What does Proverbs 28:1 mean?
ESV: The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.
NIV: The wicked flee though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.
NASB: The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, But the righteous are bold as a lion.
CSB: The wicked flee when no one is pursuing them, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.
NLT: The wicked run away when no one is chasing them, but the godly are as bold as lions.
KJV: The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.
Verse Commentary:
This proverb notes one tendency of a guilty conscience: to be defensive even without an accusation. A person who knows they are at fault for something—or believes as much—may become excessive in attempts to clear their name. A related series of English expressions are variations of the phrase, "you protest too much," adapted from Shakespeare's play, Hamlet. These are used when another person's claims of innocence seem insincere and overdone, to the point of suggesting guilt, instead.

Here, Solomon (Proverbs 25:1) depicts morally guilty persons as paranoid, because of their conscience. Their sinful lifestyle leads them to assume that consequences are always just around the corner. In this imagery, they are like criminals who run from law officers who aren't even aware a crime has happened. In spiritual application, this attempt to "flee" from accountability is a common human response to God. When Jonah refused to obey God, he boarded a ship that was bound for a destination as far from Nineveh as possible (Jonah 1:1–3). When God rains down wrath on the wicked in the tribulation period, world leaders will try to hide from God. They will wish for landslides to hide them from His anger (Revelation 6:15–17).

By contrast, those with a clear conscience (Acts 24:16; Hebrews 13:18) have no such fears. Lions, in most circumstances, fear no predators or hostile enemies. They proceed with confidence and assurance, lacking fear: they are "bold." The person who does right can rest assured that God will vindicate them in the end (1 Peter 3:16). Just as false guilt exists, so too can a person lack conviction for sin (Matthew 24:38–39; Acts 3:17). Lack of conviction is not a perfect test for righteousness (1 Corinthians 4:4). Yet peace is a genuine benefit of personal integrity (Psalm 4:8; Proverbs 10:9).
Verse Context:
Proverbs 28:1–12 uses multiple contrasts. These teach lessons about righteousness and justice, honesty, integrity, reputation, and culture. Many of the proverbs are structured to directly compare two opposite ideas.
Chapter Summary:
This passage features many direct contrasts. The lessons are attributed to Solomon, later compiled into the Book of Proverbs by men under king Hezekiah (Proverbs 25:1). Common themes in this chapter are work ethic, generosity, fairness, and reputation. Comments on rulers or leaders make up many of the teachings recorded in this section.
Chapter Context:
This continues a list compiled by Hezekiah's men, recording proverbs associated with Solomon (Proverbs 25:1). The collection continues until the end of chapter 29. The lessons in this passage repeat teachings on generosity and the dangers of greed, as well as the damage done by wicked rulers.
Book Summary:
Proverbs is best understood in context with the books of Ecclesiastes and Job. In Proverbs, “wisdom” is given in short, simple, general terms. Ecclesiastes represents wisdom based on observation and experience. This often shows how the general principles of the book of Proverbs don’t apply in absolutely every circumstance. Job represents wisdom based on the experience of suffering and injustice. All three come to the conclusion that God does indeed know best, and the most sensible course of action is to follow His will.
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