Text: Proverbs 20:1-30


(Proverbs 20:1-3)

Alcoholic drinks loosen the tongue and loosens control on you emotions (Hosea 7:5-6). It is never wise to get intoxicated, and those who are intoxicated think and act foolishly.

You should not make another person angry who has the power to do something about it, such as a ruler (Proverbs 16:14; 19:12). Rulers should be feared and not annoyed. You could be putting your life at risk.

It is easy to start an argument, any fool can do it and it is a sign of dishonor, but honor is shown by those who are wise enough to stop them (Proverbs 17:14; 18:6; James 3:17-18).


(Proverbs 20:4)

After the harvest, the soil of a field should be turned over. It buries the leftovers of the last year’s crop, which enriches the soil and it cuts down on the spread of diseases. The lazy don't put in effort in advance, always finding some excuse to delay. As a result they are surprised when they have nothing when they have a need (Proverbs 10:4-5; 13:4; 19:15).

Seeing the Hidden Person

(Proverbs 20:5-9)

Most people keep their thoughts to themselves, but a man of understanding (logic, reasoning) is able to conclude what is typically hidden. The understanding man is able to look at the facts of what happens and see the patterns that hint at the motives behind the events. Such men often know just the right question to ask to draw the hidden thoughts to the surface. See Matthew 7:15-20 where Christ says we can discover the false teacher by paying attention to the results of what they do. A similar proverb is Proverbs 18:4. 

Many people will declare that they are loyal, but a claim doesn’t establish truth. It is much harder to find someone who is truly trustworthy. The rhetorical question invites an answer of “no one,” but that in turn sets up a hyperbole to emphasize how few people are truly loyal. This emphasizes the point in Proverbs 20:5. We can’t just go by the surface of what we see in a person.

Righteous people live lives in accordance to the standard of their integrity. They don’t make emotional decisions, but consider what is right or wrong. It not only affects their own lives, it lives on to impact the lives of their descendants (Proverbs 13:22). This becomes the answer to the question raised in the verse before.

Kings served as the final arbiter of justice in older societies (I Kings 10:9). Solomon uses the imagery of winnowing out the chaff from the grain to say that a king’s job is to winnow out evil by his personal vigilance (Psalms 1:4; Proverbs 16:10).

A rhetorical question is asked: Who can claim they have cleansed themselves from sin and so are pure? The implied answer is: No one (I Kings 8:46; Job 15:14; Ecclesiastes 7:20; I John 1:8,10). Yet, people often act as if they believe this of themselves (Proverbs 16:2). Cleansing can only come from God (I Corinthians 4:4; I John 1:7,9), and even then, we can only say that we are improving but not yet perfected. It is important when making judgments to remember that everyone has flaws, including ourselves (Matthew 7:1-5).


(Proverbs 20:10-17)

Dishonesty in buying and selling by using different weights or measures is something the Lord finds as disgusting (Deuteronomy 25:13-16; Proverbs 11:1; 16:10). The dishonest merchant is trying to hide his intent.

You can even tell what kind of person a child will grow up to be like by observing what he does. Our choices and our actions tell a lot more about who we are than we realize (Matthew 7:15-20).

God made your ears and eyes, so what are you doing with them? Are you using them to listen to evil or to look at sinful things? That would not be a proper use of His gifts. Since God made the ears and eyes, why do men think that God doesn't know or see the things they do in secret? See Psalms 94:9.

Proverbs 20:8-12 forms a chiasm:

A king who sits on the throne of justice
Disperses all evil with his eyes.
            Who can say, "I have cleansed my heart,
            I am pure from my sin"?
                        Differing weights and differing measures,
                        Both of them are abominable to the LORD.
            It is by his deeds that a lad distinguishes himself
            If his conduct is pure and right.
The hearing ear and the seeing eye,
The LORD has made both of them.

Here is a reminder to people that the king’s power does not come from himself alone. It is God who makes him able to hear and see in order to dispense justice. In a similar way, no one can claim that he alone can purify himself from sin. God demands that we change our actions to those which are righteous (Ezekiel 18:20-32) and it is by our deeds we are judged in the end (Romans 2:5). The central point is one that has been repeated often: a righteous merchant is an honest dealer. Both the king and God will judge his actions.

Loving to sleep and do nothing will lead to poverty (Proverbs 6:6-11). It is by being watchful and alert that a person finds contentment (Proverbs 10:4; 20:4).

Proverbs 20:14 is a warning to pay attention to the motivation of the person talking. A person wanting to buy will talk down a product so he can get a bigger bargain. But once he owns it, he changes and talks about what a great purchase he made. To expand this, when someone is bad mouthing something or someone, ask yourself "why?" There is often a motive of personal profit behind the words.

Words of knowledge are both valuable and rare. In comparison, gold and jewels are cheap, common items (Proverbs 3:15; 8:11).

We already talked about the fact that someone who is willing to guarantee a loan or work of someone they don't know is really dumb. Thus, if someone wants to borrow from you, and you know they have been acting without thought by making guarantees, you better have a strong hold over this person, or you won't see your money again. A person's outer garment is his most personal and valuable possession. Back in these days, clothing was extremely expensive. It would cost you half a year or more wages to buy a new set of clothes. And if a guy wants to borrow money from you to do something sinful, such as to pay a prostitute (literally, “foreigners” in the Hebrew), well, you're not going to get your money back unless the person is strongly motivated to get his personal belonging back. Therefore, what Solomon is saying is that there are two types of people who are horrible financial risks: the careless person and the lover of personal pleasures. Solomon is not recommending loaning such people money, he is strongly advising that you don't do it. When someone asks to borrow money because they are going partying that weekend, the answer is "no."

For a moment it seems pleasant to gain something by lying, but it leaves the unpleasant feelings of guilt afterwards.

For discussion:

  1. How are each example in Proverbs 20:10-17 a form of lying?
  2. Compare Proverbs 20:16 to Matthew 5:38-42 and Luke 6:29-32. How do these passages fit together?


(Proverbs 20:18-22)

Plans need to be made in conjunction with advice from others (Proverbs 11:14; 15:22). No one can think of everything (Luke 14:26-35). And in the execution of those plans, you need wise people to direct you because something always goes wrong and correction will be needed. All this is particularly true in a matter like war where people’s lives are in jeopardy.

A person aiming to destroy another person’s reputation will use every piece of information he has against the other person. If you have gossips among your friends, be certain that any secret you’ve mentioned is going to get out. “Gossip” translates a Hebrew phrase that literally says, “simple with regards to his lips;” thus, a person too inexperienced to know when to keep his mouth shut.

A person, who has no respect for his parent’s authority, will find himself ruined or dead at a time when he most needed his parents’ wisdom (Proverbs 13:9; Job 18:5-6; 21:17). The lamp in this case would be the parents’ guidance. Disrespect of parents was seen as a characteristic of a dangerous person (Exodus 21:17). Another way of reading the second line of Proverbs 20:20 is that he will die and no one will remember him, as his influence (his lamp) is removed.

A quick inheritance is not the blessing it might appear to be. Then person is younger and more inexperienced, so he is less likely to retain his inheritance. An example would be the parable of Jesus regarding the prodigal son. The younger son asked for his inheritance before his father even died. The point is that when a person suddenly comes into wealth, not because of hard earning, but because of chance, it won't work out well in the end. A person who gains without working doesn't know how to retain what he has. We have a saying, "Easy come, easy go."

Proverbs 20:22 is a warning not to take personal vengeance. You are involved, so you don't see things logically and fairly. So let the Lord handle the problems. And yes, implied is that you take your problems to God to be handled. But don't get impatient and think you have to do something because God isn't. God acts when the time is best, not when we think it should be done. A good example is David’s ignoring Shimei’s cursing (II Samuel 16:5-13). Notice that the promise is that God will save you from the problems, not that He will necessarily inflict punishment on the evil right then and there.

For discussion:

  1. How do Proverbs 20:18-19 relate to each other?


(Proverbs 20:23-25)

Dishonesty in business transactions is disgusting to God. To say it is not good indicates that dishonesty in business is also not good for the merchant. This has been mentioned before in Proverbs 11:1 and 20:10, and is a topic of discussion in Deuteronomy 25:13-16; Ezekiel 45:9-12; Amos 8:4-7; Micah 6:10-13. Clearly this was a major problem.

God, through His providence directs our lives, yet He doesn't tell us what He has planned. Since no man knows what God is thinking, it would be arrogant of anyone to think he knows all that is going on in his life and where his life is going (Jeremiah 10:23). This verse does not say God is dictating every little event in our lives, but it does say the overall course of each person's lives is according to God's plans (Psalms 25:4,12). The fact that we can't always know what God has planned for us is the point of this verse. Thus, when a person thinks he knows how his life will play out, he is being dishonest with himself. See also Proverbs 16:9.

To declare something as holy is to sacrifice it to God (Leviticus 27:9). Therefore, it is dangerous to impulsively give something to God and then think about the implications later. Either you will have to admit that you made a false vow, which is a sin, or you will end up keeping your vow to your own hurt (Deuteronomy 23:21; Ecclesiastes 5:4-6).


(Proverbs 20:26-30)

An allusion to the harvesting of wheat is being used, where wheat is first crushed to get the berries separated from the chaff and then sifted in the wind to separate the good from the worthless (Isaiah 28:27-28). The proverb actually mentions winnowing before threshing, which is physically impossible. It is likely presented backwards to capture the reader’s attention. A wise king separates the evil from the good and scatters the evil (Proverbs 20:8; Psalm 101:3-5, 7-8); that is the purpose of government (Romans 13:3-4).

It is the spirit of man, which the Lord gave each of us, that defines who we are. We are not machines, our DNA doesn't define us. Only a man's spirit really knows who he is (I Corinthians 2:11). A lamp is also a guide (Psalms 119:105); thus, the spirit of a man serves as his conscience, looking into his innermost thought (Romans 2:15). The purpose of our conscience is to keep us on the right path.

“Mercy and truth” is a phrase that refers to a covenant (Psalms 25:10). The security of a king and his government depends on his upholding the law, which at its foundation are the hard facts of truth and the gentleness of mercy (Psalms 61:5-8). Imagine the chaos that would develop if laws were changed arbitrarily or held so strictly that there was no kindness.

What makes a young man attractive is his strength. What makes an old man attractive is his age, which implies wisdom from experience (Proverbs 16:31; Leviticus 19:32). There is a dependence between the two; each needs the other. There should be no envy or disrespect between the two groups (Proverbs 17:6; I John 2:14).

We spend too much time avoiding hardship, never realizing that hardships force us to choose and to face ourselves. Think about the prodigal son. What made him give up his wild living and come back to his father? It was his hardship. Parents need to understand this lesson. You can't rescue a child from their mistakes. They need to face the consequences of what they have done and experience the hardship their choices cause in order to grow up. As an example, about the only way to rescue a drug addict is to let them face the misery of the life drugs give them. It is hard. You weep for the person, but "blows that hurt cleanse away evil." There are times when severe punishment is needed to drive a person away from evil and to affect a deep, permanent change in a person (Proverbs 19:29). When someone does bad, they need bad consequences (Ecclesiastes 8:11). The reason change sometimes doesn’t happen is because we are reluctant to cause hurt (Hebrews 12:5-13; I Corinthians 5:1-5).

For discussion:

  1. Why is it unwise not to remove evil from a society?
  2. Why is truth important to the stability of a government?
  3. Why is mercy important to the stability of a government?