Proverbs Chapter 20  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Proverbs 20
 
Pro 20:1

“beer.” The Hebrew word is shekar (#07941 שֵׁכָר), and it refers to beer (New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis). The people in the Old Testament could not distil alcohol like we can today, but they could and did drink beer. (There is an excellent article on the subject of beer in the Bible in the September/October 2010 issue of Biblical Archaeological Review magazine).

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Pro 20:2

“wrongs his own soul.” The semantic range of these words allows for the translation that many take: “forfeits his own life.” Sinning, or erring, against ones own soul, especially by angering the king, may involve losing one’s life. Although this verse speaks only of a “king,” it has a very broad application. If we anger those who have authority over us, such as a parent, boss, guard, military commander, etc., we only cause problems for ourselves.

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Pro 20:3

“starts a quarrel.” The Hebrew word is gala (#01566 גָּלַע), and means to ‘break out,” which in this context is to break out into a quarrel or fight, which we can cover just by saying “quarrel.” The verb is imperfect (incomplete action) and in the Hithpael aspect, which is intensive. Thus, in this context, it is not so much that the fool is quick to enter a quarrel that already exists as he is to start one. Thus, Waltke translates this as: “every fool starts a quarrel.” Fools have very little self-control, so they quarrel and fight when they are offended.

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Pro 20:4

“in the proper season.” The Hebrew is more literally, “in winter” (HALOT, and Holladay, Hebrew-English lexicons), although some lexicons say, “harvest time” (Brown, Driver, Briggs), both those meanings would give the wrong impression if translated into English. To us, no one would plow in “winter,” and the grain harvest ended in June but in the biblical culture plowing did not start until the former rains in October. The coming of the rains signaled the start of late fall or early winter, but the ground was so hard from being baked in the sun from April to October that people had to wait for the rain before they could plow, and then they plowed in the rainy season. It would be acceptable, and clarify the meaning for modern readers, to add some italics to the verse and say: “in the proper season, when it rains.” If a man was so lazy he would not plow in the rainy season, he would have no food at harvest. See commentary on Prov. 6:6, “lazy one.”

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Pro 20:5(top)
Pro 20:6(top)
Pro 20:7(top)
Pro 20:8(top)
Pro 20:9(top)
Pro 20:10

“Unequal weights and unequal measures.” Unscrupulous merchants often kept stones of different weight in their bag or had measuring cups of slightly different sizes that only they could easily tell apart so that they bought a lot and sold a little. But that kind of dishonest dealing is an abomination to Yahweh (Lev. 19:35; Deut. 25:13-16). [For more on trading using honest balances, see commentary on Prov. 11:1].

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Pro 20:11(top)
Pro 20:12(top)
Pro 20:13(top)
Pro 20:14(top)
Pro 20:15

“gems.” The Hebrew is actually “coral.” For a better understanding of the translation “gems,” see commentary on Proverbs 31:10.

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Pro 20:16

Guaranteeing a loan for another person who cannot afford to guarantee the loan himself is so risky that it is like the loan has been defaulted already. Thus, if a person guarantees a loan, often using his overcoat as security, the person who gave the loan should just take the coat at the start.

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Pro 20:17(top)
Pro 20:18(top)
Pro 20:19

“opens.” The Hebrew word can refer to opening, or also to being simple or foolish. Understood that way, the proverb is saying to be careful around people who are foolish in their speech. There are many people who are foolish and uncaring in what they say, and the wise person is careful in what they say and how they act around such people.

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Pro 20:20(top)
Pro 20:21(top)
Pro 20:22(top)
Pro 20:23

“Unequal weights .” Unscrupulous merchants often kept stones of different weight in their bag that only they could easily tell apart so that they bought a lot and sold a little. But that kind of dishonest dealing is an abomination to Yahweh (Lev. 19:35; Deut. 25:13-16). [For more on trading using honest balances, see commentary on Prov. 11:1].

“are not good.” This is the figure of speech, tapeinosis, “understatement.” False scales are not just “not good,” like unequal weights they are an abomination to God.

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Pro 20:24

“The steps of a man come from Yahweh; how then can a man discern his road?” This verse is not saying God controls what we do. It is saying that in every person’s life there will be many points of decision, and God directs us to places or puts us in situations where we can be most effective for Him. The godly person recognizes the hand of God on his life and willingly decides to follow the paths the Lord opens before him. As we walk with God, we find ourselves in many situations that we could not or would not have planned for. In that sense, we cannot understand the “way,” the road, God lays out for us. It develops as we walk it. [For a better understanding of this proverb and why it is worded the way it is, see commentaries on Prov. 16:1 and Prov. 16:9].

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Pro 20:25

“inquire about it.” The Hebrew here shows that after making his vows, the man inquires about them, that is, he asks himself and perhaps others about them, and then reconsiders his vows. From God’s perspective, vows are to be made in all seriousness after careful consideration. They are not to be made hastily and then simply undone if they are somehow inconvenient.

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Pro 20:26

“A wise king scatters the wicked; and he rolls the threshing wheel over them.” Anyone who lived in the culture of the Old Testament would realize at once that grain was harvested and gathered, then it was threshed, then it was winnowed (which involved scattering), so this verse at first glance could be thought to be backward, but that is not the case at all. Instead, there is a very profound meaning in the verse.

In the culture of the times, at harvest the grain was cut, and then placed in huge piles on the threshing-floor. Then a threshing instrument was applied to the grain so that the heads of grain were separated from the stalk. The threshing instrument could be as simple as a stick that pounded the grain, or an animal could be led back and forth over the grain (hence the saying, “Do not muzzle the ox that treads out the grain”), or a “threshing sled” or cart could be dragged or rolled over the grain. Once the grain was threshed and separated from the stalks, the mixed piles of stalks and grain were winnowed during a light wind. The winnowing was done by throwing the mixture of stalk and grain high into the air. The wind carried the stalks to the side of the threshing floor, and the chaff, the small pieces of broken stalk, even further to the side, but the small round grain fell more straight down.

As the winnowing was done over and over, eventually only mostly grain would be left, which then had to be sifted in a grain sieve. That would normally end the process, and the grain would be ground for flour. But in this proverb, the wicked are compared to grain that the king winnows (implying he has already threshed it), but the king is not satisfied. He believes there is still some wickedness left in his kingdom and brings the threshing wheel over them again. That the threshing wheel “returns” over the wicked is not well understood, or well represented in most versions, which makes the verse confusing and backward. The point of the parable is that wise rulers (and thus also wise people) make sure that wicked people are removed from their kingdom, their business, or whatever they are doing, and that means going over and over the people present to weed out evil.

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Pro 20:27(top)
Pro 20:28(top)
Pro 20:29(top)
Pro 20:30(top)
  

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