Proverbs (chapters 1-9)
Beyond all others, David was the sweet Psalmist of Israel, though not a few worthy companions find a place in the divine collection of holy lyrics. Solomon stands in like pre-eminence for the utterance of the sententious wisdom of which the book of Proverbs is the chief expression, with Ecclesiastes when the sense of his own failure under unique circumstances of creature advantage gave a sad and penitent character to his experience in the power of the inspiring Spirit. It is the more striking when compared with the Song of Songs, which shows us the Jewish spouse restored to the love of the once-despised Messiah, and His adorable excellency and grace, after her long folly, manifold vicissitudes, and sore tribulation.
Every one of these compositions is stamped with the design of inspiration, and instinct with the power of the Holy Spirit in carrying out His design in each. But they are all in view of man on the earth, more especially the chosen people of God, passing through the vista of sin and shame and sorrow in the latter day to the kingdom which the true Son of David, the born Son of God (Ps. 2), will establish as Jehovah's King in His holy hill of Zion, though far larger and higher things also, as we know. Hence these writings have a common governmental character, only that, in the Psalms especially, the rejection and the sufferings of Christ give occasion to glimpses of light above and to hints of brighter associations. But the full and proper manifestation of heavenly things was left for the rejected Christ to announce in the gospels, and for the Holy Spirit sent down from on high to open out practically in the Acts, and doctrinally in the epistles, especially of the Apostle Paul. Any unfolding of a church character, or even of Christian relationship, it would be vain to look for in these constituent books or any others of the Old Testament.
The express aim of Proverbs, for example, is to furnish, from the one better fitted for the purpose than any man who ever lived, the light of wisdom in moral intelligence for the earthly path of man under Jehovah's eye. Being from "the king of Israel," it is also for the people he governed; and therefore with a slight exception (only six times it seems, easily accounted for) in known relationship with Jehovah, whose name pervades from first to last. See Proverbs 2: 5, 17; Proverbs 3: 4; Proverbs 25: 2; Proverbs 30: 5, 9. But being divinely inspired, it is a book for him that reads or hears to profit by at any time, for the Christian in particular as having by grace the mind of Christ. All Scripture is for our good and blessing, though most of it is not addressed to us, nor is it about us.
1 Kings 4: 29-34 historically testifies to the unrivalled capacity conferred of God on Solomon, and a wisdom He would not let die. "And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart, even as the sand that is on the seashore. And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about. And he spoke three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five. And he spoke of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spoke also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes. And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth, which had heard of his wisdom." "Three thousand proverbs" cover far more than the inspired collection, as the songs uttered far exceed those meant for permanency. Inspiration selected designedly.
We have remarked how "Jehovah" characterizes the book. In Ecclesiastes, on the contrary, the use of "God" or Elohim is constant, and flows solely and appropriately - one might even say, necessarily - from its subject matter. As the book of Proverbs is for the instruction of "men-brethren" (Israel), so there is the constant tenderness of "my son," or more rarely, "sons." But there is not nor could be, as in the New Testament, the basis of Christ's redemption, or the liberty of adoption in the Spirit; the groundwork there is in the cross, and the character is consistency with Christ glorified in heaven. Morally, too, God is revealed, and the Father's love made known in Christ to be enjoyed in the Spirit's power.
"Proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: to know wisdom and instruction: to discern the words of understanding; to receive instruction in intelligence, righteousness, judgment and equity; to give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. He that is wise will hear and increase learning, and the intelligent will attain to sound counsels: to understand a proverb and an allegory (or, interpretation), the words of the wise and their enigmas." vv. 1-6.
Proverbs 1: 1-6 is the preface. It remains for its right appreciation to explain briefly terms which many readers fail to distinguish.
"Wisdom" here is derived from a word that means "practiced" or skilful, and applied very widely from arts of varied kinds to powers of mind and philosophy. The verb is used for being "wise" throughout the Hebrew scriptures; the adjective even more extensively and often; the substantive more frequently still. The "wise men" of Babylon are as a class correspondingly described in the Chaldee or Aramean. But the employment of the term is also general. It seems based on experience.
"Instruction," connected with "wisdom," is expressed by a word signifying also discipline, correction, or warning. The moral object is thus remarkably sustained, in contrast with mere exercise or displays of intellect.
Next comes in its place to "discern the words of understanding." For this is of great value for the soul, understanding founded on adequate consideration so as to distinguish things that differ. The verb and noun occur plentifully in the Bible.
Then we have "to receive instruction in intelligence, righteousness, judgment and equity." Here circumspection has a great place in the learning to behave with becoming propriety and tact, as David did when Saul was on the rack through jealousy.
"Prudence" in verse 4 may degenerate into cunning or wily ways, as in Exodus 21: 14 and Joshua 9: 4; but as in Proverbs 8: 5 and 12, so here and in kindred forms, it has the fair meaning of practical good sense.
"Discretion" at the end of the verse is the opposite of heedlessness, but capable, like the last, of a bad application. Employed laudably, it means sagacity through reflection.
As the proverb is a compressed parable, or an expanded comparison, so it often borders on the riddle or enigma in order to fix attention. The same Hebrew word appears to mean both "proverb" and "parable," which may in part if not wholly account for the former only in John's Gospel, the latter in the Synoptists. There, too, the parable stands in contrast with speaking plainly (John 16: 25, 29; compare also Matt. 13: 34, 35).
Solomon then introduces himself in his known relation and position as the channel of these divinely given apothegms, not to glorify man like the seven sages of Greece, still less to magnify himself who bears witness to his own humiliation, but to exalt Jehovah in guarding him that heeds these words from folly and snare. For the declared end is the moral profit of man by what God gave to His glory - to knew wisdom and instruction, to discern, and receive. However precious for all, the first aim is to give prudence to the simple; so open to deception in this world, and knowledge and discretion to the young man, apt to be heady and rashly opinionated. But there is another result surely anticipated; "he that is wise will hear, and the intelligent will attain to sound counsel: to understand a proverb and an allegory, the words of the wise and their enigmas [or, dark sayings]." Who more in place to teach these things than the man then inspired of God?
The book begins with the foundation principle of the fear of God, but this in the special relation established with His people Israel. It is therefore "the fear of Jehovah." For as He deigned thus to be made known to them, so were they called to prize that name as their special privilege. Jehovah was God in Israel. though alone the true God, and Lord of all the earth. As Jehovah was God, who spoke through the prophets, and wrought wonders according to His word, so the people at a great crisis with heathenism cried (1 Kings 18), Jehovah, He is God, He is God. The usage of the abstract term, and of the relational name, has nothing in the least to do with imaginary legends or various writers; it is most instructive for the twofold truth that is set out.
"The fear of Jehovah (is) the beginning of knowledge: fools despise wisdom and instruction. My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law [or teaching] of thy mother; for they (shall be) a garland of grace for thy head, and chains about thy neck." vv. 7-9.
In Psalm 111: 10 the fear of Jehovah is declared to be the beginning of wisdom, as here of knowledge. Both are equally true, and each important in its place, though wisdom be the higher of the two, as built on the experience of the divine word and ways, which "knowledge" does not necessarily presuppose.
He who wrote for the reader's instruction was pre-eminent in both, though in his case there was extraordinary divine favour in the communication, and the keenest ardour in improving opportunities without parallel. In this general part of the book we have "wisdom" introduced (Prov. 9: 10), "the fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the holy [is] understanding." This gives the moral side its just prominence in both; and so it is in. Job 28: 28, where that chapter, full of interest throughout, closes with "unto man He said, Behold, the fear of the Lord [Adonai, not Jehovah as such], that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding." He is feared as the Sovereign Master, who cannot look on evil with the least allowance.
But even where external knowledge is pursued, what a safeguard is in the fear of God! Assuredly, the Creator would be remembered, not only in the days of youth, but in those of age. Who that had the least real knowledge of God could confound the creature with Him who created it? To him the heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse shows the work of His hands. If he beheld the light when it shone, or the moon walking in brightness, it was but to own and adore the God who is above, unless a deceived heart had turned him aside, that he could not deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand? How, with Him before the mind, deny creation for an eternal matter under Fate or Chance? for a desolating Pantheism, where all men and things are god, and none is really God, where is neither sin nor its judgment, nor grace and truth with its blessedness in Christ for faith to life eternal? where all that appears to our senses is Maya (illusion) and the diabolical substitute, but real death of hope, is Nirvana (extinction)? How true it is that the foolish "despise wisdom and instruction"!
What again were his last words to his judges,* of whom Westerners boast? "It is now time to depart - for me to die, for you to live; but which of us is going to a better state is unknown to everyone but God." What a contrast with the Apostle! "To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." Certainty on divine warrant, and the deepest enjoyment everywhere and always, the beginning of which is the fear of God in Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
* I put Socrates at his best, without dwelling on his last words to his friends, "Crito, we owe a cock to Aesculapius; pay it, therefore, and do not neglect it." And this was the end of the best wisest. and most just of all men known to Plato.
This fundamental deliverance is followed up by the usual appeal of affection, "my son." For here the relationships God has made and sanctions are of as great value where His fear reigns, as they perpetuate sin and misery where it is not so. Parents are to be honoured and heard, the instruction of the father and the teaching of the mother. This the son first knows to form and direct obedience, if self-will oppose not; and they are his graceful ornament. How early they act on the heart, and how influential on the conduct and even character, many a son can testify. Alas, that men have forgotten the word of the wisest, and proved their folly, parents and children! And to this sad side we are now introduced.
"My son, if sinners entice thee, consent not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause; let us swallow them up alive as Sheol, and whole as those that go down into the pit. We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: cast in thy lot among us; we will have all one purse. My son, walk not in the way with them, keep back thy foot from their path. For their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. For in vain is the net spread in the eyes of a bird; and they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives. So (are) the paths of every one that is greedy of gain: it taketh away the life of its owners." vv. 10-19.
Here we have the soul warned against listening to the voice of enticement. For Satan has instruments, not a few, zealous to draw others into evil; and companionship is as natural as dangerous. "For also we were aforetime foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another." Titus 3: 3. And in this the least scrupulous lead - their mouth full of cursing and bitterness - their feet swift to shed blood. The word is, Walk not in the way with them, keep back thy foot from their path. Covetousness, and robbery to gratify it, are vividly drawn; violence follows lust, and one's own life the forfeit. The day comes for judgment without mercy, the judgment of the flesh. Listen, for in vain is the net spread in the eyes of any bird. In reality they wait for their own blood, as surely as God knows how to deliver. How many a one that is plotted against escapes, while those greedy of gain lose their own lives, the end in this world of their wicked schemes!
It is a characteristic of this book, and exactly in keeping with its contents, that we have "wisdom" personified from the first chapter, rising up (as is well known) to the Person of Christ in Proverbs 8: 22-31. Even in this first introduction, though the form is plural, as in Proverbs 9: 1, and in later occurrences, the cry does not fail as it goes on to assume the solemnity of a divine warning of inevitable judgment, so that it is difficult to sever it from the voice of God Himself, as in verse 24 if not in 23, and in those that follow. Compare in the New Testament Matthew 23: 34 with Luke 11: 49.
"Wisdom crieth without, she raiseth her voice in the broadways; she calleth at the head of the noisy (streets), at the entry of the gates; in the city she uttereth her words, How long, simple ones, will ye love simpleness, and scorners delight them in scorning, and fools hate wisdom? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour forth my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you." vv. 20-23.
Under the law there was nothing that properly, still less that fully, answered to the grace of the gospel in extending to every land and tongue, to be preached, as the Apostle says, "in all creation that is under heaven." Yet when not only Israel fell as a whole, but Judah, revolted to the uttermost and was swept away to Babylon, yea, when the rejection of Messiah added incalculably to their older guilt of idolatry, and brought on still worse and wider and longer dispersion, the Holy Spirit inspired the prophet to write of the richest mercy which should surely dawn on their ruined estate. After the triple call to "hearken," followed by the triple summons to "awake" (Isa. 51 and Isa. 52), we hear the cheering outburst, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth glad tidings, that publisheth peace, that bringeth glad tidings of good, that publisheth salvation, saying to Zion, Thy God reigneth." So in due time will the kingdom be restored to Israel in God's mercy and sovereign grace. But as this is displayed in another and yet profounder way now in the gospel, the Apostle does not hesitate to apply these glowing words to those now sent to preach the gospel of God's indiscriminate goodness, alike to Jew and Greek. For now there is no difference, and the same Lord of all is rich unto all that call upon Him. But if Israel be yet deaf to the report of those that believe, the gospel goes out like the voice of those heavenly orbs whose sound cannot be confined to one people or country, but went out unto all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the habitable earth, as Psalm 19 suggests.
Still here where Jehovah's law ruled, wisdom was not confined to parental discipline. still less was it shut up in philosophic schools, but "cries without." She "raiseth her voice in the broadways" instead of seeking only the refined and exalted; she "calleth at the head of the noisy places of concourse, at the entry of the gates." The moral profit was sought assiduously of those that had most need, if culture despises the vulgar. Not in the calm and quiet of the country is she said to utter her words, but "in the city" where is far more to attract and distract the mass of mankind. "How long, simple ones," says she, "will ye love simpleness, and scorners delight them in scorning, and fools hate wisdom?" There is thus a climax in these classes of careless, ungodly souls. The simple are the many weak ones who, lacking all moral discernment and object, are exposed to evil on all sides and at each turn; and by this easy indifference they become a prey. The scorners manifest more positive pravity, and reject all appeals to conscience and reference to divine things by unseemly jest and insolent sneer. It is an ever growing moral disease, never so prevalent as in these last days. The fools that hate knowledge may be more godless still, and become openly atheist, as Scripture shows. For the apostasy must come, and the man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition who will set himself and be received as God, and this in the temple of God, where the affront is deepest.
But Jehovah gives wisdom's remonstrances, and, if heeded, her gracious encouragement. "Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour forth my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you." It is an error, which goes beyond the purpose of the verse, to conceive that the gift of the Holy Spirit is here promised. There is undoubtedly an inward blessing promised which is ever by the Spirit, and an intelligence of wisdom's words. This is much, and Jehovah made it true from the time the book was written. But it is dangerous either to exaggerate what God always was to His people, or to undervalue those privileges which awaited redemption through our Lord Jesus. The Holy Spirit was not poured out as at Pentecost till Christ was glorified. But whatever of blessing there ever was for man is by the Spirit, and this too is in knowing the words of divine wisdom; and here it is amply assured, where the reproof was heeded.
Here it is not the gospel which is thus shown, but the call of God in the government of man on the earth. Hence it does not pass beyond the judgment which will be executed in the day that is coming here below. This is the more important to heed, because Christendom is as unbelieving about the judgment of the quick that Christ will surely enforce on the habitable world, as the Jews were about the judgment of the dead in the resurrection state. Both were revealed in the written Word, and both are to be in the hands of Him who loved to call Himself "the Son of man." But if He came, the Son of man in grace to the lost, He will assuredly return, the Son of man in judgment of all who despise Him, whether alive or dead. Thus there is the judgment of the wicked living at the beginning of His kingdom and through it, no less than the judgment of the wicked dead at the end, before He delivers it up to Him who is God and Father. Now it is the former which is treated here, though commentators and preachers are apt to see in it only the judgment at the close.
"Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no one regarded; and ye have rejected all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as sudden destruction, and your calamity cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish come upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but shall not find me." vv. 24-28.
It is sad when Jews do not rise above Gentile moralizing on the life that now is or the death that terminates it; but how much sadder still when Christians are content with similar platitudes! Christ is the only true Light which on coming into the world casts light on every man. He, and He alone, gives us the truth of every thing. The divine judgment of man thus acquires proper definiteness and its full solemnity; and the light of the New Testament is thus thrown back on the Old, besides revealing what belongs to itself pre-eminently if not exclusively.
Take the picture the Lord in Luke 17 draws of the kingdom of God, when it is no longer a hidden matter of faith or of mere profession as now; but the Son of man shall be in His day as the lightning which lightens out of the one part under the heaven and shines unto the other. It will be in truth as in the days of Noah or in those of Lot - unexpected, inevitable, and utter destruction of the ungodly, as they are in the midst of their busy pursuits. When the Son of man thus comes, shall He find faith on the earth? How far is it to be found now?
Take again the view He gives in Luke 21, not only of signs in the sun and in the moon and in the stars, but of the moral state on the earth when the powers of heaven shall be shaken. It is not the end of the world, but of the age, when the Son of man is seen coming in a cloud, and the kingdom of God will be established manifestly and in power that will put down all opposition;
This "sudden destruction" is here before the inspiring Spirit, who maintains the edge of His sword unblunted by tradition and callous unbelief. The Word of God of old, all His Word, is good, wherein He calls man to hear; but He is refused. He stretched out His hand imploringly, but none regarded; His counsel was rejected, and His reproof no less. What remained possible under the law? Unsparing judgment. How terrible when Jehovah, patient and long-suffering, laughs at the calamity of those that despised Him, mocks the fears, distress, and anguish of those who mocked Him, and has no answer for their call, nor will He be found, though then sought diligently! To fear the judgment, especially when it falls, is not to fear Jehovah.
The warning of Jehovah was solemn, but not more solemn than sure. Impossible that He could lie. If faithful to His own in doing all He says to cheer them now, He is no less righteous in dealing with His enemies; He will recompense them.
"Because they hated knowledge and chose not the fear of Jehovah; they would none of my counsel, they despised all my reproof; therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their way, and be filled with their own devices. For the turning back of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely and be at rest from fear of evil." vv. 29-33.
Divine compassion is unfailing for the ignorant where it is not wilful. No less severe is the abhorrence of such as hate knowledge in the things of God, which of course is alone considered here. And what can be more sadly plain than to "choose not the fear of Jehovah"? It proves the enmity of the heart. Is He indifferent to man? It was only the vilest of the heathen who laid it down formally; but what was the general state of the Jews of old? What is that of professing Christendom in our own land and every other today?
Christ has shed better and perfect light, and the final revelation of God is fullness of grace and truth through Him. But what is the issue of slighting it and Him? It is more conspicuously true now than in Solomon's time that "they would none of my counsel, they despised all my reproof." When God came into the world in Christ's Person, they turned Him out of it. They hated Him without a cause. His grace only made Him more despicable in their eyes. His counsel irritated. His reproof was a laughingstock. What will the end be?
Jehovah is not mocked with impunity. "Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their way and be filled with their own devices." Sowing to the flesh must be reaping destruction. He does not execute judgment as yet; but it will come assuredly and soon - tribulation and anguish for man - indignation and wrath on His part who judges. It is easy to turn away from grace and truth, from righteousness at any time; but the backsliding of the simple will slay them, and the prosperity of the foolish shall lure them to perdition.
"Hear, and thy soul shall live." So said the prophet Isaiah, and it is blessedly true under the gospel. "He that heareth my word, and believeth him that sent me hath life eternal, and cometh not into judgment, but is passed from death unto life." So declared He who is the Truth, as He is the Way and the Life. Or, as it is written here, "Whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be at rest from fear of evil." Is it not a goodly shelter in a world of evil and danger? Christ is it now to every one that believes on Him, not only rest from evil but from the fear of it by grace.
Here the Holy Spirit turns from the sad end of impious indifference and contempt, to enter on a new part of His design. He shows how the moral wisdom and right understanding is to be obtained, which consists in the fear of Jehovah and the knowledge of God, at least by the submissive and docile heart.
"My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and lay up my commandments with thee; so that thou wilt incline thine ear to wisdom, and apply thy heart to understanding; yea if thou cry after discernment, [and] lift up thy voice for understanding, if thou seek her as silver and search for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou apprehend the fear of Jehovah, and find the knowledge of God. For Jehovah giveth wisdom; out of his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the upright, a shield to those that walk in integrity; guarding the paths of just judgment and keeping the way of his saints. Then thou shalt understand righteousness and judgment and equity - every good path." vv. 1-9.
As we are begotten of God's will by the word of truth, so to receive His words, and lay up His commandments with one, is the constant condition of blessing. We see in Luke 10 our Lord deciding for Mary the good part which should not be taken from her. In this Martha complained of her sister's indifference. For she herself was wrong in judging Mary's sitting at His feet and hearing His word. It is really to incline the ear to wisdom, and to apply the heart to understanding. Yet this is not all, for at the beginning of Luke 11 our Lord shows the need and the value of earnest prayer also. So here to cry after discernment, to lift up the voice for understanding, follows according to God the reception of His words. We are called to dependence and to confidence in thus importunately looking up; for every good gift and every perfect giving is from the Father of lights, as Solomon could attest, who thus sought and found wisdom.
Our age can testify the zeal with which men seek silver and gold and other hidden treasures, as Solomon's day of magnificence and noble designs of an earthly sort was famous for its success; for that enterprise was conducted by his skill beyond any other monarch. Now it is the mere vulgar thirst for lucre to spend on vanity and self-indulgence to a degree without parallel in the breadth of its diffusion. But now, as then, the toils are immense, the dangers continual, the sufferings extreme, the experience full of bitter trial and frequent disappointment, the moral atmosphere shameless. But the quest demands in any case constancy and endurance and undaunted resolution; and thence does the Holy Spirit draw the lesson where no disappointment can be. "If thou seek her [wisdom] as silver, and search for her as for hid treasures, then shalt thou apprehend the fear of Jehovah and find the knowledge of God." Jehovah is full of goodness and mercy. So here He "giveth wisdom," when the heart is thus in earnest. It is the reversal of man's dream of education. Man is proud of his own acquisitions. "Jehovah giveth wisdom; out of his mouth [not of man's mind or heart] come knowledge and understanding." Where are we to find what "His mouth" gives out, but in His Word?
Solomon failed to maintain the brightness of his beginning; and old age found him foolish about his wives, and faithless about the glory of Him who had given him all that made him what he was at first. Still less could Solomon guarantee wisdom for the son that succeeded to his throne; none acted less wisely than Rehoboam, and his humiliation was not small. But "Jehovah giveth wisdom," He only and surely, to such as wait on Him with purpose of heart and diligently search into and value the treasures of that Word which He has magnified above all His name.
It is plain throughout that not intellectual activity is in question, but what is spiritual and for moral ends practically. Hence in verse 7 it is said, "He layeth up sound wisdom for the upright; a buckler [he is] to those that walk in integrity." There is assured a supply of what is valued most, and guardian care for those whose eye and heart are toward His revealed will in their ways. But it is wholesome to notice that He guards the path of just judgment; that is, His own chosen way, And He also preserves the way of His saints or godly ones. He knows the way which pleases Him, and He shows it to His own, who desire nothing more than to see and follow it. Christ it is who brought this out habitually and in manifold forms. See John 1: 44; John 8: 12; John 12: 26; John 14: 6. It is as real today as when He presented it in following Himself. Indeed the disciples far better knew its blessedness when He went on high and the Spirit came to be in them, who abides for us to know it now. "Then thou shalt know righteousness and judgment and equity - every good path." We ought to know it even better and in higher ways than a godly Israelite could.
The preservative power of wisdom is next shown in guarding from moral perils, whether of iniquity or of corruption.
"For wisdom shall enter into thy heart and knowledge be pleasant unto thy soul, discretion shall watch over thee, understanding shall keep thee: - to deliver thee from the way of evil, from the man that speaketh froward things; [from those] who forsake the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness; who rejoice to do evil - delight in the frowardness of evil; who in their paths are crooked, and pervert in their course; - to deliver thee from the strange woman, from the stranger who flattereth with her words; who forsaketh the friend of her youth and forgetteth the covenant of her God. For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead; none that go unto her return again, nor attain unto the paths of life; - that thou mayest walk in the way of the good and keep the paths of the righteous. For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it. But the wicked shall be cut off from the land, and the treacherous shall be plucked out of it." vv. 10-22.
How admirable is the wisdom Jehovah gives the heart! and not less on the negative or dark side than on the positive, especially where the knowledge that accompanies it is pleasant to the soul. Discretion and discernment follow with vigilance against an evil world. Violence and greed are not the only dangers but the way of evil through deceitful speech. Silence is not always golden; but "the tongue of the just is choice silver" (Prov. 10: 20); or, as the New Testament exhorts, "Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt." How powerful is the soft and pure answer, not only to turn away wrath, but to check heat and pride and will! It is dangerous to hear froward things; it is wicked to speak them. How soon after this the paths of uprightness are forsaken to walk in the ways of darkness! - evil words allowed lead to a walk which God's light never illumines. How sad the descent in rejoicing to do evil! - delighting in the frowardness, or deceits of evil! It is to glory in the worst shame - how crooked in their paths and perverse in their course! Truly their judgment is just.
But the discretion that flows from wisdom is no less efficacious to guard from "the strange woman" (v. 16) and her flattering words, where lust reigns, not love, and selfish passion, not true affection and tender regard. Debauchery is all that could be expected from her that forsakes the guide of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God.
We do not hear the glad tidings of grace in this Book. There is no gospel call throughout. It addresses those who are under the law and the covenant, whoever else may profit by it. It is very excellent for any man that has ears, and those who know most of grace and heavenly privilege will most prize it; its voice direct is to the ancient people of God, to Israel. For them all flows simply and easily. There is no strain of a single sentence or word, no need of accommodation, no lending it a sense which it does not truly contain or convey. In it therefore, "Jehovah" appears regularly, and "Elohim" rarely used has its exceptional force.
By the way, remark how the notion of various writers here or anywhere indicated by such designations is the shallowest of dreams. It may afford pleasant pastime to men who, not knowing God (or, at least, beguiled and blinded by such), find in its cultivation a field for imagination and ingenuity without truth, conscience, or love, a mere linguistic or intellectual tour de force whetted by the keen will to damage and deface every landmark of divine authority.
It is evident that corruption, especially when it takes the form of the violation of a holy relationship, is as hateful to God as it is destructive to man. See how Babylon and its counterpart is spoken of and dealt with in the Revelation. So here it is said that "her house inclineth unto death, and her path unto the dead." This, Israel as a people had to prove before Christendom existed to follow the fatal wake. It is no less true of individuals. "None that go unto her [the corrupting woman] return again, nor attain unto the paths of life."
Wisdom then from Jehovah it is that insures discretion to walk in the way of the good and to keep the paths of the righteous. So were led the faithful of old; but how much brighter is the light of life in following Him whose ways and words here below we know from God as of none else! Yet was Jehovah's word, before He shone in this world of darkness, a lamp to their feet and a light to their path. And the day hastens when it will be made manifest to every eye that "the upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it." What was plainly attested in the days of David and Solomon is but a witness to the full display of this truth in the coming kingdom, when "the wicked shall be cut off from the land, and the treacherous shall be plucked out of it."
The opening chapters set out moral wisdom in the fear of Jehovah as the true and sure preservative in a world of self-will and its evils of violence and corruption. Redemption is not introduced any more than a new nature, but the duty primarily for the Israelite of subjection to divine instruction, with the consequent establishment in the land when the wicked perish out of it.
In verses 1-4 there is still more ample exhortation as well as admonition, that the discipline might issue in the happiest and most fruitful results.
"My son, forget not my teaching, but let thy heart keep my commandments: for length of days and years of life and peace shall they add to thee. Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the tablet of thy heart; and thou shalt find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man." vv. 1-4.
We thus learn how far the Old Testament was from casting the people of God on the sentiments, emotions, or reasonings of their own hearts. It was but an imperfect, or at least partial, revelation. "For the law made nothing perfect." The first man was under process of trial; the Second had not yet appeared. There were dealings of God and testings of man; revelations from God, but not yet God revealed. For the Son of God had not come nor given us an understanding that we might know Him that is True.
Yet even in the days when faith waited for its Object and His work, and the best blessing then lay in promise, the heart was formed by the positive teaching afforded, and trained in the observance of commandments which came from God. They might come through a parent; and such no doubt was the due order in Israel, as it has been marked from their father Abraham, as Jehovah deigned to express His pleasure in his commanding his children and his household, that they might keep the way of Jehovah, to do justice and judgment. But what gave divine value was that it was His teaching, and that the commandments enjoined were His. This alone sanctifies - obeying God, obeying His Word, the effect and proof of love, when any are in relationship with God. Nor do we forget but remember what we love and value.
So the Lord puts it in His matchless way to His disciples. "He that hath My commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me; and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself unto him." John 14: 21. What a contrast with dark superstition, forbidden to have His commandments through fear of making an ill use of them, and shut up to a sinful director, and to its tradition nobody knows whence, both human and precarious at best! What a contrast with the yet darker sin, which denies the authority of God to every scripture, and thereby would deprive His words of spirit and life!
Even a Jew was not so bereft of blessing. He was called not to forget what he had been taught, and his heart to observe commandments which were Jehovah's only through Moses or any other that communicated them. What a blessed picture Luke 2 sets before us of the Lord, thus obedient in the early days of His sojourn, subject to Joseph and Mary in Nazareth, yet conscious of a higher relationship and so occupied with His Father's things! And blessed were the fruits. Even then truly, as He said afterward, He kept His Father's commandments and abode in His love. So here it is written for the obedient Israelites, "length of days, and long life, and peace shall they add to thee."
But this is far from all. As we know that "grace and truth came by Jesus Christ," the Israelite was exhorted to cherish confidence in mercy, or loving-kindness, and truth. Let them "not forsake thee," is the word. He was entitled to believe and count on them habitually and evermore. "Bind them about thy neck, write them upon the tablet of thy heart." What ornament can compare with them? What inward lesson so cheering and invigorating! "And thou shalt find favour and good understanding [if this last be the shade of sense here meant] in the sight of God and man."
So we see in our perfect pattern. Our Lord assuredly found in His unequalled path of subjection "favour" with God and man, as we are told. Whether the word often rendered "good understanding" is not modified here, as sometimes elsewhere, may be questioned. But as it stands, it was a good and welcome stamp of divine approval through devotedness to God's will, without either self-seeking or men-pleasing. Happy, when as here, it comes as the answer without as well as on high, to grace and truth written on the heart! Now too one word, Christ, expresses all; and the Spirit of the living God is given to us who believe, that He may be written truly and deeply on those tablets of flesh, our hearts. How rich the grace wherein we stand! For we all, contemplating with unveiled face the glory of the Lord, are being changed into the same image from glory to glory as by the Lord the Spirit.
Confidence in God, and in the relationship He forms for us with Him, is the fruit of faith. It is the next call here, and it is found ever the sure answer of His grace. It ought to be still more easy for the Christian, seeing that how many soever be the promises of God, in Christ is the Yea; wherefore also through Him is the Amen unto the glory of God through us. This is just as it should be for the saints passing through a wilderness world. If all were fulfilled in us, the changed state of glorification would be incompatible with the needed trial. But that they are fulfilled in Him, that in Him is the Yea, is the ground of peace and joy and comfort; and victory for us is exactly what the God of all grace meant that we should have in the fullest measure by the Holy Ghost given to us. For we have in Christ's redemption the remission of our sins, and only await His coming for adoption, the redemption of our bodies, having already the Spirit of the Son sent into our hearts crying, Abba, Father. What a power of deliverance from leaning upon our own understanding!
"Trust in Jehovah with all thy heart, and lean not unto thine own discernment; in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall make straight thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes; fear Jehovah, and depart from evil; it shall be health for thy navel, and moisture for thy bones." vv. 5-8.
Worthily does the chapter open with the call to trust in Jehovah. As He, He only, is God, so was He the God of the fathers, the God of Israel. How blessed for the Israelite that he had Him to trust in! that He even demanded his trust! He was in no way exhorted to trust himself. He was but a creature whose breath is in his nostrils; what is he to be accounted of? It was wise to have done with man to lean on, wiser still to trust in Jehovah. Yes, He was and is the eternal God, merciful, gracious, slow to wrath, great in goodness and truth, keeping His goodness to thousands of generations, pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin, yet holding no guilty one as innocent, but visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the sons and on the sons of sons, on the third and on the fourth generation. Not that this is His language to the Christian or the Church, but just His declaration of Himself to Moses the mediator for Israel, that they should know His governing character and principles.
Yes, it was good and right to trust in Jehovah with all the heart, and to lean not on one's own discernment, as the tempter always advises to ruin, sorrow, and shame. This is the divine counsel for the heart. But the Israelite needed also to "acknowledge Him" in all his ways. And the heart if loyal would prompt to honour Him thus. For practical inconsistency is a burden to the upright; and it is due to Jehovah to own Him where He is apt to be ignored or forgotten in each detail of walk, and in them all. Nor was it even without present fruit, for He could not be unmindful, who never slumbers or sleeps. "And He shall make straight thy paths." He is Lord of all, no less than He is the Eternal, and concerns Himself with every obstacle and difficulty for such as would walk unswervingly according to His will.
The great danger for all, though for some of thought and experience more than others, is to seek counsel from within. Yet experience should have taught the reflecting a less flattering tale. All Scripture re-echoes what is here written, "Be not wise in thine own eyes." The bait of Satan was to become so, and man has ever coveted it. How blessed when we learn our folly and find an incomparably better wisdom open to us! Certainly to the Christian, to them that are called both Jews and Greeks, the crucified Christ preached to us is God's power and God's wisdom. What they counted foolishness is wiser than men; and what looked the extremity of weakness is stronger than men. Of God are we in Christ Jesus, who from God was made to us wisdom and all things. Well may we glory in Him.
But there is a word for conscience as well as heart, and none the less now, but more when, having been purged once for all, we have no more conscience of sins. "Fear Jehovah, and depart from evil." Was there ever true fear of Him without pardon? Certainly Psalm 130: 4 makes clear that there is pardon with Him that He may be feared. Without it, what can the fear be but servile and tainted? This nerves the soul to "depart from evil." We hate it, because He hates it; and such doubtless it is in itself, intrinsically evil. We turn away from what the serpent commands, trembling at His word. A son honours his father, a servant his master. His honour, His fear, are no longer light things to us. And the effect is wholesome and blessed. "It shall be health for thy navel, and moisture for thy bones." The boast of altruism might perhaps in a way suit an angel, not a sinner nor a saint. We need to be blessed that we may be a blessing to others; we need and have God in Christ the Lord and Saviour. We love Him because He first loved us. Is it a wonder that all then goes on well? How sad when it is not so!
Read Job 1: 1-8; Job 2: 3 and think what pleasure God takes in him that fears Himself and abstains from evil. He knew all the while the weak point and danger for Job; but Satan failed to reach it by his hostile measures. Jehovah did through Job's friends, though they were beyond comparison more faulty than Job, and indebted to his intercession to shield them from His dealing according to their folly, wise as they had thought themselves.
Prosperity and chastening are treated, each in the next pair of verses respectively. Let us hear the wise king, inspired now with the best wisdom for man on earth, and first in view of earthly blessing on the due recognition of the living God.
"Honour Jehovah with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase; so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy vats shall overflow with new wine." vv. 9, 10.
Jehovah is precisely that designation of God which He gave to Israel that they might learn His ways and bear witness to Him in His earthly government. Things are sadly changed now, for His people played Him false, went after strange gods, and rejected His Anointed. But He abides the same, and will arise and have mercy on Zion; and when He does, the nations shall fear His name, and all the kings of the earth His glory. But when things looked fair, and Judah and Israel were many, and the king made silver to be in Jerusalem as stones; and cedars as sycamores for abundance, this was the word: "honour Jehovah with thy substance, and with the first-fruits of thine increase." It is always morally true, though then when the reality of direct divine judgment was being shown, the result was unfailing: "so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy vats shall overflow with new wine." The rejection of Christ brought in the revelation of heavenly hopes for believers, and sufferings, persecutions, etc., with better spiritual blessings even while they were here. The text speaks of normal results for the earth, and Israel on it.
But, man being as he is, there is another side, which brings out divine goodness yet more strikingly. "His eyes behold, his eyelids try the children of men." Still more closely bearing on us, we read that "the eyes of Jehovah are upon the righteous, and his ears are toward their cry. The face of Jehovah is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth"; as on the other hand, "Jehovah is nigh to those that are of a broken heart and saveth those that be of a contrite spirit." Hence the need and the blessing of His ways with our ways.
"My son, despise not the instruction of Jehovah, neither be weary of his chastisement; for whom Jehovah loveth he chasteneth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth." vv. 11, 12.
There is, as always, another and more intimate kind of divine government, and this wholly independent of the public state of things. It was true when Solomon reigned and wrote; it is only more fully disclosed and deeply known under the gospel. There is ever a government of souls, and here it is stated with all simplicity. How affectionate the call! "My son, despise not the instruction of Jehovah, neither be weary of his chastisement." For these are the snares of the enemy - either to make light of His training on the one hand, or on the other to sink under His reproof, as if He dealt hardly with us.
The epistle to the Hebrews (Heb. 12: 5, 6) appropriates this ancient order, and applies it to the Christian now, pointing out the love which acts unfailingly when we fail, as we too often do. Nor is the blessed object less which the Father of spirits has toward us; for it yields peaceable fruit in those thus exercised, though for the present it seems not joyous but grievous. There is therefore no ground in it for despondency, but the best reason for the lame that they be not turned out of the way, but rather be healed.
The first epistle of Peter (1 Peter 1: 15-17) is no less plain. "As he who called you is holy, be ye also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Be ye holy, for I am holy. And if ye call on him as Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to the work of each, pass the time of your sojourn in fear." It is now that the Father judges His children in the love that will make us hate our every inconsistency; for His grace has through Christ and His work exempted us from that future judgment which is appointed for all that believe not, and walk in evil and darkness (John 5: 23-28).
Even more explicit is the word in 1 Corinthians 11: 29-32. The Apostle explains that in the sickness and death that fell on not a few saints at Corinth, the Lord was judging those who did not discern or discriminate themselves, but walked carelessly, even as to the Lord's supper. But when thus judged now, "we are chastened [or, disciplined] of the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world." It is a present moral dealing which might go as far as cutting off; but even so, it was His chastisement in love, that the saints should not share the world's condemnation, as all unbelievers must.
The reason given in our text and cited in the New Testament bears out fully the love from which present chastening flows. "For whom Jehovah loveth he chasteneth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth." It is not always however because of evil done; His chastening may be to guard us from evil. It may be preventive, as well as corrective. Shall we not, as children confiding in Him, accept it with thanksgiving? We have the distinct proof of His love. Let us never doubt, but believe and bow.
But chastening or discipline is far from all, proof though it be of Jehovah's love. There is positive blessing to reap, and of a high order.
"Blessed [is] the man [that] findeth wisdom, and the man [that] getteth understanding. For the gain thereof [is] better than the gain of silver, and her revenue than fine gold. She [is] more precious than rubies, and all the things thou canst desire are not equal to her. Length of days [is] in her right hand, in her left hand riches and honour. Her ways [are] ways of pleasantness, and all her paths [are] peace. She [is] a tree of life to them that lay hold on her; and blessed [is] he that retaineth her. Jehovah by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths were broken up, and the skies drop down the dew." vv. 13-20.
It is God, we are told in a later revelation, that gives liberally to all, and without reproach. Yet He will be asked for it; not that any one adds to Him, or that He is beholden to man's hand. But He cannot deny Himself; and this it would be, if one found wisdom or got understanding elsewhere. The blessing comes through dependence on Him. Who of mankind knew this better than Solomon himself? Did not God say to him, "Because thou hast asked this thing, and hast not asked for thyself long life; neither hast asked riches for thyself, nor hast asked the life of thine enemies, but hast asked for thyself understanding to discern judgment; behold, I have done according to thy word." Nor is there another means; and "blessed" indeed is he that proves afresh that God is true and faithful, as He ever is. Even the beloved Son, when He in grace deigned to become man, even Jesus, so walked here below from tender years, and increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man. He received all as man from His Father.
If it was so with the Jew before Jehovah, is the blessedness less now that the Son of God is come, and has given us an understanding to know Him that is true? Is He less accessible, or less gracious, now that He is revealed as Christ's Father and our Father, His God and our God? Has He not abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence, and this of the highest character and largest hope, in accordance with our calling and inheritance? And if for the greatest things, does this kind of blessing fail for the least things day by day? How true that the gain thereof is better than the gain of silver, and the revenue than fine gold. Surely we can say that the wisdom that comes down from above is more precious than rubies, and that all the things one can desire are not equal to the rich boon of divine favour.
Willingly do we bow to Jehovah's promise of wisdom to the Israelite, of "length of days" to be in her right hand, and of "riches and honour" in her left hand. He that died and rose again has brought us deeper grace and shown us a yet more excellent way; so that what things were gain, one has in one's measure counted loss for Christ, and it may be, as it surely ought to be, to count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus the Lord - to count them dung that one may win Him and be found in Him in that heavenly glory where He is, renouncing all righteousness save what is through the faith of Him, the righteousness which is of God by faith. This is indeed Christian privilege - that we may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable to His death, if by any means, no matter how trying the way, one might attain unto the resurrection from among the dead, as Paul knew pre-eminently.
Not only is such experimental wisdom as the Apostle expresses in Philippians alien to all that flesh and blood values, but it rises unspeakably higher than all that was or could be revealed of old, as for instance in the Proverbs, or even the Psalms. It awaited the presence of the Son of God, the work of redemption, and the sending down of the Holy Spirit from the glorified Head. The wisdom and the understanding, of which this book treats, remain ever for man on the earth; and Jehovah will doubtless thus bless His people looking to Him for these good gifts in the day of power and glory; for the word He has spoken cannot fail, but shall stand everlastingly. But man's evil, and the Jews' in particular, has given occasion for God to bring "some better thing" in every way. Of this we see the basis and substance and exemplar in Christ crucified, risen, and set in the highest glory, quite above all Old Testament expectations. And we know that "the wisdom of God in a mystery" is not confined to His heavenly and universal exaltation, but in God's sovereign purpose embraces us too who have believed in Him since the cross. It is the hidden wisdom, as the Apostle adds (1 Cor. 2: 7), which God ordained before the world unto our glory; but a glory which now calls for, not length of days on earth, or riches or honour, but fellowship with Christ's sufferings, "always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." It is just Christianity in contrast with all before, and its hope for the heavens in the day when the earth also shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters cover the sea.
Still, whether the wisdom be of the general kind for the earth, or of that higher and heavenly kind which we now know in Christ, we can truly say that "her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." When our Lord tasted rejection, and sufferings, the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief beyond all, nonetheless was it His to say, "The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage"! It is ours thus to follow Him, living on account of Him, as He on account of the Father; but it can only be by making Him our constant food (John 6: 57). So here wisdom is said to be "a tree of life to them that lay hold on her; and blessed is he that retaineth her." How much more can we boast of what He is to our souls by faith! The oracle before us can add, "Jehovah by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens; by his knowledge the depths were broken up, and the skies drop down the dew" - blessed witness of His multifarious wisdom and unlimited understanding, as His knowledge directed the devastation of the deluge, and orders the kindly refreshings of a peaceful night. The one word, Christ, recalls to us heights and depths more wondrous far.
If Jehovah manifested wisdom, understanding, and knowledge in creation, and in its least things as well as the greatest, how vain in all to forego the quest, or the means open to them from on high!
"My son, let them not depart from thine eyes; keep true counsel and discretion: so shall they be life to thy soul, and grace to thy neck. Then shalt thou walk in thy way securely, and thy foot shall not stumble. When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid, but thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet. Be not afraid of sudden fear, nor of the desolation of the wicked when it cometh; for Jehovah shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken." vv. 21-26.
Change is a snare to the young especially; hence Jehovah's wise ways were no more to depart from their eyes than they were to be wise in their own eyes; life inwardly, honour outwardly, would follow; the walk would be secure, the foot stumble not. Nor would the night bring fear, but sweet sleep. Nor would alarm surprise when the storm falls on the wicked, for Jehovah is the confidence against all snares and terrors.
"Withhold not good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thy hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go and come again, and tomorrow I will give, when thou hast it by thee. Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee. Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm. Envy not the man of violence, and choose none of his ways. For the perverse [is] an abomination to Jehovah; but his secret [is] with the upright. The curse of Jehovah [is] in the house of the wicked; but he blesseth the habitation of the righteous. He indeed scorneth the scorners; but he giveth grace to the lowly. The wise shall inherit glory; but shame shall be the promotion of fools." vv. 27- 35.
The heart is deceitful as well as suspicious in a world of evil. Hence the importance of the simplehearted integrity which confiding in Him gives. He that gives (exhorted the Apostle) in simplicity, which is liberality. The lack of looking to Jehovah brings crookedness in dealing with man; the bowels of compassion are closed. The same lack may be even mischievous, and quarrelsome, instead of, if possible, as far as depends on us, living peaceably with all. And why envy the violent man, or choose any of his short-cuts? All these ways are turned aside from God's will, which alone is good, acceptable, perfect, and which alone makes happy him who learns it in Christ. The perverse is an abomination to Jehovah, as His secret is with the upright. "Shall I hide from Abraham the thing that I do?" So His curse is not only on the person, but on the house of the wicked, as He blesses the habitation of the righteous. Neither wealth can avert the one, nor poverty prevent the other.
Yet there is an evil even lower, and never did it abound so much as now in these closing days. Scorn or mocking is prevalent, and self reigns unblushingly in contempt of all that is good and noble and generous, as well as holy and true. But "He indeed scorneth the scorners," as surely as "He giveth grace to the lowly." The wise shall understand, as Daniel assures; but, further, "the wise shall inherit glory," whereas "shame shall be the promotion of the foolish," whatever the deception of present appearances or of such as trust them. "Judge not according to sight [said the Lord], but judge righteous judgment."
Much depends on the way in which instruction is given. We see its perfection in the great Teacher as depicted opening His mission in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4: 16-22). There He had been brought up, and there He read a prophecy which beyond doubt applied to Him alone, as soon appeared; and all bore Him witness and wondered at the words of grace which proceeded out of His mouth. Alas! they clashed with the will of man, and roused implacable anger, which showed itself even then murderously. But wisdom is justified of her children, whatever self-will may do or say. Let us then pursue the scripture before us.
"Hear, ye sons, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding; for I give you good doctrine: forsake ye not my law. For I was a son to my father, tender and an only one in the sight of my mother. And he taught me and said to me, Let thy heart retain my words; keep my commandments and live. Get wisdom, get understanding; forget not neither decline from the words of my mouth. Forsake her not, and she shall keep thee; love her, and she shall preserve thee. The beginning of wisdom [is], Get wisdom; and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee; she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her. She shall give to thy head a garland of grace, a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee." vv. 1-9.
The form chosen is that of a father, not of a legislator. It is not therefore even a catechism of the "ten words," but parental instruction; and attention is called in order to intelligence or discernment. The same Spirit who took His part in creation, who gave skill for the glory of Jehovah, who wrought in all that was good and great and holy, would here engage the young heart to hear. For He assuredly has good doctrine to give, and would guard against forsaking His law or teaching. The instrument employed can speak of the loving care bestowed on his own early days, when he was "a son to his father, tender and only beloved in the sight of his mother." The affections are thus recalled to awaken the new duties. It was not only that the teacher had himself been taught, but that he did so appealed touchingly. "Let thy heart retain my words; keep my commandments and live."
It is not language or letters or science, but that education of which the fear of Jehovah is the foundation. It supposes neither a state of innocence, such as once was, nor a prohibitory test when fallen man thought himself quite able to do all that Jehovah spoke against the evil he was prone to. Mercy, divine mercy, deigned to supply what neither the individual nor the race possessed. It is true that man has a conscience; he knows good and evil, but only as a sinful creature, not doing the good that he would, but doing the evil that he would not - a truly miserable state, from which redemption alone furnishes an adequate deliverance in the power of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
This deliverance, we all recognize, is not the subject handled here, but the instruction that is addressed to subject hearts, like the rest of the Old Testament, within the ancient people of God. But now it is for the Christian to profit by it to the uttermost, for "all things are ours." The Book does not give the exalted Head nor the heavenly glory we are to share with Him as members of His body, nor the duties which flow from that relationship; but it does reveal divine wisdom for a saint here below, first in general moral principles (Proverbs 1-9), then in the greatest affluence of details to Proverbs 29, with a fitting close in Proverbs 30 and 31.
Thus the exhortation is, "Get wisdom, get understanding; forget not, neither decline from the words of my mouth." Obedience, heart obedience, is sought. Could Jehovah be content with anything short of it? Could one of His people desire otherwise? Undoubtedly self-will is the great and constant hindrance; and the enemy would excite it, and shut out God by the objects without and the passions within. All the deeper is the need of instruction, and in the varied way just indicated, which divine goodness here supplies. Here we have a father's authority urged, and the responsibility of sons claimed. This was always true for man here below, as the law long after recognized; and it holds good now that we are no longer under guidance as children.
They were not to forsake wisdom, which has preservative power to "love her, and she shall keep thee." The beginning of wisdom, as we are forcibly told, is to "get wisdom, and with all thy getting get understanding." Those who are of God pass through a world of evil and need wisdom from above to keep them; for it is a wilderness where is no way, save that which grace provides for faith. Suffering there will be for Christ's sake as well as for righteousness: but "exalt her [not self], and she shall promote thee; she shall bring thee to honour when thou dost embrace her, and she shall give to thy head a garland of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee." How sure will all this be in due time! David in his earlier days was a fine example. He went at his father's bidding in no pride or naughtiness of heart; and as he exalted wisdom in the fear of Jehovah, so was he promoted, and, embracing her, was brought to honour. He behaved himself wisely, so that his enemy was compelled to own him blessed - that he should both do great things and still prevail. Yet was he tried beyond most.
The way of wisdom is next contrasted with that of the wicked; and here the exhortation is individualized.
"Hear, my son, and receive my sayings, and the years of thy life shall be multiplied. I will teach thee in the way of wisdom; I will lead thee in the paths of uprightness. When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble. Take fast hold of instruction, let her not go; keep her, for she is thy life. Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not into the way of evil [men]; avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away. For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause [some] to fall. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. But the path of the righteous is as the shining light going on and brightening to the perfect day. The way of the wicked [is I as darkness: they know not at what they stumble." vv. 10-19.
It is not by the sight of the eyes nor by the activity of the mind, nor even by the cultivation of the affections, that the wisdom here commended comes. "Hear, and thy soul shall live," said Isaiah; and so the Apostle, "Faith [cometh] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." No doubt the coming of the Son of God brought this truth and every other into an evidence before unknown. But the principle ever applied. Whoever obtained a good report, obtained it by faith; and faith rests on God's Word, as Christ is the main Object of it all, however much be corrective or disciplinary. Hence the word here is, "Hear, my son, and receive my sayings, and the years of thy life shall be multiplied." Nor is there uncertainty when Jehovah furnishes the means. "I will teach thee in the way of wisdom, I will lead thee in the paths of uprightness." The happy result is assured to such as believe that it is from Him, and doubt not His interest in His people and their blessing. "When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble." Nevertheless, earnestness of purpose is called for, and fidelity of heart. "Take fast hold of instruction, let her not go; keep her, for she is thy life."
Only we have to add that now the door of mercy is opened to those who have weighed money for that which is not bread. and earnings for that which satisfieth not - yea, have been children of folly, and have wallowed in sin. Grace can meet the deepest need, and Christ brings to God the most dark and distant. See wisdom in Luke 7, justified of all her children, eminently in one who might have been deemed hopelessly corrupt. But is anything too hard for the Lord? He assuredly and openly vindicated the persistent soul who hid herself behind His love that owned hers coming by faith. Indeed it was faith which produced that love, and saved her, as He bade her go in peace, which His blood would make unfailing and unbreakable, all in due time.
But we have the opposite way not less clearly for warning - the way where one turns off from God and wanders anywhere else. "Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not into the way of evil [men]; avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away." How urgent and importunate the voice of divine goodness and love! And it is none too loud, but most requisite; for the calls, and ties, and snares are many and manifold. But the word is unmistakably plain and pointed. And what a picture follows, of the zeal on the side of evil! "For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause [some] to fall. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence." It is their life, nourishment, and joy, if joy it can be called, to mislead, injure, and destroy. But on the other hand, "the path of the righteous is as the shining light going on and brightening to the perfect day." How we can bless God that Christ is this way; and there is but One in, but not of, this world; for He is the true light. "But the way of the wicked is as darkness," and this so profound, and they so blind, that "they know not at what they stumble." Grace alone calls and keeps by faith.
The 4th chapter concludes with a renewed call to heed a father's words clothed with the authority of Jehovah.
"My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear to my sayings. Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thy heart. For they are life to those that find them, and health to all their flesh. Keep thy heart more than all thou guardest; for out of it are the issues of life. Put away from thee perverseness of mouth, and corruption of lips put far from thee. Let thine eyes look right on, and thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and be all thy ways well ordered. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left; remove thy foot from evil." vv. 20-27.
As parental affection in the fear of Him who deigns to teach young no less than old would bring lessons of wisdom before the child, the listening ear, the attentive mind, cannot be dispensed with. Personal respect, however due, is not enough; the ears, the eyes, and above all, the heart, have their part to do. Such training is to be kept "in the midst" of the heart. What else is to be compared with what has Christ for its source, character, object, and aim? "In him was life, and the life was the light of men." No wonder then that it can be added, "for they are life to those that find them and health to all their flesh"; or, as the Apostle says to his genuine son Timothy, "godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. Faithful is the saying and worthy of all acceptation." No doubt too Christianity has given immense accession to the truth by the coming of the Son of God. For "without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: he who was manifested in flesh, was justified in spirit, was seen of angels, was preached among Gentiles, was believed on in the world, was received up in glory." Yes, the secret of piety is in Him thus known as He is; and all else is but a fair show in the flesh, which flickers for a moment before it is extinguished forever.
Hence the call to "keep thy heart more than all thou guardest." The utmost vigilance is needed and due; "for out of it are the issues of life." Scripture ever and truly views the heart as the moral centre on which all outward conduct and walk depend. Hence the Lord in Luke 8 speaks of those who in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience; as in John 15 He said, "If ye abide in me. and my words abide in you. Ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done to you." This indeed is piety: to abide in Him who is life and salvation and peace, to have His words, yea not only obeyed but constantly cherished, with prayers going up and answers coming down accordingly. No wonder then that His Father is glorified, much fruit borne, and the Lord Jesus not ashamed to own such as His disciples.
But there is meanwhile evil still allowed to go on around; and what is so trying, it is in our nature, the old man. That it was crucified with Christ in order that the body of sin might be annulled, so that we might no longer be slaves to sin, is our blessed knowledge by faith. This is no real reason that we should deny the existence of that evil thing in us but the best and most powerful ground why sin should not "reign" in our mortal body. For we are not under law but under grace. Hence, though this knowledge could not then be possessed, yet then as now the word is, "Put away from thee perverseness of mouth, and corruption of lips put far from thee." The Epistle of James is the plain proof of the importance attached to this, and yet more pressed, if possible, than of old; but how deplorable the unbelief that stood in doubt of its inspired authority and exceeding value in its own sphere! Nor did the Lord Himself slight the same need and danger when He taught - nor the great Apostle of the uncircumcision any more than those of the circumcision.
There is another call quite as urgent. "Let thine eyes look right on, and thine eyelids look straight before thee." Christ ever was the object of faith, and He is now revealed as the way, no less than the truth and the life. But, morally speaking, the eye is of great moment, the state of our spiritual vision. As Christ gives us eyes who were born blind, so only He makes and keeps our vision clear. "The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when it is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness" (Luke 11: 34, 35). Let us not forget the searching word. Christ guides safely but by the single eye.
Nor are we left without direction in detail. "Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be well-ordered." Negligence is no more of faith than haste; and we slip in both ways through lack of dependence and attention to the Word of God.
The path of Christ is narrow, but direct through this world to Himself in glory. The saints were ever called to walk with God before their eyes; and His will is now declared thus to honour the Son. Hence, "Turn not to the right hand, nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil." For evil lies on both sides.
The call of the son is to attend to "my wisdom," before "a strange woman" is depicted vividly. Corruption demands and receives a yet deeper guard than violence.
"My son, attend to my wisdom, incline thine ear to mine understanding, that thou mayest keep reflection, and thy lips may preserve knowledge. For the lips of a strange woman drop honey, and her mouth [is] smoother than oil: but her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on Sheol. Lest she should ponder the path of life, her ways are unstable, she knoweth [it] not. And now, children, hearken to me, and depart not from the words of my mouth. Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house; lest thou give thine honour to others, and thy years to the cruel; lest strangers be filled with thy wealth, and thy labours [go] to the house of an alien; and thou mourn in thine end, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed; and thou say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; and I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to those that instructed me! I was well nigh in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly." vv. 1-14.
Evil men were bad, a strange woman worse still. A higher wisdom is used, and an exercised understanding, that there may be discretion and knowledge so to apply the principle on the largest scale. The beast is lawless and shall perish utterly; but Babylon is even more loathsome, as to the Lord, so to all who seek His mind. There is nothing in nature so lovely as affection; but how ruinous and defiling, where the fear of God does not guide it! He it is that puts and keeps us in our relationships which are the ground of our duties. But a strange woman is such because she ignores and forsakes them, and seeks to entice others. Fair words of flattery may be the beginning, sweet to the flesh; but her end is bitterness extreme, and frequently deep wounds. Nor is it loss of present happiness only, but the end of those things is death; and after death comes the judgment. Satan employs her to hinder all reflection, and to shut out all light from above. The strange woman abuses the quick perception of her sex to baffle moral discernment by such changes as none else can know. Thus will works without check, and conscience is more and more numbed by self-indulgence.
And what is the counsel here given? Prompt and thorough steering clear. "And now, children, hearken to me, and depart not from the words of my mouth. Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house." So must every one act who would preserve moral purity. The path of life is far from her and her house. Christ alone gives life eternal and guides it; His word is for one in such a world as this, Follow Me. Is the warning not heeded? More follows to lay bare the paths of death. For there is a righteous government, whatever the complication in this life. Selfishness reaps its sad recompense. None can yield to it with impunity. Beware then of self-indulgence, "lest thou give thine honour to others, and thy years to the cruel; lest strangers be filled with thy wealth, and thy labours go to the house of an alien; and thou mourn in thine end, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed; and thou say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; and I have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to those that instructed me! I was well nigh in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly." Bitter self-reproach is the end of the honey and oil which captivated at the beginning; and no wonder, after a career of sin and shame. It is a retrospect of guilty self-pleasing, the headiness that valued no authority, yielding neither respect nor obedience. "What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death." Nor is it the least painful reflection that all the evil committed was "in the midst of the congregation and assembly." This was no doubt that of Israel wherein all then revealed was by Jehovah. There was hypocrisy therefore covering the sins. How much more is the similar wickedness, when and where the fullest light of God is enjoyed!
In contrast with the fleshly lusts which war against the soul, and even here have no result but shame, Jehovah set up the holy relations of marriage in the sinless paradise of Eden. What a safeguard for man when an outcast through his own sin! What folly and ungodliness the dream of a Plato, which would dispense with the reality of one's own wife, one's own husband, one's own children in his ideal republic! Certainly there was no wisdom, nor understanding, in such a scheme. It is vagrancy of the most debasing kind. How gracious of Him to warn and guard weak passionate man from his own ruinous will!
"Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well. Should thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of water in the broadways? Let them be only thine own, and not for strangers with thee. Let thy fountain be blessed; rejoice in the wife of thy youth. A lovely hind and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; with her love be ravished continually. And why shouldest thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger? For the ways of man are before Jehovah's eyes, and he pondereth all his paths. His own iniquities shall take the wicked, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sin. He shall die for lack of discipline; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray." vv. 15-23.
Two things become man that fears God. There is the outgoing of heart that loves his neighbour, or, as we Christians add, that loves our enemies in the spirit of the gospel. There is also the centring of the affections within the family. This last the father here would impress on his son. Here therefore the due place of the wife comes before us. It is the human relationship that survives from the beginning when sin was not; it is quite as essential now that the offence abounds. Wandering affections are selfish, carry their own shame, and have a permanent sting. As Jehovah instituted the sacred enclosure of the family round the parents, so He sanctions and enjoins warm affections in the head toward his counterpart. It is the most intimate bond of society at large as of the home circle. Heathenism, as we know, conceived its deities jealous of human happiness; it is easily understood; for as the Apostle tells us, they were but demons, fallen spiritual creatures that sought to drag the human race into their sin and misery, and to keep their victims from the love that delights in reconciling and saving them. There is but one that is good, even God; and He has now fully shown His best good, His grace, in His only-begotten Son for eternity as well as the life that now is. But even before divine love thus shone out, the unmistakable goodness of Jehovah appears in these home precepts. "Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well"; and all that follows is in keeping.
If verse 16 be rendered rightly in the Vatican Septuagint, it means, "Let not waters out of thy fountain be spilt by thee, but let thy waters go into the broadways." The Alexandrian text goes with the Vulgate and the Authorized English Bible in omitting the negatives, yielding the sense that the children will reflect the parents according to the atmosphere they all breathed. The R.V. prefers the form of query, rather confirming the concentration of the verse preceding, and not adding the dispersion abroad intimated in the ordinary versions. It may not be easy to decide, but the R.V. has the effect of greater homogeneity, and more naturally falls in with verse 17, "Let them be only thine own, and not for strangers with thee."
Then the passage becomes more narrowed to the partners of life. And very impressive it is that he who erred publicly in adding so many wives and concubines should be the one inspired to commend a single object of wedded love. "Let thy fountain be blessed; and rejoice in the wife of thy youth." The words supplied by translators to introduce verse 19 are not only uncalled for, but enfeebling to the sense. To be cheerful abroad and morose at home, is to be thankless and unholy. "Let marriage," exhorts the Apostle, "be honourable in all things." As the A.V. stands, the words read as a stamp of warrant. It is really a call to hold the tie in honour, and this in every respect; and the warning follows there in accordance with verse 20 here.
Nor are the verses that succeed (21-23) to be disconnected. It is wholesome to remember that Jehovah not only honours His own institution for man, but watches over every transgression against it. Very grave is the admonition on His part in verse 21, too surely descriptive is the sketch in 22, 23 of the sinful folly that goes astray in this. It has been pointed out that the word "shall go astray" is the same word translated "ravished" in a good sense in verse 19 and in a bad sense in verse 20. This last prepares for what verse 23 requires, especially when we compare it with Proverbs 26: 11, "a fool repeateth his folly." It is a departure, ever going on from bad to worse.
From these grave moral dangers we are next directed to matters of a very different complexion. But if on the surface they seem much less serious, their consequences are often ruinous. How gracious of Jehovah to take notice of things which might seem beneath Him! Is it not due to His deep interest in His people?
"My son, if thou art become surety for thy neighbour (or friend), - hast thou stricken thy hand for a stranger, thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth. Do this now, my son, and deliver thyself since thou art come into the hand of thy neighbour; go, humble thyself, and importune thy neighbour. Give not sleep to thine eyes nor slumber to thine eyelids; deliver thyself from the [hunter's] hand, and as a bird from the fowler's hand.
"Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: which having no chief, overseer, or ruler, provideth her bread in the summer, [and] gathereth her food in the harvest. How long, sluggard, wilt thou lie down? When wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to lie down! So shall thy poverty come as a rover, and thy want as an armed man." vv. 1-11.
It was the more notable that Jehovah should counsel His own, who might feel embarrassed by His command to love the neighbour as oneself. Instead of leaving it to human judgment or its conflict with amiable sentiment, He warns of the dangerous consequence in yielding to impulse. If the unwise step has been taken, it is right to acknowledge it, and wrong to break the words which have passed though to hurt. What then is becoming? "Go, humble thyself, and importune thy neighbour." This is painful, but wholesome. Jehovah will not fail to bless subjection to His word, and make a way of escape for both, though each may have to suffer for his own measure of fault in the transaction.
Does this word then absolutely prohibit such an act of kindness? It assuredly admonishes against the inconsiderate rashness which enters into such an engagement too often. If you are prepared before God to lose all that is at stake, and believe it His will, you are free. But apart even from the claims of nearer relationship, are you not a steward? Are you sure that the undertaking will bear the light? Is it for speculation? But supposing that your words have been spoken, and you wake up to see your folly, do not yield to pride or obstinacy, "deliver thyself"; and this, not by scolding your neighbour, but by confessing the simple truth of your own heedlessness. "Give not sleep to thine eyes nor slumber to thine eyelids" till this is done; He who thus directs can give efficacy to His word, which is as wise as ours may be foolish.
In full contrast with the earnestness enjoined here is the indolent folly which is next portrayed vividly. The sluggard is sunk so low, that Jehovah bids him learn of the tiny "ant" as his sufficient monitor; so the lilies of the field are made in the New Testament to rebuke anxiety for raiment. Not a word is said of hoarding store for winter, as in fact like many animals they are then torpid for the most part. But their unceasing industry and good order and even care for others in the summer and harvest while activity is open to them, may well put to shame the self-indulgent slumberer. If moral weakness in its easygoing has exposed its prey to the hunter and the fowler, so on the listless and lazy, poverty comes like a tramp or an armed man that will not be denied. What goodness on Jehovah's part to guard His people from both snares along their earthly pathway! How salutary for such as are called to higher things!
The Septuagint adds without warrant a lesson from the bee in verse 8, and gives a quite different turn to verse 11, making it a promise rather than a threat. One need not say that, however such words got into this Greek version, they are without warrant in the Hebrew. The Latin Vulgate follows the latter, not the former.
Unworthy as slothfulness is, bad and unwise for one to be idle, it is far worse to be active in evil, for this works mischief to others without end. The Holy Spirit first draws a portrait of the dangerous man in verses 12 to 15, and then presents the evils impersonally, save at the close, which are emphatically hateful to Jehovah in verses 16 to 19.
"A man of Belial, a wicked person, walketh with a perverse mouth. He winketh with his eyes; he speaketh with his feet; he teacheth with his fingers. Deceits [are] in his heart; he deviseth mischief at all times; he sendeth out discords. Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly, in a moment shall he be broken, and without remedy. Six [things] Jehovah hateth, yea, seven [are] an abomination of his soul; haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that are swift in running to mischief, a false witness breathing out lies, and he that sendeth out discords among brethren." vv. 12-19.
The first term reveals the evil source, the second characterizes him humanly and in general, whatever his position. The tongue, given to praise God and to help our fellows, too surely indicates what he is; he walks with a froward and perverse mouth. It is not merely that he feels no affection, but he has only things awry to say. He likes to differ and to insinuate what is painful. Nor is there candour even in his perverse expression, "he winketh with his eyes, he speaketh with his feet, he teacheth with his fingers." He plies his pertinacious and evil activity with the utmost skill. Not only practicing ill, but having pleasure in those that do it, he in an underhand way loves to make others his instruments; a wink of his eyes suffices for one; a shuffle with his feet influences another and even his restless fingers give a signal to the third. The evil has a root deeper than his perverse mouth; "deceits are in his heart." Other bad men may seek money, pleasure, ambition. His heart has it in frowardness; and to gratify this perverse spirit is his business and life; "he deviseth mischief at all times." His pleasure is to set people by the ears; "he sendeth out, or soweth, discords." He that bows to the written Word cannot doubt what will be the issue of a course so ungodly and malicious; but even now how often a blow falls on evil in this world! "Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; in a moment shall he be broken, and without remedy." The day of the Lord will display this judicial dealing publicly, and far and wide; but from time to time there may be a witness that God is not mocked.
To impress the abhorrence with which Jehovah regards malignant iniquity, we have special evil qualities. They are set forth in a more abstract style, which might not be in the same person, that in the mouth of these two divine testimonies every word should be the more established. "These six Jehovah hateth, yea, seven [are] an abomination to him." Haughty eyes are first, or a proud look; what a contrast with Him who made heaven and earth, and all that in them is, when He deigned to become man here below! The dependent and obedient man, meek and lowly in heart, who ever looked up and did only what pleased His Father, full of compassion toward suffering man, ready to forgive the sinful. "A lying tongue" comes next; Jesus was not true only but the truth; He alone. Far from Him "hands that shed innocent blood," Himself the holy sufferer to the utmost. But in man there may be worse still? "a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations," in hateful and unmistakable resemblance to the evil one. What can be more opposed to Jehovah and His Anointed? "The counsel of peace shall be between them both."
Do we read of men's "feet swift and running to mischief"? The Son tells us of the father running to meet the prodigal. But man under Satan's power, if he cannot kill or injure physically, may inflict a worse wrong as "a false witness breathing out lies." The goodness of God who discovers to us the truth about ourselves, leads to repentance; and He is the God of peace, in the fullest contrast with him "that sendeth out discords among brethren." "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" How hateful to Jehovah is he that soweth discords among brethren!
Proverbs 6: 20-26 turns to another snare of more than usual danger, especially though by no means exclusively for the young. Hence the tenderness of the appeal to influence; hence memories, which did not fail to warn of so insidious a snare in the lusts of the flesh.
"My son, observe thy father's commandment, and forsake not thy mother's law. Bind them continually on thy heart, tie them about thy neck: when thou walkest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and [when] thou awakest, it shall talk with thee. For the commandment [is] a lamp, and the law a light, and reproofs of instruction the way of life: to keep thee from the evil woman, from the smoothness of the tongue of a strange woman. Lust not after her beauty in thy heart, nor let her take thee with her eyelids; for by means of a whorish woman [one cometh] to a piece of bread, and another's wife doth hunt for the precious soul."
When men bearing the Lord's name are characteristically self-lovers, and disobedient to parents, it is the more urgent for the young and inexperienced to beware of the spirit of the age, and to recognize the place that Jehovah gave to a father's command and a mother's teaching. For those who fail in natural affection soon become implacable, slanderers, without self-control, fierce; instead of love for good, they are traitors, headstrong, and puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. If they hold a form of piety, they deny its power, and are to be promptly turned from.
Here the Son is exhorted to lay to heart those precepts to purity from early years, from the mother no less than the father. Indeed it falls to the mother most of all to form the bent of the young. Bind these words therefore "continually on thy heart, tie them about thy neck." They are both shield and ornament in a world as evil as is the fallen nature. When one walks, do we not need direction? When one sleeps, do we not need to be guarded? And when one awakes alone, is it not good and pleasant to have such a word shining and talking with us?
"For the commandment is a lamp, and the law (or teaching) a light." "A lamp" is excellent in a squalid place, as we are told of the prophetic word, which came when things went wrong, tells of even worse at hand, but assures of divine judgment when least expected. There we are also told of a still better light in the truth fully revealed and crowned by the blessed hope of Christ's coming for scenes more glorious. Here, if it rise not high, the teaching appears to exceed the commandment in breadth, positiveness, and intimacy too; how well then called a "light"! And we are reminded of "reproofs of instruction" as the way of life. How much do we not owe to that which, humbling as it is to our good opinion of ourselves, takes pains with us in love, and turns even our faults to profitable account!
At length comes the main point here - "to keep thee from the evil woman, from the smoothness of the tongue of a strange woman." How many a one trusting himself has been decoyed! A little license rapidly betrays into shameful sin. "Lust not after her beauty in thy heart, nor let her take thee with her eye-lids." If the Jews were God's people, much closer is our relationship as His children, and bought with a price, which they in their blindness despised. We are not our own, and are called to beware of a whorish woman, and yet more of another's wife, an adulteress; for here the evil is still more heinous, ruin both of soul and body, object too of God's especial judgment.
Still more emphatic is the warning here given, which deals with a more aggravated and destructive evil. It is not only the evil woman, or a strange woman, or a whorish woman. It is the wife of another, as in the last clause; and the language rises in severity, for marriage is a divine tie; and God hates its breach and judges those who break it.
"Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his garments not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be scorched? So he that goeth in to his neighbour's wife: whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent. They do not despise a thief, if he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry; and [if] he be found, he shall restore sevenfold; he shall give all the substance of his house. Whoso committeth adultery with a woman is void of understanding; he [that] doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and contempt shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away. For jealousy [is] the rage of a man, and he will not spare in the day of vengeance; he will not regard any ransom, neither will he rest content though thou multiplieth gifts." vv. 27-35.
There is a baseness peculiar to itself, even among the dissolute, for a man to tamper with the wife of another. But lust is insidious on either side, and little beginnings, where that relationship subsists, are apt to go on to great evils. For Satan acts on the flesh, and leads souls which forget God's presence to venture in the vain hope of escape. But can a man take fire to his bosom, and his garments not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals and his feet not be scorched? That corruption will not escape the fire of human vengeance, how much less of divine judgment? Any approach, however small or passing, is dangerous and evil.
The inspired writer contrasts it with stealing even, though men are extremely sensitive of any loss in their property. If dire need were evident, men extenuate a thief when he steals a little rather than perish of starvation. But what is so senseless, no less than abominably sinful, as adulterous iniquity? Pity mingles with blame in the one case, but nothing can excuse the other. It is the foulest dishonour of the husband; it is the lifelong ruin of the entrapped wife; it is the shame of the house and of its connections; it is the abhorrence of God who judges it. And what must be his resentment who is chiefly wronged? No wonder that the evildoer is said to lack understanding or heart, and to destroy his own soul. The law laid down fines fourfold, fivefold, and sevenfold, for rising guilt in stealing; but death Moses commanded in Jehovah's name for adultery. If Christendom, pretending to judge the world, betrays its wicked levity by a lenient sentence, it tells its own tale of corruption, which will draw down the strong hand of the Lord God in judgment.
Even in this world, a wound and dishonour will the adulterer get, and his reproach shall not be wiped away, spite of the heathenism which dared to consecrate this enormity and every other - spite of Christendom which did once adopt heathen ways and seems now returning to them, even where Protestant zeal once chased them out in a large measure, though never up to the true Christian standard. Here it regards man's feelings. "For jealousy is the rage of a man: therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance." The overture of any ransom is vain; to give many gifts, contents not him who cannot rest without wrong's condign punishment.
Chapter 7 opens with a fresh paternal appeal to his "son" individually (vv. 1-5). Then is drawn the graphic picture of a young man void of understanding drawn into the worst corruption by an adulterous woman (vv. 6-23). The close is a call to the "sons" generally - a terse, earnest, and solemn warning (vv. 24-27) of similar character, but deeper still.
"My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with thee. Keep my commandments and live; and my teaching as the apple of thine eye. Bind them upon thy fingers, write them upon the tables of thy heart. Say to wisdom, thou [art] my sister, and call intelligence kinswoman; that they may keep thee from the strange woman, from the stranger that flattereth with her words." vv. 1-5.
In this individual appeal, the value of the word is urged as the great preservative means. "My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with thee." There is not only the need of dependence on God when trial comes, but the positive value of the truth and the divine will infusing one beforehand. Thus is the soul inwardly strengthened within against the snares without, which find the father's precepts in possession of the field. The words are therefore to be kept, and the commandments laid up.
Therein is the path of life; for it is not by bread alone that man lives, but by every word that proceeds from God's mouth. Hence here we read, "keep my commandments and live." Yet the teaching that comes from God, though alone nourishing, is easily injured by self- will, and needs to be vigilantly guarded from a world of evil where defilements abound. Therefore must the teaching be kept as the apple of one's eye. What more jealously prized as invaluable and irreparable? What more exposed to sudden damage?
Other figures are employed to impress the all-importance of heeding the words which express Jehovah's will. "Bind them upon thy fingers; write them upon the tables of thy heart." Old and New Testaments indicate that rings were worn for weighty use and high authority, not mere show or ornaments. Besides, the precepts here were to be written on the heart.
Nor does this suffice the care with which grace forearms those exposed to temptations suited to a fallen nature. In Old Testament times little was known of a new life from God. Still it was there, and implied if not clearly taught. Hence the new call: "Say to wisdom, Thou art my sister, and call intelligence kinswoman." For the reception of God's word made this true. In contrast with one born of the flesh, "that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." We are begotten by the word of truth, and thus become a sort of first fruits of His creatures. Our new relationship is with wisdom and understanding, as near of kin, suited, beloved, and necessary.
Thus does God work in His goodness to keep one "from the strange woman, from the stranger that flattereth with her words." That she was a "stranger" who sought familiarity is enough for any soul with the fear of God. So is man constituted that it should ever be a signal of danger. When formed originally, there was no strangership; but out of the man was she built who was meant to be his wife, his counterpart. How much greater the peril when, in a fallen condition, "the strange woman" abandons the propriety of her sex, and appeals with flattering words to the vanity, the pride, or the lusts of man!
In the closeness of the Christian relationship, where all are brought by the grace of Christ into the endearing tie of God's children the danger is enormously increased. For the "neighbourhood' of Israelites mutually was a comparatively distant connection, and a man's "brethren" meant less in every way than "brethren" in a Christian's life - a term that included sisters as well as brothers. Undoubtedly there are the deepest moral principles in the gospel, and the Church; where the law was partial, obscure, and feeble, truth is brought clearly and graciously to view in Christ Himself for those whose it is to walk in the light as God is in the light. But if we are not in the flesh through the deliverance Christ has wrought and given us, the flesh is still in us, and is ever ready by Satan's wiles and the world's influence to ensnare us into self-gratification. Only each walking in faith as having died and as crucified with Him, in continual self-judgment and lively sense of His loving me and Himself given for me, are we kept by God's power. Where this has been forgotten, what dismal falls have been even to the strong! What sad gaps every now and then, where few know the dark histories which lie at their back!
Next is given a, graphic sketch of the evil against which the son is warned earnestly. It is a picture divinely drawn from life.
"For at the window of my house I looked forth from my lattice; and I beheld among the simple ones, I discerned among the sons, a young man void of understanding, passing through the street near her corner; and he went the way to her house, in the twilight, in the evening of the day, in the blackness of night and the darkness. And, behold, there met him a woman [in] the attire of a harlot, and subtle of heart. She [is] clamorous and ungovernable; her feet abide not in her house; now [she is] in the streets, now in the broadways, and lieth in wait at every corner. And she caught him and kissed him; with an impudent face she said to him, I have pence offerings; this day have I paid my vows. Therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face; and I have found thee. My bed I have decked with tapestry coverings, with variegated cloths of yarn from Egypt. I have perfumed my couch with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us revel in love until the morning; let us delight ourselves with loves. For the husband [is] not at home and he is gone a long journey; he hath taken the moneybag with him; he will come home at the day of full moon. With her much fair speech she beguiled him; with the flattery of her lips she constrained him. He goeth after suddenly, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, and as in fetters to his correction the fool; till an arrow strike through his liver, as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that [it is] for its life." vv. 6-23.
On the one side is a young man, idle and thoughtless rather than of evil or profligate habits; on the other is a woman given up to shameless immorality; and when a woman abandons all pretension to modesty, who can be so recklessly corrupt or seductive? But the warning impressed is all the more telling because in the youth there is no purpose of lust, any more than of passion in particular, no thought or room for sapping the moral principles generally, no old undermining of the barriers which warded off improper advances. A weak character, hitherto harmless, as men say, vain and self-pleasing, is seen in the way of temptation, and gradually verging near the point of danger, as the twilight grows and the darkness favours shameful deeds. For his youth and inexperience make him the more attractive prey to the woman who is sunk to the lowest depths, as regardless of human order as of God the Judge of all.
The "strange woman" has even the attire of a harlot, with a heart more subtle still, yet clamorous and ungovernable. Her house is no home; her unsatisfied will drives her feet into the streets and the broadways; and at every corner she lies in wait. The heedless youth fixes her choice; and giving him the fullest credit for a vacant heart, for a void of understanding, she scruples not at once to storm one so unarmed and unestablished. She caught and kissed him, and strengthening her face to the utmost effrontery, she tells him of her peace offerings, her vows paid that day. He was the delight of her eyes and soul. Him she came to meet (whom she probably never saw before); his face was diligently sought ; and now she had found him. Providence smiled on them, and the feast upon a sacrifice was a happy omen. None could deny that she was a religious woman; she must pay her vows duly when she ventured on a delicate affair of the heart. Yet she, the wanton, did not blush to speak of the utmost lengths without disguise. "I have decked my bed with tapestry coverings, with variegated cloths of yarn from Egypt; I have perfumed my couch with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us revel in love until the morning; let us delight ourselves with loves." How terrible and how true is this picture of ritualism and luxury in league, prostituting the name of love to illicit amours and debauchery more guilty than the most brutal!
Nor does she fail to quiet the fears which might cow even the most thoughtless and audacious. For she declares that the man, the husband, was away from home, gone on a long journey, provided with ample funds, and not to return before full moon. It was not a Joseph that listened, but a match for Potiphar's wife that enticed. Who can wonder that the foolish youth, spite of conscience, surrendered! But oh, what pathos in the language which describes him giving himself to ruin of soul and body! "He goeth after her suddenly." He does not dare to think of Jehovah, or of his own relation to Him, nor yet of father and mother, of brothers or sisters; of the irreparable wrong to the absent husband; of his own sin and crime, to say nothing of yielding to so vile a paramour, or of the affront to society, degraded and godless as it is. It is truly "as an ox goeth to the slaughter, and as in fetters to his correction the fool; till a dart strike through his liver, as a bird hasteth to the snare and knoweth not that it is for its life."
The close of the 7th chapter is a short, touching, and solemn appeal.
"And now, sons, hearken to me, and attend to the words of my mouth. Let not thy heart decline to her ways; go not astray in her paths: for she hath cast down many wounded; and all slain by her are strong. Her house [is] the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death." vv. 24-27.
Youth is prone to impulse and self-confidence, as we have seen the danger not for the depraved only, but for the idle, because of the corruption in the world through lust. Hence the earnestly affectionate summing up of what has gone before with a fresh warning of uncommon grace. "And now, sons, hearken to me, and attend to the words of my mouth." A father's call to heed his words in the face of inward propensity and outward seduction is entitled to the gravest attention. There is but one such friend in the nearest degree who has passed through like snares. His wise love no son can slight with impunity.
What then are the words of his mouth on that head? "Let not thy heart decline to her ways, go not astray in her path." Joseph had no father near to counsel him when the temptation arose, and persistently, through his master's wife. But he refused utterly her shameless blandishments as one seeing the Unseen. The ten words were not yet spoken; but he feared God, and he was jealous for his master's honour. "How shall I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" Good reason had a father to counsel sons to steer clear. If the whole world lies in wickedness, or in the wicked one, one needs dependence to pass through the streets safely, and obedience with the worthy object in view. Emptiness exposes the soul for evil to enter and take possession. "Abide in me, and I in you." "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall come to pass to you"; so spoke the Holy, the True. Nor is there any other way of fruit agreeable to the Father. In this is He glorified that we bear much fruit, and not merely that we be kept from sin and shame and ruin. Evil begins not with the steps, but the heart declining to such ways; to follow them is to stray.
And who has lived a while here below without the saddest memories and most humbling sights in confirmation? "For she hath cast down many wounded, and all slain by her are strong." Such seems the force of the latter clause, which is illegitimately rendered in the A.V., for "all" in such a sentence at least cannot be reduced to "many," as in the former clause. But it is difficult to understand that "all" her slain should be strong. The R.V. suggests that "all her slain are a mighty host." This, whether or not accepted, is assuredly true, and an advance on the words which preceded, according to the Hebrew style. No wonder that the words recall not only Samson, but even David, who if not slain himself, brought the sword on his house, and caused the enemies of Jehovah to blaspheme.
And how energetic the words that follow! "Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death." They are words of truth and sobriety, so they exaggerate in nothing.
In full contrast with evil, which is folly to the utmost, is the description of wisdom's ways as here brought before us.
"Doth not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice? On the top of high places by the way, where paths meet, she standeth; beside the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors, she crieth aloud. To you, O men, I call, and my voice [is] to the sons of man. O ye simple, understand prudence; and, ye foolish, be of understanding heart. Hear, for I will speak excellent things, and the opening of my lips [shall be] right things. For my palate shall meditate truth, and wickedness [is] an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth [are] in righteousness; [there is I nothing crooked or perverse in them. They [are] all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge. Receive my instruction, and not silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom [is] better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired are not comparable to her." vv. 1-11.
Here is no courting of the dark, no flattery of the heedless, no fair speech to seduce into foul deeds and illicit indulgence. The wisdom which has its root in the fear of Jehovah is aboveboard and earnest with man. "Doth not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her voice? On the top of high places, where paths meet, she standeth; beside the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors, she crieth aloud." John the Baptist not only bore witness to Jesus, but "cried" (John 1: 15). So did our Lord in the temple as He taught (John 7: 28), and notably at the close of His rejected testimony (John 12: 44) in importunate love.
How often in the Old Testament as in the New we are reminded of divine favour to mankind! Not with angels but with the human race does God plead, that they may hear and live. "The life was the light of men." So it is here when wisdom cries aloud: "To you, O men, I call, and my voice is to the sons of men"; nay more, it beseeches the weak and the unwise. "O ye simple, understand wisdom, and ye fools, be of understanding heart."
There are objects of desire in men's eager eyes. Oh the ardour, when they learn that there is here a mine of silver, and a place for gold which they refine! Seas are crossed, deserts are penetrated, swamps and mountains drear are crossed, and heat or cold or famine is defied. And man puts an end to the darkness, and the utmost limit is explored. A shaft is opened far from human haunts; they are forgotten of the traveller, they hang afar from men, they swing to and fro. Out of the earth cometh bread, and underneath it is turned up as by fire. The stones of it are the place of sapphires; and it hath dust of gold; a path no bird of prey knows, nor vulture's eye hath seen, nor sons of pride have trodden it, nor the fierce lion passed over it. The engineer puts forth his hands on the flints; he overturns mountains by the roots; he cuts out channels in the rocks; and his eye sees every precious thing. He binds the streams that they drip not, and the hidden things he brings forth to light. But wisdom, where shall it be found, and where is the place of understanding? Man knows not its value, neither is it found in the land of the living. The deep says, It is not with me; and the sea says, It is not with me. Neither gold nor silver, nor precious stones as onyx, sapphire, ruby, topaz, with gold most fine, nor jewels can procure or equal it. Whence then comes it, and where is its place? For it is hidden from the eyes of all living and concealed from the birds of the heavens. Destruction and death say, We have heard its report with our ears. God understands its way, and He knows its place. And to man He said, "Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding" (Job 28). Christ alone is its fullness.
Our exhortation encourages souls. "Hear, for I will speak excellent things, and the opening of my lips shall be right things. For my palate shall meditate truth, and wickedness is an abomination to my lips." Where else can this be found? Outside the inspired Word, religion makes men worse than if they had none, and substitutes demons for the true God. Here the writer can say with assurance, All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing crooked or perverse in them. Man's uncertainty and fallen nature expose him to both if he sets up to be an oracle. Whereas God's words are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to him that findeth knowledge. Hence is the call. Receive my instruction, and not silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not comparable to her. We can go no farther, now that the Son of God is come and given to us to know Him that is true. For He Himself is the true God, no less than the Father; and He is eternal life. Compare John 17: 3.
We are in a world dominated for the present by a subtle spirit of evil that has access to every heart. There is therefore constant need of a wisdom above man's. For the Christian it descends from above; it is Christ, God's wisdom no less than His power. Here, as being for Israel, the Holy Spirit presents wisdom for the earth. For the heaven and the earth belong to God, who in due time will expel the usurper and put all things under Him in fact and manifestation, as they are now in principle to faith. Meanwhile we have God occupying Himself with what is heavenly for His children, in the New Testament before the day arrives, as for His ancient people renewed to profit ere long by the Old Testament as here.
"I wisdom dwell in prudence, and find out knowledge of reflection. The fear of Jehovah [is] to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth do I hate. Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I [am] intelligence; I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers make just decrees; by me princes rule, and nobles, all the judges of the earth. I love those that love me; and they that seek me early (or, diligently) shall find me. Riches and honour [are] with me; durable wealth and righteousness. My fruit [is] better than gold, yea than pure gold; and my revenue than choice silver. I walk in the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of judgment; that I may cause those that love me to inherit substance, and fill their treasuries." vv. 12-21.
The Christian, though a heavenly man, walks on earth; and both needs to, and can, avail himself of such words as these, coming under the moral government of God as his Father (1 Peter 1: 17). Wisdom makes prudence its dwelling place, and there finds knowledge, if not of witty inventions, assuredly of reflections, a better thing. Thus are subtle adversaries met by a wisdom and its resources deeper than every snare. Its base is that fear of Jehovah which hates evil, for which intellectual sharpness and craft are no match. For divine wisdom in the Word forms the godly in obedience, not in the cleverness that outwits craft by profounder craft; for this would only dishonour God and sully the soul. Hence pride and arrogance on the one hand, and on the other the evil way and the perverse mouth, are hateful to God and His people. They are the ways and the words of self, far from Him who leads in the path of obedience, and gives counsel and sound wisdom to those who wait on Him and keep His word and with Him is not only intelligence but strength - all we need in this tangled and shifty scene.
None need wisdom so much as those in authority, the monarch in particular. "By me kings reign, and rulers make just decrees; by me princes rule and nobles, all the judges of the earth." But this very language aptly discriminates the difference between the Old Testament, and the New Testament, that is the entirely new state of things under the gospel as compared with the law. For there is instruction in the New Testament only for subjection to authority, in the Old Testament for those who wield it also. The Christian waits to reign with Christ, content meanwhile to suffer with Him and for Him. No exhortation, no principle, no fact supposes him exercising worldly power where Christ was rejected, till He appears to judge the world. It was quite another condition before the princes of this age crucified the Lord of glory. But it is now a time of great and growing unbelief, and it is a hard trial for most believers to forego present power and honour. Indeed, since the apostles passed away, the true heavenly glory of the Christian and the Church has been well nigh forgotten and ignored.
But wisdom goes out far beyond rulers and the great, even to all that seek and prize it. "I love those that love me; and those that seek me earnestly shall find me." So it ever is in divine pursuits. Those that are of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. God has no blanks for the real. Wisdom from Him secures riches and honour - not for the Christian of a material sort, but better far, durable wealth, truly, and righteousness. Its fruit is indeed superior to pure gold or choice silver. Wisdom walks in the way of righteousness. Not "leading" but "walking" is the point here. To reason, to common sense, it may seem utterly foolish; for it often entails loss, and sacrifice, and suffering. But "he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever." Christ to us is the way; and Him we follow whatever the case. Wisdom walks therefore in the midst of the paths of judgment, not outside them. And there only is blessing enjoyed, though it is not for the Christian in the basket and the store, in the bank or in stocks, but higher and unchanging.
From verses 22-31 we have the plainest and the brightest testimony of this Book to Christ's glory. Who can fail to discern that He is here viewed as the Wisdom of God. The personality of His Wisdom is as marked here as of the Life in 1 John 1. This suits God if it does not man.
"Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his ways, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before the earth was. When no depths were, I was brought forth, when there were no fountains abounding with water. Before the mountains were settled, before the hills was I brought forth, while as yet he had not made the earth, nor the fields, nor the beginning of the dust of the world. When he prepared the heavens, I [was] there; when he set the circle upon the face of the deep; when he established the skies above; when the fountains of the deep became strong; when he imposed on the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment; when he appointed the foundations of the earth: then I was by him, a nursling [or artificer], and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him; rejoicing in the habitable world of his earth, and my delights [were] with the sons of men." vv. 22-31.
The remarkable truth here signalized is the Wisdom portrayed with Jehovah before creation, and not merely in that display of almighty power guided by wisdom and goodness. More than this attribution of eternal wisdom, as Jehovah's cherished companion before His works of old, a special object of His affection is carefully shown in mankind, even as He Himself was to Jehovah. This and this only explains why the earth should be so near and conspicuous an object to the love of God - often a theme of unbelieving wonder, if not for unworthy and thankless scorn.
"Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his way." There was Wisdom, not simply in Him, but with Him, as is said of the Word in John 1:1: "the Word was with God," just as surely as He "is God"; and such too is the account of Him as Life in 1 John 1: 2, before He was manifested in flesh. "I was set up [lit. anointed] from everlasting, from the beginning before the earth was." He was no creature of God, but was in being before His works. When depths were not nor fountains abounding with waters, He was brought forth; before mountains or hills were settled; while as yet He had not made the earth or the fields or the beginning of the dust of the world. He was there for the making and ordering of all, as He was before any. Nor did He thus precede the lower scene only, but the heavens which contain all. When Jehovah prepared the heavens, Wisdom was there; when He set the circle upon the face the deep, when He established the skies above. When the fountains of the deep became strong, when He imposed on the sea its decree, that the waters should not pass His commandment; when He appointed the foundations of the earth: then was Wisdom by Him, a nursling [or artificer], and a delight He was, rejoicing always before Him, rejoicing in His habitable world; and His delights were with the sons of men. It is a grand, true, and highly poetic description, worthy of Him who was proclaimed in its season the Worthy One.
But whatever wisdom wrought on earth or sea, if the heavens declare the glory of God, and the expanse shows the work of His hands, there was a counsel deeper still, a love far beyond intelligence and power; and this we learn in the marvellous description. It is not the Wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which was ordained before the ages unto our glory (1 Cor. 2: 7). Nothing do we find of God's sovereign love in choosing out souls to partake of heavenly relationship. It is His good pleasure in men, to be effectuated another day by His Son becoming man, and in that redemption which secures His glory and opens the way for all His dealings of grace. What we have here is no revelation of the secret that was hid in God till Christ rejected went back to God, and the Holy Spirit was sent to reveal it. But we have the inestimable purpose of God's goodness toward man plainly stated, and distinct from the election of Israel for the earth, or of the saints who compose the Church for the heaven, and indeed for the universal inheritance with Christ.
Hence the force here of Wisdom being by Jehovah, His delight day by day, not only rejoicing always before Jehovah, but rejoicing Himself in the habitable parts of His earth, and His delights were with the sons of men. Though it be not Christ glorified on high, nor therefore our union with Him as His body, yet it is an expression of divine love in and toward man, far beyond what Israel ever realized, as it will be in the days of the kingdom here below when He reigns and all the families of the earth are blessed in Him. For it is divine delight in Him whose delights were and will be with the sons of men. Hence beautiful is the praise of the heavenly hosts at His birth heard by the lowly shepherds by night. ""Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill in men" beautiful in itself, and in their unjealous delight in His ways who made men, not angels, the especial object of His complacency.
The chapter concludes with a fatherly application to impress the blessedness of wisdom's ways on the young, but from Jehovah.
"And now, sons, hearken to me, and blessed are [those that] keep my ways: hear instruction and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed [is] the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of Jehovah. But he that sinneth against (or, misseth) me doeth violence to his own soul: all that hate me love death." vv. 32-36.
When He who was afterward to become flesh and dwell among us was brought (so distinctly for the Old Testament) before the hearer of the written Word, we can understand that His grace makes itself deeply felt and calls special heed to communications meant to deal with the inner man. They rise far above ordinary obligation; they are not clothed with the thunder and lightning of Sinai, nor do they consist of typical pictures which illustrated the provision of divine mercy, when men failed and would own their sins suitably, the shadows of the good things to come. A divine personality (the daily delight to Jehovah, whose delights were with the sons of men who calls Himself, though set up from eternity, Wisdom dwelling with prudence) appeals peculiarly to heart and conscience. For who dues not feel the need of such guidance? Sons of men must be welcome to Him; and He, because He is divine, must be able to render Himself acceptable to them.
Doubtless the lack of known forgiveness and of life eternal in the Son of God left much to be desired, which we enjoy through the gospel. But what clearly appears in such a chapter as this was an immense favour; and none need wonder at the exhortation which follows it up, that the "sons" should hearken. But such words, like those of our Lord on the mount are meant to be done as well as heard. Indeed every one that hears and does them not can only be likened to a foolish man that built his house on the sand - great the fall when it comes - worse than if no house were built.
Here accordingly we are told that "blessed are those that keep my ways." The glory and grace of Him who deigns to point out the ways of wisdom act on living faith and make it energetic through love. Where faith is not, all else fails ere long. "Hear instruction and be wise, and refuse it not." How touchingly wisdom pleads while we only are the gainers! What can we add to divine majesty? The love of God delights in blessing; but blessing cannot be for sinful man, but in hearing instruction from Him who was made to us wisdom from above.
Again we have it applied to the individual. "Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors." Here we have the earnestness day by day and perseverance like a beggar in need that will not be denied, and waits in the face of what would discourage others less importunate. We find in the beginning of Luke 11 the value of prayer on His part who prayed as none else did, and led a disciple to seek of Him to teach them to pray. But the Spirit of God at the close of Luke 10 makes us know the need of His word antecedently - that we may not trust our own reasonings or imaginations, instead of all resting on the groundwork of divine truth received in faith. Of this the blessed sample is Mary, who also sat at the Lord's feet and heard His word, and reaped endless and deep profit in comparison with her sister, Martha, who, loved of Him, and doubtless loving Him, was cumbered with much serving, and hence anxious and troubled about many things. Mary's part is the good one which shall be taken away from none who value it.
"For (on the one hand) whoso findeth me findeth life and obtaineth favour of Jehovah." So the prince of prophets writes: "Wherefore do ye weigh money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently to me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, and your soul shall live." What better was known than "life" above that of nature through the faith of the divine Word, and Jehovah's favour enjoyed also? It was not blessing in the city and in the field, or in the kine and in the flock, in the bucket and in the kneading-trough, nor even in being made the head rather than the tail. Old Testament believers knew and possessed by grace the blessing, though far from that fullness which we have now through and in Christ.
On the other hand. the way of self-will is ruinous for the life that now is, and for that which is to come. It is just the path of sin. "And he that sinneth against me (Wisdom) doeth violence to his own soul: all they that hate me love death." There is not, nor ever was, true living, living to God but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God Therefore it is that the just shall live by his faith. For faith comes of hearing, and hearing by the divine Word. Outside the path of faith on either side are the ways of death, and many are those who take them in the pursuit of man's thoughts or present objects, of human religion or human irreligion, apart from the true God and Him in whom He reveals Himself by His Word and Spirit.
In the beginning of chapter 9, it is not wisdom in eternal relations, or in founding and building up the earth, preparing the heavens, and imposing on the sea the decree that the waters pass not the prescribed limits, yet withal delighting in the sons of men. Here the fruit of these delights appears. Wisdom acts among men.
"Wisdom hath built her house; she hath hewn out her seven pillars; she hath slaughtered her slaughtering [or, sacrifice], she hath mingled her wine, she hath also furnished her table. She hath sent forth her maidens; she crieth upon the summits of the high places of the city, Whoso [is] simple, let him turn in hither. To him that is void of understanding she saith, Come, eat ye of my bread, and drink of the wine I have mingled. Forsake follies [or, simplicities] and live, and go in the way of understanding." vv. 1-6.
We had wisdom's cry in the preceding chapter - her active testimony that her voice might be heard. Here we have much more, for Jehovah strenuously and elaborately adopted means for the well-being and true enjoyment of man, so ready to turn aside and perish in the ways of the destroyer.
Hence, and in Israel when in possession of the land under Solomon it was above all conspicuous, that Jehovah drew public attention to His commandments as the sole wisdom and condition of blessing on the earth. This is what Moses yearned for, as their entrance there approached, that the surrounding peoples might say, Verily this great nation is a wise and understanding people; for what great nation is there that hath God near to them, as Jehovah our God is in everything we call upon Him for? And what great nation is there that hath righteous statutes and ordinances, as all this law which I set before you this day?
Only more is said in Solomon's day, and by the king in this Book where wisdom is personified so admirably by the Spirit who had the Son of God in view. And who so well could introduce the figure of wisdom's house as he who was given to build the house for Jehovah's name! a settled place for Him to abide in forever? Yet how much the past or the present says to the contrary! as indeed Jehovah warned was to be because of their apostasy, even to a proverb and a byword among all peoples.
"Wisdom hath built her house." Nowhere on earth was there a suited habitation. She could find no dwelling, but has prepared one for herself; for wisdom had to promote the entire life and the most intimate relations and the habits of every day. Hence the necessity for "her house," to which she liberally invites. "She hath hewn her seven pillars." There is a completeness of support exhibited in no other, and due to the divine aim herein sought.
Then the provision is no less bountiful. "She hath slaughtered her slaughtering, she hath mingled her wine, she hath furnished her table." How could it be otherwise if divine love undertake to entertain worthily of God? There is no more intelligible or common figure of communion than that which is expressed by eating and drinking under the same hospitable roof. So the Lord repeatedly set forth the welcome of grace in the gospel; so He signifies our feeding on Himself by faith to life eternal; so He instituted His supper for our habitual remembrance of Himself till He come. It is presented here that His people might know the pleasure Jehovah took in their enjoyment of wisdom as He revealed it.
But there is more. "She hath sent forth her maidens, she crieth upon the summits of the high places of the city, Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither." Wisdom had her messengers, who are fitly represented as maidens whom she dispatched on the errand of loving-kindness. But she spares no pains personally; for there she stands on the loftiest vantage ground, whence she may invite. And who are the objects of her appeal? Not the rich or great; not the wise or prudent; but whoso is simple, let him turn in hither." God is ever the giving God when truly known. He may test man for a special purpose; but as God loves a cheerful giver, so is He the most liberal of all Himself; and so wisdom here makes known. "To him that is void of understanding she saith, Come, eat ye of my bread, and drink of the wine that I have mingled." In the world that is, such generous unselfish love is unknown and hence the need and value of reiterated welcome.
Still in the same world admonition is requisite, and the word follows, "Forsake simplicities [or follies] and live; and go in the way of intelligence." Wisdom does not admit of inconsistency. If received notwithstanding our folly, it is that we may become wise according to a wisdom above our own; and this is truly to "live" where all else is death, and, as living, to walk in the way of intelligence, looking up to Him who is above, and not as the beasts that look down and perish.
How blessed for us that to those that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is God's power and God's wisdom! And how fitting that he who was of old endowed with wisdom beyond all others should be the one to reveal in the Old Testament Him who is that Wisdom in His own eternal Person!
Chapter 9 began with wisdom, or the wise woman; the Holy Spirit turns aside to point out how disappointing it is to instruct the scorner - a very aggravated form of evil, though increasingly common as Christendom hastens in its unbelief and moral ruin to judgment.
"He that correcteth a scorner getteth to himself shame; and he that reproveth a wicked [man], a blot to himself. Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee; reprove a wise [man], and he will love thee. Impart to a wise [man], and he will become yet wiser; teach a righteous [man], and he will increase learning. The fear of Jehovah [is] the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy [is] understanding. For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and years of life shall be added to thee. If thou art wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself; and [if] thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear [it]." vv. 7-12.
Every scripture, we know, is not more surely God-inspired than profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for discipline that is in righteousness; but we need wisdom to apply it. Faith needs not only the Word, but the God who gave it, to direct the heart and mouth livingly; and for this we have by grace the Holy Spirit's guidance. So the Apostle commended those who watched over souls to God, as well as to the word of His grace. While the simple and unintelligent are invited, the foolish must be shunned and the way of understanding followed. Then freely we are warned against meddling with the scorner. To correct such! is vain; they willingly put on you shame. Let them alone, said the Lord to the disciples. You may only gain a blot in reproving a wicked person. They have a deeper need - to be born again. Where no life is, hatred is the result. There is no wisdom in reproving a scorner, more than in giving that which is holy to the dogs or in casting pearls before the swine. The upshot may be that they will trample the misdirected word under their feet, and turn and rend you.
Now the Christian has the gospel to urge on the heedless but this is the glad tidings of what God has done in Christ for him, wicked as he may be, to bring him to Himself. Thus all is harmonious. Correction and reproof are for those who have an ear to hear, that they walk not inconsistently with their profession. Hence we are told here to "reprove a wise man, and he will love thee." A wise man may not always pursue the path of wisdom; he may need reproof. A fool is one who never hears, though always ready to find fault. A wise man listens and weighs; when he recognizes what is of God, he will love you.
Another thing which distinguishes wisdom is the appreciation of what is good and helpful. Egoism is necessarily unwise and evil, because man is sinful, and God is unknown and untrusted. It is self-satisfied and refuses to learn, having no distrust of its own dark, selfish, and sinful state. On the other hand, "impart to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser, teach a righteous man, and he will increase learning." It is not the great that are wise, nor does age of itself understand judgment. Every good giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom can be no variation nor shadow of turning. Dependence on God is our only right attitude habitually, and hearing from one another what approves itself to our consciences as His truth; for we are members of one another; and He despiseth not any, let him be ever so lowly. But He hateth the proud and will punish the scorner.
The secret of it all is plain. "The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the Holy is understanding." Creature intelligence is of no value for the soul, for eternity, for relationship with God. It begins, and must begin with fearing Him, the True and the Good, the Righteous and the Holy. There is repentance no less than faith, and therefore trembling at His Word, the direct reverse of judging it and trusting in self, justifying ourselves instead of God. But growth belongs to life in our present condition; and growth is by the right knowledge of God, who has communicated it in His Word for this purpose. The Christian readily knows why "Holy" should be in the plural, without allowing that it means "holy things." The knowledge of such things is not the intelligence that grows from the enlarging knowledge of God.
The pious Jew addressed looked for long life here below, through divine favour. As things were, much might come in to modify this, as we see in Josiah and many another. But when divine principles have their just and unimpeded result, every word will be fulfilled, as when Christ reigns over all the earth. We Christians have a far different calling new, and look for a higher glory. Nevertheless, we can say and do believe that piety is profitable for everything, having promise of life - of the present one, and of that to come.
It remains true also that "if thou art wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself; and if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it." God remains in changeless majesty; but in His righteous judgment, each shall bear his own burden, and reap as he sows, from the flesh corruption, from the Spirit life everlasting.
In full contrast with wisdom, and quite distinct from the scorner, is "the foolish woman." Here we have the picture of herself and her ways, her guests, and their end. Only we must not think that the folly in question means a feeble intellect, but rather the absence of care or thought, of heart or conscience, toward God, which Satan fosters in benighted man. "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God," and therefore neither seeks nor calls on Him. This at the last is antichrist. Here it is "the foolish woman," the state of things that entices, fleshly corruption rather than the haughty antagonist that sets it up.
"The foolish woman [is] clamorous; senseless (or, simplicity), and knoweth nothing. And she sitteth at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city, to call those that pass by who go right on their ways. Whoso [is] simple, let him turn in hither. And to him that is void of understanding she saith, Stolen waters are sweet, and the bread of secrecy is pleasant. But he knoweth not that the dead [are] there, [that] her guests [are] in the depths of Sheol." vv. 13-18.
Wisdom pleads for Jehovah and therefore in the true interests of man, no less than for the divine glory. The foolish woman is zealous only for the indulgence of sinful pleasure, regardless of all consequences. Yet it is remarkable how similar are the thoughts and words the Holy Spirit uses in speaking of each. Not that wisdom is "clamorous" as is folly; but she does cry and put forth her voice, for understanding is hers,
and the immense value she has to communicate from God and for Him, no less than to man. She does not sit on a seat or throne at the door of her house. But she yet more than folly stands in the top of high places by the way, a cheerful giver, who knows the ample resources for all that come. Not so the foolish woman. What house had she built? No pillars had she hewn out. She had neither beasts to kill, nor had she mingled wine, nor furnished her table, like wisdom with a heart delighting in good and in doing good where need abounded and dangers are without end and evil without measure.
Wisdom had her maidens to send forth, as she herself cried; for she was earnest to win for Jehovah and warn from Him, and sought the highest places of the city. Folly had no such maidens, any more than the generous provision of wisdom. Maidens indeed! She might well be ashamed and blush if she could before maidens, as they would assuredly blush for her words and ways. Yet both are represented as making appeal in terms of strong resemblance, but how opposite their wish and aim! "Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither" (vv. 4 and 16). And it is to be remarked, that the foolish woman in particular addresses her call to those that pass by, who go right on their ways. What malicious pleasure to lead such astray!
The difference comes out strongly in what wisdom, as compared with folly, says to him that is void of understanding. "Come, eat ye of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled. Forsake follies, and live; and go in the way of understanding." All was open, sound, holy, and unselfish on wisdom's part. How sinister the speech of the foolish woman! "Stolen waters are sweet, and pleasant is the bread of secrecy." But the appeal of wisdom needs grace to make it palatable; her rival's invitation is just suited to the dark heart of man as he is. He enjoys what is prohibited, and can only be snatched guilefully or by cunning; he suspects what is given freely, and cannot understand the greatest good as a matter of grace. Wisdom's gifts are therefore distrusted and despised; folly's call to stolen waters is as sweet to fallen nature as to drink them, and the bread of secrecy is as pleasant in prospect as to the taste.
How solemn when the curtain is drawn enough to let us see the dread reality! "But he knoweth not that the dead (or departed, shades) [are] there; that her guests [are] in the depths of Sheol." As the language about wisdom rose in the chapter before into a living and glorious person, an incomparable object of delight to Jehovah, and with no less incomparable delight of love going out to the sons of men, so here chapter 9 ends with a more awful view than is at all usual in the Old Testament of the lot that befalls those that lend their ear, and follow the tempting words of the foolish woman. What a contrast with leaving off folly and going on the way of intelligence!