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Proverbs 16:20-24

Context

16:20 The one who deals wisely 1  in a matter 2  will find success, 3 

and blessed 4  is the one who trusts in the Lord. 5 

16:21 The one who is wise in heart 6  is called 7  discerning,

and kind speech 8  increases persuasiveness. 9 

16:22 Insight 10  is like 11  a life-giving fountain 12  to the one who possesses it,

but folly leads to the discipline of fools. 13 

16:23 A wise person’s heart 14  makes his speech wise 15 

and it adds persuasiveness 16  to his words. 17 

16:24 Pleasant words are like 18  a honeycomb, 19 

sweet to the soul and healing 20  to the bones.

1 tn Heb “he who is prudent” or “he who deals wisely” (cf. KJV). The proverb seems to be referring to wise business concerns and the reward for the righteous. One who deals wisely in a matter will find good results. R. N. Whybray sees a contrast here: “The shrewd man of business will succeed well, but the happy man is he who trusts the Lord” (Proverbs [CBC], 92). Synonymous parallelism is more appropriate.

2 tn Or “he who gives heed to a word,” that is, “who listens to instruction” (cf. NIV, NLT).

3 tn Heb “good” (so KJV, ASV).

4 tn Although traditionally this word is translated “happy” (cf. KJV, ASV, NAB, NRSV, NLT), such a translation can be misleading because the word means far more than that. It describes the heavenly bliss that comes from knowing one is right with God and following God’s precepts. The “blessed” could be at odds with the world (Ps 1:1-3).

5 tn Heb “and the one who trusts in the Lord – blessed is he.”

6 tn Heb “wise of heart” (so NRSV).

7 tn Heb “to the wise of heart it will be called discerning.” This means that the wise of heart, those who make wise decisions (“heart” being the metonymy), will gain a reputation of being the discerning ones.

8 tn Heb “sweetness of lips.” The term “lips” is a metonymy of cause, meaning what is said. It is a genitive of specification. The idea of “sweetness” must be gracious and friendly words. The teaching will be well-received because it is both delightful and persuasive (cf. NIV “pleasant words promote instruction”).

9 tn Heb “teaching” or “receptivity”; KJV “learning”; NIV “instruction.”

10 tn The Hebrew noun שֵׂכֵל (sekhel, “prudence; insight”; cf. KJV, NASB, NIV “understanding”; NAB, CEV “good sense”) is related to the verb that means “to have insight; to give attention to; to act circumspectly [or, prudently],” as well as “to prosper; to have success.” These words all describe the kind of wise action that will be successful.

11 tn The comparative “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is implied by the metaphor; it is supplied for the sake of clarity.

12 tn Heb “fountain of life.” The point of the metaphor is that like a fountain this wisdom will be a constant provision for living in this world.

13 tn Heb “the discipline of fools [is] folly.” The “discipline” (מוּסָר, musar) in this proverb is essentially a requital for sin (hence “punishment,” so NIV, NCV, NRSV); discipline which is intended to correct is normally rejected and despised by fools. So the line is saying that there is very little that can be done for or with the fool (cf. NLT “discipline is wasted on fools”).

14 tn Or “mind” (cf. NCV, NRSV, NLT).

15 tn Heb “makes wise his mouth,” with “mouth” being a metonymy of cause for what is said: “speech.”

16 sn Those who are wise say wise things. The proverb uses synthetic parallelism: The first line asserts that the wise heart ensures that what is said is wise, and the second line adds that such a person increases the reception of what is said.

17 tn Heb “to his lips.” The term “lips” functions as a metonymy of cause for what is said.

18 tn The comparative “like” does not appear in the Hebrew text, but is implied by the metaphor; it is supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity.

19 sn The metaphor of honey or the honeycomb is used elsewhere in scripture, notably Ps 19:10 [11]. Honey was used in Israel as a symbol of the delightful and healthy products of the land – “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Deut 6:3).

20 sn Two predicates are added to qualify the metaphor: The pleasant words are “sweet” and “healing.” “Soul” includes in it the appetites, physical and spiritual; and so sweet to the “soul” would summarize all the ways pleasant words give pleasure. “Bones” is a metonymy of subject, the boney framework representing the whole person, body and soul. Pleasant words, like honey, will enliven and encourage the whole person. One might recall, in line with the imagery here, how Jonathan’s eyes brightened when he ate from the honeycomb (1 Sam 14:27).



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