Proverbs (chapters 10-19)
Chapter 10 begins with the less consecutive communications of the Book, after the rich presentation of sententious wisdom of more general character seen in the previous nine. We are now introduced to those detached and pithy moral axioms given to instruct the mind and fasten on the memory for profit day by day.
"The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son maketh a glad father; but a foolish son [is] the grief of his mother.
"Treasures of wickedness profit nothing; but righteousness delivereth from death.
"Jehovah suffereth not the soul of the righteous to famish; but he repelleth the craving of the wicked.
"He cometh to want that dealeth [with] a slack hand; but the hand of the diligent maketh rich.
"He that gathereth in summer [is] a wise son; he that sleepeth in harvest [is] a son that causeth shame.
"Blessings [are] on the head of the righteous; but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked.
"The memory of the righteous [is] blessed; but the name of the wicked shall rot.
"The wise in heart receiveth commandments; but the foolish of lips shall fall.
"He that walketh in integrity walketh securely; but he that perverteth his ways shall be known.
"He that winketh with the eye causeth grief; but the foolish of lips shall fall." vv. 1-10.
In the first verse is stated the importance of cultivating wisdom in a son, not the acquisition of such knowledge as distinguishes among men, or promotes the interests of the family or of himself. Vanity and pride, selfishness and greed, are thus guarded against. That is commended which cannot be without the fear of Jehovah. How sad if God's people were as indifferent as the Gentiles that know Him not! Is Christendom really better new? Is wisdom the aim of the school board or the education council? It makes "a glad father"; as its absence cannot but fall as grief to the "mother" especially. How many sons, bright, applauded, and successful, end in shame and ruin!
The second carries out the warning of the first verse. "Treasures of wickedness profit nothing." They may dazzle, and furnish the amplest means of self-gratification. But the end of these things is death; and God is not mocked, who will judge by Him in whom was no sin, but only obedience in love. Righteousness is consistency with our relationships, the first of which is with Him who is out of sight and forgotten. Now, as Solomon owned publicly when at the height of his earthly blessing, "there is no man that sinneth not"; righteousness cannot be for any man without looking out of himself to Him whom God ever meant to send, as all that feared Him knew. The prophets here but emphasized what the faithful acted on from the beginning. To be self-satisfied, or indifferent, is to be unrighteous radically. To believe God and look for the Saviour is alone right. He gives one to be righteous as well as justified; "he shall live by his faith"; and there is no other way. Righteousness, therefore, it is that "delivereth from death."
Verse 3 appropriately adds the comforting assurance that Jehovah, who tries the righteous for their good in an evil age, "will not suffer the righteous to famish; but he repelleth the craving (or, the desire) of the wicked." There is a righteous government in the midst of all sorts of difficulties, snares, and moral contradictions, the most wilful finds himself checked, as the most tried is sustained and cared for.
In verses 4 and 5, heedlessness is shown to work ruin, no less than more pronounced evil. It was not for such indifference that God made man in His image after His likeness; and when he fell, he got a conscience to know good and evil, as was not nor could be in a state of innocence. So we have, "He cometh to want that dealeth with a slack hand; but the hand of the diligent maketh rich." As man, it is good for him to eat bread in the sweat of his face. An idler is open to evil as well as poverty; the diligent works not in vain. Again, when all is bright and abundant, folly takes its ease and enjoyment; but he is a wise son that gathereth in summer. Thus, he that sleeps when he ought to reap diligently, must inevitably cause shame, whatever the love of those who are nearest.
Then verses 6 and 7 contrast the portion and the memory of the righteous with the wicked. While blessings are upon the head of a righteous man, to adorn and protect him, the mouth of the wicked is covered by violence, or violence covers it. They proceed farther in ungodliness, and their folly at length becomes evident. Whereas the memory of the righteous man lives as blessed, and the very name of the wicked shall rot.
Wisdom is manifested in lowly obedience (vv. 8, 9). "The wise in heart receiveth commandments; but the foolish of lips (the marked contrast) shall fall." Man's true elevation is in looking up to Him who deigns to guide the needy by His counsel. The foolish of lips proves that he neither knows whence wisdom comes, nor distrusts his own emptiness; and therefore shall he fall. But wisdom of heart does not stop at hearing, but receives to obey, and is blessed in his doing; and so we are told here, "he that walketh in integrity walketh securely; but he that perverteth his ways shall be known." He may be sly, and hope to lie concealed; but He who sees all discloses the evildoer even in the dark day or night.
Very pregnant is verse 10. "He that winketh with the eye causeth grief." He may be ever so on his guard, he may not go beyond a sign of his evil eyes; but he "causeth grief," and without defining it farther. It may be grief to himself as well as to others. As before, here it is added that the foolish of lips shall fall. He is not a crafty dissembler, but falls through his outspoken folly.
In the verses that immediately follow, "the mouth" has a predominant place for good will, though labour or its fruit is noticed by the way, no less than heed to instruction, as in verses 15-17.
"The mouth of a righteous one [is] a fountain of life; but the mouth of the wicked covereth violence.
"Hatred stirreth up strifes; but love covereth all transgress ions.
"In the lips of one intelligent wisdom is found; but a rod [is] for the back of him that is void of understanding (or, heart) .
"The wise lay up knowledge; but the mouth of the fool [is] near destruction.
"The rich one's wealth [is] his strong city; the poor's destruction [is] their poverty.
"The labour of righteousness [tendeth] to life, the revenue of wickedness to sin.
"Keeping instruction [is] life's path; but he that forsaketh reproof erreth.
"He that covereth hatred hath lying lips, and he that uttereth slander [is] a food (or, vile).
"In the multitude of words there wanteth not transgression; but he that restraineth his lips doeth wisely.
"The tongue of the righteous [is as] choice silver; the heart of a wicked one [is] little worth.
"The lips of the righteous feed many; but fools die for want of understanding." vv. 11-21.
The mouth has a widely different intent and character in man from the beast, where it expresses animal need, innocuous or baneful to others. Man's mouth has a nobler purpose and unique, as the means of expressing his inner nature in relationship, not with the realm of nature which he is set to rule, but, in subjection, with God whom he represents, or, alas! misrepresents. Here it is the mouth of a righteous man, and is said to be a fountain of life; for this is the divine mind as to such a one in the desert world. He is not merely seen of God providentially as Hagar by a fountain of water in the wilderness, which was called accordingly. He endures as seeing Him who is invisible. He becomes thereby an active source of blessing to others, and of blessing toward that nature which has in it now the taint of death through the sin of man, its first typical head, before the second Man (the unfailing and true Head) restores all things as He surely will in due time. Meantime the righteous man's mouth by grace is a fountain of life. He is a witness of God in Christ; and as he believes therefore so he speaks. With the wicked it is wholly otherwise. His mouth not only utters the violence of self-will and ungodliness, but does yet worse in covering the violence he feels, which if disclosed might lead to wholesome caution or restraint and solemn warning.
"Hatred" is next brought before us, the precise reverse of God in His love, the transcript of Satan in his malice. So evident is its association, that it is needless to state its parentage; it is "as Cain," who was of the evil one, and slew his brother. But, even if in its lightest form, it "stirreth up strifes," resenting all interference with man's will, as God is nowhere in its thoughts. "But love covereth all transgressions." Such is the deep feeling of the divine nature in a man of God. Personal resentment is far from the heart. He is pleased to forgive and forget. So the Apostle repeats (1 Peter 4: 8) that love covers a multitude of sins, as James similarly concludes his epistle. Yet even Israel, not Christians only, were to be holy; and if a false witness rose up and was convicted, when both stood before Jehovah, then, instead of covering, they were bound to do to him as he meant against his brother, and so put the evil away from among them. Any other course is Satan's work by setting one scripture to annul another, instead of obeying all. To bring human feeling into such a case is as contrary to the gospel as it was to the law. "Do ye not judge them that are within?" "Holiness becometh thy house, O Jehovah, for ever." This is as inalienable as love's privilege to cover all transgressions personally. When our Lord on the mount taught His disciples not to resist evil (Matt. 5: 38- 42) according to the law of retaliation, it was for Christian life in its individual walk. The same Lord insisted on unsparing judgment of evil in the Church. So we all know how wrong it is to efface 1 Corinthians 5 in practice by forbidding the uprooting of the tares in Matthew 13: 29. How unintelligent and blind!
Again, we are told that "in the lips of one intelligent, wisdom is found; but a rod is for the back of him that is void of heart" (or, understanding). How true is this, and evident experimentally! It is not only that every intelligent man has wisdom, but in his lips it is found. How self is betrayed in seeking it otherwise! Who would look for wisdom elsewhere unless he (perhaps unconsciously) wanted his own way? On the other hand, he that lacks heart in the moral sense deserves the rod for his own chastening. If his eye were single, he could not want light.
Another blessing comes to wisdom. It does not lose what it has' but grows by grace. "The wise lay up wisdom." Acuteness or originality may not and often does not turn to profit the most brilliant and useful ideas; but wisdom keeps and uses what is given from above. Just as the fool's mouth, however voluble, utters nothing of real value, but has ever at hand ample elements for mischief and "near destruction."
The next couplet seems to state this simple fact, and not without irony. "The rich man's wealth is his strong city; the destruction of the poor is their poverty." So they think, and others say; yet riches have wings and may fly away; as the poor, if godly and content with the will of God, have great gain.
Compared with the rich, we have now "a righteous man's labour," which has the stamp on it of tending "to life." On the other hand, "the revenue" (it is not said, the labour) of a wicked man tendeth "to sin." How cheering for him who accepts the portion, though it be in a ruined world, of eating bread in the sweat of his face! and how sorrowful is the course of a revenue, were it ever so abundant, flowing into sin!
Then follows the practical test: "Keeping instruction is the path of life," as surely as "he that forsaketh reproof erreth." For not to hear only, but to keep instruction, is of great price; whereas to dislike, and so forsake, the "reproof" of our manifold faults, is the way to go astray, one knows not how far.
Next, we hear the yet more solemn warning against hypocritical ill will, its character and natural issue, and God's judgment of it, whatever men say. "He that covereth hatred hath lying lips; and he that uttereth slander is a fool." So He says who searcheth reins and hearts, which we cannot do and so need to profit by His word. Malevolent lies, when laid bare, thus prove hatred that was covered up, and the sending forth of slander evinces the fool. The divine oracle does not stoop to the deceiving politeness of society, but speaks out that all saints may hear, whether for comfort or for admonition.
Further, we are cautioned against overmuch speaking, as our Lord denounced vain repetitions in prayer like the Gentiles, and long prayers in public like the Jews. It is well at all times to watch and refrain, save in peremptory duty. "In the multitude of words there wanteth not transgression; but he that restraineth his lips doeth wisely." Let us not fail then to ask the Lord to set a watch before our mouth, and keep the door of our lips, as in Psalm 141:3. Our evil nature is too ready to watch our neighbour's mouth to the shame of faith and love.
The tongue of the righteous, as we are told in verse 20, is as choice silver. This is apposite and suggestive. We might have thought other metals might have suited not less well. Many a tongue that is not righteous cuts like the brightest and sharpest steel. But as silver in sanctuary associations pointed to grace, and gold to righteousness divine, so in usage among men silver is specially adapted for probing wounds without corrosion or festering. So is the tongue of the just, always with grace, seasoned with salt. Hence the apostolic call on "the spiritual" to restore one overtaken in any trespass; the unspiritual is apt to be severe, the carnal would be careless and resent true judgment.
The following verse (21) pursues and defines the positive blessing. "The lips of a righteous man feed many." On another side we hear, "but fools die for want of understanding." The bread which Jesus made and gave through His disciples fed the multitude, with more at the end than at the beginning; and this is what the righteous soul finds in Him for many in their many wants and in a thousand ways. Him they are called to testify, and their "lips" will as certainly "feed many." Just as certainly do foals who believe not in Him, though they may hear with their ears, "die for want of understanding." His flesh, which the Son of man gave us to eat, and His blood to drink, is the most precious grace on His part, and the most needed truth on ours; but upon this many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him. How true and sad to say that "fools die for want of understanding"! It is the perverse heart, insensible alike to its own sinfulness and to the goodness of God, who in Christ went down to all depths to save the lost at all cost.
To the end of the chapter we have the blessing of Jehovah in contrast with the fool, the wicked, and the sluggard, in their respective paths; the fear of Jehovah, and again the way of Jehovah, and the effects compared with the opposed evil.
"The blessing of Jehovah. it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow to it.
"[It is] as sport to a fool to do wickedness; but a man of understanding hath wisdom.
"The fear of the wicked, it shall come upon him; but the desire of the righteous shall be granted.
"As a whirlwind passeth, so [is] the wicked no I more]; but the righteous [is] an everlasting foundation.
"As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes, so [is] the sluggard to those that send him.
"The fear of Jehovah prolongeth days; but the years of the wicked shall be shortened.
"The hope of the righteous [is] joy; but the expectation of the wicked shall perish.
"The way of Jehovah [is] strength to the upright one; but destruction to the workers of iniquity.
"The righteous one shall never be removed; but the wicked shall not dwell in the earth (or, land).
"The mouth of the righteous one putteth forth wisdom; but the froward tongue shall be cut off.
"The lips of a righteous one know what is acceptable; but the mouth of the wicked [is] frowardness." vv. 22-32.
The Israelites were here called to remember that their God, Jehovah, the only unerring moral governor, is the blesser, and that His blessing makes rich. The day comes when Messiah shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall reign in judgment. In that day, as the role, false appearances shall not flourish. The vile person or fool shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful. The work of righteousness shall be peace, and the effect of righteousness quietness and confidence forever. The very wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad; and no wonder, when He reigns who made all very good, before the sin of man brought in confusion and every evil work. But then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp (or adder), and the weaned child shall put his hand on the viper's den. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain. In that day will it be seen by every eye that the blessing of Jehovah makes rich, and He adds no sorrow to it. But even in this day of man when sin still reigns in death, godliness with contentment is great gain, whatever be the outward circumstances.
On the other hand, the lively pleasure of moral folly is to do wickedness for a little while. What is the end of such sport, but death as part wages, and judgment as full? A man of understanding has wisdom, and the fear of Jehovah is his constant part as well as beginning. Moreover, the fear of the wicked is far from groundless, and if it heed not the goodness of God that leads to repentance, the suspended blow falls, "it shall come upon him." Just so, even while it is still the evil day, the desire of the righteous shall be granted; for he asks of God what is according to His will, judging himself where, seeking more or otherwise, he yielded to vain thoughts. Why should he doubt care and mercy in any trial from Him whose grace justified the ungodly? No doubt, even now there are hours of exceeding pressure, here compared to a whirlwind. When it passes, where is the wicked? "No more." The very distress which overwhelms him discloses that "the righteous is an everlasting foundation." "Sluggishness" may not have the dark character of "wickedness" or of "folly" in the moral sense; but it is a twofold wrong of no small dimensions. It is unworthy in itself, and dishonours the failing man by its purposeless ease; it is as vexatious to others "that send him" "as vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes." How sad when lack of heed and diligence in a Christian exposes his Master's name to be ill spoken of!
The Apostle Peter cites a word kindred in substance to verse 27 from Psalm 34, though the form differs. The fear of Jehovah is the source of strength and security for the weak in a world of evil and anxiety and danger. It "prolongeth days" for him who trembles at His word, not at the enemy; as "the years of the wicked" who has no such fear "shall be shortened." For the same reason "the hope of the righteous is joy" now as well as at the end; whereas "the expectation of the wicked shall perish." Not only is there the wearing chagrin and worry of disappointment to shorten his days, but he cannot shut out his dread of inevitable judgment; and his mockery of perdition ends in the blackest despair.
In bright light shines out verse 29. "The way of Jehovah is strength to the upright, but destruction to the workers of iniquity." It is not here His "end" as in James 5: 11, but His "way"; though they are alike worthy of Him, and also the reliance and comfort of faith, as His Word reveals both. Oh, what patience and long-suffering in His way, however dark and afflicting it seemed to Job and his friends! but what was the end? Could Satan deny its compassion and mercy? But His way corrected error for the upright, while its forbearance gives occasion to the destruction of such as work iniquity. They shall no more inhabit the earth, than the righteous be removed, in the judgment. They may foam out their own shames now; but "the froward tongue shall be cut out," as surely as "the mouth of the righteous putteth forth wisdom." It is the single eye to the Lord that gives the lips to know what is acceptable to God as well as man. The mouth of the wicked speaks frowardness according to the abundance of his heart; the good man speaks out of his good treasure, and this is Christ Himself.
The saving grace of God instructs us to live righteously in the present age. It is far from all that He looks for in a saint. Sobriety He claims, and godliness also. But honesty in our dealings with men is indispensable, the lack of which wholly discredits any profession of piety. It betrays a covetous man, whom the Holy Spirit brands as an idolater (Eph. 5: 5), and without inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. How hateful it was to Him of old, we see in the opening of our chapter.
"A false balance [is] abomination to Jehovah, but a just weight his delight.
"Pride cometh, then cometh shame; but with the lowly [is] wisdom.
"The integrity of the upright guideth them; but the crookedness of the treacherous destroyeth them.
"Wealth profiteth not in the day of wrath; but righteousness delivereth from death.
"The righteousness of the perfect maketh plain his way; but the wicked falleth by his own wickedness.
"The righteousness of the upright delivereth them; but the treacherous are taken in their own craving.
"When a wicked man dieth, expectation shall perish; and the hope of evil ones perisheth.
"The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead.
"With the mouth a hypocrite destroyeth his neighbour; but through knowledge are the righteous delivered." vv. 1-9.
"A false balance" is much more than an act of dishonesty; it implies the pretension to integrity, and withal deliberate purpose to cheat. It is therefore an abomination to Him whose eyes behold, whose eyelids try the children of men, as a just weight is His delight. Trickery in trade is a corroding evil, most of all fatal to such as gain a sullied or a seared conscience.
Pride readily comes in this poor world, where man poses as something when he is nothing and worse. But its shadow is close at hand; "shame cometh"; and this even here, before the judgment. For God resists the proud, and proclaims their abasement. But with the lowly is wisdom. He is not ever on the tenterhooks of self. He looks above the petty ways of men, and refuses to be irritated even if wronged. The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, without hypocrisy.
It is not only unworthy devices in trade, or a self-exalting spirit, that we need to watch against, but perverseness in our heart and ways. Christ could designate Himself as "the truth." He was absolutely what He also spoke. His ways and His words perfectly agreed. Are we begotten by the word of truth, and sanctified by the Spirit? Let us follow Him, finding it is our sin and shame if we turn aside in aught. How blessed to be truthful in love! "The integrity of the upright shall guide them; but the crookedness of the treacherous destroyeth them." A tortuous path ends in ruin.
Nor can "riches" avail to avert or stay God's displeasure, however they may shield and deliver in man's day. "Riches profit not in the day of wrath; but righteousness delivereth from death." The just have a special resurrection (Luke 14: 14). "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: over these the second death hath no power." Death is now our servant (Rom. 8: 38; 1 Cor. 3: 22).
Nor is it only that righteousness delivers from death; "the righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way; but the wicked shall fall by his own wickedness." The man to whom grace has given a single eye sees the way straight before him, while the wicked needs no executioner, as he shall die by his own evil.
Death ruins the flattering expectation of a wicked person. In hades he lifts up his eyes, being in torments; they had been closed before, save to the lie of the enemy. "When a wicked man dieth, expectation shall perish; and the hope of evil ones perisheth." "Thou fool" is then heard and felt in his despair.
How different is the lot of the just! "The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead." Even here the believer proves that God is his great Deliverer; how much more when the morning dawns without clouds! The wicked even here are not without evidence that God's eye is on them, to let them taste the fruit of their own way. "In the net which they hid is their own foot taken."
"With the mouth a hypocrite (or, impious one) destroyeth his neighbour; but through knowledge are the righteous delivered." Violence is not so dangerous as deceit, and no deceit is so evil as that which clothes itself with the name of the Lord and His Word. But God causes all things to work together for those that love Him, and this "through knowledge," through that which faith is now to learn, because God gives it in His grace. Thus is the righteous kept, yea garrisoned, by God's power, whatever ill will may plot to destroy.
The use and abuse of the mouth has a large place in the verses which come into review. Yet how small is the circle pursued compared with the vast range which Scripture touches elsewhere! There is much in the Old Testament which sets forth its evil; but in the New Testament it is exposed more deeply still, and in no part so much as the epistle of James.
"When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth; and when the wicked perish, [there is] shouting.
"By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted; but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.
"He that despiseth his neighbour is void of heart; but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.
"He that goeth about tale-bearing revealeth secrets; but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.
"Where no advice [is] the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors [there is] safety.
"It goeth ill with him that is surety for a stranger; but he that hateth suretyship is secure." vv. 10-15.
The impious person of verse 9 described as ruining his neighbour with his mouth must have been as deceitful as mischievous. We can understand therefore why it should be narrowed to "a hypocrite." ("Hypocrite" here and elsewhere seems defined unduly. The cognate verb is rendered to "profane," "defile," "pollute." Why should another force be given to the appellative?) Certainly he covers his neighbour with his defiling imputation so as to injure and destroy, as far as his intention could. But God takes care of the righteous in their unsuspecting simplicity, and gives knowledge, so that they are delivered.
Again, whatever may be the ill will of men provoked by a course of life which silently condemns them, conscience is forced to justify the truehearted. Hence, when it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices. Compare Esther 8: 15-17. Just so, when downfall comes to the notoriously wicked, men cannot disguise their loud satisfaction.
Further, good fruit is expected to others from the upright. "By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked." Here the public ruin is attributed to the same source as that which destroys private reputation. A veil of piety but adds to the iniquity and to the mischief.
Next, we are told where silence is golden, both by contrast and directly: "He that despiseth his neighbour is void of heart." Where is his sense, where is propriety, to say nothing of the love and fear of God? It is certain that the Highest despises not any. What can a creature's state be who forgets either the body made of dust, or the soul from the inbreathing of Jehovah Elohim? Least of all does it suit Him who died to save the lost. "A man of understanding holdeth his peace" in such a case, unless there be a divine obligation to speak out. "He that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter; whereas he that goeth about as a slanderer revealeth secrets." To receive nothing so said, and to reprove the talebearer, will soon check and put such to shame; to repeat slanderous tales is to share the guilt and the mischief.
On the other hand there are those whom God sets as watchmen, and who are therefore bound to warn; as again the humble rejoice to be helped in their difficulties, instead of decrying those who have more discernment than themselves. "Where no advice is, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety." Whatever the haughty spirit of independence may aspire to, there are chief men, or guides, among God's people; and none can ignore or slight them but to their own loss. The Holy Spirit does not lead to self-conceit, but to unfeigned humility and to cordial value for fellowship.
But to be surety for another is quite another thing from either giving or taking counsel. "It goeth ill with him that is surety for a stranger; but he that hateth suretyship is secure." Yet He who was best and wisest deigned to be surety for us where suffering followed to the uttermost; but as He knew beforehand, so He endured it all for us to God's glory. In our way and measure we too may incur the risk; but we should do it only where we are prepared to stand the forfeit, and can do it considerately and honourably. Otherwise it is right as well as safe to refuse. But speculation without or beyond means is wholly unjustifiable; it is not kindness, but rather dishonesty.
The next verses open with a contrast, a gracious rather than graceful woman, and violent men; but in verse 22 it is the very different image of a fair woman without discretion with its painful incongruity.
"A gracious woman retaineth honour, and the violent retain riches.
"The merciful man doeth good to his own soul, but the cruel troubleth his own flesh.
"The wicked earneth deceitful wages, but he that soweth righteousness a sure reward.
"As righteousness [tendeth] to life, so to death he that pursueth evil.
"The perverse in heart [are] abomination to Jehovah, but the upright in way [are] his delight.
"Hand in (or, for) hand, evil man shall not be unpunished; but the seed of the righteous shall be delivered.
"As a gold ring in a swine's snout [is] a woman fair and indiscreet.
"The desire of the righteous [is] only good; the wicked's expectation [is] wrath (or, arrogance)." vv. 16-23.
The spirit that is "virtuous" is quite distinct from "gracious"; but the picture given in the latter part of Proverbs 31 is of a woman of whom the latter might be predicated as the former is. They are but different aspects of the same person. How can there be found a more vivid answer to one who seeks the meaning of her retaining honour? In fact it is well illustrated in the history of Abigail the Carmelite, as her husband Nabal shows how the violent retain riches. For the one a meek and quiet spirit is not only of great price in God's sight, but a blessing that endures; whereas what are the stoutest in holding their wealth before death? There is no discharge in that war.
It is obvious to everyone how blessed mercy is to the needy and wretched. Here is shown the good it does to the man's own soul. Who that reflects can dispute this, or its moral importance? On the other hand, equally certain it is that the cruel person does trouble not only his victims but his own flesh. Far from meaning it, he becomes in divine retribution a self-tormentor even now.
The force of verse 18 seems to be not only the deceitful work that the wicked man does, but the kindred and disappointing wages he earns. It deceives himself as much or more than those he injures. But he that walks consistently with his relationship to God and man sows and reaps accordingly. He has a sure reward. How fully the New Testament bears both out, is evident from Romans 8 and Galatians 6.
This is carried farther in terms still more general but no less sure and weighty in the verse that follows. Righteousness certainly tends to life, as he that pursues evil to his own death. The devil is not only a liar but a murderer from the beginning till his end come; and those who are swayed by him must share his doom, as they reject the Righteous One who alone gives life to those that believe.
Then we hear of a class whose aggravated evil makes them offensive to God. For the froward or perverse in heart are declared to be "an abomination to Jehovah." But it is a comfort to know from Himself that such as are perfect (or, upright) in way are His delight. It was man, independent and rebellious, that departed from Jehovah Elohim, before He drove him from the earthly paradise. Yet does His goodness lead the guilty to repentance, and by revealed grace render him upright and guileless, but this only through His Son becoming not only the pattern man, but the sacrifice for our sins. What a joy to the believer that His complacency in man is beyond doubt, and according to His Word! Yes, He delights in those whose way is marked by integrity.
"Hand to hand," here and in Proverbs 16, is a phrase open to a variety of explanations. Even, to all generations, and certainly, have been suggested by some, while another refers it to terms in making a bargain. Whichever it be, an evil person shall not be scatheless in one version; in the other, not only the righteous but their seed shall be delivered. Israel, as they have been, attest the one; Israel, as they shall be, will be the plain proof of the other. Jehovah can by redemption forget iniquities, but will remember and bless for the fathers' sake; in Christ He can afford to do so.
But how unseemly a sight is a fair woman without that discretion which the weaker vessel needs in the world and the race as they are! Truly a jewel of gold in a swine's snout - a phrase purposely framed to convey incongruity and disgust.
Again, the desire of the righteous is only good. Begotten as they are of incorruptible seed through God's word, their affections flow from that new life. They have another nature prone to evil; but this they judge before God who watches over His husbandry for good and the repression of evil. The expectation of the wicked is according to their unremoved evil and their deadly opposition to God, which only vexes them to wrath, and must end in outer darkness with its weeping and gnashing of teeth. Who can wonder that in chapter 11 we read, "the hope of the righteous shall be granted," and that the fear of the wicked shall come upon him no less than his expectation?
A deathblow seems struck at selfishness in the following verses. They open with a maxim expressly framed to startle souls and call for reflection. But the more the words are weighed, their certainty appears all the clearer and the more important.
"There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is right, but only to want.
"The blessing soul shall be made fat; and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.
"He that withholdeth corn, the people curse him; but blessing [shall be] upon the head of him that selleth [it].
"He that is earnest after good seeketh favour; but he that searcheth after mischief, it shall come upon him.
"He that trusteth in his riches shall fall; but the righteous shall flourish as a green leaf.
"He that troubleth his own house shall inherit wind; and the fool [shall be] servant to the wise of heart.
"The fruit of the righteous [is] as a tree of life; but the wise winneth souls.
"Behold, the righteous shall be requited on the earth: how much more the wicked and the sinner!" vv. 24-31.
Even agriculture, trade, and commerce illustrate faith in the unseen, however severed from that sovereign grace which is the spring of blessing in the spiritual realm. But increase as the result cannot be without judgment along the way. On the other hand, niggardliness and fear cannot ward off want, nor do they deserve it. He who is alone worthy of all trust, and even in a scene of confusion, holds the reins, is entitled to form and guide the heart, and He loves a cheerful giver.
Hence the blessing or liberal one is richly blessed; and the waterer of others, according to this expressive figure, gets watered himself. Have we not known it here and there, if we have not proved it as we ought? See its perfection in Him who at the well of Sychar touched the core of the fatal evil, that the Spirit might act as the fountain of His living water springing up to life eternal, Himself finding His food in doing the will of the One who sent Him.
Next we hear the people, on the other side, cursing the withholder of corn in the time of want and suffering to enrich himself, as surely as blessing does not fail to be on his head that fairly disposes of it. See it in the beautiful tale of Joseph during Egypt's years of famine. Alas! the sad story prevails today too often where the glad one should be heard.
Now we are shown a larger and higher application. He that is earnest, or rises early, after good seeks favour, nor does he fail as the rule to procure it. How pleasant it is in His eyes who alone is absolutely and essentially good! But what can one look for in divine government, but that mischief shall come upon him that is industrious in devising it? What a solemn and sudden witness of it in Haman, the Jews' enemy, during their servitude to the Gentile, as of no less favour is in Mordecai!
Precarious indeed is confidence in riches, as we are next told; for they certainly make for themselves wings and flee away as an eagle toward heaven. No wonder then that he that trusts in them shall fall. On the other hand, righteousness endures, whatever comes from without; so the wise man can say that the righteous shall flourish as the branch or green leaf. He, as David sang, is like a tree planted by rivers of water, that brings forth fruit in season, and with leaf also that withers not. "Your bones," said the prophet, "shall flourish like the tender grass." For the Christian, this is through abiding in Christ.
Verse 29 brings before us the man "that troubleth his own house." This might be by one or other of the aforesaid objectionable ways - undue scattering, or undue withholding. By either course, not only is his own house made a scene of vexation, but the end for himself is the wind, a heritage of nothing but disappointment. "The fool" seems to sink still lower, and becomes servant to those who are "wise of heart," the very reverse of his own heartless inconsiderateness.
How contrasted with persons so failing in righteous wisdom is that which is next set before us. "The fruit of the righteous is as a tree of life; and the wise winneth souls." A tree is a noble object in the landscape, but the fruit of the righteous is far beyond such a comparison; it is as "a tree of life." They are blessed and a blessing. But the wise rises yet higher, and wins souls; or he that wins souls is wise - a work impossible without divine love constraining, a divine fear communicated by the Word and Spirit of God. How richly the gospel of His grace now produces both! How sad where it does not!
The chapter closes with a vivid call to "behold", and what then? A cardinal principle for Israel: "the righteous shall be requited on the earth: how much more the wicked and the sinner!" It has been but imperfectly seen, for rulers and subjects have alike fallen short. For a full witness it awaits His kingdom who will come in power and glory, whose right it is. He has spoken, and He will do it. And the time is short; the end of all things is at hand.
We have next the contrast distinctly drawn between the course, character, and end of those that are open to divine discipline, and of such as refuse it; of him that obtains Jehovah's favour, of the malicious too, and of the righteous unmoved by that which sweeps away the wicked. Nor is the woman of worth unnoticed any more than the one who makes ashamed. The thoughts and words of both classes are confronted with the dread issue.
"Whoso loveth correction loveth knowledge, but he that hateth reproof [is] brutish.
"A good [man] obtaineth favour of Jehovah, but a man of mischievous devices will he condemn.
"A man shall not be established by wickedness, but the root of the righteous shall never be moved.
"A woman of worth [is] a crown to her husband, but she that maketh ashamed [is] as rottenness in his bones.
"The thoughts of the righteous [are] judgment, the counsels of the wicked deceit.
"The words of the wicked [are] a lying-in-wait for blood, but the mouth of the upright shall deliver them.
"Overthrow the wicked, and they [are] no more; but the house of the righteous shall stand." Prov. 12: 1-7.
As original uprightness was lost in the fall, even if there be a new nature by grace, soul discipline is ever needed, and blessed in the genuine humility that values knowledge from on high. Pride and vanity are alike disdainful of reproof, and therefore go from bad to worse. Those unwilling to own their faults or to submit to faithful dealing sink below humanity.
He that is good in his measure (Rom. 6: 7) has been so formed by his faith in Jehovah's loving-kindness, and obtains fresh favour, whereas He condemns the man who yielding to his evil nature lives in spiteful devices.
Nor is it in the nature of wickedness to establish a man, for it makes slippery the high place he may reach; but the righteous have a root which, however assailed, shall not be moved.
If you wish a full-length portrait of a woman of worth, it is furnished in the last chapter of this Book. Such a woman is not only a blessing but "a crown" to her husband. For even if naturally or spiritually beyond him, she will not fail to hide herself behind and help efficiently under him as her head, to the good order of children and servants, as well as in the circle of their friends or foes. On the other hand, what a curse is she that makes ashamed, however it may be! It is an evil ever felt to be hopeless in itself. How truly described as "rottenness in his bones"!
As righteousness means consistency with our relationships to God and man, "the thoughts" are a main part of it. Self-righteousness is really its opposite, and consists of outward observances if there be any pretence of ground for it. What value can these have, where the heart is far from Jehovah proving it by disregard of His Anointed, and by hopes resting on their own ways according to the precept of men? True righteousness is inseparable from being begotten of God; and thus the thoughts are right, as being the inward effect of a new life which comes from God's object of faith on whom they rest. The counsels of the wicked, who know Him not, are deceit; for they flow from an evil nature assuming to be good.
And what are "the words" of the wicked but, as they are here characterized, "a lying-in-wait for blood"? If they have not life in Christ, they are the habitual prey of him who is from the beginning a liar and a murderer. "My soul," says the Psalmist, "is in the midst of lions; I lie down among those that breathe out flames, the sons of Adam, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword." Smooth was the milk of his mouth, but his heart was war; his words were softer than oil, yet are they drawn swords. On the other hand the mouth of the upright speaks to the conscience and heart, and God knows how to give it effect so that it shall deliver them.
As the wicked build on the sand, overthrow comes and is fatal; but the house of the righteous, being built on the rock, shall stand. Rain may descend, and floods come, and winds blow, but only to prove that it is founded and preserved. So is he who hears and obeys the Word.
There is no danger that besets men, and even the righteous, more than too keen a regard to their reputation. Here we begin with the secret of that which gives a quiet spirit, and of what calls forth contempt.
"A man shall be commended according to his judgment (or, wisdom), but he that is perverse of heart shall be despised.
"Better [is] he that is lightly esteemed, and hath a servant, than he that aimeth after honour and lacketh bread.
"A righteous [man] regardeth the life of his beast; but the tender mercies of the wicked [are] cruelty.
"He that tilleth his ground shall be satisfied with bread; but he that followeth worthless [persons] is devoid of sense.
"The wicked desireth the net of evil [men]; but the rout of the righteous yieldeth [fruit].
"In the transgression of the lips is an evil snare; but a righteous [man] shall come out of trouble.
"A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of the mouth; and the doings of a man's hands shall be rendered to him." vv. 8-14.
If the eye be single, the whole body shall be full of light, said the Lord. This gives a man to have a godly aim, and to seek it by faithful means. The same spirit imparts a sound judgment, which commends itself and him who makes it. A perverse heart leaves God, likes to oppose, and seeks self only. Such a one only makes difficulties and stumbling blocks, and gets despised in spite of his vain efforts to rise.
As the rule, man walks in a vain show, and this deceives many. Hence he who despises appearances often gets despised, though of weight in a lowly way and able to relieve his labour by the help of a servant; while he who strains in paying honour to himself outwardly may come to want necessaries.
Next we find men tested by their treatment of the creation which God put into subjection to the race. Indifference to one's beast is unworthy; cruelty is worse. Hence the righteous is concerned for his beast's life, while even the wicked's tender mercies are cruelty. Jehovah's tender mercies are over all His works, and the day comes when everything that has breath shall praise Him.
We turn then to the contrast of diligence in one's duty with the companionship of idlers. He that tills his land shall have plenty of bread; whereas the follower of the worthless betrays his want of sense. In a fallen condition it is a mercy to eat bread in the sweat of the face. Idleness is not only profitless but a misery.
Verse 12 confronts the desire of the wicked with the righteous in this, that the former yearns after the net, or prey, of men still more wicked, for his own advantage; but the latter has a root of stability which does not fail to produce good fruit in its season.
Words too as well as doings have their just place in moral government here below. The transgression of the lips is not only a great offence in God's sight; it is an evil snare to the guilty (v. 13). Boast as they may that their tongues are their own, they learn to their cost that neither God nor man will suffer it. The righteous know what trouble is; but, instead of being snared by it, they come out of it. So of the Christian it is written that through many tribulations we must enter into the kingdom of God.
On the other hand, the fruit of the mouth is of real account, not only for the good of others but for him who is enabled thus to speak. Giving of thanks becomes him who knows the Lord Jesus. It is no wonder if those who never speak for the use of edifying decry the communication of grace and truth. If it be so with our words, how much shall the excellent doings of a man be recompensed to him? God assuredly concerns Himself with our ways and our words. Let each of us please his neighbour for that which is good unto edifying. For Christ pleased not Himself; but as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached Thee fell upon Me. Hence the need of patience, and the value of the comfort of the Scriptures, while we wait for the fruition of our hope. The other side is no less sure; evil ways and words God will bring into judgment.
A fool's way and a fool's vexation introduce the verses which now claim our heed, where the utterance of truth and wisdom follows with weighty instruction in righteousness.
"The way of a fool [is] right in his own eyes; but he that is wise hearkeneth to counsel.
"The vexation of the fool is known presently (in that day); but he that concealeth shame is prudent.
"One uttering truth showeth forth righteousness, but a false witness deceit.
"There is that babbleth like the piercings of a sword; but the tongue of the wise [is] health.
"The lip of truth shall be established for ever; but a lying tongue [is] but for a moment.
"Deceit [is] in the heart of those that devise evil; but to the counsellors of peace [is] joy.
"No evil shall happen to the righteous; but the wicked shall be filled with mischief.
"Lying lips [are] an abomination to Jehovah; but those that deal truly are his delight." vv. 15-22.
For man with a fallen nature and in a fallen world to confide in himself is to play the fool. God is not in any of his thoughts. He is sure he needs no advice; he is right in his own eyes. What can his eyes do but help him to judge according to sight, which the Lord contrasts with judging righteous judgment? and what so dangerous as every question of self? For there is nothing a man dislikes more than thinking ill of himself, unless it is of believing good of God. Truly the way of a fool is right in his own eyes. He that is wise distrusts himself and hearkens to counsel; nor does he cheat God and his conscience by seeking counsel of the weak and easy-going, but of the godly.
The vexation of the fool breaks out in immediate and uncontrollable anger. He forgets God, himself, and everybody else. On the other hand, he is prudent who conceals rather than exposes shame; he feels the insult, instead of despising his brother, and steeling his own breast in worldly pride. But his quiet spirit adds no fuel to the flame, and helps the offender perhaps to judge his unbridled impropriety. How prudent to ignore such provocations, to conceal shame not only from others but from ourselves!
To utter truth simply and characteristically in a world where men walk in a vain show, is a real display of righteousness, and the righteous Jehovah loves righteousness. There may be higher and deeper truth now that the Son of God is come and has given us understanding to know Him that is true. But righteousness is indispensable; without it, pretension to grace is a delusion. Again, a false witness is an evident slave of Satan. To mistake we are all liable; but deceit is quite a different and a most evil thing, as mischievous to man as offensive to God.
Babbling or rash speaking is compared most aptly to the piercings of a sword; it inflicts wounds and pain; it flows from levity if not malice, and it has no aim of good. The tongue of the wise carries conviction to every upright heart. It may smite if duty call for it righteously, but it is a kindness; such wounds heal, as they prove and remove what only harms. The tongue of the wise is health.
The lip of truth may be gainsaid and disliked by such as have reason to dread it, but it shall stand forever. There is no need therefore to spend time in defending it or exposing those that are its adversaries. If one waits quietly, the more will its reality and importance appear; whereas a lying tongue is but for a moment save among such as love it, and where will the end be?
Of falsehood deceit is the essence; and here it is written that it is in the heart of those that devise evil. Thus it is equally akin to malice as to untruth. How awful that the heart that should be the spring of affection is really given up to devise evil! If others are deceived, still more is that heart. "But to the counsellors of peace is joy." Blessed are they, said the Lord; they shall be called sons of God. Theirs is joy now - theirs to enter into their Lord's joy by-and-by.
How triumphant is the Christian answer in Romans 8, to verse 21! "No evil shall happen to the righteous." Suppose "tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? But in all these things we more than conquer through Him that loved us." Christ has changed all things to us. How terrible to reject, despise, or even neglect Him! For then all our evil falls on our own heads. Truly the wicked are not fuller of mischief now than of misery in that day and forever.
Jehovah concerns Himself about every lie. Lying lips are an abomination to Him, even as an idol that is set up to rival and ruin His glory. So those that not only speak but deal truly are His delight. How precious to Him was the One who when asked, Who art Thou? could answer, "Absolutely what I also speak to you" (John 8: 25). He is the truth.
In this group of moral maxims we have the value of prudence, and of diligence; depression compared with even a good word, the righteous contrasted with the wicked, the slothful with diligence; and the way of righteousness all through.
"A prudent man concealeth knowledge; but the heart of the foolish proclaimeth folly.
"The hand of the diligent shall bear rule; but the slothful [hand] shall be under tribute.
"Heaviness in the heart of man makes it stoop; but a good word maketh it glad.
"The righteous guideth his neighbour; but the way of the wicked misleadeth them.
"The slothful roasteth not what he took in hunting; but man's precious substance [is] diligence.
"In the path of righteousness [is] life; and in its pathway is no death." vv. 23-28.
Few things betray the lack of common sense more than the habit of displaying any bit of knowledge one may have. But it meets just as habitually with a sharp and disagreeable corrective; for those who knew more fully are apt to expose its shallowness and vanity. Ostentation characterizes such as have a smattering which often lets out how little is really known. The fault is more serious in a Christian, whose standard is, and ought to be, Christ the Truth.
The attention that takes pains is far more important and reliable than any ability where that is lacking. Ruling is the consequence without being sought. But the slothful neglect their duty and alienate their friends, gaining contempt and distrust on all sides, while sinking ever lower and lower. Who can wonder?
Heaviness in the heart renders the hand powerless, and hinders the eye from seeing the opportunities which God takes care to present. A good word gladdens the heart in the midst of manifold trials; and what an unfailing supply does Scripture afford! If it be so with the Old Testament, characterized as it is by the law, how much is it with the New Testament where the gospel gives the tone! The very word means glad tidings; and this is truly beyond question, save to such as, believing in their wretched and guilty selves, have no faith in God. Its blessedness is not only that it comes forth from the infinite love of God, giving His only begotten Son and in Him life eternal, but that He as Son of man meets all that could hinder or disable, in the cross where God made the sinless One sin for us. It is therefore directly and expressly for those who have neither goodness nor strength, but are sinners and enemies, breaking their hard hearts with grace, to fill them with His light and love. As He said who told it out with matchless simplicity and fullness, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."
Righteousness has great weight to man's conscience, aware if honest of his own failure, and keenly alive to its absence where he fondly expected it. For moral consistency is rare. Hence the righteous, not the bright, still less the crafty, guides his neighbour. It inspires confidence when a dilemma arrives or a danger threatens. But the way of the wicked does not impose on those who discern it. They may seek to flatter themselves, because it is easy, that it will pass and give them their desired ends. It misleads themselves, who often wake up to their own deceitful folly and sin too late.
Another trait of the slothful man is here pointed out. He may be active in the pursuit of his pleasure, but his sloth prevents his turning what he may have gained to any good account. He roasts not what he took in hunting, and has to sponge on others, whereas the precious substance of men is diligence. This is what avails in the long run, where the means and the opportunities may be ever so small.
But industrious diligence, though it may go with righteousness, is not always righteous, and often misses what is still better. "In the way of righteousness is life." Therefore said the Lord, Take heed and keep yourselves from all covetousness; for not because a man is in abundance is his life in the things which he possesses. We cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore He bade us not be anxious about our life, what to eat, and what to drink, or what to put on. The very birds of the sky and the lilies of the field teach men a weighty lesson; yet the birds have no consciousness of God, though beholden to His continual care; and not a sparrow falls to the ground without Him.
Hence there must be total deadness toward God and His Word, heart indifference to Him whom God has sent, if there be not a life beyond the creaturely existence of the day and the earth; and it is in the way of righteousness, not merely at its end, though it will have a glorious character above the present shifting scenes. Its pathway has no death. We cannot talk of its end; or, if we do, we can say it is life eternal. The end of unrighteousness is death; and its pathway is strewn every stop with those things whereof men who take note must be thoroughly ashamed. And how many souls has grace led by their sorrows to think of their sins, and to find in the Lord Jesus their Deliverer and joy, while awaiting another and enduring scene which has nothing to darken it!
In chapter 13: 1-6, we have the temper, the means, and the traits of blessing in contrast with those of evil and shame; and we do well to weigh the words of Jehovah.
"A wise son [hath] his father's instruction; but a scorner heareth not rebuke.
"A man shall eat good by the mouth's fruit; but the soul of the treacherous [ is for] violence.
"He that guardeth his mouth keepeth his soul; he that openeth wide his lips [shall have] destruction.
"A sluggard's soul desireth, and hath nothing; but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.
"A righteous one hateth lying; but the wicked maketh himself odious and cometh to shame.
"Righteousness guardeth him that is upright in the way; but wickedness overthroweth the sinner." vv. 1-6.
A wise son bows thankfully to the divine provision of the family circle, and heeds his father's correction, and the more when forced to feel folly is bound up with a child's heart, not excepting his own. But what hope can there be of a scorner? of one who cannot conceive himself to blame, and counts him as an enemy who is faithful enough to tell him the truth?
The next case is not the duty of receiving, but the privilege of communicating good. Yet here too a man shall eat good by the fruit of a mouth that utters what is good to the use of edifying. And Jehovah of old impressed this on Israel by Moses, and on their sons. "Thou shalt talk of them [his words] when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou goest on the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign on thy hand, and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and upon thy gates." Deut. 6: 7-9. Were any words to compare with His? If this were irksome, what a tale it tells! The soul of transgressors brooks no superior, no restraint. Violence is its issue; and what can its end be?
But there is a bridle needed also. Hence he that guardeth his mouth keepeth his soul. As a good man said, one should think twice before speaking once. If any offend not in word, he is a perfect man (of thorough integrity), able to bridle the whole body also. How much of sorrow and shame he spares himself, and others who avenge a little folly by despising the wisdom they themselves lack! On the other hand, he that goes about blatant, opening his lips wide to tell all he thinks, feels, or hears of others, shall have the destruction which his malicious folly deserves.
Then we have the person too indolent to take trouble for good or ill, the sluggard. "A sluggard's soul desires, and hath nothing." All begins and ends in wishes, with which the Apostle dealt trenchantly in 2 Thessalonians 3: 10. How different the lot of the diligent! They shall be made fat, says the wise man. In every sphere it is true in the main - unfailingly so in the things of God who raises above many a mistake, and values purpose of heart and ways.
There are men of the world who would be ashamed to lie in daily life, and are severe against it in others; yet they blink at it in politics and - religion! But "the righteous hateth lying" wherever it may be, and most of all in that which concerns Him who is the Truth. Nor can one wonder, seeing that "he is begotten by the word of truth," is sanctified by the truth, and grows by it day by day, as he is set here in the responsible testimony of the truth. Yet no one is more tempted by Satan to betray the truth. Never was there a more pernicious cheat than to fancy that a Christian has immunity from falsehood, and is sure to speak the truth always. Still he is called to be truthful in love. This goes much farther. He that does not hate lying is a wicked person, "maketh himself odious" to all right-minded souls, "and cometh to shame."
"Righteousness guardeth the upright in the way." Such a one is not only bold as a lion, for what is man to be accounted of? Consistency in his relationship with God and man is the shield which Satan assails in vain; yet, as a Christian, he loves to be kept by God's power through faith, for grace is dear to his soul, and he knows well that he is indebted to Him for all. On the contrary, "wickedness overthroweth the sinner." Self and sin are all that he takes pleasure in; and the end of those things is death. No one is so terrible to him as God, no name hated so much as Christ, if he only told out the secret of his heart. The more he hears of Him, the more he hates his Judge, and spurns the hand meanwhile stretched out to save even him.
Walking in a vain show is natural to man as he is, but it does not always put on the same mask. The most prevailing snare is to pretend to have more than one possesses; but we must be prepared also for some pretending to have less than they have, in order to escape a duty, or from other selfish motives.
"There is that feigneth himself rich, and [hath] nothing; [there is] that feigneth himself poor, and [hath] great wealth.
"The ransom of a man's life [is] his riches; but the poor heareth no threatening.
"The light of the righteous rejoiceth; but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.
"By pride cometh only contention; but with the well-advised [is] wisdom.
"Wealth [gotten] by vanity diminisheth; but he that gathereth with the hand shall have increase.
"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick; but a desire [that] cometh to pass [is] a tree of life." vv. 7-12.
The knowledge of Christ who is the Truth is the only sure means of making the believer truthful in deed as in word. But even he has no force beyond the constant dependence of faith. To be content with the fact that one believed is a snare and may be ruinous; faith is unreal, if it be not a living faith and a believing life.
The richest and wisest of men was a fitting oracle to tell men how greatly they err that count riches to be happiness. They make him envied and plotted against; so a rich man's life, even if otherwise well spent, is one of exposure to dangers and deceits, and hence of no little uneasiness to the sensitive. What a sad use of riches to be the ransom of one's life! Here at least the poor man lives in peace. To the wicked, it is aimless to threaten him who has nothing to lose, nothing to excite the covetous. He that has mercy on the poor, happy is he; while he that oppresses them, reproaches his Maker, and shall give account of his ways. When Christ reigns, He will satisfy the poor with bread. Even in the evil day his poverty protects him largely, while the rich man is proportionately exposed.
What a true and striking contrast between "the light" of the righteous, and "the lamp" of the wicked! Their course and end are according to their source. There is no real righteousness in God's estimate apart from Him who revealed Himself and justifies us by the faith of Christ. The light of the righteous therefore rejoiceth, as in it sins are effaced, and sorrows turned into profit and consolation. The lamp of the wicked may flare widely for a while during the pleasures of sin for a season; but ere long it dims, flickers, and shall be quenched.
Pride is the root of contention. What is emptier than self-applause and self-seeking? What so rules, not only those who affect great things in high life, but among the most debased of mankind? So it works in every circle of the world, and still more disgustingly in the Church, to which Christ has given the exemplar of what perfectly pleases God and edifies man by love in the truth. Pride leads to confusion, contention, and every evil work. The old man is ever proud in one way or another, being as self-sufficient as he is regardless and forgetful of Christ. Faith alone makes a man "well- advised" in a divine sense. With those led of the Spirit is wisdom, for Christ is before their eyes and their heart. He indeed from God is made to us wisdom, and all else we need; yet, whatever we have, what do we not need?
Then again we are reminded how wealth goes as it came. If got by light, unworthy, or dishonest ways, how it flies! For in such a case it has wings, not weight, and vanishes by no less vanity than it appeared for awhile. "But he that gathereth with the hand shall have increase." God honours industry; and some that are great lords add lustre to their rank by being more truly working men than those who live by it and are too apt to boast of it. Such should every believer be, and put to shame those that eat without work! How happy too when "increase" enables one to give to the needy! how sad that any should take advantage of grace, instead of seeking to eat their own bread!
Next we are told of the blight created by disappointment, and the cheer given by receiving what the heart sought. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick; but [when] desire cometh, it is a tree of life." Some may have proved both experiences, and know how true it is. But we do well in the things of this life to judge our thoughts and desires before God by His Word, and ever to say in truth, "Thy will be done."
Slighting the Word is of the most serious import. It is near akin to unbelief in the Lord, and its commonest occasion is also akin. For men doubt the deity of the Lord, because in His grace He deigned to become man; and they, because they see Him to be man, refuse Him to be God. This is heinous iniquity; for it takes advantage of His love, in glorifying God and thereby saving our souls by His redemption by suffering for our sins, to dishonour Himself and deny His personal glory as the Son. Similarly, the word comes through the human vessel from Moses to the Apostle John; and men lay hold of the human element to deny the divine, thus depriving it, as far as the hostile will can, of its divine authority.
"Whoso despiseth the word destroyeth himself; but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded.
"The teaching of the wise [is] a fountain of life, to turn away from the snares of death.
"Good understanding procureth favour; but the way of the treacherous [is] rugged.
"Every prudent one acteth with knowledge; but the foolish layeth open folly.
"A wicked messenger falleth into evil; but a faithful ambassador [is] health.
"Poverty and shame [shall be to] him that refuseth instruction; but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured." vv. 13-18.
Verse 13 admits of an alternative rendering, though in effect it may come to the same sense. But competent persons understand the opening clause to mean "shall be held accountable" or "fall in debt to it." The Septuagint strangely translates the verse, and adds to it: "He that slighteth a matter shall be slighted by it; but he that feareth a command hath health. To a crafty son there shall be nothing good; but a wise servant shall have prosperous doings, and his way shall be directed aright." The Latin Vulgate departs still more widely from the Hebrew and hardly calls for citation save in a note.* What God exalts above all His name man despises at the peril of his own ruin; but to stand in awe of injunction is to insure recompense in due time. What a man sows he assuredly reaps.
*"He that disparageth anything bindeth himself for the future but he that feareth the commandment shall dwell in peace. Deceitful souls go astray in sins: the just are merciful, and show mercy."
The word lends to and forms the teaching of the wise man, which is here described as a fountain of life. Such teaching refreshes as well as quickens, and guards from the destructive temptations which beset the path.
Again, the value of "good understanding" makes itself felt in a scene where folly abounds and the levity which so often veils our happiness. It procures favour, because it morally commends itself without an effort; whereas the way of the treacherous is indeed "hard" or rugged, as they themselves, and all that are ensnared by them. Fidelity is a jewel in a world of pitfall through deceit.
But "knowledge" has its use as well as a good understanding; and every prudent man works with it, instead of trusting himself unaided by it, or being content to go forward blindly. The foolish one spreads out folly; what else has he to lay bare? How blessed for Christians that, whatever be the personal deficiency of each, of God are they in Christ, who was made to them wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption! Yet no man is so foolish as one professing the Lord's name, who depends on and seeks himself to the dishonour of his Master.
Next, we have the strongly drawn opposition between "a wicked messenger," and "a faithful ambassador." The one comprehends the widest class of varying degree; but even its most insignificant member falls into evil, and he can do nothing but mischief. The other is not only a messenger of the highest rank, but discharges his office with integrity, as "a faithful ambassador." If the former by his wickedness can but fall into evil by his wickedness, the latter "is health" wherever he goes in a world of sin and misery.
Verse 18 contrasts the refusal of instruction with the readiness to take reproof to heart - a rare and precious trait in anyone. Poverty and shame must be his who has no ear for the instruction which enriches all, and which all need. But what honour falls to the wise and lowly mind that welcomes and weighs reproof! Grace alone can make it real.
As hope deferred makes the heart sick, so the fruition of what is desired is pleasant, but not unless the desire be governed by the fear of God. Without His will, not anything is wise, good, or sweet. Hence we read what follows.
"The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul; but [it is] abomination to the foolish to depart from evil.
"He that walketh with wise [men] becometh wise; but a companion of the foolish will be destroyed.
"Evil pursueth sinners; but to the righteous good shall be repaid.
"A good [man] leaveth an inheritance to his children's children; but the sinner's wealth [is] laid up for the righteous.
"Much food [is in] the tillage of the poor; but there is [that is] lost through injustice [or, want of judgment].
"He that spareth his rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him seeketh him early with discipline.
"The righteous eateth to satisfy his desire; but the belly of the wicked shall want." vv. 19-25.
There is no sweetness for the soul at God's expense. He it is that is looked to, instead of leaving Him out. But when He leads and sanctions, sweet is the accomplishment of what is desired. If He chastens what is wrong or leads to it, He has pleasure in gratifying His children beyond any earthly father. But to the natural heart, foolish in excluding Him and His will, what is so repulsive as to depart from evil?
As the fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom, so the heart values the company and counsel of the wise; and walking with them furnishes good lessons. But a companion of the foolish too surely proves where his heart is, cannot avoid being depraved by their evil communications, and unless delivered shall be destroyed.
For who can evade the witness that "evil pursueth sinners," whatever their apparent prosperity for awhile? The leaving them for a season only precipitates and makes more terrible the end of unavailing sorrow and despair. How truly shall good be repaid to the righteous? God will be no man's debtor. The Christian without doubt is called to share Christ's sufferings, not perhaps for Him, but assuredly with Him. No such earthly prosperity is promised him as was to the pious Jew. On the contrary, they that desire to live piously in Christ Jesus must endure persecution. But the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to compare with the coming glory to be revealed unto us. In every way and time good shall be repaid to the righteous. God can never cease to be God.
A good man resembles Him who found him evil, and by grace made him a partaker of a divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world through lust. Blessed of God, he leaves an inheritance, if not of gold and silver, better still, and abiding to his children's children. The wealth of the sinner, great as it may seem, is laid up for the just. Ungodliness may prepare, devise, and entail; but God cares for those who serve Him. Thus the just shall put on the clothing meant for others, and the innocent shall divide the silver if He think fit.
Again, how true it is, in God's ways, that "much food is in the tillage of the poor"! The soul that looks to Him does not murmur nor aspire after greater things. The little that is given is accepted with thankfulness: and diligent labour is applied, with the result of "much food." On the other hand who does not know of great possessions squandered for want of judgment, if not for actual injustice? There is that is destroyed for lack of judgment. The language is divinely accurate, and in no way exaggerated. It may not as yet appear always; but it is the fact, and often plain enough to warn the heedless.
There is another form of following God's ways in the due correction of the family. How many of the godly have spared the rod, and thus failed in love to their sons! Here is laid down the warning and the sort of love: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him, or seeketh him early with discipline." To spare is really to please oneself, and harm deeply one's son.
Further, the little things of daily life test whether we have God and His will before us. "The righteous eateth to satisfy his desire [or, soul]; but the belly of the wicked shall want," as the retribution even here of this selfish indulgence. "Whether then ye eat or drink, do all things to God's glory." This keeps us and pleases Him.
Here it is mainly a contrast between wisdom and folly in varied points of view, with no little instruction for such as fear the Lord and desire abiding fruit.
"The wisdom of woman buildeth the house; but folly plucketh it down with her hands.
"He that walketh in his uprightness feareth Jehovah; but the perverted in his ways despiseth him.
"In the fool's mouth [is] a rod of pride; but the lips of the wise shall preserve them.
"Where no oxen [are], the crib [is] clean; but much increase [is] by the strength of the ox.
"A faithful witness will not lie; but a false witness breatheth out lies.
"A scorner seeketh wisdom; and [there is] none for him; but knowledge [is] easy to the intelligent.
"Go away from a foolish man, in whom thou perceivest not the lips of knowledge.
"The wisdom of the prudent [is] to understand his way; but the folly of fools [is] deceit.
"Fools make a mock at trespass; but among the upright [is] favour." Chap. 14: 1-9.
If man has his place in authority and external activity, not less real is that of the woman, and especially in the "home" of which she is the chief bond. Yet there is even there the need of a better foundation than man can lay, else it will surely fail, and it cannot be the house that the wisdom of woman builds. Keeping at home is good; working at home, as in the critical reading of Titus 2: 5, is still better. And how true that folly plucks down the house with her hands!
Though wisdom be not expressly named in verse 2, yet does it underlie all walking in uprightness. As the fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge, so he that walks in his uprightness, which is its fruit, does fear Him, out of whose mouth is knowledge and understanding, as He lays up sound wisdom for the upright. On the other hand, where there is perversity in ways, will be found despising of Him. To lean to our own intelligence is the very reverse of knowing Him in all our ways, who alone can and will make our paths plain.
Then we have to remember how large a part the mouth has in the display of folly as well as of wisdom. "In the fool's mouth is a rod of pride." Haughty as it may be in its self-indulgence, what retribution for the fool's back! The lips of the wise, as they help others, shall preserve themselves from strife, dangers, and difficulties.
No credit is due to the cleanness which attends idleness and shirking labour. "Where no oxen are the crib is clean"; but what of that? It is mercy, as well as a judgment, that a man is to eat bread in the sweat of his face. Not only is labour, but sorrow, and suffering, better than sin. Pride, fullness of bread, and careless ease lead to ruin and judgment, as industry, using means, such as the strength of the ox, brings in much increase; so God ordains for man that wisely hears and obeys.
Next, how often a person seeks to be thought wise by his independent spirit and detraction, which constantly expose himself to exaggeration and falsehood! It is folly and mischief all the while. Our own business is to do God's will; and "a faithful witness will not lie" to exalt self or to disparage others. But a false one breathes out lies - a remarkable and frequent phrase in Scripture. To breathe out lies is more effective and ensnaring than vehement denunciation, which would arrest attention and insure speedy refutation. But breathing them out spreads the malice effectively and widely too, through imposed-on confidants, while the maligned are kept ignorant of the mischief. It is a picture of utter corruption.
A scorner is more boldly evil and presumptuous; he "seeketh wisdom," but in his own way (which is as far as possible from the Lord), and hence, as is here said, there is none for him. "For Jehovah giveth wisdom" (Prov. 2: 6); and blessed is he that finds it (Prov. 3: 13). Even God Himself is no exception. "Jehovah by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens. By his knowledge the deeps were broken up, and the skies drop down the dew." He indeed scorns the scorners and gives grace to the lowly; the wise shall inherit glory, but shame shall be the promotion of fools. Had not Verulam this sounding to his heart, when he wrote, "He that comes to seek after knowledge, with a mind to scorn and censure, shall be sure to find matter enough for his humour, but none for his instruction." How true on the other hand, "that knowledge is easy to the intelligent"!
What is one to do when in presence of a foolish man "in whom thou perceivest not the lips of knowledge"? Get away. He can do you no good and may do you no little harm. He will receive no reproof, and you risk provocation and loss of temper.
"The wisdom of the prudent" is not in lofty claims or unproved theories, but "to discern his way"; the pretended wisdom but real "folly of fools is deceit." For as there is no power, it lies in ever changing devices and tricks to evade.
The end, if not beginning, of such a path is that "fools make a mock of trespass," the road to destruction; whereas "among the upright is favour." It is the upright only who have true pity as well as horror of transgression. Grace alone made them upright, after being far from God; and they turn to Him, not only for the favour they need and have found, but to seek it for others too insensible to judge themselves.
At verse 10 we begin with moral truth as to the heart, and thence come to manifested words and ways.
"The heart knoweth its own bitterness, and a stranger intermeddleth not with its joy.
"The house of the wicked shall be overthrown, but the tent of the upright shall flourish.
"There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof [is] the ways of death." vv. 10-12.
It is an evil age, the world far from God and knowing Him not; and man, its chief, chief in guilt and pride, yet liable to wrongs and vexations without end. How exposed then is the heart, whatever the position, to bitterness, unknown to others! So too it refuses a share in its joys to a stranger. Yet if grief before God isolates to God, "every family apart and the wives apart," joy overflows willingly to congenial souls, as the man and the woman in the parables of Luke 15 call friends and neighbours to rejoice on regaining what was lost.
In verse 11 it is not "the heart" but "the house" which may rise aloft from deep foundations. But the wicked dwell there, and no security can be for them or theirs in the moral government of God. It shall be overthrown, though the fear of God would not hasten the moment. On the other hand, how exposed to wind and rain is "the tent of the upright"! Yet the unseen hand protects, and it shall flourish.
Next we come to man's "ways," and the danger of trusting his own estimate of it. If it seems right to him, men say, Why blame him? He is sincere; and none is entitled to judge him wrong. Is there then no divine standard by which we may try our thoughts, no means of forming a sound and sure judgment? Why did God then reveal His Word, and early enough in an experimental shape? And why did His Son as man tabernacle long enough among men to reveal his nature and relationship in living perfection to such as have eyes to see and ears to hear? No; man is accountable for his thoughts and his feelings no less than his words and his ways; "and the end thereof is the ways of death." Man departed far from God and disliked Him, as Christ fully proved. Though He never was far from each one of us, God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, for which the world gave Christ the cross. Man is accountable, whatever he thinks.
It is truly a dreary world of grief, where man seeks pleasure and mirth in lieu of a happiness which cannot be where the conscience is not purged after a divine sort, and the heart has not Christ before it - God's object, as ours too.
"Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of mirth [is] sadness.
"The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways, and the good man from himself.
"The simple believeth every word, but the prudent heedeth his going.
"The wise one feareth and departeth from evil; but the foolish is overbearing and confident.
"One soon angry dealeth foolishly, and a man of mischievous devices is hated.
"The simple inherit folly; but the prudent are crowned with knowledge.
"The evil bow before the good, and the wicked at the gates of the righteous.
"The poor is hated even of his own neighbour; but the rich have many lovers.
"He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth; but he that is gracious to the afflicted [or, meek] happy [is] he.
"Do they not err that devise evil? But mercy and truth [are] for those that devise good.
"In all labour there is profit; but the talk of the lips [is] only to want.
"The crown of the wise [is] their riches; the folly of the fools [is] folly.
"A true witness delivereth souls; but deceit uttereth lies.
"In the fear of Jehovah [is] strong confidence; and his children shall have a place of refuge.
"The fear of Jehovah [is] a fountain of life, to turn away from the snares of death." vv. 13-27.
"Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of mirth [is] sadness." So it is till man receives Christ. All otherwise is hollow, and the passing levity leaves its sting. "Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thy heart and in the sight of thine eyes, but know thou that for all these God will bring thee into judgment."
Still darker is "the backslider in heart." Terrible is the promise to him: he "shall be filled with his own ways"; and all the more terrible because he had outwardly known the lines in pleasant places, and the way of peace. On the other hand, "the good man" by grace shall have his boast in what belongs to himself alone, and not what belongs to another. He shall be filled from himself. God has freely given him all he values most the unseen and eternal in the promised One.
In such a world as this, few greater follies can be than credulity. Believing God is the effectual safeguard. "The simple believeth every word; but the prudent heedeth his going." We are exhorted to "prove all things," but to hold fast the good (the comely).
Next, it is for us to use "fear and depart from evil," as a wise man does; to be "overbearing and confident" is arrant folly. "honour all," says not the least of the apostles; as a greater still loved to style himself, and in truth was, "a 'bondman' of Jesus Christ."
And what folly to be soon angry? Even a wise man "deals foolishly" who is easily provoked; but "a man of mischievous devices" makes himself odious when found out as he is.
"The simple" again "inherit folly." This is what descends to man naturally. "The prudent" are lowly enough to receive and learn from the Highest; and theirs it is to be "crowned with knowledge." "He giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to those that know understanding."
Here we have not the simple or the foolish, but the evil and the wicked (v. 19); and their failure even before a King shall reign in righteousness, and princes rule in judgment. God is never without a testimony in the evil day, if it be only here and there, now and then. Yet things are as yet far from what they ought, and are, to be.
What men sow they reap, and soon sometimes. Nor are the evil without conscience, so that they bow to the good, as the wicked court the favour and the help of a righteous man.
Poverty is dreaded more than sin; and hence the poor is hated even by his own neighbour, while the rich man has many who make up to him. Such is the covetousness of the heart, and the hollowness of the world.
To despise one's neighbour, what a sin in His sight who despises not any? Let us lay to heart what Christ was to needy men, women, and children. What an example to us! Who ever showed such kindness to the afflicted? May we have the happiness found in grace like His!
Yet proud heartlessness may go to greater evil in despising evil, but not escape His eyes who sees cunning mischief and every secret of the heart. How profound and fatal the error! For judgment slumbers not, any more than His mercy and truth fail for those that devise good unobtrusively.
For man as he is, labour is as useful as idleness is worthless. Hence we are told here that in all labour is profit, while the talk of the lips tends to want.
The crown, not of the foolish, but of the wise, is their riches, for these turn their wealth to the account of unselfish goodness and the relief of human misery, and the furtherance of God's will and glory. They would be rich toward God. The folly of fools on the contrary is folly. God is in none of their thoughts, and all they express or do is folly all the more seen, if they have riches to attract a crowd of witnesses.
We pass through a world of evil and error. Hence the value of a true witness in delivering souls open otherwise to be mistaken and misrepresented by the false. But not many are willing to speak out at all cost. One there was who never failed, the Faithful and True Witness, and He the great Deliverer of souls. May we cleave to Him, and represent Him in this! But deceit, what can it utter but lies? It were sad to think that there could be no repentance for a deceiver; but it must be hard for a deceiver to gain credit for his self-judgment. Nevertheless, if real, God would not fail to vindicate what His grace effects.
So we read next, that in the fear of Jehovah is strong confidence. For this fear takes away all other fear, and becomes a tower of strength; and it avails for others who tremble at His word, especially His children. What place of refuge so sure and near?
But the fear of Jehovah is much more than a protection from enemies. It is a fountain of life - not a well that may fail when most needed, but a perennial spring of enjoyment to strengthen the heart, ever so timid and dejected without it, to turn away from the snares of death with which Satan overspreads the world, and which are dangerously nigh to every heart of man.
Next follow maxims, public and private, of great weight (vv. 28- 35).
"In the multitude of people [is] the King's glory; but in the lack of people [is] the ruler's downfall.
"One slow to anger [is] of great understanding; but the hasty of spirit holdeth up folly.
"A sound (or, tranquil) heart [is] the life of the flesh, but envy the rottenness of the bones.
"He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker; but he that honoureth him is merciful to the needy.
"The wicked is thrust down by his evil doings; but in his death the righteous trusteth.
"Wisdom resteth in the heart of the intelligent; but [what is] in the inwards of foals is made known.
"Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin [is] a reproach to peoples.
"The King's favour [is] toward a wise servant, but his wrath to him that causeth shame."
To have a numerous population is the king's glory; but David made it his pride, and persisted in a tainted public measure, notwithstanding the earnest protest of his chief servant, a mere worldling, to his own sin, shame, and chastening in the very point of his glorying. Yes, David who owed everything to God's favour, not to an arm of flesh! But a dwindling people prepares for a ruler's destruction.
Again, it is a sure sign of a great understanding morally to cultivate slowness of anger, though never to be angry before the Lord evinces total want of right feeling in the presence of evil. How slow was He Himself, yet could and did He kindle to God's glory. The hasty of spirit only exposes his own folly.
Then again, a sound or placid heart is a general healing power, just as envy rots even the bones - a corroding evil, without doubt.
And what is it to oppress the poor, but to reproach Him that made him and his lot? Whereas he honours the faithful Creator, that shows compassion to the needy.
It is his own evil that expels or thrusts down the wicked, while even in his death the righteous retains his confidence. Even if a feeble believer be before us, there is no moment in his life so happy as his departure to be with Christ. Gloom, on the other hand, is unbelief.
The intelligence here commended began with the fear of Jehovah, and grew by hearing and gaining wise counsels which fools despise. Wisdom accordingly rests not on the tongue merely, but in the heart which prizes it.
In the foolish, even when deeply wounded, is nothing to make known but lack of sense. Jehovah, God, is nowhere within such a spirit.
On the other hand, it is not only a man but a nation which righteousness exalts; and righteousness is a just sense of relationship to God and man, the very reverse of absorption in our own interest which ere long ruins those blindly devoted to it. Sin is a real reproach to peoples as well as to men.
It is also no small contribution to national well-being that the king should not forget, but heed and honour, a wise servant, no less than frown on him that causes shame.
The chapter opens with the great moment of our words in a variety of ways, under the controlling sense of Jehovah's eyes, or indifference to Him.
"A soft answer turneth away fury; but a grievous word stirreth up anger.
"The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright; but the mouth of fools sputtereth out folly.
"In every place [are] the eyes of Jehovah, keeping watch upon the evil and the good.
"The healing of the tongue [is] a tree of life; but perverseness therein [is l a breaking of the spirit.
"A fool despiseth his father's correction, but he that regardeth reproof becometh prudent.
"In the house of a righteous one [is] much treasure; but in the revenues of a wicked one is trouble.
"The lips of the wise disperse knowledge, but not so the heart of the foolish." vv. 1-7.
In the first case fury is presupposed. As this dishonours God and misbecomes man, a soft answer disarms it. On the contrary, a grievous or mortifying word excites anger. Christ is our example, into whose lips grace was poured; and, when reviled, He reviled not again. Yet who so withering to the proud and hypocritical (Matt. 23)? Who so unsparing even of an apostle when a stumbling block (Matt. 16: 23)?
Next, wisdom is requisite for the tongue in order to use knowledge aright or make it acceptable; whereas, what can be expected from the foolish but to sputter out folly? Such is the contemptuous rebuke. They should escape censure if they held their peace.
But there is a far mightier and worthier principle to guide wise or foolish - the realizing of Jehovah's eyes, which without an effort act on every place, beholding the bad and the good. How cheering to those that are wise! How solemn for the foolish evildoer!
Then benignity, or healing, of the tongue is a fruitful source in a world of death. How many pitfalls does it not save from, and rough places smooth? But perversity or crookedness in the tongue is provocative of griefs and wounds without end. How truly a breaking of the spirit!
God ordered the parental relationship to regulate the family; and as a father is responsible to instruct his children, so is he a fool who ignores his responsibility and despises that instruction. To regard reproof, though painful to self-love, is to get prudence. It is not confined to a father's reproof, and where incurred, to heed it is a real gain morally.
A righteous man secures much treasure, not in himself alone, but in his house; for it brings far better than much of this world's goods. A just sense and carrying out of relationship to God and man is the righteousness here intended, and never fails of blessing, even in the midst of trials however keen. On the other hand, what can the revenue of a wicked man be but trouble that disturbs and denies godly order and comfort?
Again, the lips of the wise not only exhibit and use knowledge, but disperse it in a world where it is as needed as rare. What a blessing to others! Far beyond the lavish giving of silver and gold, which might bring with it a curse. But the heart of the foolish, to say nothing of his lips, has nothing of the sort to bestow.
In verses 8-17 we have admonition of still graver character.
"The sacrifice of the wicked [is] an abomination to Jehovah, but the prayer of the upright [is] his delight.
"The way of the wicked [is] an abomination to Jehovah; but him that pursueth righteousness he loveth.
"Grievous correction [is] for him that forsaketh the path; he that hateth reproof shall die.
"Sheol and destruction [are] before Jehovah; how much more then the hearts of the children of men!
"A scorner loveth not that one reprove him; unto the wise he will not go.
"A joyful heart maketh a cheerful countenance; but by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken.
"The heart of the intelligent [one] seeketh knowledge; but the mouth of the foolish feedeth on folly.
"All the days of the afflicted [are] evil; but a cheerful heart [hath] a continual feast.
"Better [is] little with the fear of Jehovah than great treasure and disquiet therewith.
"Better [is; a meal of herbs where love is, than a fatted ox and hatred therewith."
It was natural and a plain duty for a Jew, in case of a transgression, to bring the appointed offering to Jehovah. But this however was not only unavailing for the godless, but added fresh insult to God, unless with self-judgment before Him, and that hatred of the evil committed which would work deeper care and vigilance against repeating it. If it were only to get rid of uneasiness, the man would be weaker than before, and more ready to sin afresh, and offer his sacrifice again. Integrity of repentance was indispensable. Accordingly, the heinousness of such self-deception as compounding with God for sin is here strongly pointed out. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to Jehovah." This is as certain as that He has delight and favour in the prayer of the upright. He looks into the heart.
Nor is it only the perversion of a religious duty that is abominable in His eyes, but "the way of the wicked" in general; whereas He loves one that pursues righteousness, that is, practical consistency with his relation to God and man. This never was nor can be for fallen man unless he be born of God. Such were those that looked on to the Messiah. Blessed are all those who have their trust in Him, said Psalm 2: 12; and only those.
Meanwhile there is a righteous government of God who ever concerns Himself with the state, and not only the delinquencies and iniquities, of His own, even if not within the Abrahamic covenant. This and its present consequences even the patient and pious Job had to learn, and yet more his three "comforters of distress" and "physicians of no value." He disciplines those He loves for their good. Here we read of "grievous correction for him that forsaketh the path," leaving the time and way rather indefinite; but all is plain for him that hateth instruction - he "shall die."
It is indeed a serious thing, but withal blessed if in faith, to have to do with a living God who searches, as the Lord Jesus does, the reins and the heart. When His grace is really known, it is a joy to welcome His search against unconscious self-love or levity; and one can plead, Search me, O God. and know my heart; prove me, and know my thoughts; and see if there be any grievous (or idolatrous) way in me; and lead me in the way everlasting. Here it does not go so far as Psalm 139, but says, "Sheol and destruction [Abaddon] are before Jehovah: how much more then the hearts of the children of men!" All things are naked and laid bare to His eyes with whom we have to do.
A scorner is a bolder sinner against God and his own soul. He loves not to be reproved; "unto the wise he will not go." Self is his aim and practically his God, and folly his life, which makes him a contemptuous refuser of all wisdom from above.
But next we read that a joyful heart maketh a cheerful countenance, just as the spirit is depressed or broken by sorrow of heart. Otherwise life is hollow, and a vain show. There can be no reality in the joy, and no rising above sorrow of heart, unless we are open and right with God. He would have us depend on Him with confidence - in His mercy and favour in Christ. We wrong Him if we so yield to the sorrow as to break the spirit.
Then, how true it is that a man of understanding seeks knowledge! He knows his shortcoming, and desires to fill the gap. But the mouth of the foolish feeds on folly, as he has no care for, and no perception of, wisdom.
There is danger for the afflicted to give up all their days to their grief; but this is to occupy one with nothing but circumstances of sadness. How wise to turn to Him who makes all things work together for good! This makes the heart cheerful, which is or has a continual feast.
Then one proves that "better is little with the fear of Jehovah than great treasure and disquiet therewith"; and "better a meal of herbs where love is than a fatted ox and hatred therewith." The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom; and many waters cannot quench "love," neither do the floods drown it. Love, as the N.T. pronounces, is the bond of perfectness.
God is the God of peace, and Christ will be Prince of peace when He shall have taken His great power and reigned. Meanwhile He has made peace through the blood of His cross, that the believer should have peace with God and walk in the spirit of peace, whatever the turmoil of man. Nor need one wonder that man, in the misery and selfishness of sin unjudged and unforgiven, should be swift to speak and swift to wrath.
"A furious man stirreth up contention; but one slow to anger appeaseth strife.
"The way of the sluggard is as a hedge of thorns; but the path of the upright is made a causeway.
"A wise son maketh a glad father; but a foolish man despiseth his mother.
"Folly is joy to him that is void of heart; but a man of understanding maketh his walk straight.
"Without counsel purposes are disappointed; but in the multitude of counsellors they are established.
"A man hath joy in the answer of his mouth, and a word in season, how good it is!
"The path of life [is] upward for the wise, that he may depart from Sheol beneath.
"Jehovah plucketh up the house of the proud, but he establisheth the border of the widow." vv. 18-25.
Whence come wars and whence fightings among you? asks James the Just. Is it not thence - from your pleasures which war in your members? Ye lust and have not; ye kill and are full of envy, and cannot obtain; ye fight and war; ye have not because ye ask not. Ye ask and receive not because ye ask amiss that ye may spend it in your pleasures. How truly a furious man stirreth up contentions! Whereas one slow to anger not only gives no occasion to strife, but appeases it. Peacemaking begins in the heart bowing to God in Christ through grace, and characterizes the spirit and walk.
The slothful fear a painful obstacle in their way, put off their duty, and seek not grace for seasonable help, if it were even a real difficulty or trial. The upright see a plain road, because the eye is single in obedience.
So in family life a father's heart is gladdened by a son who begins and goes on in the fear of the Lord. A foolish one shows what he is by despising her who bore him and watched over his years of weakness, who wastes his strength on himself or what is no better.
Again, how sad yet certain it is that folly is joy to the senseless heart, Not even a brute lives so despicably. A man of understanding looks up and walks straight with purpose in his heart.
Hence the importance of counsel (v. 22); for where there is none, purposes are disappointed. It is wise to be swift to hear, for in the multitude of counsellors purposes are established. Self-confidence is a sorry guide.
Thus too one learns to help others, when speech is well considered, timely, and sought for. "A man hath joy (not pride) in the answer of his mouth." Others too reap the profit, as he desires; for "a word in season, how good is it!"
Nor does the good end in this life; for "the path of life is upward for the wise, that he may depart from Sheol beneath." The end is life everlasting, as all saints knew, though none could forecast that life now quickening the soul here below. This Christ revealed as clearly as a future hour when the body shall be instinct with the same life at His coming.
Jehovah is righteous and good in His ways; for He will pluck up the house of the proud who scorn Him, and will establish the border of the widow whom He compassionates in her sorrow and defends in her weakness and exposure.
Outward as was the life of an Israelite compared with that of a Christian, which had its first pattern and fullness in Christ Himself, God did not leave His people without the light of deeper things. So we find here in the first maxim (v. 26), and not less may we discern elsewhere on fitting occasion.
"Evil thoughts [or, devices are] an abomination to Jehovah; but pure words [are] pleasant.
"He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house; but he that hateth gifts shall live.
"The heart of the righteous studieth to answer; but the mouth of the wicked poureth out evil things.
"Jehovah [is] far from the wicked; but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.
"That which enlighteneth the eyes rejoiceth the heart; good tidings make the bones fat.
"The ear that heareth the reproof of life shall abide among the wise.
"He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul; but he that heareth reproof getteth heart [or, sense].
"The fear of Jehovah [is] the instruction of wisdom; and before honour [goeth] humility." vv. 26-33.
It is sad enough when evil appears, and we cannot but recognize it. But evil thoughts without a ground for them are the deepest offence to Him before whom all is manifest, and who will have His people simple concerning it, and confiding in Himself. Pure words contrariwise are pleasant not to Him only, but to all save the wicked.
Greed of gain troubles everyone with whom it comes in contact, and especially those nearest him that indulge it, his own house. He that hates gifts, instead of looking out for them, has chosen the good part. It is the path of faith, pleases God, and awaits another, a better, day.
Our answers need divine wisdom, for around us is an evil world; and neither Law, Psalms, nor Prophets failed to warn of a nature prone to evil, though only the gospel pronounces us lost. Hence the need for the righteous that the heart should study to answer, lest a wrong or deceitful word should provoke a hasty word or elicit no better. Where fear of God controls not, from the mouth of the wicked flows a stream of evil things.
As the wicked has no thought of Jehovah, so is He far from such; but how precious and sure is His ear in listening to the prayers of the righteous!
Even before as well as after this, how much, how constantly, He supplies words of goodness to cheer and guide! Thus are the eyes enlightened from above and the heart rejoiced; good tidings make the bones fat, as is said here, without any counterpart of evil to warn.
And so it is in the next adage. Very great is the blessing to the love that welcomes, instead of disdaining, the reproof of life; it ensures abiding among the wise. Otherwise it is an easy thing to turn, and turn again, to folly.
On the other hand, great is the danger and the sin of refusing instruction; but he that hears it even in the painful form of reproof acquires heart, which is surely better than silver and gold.
Then the fear of Jehovah is the instruction of wisdom. What can exceed or equal its gain? With it goes humility' and from it honour; as we read in the instructive trial of Job who had to unlearn every good thought of himself, and in the humiliation of his friends who trusted in their evil thoughts, based on appearances, and unrighteous. Thus let him that glories glory in the Lord.
The maxims brought together in verses 1-8 fitly follow up the fear of Jehovah as the discipline of wisdom, and the path of humility before honour. Heart and ways are alike affected thereby.
"The preparations (or plans) of the heart [are] of man, but the answer of the tongue [is] from Jehovah.
"All the ways of a man [are] clean in his own eyes; but Jehovah weigheth the spirits.
"Commit thy works to Jehovah, and thy thoughts shall be established.
"Jehovah hath wrought every thing for his (or, its) own end yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.
"Every proud heart [is] an abomination to Jehovah, hand in (or, for) hand (or, certainly) he shall not be held innocent (or, go unpunished).
"By mercy and truth iniquity is purged, and by the fear of Jehovah they depart from evil.
"When a man's ways please Jehovah, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
"Better [is] a little with righteousness than great revenues without righteousness." vv. 1-8.
Too well we know how readily the heart devises this way or that, and how constantly this fails to meet the difficulty. Happy he that waits on Him who sees the end from the beginning, and deigns to guide aright when the need arises. Then one can speak the right words in peace, and humbly; but the answer of the tongue is from Jehovah.
The same reference to Him delivers from the bias that regards all the ways of a man as clean in his own eyes. Jehovah weighs the spirit; who but He? Dependence on Him and confidence in Him are indispensable to judge, as for all else.
What a comfort that it is He who bids one to commit his works to Himself (literally, roll them upon Him), "and thy thoughts (not merely thy works) shall be established"! His goodness answers to our trusting Him with what is outward, and graciously establishes our "thoughts," so apt to vacillate and pass away. How slow are even His own to learn the loving interest He takes in those that confide in Him!
Next is set before us the solemn truth, easily overlooked in the busy world of man, that Jehovah has wrought everything for His, or its, own end. Yet, is anything more certain? Is it not His reign? for evil abounds and the righteous suffer. Still His moral government is unfailing, whatever appearance may promise for awhile. The day will declare all. This is so true that He can add, "yea even the wicked for the day of evil." How manifest all this will be in the coming judgment!
But even now He would have His people feel how offensive "every proud heart" is to Him - "an abomination," and nothing less, to Jehovah. Yet how common pride is, and how little do men believe that God hates it, and will judge accordingly! The Highest despises not any. Hence, whatever the seeming support or the delay, beyond doubt one who so lives shall not be held innocent.
The next word is striking as only to be understood aright when a brighter light shone. Even before then no believer would have allowed that the mercy and truth were on man's part to atone for his sins. It is in Christ and especially in His cross that they meet for the purging of the guilty and defiled. Anywhere else they are irreconcilable. Men plead "mercy" to escape the condemnation of "truth"; but if truth pronounce the just judgment of the wicked, what can mercy do to arrest the execution? The Lord Jesus alone bore the curse in all its truth, that the iniquities might be blotted out in the richest mercy. The grace of God appeared in Christ that His merciful remission of our sins might be His righteousness new manifested in the gospel. Truly, by the fear of Him is departure from evil.
This is it which, by a new nature as well as redemption, teaches those who believe to walk so as to please God, worthily of His calling and kingdom. In spite of natural enmity, the fruit of righteousness tells on conscience, so that even adversaries are made to be at peace with them.
Plain it is then that even here "better is a little with righteousness than great revenues without right." Much more when the veil was lifted by Christ to let in the light of the eternal day on the present scene of flesh and world, alike enmity against God.
In verses 9-15 are given a fresh cluster of apothegms, in which we start with Jehovah as the sole power of directing the Israelite's steps, and of maintaining equity in daily life. But there is next withal a striking enforcement of the honour due to the king.
"The heart of man deviseth his way, but Jehovah directeth his steps.
"An oracle is on the lips of the king; his mouth will not err in judgment.
"The just balance and scales [are I of Jehovah; all the weights of the bag [are] his work.
"[It is] an abomination to kings to commit wickedness; for the throne is established by righteousness.
"Righteous lips [are] the delight of kings; and they love him that speaketh aright.
"The fury of a king [is as] messengers of death; but a wise man will pacify it.
"In the light of the king's countenance [is] life, and his favour [is] as a cloud of the latter rain."
The heart of man away from God is lawless; and, shaking off the restraint of Him to whom he belongs and must give account, is fruitful of devices. As he loves his own way, so he changes it according to the object before him, or, it may be, some passing fancy. Jehovah alone can direct his steps; but this supposes dependence on Him and obedience to His Word, when it is His way, and not the man's own. So Moses (Ex. 23: 13), when Israel forsook him and bowed down to the golden calf, prays, Show me Thy way.
Jehovah would have His people honour the king, especially in Israel, and to look for a wise and righteous decision. "An oracle is on the lips of a king." It was no less a remembrancer to the king, that it should be said of him, his mouth will not err in judgment. How often alas! both king and people failed utterly. But a morning comes without clouds, when One of that very house shall rule over men righteously and in the fear of God; for man He is, though infinitely more. But David's house was not so with God, either when he lived, or after his death when succeeded even by the favoured son who wrote these words. Judgment must act as well as sovereign grace, before Jehovah will make it grow. All honour to Him who once for all suffered for sins, and has given us life eternal, and will reign righteously.
Properly subjoined is that equity in the least things which Jehovah will have. "The just balance and scales are of Jehovah; all the weights of the bag are his work." If Jehovah showed His interest in instructing man aright, when it was even the details of the fitches and the cummin, of the barley and the wheat, and not in the sowing only but in their due treatment at the harvest, so did He feel for the constant administration of every day's exchange among men, to ensure right and guard against wrong. How much more does He feel their readiness to overlook sin and judgment for eternity!
Again would He set before all, that to commit wickedness is an abomination not to Himself only but to kings. What a standing rebuke if the throne were not established by righteousness! What an exposure if the king indulged in wickedness himself, instead of abhorring it in others! It is throughout here assumed that the king recognizes his place before Jehovah as His anointed.
Further we hear that kings take pleasure in those who in their speech vindicate what is right. "Righteous lips are the delight of kings; and they love him that speaketh right." Flattery is natural at court, but contemptible to him that rules in the fear of God. Righteous lips may not always speak agreeably; but righteous kings appreciate the man who cleaves to justice and sound principle.
Just as terrible is the wrath of a king. He holdeth not the sword in vain. That he is incensed "as messengers of death," especially to such as have reason to fear. "But a wise man will pacify it." So we see in both Jonathan and David, who appealed not in vain to the monarch, even though unjust in his anger.
On the other hand, no less powerful is the effect of the king's favour after alienation. "In the light of the king's countenance is life, and his favour is as the cloud of the latter rain." But what is any such privilege to compare with the place of stable nearness and grace which the believer even now enjoys through the Saviour, and looks on in assured hope of His glory! "Being therefore justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ; through whom also we have had the access by faith into this grace wherein we stand; and we boast in hope of the glory of God." Rom. 5: 1, 2.
The precepts and warnings impressed on us in verses 17-24 are of a wider range and a more general moral character. The upright, the humble, the heedful, the wise, the pleasant of speech are pointed out and encouraged, with grave admonition to those who are otherwise.
"The highway of the upright [is] to depart from evil: he that taketh heed to his way keepeth his soul.
"Pride [goeth] before destruction; and a haughty spirit before a fall.
"Better [is it to be] a humble spirit with the poor [or, meek], than to divide the spoil with the strong (or, proud).
"He that giveth heed to the word shall find good; and whoso confideth in Jehovah, happy [is] he.
"The wise in heart is called intelligent (or, prudent), and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.
"Wisdom [is] a fountain of life for him that hath it; but the instruction of fools [is] folly.
"The heart of the wise instructeth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips.
"Pleasant words [are as] a honey-comb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones."
In a world of evil, and the multitude following evil, it is no small thing to depart from evil. For the believer was once like the rest; and it is the grace of God which acts on conscience through Christ, in whom was no sin, and who died for us and our sins, that we might be forgiven and delivered. It is indeed the highway of the upright to depart from evil; but there is the positive side too: he that taketh heed to his way (and Christ is the way to the Christian) keepeth his soul.
Pride on the other hand is most offensive to Jehovah, and dangerous, yea, destructive, to man; and he is apt to be most lifted up when the blow falls; as we may see throughout Scripture, a haughty spirit before a fall. So Nebuchadnezzar, where mercy interceded; so Haman, where was only judgment.
Next we have the good portion of the humble spirit with the meek; just as the Lord pronounced such souls blessed whether for the kingdom of the heavens, or inheriting the earth when the Heir of all things takes it, even He then sharing with the great, and dividing spoil with the strong. For it is the inauguration of the King reigning in righteousness, in contrast with this evil age.
Then we have a fine climax. He that gives heed to the word without a doubt shall find good; but if he also confide in Jehovah, which is better, happy is he.
The wise in heart is called intelligent; and so he is, and inspires confidence. It differs much from what men call a long head, feared rather than trusted. And the sweetness of lips which accompanies that wisdom increases learning all round.
Wisdom is truly a fountain of life to him that has it, as he begrudges not its waters for those that have it not. The instruction of fools can be nothing but folly, and is fully exposed, because of the vain assumption to teach.
How different when the heart of the wise instructs his mouth, as it does, and adds learning to his lips. For there is not only profit but growth.
Such are indeed "pleasant words," and they are as a honeycomb, sweet inwardly, and strengthening outwardly.
Verses 25-33. The first of these apothegms we have had before, in Proverbs 14:12. The repetition indicates its importance, and our aptness to forget it. We may therefore consider it again.
"There is a way that seemeth right to a man, but the end thereof [is] the ways of death.
"The appetite (or, soul) of the labouring man laboureth for him, for his mouth urgeth him on.
"A man of Belial diggeth evil, and on his lips [is] as a scorching fire.
"A froward (or, false) man soweth contention; and a talebearer separateth chief friends.
"A violent man enticeth his neighbour, and leadeth him a way [that is] not good.
"He that shutteth his eyes, [it is] to devise froward things; he that biteth his lips bringeth evil to pass.
"The hoary head [is] a crown of glory; it is found in the way of righteousness.
"The slow to anger [is] better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.
"The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision [is] of Jehovah."
Self-love and self-will lead into self-deception, whatever be the honesty that would oppose a conscious wrong. We need therefore to look to Him who is greater than our heart, that we be guided by a wisdom above ourselves. How terrible to have trusted what one should have judged, lest, to one following a way that seemed right, its end should he only a way of death! He that hears and knows and follows the voice of Jesus finds Him not only the way but the truth and the life. Nor can one be too simple in listening to His words open to all. This is the Christian highway, and therefore is peace and joy, whatever the suffering and danger.
Humanly speaking, as idleness is a peril and misery, labour is good for a man as he is. He that is truly a working man has a need that impels him on his course of daily toil. His soul (appetite, or life) has wants that call for supply, or, as it is here put, "his mouth urgeth him on." Others understand that "the soul of him that is troublesome shall suffer trouble; for his mouth turneth it on him."
Verse 27 vividly sketches the ungodly. Not content with what appears on the surface, a man of Belial diggeth up evil, and on his lips is as a scorching fire. As James says of the tongue, it sets on fire all the course of nature, and is itself inflamed by hell. What can one think of the comment by a learned Romanist expositor (Maldonat), which Bishop Patrick cites? - "This is apparent by the example of the Spanish Inquisition, whereby he who speaks anything rashly against the faith is deservedly delivered to the fire, which I wish were done everywhere." Romanism ignores and reverses Christianity.
The next form of mischief is a perverse or froward man sowing contention, and a talebearer separating chief friends. May we have grace not only to refuse such a spirit, but to reprove it, whenever it betrays its injurious and often insinuating way.
The violent man may not be so insidious; but the openness of his course, with apparent honesty, may entice his neighbour, and lead him into a way that is not good, possibly beyond his misleader.
The picture in verse 30 describes one of those that shut the eyes in their evil work; but it is to devise froward things, and one biting his lips, that he may bring evil to pass.
Nor must one be deceived by age, though it claims reverence. But how deplorable if it help on evil! "The hoary head is a crown of glory; it is (or, if it be) found in the way of righteousness."
What a testimony to the patient and the self-restrained in verse 32! If he walk in the light, as every Christian does, even more than this should flow freely. Yet slowness to anger and self-control are admirable in their place.
The Jew resorted to the lot (v. 33), till the Spirit was given the believer in the gospel. But he was reminded that Jehovah directed. Christianity in this, as in all things, shows God providing some "better thing," faithful though God was of old, and is still, now that in Christ He is far more intimately revealed and known.
The blessing of quietness at home, the value of wisdom there and elsewhere, the hearts tried by Jehovah, the evildoer's heeding wicked lips, and falsehood listening to mischief, the reproach done to the Maker by mocking the poor, the mutual honour of parents and children in their due place, and the congruity of speech with those who speak, are here (Prov. 17: 1-7) severally dealt with.
"Better [is] a piece of dry bread and quietness therewith than a house full of the sacrifices of strife.
"A servant that dealeth wisely shall have rule over a son that causeth shame, and shall have part in the inheritance among the brethren.
"The crucible [is] for silver and the furnace for gold; but Jehovah trieth the hearts.
"An evil-doer heedeth iniquitous lips; falsehood listeneth to a mischievous tongue.
"Whoso mocketh a poor [man] reproacheth his Maker; he that is glad at calamity shall not be held innocent.
"Children's children [are] the crown of old men; and the glory of children [are] their fathers.
"Excellent speech becometh not a fool: much less do lying lips a prince!" vv. 1-7.
The opening word contrasts the immense superiority of a peaceful household with hard fare, over one where plenty is found, embittered by contention, or, as is here energetically said, "full of the sacrifices of strife." Love and peace may abound through Christ where is little else; only unhappiness abides where He is unknown, were all there that wealth can supply.
Then again, who has not known one from the lowliest place promoted for his wisdom over a son that bringeth shame, and even to share the inheritance of the family? A son crushes the family with his disgrace; a wise servant, especially in such circumstances, acquires love, respect, and honour with his full share.
But there is a moral government ever carried on by Him who is alone capable of trying the hearts, with a goodness and wisdom and patience not wanted for refining silver and gold, which man can do. For the Christian it is as Father; for the Jew it was and will be Jehovah, the one true God.
There is also no small trial from those who wish and do evil; and we are here shown how close is the connection between malice and falsehood. If an evildoer heeds false and unjust lips, falsehood listens to a mischievous tongue. Such is mankind without God, each in his own way, but all astray and malicious.
Nor is Jehovah indifferent to the pride that mocks the poor out of an overweening value for the passing advantages of this life. It is to reproach, if not to blaspheme, his Maker. There is another ill feeling hateful to God - gladness at calamities not our own. He that indulges in such heartlessness shall not remain unpunished.
Quite different from these is what follows, where family relations are maintained as Jehovah intended. "Children's children are the crown of old men, and the glory of children are their fathers." How blessed when the aged feel their descendants an honour, and they no less delight in their parents!
The last of these verses glances at a twofold moral incongruity: when a fool (in the serious light of that word according to Scripture) utters "excellent speech" out of all harmony with his character and life; and when a prince or noble, instead of being a pattern of probity in his exalted position, gives himself up to shameless deception. Yet such stumbling blocks occur in this evil day. What a contrast with Christ who is the truth, and came to do the will of God!
But it is not a question of speech only, excellent or deceptive. Acts are still more serious and influential; and to this we are now led on.
"A gift [is] a precious stone in the eyes of the possessor; whithersoever it turneth, it prospereth.
"He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that bringeth a matter up again separateth chief friends.
"A reproof entereth more deeply into him that hath understanding than a hundred stripes into a fool.
"The evil seeketh only rebellion; but a cruel messenger shall be sent against him.
"Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man rather than a fool in his folly.
"Whoso rewardeth evil for good, evil shall not depart from his house.
"The beginning of contention is [as] when one letteth out water; therefore leave off strife before it become vehement." vv. 8-14.
The law and the later Old Testament writings, the gospels and the epistles, bear ample witness to God's love of liberal and cheerful giving. But there may be a gift when it becomes a bribe, and even the law loudly warns in this case. Accordingly here its influence is asserted to be as a precious stone in the eyes of him that obtains it, as the giver too knows its power, where Jehovah was not before the soul.
But in a world of contrariety and evil, there is a mightier power and of a higher source. "He that covereth transgression seeketh" not a bribe, but "love"; as on the other hand, "He that bringeth up a matter again," without any motive higher than idle talk, with no positive aim of edification, "separateth chief friends." Love is not at work.
There might be error or evil, and this continued. In such a case to be indifferent for the sake of peace is a sin; and reproof is called for, especially where a man of sense was concerned. For a reproof penetrates such a one more than a hundred stripes would a fool. How timid even Christians are in this office of love, even when a worldly mind does not make them unfeeling!
It is an evil man that indulges a spirit of revolt; for rebellion is hateful to God, and His Word gives it no quarter. Circumstances on earth yield constant opportunity, and hence such a one "seeketh only rebellion." It gives an unhappy self-importance, which to vanity is irresistible. But God is not mocked, though it be the acceptable year, and not yet the day of His vengeance; and a "cruel messenger" will not fail to be "sent against him." Even now is there moral government.
But a fool in his folly goes a great deal farther and bursts through all bounds. To be met by a she-bear robbed of her cubs is a dangerous thing for any man; but a fool in his folly is worse still, as not the wise alone know to their cost. It is difficult also for the considerate to conceive what a fool may dare in his folly.
Ingratitude too is an evil of no small magnitude, and the face of God is set against such sheer baseness as rewarding evil for good. If one be thus guilty, evil shall not depart from his house. Even if it were but the snare of Satan for the highest in the land, himself most generous habitually, Jehovah did and could not overlook it; the sword departed not from his house, who gratified his passion at the cost too of a faithful servant's blood to hide his own sin. How Solomon must have felt as he remembered this!
And who has not seen to what a blaze a little spark may come, if godliness and grace do not role? It is as the letting out of water when one begins contention; mere drops trickling at first till the opening enlarges for a flow that sweeps all before it. "Therefore leave off strife before it become vehement."
There is an evil still worse than the selfish love of contradiction or contest, bad as this is in itself and its consequences. Unrighteousness is ungodly.
"He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the righteous, even they both are abomination to Jehovah.
"Wherefore [is there] a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing [he is] void of sense (or, hath no heart)?
"The friend loveth at all times and is a brother born for adversity.
"A man void of sense striketh hands, becoming surety for his friend.
"He loveth transgression that loveth a quarrel: he that raiseth high his gate seeketh destruction.
"He that hath a perverse heart findeth no good; and he that shifteth about with his tongue falleth into evil.
"He that begetteth a fool [doeth it] to his sorrow; and the father of a vile [man] hath no joy." vv. 15-21.
On either side the guilt described in verse 15 is grievous in Jehovah's eyes. Not only is it sympathy with evil men and heartlessness as to the righteous, but direct antagonism to every principle of divine government. For men are put to the test in this life by the concrete facts of the wicked man here and the righteous there. To judge only in the abstract is to deceive oneself, injure others, and be an abomination to Jehovah on both sides.
Jehovah is a God full of compassion and gracious, slow to anger and plenteous in mercy, even when man is under law. Thus He does not fail to put purchase money in a fool's hand. How kind to the unthankful and the indifferent, the infatuated and evil! To what purpose is it but that such may acquire wisdom? Seeing he is devoid of sense draws out his pity. What folly to frustrate all goodness by slighting Him who alone is good, and trusting the old serpent, the evil one!
Fine is the description of the friend and precious just as far as it is realized. He loves at all times; sad the blank of not having one uncapricious and constant, whatever the changes of this passing scene, nearer still of a brother born for adversity, where the strain is greatest! None fills up the sketch to perfection but our Lord Jesus, who indeed in His infiniteness went beyond what lips can utter or heart conceive.
Man's capacity and resources are so limited, and the changes of human life so frequent and fast, that it would be hard to name a more dangerous error than a rash pledge or suretyship. Grace no doubt is free to lose indefinitely for another, but not thereby to dishonour the Lord by one's own debt, or to injure others, whether one's family or strangers. This were indeed to play the part of a senseless man, not of a brother born for adversity.
How blind men are to their own spirit that love a quarrel under the plea of faithfulness to truth, right, or custom! He loves transgression that loves a quarrel, says the Word. It betrays itself in little and outward things, and stops not of ending in the ditch. Near akin to it is the aspiring spirit which seeks self-exaltation, or, as is here the figure, raiseth high his gate. In God's sight it is to seek destruction. So was the angel that, inflated with pride, fell, and became the devil.
Again, it is the just lot of him who has a perverse heart, so that, as he looks for evil, he finds no good; and he whose tongue shifts about in like perversity is doomed to fall into real evil. God is not mocked by bad thoughts or words, and he that indulges in either will surely have to eat the bitter fruit of his own ways.
Solomon had not to look beyond his father's house or his own in order to prove the truth of verse 21. Jehovah took pleasure in the families of His people. So we read in a well-known Song of degrees, "Lo, children are an heritage from Jehovah, the fruit of the womb a reward. As arrows in a mighty man's hand, so are the children of youth. Happy the man that hath his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, when they speak with their enemies in the gate." Yet did David taste of bitter sorrow when he set his heart overmuch on them. What irony in the issue of him whom he called "Father of peace," who rose up as a vain and unscrupulous pretender against himself and to his own destruction? Nor was he by any means the only one that yielded a crop of sin and shame and blood. Yes, "he that begetteth a fool doeth it to his sorrow: and the father of a vile man hath no joy." Whether the father of such a one be prince or pauper makes little difference, save that the eminence of degree makes the grief more conspicuous and perhaps more poignant. Only he who is begotten of God has life everlasting.
In verses 21-28, folly, wisdom, and righteousness are compared in their effects on the heart and life of man.
"He that begetteth a fool [doeth it] to his sorrow; and the father of a fool hath no joy.
"A joyful heart causeth good healing; but a broken spirit drieth up the bones.
"A wicked [person] taketh a gift out of the bosom to pervert the ways of judgment.
"Wisdom [is] before the face of him that hath understanding; but the eyes of a fool [are] in the ends of the earth.
"A foolish son [is] a grief to his father, and bitterness to her that bore him.
"Also to punish the righteous [is] not good; [nor] to strike nobles for uprightness.
"He that hath knowledge spareth his words; a man of understanding [is] of a cool spirit.
"Even a fool when he holdeth his peace is reckoned wise, he that shutteth his lips is prudent."
The inspired writer has seen, without looking far afield or minutely, the humbling truth of which verse 21 reminds us. It received a manifest verification among his own brethren, especially those two who wrought sin and folly in Israel, and came to an end no less violent than disgraceful to themselves, and full of anguish to his father and theirs. He was spared the witness of its repetition in his own son and successor, whose folly rent the kingdom, never to be reunited till He comes to reign, who is the repairer of breaches, the bearer of sins upon the tree, whose name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Father of eternity, Prince of peace. For increase of the government and peace shall be no end, upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and uphold it with judgment and with righteousness henceforth and forever. The zeal of Jehovah will perform this.
It is His purpose to glorify the Christ who at all cost glorified Him to His own shame and suffering, but moral glory, and this on earth, and especially the land where He was put to the death of the cross. It was God's wisdom in Christ, the blessed contrast of sin-stricken man, even in the highest place, who has so often to endure the pain of a fool begotten to his sorrow. But if here the responsibility is traced, and the father knew the reverse of the joy that a man was born into the world, because of his foolish son, the rejected Christ to his faith turns the temporary sorrow into a joy that never ends, though this was not the place or season to speak of it.
On the other hand, a joyful (not a vain or thoughtless) heart is an excellent medicine in this world of aches and bruises; as surely as a spirit shattered by affliction and charged with grief and fear dries up the bones, making one a skeleton rather than a human being (v. 22). Man lives not by bread alone, still less bitter herbs, but by God's Word that reveals His grace in Christ.
A gift to pervert the ways of judgment blinds the eyes, and betrays as a wicked man him who takes it, no less than him that gives it (v. 23). To take it "out of the bosom" ought to be a signal of danger. No other eye of man sees, but God who abhors the wrong is not mocked.
The wisdom here spoken of (v. 24) is that of a single eye, and is before the face of him that has understanding; for he has God in his thoughts, not persons or things to govern him, but all subjected to divine light. On the contrary, the eyes of a fool are in the ends of the earth and liable to fluctuation under every breeze of influence. How blessed those to whom Christ is made to us wisdom from God, not the least of Christian privileges for present need, saving, and joy.
Again, in verse 25, is "a foolish son" brought before us; but here it is not only a grief to the father, but a bitterness to her who bore him; the father's authority thwarted and despised, the mother's affection tried and abused. How little such a son feels their anguish!
The next maxim bears on more public matters, and supposes a totally different fault, to which "also" appears to be the link of transition. Those who bear the character of just men must incur obloquy, and should be esteemed. To punish such in any respect is not good; to smite the noble for uprightness exhibits an unworthy spirit; it is a man forsaking his own mercy, and base enough to lower what is above himself. Men, not some only but as a class, are senseless, as we read in 1 Peter 2: 15. Sin breeds independence, which chafes and blames, rails and rebels, against excellence and authority, formal or moral.
The chapter closes with two verses which show the value of that silence which is said to be golden, and even of that which is but leaden, not positive but merely negative or seeming. He that has knowledge spares his words, aware of what is far better; the man of understanding is of a cool spirit, knowing the mischief of inconsiderateness and impetuosity. And this is so true, that even a fool, when by his experience of many a buffet profits to hold his tongue, gains credit for wisdom he does not deserve; as he that shuts his lips habitually is counted prudent. The day is not yet come for the earth when a king, the King, shall reign in righteousness, and princes rule in judgment. Then a man, for indeed there is but One on whose shoulder the weight of such government rests, shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. Then the fool shall no more be called noble, nor the crafty said to be bountiful. But the day is at hand, dark as its dawn must be and terrible for the ungodly, Jews, Gentiles, and above all those that now name the Lord's name in vain.
The first verse seems difficult, and certainly has been rendered differently. The sense in the A.V. does not resemble that given by the revisers any more than the ancients. The Septuagint and the Vulgate construct alike, but Leeser has another view.
"He that separateth himself seeketh pleasure, he rageth against all wisdom.
"A fool hath no delight in understanding, but only that his heart may reveal itself.
"When the wicked cometh, there cometh also contempt, and with ignominy reproach.
"The words of a man's mouth [are] deep waters, the fountain of wisdom [is] a gushing brook.
"To accept the person of the wicked is not good, - to wrong the righteous in judgment.
"A fool's lips enter into contention, and his mouth calleth for blows.
"A fool's mouth [is] his destruction, and his lips [are] a snare to his soul.
"The words of a tale-bearer [are] as dainty morsels, and they go down to the chambers of the belly.
"He also that is slack in his work is brother to him that is a destroyer.
"The name of Jehovah [is] a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is set in a high retreat.
"The rich man's wealth [is] his strong city, and as a high wall in his own imagination.
"Before destruction the heart of a man is haughty, and before honour [is] humility." vv. 1-12.
The separation with which the chapter opens is in no way from evil, but rather from others to indulge his own desire and pleasure. Such selfishness enrages him against all wisdom.
This is confirmed by the verse that follows. For such a one is pronounced to be a fool, and to have no delight in understanding, but only that his heart may reveal itself. How far he is from knowing himself! His heart is the chief seat of his folly.
But there is worse among men than vanity; for it is truly said, "when the wicked cometh, there cometh also contempt, and with ignominy reproach." God despiseth not any; but what care they for God? They have only contempt for their betters, and ensure it for themselves, or, as it is here said, "with ignominy reproach."
The contrast appears next. "The words of a man's mouth are deep waters, the fountain of wisdom a gushing brook." Here it is a man who has looked up and learned wisdom, instead of trusting himself. His words are therefore deep waters; and they are fresh as well as deep, even as a gushing brook. For Jehovah is the living God, and man under the power of death.
But there are dangers too even for the wise. It is not good to favour the person of the wicked, and just as bad to subvert the righteous in judgment. Strict integrity is a jewel. Prejudice must not be allowed, any more than partiality. Our sufficiency is of God.
There is another way in which folly displays itself. "A fool's lips enter into (or, with) contention, and his mouth calleth for blows." The way of pence is unknown. His words are for war, and his mouth therefore calleth for blows, even if he escape sometimes. But it is all the worse for him in the long run; for "a fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips the snare of his soul." Had he profited by rebuke and other humiliations, it might have been otherwise (vv. 6, 7).
Quite as evil as the foolish talker is the tale-bearer, of whom we next hear. "The words of a tale-bearer [are] as wounds, and they go down to the chambers of the belly." Even if they were strictly true, which is rarely the case, they are in every respect injurious, and fall under the censure of evil speaking. They wholly lack a moral object or a loving way. It is at best gossip, and for the most part the mere indulgence of talking of things which right feeling would rather conceal. The issue is to inflict wounds which pierce very deep, and where they are least curable.
Then we have a maxim of great force in verse 9. The slothful also, or slack in his work, is near akin to the destroyer, or great waster. Both arrive at the same end of misery, one by idling, the other by careless prodigality. See the blessed contrast of Christ as Mark traces His service; "and straightway," "and immediately," "and forthwith."
What a resource in such dangers, and in all others, is the name of Jehovah! A strong tower truly, whither the righteous betakes himself and is secure (v. 10). For the enemy is still in power, and those who return to God need protection.
How poor in comparison is the rich man's wealth (v. 11)! He thinks it a strong city, and a high wall in his own conceit. But it will fail him utterly when his need is extreme.
So when the heart of man is haughty, destruction is nigh; whereas humility is the pathway to honour that lasts (v. 12). Here Christ is the blessed Exemplar. For He, as high as the Highest, took the lowly place of bondman to obey, and having gone down so low that none could follow to the utmost, is now indeed exalted. The Christian is called to follow; and on none did the Lord lay it more than on the apostles who by grace were faithful.
The weakness and need, the dangers and difficulties, as well as the helps, of man are here remarkably set out (vv. 13-24).
"He that giveth answer before he heareth, it [is] folly and shame to him.
"The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear (or, raise up)?
"The heart of the intelligent getteth knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge.
"A man's gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men.
"He that pleadeth first in his own cause [seemeth] just; but his neighbour cometh and searcheth him.
"The lot causeth contentions to cease, and parteth between the mighty.
"A brother offended (or, injured) is [harder to be won] than a strong city; and contentions [are] as the bars of a castle.
"A man's belly is satisfied with the fruit of his mouth with the increase of his lips is he satisfied.
"Death and life [are] in the power of the tongue; and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
"[Whoso] findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour from Jehovah.
"The poor speaketh supplications, but the rich answereth roughly.
"A man of friends cometh to ruin; but there is a lover sticking closer than a brother."
Haste or vanity leads men to confide in themselves and to slight what others have to say. Thus it is that they get the discredit of folly and shame to their surprise and pain.
When one is enabled to bear up courageously in conscious integrity, it is all well; but when the spirit is broken, despair is apt to ensue, and all is over, while that lasts.
Everyone can see that those who lack intelligence ought to get knowledge, and that the unwise should seek it. But in truth the reverse is the fact as here. The intelligent have it at heart to get knowledge, as the wise do seek it. So the Lord assured when here: Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. Who seeks of God in vain for our real good?
But now we hear of the way of a man with men, and without God, as we heard in the chapter before. Gifts go far with most, and make way for the least honourable before great men, who are often, like those who court them, neither good nor wise. There are marked exceptions.
The next apothegm is a sort of converse to verse 13. It is a man first in his own cause; what can be plainer than its justification? But his neighbour comes and searches him; and how does the matter look then?
There are cases however where both sides have so much to plead, that a fair decision is beyond men, who if stiff give themselves over to contention, as there are those outside the dispute whose sad interest it is to keep it up. The Israelite had the resource of the lot, no matter how mighty the contenders might be; for Jehovah did not fail to decide thereby. But the Christian is entitled to look to his Father in Christ's name, and never without an answer of grace if he wait on Him. How great the value of the written Word and of free intercourse with Him who is higher than the highest!
But there is as there ever was a great difficulty here; and it might seem strange, if we were not too familiar with the fact, that it is with a brother offended. How unapproachable and unreasonable! Yes, he is harder to win than a strong city; and such contentions are as the bars of a castle. What strength is needed to break through!
"The belly" has a bad name in both Old Testament and New; but not always, as John 7: 38 conclusively proves. And so it may be here, where it seems employed in its twofold application for the innermost affections, good or evil. The mouth indicates the heart, as the Lord tells us both of the good man and of the wicked. Out of its abundance the mouth speaks. Here it is the other side - a man's inwards satisfied with the fruit of his mouth, with the increase of his lips. How weighty then our every word if we bring in God! But if this satisfies man, the child of God can be satisfied with nothing less than God's Word and grace. Hence too are life and death said to be in the power of the tongue, and so the issues in both good and evil. All Scripture declares it; all experience confirms and illustrates it.
Does the finding of good in a wife, in one worthy of that name, join on to this? Certainly no one has such opportunity of intimate knowledge and of giving help. She can avail as none else; and if for God, what a treasure to her husband, who might resent fidelity in another! What a favour from Jehovah!
The poor naturally resort to supplication, the rich as naturally answer roughly. Grace exalts the one, and abases the other, to the happiness of faith, and to the Lord's pleasure who sees and weighs all.
A man who depends on many friends pays for it to his own ruin; but One is become more than a friend, a lover beyond all others, that sticketh closer than a brother. Well we know Him; yet how little, alas!
Chapter 19: 1-7. In a general way these maxims of divine wisdom are meant to comfort the upright and considerate poor, apt to be despised by others of less moral worth. They are instructive to all who have the fear of God, and to the Christian especially, who is told to honour all men as such (1 Peter 2: 17). There is nothing akin to the assertion of man's rights and the exclusion of God's, seeking one's own will, advantage' honour, and power.
"Better [is] the poor that walketh in his integrity than one perverse in his lips (and) who is a fool.
"Also a soul (person) without knowledge [is] not good; and he that hasteth with [his] feet maketh false steps.
"The folly of a man perverteth his way; and his heart fretteth against Jehovah.
"Wealth bringeth many friends; but the poor is separated from his friend.
"A false witness shall not be unpunished, and an utterer of lies shall not escape.
"Many court the favour of a prince; and every one [is] a friend to him that giveth
"All the brothers of the poor hate him; how much more do his friends go far from him? he pursueth [with] words: they are not (or, these hath he not)." vv. 1-7.
To walk in integrity is the fruit of divine grace. Faith alone can thus enable anyone in a world of vain show and with a nature corrupt or false, and vain or proud, either way given to self-complacency and open to self-conceit. If ever so poor, how much better is the upright walker than the man however rich that talks crookedly and is a fool (v. 1).
There is no excuse for anyone who hears the Scriptures to be without knowledge, and knowledge of the deepest value, perfectly reliable and accessible. What is to be compared with the written Word of God, even when it was but partially given? To be without that knowledge was not good but evil in an Israelite; how much more in a professing Christian! Without knowledge, one is apt to act precipitately and fall into sin - how often through haste! Man needs to weigh his words and ways (v. 2).
The foolishness of a man exposes him to evil ways; and all the more, because the more foolish, the less is there self-judgment. If one but felt his folly before God, and therefore looked up for wisdom, how surely He would give it without upbraiding, if he trust himself, he perverts his way more and more. What is worse still, his heart frets or rages against Jehovah. His folly grows impious at length even to casting the blame on Him who only is absolutely wise and has never done him harm but good. It is a common case (v. 3).
The covetousness of man betrays itself in the eagerness of men in general to be friends of the wealthy; nor less in the coolness that separates the poor man from his neighbour's interest and care (v. 4). How little is God in their thoughts! Yet withal they may flatter themselves with loving God and man. Let them think of the good Samaritan.
False witness is a heinous sin in Jehovah's eyes, who pledges Himself that it shall not go without punishment, and that the untruthful man shall not escape. A Jew was no doubt more guilty than a heathen if he thus boldly ignored Him who hears every word; and much more inexcusable is the Christian, now that Christ has come, the true and faithful Witness. Israel was called to be the arena of Jehovah's government; but it utterly failed through their forgetting the ground of promise to faith, and resting all on their own obedience of the law. No sinful man, nor indeed any, can stand on such a tenure. For as many as are of law-works are under curse, as it had been so strikingly anticipated in Deuteronomy 27 where the Spirit records the curses on Ebal, and does not notice the blessings on Gerizim, though no doubt proclamation was made historically on the latter as much as on the former. But all men who take this ground of their obedience reap not blessing, but curse. Blessing for a sinful man can come only by faith. And we find men after the law even more heedless of truth than they were before the law, yea, even saints. But in Christianity we have not only the truth, but truthfulness consequently, as never before.
The selfishness of human nature is shown out in verses 6 and 7. "Many court (or, entreat) the favour of a prince; and every man is a friend to him that giveth" (v. 6). It is not all that can get the ear of a prince to curry favour. But a liberal man is as the rule easy to reach and ready to listen. No doubt it is a temptation even to a Christian in distress. But why forget that He whose is the earth and its fullness has His heart ever open to his cry? How comely then it is to be anxious for nothing; to let our gentleness be known to all men, self-assertion to none; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving to make our requests known to God!
What a graphic picture verse 7 presents in following up hateful self-seeking! "All the brothers of the poor hate him; how much: more do his friends go far from him! he pursueth with words: they are not." Even the nearest ties of relationship break before the needy one. Still less are friends faithful to him who sinks into poverty. The very sight of such a one is a bore, and a signal to be off. In vain the debtor pursues with his words of appeal. The old friends disappear, and all fails. Such the prodigal found the world, when his profusion left him nothing more to spend; no man gave to him. God is the gracious giver, and the only One changeless and effectual, when every resource is gone, and the sinner bows to Him, though he have nothing but sins. But for him, however ruined, that believes, God has Jesus and with Him freely gives all things, as the day will manifest. It is of importance to realize this by faith now, that we may honour Him in thanksgiving and praise, and in willing service, as it becomes every Christian to do.
The value of right feeling ("heart" literally, or sense) is enforced and contrasted with the folly and evil of deceit, both for the life that is, and for that to come; the uncomeliness of self-indulgence, and the admirableness of forbearance; the comfort of royal favour, as against the fear of its displeasure; the grief where family relationship is in disorder, and the manifest blessing where she who shares the guidance walks and judges wisely.
"He that getteth sense loveth his own soul; he that keepeth understanding shall find good.
"A false witness shall not be held innocent, and one uttering lies shall perish.
"Luxury is not seemly for a fool; much less for a servant to have rule over princes.
"The discretion of a man maketh him slow to anger; and [it is] his glory to pass over a transgression.
"The king's wrath [is] as a lion's roaring; but his favour [is] as dew upon the grass.
"A foolish son [is] the calamity of his father; and the contentions of a wife [are] a continual dropping.
"House and riches [are] an inheritance from fathers; but a prudent wife [is] from Jehovah." vv. 8-14.
It is not only lax and dissolute ways that lead to ruin. How many perish by the indifference which gives a loose rein to folly! There is no fear of God in either; and where this fear is lacking, all must be wrong. Before, we were told that the fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom, as it also tends to life. This may be even now before peace with God is enjoyed; for such peace comes only through the faith which rests on Christ and His work. But it remains true, that he that heareth reproof getteth sense; and he that getteth sense loveth his own soul. The other word that accompanies this is of great value - "he that keepeth understanding shall find good," and good better than silver or gold. It is well to get, and better still to keep, what is so excellent.
Those who hear and say much have to lay to heart the next solemn warning: "a false witness shall not be held innocent, and one uttering lies shall (not merely be punished, but) perish." It is most hateful to God and most injurious to man. No one can say where the evil may spread, or how it may end here, but we do know how the Lord judges it forever.
Luxury is good for none; but it is above all unseemly for the fool who makes it his enjoyment and his god. The wise man was given to add that worse still is it for a servant to have rule over princes: who so vain and tyrannical?
To indulge in anger hastily is ever a danger, as it is true discretion to be slow in yielding to it. Better still is it to pass over an offence however real. It is his glory. He that is higher than the highest sets the pattern of grace.
On kings it is peculiarly incumbent how they dispense their censure or their favour. If they mistake either way (and there is no small danger of it), the effect is pernicious beyond measure. How happy for the believer to have to do readily and directly with the Highest who never errs, though we are so prone to make mistakes.
The next words take up the afflictions of family life, and give us salutary judgment. It is not merely a fool here, but "a foolish son," and he surely is "the calamity of his father." There is another who brings the calamity nearer still and more constantly, a contentious wife. Her cross and fractious spirit is a continual dropping. Not a spot in the house is safe from her turmoil.
Hence the importance of so looking to the Lord for a gracious and faithful counterpart. If house and wealth are an inheritance of fathers, as it generally was in Israel. a prudent wife was from Jehovah. What were the rest, however choice or abundant, where the meekness of wisdom failed in her who shared it all? If all else materially lacked, what comfort and happiness in having one from Jehovah who had His light within and around her!
Dangers and helps are plainly pointed out; for the fallen earth is full of the one, and Jehovah fails not for the other. There is a great need of vigilance, and man is shortsighted, to say the least.
"Slothfulness casteth into a deep sleep; and the idle soul shall suffer hunger.
"He that keepeth the commandment keepeth his soul; he that despiseth his ways shall die.
"He that hath pity on the poor lendeth to Jehovah; and his bestowal will he pay him again.
"Chasten thy son, seeing there is hope; and let not thy heart cause him to die.
"A man of great wrath shall suffer punishment; for if thou deliver [him], thou must do it yet again.
"Hear counsel and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end.
"Many thoughts [are] in a man's heart, but the counsel of Jehovah, that shall stand.
"The charm of a man [is] his kindness, and a poor man [is] better than a liar." vv. 15-22.
Even when man was unfallen, he had responsibility. He was called to till and keep the garden, planted exceptionally by Jehovah Elohim with every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. When fallen, as the ground was cursed on his account, he had to eat of it all the days of his life with toil. Thorns and thistles it yielded unbidden, so that man had to eat bread in the sweat of his face all his diminishing life. Slothfulness therefore ill became his position, and all the more when he faced adversity through his own fault. The sun arises, and the wild beasts get away to their dens, but man goeth forth to his work till the evening; and, as he is, it is well ordered for him. But slothfulness traverses all, and casts into a deep sleep while it is day, and pays the penalty. If any will not work, neither let him eat. The idle soul shall suffer hanger.
Man was made in God's image, after His likeness. He had dominion given him over fish and fowl, cattle and reptile, and over all the earth too. Yet was he put under commandment. And "he that keepeth the commandment keepeth his soul; as he that despiseth," or is reckless of, "his ways shall die." So Adam proved, and no less Adam's race. Even when no open sin was, man must bow to God. To seek independency of God is his ruin. To look up in gratitude and obey Him is not only the first of human duties, but vital to man whose breath is in his nostrils, and his life but a vapour. When sin entered and death through sin, how very evident and urgent it was that he should be dependent on that God who forthwith held out a Deliverer from the power of evil before banishing him from the paradise he had lost by his disobedience!
In such a world of disorder, of violence and corruption, we have always with us the poor, whom no man that has eyes or ears can fail to meet. This tests the heart practically; for to say, Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled, and to give them not the things needful for the body, is to cheat ourselves quite as much as them. Man was to represent God who loves a cheerful giver in a wilderness world, and here encourages the man to pity those that have not. "He that pitieth," or is gracious to, "the poor lendeth to Jehovah," as He deigns to count it; "and what he bestoweth He will pay him again." What security can match this? Think too of the honour of being creditor to Him!
But there is also another duty in which a parent ought to resemble Him, care for his offspring. "Chasten thy son, seeing there is hope." The young twig is pliant, and may be bent aright or pruned to bear fruit. Love is not indifferent but takes pains, and chastening is a greater sorrow to a father than to the son that needs it. To allow evil, whatever the plea, is to set one's soul on causing "him to die." We, Christians on earth, endure for chastening, which, though painful for the moment, afterward yields peaceful fruits of righteousness to those exercised thereby.
Look next at one not accustomed to bear the yoke in his youth. He is "a man of great wrath," overcome by any word or work which does not please his rash mind; what is the result? He "shall suffer punishment"; and the sad thing is that neither he nor anyone else can say what may come next. Love him as you may, his hasty temper is constant danger. "For if thou deliver, thou must do it yet again." Christ is the sole adequate Deliverer, and this not only by His redemption but by the virtue of abiding in Him. "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall come to pass for you."
Very fitting accordingly is the next word: "Hear counsel, and receive instruction, that thou mayest be wise in thy latter end." What counsel can compare with that which God gives; what instruction equals the Scriptures? Speculative men talk of the Bible as fragmentary and occasional; but under such an appearance there is the completest provision, and suited to every need that ever did or can arise. Men of faith find it out to their everlasting comfort, and are responsible to show its treasures to those who fail to see; but they reap the blessing in wisdom from the first to their latter end, as every believer proves.
Outside the field of divine teaching is the perplexity of man's thoughts, let him be ever so abundant in ideas or devices. "Many thoughts are in a man's heart, but the counsel of Jehovah, that shall stand." This is what makes wise; and firm as well as happy is he who learns and cleaves to His counsel. It is the great lie to deny the truth; and Christ the Personal Word, Scripture the written Word, is the truth, which the Holy Spirit makes a living thing to the believer.
Nor is this all the comfort he enjoys. "The charm of a man (or that which maketh a man to be desired) is his kindness." There too he is privileged to follow in the wake of God, who is good and doeth good. For this reason its claim too often is substituted for the reality; and good words usurp the place of good deeds. Nor do any fail more than those whose large purse accompanies a narrow heart and a polite tongue. Hence we have the pithy adage that "a poor man is better than a liar." It is God's Word which strips men of their robes and lays bare their true character. May we have grace to be truthful and loving, without pretension.
As it has been already laid down that the fear of Jehovah is the beginning and the discipline of wisdom, so does it prolong days, whereas the years of the wicked shall be shortened. Here (vv. 23-29) we have more said of its virtue.
"The fear of Jehovah [tendeth] to life; and he shall abide satisfied; he shall not be visited with evil.
"A sluggard burieth his hand in the dish, and will not even bring it to his mouth again.
"Smite a scorner, and the simple will become prudent; and reprove the intelligent, he will understand knowledge.
"He that ruineth a father [and] chaseth away a mother is a son that causeth shame and bringeth reproach.
"Cease, my son, to hear instruction [causing] to err from the words of knowledge.
"A witness of Belial scorneth judgment, and the mouth of the wicked swalloweth iniquity.
"Judgments are prepared for scorners, and stripes for the back of the foolish." vv. 23-29.
Now that we know the manifestation of life eternal in Christ and its gifts to the believer, how greatly is the maxim enhanced! What satisfaction can there be outside Him? "He that hath the Son hath life"; and Christ is the food of that life, both as the true bread out of heaven, giving life to the world, and not to Israel only, by faith, and in raising up at the last day. But there is the further privilege since His death, even to eat His flesh and drink His blood, and thus to dwell with Him, as He dwells in the Christian. He is the Deliverer; what shall man or Satan do to hurt? How shall not God also with Him freely give us all things?
The faith that fears Jehovah is earnest. The sluggard on the contrary is so besotted to self as to bury his hand in the dish, and will not so much as raise it to his mouth again. So he lives, dies, and perishes.
To smite a scorner may and will be lost on him; but the simple take heed, gather profit, and become prudent. The man of intelligence lays admonition to heart, and apprehends a knowledge before unknown. Thus simple and wise are gainers.
As a scorner is worse than a sluggard, more guilty still is the son that plunders a father and chaseth away a mother and her loving appeals. What shame and dishonour he brings!
In such a world of sin the enemy finds no lack of mischievous men and women, who not only stray away from the words of knowledge, but take pleasure to misguide the unwary. Cease, my son, to hear such fetal instruction.
Still more daring a witness of Belial is he that mocks at judgment; and the mouth of the wicked drinks down iniquity. But soon or late God is not mocked, if man is deceived; for whatsoever a man shall sow, that also shall he reap.
Therefore it is true that "judgments are prepared for scorners, and stripes for the back of the foolish." It is not that God desires any man to be reprobate; but what if He, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction? They gave themselves up to their own will, which is nothing but sin, and had a ready helper in the arch enemy who makes them his slaves. But that God might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, He in His grace prepared them before for glory. All the sin is in and of the creature; all the good is of God. This is the truth as to both God and man, whose only resource is by grace in Christ.