Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentPROVERBS 28
The wicked flee when no man pursueth; But the righteous are bold as a lion.
"Many of the proverbs in Prov. 18--29 remind us of those in the 2nd major section of Proverbs (Prov. 10:1--22:16), with their frequent contrasts of good and evil."F1 In this verse the contrast is between a criminal whose guilty conscience compels him to flee and a righteous person who feels no such compulsion. "A rogue runs away when no one is chasing him, but just men are braver than lions."F2
For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof; But by men of understanding [and] knowledge the state [thereof] shall be prolonged.
"The text in the second line is very uncertain, and many renderings are possible."F3 What is said here was, in later times, illustrated in the history of Israel, The sin of Northern Israel resulted in their having many kings whose brief reigns followed in succession rapidly, whereas Judah's righteousness (in a relative sense, of course) enjoyed a far more stable government. The idea is: "When a land transgresses, it has many rulers; but with men of understanding and knowledge, its stability will long continue."F4
A needy man that oppresseth the poor Is [like] a sweeping rain which leaveth no food.
Scholars admit that this is a fair rendition of the Hebrew text;F5 but what is said here does not correspond with certain facts. Throughout the Old Testament, a poor man is nowhere presented as an oppressor of the poor; and furthermore it could not add to the distress of the poor that the oppressor was one of their own class. This has led to some various renditions. "A wicked ruler who oppresses the poor is a beating rain that leaves no food."F6 "A tyrant oppressing the poor is like a flood that leaves no food."F7 If the standard renditions are followed, we might cite Abimelech the son of Gideon as the type of "poor man" oppressor intended by the Hebrew text.
They that forsake the law praise the wicked; But such as keep the law contend with them.
The mention of the law of Moses here is another example of the truth that every book of the Old Testament after the Pentateuch is written in the shadow of the Five Books of Moses. There is no ground whatever in this for referring the authorship of Proverbs to the Greek period, as Toy thought;F8 because there were many other periods in Jewish history when they, in the general sense, forsook the law of Moses. In fact, the first generation following the death of Joshua and his contemporaries is just as good as any other example of Israel's apostasy. There were literally dozens of them.
Evil men understand not justice; But they that seek Jehovah understand all things.
Another reading for justice here is "religion."F9 What this proverb says is that, "It is only through the Divine Law that either justice or right (righteousness in general) can be known."F10 As Kidner noted, all of this is spelled out in detail in Rom. 1:18-32.F11
Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity, Than he that is perverse in [his] ways, though he be rich.
This is a variation of Prov. 19:1. There the righteous poor man is better than a fool; here he is better than a wealthy wicked man. It's true both ways. See the note there.
Whoso keepeth the law is a wise son; But he that is a companion of gluttons shameth his father.
"Again, the Law here is the Torah (the Pentateuch) and seems also to include the directions and commandments of one's father. An obedient and prudent son brings joy and honor to his father (Prov. 10:1; 29:3). The son who herds with debauchers, and wastes his substance in riotous living brings shame and insults upon his father."F12
Deane recommended the Septuagint here: "A wise son keeps the law, but a son that keeps up debauchery dishonors his father."F13
He that augmenteth his substance by interest and increase, Gathereth it for him that hath pity on the poor.
Usury, defined as excessive interest, was based upon a percentage of money loaned required to be paid in addition to the principal; `increase' referred to such agreements in which grain and other products were loaned, contingent upon the lender being repaid with an "increase in kind." Borrow three bushels, pay back four!
This proverb states that unscrupulous loan sharks who amassed fortunes by such tactics were merely gathering up wealth that a successor would distribute to the poor. Although this must have happened in certain cases, the passage should be viewed as the way God intended it to be, rather than as the way things generally occurred.
He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, Even his prayer is an abomination.
Hearing the law (here) is not a reference merely to hearing it read. It means "accepting and obeying the law." If a man is disobedient to God, even his prayer is an abomination to God. The same thing is said of the wicked man's sacrifice (Proverbs 15:1), and even of his very thoughts (Proverbs 15:26). That God indeed refuses to hear some prayers is mentioned by Isaiah (Isaiah 1:15).
Whoso causeth the upright to go astray in an evil way, He shall fall himself into his own pit; But the perfect shall inherit good.
"He who tempts the upright to evil courses will himself fall into the pit which he has dug."F14 Prov. 26:27 has this same thought. See the comment there.
The rich man is wise in his own conceit; But the poor that hath understanding searcheth him out.
"Poor men know what rich men really are. The rich may fool themselves into thinking they are really wise and good; but poor people see through the masks to their true worth."F15 Toy's rendition of the second line: "But an intelligent man will probe him thoroughly."F16
When the righteous triumph, there is great glory; But when the wicked rise, men hide themselves.
The meaning here is obvious; and most of the translations and versions show very little variation. There is a glimpse here of the terrible sorrow and suffering that come to mankind, because occasionally wicked men gain the ascendancy in power, wealth, government, etc. It is always a sad day for humanity when an evil man procures great authority. Joseph Stalin, for example is credited with murdering over thirty million people!
He that covereth his transgressions shall not prosper: But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall obtain mercy.
This admonition should not be construed as teaching any such thing as "auricular confession" after the manner of the Roman church. Christians are not commanded to confess to any kind of prelate, or representative of any church. We are commanded to confess our sins "one to another" (James 5:16); and that is a mutual affair. Also it is said that every tongue shall "Confess to God" (Rom. 14:11; 15:9).
Happy is the man that feareth alway; But he that hardeneth his heart shall fall into mischief.
"Happy is the man who lives in fear of sin: reckless men come to grief."F17
[As] a roaring lion, and a ranging bear, [So is] a wicked ruler over a poor people.
Israel had their wicked rulers such as Ahab, Manasseh and many others; but the current century has seen a parade of evil rulers just as wicked and far more powerful; and any people with such a ruler is a "poor" people.
The prince that lacketh understanding is also a great oppressor; [But] he that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days.
The antithesis in the second line carries the implication that the oppressive prince or "ruler"F18 is a covetous person greedy for wealth. There is also the implication that, "Such a ruler will not be tolerated very long."F19 Covetousness is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). "Neither the possession of wealth nor the acquisition of it is sinful, but the eager haste of covetousness."F20
A man that is laden with the blood of any person Shall flee unto the pit; Let no man stay him.
"If a man is burdened with the blood of another, let him be a fugitive until death; let no one help him."F21 This version is better because it makes it clear that it is a sin to aid murderers fleeing to avoid punishment for their crime.
Whoso walketh uprightly shall be delivered; But he that is perverse in [his] ways shall fall at once.
Another rendition: "A man of blameless life is safe: pitfalls bring down the man of crooked courses."F22 "Time and chance happeneth unto all men" (Ecclesiastes 9:11); but it is still true that the righteous man enjoys a security even in the present life that is infinitely greater than that of the evil man.
He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread; But he that followeth after vain [persons] shall have poverty enough.
This proverb is practically the same as Prov. 12:11. See the comment there.
A faithful man shall abound with blessings; But he that maketh haste to be rich shall not be unpunished.
Paul admonished Christians in the strongest language against striving to be rich (1 Timothy 6:6-10). The lifestyle that is most compatible with the hope of receiving at last the crown of life that never fades away is one that stresses industry, contentment, kindness and a genuine concern for the welfare of others as well as that of one's own family.
To have respect of persons is not good; Neither that a man should transgress for a piece of bread.
"The first line here is also found in Prov. 24:23, referring there, as it does here, to the administration of justice."F23 See our comments there. "Some renditions here give the thought that a judge given to favoritism will swerve from the right decision upon the very smallest of temptations, `a crust of bread.'"F24 Kidner warned that, with regard to favoritism, "The preacher is just as vulnerable as the judge."F25
he that hath an evil eye hasteth after riches, And knoweth not that want shall come upon him.
The headlines in today's Houston Post (June 27, 1993) reveal that hundreds of millions of dollars have been lost to local investors in the collapse of a real estate empire promoted by a woman named Rodriguez. The district attorney's office named `greed' as the motivation of the investors. They lost it all! The ancient proverbs are still true.
He that rebuketh a man shall afterward find more favor Than he that flattereth with the tongue.
The scholars tell us that there's difficulty in the Hebrew with the word `afterward'; and the same is true as it stands in our version. If the first line is rearranged to read, "He that rebuketh a man afterward shall find more favor," then it might mean that the `afterward' would refer to misdemeanor; but as it is the word appplies to the time when the one who rebuked will find more favor.
To rebuke one who deserves it is a courageous thing to do, and only one's true friend will do it. (See James 5:19). "The true friend says harsh things, but they are wholesome words that may lead to spiritual growth, and they show more real affection than the soft and flattering words of the fawning parasite."F26 Deane favored this rendition: "He that reproves a man's ways shall have more favor than he that flatters with the tongue."F27
Whoso robbeth his father or his mother, and saith, It is no transgression, The same is the companion of a destroyer.
The background of this, as suggested by Cook,F28 seems to be that very kind of "robbing" one's parents that Jesus condemned in Mark 7:10-13. The fact that some robber of his parents might have the gall to say, "It is no transgression" points squarely at that Corban device invented by the Pharisees. This proverb places that class of robbery in the same category as "Open lawless robbery,"F29 effected by use of a deadly weapon.
He that is of a greedy spirit stirreth up strife; But he that putteth his trust in Jehovah shall be made fat.
The ancient view of many `wise men' was simple. "Be good, get rich; be bad and you'll be poor." This widely accepted philosophy was vigorously advocated by Job's `comforters,' namely, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu. The philosophy was defective in that it made no allowance for exceptions. Nevertheless, there were some residual elements of truth in it. We should understand this proverb in the light that shines on it from the Book of Job. See our comments there.
He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool; But whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.
He shall be delivered (2nd line). This means that, "He shall be saved."F30 Therefore, walking wisely means following the sacred instructions in the Bible. For Christians, especially those in the New Testament.
He that giveth unto the poor shall not lack; But he that hideth his eyes shall have many a curse.
The sentiment of the first line here is reiterated in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 9:6-11). God today blesses liberal and generous Christians. The reference to `curses' in line 2 reflects the extreme bitterness of poor people who are suffering for lack of the bare necessities of life, which are denied to them by people wallowing in affluence and luxury.
When the wicked rise, men hide themselves; But when they perish, the righteous increase.
We have already reviewed two companion verses: this one in Prov. 28:12, above, and in Prov. 11:10. We shall also have it again in Prov. 29:2. Nothing can be a source of more apprehension and dread for a community than the ascendancy of wicked people to positions of power and authority. Delitzsch gave this rendition: "When the godless rise up, men hide themselves; and when they perish the righteous increase."F31 When the wicked are removed from such eminence, we might also add that the people rejoice (Proverbs 29:2). They come out of their hiding places and have great glory (Proverbs 28:12). The inherent sorrow, distress, violence and oppression of evil appears not only in the sorrow of certain communities but in the tragic status of all mankind. Our sinning shameful race, in rebellion against their Creator, is on a collision course with disaster, which shall occur on that day described in Rev. 6:12-17.
Footnotes for Proverbs 28
1: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 579.
2: The Anchor Bible (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1982).
3: Arthur S. Peake, A Commentary on the Bible (London: T. C. and E. C. Jack, Ltd., 1924), p. 408.
4: The Revised Standard Version.
5: International Critical Commentary, Vol. 17, p. 495.
7: James Moffatt's Translation of the Bible, 1929,
8: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 496
9: Moffatt's translation.
10: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 497.
11: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 15, 169.
12: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 9, p. 534.
13: Septuagint (LXX)
14: The New English Bible.
15: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), Vol. 5, p. 88.
16: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 500.
17: Moffatt's translation.
18: The Revised Standard Version.
19: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), op. cit., p. 89.
20: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 Edition), Proverbs, p. 77,
21: The Revised Standard Version.
22: Moffatt's translation.
23: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 537.
25: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 172.
26: The Pulpit Commentary, op. cit., p. 538.
27: The Greek Septuagint (LXX).
28: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 Edition), Proverbs, p. 77.
30: The Douay Version of the Bible (New York: Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1948).
31: C. F. Keil, Keil-Delitzsch's Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company), Vol. 6b, p. 241.