Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler,
And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.
Those who get drunk will do rash and foolish things because of impaired judgment. Likely, harm will result, both to them and to others. Drunkenness is forbidden according to the Scripture (Ephesians 5:18), for we should rather be filled with the Spirit and totally under His control rather than under the control of alcohol.
2 The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion;
He who provokes him to anger forfeits his own life.
It is unwise to provoke a person in authority to anger with you. It is a different matter altogether if the powers that be are angry over a humble but bold testimony for Christ. That is a predicament that is actually a blessing because of the honor of suffering for Christ. But to just do foolish things to get those in authority angry or irritated with you is dangerous and stupid.
3 Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man,
But any fool will quarrel.
Being a peacemaker is to be the goal of the believer. We are to do all that we can to live peaceably with all people, and we are to pursue peace and sanctification, without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). Peace is a fruit of the Spirit, but those who are ruled by a different spirit, that of the devil himself, will desire fighting, war, destruction, hatred, and strife. Fools like to quarrel, but wise men like to be at peace.
4 The sluggard does not plow after the autumn,
So he begs during the harvest and has nothing.
There is no harvest without first plowing the fields, sowing seeds, and ensuring adequate fertilization and water. A sluggard doesn’t do the work required to reap a harvest, but the wise person will enjoy the fruit of his labor. Spiritually, we will reap according to what we sow (Galatians 6:9), and we need to always be mindful of that reality. Laziness is not becoming of a believer in Christ who fears God and values the eternal weight of glory.
5 A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water,
But a man of understanding draws it out.
It is easy for people to become professionals at hiding their true thoughts, feelings, and desires. A person of understanding because of his love and care for another person will seek to get to know the real them, the person that they keep hidden back from most others. A person who loves allows others to feel accepted for who they are and to be free to share what they are passionate about. Wisdom, though, also goes one step further, to encourage others to be sure that their plans and desires align with the Scripture. To fail to do this is to reject truth and thus dishonor Christ, which is not loving in the least. True love is full of grace and truth (John 1:14), just as Christ Himself was.
6 Many a man proclaims his own loyalty,
But who can find a trustworthy man?
Many people consider themselves to be loyal and trustworthy, but the reality is that people of integrity are rare and hard to find. Many will destroy a friendship or relationship for money or for some selfish gain. A wise person values honesty and truthfulness, and he sees that lies will only destroy him and harm those he loves. In a world where not much is really what it seems because of the abundance of lies and trickery, it is a great privilege to find others who value honesty and humility and who tremble before the Word.
7 A righteous man who walks in his integrity—
How blessed are his sons after him.
Being a godly parent is more than just teaching the truths of the Lord to one’s children. That is a critically important element of parenting, but it is also vitally important that truth is lived out in godly testimony. Paul said to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). A godly parent teaches the truth and then models it before his children. This is a great blessing to children, to have a parent with integrity and a godly model to follow after. Giving children wisdom from early on, the protection of walking in obedience, and the opportunity to see Christianity modeled in integrity has incredible value in this life and in eternity.
8 A king who sits on the throne of justice
Disperses all evil with his eyes.
A king who rules justly and with authority and who is faithful to punish evil curtails the spread and propagation of evil just with the look of his eyes. Criminals enjoy having a justice system that can be bought or that is afraid of punishing them, but when justice is sure to be meted out, crime is less prevalent.
9 Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart,
I am pure from my sin”?
All people have broken the commands of God, and all people have fallen short of His holy standards (Romans 3:23). All people need a Savior in Jesus Christ, for He alone can cleanse their hearts and make them pure from their sin. His forgiveness is the only hope man has. Even believers need continuous and ongoing sanctification as God continues to teach them more about Himself and His ways. As God reveals sin to believers, some that they didn’t even realize they were holding on to, they must confess it before Him and know that He is faithful and just to forgive it (1 John 1:9). “Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12).
10 Differing weights and differing measures,
Both of them are abominable to the Lord.
God knows that stealing and lying come in various forms, and using misleading measures of payment is one of them. Not giving people what they paid for and stealing money from them with false weights and measures is a great wickedness before God. (see also v. 23)
11 It is by his deeds that a lad distinguishes himself
If his conduct is pure and right.
Many people boast in their righteousness, and many people even profess to love Jesus. But what truly distinguishes a person is their fruit (James 2:26), for we can know the difference between a good tree and a bad tree by the nature of the fruit (Matthew 7:20). Words and deeds that are pure and right and which come to define a person’s life and testimony is a strong reason to believe that their profession in Christ is genuine. Even young people can have a powerful testimony if they choose by faith to live obediently before Christ.
12 The hearing ear and the seeing eye,
The Lord has made both of them.
It is wise to remember that the instruments of our bodies such as the eyes we see with and the ears we hear with are made by God and given to us by God. Thus, we should present our bodies as instruments of righteousness (Romans 6:13) for God’s use to His glory rather than for sinful pleasures. He wants us to use the abilities and talents that He has given us for good works rather than for unjust gain. Our very bodies ought to remind us every day that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psalm 139:14), for even our eyes and ears testify to His glory and creative genius.
13 Do not love sleep, or you will become poor;
Open your eyes, and you will be satisfied with food.
Getting a good night of sleep is a healthy thing, but those who prefer to stay in bed all day and not work can expect to suffer poverty, need, and hunger. Work makes a person hungry, and it makes food more satisfying when eaten.
14 “Bad, bad,” says the buyer,
But when he goes his way, then he boasts.
A buyer tries to negotiate the best price on a good or service by pretending that he is not that interested or that he is not that impressed with what he is thinking of buying. But once he gets the price that he seeks, he goes on his way proud of himself and boasting for the deal that he worked for himself. There is an aspect of shrewdness that is acceptable to have in business dealings, but Christians need to be careful that they don’t cross the line into telling lies.
15 There is gold, and an abundance of jewels;
But the lips of knowledge are a more precious thing.
Possessing wisdom in Jesus Christ and being transformed by that wisdom and sharing that wisdom with others is more prized, precious, and valuable than all the world’s gold and jewels. It has great eternal value, whereas money is not eternal.
16 Take his garment when he becomes surety for a stranger;
And for foreigners, hold him in pledge.
Being a co-signer or mutually responsible for a person’s financial well-being is a dangerous undertaking, and several times Solomon advises people to get out from that kind of legal and contractual obligation. A person who becomes entirely liable for another person’s debts and misfortunes puts his entire life, prosperity, and even perhaps his freedom in jeopardy. (see also Proverbs 6:1-5, 11:15, 17:18, 22:26-27)
17 Bread obtained by falsehood is sweet to a man,
But afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.
Some people make a living by tricking people into getting things that they don’t need, by lying, and by a wide range of deceptive business practices. They might enjoy their easy money now, but they will destroy their reputation and cause great harm to come to others and possibly even to themselves. Certainly, in eternity, they will see that their shortcuts in life were not worth it.
18 Prepare plans by consultation,
And make war by wise guidance.
It is not wise to hurry into actions without strategizing, planning, thinking, and problem-solving (Isaiah 32:8, Proverbs 19:2). It is wise to analyze things from every angle before making a quick decision that could cause grave danger and great damage to come. A general that goes to war without a battle plan is putting his soldiers and his country at great risk. Similarly, as believers seek to advance the kingdom of God through the proclamation of the gospel, it is wise to become familiar with it and to be prepared ahead of time so that one is able to speak clearly and boldly.
19 He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets,
Therefore do not associate with a gossip.
Gossips are not good people to associate with because they are not trustworthy. A deep meaningful relationship cannot happen with a gossip because things said in confidence will be spread to others. It is not an enjoyable, encouraging, or edifying experience to constantly have to filter and guard one’s words because the person we are speaking with is not safe to talk to.
20 He who curses his father or his mother,
His lamp will go out in time of darkness.
Those who hate their parents even if they are despicable people do not follow the example of Christ. He loved even those who sentenced Him to the cross and even those who drove the nails in. We should always hate sin but not the sinner, and people who are driven by hate and bitterness are not wise. The end of those who do not love, since love is a mark of true believers (John 13:34-35), is weeping and gnashing of teeth in hell.
21 An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning
Will not be blessed in the end.
Those who seek their inheritance in advance as the prodigal son did typically do so because they have spite toward their parents and because they want money to spend on their sinful lusts. This is obviously not honoring to God. Neither is it honoring to God to become consumed with making money and being constantly preoccupied with wealth. Those who hurry after wealth will end up sacrificing their relationship with God and others. There is nothing wrong with hard work and honest labor, but there is a balance that should be sought. The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil (1 Timothy 6:10), but keeping God first and foremost in the heart will always lead to eternal blessing and a fruitful life. “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves abundance with its income. This too is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
22 Do not say, “I will repay evil”;
Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.
Vengeance is to be left in the hands of the Lord because He will repay (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19, Hebrews 10:30). The justice system should be used to punish evil, of course, but sometimes the justice system gets it wrong or does not have enough evidence to convict. Fortunately, God sees all, and He will be sure that sin is punished. Thus, rather than becoming consumed by hate and a desire for revenge, a person can forgive and move on with his life, trusting God to deal with the sin of others. There is great freedom in this approach, for revenge does not free the soul. Rather, it enslaves it, even after one’s personal vendetta is carried out. Forgiveness and turning things over to God is the only path to life, hope, and joy.
23 Differing weights are an abomination to the Lord,
And a false scale is not good.
Solomon again hits on the theme of dishonest business dealing and theft (see also v. 10). Obviously, the love of money leads to all sorts of evil, and Solomon wants people to be aware of that fact before it is too late to do anything about their eternal destiny.
24 Man’s steps are ordained by the Lord,
How then can man understand his way?
Walking by faith rather than by sight means trusting God that He is indeed good, faithful, and in charge of all that He allows to happen in our lives. We must surrender to His will, seek His guidance, and conform our lives to His Word, trusting that He will cause all things to work for our good. Faith is what brings peace, not seeking to understand every move that God makes (Philippians 4:7). God is on the throne, and we are not. But He cares about us, and that should give us reason to hope that the most powerful Being in the universe is on our side, fighting for us and empowering our hearts to obey. Some things in life won’t make much sense as they unfold, but as we look back on our lives, we will see the legacy of goodness and mercy that God has left in our lives (Psalm 23:6). His way is always kindest, wisest, and best. When we lack wisdom, He does not, and He will give us the insight that we need to have to take the steps of faith that we need to take. However, total understanding belongs to God alone (Deuteronomy 29:29). (see also Proverbs 16:9)
25 It is a trap for a man to say rashly, “It is holy!”
And after the vows to make inquiry.
In the Old Testament, there was a practice of declaring something sacred as a gift to God. The idea in this verse is that people needed to understand what they were doing and why and not make a promise to God rashly. After making the vow, it was too late to go back on the commitment, unless one wanted to break his word before God. Thus, Solomon’s admonition is to think through what one was dedicating to God before doing it so as to have understanding of the process, to be able to worship God in the giving, and to not have to be concerned about breaking a promise to God. It would be better to not promise anything at all than to promise and go back on the promise. Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 says, “When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Do not let your speech cause you to sin and do not say in the presence of the messenger of God that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry on account of your voice and destroy the work of your hands?” (see also Numbers 30:2, Deuteronomy 23:21-23, Psalm 50:14). Obedience is always more pleasing to God than sacrifice and empty religious acts with no understanding. Proverbs 21:3 says, “To do righteousness and justice Is desired by the LORD more than sacrifice.”
26 A wise king winnows the wicked,
And drives the threshing wheel over them.
A wise king discerns good from evil, and he punishes the wicked justly so that they cannot oppress the righteous. Criminals are not allowed to bribe the system or pervert justice when a righteous king is in charge. The innocent and good rejoice in a fair king that loves justice and honor.
27 The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord,
Searching all the innermost parts of his being.
The Lord has set eternity in the hearts of men by putting something in their inner being that knows that they are more than just a cosmic accident or mixed batch of chemical compounds (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Man has an innate realization of God, His ordinances, and His judgment (Romans 1:19-21, 32). As man’s mind encounters the Scripture, his heart is cut to the core to expose the lies (Hebrews 4:12). His conscience either condemns him or confirms to him that he should have confidence in the day of judgment (1 John 3:19-21). Man is hard-wired to have to work through spiritual matters, and thus he is accountable to do so even if he has so defiled his conscience that he no longer believes it even exists.
28 Loyalty and truth preserve the king,
And he upholds his throne by righteousness.
A king that wants to rule long and well is best served by being fair and loyal and upholding truth and righteousness. Those who have a biased or selfish agenda or who have been bought and paid for will not be able to rule with impartiality. Those who are more interested in their position than in doing right will do anything to keep their position of power, even if it means hurting people or giving an advantage to the well-connected at the expense of those who are not. A king’s credibility is wasted if he does not have principles, and people who have any sense do not respect a person who has no values but who changes his view based on popular trends or convenient “truths.”
29 The glory of young men is their strength,
And the honor of old men is their gray hair.
In youth is when people typically have the most energy, and thus it really helps to have wisdom while still being young since much can be accomplished for the kingdom. Old men can encourage and edify others with their wisdom and the things that God has taught them over the years. Both are responsible before God to use their opportunities and what God has given them to advance the kingdom.
30 Stripes that wound scour away evil,
And strokes reach the innermost parts.
Sometimes the devastation of sin can help wake a person up to start seeking out something more in Christ (Luke 15:15-17). The discipline of Christ for His children teaches them how to walk in truth, and it keeps them from harming themselves (Hebrews 12:9-11). When believers who continue in sin and harden themselves are turned over to Satan for the destruction of their flesh, they may come to see the error of their ways (1 Corinthians 5:5). Hardship and divine discipline can help mold the heart and soul to seek out what is true and what really matters (Lamentations 3:27-33). Wise people are teachable, and they listen to instruction and respond humbly to discipline (James 1:2-4, Romans 5:3-5). They allow the Potter to mold the clay of their hearts (Jeremiah 18:6).