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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Proverbs 13:20



He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.

Adam Clarke Commentary

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise - To walk with a person implies love and attachment; and it is impossible not to imitate those we love. So we say, "Show me his company, and I'll tell you the man." Let me know the company he keeps, and I shall easily guess his moral character.

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These files are public domain.

Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

The Biblical Illustrator

Proverbs 13:20

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.

Walking with wise men a means of attaining wisdom

I. What is it to walk with wise men? It is to choose persons of that character for our intimate friends, and voluntarily join in their company and conversation. Walking is the motion which one chooseth. Walking with a person denoteth a friendly communication and delightful society, taking him into our councils, intimating our difficulties to him, seeking his advice and depending on his aid. The mere involuntary presence with the vicious, or being unwillingly deprived of the society of the good, is not a trespass against the rule here recommended. It may be necessary for good men to converse familiarly with the wicked, yet this may be without a participation in their crimes. Our Saviour conversed with publicans and sinners: The present state of human affairs requireth that we associate with men of all characters. And, in nearer relations, scarce is there any so happy as to be free from the company of fools. On the other hand, it is not to be supposed that the mere advantage of any man’s providential situation will entitle him to the benefit of walking with wise men. The necessary thing is voluntarily to associate, and of choice enter into intimacies of friendship with the wise. Men of all capacities and conditions show a desire for conversation and society. Everybody wants company. Agreeableness of character and disposition directeth men’s choice of company. Walking with wise men imports the improvement of conversation for the purposes of wisdom. Our choice should be determined with regard to virtue.

II. The influence and efficacy of walking with wise men as a means of attaining wisdom. Company has a great share in forming the tempers and manners of men. The influence is explained by--

1. A desire to be agreeable to those we converse with. This is powerful in human nature. The desire of approbation is strong.

2. The force of example. Mankind is prone to imitation. To represent religion in precepts does not so powerfully move the affections as when we see it delineated in life. The rules of religious virtue are reduced to practice in men of like passions with us, who also were “compassed” about with infirmities. Though their example is but imperfect, yet it is very worthy of our imitation, and most sensibly reproaches our failures. The nearer the example is the greater force it has. We are specially influenced, not by the example of saints and martyrs, but by the less celebrated instances of piety and virtue in our own familiar acquaintance.

Practical reflections:

1. Wise, that is, virtuous and good men, are a great blessing to the world, though they are frequently despised in it. Good lives are the most effectual preachers of righteousness, and continually solicit men to reform.

2. Bad men are not only useless to the greatest purposes of life, but mischievous in society.

3. We ought to be very careful in the choice of our friends and intimate companions. It is not every kind of familiarity among men that is worthy the sacred name of friendship. When founded on selfish, corrupt affections and passions, it is not only vicious, but humoursome, precarious, and inconstant, yielding no solid and abiding pleasure. (J. Abernethy, M.A.)

The influence of conversation, with the regulation thereof

Conversation has ever had a mighty influence on the conduct of human life. The regulation of it has, in all ages, demanded the utmost prudence and caution.

I. Men generally become such as the company they keep. All men are naturally lovers of themselves, and therefore the most effectual way of endearing and obliging one another is by mutual respects and compliances: no man can make his court more effectually to another than by falling in with him in opinion and practice, approving his judgment, and observing his inclinations: this is that which flatters our self-love, the predominant principle in our natures; this is that which renders society agreeable and friendship lasting. Ere we can be pleased ourselves, or please others, we must be mutually fashioned and moulded into an agreement and conformity of principles and morals, we must be acted and governed by the same affections and inclinations, and moved and led by the same desires and passions. Hence the proposition that men generally are such as their companions are. Two things in wise men never fail to work upon their friends and acquaintances.

1. Good discourse. What light, what strength, what pleasure does it minister! How it awakens the conscience and purifies the heart! “The lips of the wise disperse knowledge.” Such discourse “ministers grace unto the hearers.”

2. Good example. Virtue never appears so beautiful and lovely as in action. It is represented with much more life in the practice of a wise and good man than it can be in rules and precepts. The excellences and perfections of a friend are very strong incitements to emulation and very sensible reproofs of our remissness. A good life in a companion is certainly a mighty motive and encouragement for us. We see in him not only what we ought to do, but what we may do. Whatever is possible to him is possible to us.

As to the influence of bad company, it is clear that sin is catching and infectious; ill principles and practices are soon propagated.

1. Sin is the cement of the friendships and intimacies of sinners.

2. Ill company naturally instils and propagates vicious principles, worldly maxims, sensual carnal improvements.

3. Ill company creates confidence in sin.

II. Happiness is the fruit of wisdom, and misery of folly. Both reason and revelation and experience tell us that sin is fruitless and dishonourable. Righteousness fills the mind with peace and joy; sin tortures it with contradictions and unreasonable passions, with the guilt and the terrors of the Lord.

III. Advice as to keeping company.

1. We must be very cautious what company we keep.

2. We must endeavour to make the best use of it.

3. We must be fully persuaded that the due government of ourselves in this point is a matter of the highest moment. (J. Lucas.)

The attainment of wisdom

I. What is meant by walking with the wise?

1. It means, to converse with the writings of the wise.

2. To choose wise persons for our companions and to lose no opportunity of receiving their advice and instruction. Providence may appoint a good man’s station amongst sinners, either for a trial of his integrity, or to give him opportunity to use his best endeavours to reclaim them. Civil communities, so absolutely necessary for mankind, are composed of good and bad in such a variety of degrees that there are few good without some bad qualities, and few bad without some good ones. Men are disposed to seek society and to form acquaintances, larger or lesser, for their worldly concerns and for their mutual satisfaction and entertainment. This general inclination, or instinct, operates freely and variously, and for the most part it induces men to seek those who are of a like character and disposition with themselves.

II. The influence and efficacy which such conduct hath towards the attainment of wisdom. Conversation hath a considerable share in forming the tempers and manners of men. Their behaviour and their moral and religious dispositions depend much on the company they keep. The influence which the behaviour and discourse of others hath upon us may be ascribed to two causes.

1. A desire of being agreeable to those with whom we are familiar.

2. To the force of example. And the nearer the example is the more force it acquires. (John Jortin, D. D.)

Walking with wise men

I. The import of the character commended. “Wise man.”

1. Wisdom is that rectitude of mind which enables a man to judge what are the best ends, and what are the best means to obtain those ends. They are wise in the highest sense who possess a knowledge of God, and of spiritual truth.

2. Wisdom includes a reverent obedience to the Divine commands, and an earnest concern for personal salvation.

II. The method of the association advised. That we walk with wise men; hold mental intercourse and fellowship with them. Two modes by which this association may be formed.

1. By studying their writings.

2. By cultivating their personal friendship.

III. The value of the promise secured. “Shall be wise.” He shall rise, by association, to the attainment of the same character as that with which he has been connected. If we be rendered wise, we have--

1. The possession of dignity.

2. The capacity of usefulness.

3. The certainty of happiness. (James Parsons.)

Influence of good associates

This subject is illustrated by the Persian moralist Saadi: “A friend of mine put into my hands a piece of scented clay; I took it, and said to it, ‘Art thou musk or ambergris, for I am charmed with thy perfume?’ It answered, ‘I was a despicable piece of clay, but I was some time in the company of the rose; the sweet quality of my companion was communicated to me, otherwise I should only be a bit of clay, as I appear to be.’”

Character affected by intercourse

By “wisdom” is meant “religion.”

I. He that walks with religious men will become religious. The term “walk” signifies a continued course of conduct, or a manner of living, in which men persevere till it becomes habitual. The place to which every religious person is travelling is heaven. All who would walk with them must make heaven the object of their pursuit. The only way to heaven is Jesus Christ. All who walk with religious persons must agree in assenting to this truth.

1. The fact that a person chooses to associate with religious characters, in religious pursuits, proves that he is already the subject of serious impressions.

2. He who walks with religious persons, will see and hear many things which powerfully tend to increase and perpetuate those serious impressions.

3. One who walks with religious men must be the subject of serious impressions for many years successively. He who continues to walk with religious men to the end of his life will become religious.

II. A companion of sinners shall be destroyed. That is, one who chooses for his associates persons who are regardless of religion.

1. Such an one is the subject of no religious impressions; he has few, if any, serious thoughts.

2. Such an one takes the most effectual way to prevent any serious impressions ever being made on his mind.

3. Such an one takes the most effectual way to banish those serious thoughts that do come.

4. Such an one gets confirmed in habits and feelings opposed to his ever becoming religious. (E. Payson, D.D.)

The power of association

Every one exerts an influence on some others, and in turn is acted on by them. It is vain to endeavour to escape, or destroy, this mutual influence. There is a strong tendency in human character to the assimilating itself to that of those with whom it is in contact. The text represents the acquisition of wisdom as a direct consequence of the associating, or walking with, the wise. The association must be both intimate and voluntary. There is in all of us the desire of being esteemed or approved. This desire of approval is nearly allied, if not identical with, that dislike of being singular which has so mighty an operation on all classes of mind. It is almost a necessary consequence on this, that we shall gradually, though perhaps imperceptibly, assimilate ourselves to the tastes and tendencies of our companions. Illustrate a man, not of vicious habits himself, thrown continually into association with the dissolute. Unless he has great moral courage, he will inevitably assimilate to the vicious. His virtuous principles get secretly undermined. We cannot argue, with equal probability, that if the case were that of a vicious man associated with virtuous the result would be a conformity of character. There is a tendency in our nature to the imitation of what is wrong, but not--at least not in the same degree--to the imitation of what is right. There is, however, a strong probability that, through association with virtuous men, the vicious will in a degree be shamed out of his viciousness. If you add the force of example to the desire of approval, the probability will be heightened. Known facts of experience bear out our text. Then walk with the wise that are dead--be specially careful what authors, what books you make your companions. And walk with the wise of the living, with the virtuous, with the righteous. Nay, walk with God. (H. Melvill, B.D.)

Ruinous company

Sin is catching, is infectious, is epidemic. Not appreciating the truth of my text, many a young man has been destroyed.

1. Shun the sceptic.

2. Shun the companionship of idlers.

3. Shun the perpetual pleasure-seeker. Rather than enter the companionship of such, accept the invitation to a better feast. The promises of God are the fruits. The harps of heaven are the music. Clusters from the vineyards of God have been pressed into the tankards. Her name is religion. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

The grand fellowship and assimilation in life’s path

I. The grand fellowship in life’s path. Though fools crowd the path of life, there are many “wise men” here and there. Who are the wise men?

1. The men who aim at the highest end of existence. What is the highest end? Not wealth, pleasure, fame, etc. The highest end of man, the only worthy end, is eternal perfection of character, spiritual assimilation to God’s perfection. Who are the wise men?

2. The men who employ the best means to reach that end. Who are the wise men?

3. The men who devote the best time in the employment of those means.

II. The glorious assimilation in life’s path. “Shall be wise.”

1. There is a transforming power in the ideas of the truly wise. The ideas of “wise men” are like the rays of the sun--warm, bright, touching all into life. In the Bible you have these ideas in their mightiest form.

2. There is a transforming power in the sympathies of the truly wise. Sympathy is a mighty power. Even a touch of it in the dropping tear, the faltering voice, the quivering lip, will often move a soul to its centre. The sympathies of the wise man are deep, spiritual, genuine, Christlike. They are morally electric.

3. There is a transforming power in the example of the truly wise. All moral character is formed on the principle of imitation. But we imitate only what we love and admire; and the character of the wise man has in it what alone can command the highest love and admiration of the soul. It has moral beauty--the beauty of the Lord.

From this subject we learn--

1. That the choice of companions is the most important step in life.

2. That godly literature has an inestimable value.

3. That the Church institution is a most beneficent appointment. (Homilist.)

Companionship of the young

The subject of companionship and its consequences is one of deep interest and constant application to all stages of life; but it concerns especially the young. There are few matters about which the young should be more careful, and there are few about which many of the young are more careless. Companionship is a human necessity. Man seeks for it by an instinct of his nature, as certainly and irrepressibly as whales go in schools, fish in shoals, cattle in herds, birds in flocks, and bees in hives. Companionship, in itself, is not an evil thing, but a good. But it may be sadly perverted, and thus become bad, and the source and spring of untold badness. Men can turn good to evil. The very best of God’s things may be perverted. And men, young and old, have perverted companionship. We are made or marred according to our choice of companions. In Solomon’s thought was only the companionship of living men. There is now also a companionship in books, and thus mind with mind. The character of book companionship resembles closely that of living men. In forming human companionships some seem scarcely to exercise any choice at all. They allow themselves to drift. As a rule such persons gravitate towards the bad. Many choose those who, at first meeting, make an agreeable impression on them. The only real basis of true love is the knowledge of personal qualities which command love. You should never make a companion of one you do not know. The text speaks of possible companionships under two classes--the wise and the foolish. By the “wise” is not meant the “learned “; nor the cute, the clever, the capable man of business. By the “wise” is meant the good, the man who places the spiritual above the material, God over and above self; the man who would rather be right than what is called successful. By “fools” is not meant the intellectually weak and silly; nor the merely thoughtless, the giddy, the frivolous. By “fools” is meant all who are morally and spiritually without God, and thus, openly or secretly, wicked. We are left free to choose our companions from among the wise and the fools But we are not without guidance. We have reason, and conscience, and the Word and Spirit of God. The results we reap from our companionships will correspond with the choice we make. The reaping mentioned here is the result of the principle of assimilation. The associate of the wise will be assimilated to them. The very choice of the spiritually right, and good is an evidence of wisdom at the start. In such fellowship a right and God-pleasing character is built up. The companion of the frivolous and the wicked soon learn their ways, and become conformed to their character. Surely moral contamination is more to be dreaded than physical, You must have a companion. Receive, I beseech you, the best of all--our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. (Alexander Davidson.)

The importance of avoiding bad and choosing good company

I. What may be meant by wise men and fools. Not learned men and illiterate men. A wise man is one who proposes to himself the most valuable ends, and pursues them by the best means. A fool is one who either has no worthy ends in view, or does not pursue them by proper means. The prudent is the wise man. The inconsiderate is the fool. The wise man is the true believer and holy soul; and the fool is the impenitent sinner, who rejects Christ and His salvation.

II. What is it to walk with wise men or fools?

1. It is to love and choose their company.

2. To seek and frequent their company.

3. To make them our intimate friends, and to fall in with them.

III. The advantages or disadvantages of walking with wise men or fools. As to walking with wise men--

1. It is a great part of wisdom to choose such.

2. It is a means of growing wiser.

3. He who really is the companion of the wise will certainly himself be wise.

As to walking with fools--

1. The companions of fools walk in the way which leads to destruction.

2. They are continually in the utmost danger of destruction.

3. If they continue they shall certainly be destroyed, with them, for ever and ever. (John Guyse, D. D.)

Wise companionship

Society is in itself so necessary to human life. Adam, in the state of innocence, could not be happy, though in paradise, without a companion. The chief scope of the text may be summed up in this observation: that every man’s present and future welfare doth very much depend upon the right choice and improvement of those friends or companions with whom he doth most familiarly converse. For the clearing of this observation, it may be made very evident from divers Scriptures. Upon this account it is that we have such frequent cautions and threats against conversing with bad company. This was the meaning of all those severe prohibitions in the ceremonial law against touching any unclean thing. It is observable, that he who touched a dead beast was unclean but till the evening (Leviticus 11:24), but he who touched a dead man was unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11), signifying a bad man to be the most dangerous of all other creatures. The apostle styles wicked men to be such as are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) even whilst they live (1 Timothy 5:6.) There are four things wherein most men place their welfare, some or all of which every rational man doth propose to himself in the choice of his friends. These are reputation, safety, comfort, profit.

1. For reputation or honour. Wicked men are fools in the phrase of the text; and what credit can a wise man expect by conversing with fools? On the other side, good men are the excellent of the earth. Such alone are truly noble and magnanimous. And therefore whoever would propose to himself honour and reputation in his society must make choice only of such companions.

2. For safety. The text tells us that a companion of fools shall be destroyed. If any one shall persuade himself that he can enjoy their company, and yet escape their contagion, he may as well think to suspend the natural operation of fire; whereas on the other side, every one fares the better for the company of those that are good. They are the lights of the world, the salt of the earth, the pillars of a nation, those that stand in the gap to prevent an inundation of judgment. Potiphar’s house was blessed for Joseph’s sake (Genesis 39:5), and all the passengers in the ship were saved from drowning for St. Paul’s sake (Acts 27:24).

3. For comfort. This is one of the principal ends of friendship, to ease and refresh a man amidst the anxieties of life; and there is nothing of greater efficacy to this purpose. But now this cannot be expected from any wicked person; whereas, on the other side, those that are wise in the phrase of the text are the most delightful company that are.

4. And lastly, for profit. There is nothing to be expected from such friends but the increase of our sins and of our punishments; whereas in conversing with those that are good there are these advantages--

There are three lessons I would briefly insist upon in the application of it.

1. That we would take notice of the great benefit to be obtained by the right improvement of society and mutual converse with one another.

2. That we of this place would be careful, both for ourselves and those committed to our charge, in the right choice of our friends and Company.

3. That we would labour for those proper qualifications and abilities which may render us acceptable and useful in our conversing with others. There are four conditions, amongst many others, that are more especially suitable to this purpose--

The evils of bad company

“A man is known by the company that he keeps.” The proverb is illustrated by the experience of all ages.

I. Of necessary intercourse with the wicked.

1. In society and trade. Conversation is permitted in buying, selling, and following out ordinary commercial transactions.

2. We may have intercourse with others for their good. Christ Jesus conversed with sinners to gain them.

II. Avoid unnecessary familiarity. Avoid the sins of the ungodly. If impelled by position, connection, or business to associate, beware of compliance in sin. The nearest tie cannot sanction participation in sin. Many reasons dissuade from undue familiarity. You cannot be familiar and escape contagion. The conversation of the wicked has more power to corrupt than the conversation of the good to ameliorate. These observations are peculiarly addressed to the young whose habits are, forming, whose character is moulding.

III. Some classes of dangerous characters to be avoided by the young man.

1. Beware of the idle. Idleness exposes to all forms of temptation.

2. Beware of the selfish and covetous. There is grave danger that you be affected with this spirit, and your sole determination be by all means to get wealth. Covetousness is a deceitful sin. It leads to innumerable evils.

3. Beware of the loose and erroneous. Those who are neglecting religion. The Sabbath-breaker. Those naturally disposed to error.

4. Beware of those who frequent suspicious places. Choose for companions persons of moral worth, those who fear the Lord. (Samuel Spence.)

Companionship with the highest wisdom

It is as we contemplate the Divine perfections that our souls are lifted toward the same perfection. The man who moves in cultivated society acquires refined tastes--a high ideal. The eye is educated by the most perfect specimens of art; the ear is educated by the most graceful forms of speech; the manners are formed upon the most elegant models of deportment. Walking in the light, he becomes a child of the light. So with the believer. The coteries of human society may be closed to him. From its select circles he may be hopelessly excluded. But the highest culture of all is open to him in the society of God. He may walk in the supernal light, and form his character upon a Divine model. Communion in the spiritual sphere, as well as in the social, implies assimilation. We become like those we walk with. (J. Halsey.)

Godly society improving

When General Nicholson lay wounded on his death-bed before Delhi, he dictated this last message to his equally noble and gallant friend, Sir Herbert Edwardes: “Tell him I should have been a better man if I had continued to live with him, and our heavy public duties had not prevented my seeing more of him privately. I was always the better for a residence with him and his wife, however short. Give my love to them both!” (Christian Weekly.)

Society operates for good or ill

If we desire to be preserved from sin, let us avoid engaging company; many perseus would resist the force of natural inclination, but when that is excited by the example of others, they are easily vanquished. A pure stream passing through a sink will run thick and muddy. And the “evil communication” will leave some of its corrupting influence to pollute the purest morals. On the contrary, society with the saints is a happy advantage to make us like them. As waters that pass through medicinal minerals do not come out the same waters, but, being impregnated with their properties, they derive a healing tincture from them, so it is impossible to be much with the Lord’s people without imbibing something of their motives and principles, and a desire to be influenced by their spirit. No society can be to us a matter of indifference, but must operate for good or ill. The present world is a continual temptation. We are in a state of warfare; though not always in fight, yet always in the field, exposed to our spiritual enemies that war against our souls: and our vigilance and care should be accordingly. (G. H. Salter.)

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 13:20". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

"Walk with wise men, and thou shalt be wise; But the companion of fools shall smart for it."

This teaches that one's associates are a most important factor in the determination of his destiny. The New Testament reiteration of this truth is, "Be not deceived. Evil communications corrupt good morals." (1 Corinthians 15:33).

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

Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise,.... Who is a companion of them that fear the Lord; converses frequently with them in private about spiritual and experimental things, and walks with them in public in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord; he by those means grows wiser and wiser, gains a large stock of spiritual knowledge and experience; for this holds good both in natural and spiritual wisdom, a man of any capacity at all will improve by keeping wise company;

but a companion of fools shall be destroyed; the Vulgate Latin version renders it, "shall become like them"; be a fool as they are, and grow still more and more foolish. The Septuagint version is, "shall be known"; known by the company he keeps to be a fool also: or rather, "shall be broken"F20ירוע "conteretur", Pagninus, Montanus, Piscator, Mercerus, Gejerus; "conquassabitur", Cocceius; "fragetur", Michaelis; "infringetur", Schultens, so Ben Melech. ; ruined and destroyed, "evil communications corrupt good manners", 1 Corinthians 15:33, and so bring to ruin and destruction.

Copyright Statement
The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rightes Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
A printed copy of this work can be ordered from: The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1 Iron Oaks Dr, Paris, AR, 72855

Gill, John. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

He that walketh with wise [men] shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be i destroyed.

(i) As he is partaker of their wickedness, and bears with their vices, so will he be punished alike as they are.

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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

The benefits of good and evil of bad society are contrasted.

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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition prepared from text scanned by Woodside Bible Fellowship.
This expanded edition of the Jameison-Faussett-Brown Commentary is in the public domain and may be freely used and distributed.

Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

20 Whoever goes with wise men, becomes wise;

And whoever has intercourse with fools, becomes base.

Regarding the significance of this proverb in the history of the religion and worship of Israel, vid ., p. 39. We have translated 20a after the Kerı̂ ; the translation according to the Chethı̂b is: “go with wise men and become wise” (cf. Proverbs 8:33), not הלוך , for the connection of the (meant imperatively) infin . absol . with an imper. (meant conclusively) is not tenable; but הלוך is an imper. form established by הלכוּ , Jeremiah 51:50 (cf. הלוך = לכת , Numbers 22:14), and appears to have been used with such shades of conception as here as intercourse and companionship for לך . Regarding ירוע gnid , vid ., at Proverbs 11:15; there it meant malo afficietur , here it means malus ( pejor ) fiet . The Venet . (contrary to Kimchi, who explains by frangetur ) rightly has κακωθήσεται . There is here a play upon words; רעה means to tend (a flock), also in general to be considerate about anything (Proverbs 15:14; 44:20), to take care of anything with the accusative of the person (Proverbs 28:7; Proverbs 29:3), to hold intercourse with any one: he who by preference seeks the society of fools, himself becomes such (Jerome, similis efficietur ), or rather, as ירוע expresses, he comes always morally lower down. “A wicked companion leads his associate into hell.”

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The Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament is a derivative of a public domain electronic edition.

Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". 1854-1889.

Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible

Note, 1. Those that would be good must keep good company, which is an evidence for them that they would be good (men's character is known by the company they choose) and will be a means of making them good, of showing them the way and of quickening and encouraging them in it. He that would be himself wise must walk with those that are so, must choose such for his intimate acquaintance, and converse with them accordingly; must ask and receive instruction from them, and keep up pious and profitable talk with them. Miss not the discourse of the elders, for they also learned of their fathers, Sirach 8:9. And (Sirach 6:35), Be willing to hear every godly discourse, and let not the parables of understanding escape thee. 2. Multitudes are brought to ruin by bad company: A companion of fools shall be broken (so some), shall be known (so the Septuagint), known to be a fool; noscitur ex socio - he is known by his company. He will be like them (so some), will be made wicked (so others); it comes all to one, for all those, and those only, that make themselves wicked, will be destroyed, and those that associate with evil-doers are debauched, and so undone, and at last ascribe their death to it.

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These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.

Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". "Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". 1706.

Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Bible

Multitudes are brought to ruin by bad company. And all that make themselves wicked will be destroyed.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.

Henry, Matthew. "Concise Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". "Matthew Henry Concise Commentary

on the Whole Bible". 1706.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Proverbs 13:20 He that walketh with wise [men] shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.

Ver. 20. He that walketh with wise men shall be wise.] He that comes where sweet spices and ointments are stirring, doth carry away some of the sweet savour, though he think not of it; so he that converseth with good men shall get good. Holiness is such an elixir as by contaction (if there be any disposition of goodness in the same metal) it will render it of the property. A child having been brought up with Plato, and afterwards hearing his father break out into rage and passion, said, I have never seen the like with Plato. (a)

But a companion of fools shall be broken.] There is an elegance in the original that cannot be told in English. Bede, by a companion or friend of fools here, understands those that take delight in jesters, stage players, and such idle companions, unprofitable burdens - fruges consumere nati, the botch and canker of the commonwealth. Theatra iuvenes corrumpunt, saith Plato. (b) Ludi praebent semina nequitiae, saith Ovid. The Lacedemonians would not admit any of them, that so they might not hear anything contrary to their laws, whether in jest or in earnest. And Henry III, Emperor of Germany, when a great sort of such fellows flocked together at his wedding, sent them all away, not allowing them so much as a cup of drink, 1044 AD. (c)

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

The Popular Commentary by Paul E. Kretzmann

v. 20. He that walketh with wise men, making them his companions and listening to their counsel, shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be destroyed, or, lie who attendeth fools tendeth to folly," and therefore becomes base, partaking of their meanness.

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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". 1921-23.

Sermon Bible Commentary

Proverbs 13:20

I. Of all the external circumstances which mould our life and character, our daily companionship may be said to be among the most potent, and the Bible utterances are very strong on this subject. Sometimes they dwell specially on the causes that draw men together, assuming that like chooses like, and that a man may in fact be known by his associates. But more frequently the texts warn us rather of the consequences of intimacy than of the causes of it. They warn or exhort about companionship because we become, as they assume, what our companions are; because men who live together in close contact and communion mould each other, as iron sharpeneth iron.

II. It is probable, indeed, that we should all direct our life, and choose our companionship, more carefully if we duly considered the long results of these things; if we remembered that in moral relations, as in other matters, it is not easy to start afresh when we please and unencumbered. Friendships are two-edged tools, which may open up for you the way to life or the way to death.

III. There is no more certain support to the weak or the young than the feeling of nearness to some friend whom they know to be strong and pure, earnest for what is right and a hater of evil. Our companionship with such an one is like living continually in a pure and healthy pasture, and as the nearest earthly resemblance to walking with God in Christ, as we hope in our perfection to walk with Him hereafter. These are the true servants of Christ, and they only have the promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.

J. Percival, Some Helps for School Life, p. 155.

References: Proverbs 13:20.—W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series, p. 355; Outline Sermons to Children, p. 75.

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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Walketh; commonly converseth and associateth himself.

Shall be wise; shall learn wisdom and goodness, both from their counsels and examples. The design of this proverb is to show the wonderful influence which a man’s society hath upon him, either to save, or to corrupt and destroy him.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

20. Walketh with wise men — This may be read imperatively: Walk with wise men and be wise. “This expresses the influence of good associates upon the character. A subject thus beautifully illustrated by the Persian moralist, Saadi. A friend of mine put into my hands a piece of scented clay; I took it and said to it, Art thou musk or ambergris, for I am charmed with thy perfume? It answered, I was a despicable piece of clay, but I was sometime in the company of the rose, by which means the sweet quality of my companion was communicated to me: otherwise I should only be a bit of clay as I appear to be.”

A companion of fools — Morally so — wicked persons.

Shall be destroyed — Or shall become bad. “He that delighteth in fools showeth himself as evil,” or “becometh base.” — Zockler. See note on Proverbs 11:15.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Become. Septuagint, "be known." A person's disposition may be seen by the company which he frequents.

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

shall be wise. Illustrations: Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:5); Joash (2 Chronicles 24:2); Ruth (Proverbs 1:16); Elisha (2 Kings 2:9); Andrew (John 1:40, John 1:41); Nathanael (John 1:45-51).

a companion, &c.: or he that feedeth (or entertaineth) fools shall be bankrupt.

shall be destroyed = shall be broken.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.

He that walketh (namely, continuously and habitually) with wise men shall be wise. So the Masoretic text reads [ howleek (Hebrew #1980) ... yech

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(20) Shall be destroyed—i.e., morally ruined.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.
2:20; Psalms 119:63; Song of Solomon 1:7,8; Malachi 3:16; Acts 2:42; Hebrews 10:24
1:11-19; 2:12-19; 7:22,23,27; 9:6; Genesis 13:12,13; 14:12; 1 Kings 12:8,10; 1 Kings 22:4,32; 2 Chronicles 19:2; 1 Corinthians 15:33,34; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Revelation 18:4
Heb. broken.

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary



We have here:—

I. Habit, assimilation, and transformation.

1. Habit. A habit is formed by the constant repetition of an act. Walking is the constant repetition of an act. The child first gets courage to take a single step, that step leads to another, and by degrees he acquires the habit of walking. To walk with wise men is to have habitual intercourse with them, either through reading their written thoughts or by immediate contact with their living selves. As bodily walking is only acquired by practice, so it is in soul-walking—in mental and spiritual communion. It is at first difficult for the uninitiated to master the arguments of the wise and grasp the truths which they utter. But the power to do so comes by making the effort. If the wise men are morally wise, it may not be easy to apprehend Divine truth as they do with their keener spiritual perceptions. But constant intercourse and communion enables one to do so. The religious faculty—the conscience—is thus developed.

2. Assimilation. The law of assimilation is in operation within us and around us in the world of matter. The plant drinks in the moisture and chemical elements of the earth, and they are assimilated to itself and come forth in bud, and flower, and fruit. Man eats vegetable and animal food and it becomes flesh and bone. The man who walks with wiser men than himself imbibes their thoughts, and those thoughts become part of himself. As the health of the body depends upon the kind of food which it assimilates and its power of assimilation, so the health of the mind depends upon the character of the thoughts which it receives and its power of making them its own.

3. Transformation. It is implied that those here represented as walking are, when they begin their walk, comparatively ignorant. But a constant reception and assimilation of the wisdom of others, whether it be intellectual or moral wisdom, will in time transform the pupil into a teacher—the student into a master. The ignorant becomes in time a wise man. The strong animal life nourishes the weaker—the new born—life until the weak child becomes as strong as the parent. So in mind and soul life. Hence the constant repetition in this book of exhortations to receive instruction. The assimilating and transforming power of intercourse with the Fountain of all Wisdom by the reception of the Divine thoughts is thus set forth by Paul:—"But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2Co ).

II. That if our companionship is not a constructive influence, it will be destructive. It is implied that human beings will have companionship of some kind—that if a man does not "walk with wise men," he will be "the companion of fools."

1. Companionship is in early life the outcome of necessity. A child of foolish parents cannot help being "the companion of fools." This is the sad portion of millions, and it is the destruction of millions in the sense that it is the cause of their missing the great end of life—to glorify and enjoy God.

2. But there is a companionship of choice. When a human being comes to years of maturity he chooses his companions. He cannot always choose his associates, for then "he must needs go out of the world." And there is no necessity that those with whom duty compels him to associate should exert any evil influence upon his character. But "companion" evidently means him with whom he communes—a man whose society he chooses. And if this society is not morally good, a man begins to deteriorate from the first moment that he enters it. His choice of it is an indication of some moral flaw in his character, and is a strong presumption that he does not intend or desire to resist its destructive influence. If a sound apple is placed beside one that has begun to decay, nothing is needed to complete the work of destruction in both, but that they should remain in contact. An utter missing of all that makes life worth having—that which our Lord calls the "loss of the soul"—is the portion of every man who does not continually grow in moral wisdom. For there is no standing still. Neglect is ruin in most material things. The house that is not constantly repaired will be ruined by the constant action of the elements. A man is surrounded on all sides by adverse moral influences, and if he only neglects to grow he will die. And to grow he must "walk with the wise."


The following statement was made to a Wesleyan minister by a young man under sentence of death: "I am the child of pious parents, who were connected with the Wesleyan body. At the age of 16, through their instrumentality, and under the preaching of the Gospel, I became the subject of religious impressions. These, in the course of time, were effaced; but I still continued to read the Bible and respect the Sabbath. One Lord's Day I went to hear a celebrated minister deliver a discourse on ‘Prophecy.' As I was returning I expressed to an acquaintance whom I met my admiration of the sermon. He replied that no doubt Mr.—was a superior orator, and it would afford him great pleasure to hear him discuss on any subject having a true claim upon the attention of a rational being; but that such was not the case with religion. A conversation followed, which led him to invite me to his house, to hear his reasons for disbelieving the Bible. There I met others, of a kindred spirit, and from that moment they were my principal, because my favourite, associates. I soon adopted all their opinions as my own, and used every effort in my power to diffuse our common views. I could at this moment almost say the bitterness of death is passed, if I were sure that no one had become an infidel through me. But I have too much reason to fear that many have. Before this time I had married a very respectable young woman, and had entered into business. I was, however, brought to ruin by my own folly and extravagance, and went to America. There, my principles not fully satisfying me, I read Watson's Apology for the Bible, and similar works, and again avowed myself a believer in the Word of God. It was my bitter lot, however, soon to see that it is much more easy to renounce the principles of error than to cease from those evil practices of which they are the productive sources. It will not be wondered that, even after I had disavowed the creed of an infidel, I was confirmed in the habits of infidelity, and was still, on returning to my native land, ready to perpetrate any deed of darkness which the fury of passion might prompt, or the straits of poverty suggest. The act for which I may soon be suspended on the gallows is the final consummation of a wilful disbelief in the inspired record." The minister continues, "I was often with him, and found him to possess an extensive acquaintance with the Scriptures, and a considerable knowledge of our religious poets. As the person at whom he fired, though severely wounded, was not killed, he seemed to the last to expect a reprieve. The governor of the gaol entered his cell half-an-hour before the time which had been fixed for his execution, saying, ‘I have a communication from the Secretary of State.' A smile of hope played for a moment round his pallid face, but it seemed only as if to give the gloom of despair the opportunity of coming in deeper and more terrific shadows over his features, for the governor instantly added, ‘but there is nothing said respecting you—you must therefore die.' We were again alone, and pacing his cell he said, with deep emotion, ‘It is then a fact that I must suffer the extreme penalty of the law. In a few minutes I shall be in eternity, my wife will be a widow, and my children will be fatherless, bearing part of my reproach, notwithstanding they had no part in my guilt.' On his way to the place of execution we passed through the turnkey's room. Seeing a lad seated in a distant corner, he went to him, and said, ‘Look at me, and learn never to stand in the way of the ungodly, nor to sit in the seat of the scorner of truth.'"—Evangelist.


The influence of society upon man is great, and was intended to be great. As the natural world is held together by the influence of matter upon matter by the law of gravitation, so the moral world is held together by the influence of mind upon mind. We are made to attract and to be attracted, to influence and to be influenced, to instruct and to be instructed. But this power of mind over mind is not a neutral power, it is necessarily great for evil or for good. Paul says that "Evil communications corrupt good manners." There is nothing to be expected from evil companions but an increase of sin, and an increase of punishment. The best is a briar, the most upright is sharper than a thorn-hedge, which will rob us of our fleece, if they do not pierce our skin. Most likely they will do both.—S. Thodey.

The literal meaning of the word rahah, from which "companion" comes, is to feed; boon-companions, who feed together (chap. Pro ). There is a play upon like Hebrew sounds, in "companion," and "destroyed," roheh and roang. The Greek Theognis says, "Thou shalt learn good from the good; but if thou wilt associate with the bad, thou shalt lose even the mind thou hast." Seneca says, "The road is long by precept; it is short and effectual by example." What one sees makes more impression than what one hears. As bad air injures the strongest health, so association with the bad injures the strongest mind.—Fausset.

What you learn from bad habits and from bad society you will never forget, and it will be a lasting pang to you. I tell you in all sincerity, not as in the excitement of speech, but as I would confess and have confessed before God, that I would give my right hand to-night if I could forget that which I have learned in evil society; if I could tear from my remembrance the scenes which I have witnessed, the transactions which have taken place before me.—J. B. Gough.

In the neighbourhood of Swansea, for miles round, no vegetation exists, owing to the smoke from the large copper-works there: even so, exposure to the influence of bad companions prevents man growing and flourishing in the divine life.—T. Jones.

It is not left to us to determine whether there shall be any influence; only, what that influence shall be. Joash, while he walked with his wise guardian, was wise. But when, after his guardian's death, he became "a companion of fools," he was "destroyed" (2 Chronicles 24) … The first warning to sinners just plucked out of the fire, was—"Save yourself from this untoward generation" (Act ).—Bridges.

We shall never get the good "desire" (Pro ) if we keep out among the wicked. In heathen lands all are "fools," and therefore all do badly. In Christian lands piety is in circles and in families, and moves in lines. The mutual influences are immense. A noble way to be "wise" is to go boldly among the good, confess Christ, and ask their prayers and influence.—Miller.

It is better—safer, I am sure it is—to ride alone than to have a thief's company; and such is a wicked man, who will rob thee of precious time, if he do thee no more mischief. The Nazarites, who might drink no wine, were also forbidden to eat grapes, of which wine is made. So we must not only avoid sin itself, but also the causes and occasions thereof, amongst which bad company (the lime-twigs of the devil) is the chiefest, especially to catch those natures which are most swayed by others.—Fuller.

Many scriptural illustrations press for notice. The family of Lot, suffering from the fearful contamination of Sodom; Rehoboam, following the counsel of his young companions in preference to that of the experienced counsellors of his father, and losing thereby five-sixths of his kingdom; Jehosaphat, associating with Ahab "helping the ungodly, and loving them that hated the Lord" (2 Chronicles 18; 2Ch ), "wrath, therefore, coming upon him from Jehovah.—Wardlaw.

It is not talking with the wise, but walking with the wise that will make you wise. It is not your commending and praising of the wise, but your walking with the wise that will make you wise. It is not your taking a few turns with the wise that will make you wise, but your walking with the wise that will make you wise. There is no getting much good by them that are good but by making them your ordinary and constant companions. Ah, friends! you should do as Joseph in Egypt, of whom the Scripture saith—Psa —(according to the Hebrew phrase) that he tied the princes of Pharaoh's court about his heart. If ever you would gain by the saints, you must bind them upon your souls. The Jews have a proverb that two dry sticks put to a green one will kindle it. The best way to be in a flame Godward, Christward, heavenward, and holinessward, is to be among the dry sticks, the kindle-coals, the saints, for as live coals kindle those that are dead, so lively Christians will heat and enliven those that are dead.—Brooks.

Character affected by intercourse. He that walks with religious men will become religious. Walking signifies a continued course of conduct. To walk with religious men is not to mingle with them occasionally, or to unite with them in performing some of the more public duties of religion. Ahithophel, who died as a fool dieth, walked with David to the house of God in company. It is not to live in a pious family, for a person may do this without making its members his associates. Nor does uniting with religious men in promoting some of the great objects which the Christian world is now pursuing, necessarily prove that we walk with them, for this may be done from a wrong motive. To walk with them is to choose them for our associates, our fellow travellers in the journey of life; and this implies an agreement with them in our views and objects of pursuit. Can two walk together, says the prophet, except they be agreed? In order that two persons may walk together they must be agreed, first, as to the place to which they will go, and secondly, they must agree in opinion as to the way that leads to that place. If they disagree on either point they will soon separate. Every religious man is travelling towards heaven, and all who would walk with them must make heaven the object of their pursuit. The only way to heaven is Jesus Christ, and all who walk with religious persons must at least assent to this truth although they may not immediately and cordially embrace it. He who perseveres in this course will become religious.

1. The simple fact that he chooses such associates proves that he as already the subject of religious impressions—that the Spirit of God is striving with him.

2. He will see and hear many things which powerfully tend to increase and perpetuate his serious impressions. He moves in a circle where God, the soul, and salvation are regarded as of supreme importance—where religion is presented to him—not as a cold abstraction, but living in the persons of its disciples.

3. No one will continue to walk with religious persons after his serious impressions are effaced, and it is presumed that no one who continued to be the subject of religious impressions for any length of time ever failed to become religious. It is true persons may be seriously affected, occasionally, and perhaps for years together, and at different seasons may associate much with religious characters without becoming religious; but such persons cannot be said to walk with good men in the sense of the text; for their religious impressions are often effaced for a considerable time, and long intervals of carelessness succeed, during which they, in a measure, forsake religious society.—Payson.

It is not for us to let our hearts have their own way in the selection of companions. On that choice depend interests too great to be safely left to chance. The issue to be decided is not what herd you shall graze with a few years before your spirit returns to the dust; but what moral element you shall move in during the few and evil days of your life, till your spirit returns to God who gave it. I like this companion; he fascinates me; I cannot want him; an enforced separation would be like tearing myself asunder. Well, if that companion's heart be godless, and his steps already slipping backward and downward, why not tear yourself asunder? The act will be painful, no doubt, but "skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life."—Arnot.

He that comes where sweet spices and ointments are stirring, doth carry away some of the sweet savour, though he think not of it; so holiness is such an elixir as by contraction (if there be any disposition of goodness in the same metal), it will render it of the property, Trapp.

All sorts of companions are market men, and they usually traffic together, when they meet together, whether they be good or bad, the wares being commonly precious or vile, according to the dispositions of the persons who utter them.—Dod.

It is not said, he that sitteth still with the wise, for both sitting still, neither doth the one teach nor the other learn. But he that when a wise man walketh in the ways of wisdom, walketh also with him by following his example and steps, he it is that shall be wise. To be with the wise, and not in their ways of wisdom, is to be out in their ways of wisdom, is to be out of the way for getting any good by them. Be therefore with them so as that their wisdom may be with thee.—Jermin.

No person that is an enemy to God can be a friend to man. He that has already proved himself ungrateful to the Author of every blessing will not scruple, when it will serve his turn, to shake off a fellow-worm like himself. He may render you instrumental to his own purposes, but he will never benefit you.—Bishop Coleridge.

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Proverbs 13:20". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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