Proverbs Chapter 17:27-28; 21:23; 18:19-21; 11:13,26; 26:20-24; 10:18-19; 12:17-19;25:11-13; 31:8-9 Antique Commentary Quotes

Pulpit Commentary


He that hath knowledge spareth his words; Revised Version, he that spareth his words hath knowledge; he shows his common sense, not by rash talk or saying all he knows, but by restraining his tongue (comp. Pro_10:19; Jas_1:19). ‘Pirke Aboth’ (Pro_1:18), “All my days I have grown up amongst the wise, and have not found aught good for a man but silence; not learning but doing is the groundwork, and whoso multiplies words occasions sin” Say the Greek gnomes—

Ἐνίοις τὸ σιγα ͂ͅν ἐστι ̀ κρει ͂ ττον τοῦ λέγειν

Κρεῖττον σιωπᾷν ἢ λαλει ͂ ν ἂ μὴ πρε ́πει

And Theognis (5.815) writes—

Βοῦς μοι ἐπὶ γλω ́σσης κρατερῷ ποδὶ λὰξ ἐπιβαι ́ νων

Ἴ σχει κωτίλλειν καίπερ ἐπιστα ́μενον

“Speech for a shekel, silence for two; it is like a precious stone” (‘Qoheleth Rabbah,’ 5.5). Septuagint, “He who spareth to utter a harsh speech is prudent” (ἐπιγνω ́μων). A man of understanding is of an excellent spirit; Revised Version, he that is of a coot spirit is a man of understanding; i.e. he who considers before he speaks, and never answers in hot haste, proves that he is wise and intelligent. Septuagint, “The long suffering man is prudent.” The above is the reading of the Khetib, followed by most interpreters. The Keri gives, “of a precious spirit” (pretiosi spiritus, Vulgate), that is, one whose words are weighty and valuable, not lavishly thrown about, but reserved as costly jewels.

John Trapp

Proverbs 17:27

Pro_17:27 He that hath knowledge spareth his words: [and] a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.

Ver. 27. He that hath knowledge spareth his words.] Taciturnity is a sign of solidity, and talkativeness of worthlesness. Epaminondas is worthily praised for this, saith Plutarch, that as no man knew more than he, so none spake less than he did.

And a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.] Or, Of a cool spirit. The deepest seas are the most calm.

“Where river smoothest runs, deep is the ford,

The dial stirs, yet none perceives it move,” &c.

Pulpit Commentary


Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise. Not betraying his ignorance and incapacity by words, a foolish man is credited with possessing sense (comp. Job_13:5). Proverbs to this effect are found in all languages. Thus the Greek—

Πᾶς τις ἀπαι ́ δευτος φρονιμώτατος ἐστὶ σι ωπῶν.

Cato, ‘Dist.,’ 1.3—

“Virtutem primam esse puta compescere linguam;

Proximus ille Deo qui scit ratione tacere.”

Talmud, “Silence becomes the wise, much more feels.” The Dutch have appropriated this maxim, “Zweigen de dwazen zij waren wijs, …. Were fools silent, they would pass for wise.” “Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses.” “Silence,” says the Sanskrit gnome, “is the ornament of the ignorant.” “Talking comes by nature,” say the Germans, “silence of understanding.” The LXX. gives a different turn to the first clause: “A foolish man inquiring of wisdom will have wisdom imputed to him;” the expressed desire of knowledge will be taken as a proof of intelligence. The second clause is coordinate with the former. He that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding; Revised Version, when he shutteth his lips, he is esteemed as prudent; Septuagint, “A man making himself dumb will seem to be prudent.” Theophrastus is said to have thus addressed a guest who was very silent at table: “If you are a fool, you act wisely; if you are wise, you act foolishly.” “Let every man,” says St. James (Jas_1:19), “be swift to hear, slow to speak.”

Pulpit Commentary


We have had similar maxims before (Pro_13:8 and Pro_18:21, where see notes). He keepeth his mouth, who knows when to speak and when to be silent; and he keepeth his tongue, who says only what is to the purpose. We have all heard the proverb, “Speech is silver, silence is gold.” One who thus takes heed of his words, keepeth his soul from troubles. The troubles (angores, Vulgate) are such as these—remorse for the evil occasioned, distress of conscience, vexation and strife with offended neighbours, danger of liberty and life, and, above all, the anger of God, and retribution in the judgment.

Pulpit Commentary


A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city. Something must be supplied on which the comparative notion min, “than,” depends. So we may understand “resists more,” or something similar. A brother or a once close friend, when injured or deceived, becomes a potent and irreconcilable enemy. The idea of the preceding verses is carried on, and the primary thought is still concerning lawsuits and matters brought before a judge. This is shown in the second clause by the use of the word “contentions” (midyanim). And their contentions are like the bars of a castle. They close the door against reconciliation, shut the heart against all feeling of tenderness. True it is, Χαλεποὶ πόλεμοι ἀδελφω ͂ν (Eurip; ‘Fragm.’). And again, ‘Iph. Aul.,’ 376—

Δεινὸν κασιγήτοισι γίγνεσθαι λόγους

Μάχας θ ὅταν ποτ ἐμπε ́σωσιν εἰς ἔριν.

Aristotle also writes thus (‘De Republ.,’ 7.7): “If men receive no return from those to whom they have shown kindness, they deem themselves, not only defrauded of due gratitude, but actually injured. Whence it is said, ‘Bitter are the quarrels of friends;’ and, ‘Those who love beyond measure also hate beyond measure.'” An English maxim gloomily decides, “Friendship once injured is forever lost.” Pliny (‘Hist. Nat.,’ 37.4), “Ut adamas, si frangi contingat malleis, in minutissimas dissidit crustas, adeo ut vix oculis cerni queant: ita arctissima necessitudo, si quando contingat dirimi, in summam vertitur simultatem, et ex arctissimis foederibus, si semel rumpantur, maxima nascuntur dissidia.” Ecclesiasticus 6:9, “There is a friend, who being turned to enmity will also discover thy disgraceful strife,” i.e. will disclose the quarrel which according to his representation will redound to thy discredit. The Vulgate and Septuagint have followed a different reading from that of the present Hebrew text: “Brother aided by brother is like a strong and high city, and he is powerful as a well founded palace,” Septuagint. The last clause is rendered in the Vulgate. Et judicia quasi vectes urbium; where judicia means “lawsuits,” legal disputes; these bar out friendship. The first member of the sentence in the Greek and Latin recalls Ecc_4:9, etc; “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour,” etc. St. Chrysostom, commenting on Eph_4:3 (‘Hom.,’ 9.), writes, “A glorious bond is this; with this bond let us bind ourselves together alike to one another and to God. This is a bond that bruises not, nor cramps the hands it binds, but it leaves them free, and gives them ample play and greater energy than those which are at liberty. The strong, if he be bound to the weak, will support him, and not suffer him to perish; and if again he be tied to the indolent, he will rather rouse and animate. ‘Brother helped by brother,’ it is said, ‘is as a strong city.’ This chain no distance of place can interrupt, neither heaven, nor earth, nor death, nor anything else, but it is more powerful and stronger than all things.”

Albert Barnes

Proverbs 18:20

The general sense is plain. A man must for good or evil take the consequence of his words, as well as his deeds. Compare the marginal reference.

Pulpit Commentary


Death and life are in the power of the tongue; literally, in the hand of the tongue. The tongue, according as it is used, deals forth life or death; for speech is the picture of the mind (comp. Pro_12:18; Pro_26:28). The vast importance of our words may be learned from Jas_3:1-18.; and our blessed Lord says expressly (Mat_12:36, etc.), “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Hence the gnome—

Γλῶσσα τύχη γλῶσσα δαίμων

intimating that the tongue is the real controller of man’s destiny; and another—

Λόγῳ διοικεῖται βροτῶν βίος μόνῳ

By words alone is life of mortals swayed.”

And they that love it (the tongue) shall eat the fruit thereof. They who use it much must abide the consequences of their words, whether by kind and pure and edifying conversation they contribute health and life to themselves and others, or whether by foul, calumnious, corrupting language they involve themselves and others in mortal sin. For “they that love it,” the Septuagint has, οἱ κρατοῦντες αὐτῆς, “they who get the mastery over it.”

John Trapp

Proverbs 18:21

Pro_18:21 Death and life [are] in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

Ver. 21. Death and life are in the power of the tongue.] That best and worst member of the body, as Bias told Amasis, king of Egypt; {a} an “unruly evil set on fire of hell,” saith St James of an ill tongue – as contrarily a good one is fired with zeal by the Holy Ghost. {Act_2:2-4} Fire, we know, is a good servant, but an ill lord; if it get above us once, there is no dealing with it. Hence it is, that as the careful householder lays a strict charge upon his children and servants to look well to their fire, so doth Solomon give often warning to have a care of the tongue. “For by thy words shalt thou be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condenmed,” saith a greater than Solomon. {Mat_12:37} The Arabians have a proverb, ‘Take heed that thy tongue cut not thy throat.’ {b} A word and a pest grow upon the same root in the Hebrew; to shew, saith one, that an evil tongue hath the pestilence in it. It spits up and down the room, as the serpent Dipsas, or as a candle, whose tallow is mixed with brine.

{a} Plutarch.

{b} Cave ne feriat lingua tua collum tuum. – Scalig.

Pulpit Commentary


A tale-bearer. The word implies one who goes about chattering, gossiping, and slandering (Le Pro_19:16); Vulgate, qui ambulat fraudulenter; Septuagint, “the man of double tongue.” To such a man it is safe to trust nothing; he revealeth secrets (Pro_20:19). He that is of a faithful spirit; a steadfast, trusty man, not a gadder about; he retains what is committed to him (Ec Pro_27:16, “Whoso discovereth secrets luseth his credit, and shall never find friend to his mind”). Septuagint, “He that is faithful in spirit [πνοῇ, as in Pro_20:27, where see note] concealeth matters.”

John Trapp

Proverbs 11:13

Pro_11:13 A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.

Ver. 13. A talebearer revealeth secrets.] Heb., A pedlar. {See Trapp on “Lev_19:16”} {See Trapp on “1Ti_5:13”} Si sapis arcano vina reconde cado. God forbids us to chaffer with these petty chapmen. {Pro_20:19}

Concealeth the matter.] Tacitus to him is the best historian – primus in historia. He is a rare friend that can both give counsel and keep counsel. One being hit in the teeth with his stinking breath, wittily excused it, that it was by reason of the many secrets committed to him, and concealed by him so long, till they were even rotten in his bosom.

Pulpit Commentary


The words of a tale bearer are as wounds. Nergan, “tale bearer,” is better rendered “whisperer” (see on Pro_16:28). The Authorized Version reminds one of the mediaeval jingle—

“Lingua susurronis

Est pejor felle draconis.”

The verse recurs in Pro_26:22; but the word rendered “wounds” (mitlahamim) is to be differently explained. It is probably the hithp. participle of laham,” to swallow,” and seems to mean “dainty morsels,” such as one eagerly swallows. Thus Gesenius, Schultens, Delitzsch, Nowack, and others. So the clause means, “A whisperer’s words are received with avidity; calumny, slander, and evil stories find eager listeners.” The same metaphor is found in Pro_19:28; Job_34:7. There may, at the same time, be involved the idea that these dainty morsels are of poisonous character. Vulgate, Verba bilinguis, quasi simplicia, “The words of a man of double tongue seem to be simple,” which contains another truth. They go down into the innermost parts of the belly (Pro_20:27, Pro_20:30). The hearers take in the slanders and treasure them up in memory, to be used as occasion shall offer. The LXX. omits this verse, and in its place introduces a paragraph founded partly on the next verse and partly on Pro_19:15. The Vulgate also inserts the interpolation, “Fear overthrows the sluggish; and the souls of the effeminate (ἀνδρογυ ́νων) shall hunger.”

Pulpit Commentary


The next proverbs are concerned with hypocrisy. The Hebrew denotes the comparison simply by position (see on Pro_25:11), thus: An earthen vessel (or, potsherd) overlaid with silver dross—growing lips and a wicked heart. So called “silver dross” is litharge, an oxide of lead used to this day to put a glaze on pottery (comp. Ecclesiasticus 38:30). The comparatively worthless article is thus made to assume a fine appearance. Thus lips that seem to burn with affection, and give the kiss of glowing, love, may mask a heart filled with envy and hatred Judas kisses and words of friendship hide the bad feelings that lurk within. Septuagint, “Silver given with guile is to be considered as a potsherd; smooth (λεῖα) lips hide a grievous heart” (comp. Mat_23:27).

Pulpit Commentary


He that hateth dissembleth with his lips. This and the next verse form a tetrastich. St. Jerome, Labiis suis intelligitur inimicus. But the verb here used, נכר, bears the meaning “to make one’s self unknown,” as well as “to make one’s self known,” and hence “to make one’s self unrecognizable” by dress or change of countenance (1Ki_14:5). This is much more appropriate in the present connection than the other explanation. The man cloaks his hatred with honeyed words. And layeth up deceit within him; meditating all the time treachery in his heart (Jer_9:8). Septuagint, “An enemy weeping promises all things with his lips, but in his heart he contriveth deceits.” The tears in this case are hypocritical signs of sorrow, intended to deceive the dupe.

Pulpit Commentary


This verse ought to be translated, He that hideth hatred is [a man] of lying lips, and he that uttereth slander is a fool. He who cherishes hatred in the heart must be a liar and a hypocrite, speaking and acting in a way contrary to his real sentiments; if he divulges his slander, he is a stupid fool, injuring his neighbour, and procuring ill will for himself. The LXX. reads, “Just (δίκαια) lips conceal hatred;” but probably δίκαια is an error for ἄδικα or δόλια, though Ewald defends it, and would alter the Hebrew to suit it.

Pulpit Commentary


The lip of truth shall be established forever. Truth is consistent, invincible, enduring; and the fact belongs not only to Divine truth (Psa_117:2; Mat_24:35), but to human, in its measure. Septuagint, “True lips establish testimony,” pointing the last word ad as ed. Is but for a moment; literally, while I wink the eye (Jer_49:19; Jer_50:44). Lying never answers in the end; it is soon found out and punished (Pro_19:9; Psa_52:5). Septuagint, “But a hasty (ταχύς; repentinus, Vulgate) witness hath an unjust tongue.” One who gives his testimony without due consideration, or influenced by evil motives, readily fails into lying and injustice. With the latter half of the verse we may compare the gnome—

Ἀλλ οὐδὲν ἕρπει ψεῦδος εἰς γῆρας χρόνου.

“Unto old age no lie doth ever live.”

“A lie has no legs,” is a maxim of wide nationality; and “Truth may be blamed, but shall ne’er be shamed.”

Cambridge Bible Perowne

Proverbs 25:11

11. fitly] Lit. upon its wheels, i.e. smoothly and without hesitation.

Others render, at its (proper) times, i.e. seasonably, perhaps from the idea of times or seasons “revolving,” or “rolling round.” In tempore suo, Vulg. Comp. Pro_15:23.

apples of gold] Either golden-coloured fruit, such as oranges or quinces (χρυσόμηλα, Plin.; aurea mala, Virg. Ecl. iii. 71), or fruit gilded or made of gold, as part of the artistic ornament.

pictures] Rather, baskets of silver network or filigree work, through and in contrast with which the golden fruit was shown to advantage. In lectis argenteis, Vulg. The LXX. has ἐν ὁρμίσκῳ σάρδιου, in a necklace of sardius, evidently regarding the whole ornament, including its apples, or bosses, of gold as the work of the artificer.

The imagery of the proverb accords with the growth of art and luxury in the reign of Solomon, though the Hebrews were familiar from the days of Egypt (Exo_3:22), and earlier (Gen_24:22), with ornaments of gold and silver.

“The proverb may well be thought of as having had its origin in some kingly gift to the son of David, the work of Tyrian artists, like Hiram and his fellows. Others, as they gazed on the precious metals and the cunning work, far beyond the skill of their own countrymen, might highly admire, but the wise king saw in the costly rarity a parable of something higher. A word well set upon the wheels of speech excelled it. It is singular that ornamentation of this kind in the precious metals was known even as late as the middle ages, as œuvre de Salomon.” Dean Plumptre, Speaker’s Comm.

Pulpit Commentary


One of the emblematical distiches in which this collection is rich. A word fitly spoken. עַל־אָפְנָיו may be translated “in due season,” or “upon its wheels” (Venetian, ἐπὶ τῶν τροχῶν αὐτῆς). In the latter case the phrase may mean a word quickly formed, or moving easily, spoken ore rotundo, or a speedy answer. But the metaphor is unusual and inappropriate; and it is best to understand a word spoken under due consideration of time and place. Vulgate, Qui loquitur verbum in tempore suo; Aquila and Theodotion, ἐπὶ ἁρμόζουσιν αὐτῷ, “in circumstances that suit it;” the Septuagint has simply οὕτως. Is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. In these emblematical distichs the words, “is like,” in the Authorized Version, are an insertion. The Hebrew places the two ideas merely in sequence; the object with which some, thing is compared usually coming before, that which is compared with it, as here, “Apples of gold—a word fitly spoken” (so in Pro_25:14, Pro_25:18, Pro_25:19, Pro_25:26, Pro_25:28). There is a doubt about the meaning of the word rendered “pictures,” maskith (see on Pro_18:11). It seems to be used generally in the sense of “image,” “sculpture,” being derived from the verb שָׁכָה, “to see;” from this it comes to signify “ornament,” and here most appropriately is “basket,” and, as some understand, of filagree work. St. Jerome mistakes the word, rendering, in lectis argenteis. The Septuagint has, ἐν ὁρμίσκῳ σαρδίου, “on a necklace of sardius.” “Apples of gold” are apples or other fruits of a golden colour, not made of gold, which would be very costly and heavy; nor would the comparison with artificial fruits be as suitable as that with natural. The “word” is the fruit set off by its circumstances, as the latter’s beauty is enhanced by the grace of the vessel which contains it. The “apple” has been supposed to be the orange (called in late Latin pomum aurantium) or the citron. We may cite here the opinion of a competent traveller: “For my own part,” says Canon Tristram, “I have no hesitation in expressing my conviction that the apricot alone is the ‘apple’ of Scripture Everywhere the apricot is common; perhaps it is, with the single exception of the fig, the most abundant fruit of the country. In highlands and lowlands alike, by the shores of the Mediterranean and on the banks of the Jordan, in the nooks of Judea, under the heights of Lebanon, in the recesses of Galilee, and in the glades of Gilead, the apricot flourishes, and yields a crop of prodiscus abundance. Its characteristics meet every condition of the ‘tappuach’ of Scripture. ‘I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste’ (So Pro_2:3). Near Damascus, and on the banks of the Barada, we have pitched our tents under its shade, and spread our carpets secure from the rays of the sun. ‘The smell of thy nose (shall be) like tappuach’ (So Pro_7:8). There can scarcely be a more deliciously perfumed fruit than the apricot; and what fruit can better fit the epithet of Solomon, ‘apples of gold in pictures of silver,’ than this golden fruit, as its branches bend under the weight in their setting of bright yet pale foliage?” Imagery similar to that found in this verse occurs in Pro_10:31; Pro_12:14; Pro_13:2; Pro_18:20. There is a famous article on the analogies between flowers and men’s characters in the Spectator, No. 455.

Pulpit Commentary


Another distich concerning the seasonable word, of the same character as the last. As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold. In this, as in many of the proverbs, the comparison is not expressed, but is merely implied by juxtaposition. Nezem, in Pro_11:22, was a nose ring, here probably an earring is meant; chali, “ornament,” is a trinket or jewel worn suspended on neck or breast. The two, whether worn by one person or more, form a lovely combination, and set off the wearer’s grace and beauty. Vulgate, Inauris aurea et margaritum fulgens, “A golden earring and a brilliant pearl.” Septuagint, “A golden earring a precious sardius also is set.” So is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear. The obedient ear receives the precepts of the wise reprover, and wears them as a valued ornament. In Pro_1:9 the instruction of parents is compared to a chaplet on the head and a fair chain on the neck. Septuagint, “A wise word on an obedient ear.”

Cambridge Bible Perowne

Proverbs 25:13

13. the cold of snow] Rosenmuller, quoted and approved by Maurer, explains this, not of snow falling in harvest, which would be rather an emblem of disaster (Pro_26:1), but of snow mixed with wine or other beverage to cool it. He refers to Xenophon (Mem. ii. 1. 30), and Pliny (H. N. 19. 4) in proof that this method of cooling was practised by the ancients. It is possible that such luxury may have been enjoyed by Solomon in his summer palace of Lebanon; but the cold of snow may simply be instanced as the greatest conceivable refreshment in the sultry harvest-field.

In Pro_10:26 we have a companion proverb by way of contrast.

Pulpit Commentary


Open thy mouth for the dumb. The “dumb” is any one who for any reason whatever is unable to plead his own cause; he may be of tender age, or of lowly station, or ignorant, timid, and boorish; and the prince is enjoined to plead for him and defend him (comp. Job_29:15). In the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction; literally, the sons of passing away (Isa_2:18); i.e. not orphans, children whose parents have vanished from the earth, nor strangers from a foreign country, nor, generally, mortals, subjects of frail human nature (all of which explanations have been given), but persons who are in imminent danger of perishing, certain, if left unaided, to come to ruin (comp. Job_29:12). Septuagint, “Open thy mouth for the Word of God, and judge all men soundly (ὑγιῶς).”


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