and walk in them (Proverbs 3:18; 4:4, 13; 15:24).

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Proverbs 19:26

He that wasteth his father, and chaseth away his mother, is a son that causeth shame, and bringeth reproach.
– Proverbs 19:26

This proverb presents another specimen of a son who causes shame. Parents have a great responsibility with the “rod and reproof” in training their children in wisdom (Proverbs 29:15; 22:6). However, the son or daughter must receive that correction and instruction and must seek after wisdom (Proverbs 2:1-5). Wise parents may raise foolish children who are sluggards (Proverbs 10:5), despisers (Proverbs 15:20), immoral wretches (Proverbs 29:3), or mockers and cursers (Proverbs 30:11, 17). Here the shameful son is a waster of the family resources (Proverbs 28:24). Having wasted the family substance, the ingrate turns his mother out, or refuses to provide support in old age. The law commanded the honoring of parents, which includes supporting them in old age (Deuteronomy 5:16). Sons who waste their father through foolish selfishness, or who refuses to honor his parents by putting on piety are wicked, shameful, and reproachful sons (Luke 15:11-24; Mark 7:9-13).

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Proverbs 19:25

Smite a scorner, and the simple will beware: and reprove one that hath understanding, and he will understand knowledge.
– Proverbs 19:25

The scorner, the simple, and the man of understanding feature in this proverb. The distinction revolves around how correction is received. The word for scorner means to mock and scoff. Scorning is where the simple will end up if they do not receive correction and instruction (Proverbs 14:18). The word for simple means foolish, or naïve. Proverbs paints the simple as thoughtless and easily led (Proverbs 14:15; 15:21). Reproof alone will seldom correct the simple. They need stronger demonstration (Proverbs 21:11). The word for understanding means to separate mentally, or discern. Wise men have understanding and so instructions and reproofs are more effective and profitable for them (Proverbs 9:9-10; 15:5; 17:10).

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Proverbs 19:24

A slothful man hideth his hand in his bosom, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again.
– Proverbs 19:24

This proverb uses hyperbole to paint the image of the sluggard as being too lazy to even bring food to his mouth with his hand. The word for bosom means a dish and is so used in 2 Kings 21:13. The word for hideth means to conceal, or bury. The picture is of a lazy man with his hand buried in a dish and too lazy to expend the effort to lift the food to his mouth. The proverb highlights how sluggards want something for nothing and how even what they start, they will not finish (Proverbs 12:27). Consequently, the sluggard goes unsatisfied (Proverbs 6:9-11; 10:4; 13:4; 20:4).

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