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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Prov. 18:1

Verse 1
He that separateth himself seeketh [his own] desire, And rageth against all sound wisdom.

"The Hebrew text of the O.T. here yields no satisfactory sense."F1 Hooke preferred this; "A man who wishes to separate from friends seeks excuses; but at all times he will be liable to reproach."F2 Another various reading is, "The alienated friend seeks an occasion of quarrel to stir up strife."F3 We shall paraphrase the apparent meaning here: "When any man wishes to separate himself from former friends, he will seek some pretext for doing so; but his behavior is altogether reprehensible.

Verse 2
A fool hath no delight in understanding, But only that his heart may reveal itself.

"A fool has no pleasure in what is reasonable, but only in self-display."F4 What is evident here is the inherent selfishness of the unregenerated soul.

Verse 3
When the wicked cometh, there cometh also contempt, And with ignominy [cometh] reproach.

"Three inevitable traveling companions of wickedness are mentioned here: contempt, ignominy and reproach."F5 "These three terms for shame give triple emphasis to shame, which is the corollary of sin, the antithesis of which is glory, the corollary of holiness (Isa. 6:3, Rom. 8:30)."F6

Verse 4
The words of a man's mouth are [as] deep waters; The wellspring of wisdom is [as] a flowing brook.

The two clauses contrast man's teachings (the words of a man's mouth) with the true wisdom. "Deep waters in the Old Testament are associated with the thought of darkness and mystery (Ps. 59:2; Eccl. 7:24; Pr. 20:3)."F7 On the other hand, the true wisdom (God's Words) are like the happy sparkling waters of a flowing brook. Christ seems to have had this passage in mind (John 7:37-38) on that last day of the feast.

Verse 5
To respect the person of the wicked is not good, [Nor] to turn aside the righteous in judgment.

"It is not good to show favor to the wicked or to deprive the righteous of justice."F8

Verse 6
A fool's lips enter into contention, And his mouth calleth for stripes.

"When some fool starts an argument, he is asking for a beating."F9 "When a stupid man talks, contention follows."F10 These translations are currently favored; but as the words stand, they also indicate that a fool joins in any controversy, calling for a judgment of stripes (scourging) upon others, not upon himself. When Jesus was crucified, the "fools" shouted, "Let him be crucified."

Verse 7
A fool's mouth is his destruction, And his lips are the snare of his soul.

Again and again Proverbs returns to the dangers of irresponsible speech. For a full discussion of this, see James 3.

Verse 8
The words of a whisperer are as dainty morsels, And they go down into the innermost parts.

"The words of a slanderer are like dainty morsels, swallowed and relished to the full."F11 The sinful delight of becoming the eager listener to slanderous talk is condemned in this proverb.

Verse 9
He also that is slack in his work Is brother to him that is a destroyer.

"One by failing to get and the other by wasting what he has are brothers in that both their actions lead to poverty."F12

Verse 10
The name of Jehovah is a strong tower; The righteous runneth into it, and is safe.

"What a strong fortress is to the besieged, so is God to his persecuted, tempted and afflicted followers."F13

Verse 11
The rich man's wealth is his strong city, And as a high wall in his own imagination.

"The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it an unscalable wall."F14 Effective as wealth is for many purposes, it is an unspeakably poor security for one's soul. God help all wealthy persons to anticipate that hour when the death angel shall say, "Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee."F15

Verse 12
Before destruction the heart of man is haughty; And before honor [goeth] humility.

This proverb has the same thought as Prov. 16:18 and Prov. 15:33. Pride and haughtiness are frequently condemned in Proverbs; and humility is often cited as the necessary predecessor of honor.

Verse 13
He that giveth answer before he heareth, It is folly and shame unto him.

"To answer a question before you have heard it out is both stupid and insulting."F16

Verse 14
The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; But a broken spirit who can bear?
Spirit in this passage is the inner being of a man, the seat of his vigor and courage.F17 Men with a strong spirit are able to overcome misfortunes and even serious illness; but without such inner determination, faith and courage, it is much more difficult, or even impossible.

Verse 15
The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; And the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.

"We have a paradox here, that those who know the most know how little they know; and this is the same thought that Paul stressed in 1 Cor. 8:2."F18

Verse 16
A man's gift maketh room for him, And bringeth him before great men.

Toy denied that there is any reference to a bribe here. What is meant is that gifts from benevolent people (such as a philanthropist) are effective in bringing many honors to the giver. "He thus has a free field, access,"F19 not only to `great men' but to respected institutions in society.

Verse 17
He that pleadeth his cause first [seemeth] just; But his neighbor cometh and searcheth him out.

"The evidence of one person alone is not much to be depended upon; this is a variation of the old proverb that, `One tale is good till another is told.'"F20

See comment under Prov. 16:33, above.

Verse 19
A brother offended [is harder to be won] than a strong city; And [such] contentions are like the bars of a castle.

The meaning here is uncertain. The underlined words are not in the Hebrew but were added by the translators. "A brother helped by a brother is like a fortified city; he holds firm as the bars of a castle."F21 "Help your brother, and he will protect you like a strong city wall; but, if you quarrel with him, he will close his doors to you."F22 In the three versions cited here there is no complete agreement.

Verse 20
A man's belly shall be filled with the fruit of his mouth; With the increase of his lips shall he be satisfied.

A proposed various reading by Toy has this, "From the fruit of the mouth comes requital to men; the outcome of the lips they must bear."F23 This proverb reminds us of the words of Jesus, "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" (Matthew 12:37).

Verse 21
Death and life are in the power of the tongue; And they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.

The thought here is parallel with the previous proverb; but it adds an inference that, "One should not fall in love with talking too much."

Verse 22
Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, And obtaineth favor of Jehovah.

This writer has performed many wedding ceremonies, and this proverb was often quoted in the preliminary remarks.

Verse 23
The poor useth entreaties; But the rich answereth roughly.

Here we have a proverb that states one of the realities of our earthly lives, although by no means a desirable one. "The poor man has to request things respectfully, hoping for help in his impoverished condition; but the rich man does not have to worry about the tone of his voice."F24 Sometimes a wealthy man will display a haughty attitude with little or no regard for the way in which his words may be received by others.

Verse 24
He that maketh many friends [doeth it] to his own destruction; But there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.

There are two kinds of friends contrasted in this proverb. Those of the first clause are like the `friends' of the prodigal son while he was squandering his inheritance in the far country, those who drank his liquor and encouraged him to waste his substance, but who would not give him a crust of bread when he ran out of money.

The friend that sticketh closer than a brother is the true friend. Tate recommended the RSV here as, "A reasonable attempt to reconstruct a difficult verse."F25 "There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother."F26

Footnotes for Proverbs 18
1: Arthur S. Peake, A Commentary on the Bible (London: T. C. and E. C. Jack, Ltd., 1924), p. 405.
2: The Greek Septuagint (LXX).
3: The Cross-Reference Bible (New York: The Cross-Reference Bible Company, 1910), p. 1145.
4: The Bible, an American Translation (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1923).
5: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 564.
6: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, Vol. 15, p. 127.
7: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 Edition), Proverbs, p. 52.
8: The New English Bible.
9: The Good News Bible,
10: The New English Bible.
11: James Moffatt's Translation of the Bible, 1929.
12: Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's Commentary, p. 397.
13: Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible (London: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837), Vol. III, p. 753.
14: The New International Version (NIV).
15: King James Version (KJV).
16: The New English Bible.
17: International Critical Commentary, Proverbs, p. 362.
18: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, op. cit., p. 129.
19: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 363.
20: Harris in the Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, Vol. 13, p. 550.
21: The Bible, an American Translation (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1923).
22: The Good News Bible.
23: The Cross-Reference Bible (New York: The Cross-Reference Bible Company, 1910), p. 1147.
24: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1971), Vol. 5, p. 60.
25: Ibid.
26: The Revised Standard Version.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Proverbs 18". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  


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