Bible Commentary: Proverbs 24:23-34

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Proverbs 24:23-34

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Further Words of the Wise: On the Courts and Laziness

TYPE: PARALLEL. Following the 30 Words of the Wise (22:16–24:22), Proverbs 24:23a marks a new section with a new title or subheading: "These things also belong to the wise." Some paraphrase this as Further Words of the Wise. "The structure of this text is as follows:

“A: On the law courts (vv. 23-26)
            “B: On economic priorities (v. 27)
“A′: On the law courts (vv. 28-29)
            “B′: On laziness (vv. 30-34)

"There is no intrinsic link between these two concepts; the parallel structure exists simply for organizational purposes" (NAC).

The wording of verse 26 perhaps sounds odd to us today: "He who gives a right answer kisses the lips." The NIV Application Commentary says: "The kiss in the ancient world communicated loyalty as well as affection. The honest answer comes from one who (lit[erally]) 'returns words that are right' (cf. Proverbs 22:21). Interpreters debate whether the legal context of Proverbs 24:23-25 determines the meaning. The main comparison is that of doing good for another with one's lips, a strong contrast to the deceitful lips of Proverbs 24:28. The New American Commentary, however, argues that the phrase translated "kisses the lips" should actually be "seals the lips" and renders the verse as: "He who gives a proper verdict silences {hostile} lips" (note and footnotes on Proverbs 24:23-26).

Verse 27 "does not address laziness in the direct terms that vv. 30-34 do, but it relates the principle that one should not provide for personal comfort until a means of income is established here. As such, it emphasizes a practical rule of producing before consuming, a rule the slothful do not accept. It is possible that 'building a house' refers not just to the building in which one lives but to the establishment of a family. If so, the guideline is even more appropriate: one should be able to provide for a family before starting one" (NAC). As Expositor's notes on this point, "Before entering marriage one should have a well-ordered life."

In verses 30-31, a short anecdote shows that lazy people are not properly attentive to their personal concerns. It causes one to recognize the truth of the proverbial maxim expressed here (verses 32-34; compare Proverbs 6:9-11).