HERE THE SUBJECT matter is completely changed. No longer is the outside opposition of the enemy found, but any dangers now considered are those arising from the state of our own hearts. This third section therefore is that of the sanctuary, though the language here may veil this somewhat; yet it is the inner state of the soul with its proper refuge in the presence of God that is here indicated. This is plainly the Leviticus section, where the holiness of God's presence leads to honest, real self-judgment and rejoicing in that which is good.
"Boast not thyself of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth."
How common is this spirit of procrastination! We so easily neglect what ought to be done now, assuring ourselves (or others) that we shall do it without fail in the future. But tomorrow comes and goes, and it is still undone. The honest energy of faith is needed to strike sharply at this lax indolence, to put us on our feet; to have done now what ought to be done. Only the present is ours: the future we know nothing about: let us act while we have the time.
Certainly we know this is of supreme importance in regard to the salvation of the soul. The child puts it off: as a young man he puts it off: in the middle age the same: in old age he is hardened beyond concern, in great numbers of cases. But if we neglect but one day, how can we know what may transpire to render our case hopeless? What of the Lord's coming; or death; or the possibility of incurable illness which could leave the mind unable to make such decisions? This then is a case where one must take himself firmly in hand, and at least rule in the sanctuary of his own heart.
"Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips."
This verse has close connection with the first, both of which deal with the matter of a man's proper self-control. These two verses form the first section of the chapter, and may be characterized as integrity or singleness of heart. A single heart does not exalt self, but the Lord. Even gross unbelievers are contemptuous of a braggart. Let us not trust ourselves to talk about our own accomplishments: they are certainly no more than we ought to have done. If they are worth advertising, usually there will be someone else to do it; but at any rate, the believer is to live as under the eye of God, not as answerable to men. If the charred wick of the lamp is not trimmed, its once-bright light will become dim and smoky.
But the second section (verses 3 to 6) speaks of conflict and of help.
"A stone is heavy, and the sand weighty; but a fool's wrath is heavier than them both."
The child of God must expect such opposition, but it cannot but weigh upon him, as did the oppression of Egypt upon Israel. Notice that here it is the effect of a fool's wrath upon others that is considered. By means of this a believer may find out what his real, inward state is. Persecution will bring out what is actually in us. Like the stone or the sand, is it just too heavy to bear? Or do we find the strength of God sufficient to enable us to bear it?
But verse 4 goes yet a little further:
"Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous: but who is able to stand before envy?"
It is fully admitted that wrath is cruel. and anger outrageous, though this gives no excuse for retaliation in the same spirit: in such a case we should lower ourselves to the same sinful level. We ought to be able to stand in the face of this. But who does not know that envy is a greater aggravation? Who is able to stand before it? Who can restrain himself at such a time from impatience and self-righteous indignation? But let us observe that it is not said that no one can stand: rather it is posed as a question. Certainly one who is in real communion with the Lord will not he caught by this subtle attack of the enemy; but mere confidence in the flesh will always be defeated. Envy will assume countless forms of opposition. more underhand than wrath and anger, and so persistent as to weary its victims. Therefore, only constant communion with God will protect us.
"Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful."
When wrong is present, wisdom will seek to bring the help that meets the wrong. Secret love may wink at the evil, but this is not the true love of God: it is no help to the guilty party. Candid open rebuke in a spirit of kindness, not of mere censure, is both honesty and goodness. It may wound to some degree, even when done in a lowly, friendly way, but even the offender should recognize faithfulness in this, and if he rightly takes it to heart, his wounds will heal well. Moreover, it may lead him to love the wise reprover. Again, this kind of work, to be rightly done, requires true self-judgment and communion with God.
The third section of the chapter (verses 7 to 12) is that of sanctification, and it will be seen that motivating influences are most prominent here.
"The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet."
Naturally, this is so evident and elementary an observation, that it should direct us to expect a far more important spiritual significance. Reprovingly, the apostle Paul tells the Corinthians, "Now ye are full, now ye are rich" (1 Cor. 4:8). They were satiated with earthly advantages, pride, self-complacency. It is the very spirit of Laodicea - "rich and increased with goods, and have need of nothing" (Rev. 3:17). No longing of the heart for an absent Lord and Master, but such a feeding upon the trash of this world that the precious, sweet ministry of the Spirit of God is loathed. But, "blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled" (Matt. 5:6). This is the true character of the Child of God in a barren world. And when it is so, "He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness" ( Psa. 107:9).
Moreover, "every bitter thing is sweet." Is it not true that when the soul hungers and thirsts after God, then even the bitter trials and experiences of the wilderness are turned into sweetness? Wonderful indeed are the ways of God. The very judgments of God, bitter to the belly, yet because fulfilling the truth of prophecy, are sweet to the taste of the man of God (Rev. 10:8-10).
"As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place."
The hungry soul will not be a wanderer from God's place for him, for he thirsts for the Living God with a singleness of heart that will not turn aside after other interests. But wandering feet follow a wandering heart. If we depend on material reasoning, we may think that farther fields look greener, and thus by following our own thoughts may easily wander as a bird from the explicit truth of the Word of God, which sets every believer in the body of Christ, as He pleases. How much better to know His mind, and firmly stand where He has set us! This is a true "sanctuary of strength."
"Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: and the sweetness of one's friend is the fruit of hearty counsel" (New Trans.).
We are so created that fragrant odors have a peculiarly pleasing effect upon us, and this is certainly intended to teach us that the Creator Himself takes delight in that which is spiritually fragrant. Ointment is plainly symbolic of the worship of the heart, as Mary's anointing of the feet of the Lord Jesus shows (John 12:3). Moses was commanded to make an ointment of precise amounts of various ingredients. It was not to be poured upon man's flesh, nor was it to be imitated in any way (Ex. 30:22-33 ). Its use was for the anointing of the priests and the vessels of the tabernacle, that sphere in which was expressed the worship of Jehovah alone. This is followed by instructions as to the making of perfume, and this too was entirely for God: it was not to be imitated. God can neither share His glory with man, nor can He allow anything similar to worship to be accorded to any creature (Ex. 30:34-38). The spices whether in the ointment or the perfume speak of the many fragrances of the Person of Christ, delightful to the heart of God. The oil added for the ointment speaks of the living operation of the Spirit of God. In our verse then, worship is the subject of the first part. Is this not followed by communion? "The sweetness of one's friend is the fruit of hearty counsel." Candid whole-hearted taking counsel together will have effects that are sweet. How deeply true in reference to communion with God, and true also where there is honest, hearty confidence among the saints of God.
"Thine own friend, and thy father's friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother's house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbor that is near than a brother far off."
True friendship does not change. Personal feelings will often ruin a friendship when such feelings are allowed to dominate. But let us not be guilty of forsaking a friend if he should leave, at least let us not cause a separation. How precious a character is constancy, fidelity, faithfulness! In this case, while a brother spoken of here is of course a natural relative, the "friend" speaks not of natural relationship, but of another relationship willingly assumed, and therefore applicable to spiritual fellowship. Shall we dare to forsake saints whose fellowship God has given us, just because of personal feelings, irritations, jealousies? - or merely because we desire easier circumstances or more congenial fellowship? But unwavering stability will require proper self-judgment and exercise of soul: it is not natural nor mechanical.
Moreover, if calamity should befall us, wisdom does not look for comfort from a mere natural relative, "a brother far off." we all know the tendency for families to draw apart, so that in time any proper understanding between brothers is lost. This painful fact is how strong a witness that merely natural relationships are not stable, nor lasting. "A neighbor that is near" is better, - that is, of course, when one has the proper character of a neighbor. Compare Luke 10:36, 37. Certainly this is intended to teach us the nearer relationship of those who are born of God, whose comfort, help, encouragement is on a basis of faith and of true understanding; just as the Lord Jesus acknowledged no relationship but that of "these which hear the Word of God, and do it" (Luke 8:21). Of course, if a brother is also a "brother in the Lord," this makes all the difference.
"My son,be wise, and make my heart glad, that I may answer him that reproacheth me."
The child of God surely hears a higher voice than that of his natural parent in this admonition; and if, naturally, the conduct of the child reflects upon the parent, who feels it according to its character, how evidently so for the child of God and his Father in Glory! John could say, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth" (3 John 4). Paul urges Timothy, "Thou therefore my child, he strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 2:1). If men dare to reproach God, as indeed they do, taking advantage of every failure of His children, to do so; how good if a wise, consistent walk on our part, is a clear answer to such charges!
"A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished."
The wisdom of true sanctification is apparent here; but it is the Word of God that is able to make wise (2 Tim. 3:16). It warns the sinner of impending judgment, and if he is wise he will take refuge in the blessed shelter of Divine grace, the atoning death of the Lord Jesus, the only shelter from the wrath of God against sin. And as to the dangers of the Christian path, the snares of Satan, threats against personal faith and godliness, cunning attacks upon the truth of the Church of God, the child of God ought not to be ignorant, but by acquaintance with Scripture should foresee the grave dangers that threaten him and take refuge in the truth provided of God.
"The simple" here are those unaware because ignorant, and punishment is the result of this ignorance. For it is our fault if we neglect the Word of God, which would enlighten us. Ignorance is no excuse when God has given us His Word, and we have ignored it. Have we no heart to listen when our God and Father speaks? If so, we can only expect to reap the results of not listening.
Now verses 13 to 16 form the fourth section, dealing with testing in a strange and contentious world.
"Take his garment that is surety for a stranger, and take a pledge of him for a strange woman."
If we are deceived by a stranger, we must be prepared to bear the responsibility for being deceived. If one is willing to be surety for a stranger, then we are told here that we ought to be sure that he bears the consequences if the stranger proves unreliable. He who gives a letter of commendation must be held fully responsible for it.
The garment speaks of the character or reputation of the individual, and hence in commending another I must be prepared to involve my own reputation in so doing. And lest it should be thought we should be more lenient where a woman, the weaker vessel, is concerned, we are just as strongly warned as to "a strange woman." She may be as false and deceitful as any man and first appearances are never to be trusted. This is certainly no less true in spiritual matters than in temporal affairs.
"He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him."
To rise early in the morning in order to spend time quietly in prayer and communion with God, is of deepest blessing; but to disturb others by loud, unbecoming flattery of a friend will bring a curse. If, in verse 13, we are not to be deceived by strangers, in verse 14 it is not the business of the Christian to advertise his friends.
"A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike."
This has been considered to be a dropping through a leaking roof, which is not uncommon in a land of flat roofs if rain should be unusually heavy. Only those who have experienced it know how irritating and wearying this can be. But such is the character of an argumentative woman. She is out of her place, not displaying the godly qualities of submission and of a meek and quiet spirit. This kind of contention is to have no place in the assembly of God: it is of the world. Timothy is strongly warned against allowing any such spirit among the saints of God.
"Whosoever will restrain her restraineth the wind, and his right hand encountereth oil" (New Trans.).
It is no small matter to restrain one who is contentious: mere human power is not sufficient for it, but if we make use of the power of God, He can surely restrain even the wind. This is good work which can be done only by the living presence of the Spirit of God. The right hand is the hand of power and the encountering of oil is the proving of the power of the Spirit of God (the oil) in a living way through these severe testings of the wilderness path. How much better is this, and how much more sound and real than the emotional excitement and entrancing experiences of ecstatic joy that many today avidly seek as though this were the filling of the Spirit of God! Let us not be deceived by this empty froth, but enjoy the sound, solid, blessed energy and liberty of the Spirit in practical living for God. When filled with the Spirit, Paul solemnly silenced the unholy contentions of Elymas the sorcerer (Acts 13:6-12); and Stephen, facing the contentious, angry Jewish council, bore most blessed witness to the glory of the Lord Jesus at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55-60).
The fifth section of our chapter is confined to verses 17 and 18, and speaks of recompenses, the reaping of what is sown.
"Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." Fellowship will always have results. Just as an iron file sharpens an iron cutting edge, so the interchange of thoughts between friends will sharpen the other in a way that will show in his countenance. It is true in mere natural knowledge: the more it is exercised, the more it will bring results. Let it be so then among Christians in regard to the knowledge of God and the truth of His Word. True Christian fellowship in exchange of the truths we have learned from God will sharpen saints in keener, more sensitive joy in the Lord and usefulness in service to Him. If we desire results, we must practise what brings results.
"Whoso keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof: so he that waiteth on his master shall be honored."
The fig tree speaks of the nation Israel; and a Jew whose love for the nation led him to seek the blessing of his nation, would himself be blessed through this. Just so, if the child of God today cares for the church, the body of Christ, and for its proper interests, he himself will reap proper spiritual benefit. This is good service to our Master, in reference to His interests, "waiting on the Master," and it cannot but result in honor for the servant. Seeking our own honor will on the other hand result in our dishonor.
Verses 19 to 22 form the sixth section, so necessary just at this point as a precautionary warning against any confidence in the labor of mere man; for while all true labor for the Lord brings results, yet confidence must be consistently in the Lord and not in man's achievements. The section then is a simple and candid exposure of man and his vanity.
"As in Water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man."
Water will act as a mirror to reflect a man's face just as it is. The Word of God is likened to water (Eph. 5:26) and in this I see the reflection of my own heart, answering to the heart of all mankind. The deceitful motives and ways of men as exposed in Scripture are but a true reflection of my own heart, and every heart of man.
"Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied."
Elsewhere we are told, "the eye is not filled with seeing." Covetousness seems to be continually awakened by what the eye sees, and it requires stern self-judgment to restrain this natural impulse of our hearts. It is a disease of all mankind, and here likened to the insatiable devouring of mankind by sheol and destruction, - sheol being the state of the disembodied spirit after death. As death continually feeds on mankind, with never an intermission, laying the body low in destruction and dismissing the spirit into the realms of the unseen, with only mourning and depression, so man's eyes feed on all they can see, with never a satisfying, living, vital result. All is transient and vain. How transcendently above and beyond all this is the blessed revelation of God in the Person of His Son, concerning which the child of God can say with a full heart: "As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness." But this is not the subject of the section we are considering.
"The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold; so let a man be to the mouth that praiseth him" (New Trans.).
As silver and gold is tried by intense heat, so a man is tried by means of being praised by men's lips. Let him remember the two previous verses, and human praise will not puff him up. We shall not be deceived bymere flattery if we remember the simple honest fact of what we are. In silver being mentioned, is there not here the reminder of our being redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, a work for us infinitely precious; while gold symbolizes the glory of God, which, if it delights our hearts, will drive from us all desire for our own glory.
Verse 22 sums up the hopelessness of man's condition, if he chooses to remain a fool, ignorant of the grace of God, a stranger to new birth.
"Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him."
The mortar was a vessel in which wheat was pounded with a pestle, to remove the husks to make it edible. The true child of God is likened to wheat (Matt. 13:30, 38) and the wheat must be sifted, the Lord allowing even Satan to do this work sometimes (Luke 22:31). But if a fool is put in company with the saints of God, and pounded with the trials that ought to remove all dross, this will still not remove his folly from him. Environment and training will not decide an issue like this. "Ye must be born again." Only a real work of God in the soul will accomplish true and permanent results.
The seventh section is in every way a contrast to the sixth, for its subject is sufficiency and rest. Is it not simply because only the number one is added, - that is, God? His work accomplishes the complete change.
"Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds."
Because mere man's work is vanity is no reason to be slothful in the Lord's work. Faith in the Living God and diligence go together, for in this there is no vanity: "your labor is not in vain in the Lord." Pastoral, shepherd care is implied in our verse, of course, and however feeble the day in which we live, the need of souls should draw out the unflagging labor and concern of our own hearts.
"For riches are not forever: and doth the crown endure to every generation?"
Time for labor in natural things is limited, and natural wisdom takes advantage of the present. How true, too, in the things of God! We have only the present to labor for the Lord, to acquire for Him what will please Him in the day of rewards. "Occupy till I come," He says, for then there will be no delaying of the account.
"The hay is removed, and the tender grass showeth itself, and herds of the mountains are gathered in" (New Trans.).
This too shows the evanescence of the present, that though our lives are but as a vapor, come and gone, as the grass and the hay, yet there is something gathered, and fruit that is brought forth for the Lord in this brief span of our lives here, will be of lasting value long after the history of our lives is past. "Your fruit shall remain" (John 15:16). Blessed indeed that the believer's life is not all vanity and vexation of spirit. God's work in his soul will bear much fruit.
"The lambs are for thy clothing, and the goats are the price of a field."
Care for souls, young and tender as they may be, will work for our own benefit, as the wool of the lambs is clothing for the shepherd, and as the price of goats sufficient to buy property. There is of course here the reminder of sacrifice, the lamb a type of the Lord Jesus in His quiet submission in death for us, the real means of clothing us in the eyes of God. The goat speaks of Him in substitution for us, a propitiation "for the whole world," that is, "the field," which has been purchased by His death. Compare Matthew 13:44; 1 John 2:2. Not that the world is redeemed, but redemption is available for it, and all who receive the Lord Jesus receive the eternal benefits of this great work.
"And there is goats' milk enough for the food of thy household, and sustenance for thy maidens" (New Trans.).
The goats' milk of course speaks of the sufficient nourishment, as a result of the sacrifice, for the individual, for his household, and for other dependents, - serving maidens. For faith cannot but consider the welfare of others: and here the calm confidence of faith and the devoted energy of faith are beautifully combined. It is a scene of tranquil prosperity and rest.
This page is part of the book: Wisdom's Closing Message - Bible Commentary on Proverbs 25-31 - by L M Grant
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