Study Guide

Proverbs Summary

Proverbs Summary

A Book Without "Events"

  • Okay—so technically, nothing really "happens" in Proverbs (kind of like Seinfeld—or not). It's a collection of… well, proverbs, after all. But it does have a structure of sorts. It begins by praising wisdom—which it will repeatedly do throughout the course of its thirty-one chapters.
  • Wisdom isn't just an abstract noun or a concept—it's a person (either metaphorically or like a kind of angel-goddess figure). "Lady Wisdom" (as she later became known) was God's first creation, according to Proverbs. The book takes us back before the first chapter of the Bible itself, before God said "Let there Be Light." In the very beginning, God creates Wisdom, who watches and applauds as God goes on to create the earth and the heavens.
  • But in addition to this interesting piece of back-story on the Bible as a whole, Proverbs plunges onwards with fairly long catalogues of proverbs—some of which are attributed to King Solomon, and some of which are presented as collections from an assortment of unknown wise men and-or wise women. (Who knows? Solomon might've originated some of them, at least.)

Non-Israelite Wisdom Too?

  • The themes are fairly simple: love wisdom and seek it with all your heart; be righteous and wise; and don't be wicked or foolish or lazy or a contentious wife or an adulteress (there are long passages in chapters 5 and 7 relating to this subject). But semi-frequently, Proverbs trots out some advice that's pretty unrelated: don't binge on honey, for instance, or you'll throw up. (Good advice, gang.)
  • In its last two chapters, the Book of Proverbs ends with three important sections. First there's an oracle from an otherwise un-identified guy named Agur (maybe a non-Israelite wise man) who asks God for a life of moderation and peace, before going on to talk poetically about things that amaze and perplex him. Secondly, King Lemuel (whoever he was—maybe another non-Israelite, say scholars) records some advice his mom gave him about being a good king.
  • The book winds up with an ode to a strong and capable wife—contrasting this example with its earlier attacks on the adulteress and the contentious wife.
  • Chapter 1

    You Got Wiz-Domed

    • The Book of Proverbs begins with a short mission statement. It says that it's here to instruct people in—drumroll, please—wisdom.
    • But it'll also take time to drop some knowledge about justice, equity, shrewdness, and stuff like that. It's targeting this wisdom at an audience including the young and the simple—people who really need it—as well as the wise, so they can kick their wisdom up to Dragon Ball Z levels of firepower.
    • It states that wisdom begins by fearing (and revering) God.

    Can't Outwit the Roadrunner 

    • As the actual dispensing of wisdom begins, the author speaks like a parent urging a son to obey his mother and father, since they've got good advice to give.
    • If sinners try to get you to go and ambush innocent people and kill them and steal all their stuff, the author says you should walk away and avoid them.
    • These evil robber-murderers are actually going to kill themselves (because their sins will come back to get them). They are like hunters setting a net while the bird they're trying to catch is watching them (kind of like Wile E. Coyote stalking the Roadrunner).
    • This is what happens to people who are greedy—they lose their lives.

    Roll Call 

    • The author imagines Wisdom as being a person—specifically, a woman—who walks through the streets calling out to the ignorant and simple people, asking them how long they'll remain without wisdom.
    • She says that she'll pour out her insights to anyone who pays attention to her. But she'll mock the people who refuse to listen, and who bring disasters and panic on themselves by their willful stupidity.
    • They'll try to find her once they've fallen into calamity, but they won't be able to, because they failed to fear God and heed wisdom's advice earlier. It'll be too late.
    • So, Wisdom says, if you pay heed now, you'll be fine.
  • Chapter 2

    Just a Rap Sesh with Mom and Dad

    • The author continues to address the reader as though he or she were the author's son or daughter.
    • If you strive after wisdom and listen to words of wisdom, and seek it like gold and silver, then you'll develop the fear of God.
    • God, says the speaker, is the one who dispenses wisdom—storing it up for good people, and helping guide the righteous and just.
    • Fear of God grants someone with all sorts of positive qualities—they all come from this initial reverence. It helps save you from wicked people, as well.
    • Wisdom helps prevent you from falling into the clutches of an evil adulteress, who seduces men and leads them down into the underworld.
    • So, continue to do good, says the speaker (sounds pretty basic). The wicked will be cut off from the land, but the righteous and innocent will remain comfortably in it. So they've got that going for them.
  • Chapter 3

    Put a Sticky Note… On Your Heart

    • The speaker says not to forget his or her teachings, because they'll help the reader live for a long time and prosper.
    • If you keep loyalty and faithfulness, writing them on the tablet of your heart, God and other people will favor you.
    • Again, the speaker says to fear God, and not to trust in your own insight, acknowledging his supremacy at every moment. In order to be wise, you can't be wise in your own eyes.
    • If you honor God by giving up some of your own produce, you'll end up having barns full of harvested crops and vats full of wine from your vineyards (sounds good to us).
    • Don't resist if God disciplines you, because he reproves people he loves, like a father reproving his kids.
    • Wisdom is better than gold and jewels, and more worthy of pursuit. Long life, riches, pleasantness, peace, and honor all come from wisdom. It's a tree of life that showers happiness on the people who are able to eat from it. Good times.

    God's Tool Shed

    • God used wisdom, understanding, and knowledge to create the earth, the heaven, and the deeps.
    • If you keep these things (wisdom, etc.) in your sight at all times, it will enliven your soul.
    • You won't need to fear any kind of panic or sudden storms in your life—God will be your confidence, protect you.
    • You should keep giving aid to people who need it—you shouldn't withhold anything from your neighbor, saying you'll provide it later, if you already have it.
    • Also, don't plan any sort of violence against your trusting neighbor, start pointless quarrels, or envy violent people and their ways.
    • Yet again, God will curse the wicked and foolish and bless the righteous and wise. Got it?
  • Chapter 4

    A Few Fatherly Repetitions

    • Once more, the speaker tells the listener or reader to hear his fatherly advice. He says that when he was a kid, and the adored child of his parents, his father taught him the same things.
    • Basically, his dad also said to him, "Listen to me—this is important." Once more, his father advises him to get wisdom, attain insight. Wisdom, his father says, begins by getting wisdom (well… yeah).
    • Wisdom will honor you if you prize her, placing a garland on your head.

    Appetite for Destruction 

    • This advice will help extend your lifespan and allow you to avoid getting tripped up in life (says the speaker).
    • Stick to these instructions, avoid the ways of evildoers and you'll do just fine.
    • The wicked can't get to sleep unless they've done some sort of wrong during the day. Violence and wickedness are their food and drink.
    • The way of the righteous is like a dawn that just keeps getting brighter as they go along, whereas the wicked are like people continually stumbling into an even deeper darkness.
    • So, says the fatherly speaker, treasure these sayings and keep them in your heart—they'll heal you and give you more life.
    • Avoid crooked speech and crooked actions, and keep your eyes and feet set straight on a path of righteousness. Don't swerve off to the left or the right, and you'll be okay.
  • Chapter 5

    "She's a Man Eater": Hall and Oates, via Proverbs

    • Yet again, the speaker urges the listener or reader to hear his words of wisdom.
    • The speaker says to avoid the "loose woman" who seduces men with words that seem like oil or honey, but hide a reality that is actually quite bitter and sharp.
    • She leads people down to Sheol, the underworld, and knocks them off the paths of life.
    • Again, you shouldn't depart from the speaker's words—stick with them, says the speaker, and they'll keep you away from the loose woman who destroys.
    • Stay far away from her house, or else she'll destroy your honor and your wealth—your work and possessions will be taken over by others and you'll be disgraced in front of the public assembly. Then, you'll lament how you didn't listen to your teachers' wise advice. (Teachers, gang: listen to 'em.)

    Better than Evian

    • Drink from your own well, and avoid spreading your water around in the streets in streams for others and for strangers to drink.
    • Take comfort in the wife you've had since you were young—be intoxicated by her love and satisfied by her breasts (hey don't look at us—that's what it says).
    • Don't get seduced and intoxicated by adulteresses. The wicked get tangled up in their evil deeds and die due to their foolishness and lack of discipline.
  • Chapter 6

    The Way of the Gazelle

    • If you end up having pledged some sort of favor or duty or money to a neighbor, trapped by your own promise, and aren't able to live up to it or pay up, you should go to your neighbor and beg.
    • You shouldn't sleep until you've settled your failure to live up to your promise, acting like a gazelle or bird, desperate to escape a hunter.

    God's Pet Peeves 

    • You should consider the ant's behavior, if you're a "lazybones," since ants work hard.
    • If you sit around napping and folding your hands, even for a little, it will eventually ruin you and bring disaster and poverty, which will raid you like a warrior.
    • Also, wicked people who walk around talking in a crooked and deceiving way, pointing their fingers at others, and generally scheming to cause trouble—they will suffer disaster, as well. Suddenly, they'll be ruined with no hope of repair.
    • The writer says that God hates seven things: eyes that are haughty, a tongue that lies, hands that shed the blood of innocent people, hearts which plot evil, feet that run to do evil things, people who lie as witnesses, and one who causes strife in his or her family.

    Avoid the Noid… and Adulteresses

    • Keep your father's and your mother's commandments in your heart at all times.
    • These instructions will guide you when you're walking, sleeping, and waking up.
    • They help guide your way, and your parents' discipline helps save you from falling into the clutches of an adulteress later on in life.
    • The beauty of an adulteress is seductive, but it also happens to be totally evil. Where it only costs a loaf of bread to visit a prostitute, an adulteress can cost a man his life.
    • The author asks if one can carry coals against your chest or walk on them without being burned. The answer is (obviously) "No." The same thing is true for someone who has sex with his neighbor's wife—he'll get burned or punished in some way.
    • People don't hate thieves who steal because they're hungry—but they punish those thieves seven times as badly when they catch them, anyway.
    • But a person who commits adultery has no good reason for his crime. Disgrace and dishonor will follow that person, and the angry husband of the woman he cheated with will take revenge, refusing to be bribed.
  • Chapter 7

    Pinky Swear You'll Stick With Wisdom

    • Again, says that author, you should take his (or her) words to heart, and keep them with you at all times, as though you tied them to your fingers or wrote them on your heart.
    • You should call wisdom and insight your sister and friend, and they'll protect you from the adulteress with her enticing words.

    "Are You Trying to Seduce Me, Mrs. Robinson?"

    • The author says that he (or she) saw a young man, one of the simple youths, walking around the streets at night, heading for the house of an adulteress or loose woman.
    • Then, a woman came toward him, dressed like a crafty prostitute. She's a loud woman who won't stay at home, and now walks around trying to ambush young men at all the different corners of the street and seduce them.
    • She grabbed the young man and kissed him, and says that she finished up her sacrifices and offering vows and now has come to see this young man. She says she's prepared her couch and bed with fine linens and perfumes for their love sesh.
    • She told the young man that her husband was on a long journey and that he should come and spend the whole night making love to her.
    • She persuaded the young man successfully, and he walked away with her, like an ox headed to a slaughterhouse.
    • So, says the author, you shouldn't follow that young man's example—for adulteresses like that lady have ruined many young men. Her house leads to the underworld, Sheol, and to death.
  • Chapter 8

    "Meet You at The Crossroads"– Bone Thugs n' Harmony

    • Wisdom walks around town calling out, raising her voice to people, asking them to develop their understanding.
    • She goes to the gates of the city, to the crossroads, and calls for the simple people to become prudent and smart.
    • Wisdom says that her mouth only speaks the truth and can't say anything wicked. Her words are more valuable than money, gold, or jewels.
    • Fearing God is the same thing, she says, as hating evil. She herself lives with knowledge and discretion.
    • Pride just leads towards more evil, and twisted words are abhorrent to her.
    • Wisdom enables rulers and nobles to be fair and just.
    • She loves the people who seek her, saying that if they are diligent, they will find her.
    • Even though wisdom is better than riches, it also can lead to riches and prosperity.
    • Wisdom fills the treasuries of people by walking with justice and righteousness.

    First Things First… Or, Um, in the Eighth Chapter 

    • God created Wisdom in the very beginning. It was his first act of creation, before even the world was made.
    • Wisdom goes on a bit, describing how she was made before the mountains, seas, sky, etc.
    • When God made the heavens, Wisdom watched him, and saw when he drew a circle in the deep (creating the earth).
    • Wisdom was like "a master worker," helping God as he marked off the seas and constructed the fountains under the earth and so on.
    • On a daily basis, Wisdom delighted God, and Wisdom herself rejoiced throughout the created world and pleased humanity.
    • Again, Wisdom says that people who pursue her and follow her rules will be happy. Those who hate Wisdom are in love with death, but those who find her are rewarded by God.
  • Chapter 9

    Wisdom's Crib

    • Wisdom has built a house with seven pillars (says the author). She's slaughtered the animals and mixed the wine for a feast and prepared the table.
    • Wisdom calls and tells those who are simple or without sense to turn in at her house and eat from her table. They will grow into maturity and attain insight.

    The Thing Gets Under Way

    • Next, the author starts to list actual proverbs and maxims in order.
    • If you correct someone who scoffs, the scoffer will scoff at you; if you try to rebuke a wicked person, you'll just end up getting hurt.
    • But a wise person responds positively to a tactful rebuke.
    • Wise and righteous people are capable of taking instruction, and it helps them grow even wiser.
    • Again, fearing God is the beginning of wisdom, and knowing God is the real definition of insight.
    • This will help extend your lifespan—wisdom helps you, scoffing just burdens you even more.
    • The "foolish woman" is a loud, ignorant lady who sits around at the door of her house or in the high places in the town. She tries to divert the simple into her house, and urges them to steal food to eat.
    • But in reality, the dead live in her house—her guests are the inhabitants of the underworld, Sheol.
  • Chapter 10

    Just Call Sol'

    • This next set of proverbs is introduced as sayings of King Solomon.
    • Wise children bring joy to their parents, but foolish children cause them grief.
    • Even if wickedness gains you treasures, it won't benefit you—but righteousness saves you from death. God feeds righteous people, but lets wicked people starve.
    • A lazy hand leads to poverty, but a busy hand makes you rich—and in the same way, this is true for a child who gathers crops, and one who sleeps during the harvest. Basically, laziness is bad, but being industrious is good.
    • The righteous receive further blessings, but the wicked ultimately are remembered for their evils.
    • Babbling fools are ruined in time, people who wink cause trouble, but people who know how to offer a proper rebuke can help make peace.
    • The wise say things that cause peace, the wicked say things that cause violence. Love helps end strife, rather than stirring it up more.
    • Wealth helps people protect their interests, but poverty leaves you in ruin.

    Fools R' Us 

    • Being able to take a rebuke is a part of growing wise.
    • Lies and slander mask inner hatred or foolishness.
    • Using too many words means transgression is at hand—prudent people restrain their speech.
    • A righteous person's tongue is like silver, but a fool's mind is worthless—the words of a righteous person are like food for the masses.
    • Also, God's blessings are not mixed with sorrow.
    • Doing wrong is like sport to a fool, but doing right is also a pleasurable pastime to wise people.
    • The wicked people will need to face their worst fears, but the righteous will find their desires satisfied.
    • The righteous endure all temporary calamities, but the wicked are washed away. Additionally, lazy people hurt their employers.
    • At the end the author goes through some of the major points: the righteous will be rewarded and satisfied and have long lives, but the wicked… won't. The words of righteous people cause wisdom and goodness to thrive, but the opposite is true for the wicked.
  • Chapter 11

    Fake Weights (Not to be Confused with "Shake Weights")

    • The wise advice continues. God hates it when people try to scam others with fake weights and balances—just don't do it.
    • Pride has wholly negative effects, but humble people have wisdom.
    • Upright people are saved by their integrity, but crooked and devious people ruin themselves.
    • The proverbs continue all repeating a very similar theme: the good qualities of righteous people save them, the bad qualities of wicked people lead to their own destruction.
    • Riches can't save you; only your good qualities can lead you to salvation, keep you in bliss after death.
    • The righteous benefit the places where the live, but naturally, the wicked really don't—people are glad when they get their just deserts.

    Metaphorical Nostril Piercings

    • Gossip and belittling others is for fools—but avoiding these things and seeking wise counsel is for righteous and right-minded people.
    • The proverbs continue by contrasting the righteous and unrighteous, wise and foolish, kind and cruel: things work out for the first category and not for the latter.
    • Gracious women receive honor, but women who lack virtue find shame, etc. The aggressive are noted for being good at earning wealth, the timid for being bad at it.
    • The writer says that a beautiful woman without good sense is like "a gold ring in a pig's snout."
    • Giving freely doesn't necessarily cause you to become poor—and being a miser won't save you from ruin. So, generosity is a good thing.
    • One should seek good instead of favor—since good leads to favor. But if you just search for favor, it will lead to misfortune.
    • Similarly, putting confidence in riches alone leads to destruction.
    • Also, troubling your household is a bad idea—you just inherit "wind."
    • In the end, the author recaps how good righteousness is and how bad wickedness and its effects are.
  • Chapter 12

    Be Dissed and Grow Wiser

    • This chapter continues praising righteousness and handing out smackdowns to wickedness.
    • The wise and righteous don't mind and actually benefit from being rebuked, but the wicked don't—for one thing.
    • This chapter continues to recapitulate earlier points—being good pays, and being bad doesn't, basically.
    • The author praises good wives, disses bad wives; hates on wicked speech, loves good speech; celebrates good sense, hates on bad sense.

    Ancient Humane Society

    • On a darker note, the author says that it's better to be disliked and at least have a servant, than to try to do everything yourself and go hungry.
    • The author says that kindness to animals is a good trait, attacks worthless pursuits and coveting wickedly gained goods, and praises the words of the righteous (yet once more).
    • Fools get hung up on insults, and only stick with whatever they want to do.
    • Repeating the same important points again, the author says that the wise speak words of healing, whereas the wicked and liars cause destruction and disruption. Fools can't help broadcasting their folly to others.
    • Laziness, anxiety, and bad advice come in for the author's disapproval, and he or she again reiterates the point that righteousness leads to more life—there is no death in it.
  • Chapter 13

    Get Fulfilled

    • This chapter goes through some more of the same advice: wise children don't mind discipline; stupid scoffers do.
    • The writer attacks aimless blabbering, uncurbed appetites, and falsehood.
    • Some people pretend to be rich, but are in reality poor, while people who pretend to be poor or seem to be are often truly rich (you can take that literally, metaphorically—as in spiritually or emotionally poor—or both).
    • Wealth, however, can cause you difficulties ("Mo money, mo problems," as Biggie Smalls said), while being poor or having less can leave you content with simplicity.
    • Then again, if you want to pursue wealth, do it gradually and it will be more likely to play out.
    • If you're stuck hoping for something, your heart will be sick, but if you go ahead and fulfill your desire (whatever it is), you'll be content—it'll be a tree of life.

    Go Ahead—Beat Your Kids (Says Proverbs, Not Us) 

    • The author says you should follow the commandments, listen to the wise, be clever, have good sense, and be a faithful messenger (if you happen to be a messenger).
    • Failing to follow these instructions will lead to poverty and disgrace, but fools hate to turn away from their evil deeds.
    • Sticking with the wise means you too are wise—hanging out with fools makes you a fool (this sounds like some sort of DARE program thing from ancient times).
    • The earnings of the righteous will go to their children, but sinners' wealth will end up being inherited by the righteous.
    • Injustice takes food from the fields of the poor, even if they're plentiful.
    • Controversy alert: Proverbs 13:24 is one of the most notorious passages in the book. If you "spare the rod" (don't hit your kids), you're doing them a disservice. So, beat away—"discipline" them.
    • Also, the righteous end up having enough food, while the wicked will eventually go hungry.
  • Chapter 14

    Trapped in Your Own Feelings

    • A foolish woman tears down her own house in the end, but a wise woman builds it.
    • Fools hate God, and end up beating themselves with their own foolish words.
    • Also, out of nowhere the author mentions that you can't harvest grain without some oxen.
    • The author also reminds us that faithful witnesses tell the truth and false witnesses tell lies (like… yeah, that's kind of the definition of a "faithful witness" and a "false witness").
    • Fools can never get on the right track; they mock offerings, can't figure out where they're headed, and mislead others. The wise are the opposite.
    • In another out-of-nowhere statement, the author notes that only each individual's heart feels its own sorrow and pain: our basic emotions and experiences are private to ourselves.

    Make Friends—and Money

    • More darkly, joy (often) ends up in grief, and ways that initially seem right turn out to lead to ruin.
    • Everyone, good and bad, are repaid according to their deeds.
    • The simple and foolish believe anything and fail to act with caution, and schemers and quick-tempered people end up going wrong.
    • The poor are disliked, but if you're rich it's easier to make friends (even if they're false friends).
    • You should be kind to the poor, and work instead of talking too much.
    • Telling the truth helps save lives, and the fear of God gives both confidence and life.
    • Princes and kings are nothing without the multitude of people upholding and supporting them, and righteousness benefits the whole nation.
    • Having a tranquil mind and not getting angry easily are helpful traits.
    • Also, being wise helps you get in good with the king.
  • Chapter 15

    Speak Softly (and Your Tongue will Turn into a Tree, or Something)

    • Speaking softly helps calm the wrath of other people, and if your tongue is gentle, it's "a tree of life."
    • God watches over everything, says the author, measuring it all up.
    • Fools don't listen to their parents, and end up having money problems. Their sacrifices don't please God—but the prayers of the righteous do.
    • Yet again—rebukes are good for you. Deal with it, says the author.
    • God can see into all human hearts, in addition to the underworld.
    • Gladness of heart is good, sadness is bad (this is maybe another proverb for the "obvious" file).
    • Cheerfulness is like a continual feast—you create your own enjoyment.
    • It's better not to have too much and still fear God than to be overloaded with treasure and trouble. Similarly it's better to have love and eat a simple meal of vegetables than to eat a meaty feast while in a mood of hatred.

    The Usual Culprits 

    • Again, the writer attacks familiar targets: a quick temper, laziness, evil plans, foolish children, greed, a lack of wise advisors. Conversely, he-she praises their opposites.
    • In line with the general policy of repeating stuff, the book again notes how righteousness and wisdom lead upward away from Sheol (the underworld).
    • Righteous people think before they speak, while the wicked just blabber out evil things.
    • The "light of the eyes" (probably witnessing good things—or else something like Cyclops from X-Men) refreshes the heart, and good news brings life back to the body.
    • The author repeats that one should listen to instruction and that fearing God is the beginning of wisdom.
  • Chapter 16

    "Man Proposes, God Disposes"

    • Mortals can devise whatever plans they want, but, says the author, God is the one who determines what happens in the end.
    • Continuing on this theme, this chapter begins by going through some of the ways in which God rules over humans—knowing all their innermost thoughts and desires, and creating everything for a purpose.
    • The author excoriates pride and the unwillingness to trust in God, but has nice things to say about loyalty and faithfulness.
    • Again, the author points out that human beings make plans, but God is the one who actually directs their steps.

    A Tribute to Gray Hair 

    • The author also talks about how great and just a good king is, remarking also on how God appreciates fairness in judgment.
    • To some degree, the book seems to assume that kings will be just: unrighteousness is an abomination to them. Avoid their wrath, but bask in the glow of a cheerful, happy king's mood.
    • Famously, "Pride comes before the fall": the proverbs make this point again, this time in its most well-known version.
    • Again, it's better to be poor and not proud, than proud and not poor.
    • If you speak pleasantly, people will be more persuaded—and persuasiveness is something the wise possess. Such pleasant words are sweet, like honey.
    • In contrast, the words of scoundrels set fire to things.
    • Having an appetite or being hungry spurs you to work harder.
    • Also, in line with the Proverbs' love for all things elderly, the author praises gray hair as indicating special life wisdom.
    • Again, the author repeats the same point as at the beginning: life is like casting lots, but the decision on where they actually fall lies in God's hands.
  • Chapter 17

    In Praise of Bribes

    • Continuing to riff on old themes, the author states that it's better to have a little dry food with quiet (meaning, with peace) than to have feasting with strife.
    • A slave who acts wisely will end up ruling over the foolish children of his or her master.
    • In the same way that a crucible forges silver and gold, so does God test the heart.
    • People who insult the poor also are insulting God.
    • The author goes on to praise forgiveness and also bribes (weirdly enough, they're referred to as being like "magic stones" that give you whatever you want—sounds like a video game).
    • Grandchildren are like a crown for their grandparents, and the parents of children are their glory—meaning, they supposedly know what's right all the time or something.
    • It's better to meet a she-bear who's lost her cubs than it is to meet a fool who's really deep into folly at the present moment.
    • If you do evil back to someone who did good for you—you're in for destruction in a big way.

    The Virtues of Shutting Up 

    • Strife starts like water that begins breaking through a dam and quickly becomes unstoppable. So shut it down before it gains too much momentum.
    • God dislikes people who condemn the righteous and commend the wicked (as you might've easily guessed, based on the author's other opinions).
    • Also, don't make any rash pledges to your neighbor (or, even, any pledges at all, depending on how you interpret it).
    • However, reversing the earlier position on bribes, Proverbs now attacks bribes—or, at least, it attacks accepting bribes (though earlier, it had only commended giving bribes).
    • The author continues attacking the same targets as earlier: foolish children, abusing the innocent, etc. This chapter ends by saying that quietness is an attribute of the wise—even fools who can manage to be quiet will be considered intelligent by others.
  • Chapter 18

    Never Walk Alone

    • This chapter begins by attacking living alone—Proverbs wants everyone to be part of the community.
    • It returns to its favorite whipping boy shortly thereafter: the fool. Fools don't like to understand anything—they just want to babble on about their ill-informed opinions.
    • The author repeats things we've already heard him say about four or five times: don't judge against the innocent and in favor of the guilty, God can protect you, humility is praiseworthy, wickedness brings disgrace, hard work is valuable, and fools are destroyed by the dumb things they say.

    Ear Worm Whispers 

    • Additionally, people who whisper malicious or insincerely nice things penetrate deep into your psyche and can mess you up.
    • You shouldn't speak before you've heard what's going on fully; it's tough to deal with a broken spirit; it's helpful to give gifts; hearing a cross-examination can help throw something that initially seemed reasonable into question; and casting lots helps end disputes.
    • Also, don't quarrel with your allies—it'll get you trapped worse than a castle's dungeon.
    • True friends and good wives are blessings, and using your tongue properly holds the key to winning favor and having everything good happen.
  • Chapter 19

    "If I Was a Rich Man"

    • Continuing with yet more favorite themes, Proverbs states that it's better to be poor and have integrity than to be a fool.
    • One of the aspects of being a fool is desiring things without having any knowledge—letting your wants lead you by the nose, essentially, with no reflection.
    • Even though people's only folly brings them down, they still rage against God, like he's responsible.
    • Wealth earns friends, but poverty makes people dislike you or stay away (though Proverbs says nothing about whether wealth earns you real friends).
    • Proverbs proceeds to re-tread old (and some new) territory: false witnesses, foolish children, and quarrelsome wives are bad; slaves shouldn't rule over princes; it's good to overlook offenses; and kings are pretty great when they're in a good mood.

    Stuck in the Candy Dish 

    • Proverbs repeats advice (that, for the most part, it's already repeated): be kind to the poor, beat your kids to discipline them, listen to good advice.
    • There's no point in trying to save someone from their own violent temper: you'll just need to do it all over again.
    • Lazy people are so lazy that they'll stick their hand in a dish (of Werther's Originals, or the ancient equivalent) and won't even have the willpower to take it out.
    • Even though Proverbs said there's no point in rebuking the wicked, here it says that if someone strikes a scoffer it helps simple people know what's up.
    • The chapter ends by repeating a couple of Proverbs' classic stand-bys: listen to Mom and Dad and don't be a scoffer or fool, because you'll end up getting flogged.
  • Chapter 20

    No Lost Weekends

    • The author begins by attacking excessive wine drinking, stating that it'll lead you into all manner of aggressive shenanigans.
    • Despite this brief digression into supporting moderation in alcohol consumption, the author returns to yet more comfortably familiar topics: don't provoke kings, don't quarrel, don't be lazy, don't be disloyal, don't use false weights and measures to cheat people.
    • The author also picks up some fresh points, as well: the purposes in the human mind are really hard to figure out. But wise people (like Freud or Jung or whoever) can tease them out.
    • Also, Proverbs goes on to say: look, nobody's perfect. Everyone has a heart stained somewhat with sin.
    • Kids reveal their own inner natures by their good and bad acts (Proverbs argues for Nature over Nurture, in this case), and God has fashioned human senses, allowing humans to perceive reality.

    "It Builds Character" 

    • Again, the author treads over ground that he or she has covered earlier: don't lend money to strangers or foreigners, use deceit to gain food or riches, don't gossip or babble, don't make rash vows, and always consult wise advisors.
    • A dishonest buyer pretends he's getting cheated to haggle his or her way into a better deal.
    • If you quickly acquire some property in the beginning, it's not going to last. Proverbs favors gradual hard work as the best method.
    • Also, don't take vengeance on your own initiative—God's the real pro at these things (like Uma Thurman in a Tarantino flick, we suppose).
    • The human spirit is like a lamp God uses to search the inner reaches of the human heart and mind.
    • Young people have the glory of being strong, and old people have the glory of having lived long enough to earn their gray hair, wearing it as a crown of honor.
    • The beatings that life gives you, says Proverbs, actually help purify you and remove evil from you. Like people say today, "It builds character."
  • Chapter 21

    Basking in King Love

    • By now, you should be aware of what the authors of Proverbs think about kings: they love 'em—especially, if they're, you know, good kings. This chapter begins by stating that the king's heart is like a stream that God turns where he will, to provide refreshment to whomever God wishes.
    • God judges all hearts, regardless of what people think about themselves, and he prefers righteousness even above sacrifice.
    • Again, the author goes off on his favorite subjects: don't be prideful, do be diligent and hard-working, don't be a greedy liar, the wicked will be destroyed, contentious wives are bad, don't be a scoffer, give to poor, bribes are helpful, etc., etc.
    • Proverbs attacks pleasure-seeking: being a fan of wine and oil doesn't lead to success.
    • Brains are better than brawn: one proverb states that a single wise man is able to bring down a whole stronghold.
    • The chapter ends by reminding the reader that no human wisdom or understanding can outwit God, and that, prepare as humans may for any sort of battle or undertaking, victory lies in God's hand.
  • Chapter 22

    That Old "There's a Lion Outside" Excuse

    • Proverbs re-hashes some more choice topics: a good name is better than riches, God creates both the rich and the poor, humility is pretty great, and you should discipline your kids (by beating them).
    • The author also praises knowing when to run and hide—the clever do it, but the simple charge onwards.
    • Wrapping up this section of Proverbs, the author gets in one last shot at loose women, as well as lazy people who complain that they'll get killed by lions if they go outside. He or she also gives a shout-out to beating the folly out of your kids with the "rod of discipline," and treating the poor with kindness.

    Landmark Preservation Society 

    • This new section, entitled "The Words of the Wise," begins with another traditional call to heed the author's wise words.
    • He (again, or she—for all we know) says that he (or she) has assembled thirty wise sayings for your benefit. (Gender note: though it's never totally made clear, Proverbs seems pretty male-centered in its views, like in its depiction of "loose women." After all, it doesn't really attack "loose men.")
    • The sayings begin with some practical advice, similar to what's gone before: don't befriend hotheads, don't oppress the poor, don't give pledges you can't keep or get into debt, and try to be skillful in your work so you can serve kings.
    • Additionally, it says you shouldn't remove ancient landmarks that your ancestors put in place.
  • Chapter 23

    Enjoying a little Mezze with the King 

    • Instead of being a disjointed set of proverbs, the opening part of this chapter sticks to a certain theme.
    • You should restrain your appetite—don't pig out if you're dining with the king, and don't desire the delicacies the wealthy can afford to eat. The things you desire disappear as soon as you get them.
    • Again, don't remove ancient landmarks your ancestors put down—and make sure you take care of orphans, too.
    • Like the previous set of sayings, this set gets way into corporal punishment: beat your kids and they'll be better people. They won't die and go to Sheol, the underworld.
    • As long as you do what's right, the sayings promise, you'll have a future.

    Drink Responsibly 

    • Avoid people who love drinking wine and don't associate with gluttonous eaters of meat.
    • Buy truth for yourself, says the book, but don't sell it to others—keep it close. (We better not see any of your truth on eBay, Shmoopers.)
    • In line with earlier observations, the book says to continue to obey your parents and avoid adulteresses and prostitutes.
    • The chapter ends with a passage poetically condemning heavy wine drinking. It leads to woe, strife, "redness of eyes," and making you babble on about strange and perverse topics. In the end, you'll just feel like you want to keep drinking to drown your sorrows.
  • Chapter 24

    Sweet-Tooth Sentiments

    • Don't desire the sort of things wicked people want and have, says Proverbs. (Goodfellas is a good movie and all, but not a selection of choice role models.)
    • Also, in case you haven't realized it yet, wisdom is really great. It can help you build up a nice household and win wars.
    • The author praises courage and a willingness to rescue people who are being sent to the slaughter, saying that God will repay you if you fail to live up to these responsibilities.
    • Wisdom is like honey—they're both really good and sweet and you should eat them (a little pro-sweet-tooth sentiment from Proverbs here).
    • No matter how many times they run into obstacles and fall down, the righteous get back up. But the wicked will eventually be struck down in one fell swoop.
    • You shouldn't rejoice when your enemies fall, because then God will take it easy on them (so, don't rejoice and God will, you know, totally punish them).
    • So, keep obeying God—oh, and the king too—and everything will work out in the end.

    A Fixer-Upper Vineyard 

    • A new section begins: "Further Sayings of the Wise."
    • You should judge impartially and always give honest answers. Don't be a witness against your neighbors for no good reason, and don't vengefully try to repay people for wrongs they've done to you.
    • The chapter ends with the author stating that he was walking by a vineyard owned by a lazy, stupid person. He sees that it is all broken down and overgrown, and he realizes that this is what a little laziness leads to: poverty and ruin.
  • Chapter 25

    A King Praises… Kings

    • This next chapter begins with a new batch of hot proverbs, delivered fresh from the mental oven of King Solomon. Actually, maybe they're not exactly fresh—Proverbs claims they were recorded from old records of Solomon's sayings by officials in King Hezekiah's court.
    • The sayings kick off with a description of the way kings are supposed to rule. God hides things, but kings are meant to ferret them out—reveal rather than conceal.
    • Kings have deep and unsearchable minds, and you'd best avoid getting demoted by them or by other nobles.
    • In the same way someone removes dross (the dregs, worthless bits) from silver to make a vessel, the king should remove wickedness from his court.
    • Also, if you see your neighbor doing something wrong, don't immediately blab about it to the authorities. Bring it up with your neighbor privately and see if you can work something out.

    Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch 

    • King Solomon (or whoever) goes on to praise a few of his favorite things (see if you can do a Sound of Music arrangement with them): fitly-spoken words, a wise rebuke, faithful messengers, not boasting about gifts you haven't given, patience, and a soft tongue.
    • Also, Solomon wisely counsels people against binge-eating honey, if they happen to find a honeycomb somewhere. You'll end up puking, he says.
    • Don't continually visit your neighbor, or else he'll get sick of you, and you also shouldn't bear false witness against your neighbors.
    • He continues listing likes and dislikes: he doesn't like faithless people, singing songs to heavy hearts (it just makes you sadder), backbiting, contentious wives, seeking honor after honor too ambitiously, and sorrow.
    • However, he does like generosity to enemies (it fills them with shame like burning coals on their heads), good news from distant lands, those who refuse to give way to the wicked, and self-control.
  • Chapter 26

    Two Approaches to Fools

    • The proverbs continue: if you curse someone, and they don't deserve it, the curse won't affect them. It'll just drift around aimlessly in space, like a sparrow in the breeze.
    • After stating that fools don't deserve honor, Proverbs records two contradictory proverbs: the first says not to answer a fool "according to his folly," or you'll look like a fool; the second says to answer a fool according to his folly, or else the fool will think he or she is wise. (You get to be the judge here.)
    • Don't send messages by fools, give honor to or hire them—also, proverbs sound weak when fools try to say them.
    • Fools keep returning to their folly, like a dog who goes back to lick up its own vomit (a nice image).
    • People who falsely believe that they are wise are, however, even worse than straight-up fools—they have less hope.

    Sticky Dishes 

    • A few sayings run through familiar observations on lazy people: lazy people stick their hands in dishes and are too lazy to remove them; they love to luxuriate in bed; and they have an undue amount of self-esteem (too much of it).
    • You shouldn't meddle in someone else's quarrel, or make incendiary comments and then claim that you were "just joking."
    • The chapter ends by inveighing against people who whisper maliciously, who might speak softly, but have evil intent. Anyone who acts like this, concocting schemes and plots, will eventually be undone by their own efforts.
  • Chapter 27

    Taste Follows Appetite

    • More advice piles up: don't boast about what will happen tomorrow, because it could all be overthrown; don't praise yourself, let others do it; jealousy is worse than wrath or anger; and fool's provocations are harder to resist than a heavy stone or sand pressing down on you.
    • It's better to rebuke someone out of care for their wellbeing than to hide your love for them. True friends will try to steer you into doing the right thing with rebukes and reminders, whereas enemies will just flatter and kiss up to you.
    • If your appetite is already sated, you won't gorge yourself on honey, but if you're really hungry, even bitter things taste good.
    • Don't run away from home like a bird flying away from its nest.
    • Also, perfume and incense are good things: they cheer you up.
    • Don't forget your friends or your parents' friends—but at the same time, don't spread your personal calamities to your family and kindred.
    • It's better to turn to neighbors nearby than to go too far away kinfolk to seek for solutions.

    More "Sticks and Carrots" 

    • Clever people know when to cut and run. The simple ones don't.
    • To repeat an earlier point, Proverbs says not to make loans or give surety to a stranger or a foreigner.
    • If you loudly (obnoxiously) bless a neighbor early in the morning, it'll feel like a curse rather than a blessing.
    • Proverbs continues, handing out sticks and carrots: contentious wives and fools get more sticks; people who sharpen one another's wits, tend fruit trees, and take care of their masters get carrots.
    • Human hearts reflect each other, like water reflects your face.
    • Human eyes are never satisfied in seeing enough, the same way Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied with taking in more souls.
    • Being praised tests what a person is really made of.
    • Keep a close watch on your herds and livestock and take care of them. Nothing lasts forever, but if you're attentive, you'll have enough for you and your household.
  • Chapter 28

    False Self-Esteem

    • Wicked people are actually cowards. The righteous are, conversely, quite courageous.
    • Rebellion causes a land to have many rulers—but one king can do a better job and ensure peace.
    • Justice and law are utterly at odds with the wicked, and you do battle with the wicked by following and supporting law and justice.
    • It's better to be poor and honest, than rich and corrupt.
    • Avoid the following, says Proverbs: hanging out with gluttons, charging people exorbitant interest on loans, and refusing to listen to the law.
    • It also says that the wicked will be destroyed by their wicked acts, while the innocent will be rewarded (which we're pretty sure Proverbs said about twenty times before, but whatever).
    • Smart poor people see through the false self-esteem of the wealthy, and confessing your sins to God allows you to obtain mercy.

    Concerning Fear and Harrison Ford

    • It's a good idea to always have a little fear—meaning concern—but people with hard hearts who lack this kind of respectful trepidation will end up falling into calamity.
    • Wicked rulers are bad. And so are people who give assistance to murderous fugitives. (But what if they're falsely accused like Harrison Ford in The Fugitive? Proverbs leaves that one hanging.)
    • Don't be partial towards anyone in particular, because they might turn around and do something wrong for a really small reason, like getting a piece of bread.
    • Don't hurry to get rich; be a miser, flatter people, or leech off your parents.
    • Oh, and don't be greedy or trust in your own wits. But do give to the poor.
  • Chapter 29

    Learn and Adjust

    • If you fail to adjust after being rebuked, you'll end by falling into utter ruin and won't be able to repair it.
    • Old themes are repeated: wicked rulers are bad, wise children are good for their parents, visiting with prostitutes is bad, and flattering neighbors is pretty bad too.
    • Kings who exact too much from the people can ruin their countries, and fools and scoffers are still verboten.
    • If the wise try to bring fools to the court of law, it leads to endless ridicule and ranting—so avoid doing this if you can.
    • The wise know how to hold back their anger.

    God Makes Jerks Too 

    • Rulers shouldn't listen to falsehoods, but should be fair to the poor.
    • The poor and their oppressors have at least one thing in common: God has made them both live.
    • If parents neglect their children and don't discipline them, they'll have grief.
    • Not only law, but prophecy also helps people behave correctly.
    • You can't discipline servants through words alone—people are too thick. Also, slaves who have been coddled won't come to a good end. (Hmm. Do these sayings seem a little dark to you?)
    • People who are hasty in speaking are worse off than fools and have less hope.
    • Trust in God rather than fearing other people—God ultimately gives justice, rather than kings.
    • The righteous and the wicked both seem like abominations in each other's eyes.
  • Chapter 30

    Agur Gets Existential

    • This next section is entitled "Sayings of Agur, Son of Jakeh" (no one knows who Agur was, but he may have been a non-Israelite, representing Near-Eastern wisdom in a more general way).
    • It begins with a confession of human ignorance—the speaker admits that he doesn't know anything, doesn't understand how the world was made, or how the universe was structured. He lacks wisdom, he says, but ends by saying to God that God surely knows all of this.
    • He says that everything God says comes true, and people shouldn't falsely attribute statements to the divine.
    • In life, Agur says he only wants to be free from falsehood and lying, and to have just enough to live—being free from both poverty and wealth. He asks God for these gifts and says he won't be able to live an upright moral life without them.

    Agur's Rogues Gallery

    • Don't slander servants to their masters, says Agur.
    • Also, Agur catalogues all the bad guys out there: people who curse their parents, people who think they lack sin but are actually sinful, people who oppress the poor and steal money and goods from them.
    • People who are leeches end up having their own children prey on them (though the meaning of this passage in Hebrew is somewhat unclear).
    • Agur continues to catalogue different sets of things: four things that are never satisfied—a barren womb, Sheol, the dry earth thirsty for water, and some sort of raging fire that keeps consuming everything.
    • Out of nowhere, he says that an eye that mocks father and mother will be picked out by crows.

    When a Man Loves a Woman… It's Really Confusing to Agur 

    • Then he goes back to cataloguing stuff. Agur says three things are too wonderful for him, and four he doesn't understand. The three things that are too wonderful are an eagle in the sky, a snake crawling on a rock, and a ship sailing the sea. The fourth is the way of a man with a woman.
    • He says, again just off-handedly, that an adulteress commits adultery as simply as someone who eats and wipes his or her mouth and says that they've done no wrong.
    • Three things make the earth tremble, and the fourth knocks it out of sorts entirely: a slave who becomes king, a fool who's eaten too much, an unloved woman who gets a husband, and a maid who succeeds her mistress as the new head of household.

    Badgers: Masters of Fortification

    • There are four wise animals, even though they're small: ants, who provide food for themselves despite their size; badgers, who own nothing, yet defend themselves by living in the rocks; locusts, who march in rank without having a king; and finally the lizard, who is found in all the palaces of kings.
    • He also praises four beings for their stately stride and gait: the lion, the rooster, the he-goat, and a king who walks in front of his people.
    • If you're saying foolish things or are devising evil, cover your mouth quick.
    • Anger creates strife in the same way that pressing on your nose too much will make it bleed. (We don't recommend you try this at home.)
  • Chapter 31

    Just Ask Mom

    • This chapter begins with an oracle that King Lemuel (possibly some otherwise unknown non-Israelite king) learned from his mother.
    • She tells him not to give his strength to women (by having too much sex) and not to drink wine, because it will lead him into making unjust decisions and violating his citizens' rights.
    • She says wine and strong drink are good for people who are dying or are in distress, to ease their pain and help them forget their misery.
    • She ends by urging him to defend the rights of the poor and the needy, and to judge righteously.

    Betty Crocker Meets Rosie the Riveter 

    • This next section isn't from King Lemuel or his mom, apparently. It's an ode to the ideal, capable wife from another source.
    • Basically, capable wives are really great—they benefit their husbands endlessly, bring in food from far away, and know how to work with wool and flax to make clothing.
    • The capable wife rises up early in the morning and makes sure all the servant-girls are doing chores and that the household is running correctly.
    • She considers and buys a field by herself, and plants a vineyard with money she's earned.
    • She grows physically strong, sells profitable merchandise, and is constantly industrious.
    • The capable wife gives to the poor and doesn't have to worry about winter, since everyone in her household is richly clothed thanks to her efforts. Oh, and she's got some fine outfits, as well.
    • Her husband becomes a revered member of the council of elders, and she teaches kindness and wisdom to her children and others.
    • She's never idle, never has to fear the future, and always takes care of her household.
    • Her kids and husband all praise her and appreciate how happy and capable she is.
    • A woman who fears God is way preferable to one with mere charm or beauty.
    • If you give her a share of the money she's earned, she'll use it in works that earn her praise in the city.