1One who is alienated seeks a pretext,
with all persistence picks a quarrel.
2Fools take no delight in understanding,
but only in displaying what they think.#One grows in wisdom by listening to others, but fools take delight in expounding the contents of their minds.
3With wickedness comes contempt,
and with disgrace, scorn.
4The words of one’s mouth are deep waters,
the spring of wisdom, a running brook.#Words express a person’s thoughts (“deep waters”), which in turn become accessible to others. Cf. 20:5a. #Prv 20:5; Jn 7:38.
5It is not good to favor the guilty,
nor to reject the claim of the just.#Prv 24:23; 28:21.
6The lips of fools walk into a fight,
and their mouths are asking for a beating.#The bold personification of lips and mouth is similar to Ps 73:9, “They set their mouths against the heavens, their tongues roam the earth.” Careless words can lead one into serious trouble.
7The mouths of fools are their ruin;
their lips are a deadly snare.#Prv 10:14; 12:13; 13:3; Eccl 10:12.
8The words of a talebearer are like dainty morsels:
they sink into one’s inmost being.#Prv 26:22.
9Those slack in their work
are kin to the destroyer.
10#Contrast this judgment with the observation in 10:15. The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
the just run to it and are safe.
11The wealth of the rich is their strong city;#Prv 10:15.
they fancy it a high wall.
12Before disaster the heart is haughty,#Prv 11:2; 16:18; Sir 10:15.
but before honor is humility.
13Whoever answers before listening,#Sir 11:8.
theirs is folly and shame.#To speak without first listening is characteristic of a fool; cf. 10:14; Sir 11:8.
14One’s spirit supports one when ill,
but a broken spirit who can bear?#The paradox is that something as slight as a column of air offers protection against the encroachment of death. If it is stilled, nothing, no matter how powerful, can substitute for it.
15The heart of the intelligent acquires knowledge,
and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.#“Knowledge” here refers to what one knows, not knowledge in itself. The mind acquires and stores it, the ear strains toward it.
16Gifts clear the way for people,
winning access to the great.#Prv 21:14.
17Those who plead the case first seem to be in the right;
then the opponent comes and cross-examines them.#A persuasive speech in court can easily make one forget there is another side to the question. When the other party speaks, people realize they made a premature judgment. The experience at court is a lesson for daily life: there are two sides to every question.
18The lot puts an end to disputes,
and decides a controversy between the mighty.#See note on 16:33.
19A brother offended is more unyielding than a stronghold;
such strife is more daunting than castle gates.#The Greek version, followed by several ancient versions, has the opposite meaning: “A brother helped by a brother is like a strong and lofty city; it is strong like a well-founded palace.” The Greek is secondary as is shown by the need to supply the phrase “by a brother”; further, the parallelism is inadequate. The Hebrew is to be preferred.
20With the fruit of one’s mouth one’s belly is filled,
with the produce of one’s lips one is sated.#Fruit from the earth is our ordinary sustenance, but “the fruit of one’s lips,” i.e., our words, also affect our well-being. If our words and our deeds are right, then we are blessed, our “belly is filled.” #Prv 12:14; 13:2.
21Death and life are in the power of the tongue;#Sir 37:18.
those who choose one shall eat its fruit.#This enigmatic saying has provoked many interpretations, e.g., judicious speech brings a reward; those who love the tongue in the sense of rattling on must face the consequences of their loquacity. This translation interprets the verb “love” in colon B in its occasional sense of “choose” (e.g., 12:1; 20:13; Dt 4:37) and interprets its pronominal object as referring to both death and life in colon A. Death and life are set before every person (cf. Dt 30:15–20) and we have the power to choose either one by the quality of our deeds. Words (= “the tongue”) are regarded here as the defining actions of human beings.
22To find a wife is to find happiness,
a favor granted by the Lord.#Prv 12:4; 19:14; Sir 7:26.
23The poor implore,
but the rich answer harshly.
24There are friends who bring ruin,
but there are true friends more loyal than a brother.#Prv 17:17.