Proverbs 21:6

The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity tossed to and fro of that seek death.
– Proverbs 21:6

The wording of this proverb is difficult and interpretations vary. The first phrase clearly speaks of acquiring wealth through deceit. Such wealth is the ill-gotten gains we frequently speak of from Proverbs (Proverbs 10:2; 13:11; 20:14). The second phrase gives two consequences of profit by deception. Some like fleeting vapor for vanity tossed to and fro. Wealth acquired through ill means does not last, or does not bring the satisfaction sought. The second consequence of ill-gotten gains is to be ensnared by death. This looks more to the judgment to come on the one who lies, cheats, and steals his way to riches.

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Proverbs 20:30

The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil: so do stripes the inward parts of the belly.
– Proverbs 20:30

Foolishness invites physical punishments and often requires them to be delivered from folly (Proverbs 7:22; 10:13; 17:10; 19:29; 26:3). The inward parts of the belly refers to the inner being of man, and especially his conscience. The general tenor of Proverbs is that wisdom is imparted in a progressive way through words, instruction, reproof, the example of the rod, and the experience of the rod. The most obstinate will not receive any of these and turn from folly, and therefore ends in destruction (Proverbs 6:15; 15:10; 29:1). To put the proverb in modern terms: there is always a hard way to learn.

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Proverbs 20:29

The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head.
– Proverbs 20:29

Generations gaps have existed as long as old and young have been on the earth. The law commanded the aged be honored (Leviticus 19:32), and wisdom teaches the gray head is a crown, if it is joined to an upright life (Proverbs 16:31). The word for strength means vigor and it is an adornment for young men. Each age and station in life has its peculiar benefits. The elder are to be an example and teach the younger (Titus 2:1-5), while the younger are to honor the elder, learn from them, and strive to be exemplary (Titus 2:6-8). The gray head also indicates a long life, and so one who has lived long on the earth has gained some wisdom and it should be recognized (Job 32:1-9). The young and the old should complement one another, work together, and learn from one another.

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Proverbs 20:28

Mercy and truth preserve the king: and his throne is upholden by mercy.
– Proverbs 20:28

The word for mercy is the Hebrew word, hesed. The word appears well over 200 times in the Old Testament and has a range of meaning difficult to capture in a single English word. The KJV follows the Septuagint in most often rendering it as mercy, but also sometimes as kindness, lovingkindness, and goodness. Vine’s Dictionary notes three basic meanings inherent in the word: strength, steadfastness, and love. Mounce defined it as, “unfailing love, loyal love, devotion, kindness, often based on a prior relationship, especially a covenant relationship.” The word begins and ends the proverb.

The word for truth means stability, certainty, and also conveys an idea of trustworthy, or faithful. Both are spoken of God in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 25:10) as exemplar, and urged upon kings in their derivative authority. The king is to be a righteous and merciful upholder of justice and by these his throne is established (Proverbs 16:12; 21:7; 29:14). Mercy and truth secure the kingdom and establish the conditions for human flourishing by mirroring the righteous reign of Yahweh (Proverbs 29:2).

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Proverbs 20:27

The spirit of man is the candle of the LORD, searching all the inward parts of the belly.
– Proverbs 20:27

The wording of this proverb is difficult and interpretations vary. The word for candle means to glisten, and so means a lamp or light. The word for belly means hollow, or the abdomen. It can be used more figuratively to speak of the body, or simply the inner parts. The image of the proverb is light searching out the inner parts and hidden recesses by shining light in the dark places. The image corresponds to Proverbs 18:4 & 20:5, where hidden things are understood by wisdom. The “inward parts of the belly” is identified elsewhere as a covert place of evil within, requiring stripes to expunge it (Proverbs 20:30). This proverb complements the other by showing wisdom to be an effective alternative to stripes. A man of understanding fears the Lord, has wisdom, and can see within himself what a fool cannot (Proverbs 3:7; 12:15; 16:2; 21:2; 30:12).

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Proverbs 20:26

A wise king scattereth the wicked, and bringeth the wheel over them.
– Proverbs 20:26

The word for scattereth is the same as in Proverbs 20:8 (see commentary). The term combined with the use of the wheel in the second phrase completes the threshing, winnowing image. The previous proverb highlighted discernment in judgment. The winnowing image had to do with the searching eyes of the king separating the innocent and the guilty. This proverb uses the same imagery, but with two different emphases. Here wicked are not just sorted into proper categories, but rather the wheel is brought over them. So this proverb highlights the execution of just judgment and maintenance of justice by bringing punishment to evildoers.

The second emphasis is the attribution of the king who does this. He is wise. The word for wise means skillful. It was a term used commonly to describe a master craftsman; one who had learned the art and science of his craft and gained the technical expertise to execute a master work. The word was so used to describe the craftsmen who built the tabernacle and its furnishings (Exodus 36:4). The word was also used to describe the work of the craftsmen who fashioned an idol in Isaiah 40:20, where it is translated cunning. The word appears 46 times in Proverbs and refers to one who is skilled in applying the word of God in all areas of life. So a wise king is one skilled in mastery of the art of ruling well and maintaining justice in the fear of the Lord and according to his word.

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Proverbs 20:25

It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy, and after vows to make enquiry.
– Proverbs 20:25

The wording is dark but two words bring light in this proverb. The word for holy means set apart, or consecrated. The word for vow means promise. So the proverb speaks to consecrating things to the Lord by a vow. The word for devoureth can mean to swallow but also in a more figurative way, to open the mouth as in speaking. The word for enquiry means to search out, or consider. The proverb then teaches a man is ensnared who rashly speaks a vow without considering the implications and obligations until afterward. Vows were voluntary by the law, but they were commitments that must be kept (Leviticus 27:1-34). It may be easy for a man to vow and later forget, but God doesn’t forget (Deuteronomy 23:21-23). The law did provide for redemption from vows, but it was costly. Vowing and not keeping the vow was a serious offense against God, and so Solomon warns about making vows rashly here as well as in Ecclesiastes 5:1-7.

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Proverbs 20:24

Man’s goings are of the LORD; how can a man then understand his own way?
– Proverbs 20:24

The word for goings means steps, or way. That his goings are of the Lord means that God ultimately directs the course of his life (Proverbs 16:9). The rhetorical question of the second phrase highlights that man cannot fully comprehend the whole course of his life. He cannot fully discern the twists and turns that attend life, and though he may plan and execute some things that prosper, many other things happen he does not intend or understand (Ecclesiastes 9:11). Contemplation of this without wisdom can lead to despair and fatalism. Wisdom means understanding that one’s life is in the hands of another and gives us incentive to seek good counsel and pursue wisdom (Proverbs 14:8; 20:18; Ecclesiastes 3:14).

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Proverbs 20:22

Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee.
– Proverbs 20:22

The word for recompense means to reciprocate, or to repay. The repaying of evil refers to revenge, or vengeance. The first phrase speaks of getting back, or getting even with someone who has done you evil. It is natural for man to want to give as he gets; to repay evil with evil. On the one hand we have an inherent sense of justice, especially when it comes to wrongs personally suffered. This is a remnant of the imago dei, though being marred by sin that image present in our conscience is flawed (Romans 2:14-15). On the other hand, our pride is offended in personal injury and we want to put ourselves in the place of God to mete out justice as we see fit. Wisdom, of course, teaches a better way.

Proverbs considers this common experience from a few different angles. In Proverbs 17:13, wisdom understands the one who repays evil for good shall reap what he sows. So when we suffer evil for good we have done, we can know the offender will not “get away with it.” Proverbs 24:29 plainly instructs us not to seek vengeance at our own hands. If we consider this proverb with the one before it (Proverbs 24:28), wisdom will not violate law and justice in order to repay one who has done the same to us. Proverbs 25:21 provides an alternative, positive response to being wronged.

Proverbs 20:22 appeals to the sovereignty of God as a wise comfort in suffering wrong. However, this proverb makes the unique contribution in the second line. Wisdom instructs to wait, which means have patience. But it is not to wait for Diving vengeance to fall on our adversary, but rather our own deliverance, or rescue as the word for save means. Rather than take vengeance in our own hands or wait for justice to come from elsewhere, we are to wait on the Lord and trust in him. Jesus exampled this for us (1 Peter 2:23; 4:19), and so Paul found comfort in his many sufferings (2 Timothy 1:12).

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