Conduct of the Wise and the Foolish
1There is an admonition that is untimely,*
but the silent person is the wise one.
2It is much better to admonish than to lose one’s temper;
3one who admits a fault will be kept from disgrace.
4Like a eunuch lusting to violate a young woman
is the one who does right under compulsion.*
5One is silent and is thought wise;
another, for being talkative, is disliked.
6One is silent, having nothing to say;
another is silent, biding his time.a
7The wise remain silent till the right time comes,
but a boasting fool misses the proper time.
8Whoever talks too much is detested;
whoever pretends to authority is hated.
9There is the misfortune that brings success;*
and there is the gain that turns into loss.
10There is the gift that profits you nothing,
and there is the gift that must be paid back double.
11There is the loss for the sake of glory,
and there is the one who rises above humble circumstances.
12There is one who buys much for little,
but pays for it seven times over.
13The wise make themselves beloved by a few words,
but the courtesies of fools are wasted.
14A gift from a fool will do you no good,
for in his eyes this one gift is equal to many.
15He gives little, criticizes often,
and opens his mouth like a town crier.
He lends today and asks for it tomorrow;
such a person is hateful.
16A fool says, “I have no friends
nor thanks for my generosity.”
Those who eat his bread have a mocking tongue.
17How many will ridicule him, and how often!
18A slip on the floor is better than a slip of the tongue;*
in like manner the downfall of the wicked comes quickly.
19A coarse person, an untimely story;
the ignorant are always ready to offer it.
20A proverb spoken by a fool is unwelcome,
for he does not tell it at the proper time.
21There is a person whose poverty prevents him from sinning,
but when he takes his rest he has no regrets.
22There is a person who is destroyed through shame,
and ruined by foolish posturing.
23There is one who promises a friend out of shame,
and so makes an enemy needlessly.
24A lie is a foul blot in a person,
yet it is always on the lips of the ignorant.
25A thief is better than an inveterate liar,
yet both will suffer ruin.
26A liar’s way leads to dishonor,
and his shame remains ever with him.
27The wise gain promotion with few words,*
the prudent please the great.
28Those who work the land have abundant crops,
and those who please the great are pardoned their faults.
29Favors and gifts blind the eyes;
like a muzzle over the mouth they silence reproofs.b
30Hidden wisdom and unseen treasure—
what value has either?
31Better are those who hide their folly
than those who hide their wisdom.†
* [20:1–8] The wise know the proper times for speech and silence, that is, the occasions when the most benefit can be gained from them. On the ambiguity of silences, see Prv 17:27–28.
* [20:4] Force can prevent an external act of sin or compel a good deed, but it does not eliminate the internal sin or desire of wrongdoing.
* [20:9–17] In a series of paradoxes the author indicates how much true and lasting values differ from apparent ones.
* [20:18–26] The ill-timed speech brings disaster (vv. 18–20); human respect may lead to rash promises and enmity (vv. 22–23); lies bring dishonor and lasting disgrace (vv. 24–26).
* [20:27–31] Through prudent speech the wise gain honor and esteem among the great (vv. 27–28). They must beware, however, of accepting bribes, lest they share in evil through silence when they should reprove (vv. 29–31).
† [20:31] Other ancient texts read as v. 32:
It is better to await the inevitable while serving the Lord
than to be the ungoverned helmsman for the careening of one’s life.