1 A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight.
“false balance is abomination” – similar denunciation is found in the law (see Lev 19:35) and the prophets (Amos 8:5; Mic 6:11)
“just weight” – silver was weighed on scales balanced against a stone weight. Weights with dishonest labels were used for cheating.
2 When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.
“When pride cometh, then cometh shame” – along with destruction (see 16:18; cf the humbling of proud Assyria in Is 10:12; cf also Is 14:13-15).
“with the lowly is wisdom” – along with honor.
3 The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them.
“integrity…shall guide them” – cf the actions of Joseph in Gen 39:6-12.
4 Riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death.
“Day of wrath” – the day of Judgment (see Is 10:3; Zeph 1:18).
5 The righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way: but the wicked shall fall by his own wickedness.
“shall direct his way” – will enable him to reach his goals.
6 The righteousness of the upright shall deliver them: but tran
sgressors shall be taken in their own naughtiness.
7 When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth.
8 The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead.
Cf the recuse of Mordecai and the execution of Haman in Establish 5:14; 7:10.
9 An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbor: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered.
“destroyeth his neighbor” – by spreading slander (cf 10:18).
“through knowledge” – perhaps the knowledge of the schemes a nd distortions of the godless (cf Jn 2:25).
10 When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth: and when the wicked perish, there is shouting.
“city rejoiceth” – see 28:12; 29:2. Thus life in the city is itself a teacher of wisdom.
“there is shouting” – cf the joy oat the fall of Assyria (Is 30:32; Nah 3:19; cf 2 Chr 21:20).
11 By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted: but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.
“blessing of the upright” – their good influence and desire for justice as well as their prosperity (v 10) bring honor to the city.
“mouth of the wicked” – their deceit, dishonesty, and sowing of discord.
12 He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbor: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.
“despiseth his neighbor” – shows his contempt openly.
“holdeth his peace” – he keeps silent.
13 A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.
14 Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.
15 He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it: and he that hateth suretiship is sure.
16 A gracious woman retaineth honor: and strong men retain riches.
Assuming that “a good name is rather to be chosen than great riches” (22:1), this verse observes that a woman, if she is kindhearted, will be accorded more respect than wealthy men if they are “strong” [i.e., “ruthless”].
17 The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.
“doeth good to his own soul” – or “benefits himself” (see Matt 5:7).
18 The wicked worketh a deceitful work: but to him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward.
“worketh a deceitful work” – receives deceptive rewards of wrongdoing because the benefits do not last.
19 As righteousness tendeth to life: so he that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death.
20 They that are of a froward heart are abomination to the LORD: but such as are upright in their way are his delight.
21 Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished: but the seed of the righteous shall be delivered.
22 As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.
“jewel of gold” – commonly worn by women on their noses (see Gen 24:47; Ez 16:12).
“without discretion” – Abigail was praised by David for her display of discernment (1 Sam 25:33).
23 The desire of the righteous is only good: but the expectation of the wicked is wrath.
24 There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.
Generosity is the path to blessing and further prosperity (Ecc 11:1-2; Ps 112:9; 2 Cor 9:6-9). By contrast, the stingy person does not make any friends and hurts himself in the long run (21:13).
25 The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.
“The liberal soul shall be made fat” – a generous person will experience prosperity. “He which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6; cf Lk 6:38).
“be watered” –
That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed (Rom 15:32).
26 He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him: but blessing shall be upon the head of him that selleth it.
“withholdeth corn” – [e.g., grain]. Probably in times of scarcity to raise the price.
“blessing shall be upon the head…him that selleth it” – like Joseph during the famine in Egypt (Gen 41:53-57).
27 He that diligently seeketh good procureth favor: but he that seeketh mischief, it shall come unto him.
“He that diligently seeketh good procureth favor” – he reaps what he sows, like the man in v 25 (cf Matt 7:12).
“he that seeketh mischief, it shall come unto him” – his wicked schemes will backfire.
28 He that trusteth in his riches shall fall: but the righteous shall flourish as a branch.
“He that trusteth in his riches” – usually said of the wicked (Ps 49:6; 62:10; but see Mark 10:25; 1 Tim 6:17).
“flourish as a branch” – he is like a healthy tree sprouting vegetation: cf Ps 1:3.
29 He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.
“He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind” – the inheritance of the Levi and Simeon was affected because of their cruelty against Shechem (Gen 34:25-30; 49:7).
“to the wise of heart” – as the evil man serves the good (14:19; cf 17:2).
30 The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise.
“fruit of the righteous” – what a wise man produces.
“winneth souls” – wins people over to wisdom and righteousness (see Dan 12:3; 1 Cor 9:19-22; Jas 5:20). However, the Hebrew for this expression is unusual so that its translation is somewhat uncertain.
31 Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: much more the wicked and the sinner.
“the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth” – even Moses and David were punished for their sins (see Num 20:11-12; 2 Sam 12:10).
“Much more the wicked and the sinner” – see 1:18, 31; Ps 11:6; 73:18-19.
For the time is come that Judgment must begin at the house of God; and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?(1 Pet 4:17).
Justice and Fraud
in the Hymn to Shamash
Desire for justice and fairness is a universal human trait. No society can function efficiently where injustice and fraud prevail. Indeed, people the world over have long believed that justice is not merely a human institution but the will of heaven.
In ancient Near East virtually all people believed that moral obligations were imposed upon them from above. Even though only Israel had the law of God, it would be a mistake to say that the other ancient religions lacked or ignored moral teachings.
A particularly clear example appears in an Akkadian hymn to Shamas, the sun god. Since the sun was thought to have been an all-seeing eye that looked down from above upon the affairs of humankind, it is surprising that Shamash in particular would be associated with justice.
In the hymn Shamash is praised for bring to light the deeds of humanity. In particular, the hymn declares that the god sees and judges anyone who invests in a shady business scheme, commits fraud using inaccurate scales, avoids by some hoax full repayment of a debt or launches groundless lawsuits. Such people, the hymn insists, will see all of their profits disappear.
Proverbs 11:1 declares, “A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight in his delight.” The fact that the Bible is not the only ancient text that speaks in such terms concerning justice doesn’t diminish the place of Scripture as God’s special revelation.
Indeed, it is precisely at this point that Biblical teaching meets the wisdom of the Gentiles: The Bible affirms what is best in the teachings of the sages of the other nations, while avoiding the superstition and degradation that accompany paganism.
Thus, 1:7 can recommend to all its readers that the fear of the Lord is the only valid launching pad in the quest for wisdom. Its words affirm the gentle desire for justice but assert that this longing is best fulfilled by turning to the God of Israel.