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Amsal 20:1-15


20:1 Wine 1  is a mocker 2  and strong drink is a brawler;

whoever goes astray by them is not wise. 3 

20:2 The king’s terrifying anger 4  is like the roar of a lion;

whoever provokes him 5  sins against himself. 6 

20:3 It is an honor for a person 7  to cease 8  from strife,

but every fool quarrels. 9 

20:4 The sluggard will not plow 10  during the planting season, 11 

so at harvest time he looks 12  for the crop 13  but has nothing.

20:5 Counsel 14  in a person’s heart 15  is like 16  deep water, 17 

but an understanding person 18  draws it out.

20:6 Many people profess their loyalty, 19 

but a faithful person 20  – who can find? 21 

20:7 The righteous person 22  behaves in integrity; 23 

blessed are his children after him. 24 

20:8 A king sitting on the throne to judge 25 

separates out 26  all evil with his eyes. 27 

20:9 Who can say, 28  “I have kept my heart clean; 29 

I am pure 30  from my sin”?

20:10 Diverse weights and diverse measures 31 

the Lord abhors 32  both of them.

20:11 Even a young man 33  is known 34  by his actions,

whether his activity is pure and whether it is right. 35 

20:12 The ear that hears and the eye that sees 36 

the Lord has made them both. 37 

20:13 Do not love sleep, 38  lest you become impoverished;

open your eyes so that 39  you might be satisfied with food. 40 

20:14 “It’s worthless! It’s worthless!” 41  says the buyer, 42 

but when he goes on his way, he boasts. 43 

20:15 There is gold, and an abundance of rubies,

but 44  words of knowledge 45  are like 46  a precious jewel.

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[20:1]  1 sn The drinks are wine and barley beer (e.g., Lev 10:9; Deut 14:26; Isa 28:7). These terms here could be understood as personifications, but better as metonymies for those who drink wine and beer. The inebriated person mocks and brawls.

[20:1]  2 tn The two participles לֵץ (lets, “mocker”) and הֹמֶה (homeh, “brawler”) are substantives; they function as predicates in the sentence. Excessive use of intoxicants excites the drinker to boisterous behavior and aggressive attitudes – it turns them into mockers and brawlers.

[20:1]  3 sn The proverb does not prohibit the use of wine or beer; in fact, strong drink was used at festivals and celebrations. But intoxication was considered out of bounds for a member of the covenant community (e.g., 23:20-21, 29-35; 31:4-7). To be led astray by their use is not wise.

[20:2]  4 tn Heb “the terror of a king” (so ASV, NASB); The term “terror” is a metonymy of effect for cause: the anger of a king that causes terror among the people. The term “king” functions as a possessive genitive: “a king’s anger” (cf. NIV “A king’s wrath”; NLT “The king’s fury”).

[20:2]  5 tn The verb מִתְעַבְּרוֹ (mitabbÿro) is problematic; in the MT the form is the Hitpael participle with a pronominal suffix, which is unusual, for the direct object of this verb usually takes a preposition first: “is angry with.” The LXX rendered it “angers [or, irritates].”

[20:2]  6 sn The expression “sins against himself” has been taken by some to mean “forfeits his life” (so NAB, NASB, NIV, NRSV) or “endangers his life” (cf. NCV, NLT). That may be the implication of getting oneself in trouble with an angry king (cf. TEV “making him angry is suicide”).

[20:3]  7 tn Heb “man.”

[20:3]  8 tn Heb “cessation” (שֶׁבֶת, shevet); NAB “to shun strife”; NRSV “refrain from strife.”

[20:3]  sn One cannot avoid conflict altogether; but the proverb is instructing that at the first sign of conflict the honorable thing to do is to find a way to end it.

[20:3]  9 tn Heb “breaks out.” The Hitpael of the verb גָּלַע (gala’, “to expose; to lay bare”) means “to break out; to disclose oneself,” and so the idea of flaring up in a quarrel is clear. But there are also cognate connections to the idea of “showing the teeth; snarling” and so quarreling viciously.

[20:4]  10 sn The act of plowing is put for the whole process of planting a crop.

[20:4]  11 tn Heb “in the autumn”; ASV “by reason of the winter.” The noun means “autumn, harvest time.” The right time for planting was after the harvest and the rainy season of autumn and winter began.

[20:4]  12 tn The Piel of the verb שָׁאַל (shaal, “to ask”) means “to beg” or “to inquire carefully.” At the harvest time he looks for produce but there is none. The Piel might suggest, however, that because he did not plant, or did not do it at the right time, he is reduced to begging and will have nothing (cf. KJV, ASV; NASB “he begs during the harvest”).

[20:4]  13 tn The phrase “for the crop” does not appear in the Hebrew but is implied; it is supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity.

[20:5]  14 sn The noun means “advice, counsel”; it can have the connotation of planning or making decisions. Those with understanding can sort out plans.

[20:5]  15 tn Heb “in the heart of a man”; NRSV “in the human mind.”

[20:5]  16 tn The comparative “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is implied by the metaphor; it is supplied for the sake of clarity.

[20:5]  17 sn The motives or plans of a person are “difficult to fathom”; it takes someone with understanding to discover and surface them (the verb in the last colon continues the figure with the sense of bringing the plans to the surface and sorting them out).

[20:5]  18 tn Heb “a man of understanding”; TEV “someone with insight”; NLT “the wise.”

[20:6]  19 tn Heb “many a man calls/proclaims a man of his loyal love.” The Syriac and Tg. Prov 20:6 render the verb as passive: “many are called kind.” Other suggestions include: “most men meet people who will do them occasional kindnesses” (RSV); “many men profess friendship” (C. H. Toy, Proverbs [ICC], 384); “many men invite only the one who has shown them kindness.” The simplest interpretation in this context is “many proclaim [themselves to be] a kind person (= a loyal friend).” The contrast is between many who claim to be loyal friends and the one who actually proves to be faithful.

[20:6]  20 tn The shift to the expression “a man of faithfulness[es]” in the second line indicates that of all those who claim to show faithful love, it is rare to find one who is truly reliable (as the word אֱמוּנִים [’emunim] indicates clearly); cf. NAB, NRSV “one worthy of trust.”

[20:6]  21 sn The point of the rhetorical question is that a truly faithful friend is very difficult to find.

[20:7]  22 sn Two terms describe the subject of this proverb: “righteous” and “integrity.” The first describes the person as a member of the covenant community who strives to live according to God’s standards; the second emphasizes that his lifestyle is blameless.

[20:7]  23 tn Heb “walks in his integrity” (so NASB); cf. NIV “leads a blameless life.” The Hitpael participle of הָלַךְ (halakh) means “to walk about; to walk to and fro.” The idiom of walking representing living is intensified here in this stem. This verbal stem is used in scripture to describe people “walking with” God.

[20:7]  24 sn The nature and the actions of parents have an effect on children (e.g., Exod 20:4-6); if the parents are righteous, the children will enjoy a blessing – the respect and the happiness which the parent reflects on them.

[20:8]  25 tn The infinitive construct is דִּין; it indicates purpose, “to judge” (so NIV, NCV) even though it does not have the preposition with it.

[20:8]  26 tn The second line uses the image of winnowing (cf. NIV, NRSV) to state that the king’s judgment removes evil from the realm. The verb form is מִזָרֶה (mÿzareh), the Piel participle. It has been translated “to sift; to winnow; to scatter” and “to separate” – i.e., separate out evil from the land. The text is saying that a just government roots out evil (cf. NAB “dispels all evil”), but few governments have been consistently just.

[20:8]  27 sn The phrase with his eyes indicates that the king will closely examine or look into all the cases that come before him.

[20:9]  28 sn The verse is a rhetorical question; it is affirming that no one can say this because no one is pure and free of sin.

[20:9]  29 tn The verb form זִכִּיתִי (zikkiti) is the Piel perfect of זָכָה (zakhah, “to be clear; to be clean; to be pure”). The verb has the idea of “be clear, justified, acquitted.” In this stem it is causative: “I have made my heart clean” (so NRSV) or “kept my heart pure” (so NIV). This would be claiming that all decisions and motives were faultless.

[20:9]  30 sn The Hebrew verb translated “I am pure” (טָהֵר, taher) is a Levitical term. To claim this purity would be to claim that moral and cultic perfection had been attained and therefore one was acceptable to God in the present condition. Of course, no one can claim this; even if one thought it true, it is impossible to know all that is in the heart as God knows it.

[20:10]  31 tn The construction simply uses repetition to express different kinds of weights and measures: “a stone and a stone, an ephah and an ephah.”

[20:10]  32 tn Heb “an abomination of the Lord.” The phrase features a subjective genitive: “the Lord abhors.”

[20:10]  sn Behind this proverb is the image of the dishonest merchant who has different sets of weights and measures which are used to cheat customers. The Lord hates dishonesty in business transactions.

[20:11]  33 sn In the first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs the Hebrew term נַעַר (naar) referred to an adolescent, a young person whose character was being formed in his early life.

[20:11]  34 sn The Hebrew verb נָכַר (nakhar) means “to recognize” more than simply “to know.” Certain character traits can be recognized in a child by what he does (cf. NCV “by their behavior”).

[20:11]  35 sn Character is demonstrated by actions at any age. But the emphasis of the book of Proverbs would also be that if the young child begins to show such actions, then the parents must try to foster and cultivate them; if not, they must try to develop them through teaching and discipline.

[20:12]  36 sn The first half of the verse refers to two basic senses that the Lord has given to people. C. H. Toy, however, thinks that they represent all the faculties (Proverbs [ICC], 388). But in the book of Proverbs seeing and hearing come to the fore. By usage “hearing” also means obeying (15:31; 25:12), and “seeing” also means perceiving and understanding (Isa 6:9-10).

[20:12]  37 sn The verse not only credits God with making these faculties of hearing and sight and giving them to people, but it also emphasizes their spiritual use in God’s service.

[20:13]  38 sn The proverb uses antithetical parallelism to teach that diligence leads to prosperity. It contrasts loving sleep with opening the eyes, and poverty with satisfaction. Just as “sleep” can be used for slothfulness or laziness, so opening the eyes can represent vigorous, active conduct. The idioms have caught on in modern usage as well – things like “open your eyes” or “asleep on the job.”

[20:13]  39 tn The second line uses two imperatives in a sequence (without the vav [ו]): “open your eyes” and then (or, in order that) you will “be satisfied.”

[20:13]  40 tn Heb “bread” (so KJV, ASV, NRSV), although the term often serves in a generic sense for food in general.

[20:14]  41 tn Heb “[It is] bad, [it is] bad.” Since “bad” can be understood in some modern contexts as a descriptive adjective meaning “good,” the translation uses “worthless” instead – the real point of the prospective buyer’s exclamation.

[20:14]  42 sn This proverb reflects standard procedure in the business world. When negotiating the transaction the buyer complains how bad the deal is for him, or how worthless the prospective purchase, but then later brags about what a good deal he got. The proverb will alert the inexperienced as to how things are done.

[20:14]  43 tn The Hitpael imperfect of הָלַל (halal) means “to praise” – to talk in glowing terms, excitedly. In this stem it means “to praise oneself; to boast.”

[20:15]  44 tn The verse is usually taken as antithetical parallelism: There may be gold and rubies but the true gem is knowledge. However, C. H. Toy arranges it differently: “store of gold and wealth of corals and precious vessels – all are wise lips” (Proverbs [ICC], 388). But this uses the gems as metaphors for wise speech, and does not stress the contrast between wealth and wisdom.

[20:15]  45 tn Heb “lips of knowledge.” The term “lips” is a metonymy for speaking, and “knowledge” could be either an attributive genitive or objective genitive: “knowledgeable lips.” Lips that impart knowledge are the true jewel to be sought.

[20:15]  46 tn The comparative “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is implied by the metaphor; it is supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity.

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