The Pulpit Commentaries
Part VIII. SECOND APPENDIX TO THE SECOND COLLECTION, containing "the words of Lemuel" on the subjects of impurity and intemperance.
The superscription. The words of King Lemuel, the prophecy which his mother taught him. Who is intended by "Lemuel king" is much disputed. Those who connect the following word massa ("oracle") with the preceding melek ("king"), translate "King of Massa," as Proverbs 30:1 (where see note). Of the country, or the king, or his mother, we have absolutely no information. The name Lemuel, or Lemoel (Proverbs 30:4), means "unto God," i.e. dedicated to God, like Lael (Numbers 3:24); hence it is regarded by many authorities, ancient and modern, as an appellation of Solomon, one from infancy dedicated to God and celled by him Jedidiah, "beloved of the Lord" (2 Samuel 12:25). But there is nothing in the contents of this section to confirm this idea; indeed, there are expressions which militate against it. Possibly Hezekiah may be meant, and his remarkable piety somewhat confirms the opinion; yet we see no reason why he should be here addressed under a pseudonym, especially if we consider that he himself was concerned in making this collection. On the whole, it seems best to take Lemuel as a symbolical name, designating an ideal king, to whom an ideal mother addressed the exhortation which follows. Solomon's own proverbs contain many warnings against the very sins of which this mother speaks, so that the section is conceived in the spirit of the earlier portion of the book, though it is assigned to a different author and another age. The prophecy (massa); the inspired utterance (see on Proverbs 30:1). This maternal counsel forms one compact exhortation, which might with more propriety be so termed than the words of Agur. His mother. The mother of a reigning king was always regarded with the utmost respect, taking precedence of the king's wife. Hence we so often find the names of kings' mothers in the sacred record; e.g. 1 Kings 2:19; 1 Kings 14:21; 1 Kings 15:2; 2 Kings 12:1. It is difficult to say what reading was seen by the LXX; who render, "My words have been spoken by God, the oracle of a king whom his mother instructed." There are many wise women mentioned in Scripture; e.g. Miriam, Deborah, the Queen of Sheba, Huldah, etc; so there is nothing incongruous in Lemuel being instructed by his mother in wisdom.
Here follows the exhortation, which seems to come from the same source as the "burden" of Agur above. In this section the connection and parallelism of the parts are exhibited by repetition of thought and often of words in the several clauses.
What, my son? Mah, "what," is repeated thrice, both to enforce the attention of the son, and to show the mother's anxious care for his good. She feels the vast importance of the occasion, and asks as in perplexity, "What shall I say? What advice shall I give thee?" "Son" is here not ben, but bar, one of the Aramaic forms which are found in these two last chapters. The word occurs also in Psalms 2:12. Son of my vows. This might mean, "son who wast asked in prayer," like Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11), and dedicated to God, as the name Lemuel implies; or it may signify, "thou who art the object of my daily vows and prayers." Septuagint, "What, my son, wilt thou observe ( τηρήσεις)? What? the sayings of God. My firstborn son, to thee I speak. What, son of my womb? What, son of my vows?"
Exhortation to chastity. Give not thy strength unto women (comp. Proverbs 5:9). Chayil is "vigour," the bodily powers, which are sapped and enervated by sensuality. The Septuagint has σὸν πλοῦτον; the Vulgate, substantiam tuam; but the prayerful, anxious mother would consider rather her son's personal well being than his worldly circumstances, which, indeed, an Eastern monarch's licentiousness would not necessarily impair. Nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings; or, with a slight alteration in the punctuation (and an improved parallelism), to them that destroy kings; "expugnatricibus regum," as Schultens terms them. Women are meant; and the prince is enjoined not to surrender his life, conduct, and actions to the influence of women, who, both by the dissipation and sensuality which they occasion, and the quarrels which they provoke, and the evil counsels which they give, often ruin kings and states (see the injunction, Deuteronomy 17:11). The Vulgate rendering, ad delendos reges, looks as if the warning was against making wars of conquest against neighbouring kings; but this is not a satisfactory parallel to the former clause. Septuagint, "Give not thy wealth unto women, nor thy mind, nor thy life unto remorse ( ὑστεροβολίαν). Do all things with counsel; drink wine with counsel." This seems to belong to the next verse.
The second admonition. A warning against inebriety, and concerning a proper use of strong drink.
It is not for kings; or, as others read, far be it from kings. The injunction is repeated to indicate its vast importance. Nor for princes strong drink; literally, nor for princes (the word), Where is strong drink? (see on Proverbs 20:1; and comp. Job 15:23). The evils of intemperance, flagrant enough in the case of a private person, are greatly enhanced in the ease of a king, whose misdeeds may affect a whole community, as the next verse intimates. St. Jerome reads differently, translating, "Because there is no secret where drunkenness reigns." This is in accordance with the proverb, "When wine goes in the secret comes out;" and, "Where drink enters, wisdom departs;" and again, "Quod latet in mente sobrii, hoc natat in ore ebrii." Septuagint, "The powerful are irascible, but let them not drink wine." "Drunkenness,'' says Jeremy Taylor ('Holy Living,' ch. 3, § 2), "opens all the sanctuaries of nature, and discovers the nakedness of the soul, all its weaknesses and follies; it multiplies sins and discovers them; it makes a man incapable of being a private friend or a public counsellor. It taketh a man's soul into slavery and imprisonment more than any vice whatsoever, because it disarms a man of all his reason and his wisdom, whereby he might be cured, and, therefore, commonly it grows upon him with age; a drunkard being still more a fool and less a man."
This gives a reason for the warning. Lest they drink, and forget the Law. That which has been decreed, and is right and lawful, the appointed ordinance, particularly as regards the administration of justice. Septuagint, "Lest drinking, they forget wisdom." And pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted; literally, of all the sons of affliction; i.e. the whole class of poorer people. Intemperance leads to selfish disregard of others' claims, an inability to examine questions impartially, and consequent perversion of justice. Isaiah (Isaiah 5:23) speaks of intoxication as inducing men to "justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him."
There are cases where strong drink may be properly administered. Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish (Job 29:13; Job 31:19). As a restorative, a cordial, or a medicine, wine may he advantageously used; it has a place in the providential economy of God. "Use a little wine for thy stomach's sake and thine often infirmities," was St. Paul's advice to Timothy (1 Timothy 5:23). It is supposed to have been in consideration of the injunction in the text that the ladies of Jerusalem provided for criminals on their way to the place of execution a drink of medicated wine, which might deaden the pain of suffering. This was the draught rejected by Christ, who willed to taste the full bitterness of death. The Septuagint has, "to those that are in sorrow;" so the Vulgate, maerentibus, but this makes the two clauses tautological. Wine unto those that be of heavy hearts (Job 3:20). "Wine," says the psalmist, "maketh glad the heart of man" (Psalms 104:15). Says Homer, 'Iliad,' 6.261—
"Great is the strength
Which generous wine imparts to wearied men."
"Wine," says St. Chrysostom ('Hom. in Ephes.,' 19), "has been given us for cheerfulness, not for drunkenness. Wouldest thou know where wine is good? Hear what the Scripture saith, 'Give wine to them, etc. And justly, because it can mitigate asperity and gloominess, and drive away clouds from the brow" (comp. Ecclesiasticus 34:25 (31), etc.).
Let him drink, and forget his poverty. Ovid, 'Art. Amat.,' 1.237—
"Vina parant animos, faciuntque caloribus aptos:
Cura fugit multo diluiturque mero.
Tunc veniunt risus; tunc pauper cornua sumit;
Tunc dolor, et curae, rugaque frontis abit."
Thus is shown a way in which the rich can comfort and encourage their poorer brethren, which is a better method of using God's good gifts than by expending them on their own selfish enjoyment.
Proverbs 31:8, Proverbs 31:9
The third exhortation, admonishing the king to judge righteously.
Open thy mouth for the dumb. The "dumb" is any one who for any reason whatever is unable to plead his own cause; he may be of tender age, or of lowly station, or ignorant, timid, and boorish; and the prince is enjoined to plead for him and defend him (comp. Job 29:15). In the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction; literally, the sons of passing away (Isaiah 2:18); i.e. not orphans, children whose parents have vanished from the earth, nor strangers from a foreign country, nor, generally, mortals, subjects of frail human nature (all of which explanations have been given), but persons who are in imminent danger of perishing, certain, if left unaided, to come to ruin (comp. Job 29:12). Septuagint, "Open thy mouth for the Word of God, and judge all men soundly ( ὑγιῶς)."
Plead the cause; rather, minister judgment, or do right; act in your official capacity so that the effect shall be substantial justice (comp. Zechariah 8:16).
Part IX. THIRD APPENDIX TO THE SECOND COLLECTION.
This section contains an ode in praise of the virtuous woman, derived from a different source from that of the words of Agur, and belonging to a different age (see Introduction). It is an acrostic; that is, each verse begins with one of the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, arranged in the usual order. We may compare this mashal with the alphabetical psalms, "Psalmi abcedarii," which are, more or less, of similar structure, but of which one only, the hundred and nineteenth, is so marked in the English versions. Other examples are Psalms 9:1-20; Psalms 10:1-18; Psalms 25:1-22; Psalms 34:1-22; Psalms 37:1-40; Psalms 111:1-10; Psalms 112:1-10; Psalms 145:1-21; also Lamentations 1:1-22; Lamentations 2:1-22; Lamentations 3:1-66. One object of this artificial construction was to render the matter easier to commit to memory. The spiritual expositors see in this description of the virtuous woman a prophetic representation of the Church of Christ in her truth and purity and influence. Thus Bode: "Hic sapientissimus regum Salomon laudes sanctae Ecclesiae versibus paucis sed plenissima veritate depingit.… Cujus (carminis) ordine perfectissimo alphabeti typice innuitur, quam plenissime hic vel animae cujusque fidelis, vel totius sanctae Ecclesiae, quae ex omnibus electis animabus una perficitur Catholica, virtutes ac praemia describantur."
ALEPH. Who can find a virtuous woman? The expression, ishshah chayil, "woman of force," has occurred in Proverbs 12:4 (where see note). Mulierem fortem, St. Jerome terms her; γυναῖκα ἀνδρείαν is the rendering of the LXX; which places this section as the end of the whole Book of Proverbs. The expression combines the ideas of moral goodness and bodily vigour and activity. It is useless to try to fix the character upon any particular person. The representation is that of an ideal woman—the perfect housewife, the chaste helpmate of her husband, upright, God-fearing, economical, wise. See an anticipation of this character (Proverbs 18:22; Proverbs 19:14); and a very different view (Ecclesiastes 7:26). It is very remarkable to meet with such a delineation of woman in the East, where the female generally occupies a most degraded position, and is cut off from all sphere of activity and administration. To paint such a portrait needed inspiration of some sort. Such a one is hard to find. Her price is far above rubies; or, pearls (see on Proverbs 20:15 and Proverbs 3:15). Septuagint, "Such a one is more valuable than precious stones." There may be allusion to the custom of giving treasure in exchange for a wife, purchasing her, as it were, from her friends (comp. Hosea 3:2). At any rate, few only are privileged to meet with this excellent wife, and her worth cannot be estimated by any material object, however costly. St. Jerome, with a slight difference in the reading, has, Procul, et de ultimis finibus pretium ejus. You may go to the ends of the earth to find her equal in value.
BETH. The heart of her husband cloth safely trust in her. The husband of such a wife goes forth to his daily occupations, having full confidence in her whom he leaves at home, that she will act discreetly, and promote his interests while he is absent (see the contrast in Proverbs 7:20). So that he shall have no need of spoil; rather, he shall not lack gain (shalal). The wife manages domestic concerns so well that her husband finds his honest gains increase, and sees his confidence profitably rewarded. Septuagint, "Such a woman shall want not fair spoils." It is obvious to see in this an adumbration of the Church winning souls from the power of the enemy, especially as shalal is used for an enemy's spoils (Psalms 68:12; Isaiah 53:12; and elsewhere).
GIMEL. She will do him good and not evil (comp. Ec Proverbs 26:1-3). She is consistent in her conduct towards her husband, always pursuing his best interests. All the days of her life; in good times or bad, in the early spring time of young affection, and in the waning years of declining age. Her love, based on high principles, knows no change or diminution. The old commentator refers to the conduct of St. Monies to her unbelieving and unfaithful husband, narrated by St. Augustine in his 'Confessions,' 9.9: "Having been given over to a husband, she served him as her lord; and busied herself to win him to thee, revealing thee to him by her virtues, in which thou madest her beautiful, and reverently amiable, and admirable to her husband."
DALETH. She seeketh wool, and flax. She pays attention to these things, as materials for clothing and domestic uses. Wool has been used for clothing from the earliest times (see Le 13:47; Job 31:20, etc.), and flax was largely cultivated for the manufacture of linen, the processes of drying, peeling, hackling, and spinning being well understood (see Joshua 2:6; Isaiah 19:9; Jeremiah 13:1, etc.). The prohibition about mixing wool and flax in a garment (Deuteronomy 22:11) was probably based on the idea that all mixtures made by the art of man are polluted, and that what is pure and simple, such as it is in its natural state, is alone proper for the use of the people of God. And worketh willingly with her hands; or, she worketh with her hands' pleasure; i.e. with willing hands. The rendering of the Revised Version margin, after Hitzig, "She worketh at the business of her hands," is feeble, and does not say much. What is meant is that she not only labours diligently herself, but finds pleasure in doing so, and this, not because she has none to help her, and is forced to do her own work (on the contrary, she is represented as rich, and at the head of a large household), but because she considers that labour is a duty for all, and that idleness is a transgression of a universal law. Septuagint, "Weaving ( μηρυομένη) wool and flax; she makes it useful with her hands."
HE. She is like the merchants' ships. She is like them in that she extends her operations beyond her own immediate neighbourhood, and bringeth her food from afar, buying in the best markets and on advantageous terms, without regard to distance, and being always on the look out to make honest profit. Septuagint, "She is like a ship trading from a distance, and she herself gathereth her livelihood.'' The expressions in the text point to active commercial operations by sea as well as land, such as we know to have been undertaken by Solomon, Jehoshaphat, and others (1 Kings 9:26; 1 Kings 22:48), and such as the Hebrews must have noticed in the Phoenician cities, Sidon and Tyre.
VAV. She riseth also while it is yet night. Before dawn she is up and stirring, to be ready for her daily occupation. A lamp is always kept burning at night in Eastern houses, and as it is of very small dimensions, the careful housewife has to rise at midnight to replenish the oil, and she often then begins her household work by grinding the corn or preparing something for next day's meals (comp. Proverbs 31:18). Early rising before any great undertaking is continually mentioned in Scripture. And giveth meat to her household; deditquae praedam domesticis suis, Vulgate. The word for "meat" is tereph, which means "food torn in pieces" with the teeth (Psalms 111:5), and hence food to be eaten. The wife thus early prepares or distributes the food which will be wanted for the day. And a portion to her maidens. Chok, "final portion," may apply either to work or food. The Vulgate has cibaria, "meat;" Septuagint, ἔργα, "tasks." The former, which is in accordance with Proverbs 30:8, would be merely a repetition of the second clause, the meat mentioned there being here called the allotted portion, and would be simply tautological. If we take it in the sense of "appointed labour," we get a new idea, very congruous with the housewife's activity (comp. Exodus 5:14, where the same word is used in the ease of the enforced labour of the Israelites).
ZAYIN. She considereth a field, and buyeth it. She turns her attention to a certain field, the possession of which is for some cause desirable; and, after due examination and consideration, she buys it. One is reminded of Christ's parable of the treasure hidden in a field, which the finder sold all that he had to purchase (Matthew 13:44). With the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard. Her prudent management and economy give her means to buy vines and plant a vineyard, and thus to increase her produce. Possibly it is meant that she sees the field she has gotten is more fitted for grapes than corn, and she cultivates it accordingly. Virgil 'Georg.,' 2.229—
"Altera frumentis quoniam favet, altera Baccho,
Densa magis Cereri, rarissima quaeque Lyaeo."
KHETH. She girdeth her loins with strength (Proverbs 31:25). This seems at first sight a strange assertion to make concerning one of the weaker sex; but the phrase is metaphorically expressive of the energy and force with which she prepares herself for her work. Strength and vigour are, as it were, the girdle which she binds round her waist to enable her to conduct her operations with case and freedom. So we have a similar metaphor boldly applied to God (Psalms 93:1): "The Lord reigneth, he is apparelled with majesty; the Lord is apparelled, he hath girded himself with strength" (cf. Job 38:3). Strengtheneth her arms. By daily exercise she makes her arms firm and strong, and capable of great and continued exertion.
TETH. She perceiveth that her merchandise is good; Vulgate, Gustavit et vidit quia bona est negotiatio ejus, where the paraphrase, "she tastes and sees," expresses the meaning of the verb taam here used. Her prudence and economy leave her a large surplus profit, which she contemplates with satisfaction. There is no suspicion of arrogance or conceit, The pleasure that is derived from duty done and successfully conducted business is legitimate and healthy, a providential reward of good works. Septuagint, "She tastes that it is good to work." This comfort and success spur her on to further and more continued exertion. Her candle (lamp) goeth not out by night. She is not idle even when night falls, and outdoor occupations are cut short; she finds work for the hours of darkness, such as is mentioned in the next verse. One recalls Virgil's picture of the thrifty housewife ('AEneid,' 8.407)—
"Inde ubi prima quies medio jam noctis abactae
Curriculo expulerat somnum, cum femina primum,
Cui tolerare colo vitam tenuique Minerva
Impositum, cinerem et sopitos suscitat ignis,
Noctem addens operi, famulesque ad lumina longo
Some take the lamp hers in an allegorical sense, as signifying life, happiness, and prosperity, as Proverbs 13:9 and Proverbs 20:20; others, as denoting a bright example of diligence and piety (Matthew 5:16). But the simple meaning seems to be the one intended. Wordsworth notes that the passage in Revelation 18:1-24, which speaks of the "merchandise" of the false Church, also affirms that "the light of a candle" shall shine in her no more, the two metaphors in our passage applied to the true Church being there applied to Babylon.
YODH. She layeth her hands to the spindle. כִּישׁוֹר. (kishor, a word not occurring elsewhere) is probably not the spindle, but the distaff, i.e. the staff to which is tied the bunch of flax from which the spinning wheel draws the thread. To this she applies her hand; she deftly performs the work of spinning her flax into thread. Her hands hold the distsaff. פֶלֶךְ (pelek) is the spindle, the cylindrical wood (afterwards the wheel) on which the thread winds itself as it is spun. The hands could not be spared to hold the distaff as well as the spindle, so the first clause should run, "She stretches her hand towards the distaff." In the former clause kishor occasioned some difficulty to the early translators, who did not view the word as connected with the process of spinning. The Septuagint translates, "She stretches out her arms to useful works ( ἐπὶ τὰ συμφέροντα);" Vulgate, Manum suam misit ad fortia. So Aquila and Symmachus, ἀνδρεῖα. This rather impedes the parallelism of the two clauses. There was nothing derogatory in women of high rank spinning among their maidens, just as in the Middle Ages noble ladies worked at tapestry with their attendants. We remember how Lucretia, the wife of Collatinus, was found sitting in the midst of her handmaids, carding wool and spinning (Livy, 1.57). Catullus, in his 'Epithal. Pel. et Thet.,' 312, describes the process of spinning ―
"Laeva colum molli lana retinebat amictum;
Dextera tum leviter deducens fila supinis
Formabat digitis; tum prono in pollice torquens
Libratum tereti versabat turbine fusum."
CAPH. She is not impelled by selfish greed to improve her means and enlarge her revenues. She is sympathizing and charitable, and loves to extend to others the blessings which have rewarded her efforts. She stretcheth out her hand to the poor. "Hand" is here caph, "the palm,'' evidently containing alms. She knows the maxim (Proverbs 19:17), "He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the Lord," etc.; and she has no fear of poverty. Yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy. "Hand," is here yod, with its nerves and sinews ready for exertion (see on Proverbs 10:4); and the idea is that she puts forth her hand to raise and soothe the poor man, not being satisfied with dealing alms to him, but exercising the gentle ministries of a tender love. Septuagint, "She opens her hands to the needy, and reaches forth her wrist ( καρπὸν) to the poor." Like Dorcas, she is full of good works and alms deeds (Acts 9:36). It is doubtless implied that the prosperity which she experiences is the reward of this benevolence (Proverbs 22:9).
LAMED. She is not afraid of the snow for her household. "Show," says Dr. Geikie ('Holy Land,' 2.58), "covers the streets of Jerusalem two winters in three, but it generally comes in small quantities, and soon disappears. Yet there are sometimes very snowy winters. That of 1879, for example, left behind it seventeen inches of snow, even where there was no drift, and the strange spectacle of snow lying unmelted for two or three weeks was seen in the hollows on the hillsides. Thousands of years have wrought no change in this aspect of the winter months, for Bennaiah, one of David's mighty men, 'slew a lion in the midst of a pit in the time of snow' (2 Samuel 23:20)." She has no fears concerning the comfort and health of her family even in the severest winter. For all her household are clothed with scarlet; with warm garments. The word used is שָׁנִים (shanim), derived from a verb meaning "to shine," and denoting a crimson or deep scarlet colour. This colour was supposed, and rightly, to absorb and retain heat, as white to repel it; being made of wool, the garments would be warm as well as stately in appearance. St. Jerome has duplicibus (shenaim), "with double garments," i.e. with one over the other. Warm garments were the more necessary as the only means of heating rooms was the introduction of portable chafing dishes containing bunting charcoal (see Jeremiah 36:22, etc). The Septuagint has taken liberties with the text, "Her husband is not anxious concerning domestic matters when he tarries anywhere [ χρονίζη for which Delitzsch suggests χιονίζ], for all her household are well clothed." Spiritually, the Church fears not the severity of temptation or the chill of unbelief, when her children take refuge in the blood of Christ.
MEM. She maketh herself coverings of tapestry (marbaddim); as Proverbs 7:16 (where see note). Pillows for beds or cushions are meant, though the translators are not of one mind on the meaning. St. Jerome has, stragulatam vestem; Aquila and Theodotion, περιστρώματα, Symmachus, ἀμφιτάπους, "shaggy on both sides;" Septuagint, "She makes for her husband double garments ( δισσὰς χλάινας)." Her clothing is silk and purple. שֵׁשׁ (shesh) is not "silk," but "white linen" ( βύσσος, byssus) of very fine texture, and costly. Purple garments were brought from the Phoenician cities, and were highly esteemed (see So Proverbs 3:10; Jeremiah 10:9). The wife dresses herself in a way becoming her station, avoiding the extremes of sordid simplicity and ostentatious luxury. "For my own part," says St. Francois de Sales, quoted by Lesetre, "I should wish any devout man or woman always to be the best dressed person in the company, but at the same time, the least fine and affected, and adorned, as it is said, with the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit. St. Louis said that every one ought to dress according to his position, so that good and sensible people should not be able to say you are overdressed, nor the younger under dressed" ('Vie Devot.,' 3.25). So the Church is clothed in fine linen, clean and white, even the righteousness which Christ bestows (Revelation 19:8), and invested in her Lord's royal robe, who hath made her children kings and priests unto God (Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10).
NUN. Her husband is known in the gates. Such a woman advances her husband's interests, increases his influence, and, by attending to his domestic concerns, enables him to take his share in public matters, so that his name is in great repute in the popular assemblies at the city gates (Proverbs 31:31; Proverbs 8:3). She is indeed "a crown to her husband" (Proverbs 12:4). When he sitteth among the elders of the land. Homer introduces Nausikaa speaking to her father of her duty to see that he is honourably clad when he goes to the council—
καὶ δὲ σοὶ αὐτῷ ἔοικε μετὰ πρώτοισιν ἐόντα
βουλὰς βουλεύειν καθαρὰ χροί εἵματ ἔχοντα.
"For our costly robes,
All sullied now, the cleansing stream require;
And thine especially, when thou appear'st
In council with the princes of the land,
Had need be pure."
St. Gregory sees here an adumbration of the day of judgment: "For the Redeemer of mankind is the "Husband" of holy Church, who shows himself 'renowned' (nobilis, Vulgate) in the gates. Who first came in sight in degradation and in mockings, but shall appear on high at the entering in of his kingdom; and 'he sitteth among the elders of the land,' for that he shall decree sentence of condemnation together with the holy preachers of that same Church, as himself declares in the gospel (Matthew 19:28)" ('Moral.,' 6.9).
SAMECH. She maketh fine linen, and selleth it. The word for "fine linen" is sadin, not the same as in Proverbs 31:22. but equivalent to σινδών, and denoting linen garments; Delitzsch calls it "body linen" (comp. 14:12, 14:13; Isaiah 3:23). Delivereth girdles unto the merchant; literally, unto the Canaanite; i.e. the Phoenician merchant, a generic name for all traders (see Isaiah 23:8; Zechariah 14:21). Girdles were necessary articles of attire with the flowing robes of Eastern dress The common kind were made of leather, as is the use at the present day; but a more costly article was of linen curiously worked in gold and silver thread, and studded with jewels and gold (see 2 Samuel 18:11; Daniel 10:5). So Virgil (AEneid,' 9.359) speaks of "aurea bullis cingula." We read of Queen Parysatis having certain villages assigned her for girdle money, εἰς ζώνην δεδομέναι (Xen; 'Anab.,' 1.4, 9). Cicero alludes to the same custom in his Verrine oration (Proverbs 3:33): "Solere aiunt barbaros reges Persarum ac Syrorum plures uxores habere, his autem uxoribus civitates attribuere hocmodo: haec civitas mulieri iu redimiculum proebeat, haec in collum, haec in crines". Such rich and elaborately worked girdles the mistress could readily barter with Phoenician merchants, who would give in exchange purple (Proverbs 31:22) and other articles of use or luxury. On this passage St. Gregory thus moralizes: "What is signified by a garment of fine linen, but the subtle texture of holy preaching? In which men rest softly, because the mind of the faithful is refreshed therein by heavenly hope. Whence also the animals are shown to Peter in a linen sheet, because the souls of sinners mercifully gathered together are enclosed in the gentle quiet of faith. The Church therefore made and sold this fine garment, because she inparted in words that faith which she had woven by belief; and received from unbelievers a life of upright conversation. And she delivered a girdle to the Canaanite, because by the might of the righteousness she displayed, she constrained the lax doings of the Gentile world, in order that that might be maintained in their doings which is commanded. 'Let your loins be girded about'" ('Moral.,' 33.33).
AYIN. Strength and honour are her clothing (Proverbs 31:17); ἰσχὺν καὶ εὐπρέπειαν, Septuagint. She is invested with a moral force and dignity which arm her against care and worry; the power of a righteous purpose and strong will reveals itself in her carriage and demeanour. And thus equipped, she shall rejoice in time to come; or, she laugheth (Job 5:22; Job 39:7) at the future (Isaiah 30:8). She is not disquieted by any fear of what may happen, knowing in whom she trusts, and having done her duty to the utmost of her ability. The Greek and Latin versions seem to take the expression as referring to the day of death; thus the Vulgate, Ridebit in die novissimo; Septuagint, "She rejoices in the last days ( ἐν ἡμέραις ἐσχάταις)." But it is best interpreted as above. The true servant of God is not afraid of any evil tidings, his heart being fixed, trusting in the Lord (Psalms 112:7).
PE. She openeth her mouth with wisdom. She is not merely a good housewife, attending diligently to material interests; she guides her family with words of wisdom. When she speaks, it is not gossip, or slander, or idle talk, that she utters, but sentences of prudence and sound sense, such as may minister grace to the hearers. The Septuagint has this verse before Proverbs 31:25, and the first hemistich Again. after Proverbs 31:27. So in Lamentations 2:1-22, Lamentations 3:1-66, Lamentations 4:1-22, the pe and ayin vetoes change places. This is also the case in Psalms 37:1-40. In the former passage the LXX: renders, "She openeth her mouth heedfully and lawfully ( προεχόντως καὶ ἐννόμως);" and in the other, "wisely and in accordance with law ( σοφῶς καὶ νομοθέσμως)." In her tongue is the law of kindness (thorath chesed); i.e. her language to those around her is animated and regulated by love. As mistress of a family, she has to teach and direct her dependents, and she performs this duty with gracious kindness and ready sympathy. Septuagint, "She places order on her tongue."
TSADE. She looketh well to the ways of her house; the actions and habits of the household. She exercises careful surveillance over all that goes on in the family. Eateth not the bread of idleness; but rather bread won by active labour and conscientious diligence. She is of the opinion of the apostle who said "that if any would not work, neither should he eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Septuagint, "The ways of her house are confined ( στεγναὶ διατριβαὶ οἴκων αὐτῆς), and she eats not idle bread." The first of these clauses may mean that the proceedings of her household, being confined to a narrow circle, are readily supervised. But the meaning is very doubtful; and Schleusner renders, "continuae conversationes in aedibus ejus." St. Gregory applies our verse to the conscience, thus: "She considers the ways of her house, because she accurately examines all the thoughts of her conscience. She eateth not her bread in idleness, because that which she learned out of Holy Scripture by her understanding, she places before the eyes of the Judge by exhibiting it in her works" ('Moral.,' 35.47).
KUPH. Her children arise up, and call her blessed. She is a fruitful mother of children, who, seeing her sedulity and prudence, and experiencing her affectionate care, celebrate and praise her, and own that she has rightly won the blessing of the Lord. Her husband also, and he praiseth her; in the words given in the next verse. Having the approbation of her husband and children, who know her best, and have the best opportunities of judging her conduct, she is contented and happy. Septuagint, "Her mercy ( ἐλεημοσύνη) raises up her children, and they grow rich, and her husband praises her."
RESH. Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. The versions and some commentators take the encomium in the mean and restricted sense of praise for the acquisition of riches. Thus the Vulgate, Multae filiae congregaverunt divitias; Septuagint, "Many daughters have obtained wealth." But it adds another rendering, "Many have wrought power ( ἐποίησανδύναμιν)," which is nearer the meaning in this place. Chayil (as we have seen, Proverbs 31:10) means "force," virtus, "strength of character" shown in various ways (comp. Numbers 24:18; Psalms 60:12). "Daughters," equivalent to "women," as Genesis 30:13; So Genesis 6:9. Roman Catholic commentators have, with much ingenuity, applied the whole description of the virtuous woman, and especially the present verse, to the Virgin Mary. We may regard it as a representation of the truly Christian matron, who loves husband and children, guides the house, is discreet, chaste, good, a teacher of good things (1 Timothy 5:14; Titus 2:3, etc.).
SHIN. The writer confirms the husband's praise by assigning to it its just grounds. Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain. Chen, "favour," may signify either the good will with which one is regarded, or gracefulness, beauty. As being in close parallelism with the next words, it is best taken as referring to loveliness of form. Mere gracefulness, if considered as a token of a wife's work and usefulness, is misleading; and beauty is transitory and often dangerous. Neither of them is of any real value unless accompanied by religion. As the gnomic poet says—
΄ὴ κρῖν ὁρῶν τὸ κάλλος ἀλλὰ τὸν τρόπον.
"Judge not at eight of beauty, but of life."
But a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. So we come back to the maxim with which the whole book began, that the foundation of all excellence is the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:7). Such, too, is the conclusion of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 12:13), "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." Septuagint, "False are charms ( ἀρεσκειαι), and vain is the beauty of woman; for a prudent woman is blessed, and let her praise the fear of the Lord."
TAV. Give her of the fruit of her hands. So may she enjoy the various blessings which her zeal, prudence, and economy have obtained. Psalms 128:2, "Thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands; happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee." Septuagint, "Give her of the fruit of her lips." And let her own works praise her in the gates. She needs no farfetched laudation; her life long actions speak for themselves. Where men most congregate, where the heads of the people meet in solemn assembly, there her praise is sung, and a unanimous verdict assigns to her the highest honour. Septuagint, "Let her husband be praised in the gates." This frequent introduction of the husband is cuprous. St. Gregory thus spiritualizes the passage: "As the entrance of a city is called the gate, so is the day of judgment the gate of the kingdom, since all the elect go in thereby to the glory of their heavenly country ….Of these gates Solomon says, 'Give her of the fruit of her hands, and her own works shall praise her in the gates.' For holy Church then receives of 'the fruit of her hands,' when the recompensing of her labour raises her up to the possession of heavenly blessings; for her 'works then praise her in the gates,' when in the very entrance to his kingdom the words are spoken to his members, 'I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat,' etc." ('Moral.,' 6.9).
A mother's counsel
The last chapter of the Book of Proverbs gives us the picture of a mother's counsel to her son—wise and good and eloquent with love and yearning anxiety. Here is a picture to suggest the inestimable advantage to a young man of a mother's guidance. In thoughtless, high-spirited youth this too often passes unheeded, and precious advice is then wasted on ungrateful ears. It would be more seemly to consider its unique merits.
I. IT SPRINGS FROM A WOMAN'S NATURE. We have many beautiful pictures of women in the Bible. Inspired women have conveyed to us some parts of the biblical teaching. Deborah ( 5:7), the mother of Samuel, and now the mother of Lemuel, all help us with great Divine truths or holy thoughts and influences. It is the gift of women to see into truth with a flash of sympathy. The wonder is that we have so small a part of the Bible from the tongue and pen of women.
II. IT IS INSPIRED BY A MOTHER'S HEART. The biblical gallery of holy women does not introduce us to the cloisters. The Hebrew heroines were "mothers in Israel," not nuns. Maternity completes woman. "The perfect woman, nobly planned," is one who can think, love, and act with the large heart of a mother.
III. IT IS CHARACTERIZED BY UNSELFISH DEVOTION. There is nowhere in all creation such an image of utterly unselfish, of completely self-sacrificing love as that of a woman for her child. She almost gives her life for his infant existence. All through his helpless years she watches over him with untiring care. When he goes forth into the world, she follows him with never-flagging interest. He may forget her; she will never forget him. If he does well, her joy is unbounded; if he does ill, her heart is broken. Without a thought of self, she spends herself on her child, and finds her life or her death in his conduct.
IV. IT IS GUIDED BY DEEP KNOWLEDGE. The mother may not know much of the outer world; she may be quite ignorant of the most recent dicta of science; some of her notions may seem old-fashioned to her modern-minded son. But foolish indeed will he be if he dares to despise her counsels on such grounds. She knows him—his strength and his weakness, his childish faults and his early promises. Here lies the secret of her wisdom.
V. IT CANNOT BE NEGLECTED WITHOUT CRUEL INGRATITUDE. The son may think himself wiser than his mother, but at least, he should give reverent attention to her advice. So much love and care and thoughtfulness do not deserve to be tossed aside in a moment of impatience. The wise son will acknowledge that his mother's wishes deserve his most earnest consideration. It may be, then, that he will be held back in the hour of temptation by the thought of the poignant grief that his shameful fall would give to his mother. It is much for a life to be worthy of a good Christian mother's counsel.
The typical woman
I. HER SPHERE. This is domestic.
1. In marriage. The typical woman is a wife and mother, not a St. Agnes, the mystical bride of Christ, nor even a Virgin Mary. We see her in Sarah, in Naomi, in Hannah, in Eunice. There is invaluable service for the world which only women who are free from the ties of home can accomplish; there is a noble mission for single women. But there is nothing in Scripture, reason, or conscience to suggest that virginity is more holy than marriage, that the maiden is more saintly than the matron.
2. In the work of the home. Moreover, for unmarried women household cares and quiet home duties usually have the first call. Some women may be called to more public positions. A queen may adorn a throne. A Florence Nightingale may live as an angel of mercy to the suffering. But these are exceptional persons. Every Jewess was not a Deborah, and even the martial prophetess, unlike her French counterpart, Joan of Are, was "a mother in Israel."
3. Therefore with domestic responsibility. The typical woman will be judged primarily in regard to domestic duties. The true wife is the helpmeet of her husband. Her first aim will be to "do him good" (Proverbs 31:12). If she falls here, her public service is of little account.
II. HER CHARACTER. This is described in a graphic picture of her life—a picture which is in striking contrast to the ignorance, the indolence, the inanity of an Oriental harem. Observe its chief features.
1. Trustworthiness. The true wife is her husband's confidant. She must be worthy of confidence by icing
2. Industry. Nothing can be more foolish than the notion that a "lady" should have no occupation. The ideal woman rises early and busies herself with many affairs. In old days, when the spinning was done at home and most of the family garments were made by the women of the house, the clothing of husband and children bore testimony to the industry of the wife. Machinery has destroyed this antique picture. Yet the spirit of it remains. The true wife still finds an abundance of domestic occupations.
3. Thrift. The wife of the Proverbs is quite a business woman, selling the superfluous work of her hands to merchants, and buying land with the proceeds. Yet by her foresight she provides warm clothing for the winter, and therefore she can afford to laugh when the snow cometh.
4. Strength. "She girdeth her loins with strength." The physical education of women is just now receiving especial attention, and rightly so. It is a woman's duty to be strong, if by means of wholesome food and exercise she can conquer weakness. No doubt the ailments of many women spring from lassitude, indolence, and self-surrender. But eve, when bodily trailty cannot be conquered, strength of soul may be attained.
5. Charity. The strong and thristy with might be hard, cold, and selfish. But the true woman "stretcheth out her hand to the poor" (verse 20).
6. Gracious speech. So energetic a woman might still be thought somewhat unlovable if we had not this final trait: "in her tongue is the law of kindness" (verse 26). How much may the tone of a woman's conversation do to keep peace in a household, and shed over it a spirit of love and gentleness!
7. True religion. This is the root of the matter. The typical woman "feareth the Lord" (verse 30).
III. HER REWARD.
1. In her influence. "Her husband is known in the gates." She helps him to honour. Herself too busy in the private sphere to take her part directly in public life, yet indirectly she is a great force in the large world through her influence over her husband.
2. In the success of her energies. We have here a picture of a wife in affluence—not of a poor domestic drudge in the squalor of abject poverty. Nevertheless, the prosperity of the home largely depends upon her. Her thoughtfulness, energy, careful oversight of others and kindness of heart and words, are the chief causes of the welfare of her happy, comfortable home.
3. In the honour of her family. "Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her" (verse 28). Surely this is a better reward than public fame.
4. Continued influence. This true woman deserves to have "the fruit of her hands." If she is to be spoken of "in the gates," it should be in praise of her domestic duties, which cannot but be known to her neighbours, however modest and retiring her manners may be.
Lemuel's mother warns her son against the fascinations of superficial charms in his choice of a wife, and points to the attractiveness of a God-fearing woman.
I. THE VANITY OF BEAUTY.
1. It is but temporary. The bloom of beauty fades with youth; but a wife is to be a man's helpmeet throughout life, and, if both are spared, his companion in age. In making a choice for life a man should consider enduring traits.
2. It is superficial. Beauty of face and grace of form are only bodily attributes, They may have no corresponding mental, moral, and spiritual merits.
3. It is deceptive. The fascination of a pretty face may delude a man into neglecting more important considerations in the woman of his choice. Ill temper may be taken for strength of character, frivolity for liveliness, mere softness of disposition for love. But the great disillusion of lifelong companionship will dispel all these mistakes, when the discovery is to, late to be of any use. On the other hand, there is no need to take refuge in a monkish contempt of beauty. All beauty is a work of God. It is the duty of a woman to make herself pleasing to others. The finest beauty is a product of health, good temper, and the expression of worthy sentiments—all of them desirable things. Note: The vanity of beauty shows the mistake of pursuing "art for art's sake," to the neglect of morality, duty, truth, and charity.
II. THE GRACE OF RELIGION. The "woman that feareth the Lord" is to be prodded. Though, perhaps, less beautiful in form and countenance, she has the higher beauty of holiness. The Madonna stands infinitely above the Venus. The grace of the God-fearing woman has its own true attraction for those who can appreciate it.
1. It is enduring. Beauty fades; goodness endures. This should ripen with years into a more rich and mellow grace.
2. It is deep. The prolonged acquaintanceship that reveals the utter hollowness and unreality of those attractions which consist only in bodily form and skin-complexion only makes more apparent the treasures of a true and worthy character. Trouble that ploughs fatal furrows in the cheek of the mere "beauty" unveils the tender grace of the truly godly woman. Those scenes wherein earthly beauty fails open up wondrous treasures of heavenly grace.
3. It is satisfying. A feverish excitement accompanies the adoration of earthly beauty; but the beauty of a sweet, true, generous soul is restful and comforting.
4. It is worthy of honour. Poets give us their dreams of fair women. A higher subject would be the praises of God-fearing women. How much of the world's blessedness springs from the devotion of unselfish women—the self-sacrifices of true wives, the toils and prayers of good. mothers!
The strenuous advocacy of the rights of women by shrill oratory has injured the true cause of women by covering a serious subject with ridicule, and suggesting the unreality of the grievances urged. When extravagant demands are made, people assume that every just right has been conceded; and when the self-elected advocates of women put forth a programme which the great body of wives and daughters repudiate, it is supposed that there is no ground for considering any complaint as to the legal and social treatment of women. But this is unreasonable and unjust. There are women's rights, and these fights are by no means universally conceded.
I. WOMEN HAVE A RIGHT TO WORK. The Oriental notion, that women are but idle ornaments of the harem, finds no place in the Bible. Here they appear freely in the world, and, though their first duties are in the home, they are not idle, nor are they wanting in enterprise. The ideal woman in the Book of Proverbs is a manufacturer, a merchant, and a landowner. Woman's work cannot be wholly the same as man's, because nature has placed limitations upon her physical energies. But she has spheres for work, and it is cruel, unjust, and selfish to keep her out of any region of activity where she can do good service, by law or by social displeasure. Two wrongs in particular need to be swept away.
1. The motion that work is degrading to a woman. Surely idleness is more degrading. It is rightly said that woman's sphere is the home. But it is not every woman who has a home. Surely it is a degrading and insulting idea that the main business of a young woman is to secure a husband, and so obtain a home. There are women who are manifestly cut out for other positions; many women never have an opportunity of obtaining a home of their own except by sacrificing themselves to men whom they do not love. In early life young girls are not the better for being kept in idleness, waiting for the chance that may turn up. Half the ailments of women of the comfortable classes come from want of occupation. It needs to be known and recognized that it is a right and honourable thing for a woman to be engaged in any ordinary occupation that is suitable to her powers.
2. The fear of rivalry with men. There have been professions the members of which have bitterly resented the invasion of their ranks by women. Such trade unionism is most ungenerous. It is an humiliation to have to confess that men could not hold their own unless under a system of protection against the competition of women. Certainly no Christian principle can justify such selfishness.
II. WOMEN HAVE A RIGHT TO THE RESULTS OF THEIR WORK.
1. In payment. The wife who earns wages has a right to her purse as much as the husband to his. Where there is a true marriage, no thought of separate interests will rouse any jealousy as to the several possessions of the two. But true marriage is not always realized. We see brutal husbands living idly on the earnings of their wives. It is not enough that the poor women are supposed to be protected by a Married Woman's Property Act, for the husband is still too often the tyrant of the home. We shall only see a more just arrangement when Christian principles are applied to domestic practices.
2. In honour. "Let her own works praise her in the gates." Women who contribute to the service of society are deserving of double honour, because they have had to work under exceptional disadvantages. Women who have proved themselves wise, industrious, and generous in the home life do not receive their meed of praise. Too much is taken for granted, and accepted without thanks, because the service is constant and the sacrifice habitual. In after years, when it is too late to give the due acknowledgment, many a man has had to feet sharp pangs of regret at his heedless treatment of a wife's patient toil or a mother's yearning love.
3. In position. Opportunity should be proportionate to capacity. If women can work, they should have scope for work. It is the duty of Christian society to give to woman her true position. If she be "the weaker vessel," she needs more consideration, not less justice. Christ gave high honours to women, accepted their devoted service, and laid the foundation of Christian justice in regard to them.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The words of Lernuel
The fear of God is the leading thought in these meditations; and this in a twofold relation—to the king in his rule in the state, and the woman in her rule in the house.
A mother's maxims
The mother's heart, deep in emotions of affection and urgent solicitude, is expressed in the passionate form of the address.
I. ON WOMEN OR THE DUTY OF CHASTITY. (Proverbs 31:3.) The weakness of this passion was one of the things, Alexander the Great was wont to say, which reminded him that he was mortal David and Solomon were both warnings and beacon lights against yielding to it.
II. ON WINE, OR THE DUTY OF TEMPERANCE. (Proverbs 31:4. sqq.) Here is a sin in close affinity to the former (Hosea 4:11).
1. A vice degrading in all, drunkenness is most especially unbefitting those in high station. Elah (1 Kings 16:8, 1 Kings 16:9), Benhadad (1 Kings 20:16), and Belshazzar (Daniel 5:2-4), were all dark examples of the danger (comp. Hosea 7:5).
2. It may lead to moral perversion. (Proverbs 31:5.) The woman wrongly condemned by Philip of Macedon exclaimed, "I appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober." Ahasuerus (Esther 1:10, Esther 1:11) and Herod (Mark 6:21-28) appear to have been guilty of arbitrary conduct under the same besotting influence. Men "err through strong drink" (Isaiah 28:7).
3. The true use of wine. (Proverbs 31:6.) It is a medicine for the fainting. It is a restorative under extreme depression. The Bible tolerates and admits the blessing of wine in moderation as promotive of social cheerfulness. It "maketh glad the heart of man," and is even said to "cheer God" ( 9:13). Hence libations were a part of the sacrificial feast offered to the Majesty on high. As an anodyne it is admitted here (Proverbs 31:7). But all this does not exempt from close circumspection as to time, place, persons, and circumstances in its use. The priests, when performing their sacred functions in the tabernacle and temple, were to abstain from wine. But here, as in other matters, there is large latitude given to the exercise of the private judgment, the personal Christian conscience. Any attempt to overrule the right of personal freedom creates a new class of evils. Let those who see their duty in that light adopt total abstinence; and others labour according to their ability to strike at the indirect and deeper causes of what many regard as a national vice. Wherever there is a widespread vice, it is rooted in some profound misery. The surest, though longest, cure is by the eradication of the pain of the mind which drives so many towards the nepenthes, or draught of oblivion.
III. ON THE FREE AND FULL ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE. (Proverbs 31:8, Proverbs 31:9.) The royal heart and hand are to be at the service of those who cannot help themselves—the widow, the orphan, the poor, and "all that are desolate and oppressed" (Job 29:15, Job 29:16). He is to be both advocate and judge. He is to be an earthly type of God. "Let his representatives on earth study the character of their King in heaven, and be conformed more fully to his image of forgiveness and love."—J.
The virtuous housewife
I. HER INFLUENCE IN THE SPHERE OF HOME. (Proverbs 31:10-22.)
1. Her exceeding worth. (Proverbs 31:10-12.) A costly treasure not everywhere to be found; no commonplace blessing: an ornament and a joy above all that earth affords of rare and beautiful. A treasure on which the heart of the possessor ever dwells with delight.
"Continual comfort in a face,
The lineaments of gospel books."
She is the rich source of revenue to her husband in all good things.
"All other goods by fortune's hand are given;
A wife is the peculiar gift of Heaven."
"If women be good," said Aristotle, "the half of the commonwealth may be happy where they are." "The greatest gift of God is a pious, amiable spouse, who fears God, loves his house, and with whom one can live in perfect confidence" (Luther).
2. The picture of her domestic industry. (Proverbs 31:13 - 22.) It is an antique picture, the form and colouring derived from ancient custom; but the general moral effect is true for all times. The traits of the housewifely character are:
II. FURTHER TRAITS AND DETAILS OF THE PICTURE, (Proverbs 31:23-31.)
1. She reflects consideration on her husband. Her thrift makes him rich; her noble character gives him additional title to respect. His personality derives weight from the possession of such a treasure, the devotion of such a heart. Her business capacity, her energy, and the quiet dignity of her life and bearing; the mingled sense and shrewdness, charm and grace of her conversation (Proverbs 31:24-27);—are all a source of fame, of noble self-complacency, of just confidence to the man who is blessed to call her "mine."
2. Her life and work earn for her perpetual thanks and benedictions. (Proverbs 31:28, Proverbs 31:29.) Her children, as they grow up, bless her for the inestimable boon of a mother's care and love. She has revealed to them God; and never can they cease to believe in goodness so long as they recollect her. She basks in the sunshine of a husband's constant approved. "Best of wives!" "Noblest of women!" is the thought ever in his heart, often on his lips.
3. It is religion which gives enduring worth and immortality to character, (Proverbs 31:30, Proverbs 31:31.) Beauty is a failing charm or a deception of the senses. But religious principle gives a spiritual beauty to the plainest exterior. Being and doing from religious motives, to religious ends,—this is a sowing for eternal fruits. And the works of love for God's sake and man's fill the air with fragrance to the latest end of time, and are found unto praise, honour, and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.—J.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
We have not many words from women's lips in the inspired record, and we may therefore esteem the more highly those we possess. The verses bring out—
I. THE STRONG CLAIMS OF MOTHERHOOD. "The son of my womb;" "the son of my vows." These claims are based upon:
1. Motherhood as such. Upon all that motherhood means to us; upon the fact that the mother has borne her child, has cherished him at her own breast, has watched over his infancy and childhood with sedulous care, has shielded and succoured him, has fed and clothed him; as we say in one word—has "mothered" him.
2. Motherly training and dedication. The early experiences of the mother include much beyond the physical realm; they include the education of the intellect, the training of the Will, the first imparting of religious instruction, the solemn dedication of her child to the service of God, repeated and earnest prayer on his behalf. Her child is not only her offspring; he is "the son of her vows," the one on whom she has expanded her most fervent piety.
3. Maternal affection and anxiety. The words of Lemuel's mother are charged with deep affection and profound solicitude. And it is those who truly love us, and who are unselfishly devoted to our interest, that have the strongest claim upon us. A claim which is only that of natural relationship, and is not crowned and completed by affection, falls very short indeed of that which is strengthened and sanctified by sacrificial love.
II. THE HOPE OF MOTHERHOOD. The mother hopes for good and even great things for and from her child; he is to stand among the strong, the wise, the honoured, the useful.
III. ITS BITTER AND CRUEL DISAPPOINTMENT. When the son of much sorrow and prayer, of much patient training and earshot entreaty, who had a noble opportunity before him—when he virtually signs away his inheritance, "gives his strength" to the destroyer, takes the path which leads to entire dethronement and ruin, then is there such a bitter and such a cruel disappointment as only st mother's heart can feel and know. Then perishes a fond and proud and precious hope; then enters and takes possession a saddening, a crushing sorrow.
IV. ITS RIGHT TO REMONSTRATE. "What, my son? This of thee?—of thee whom I have loved and taught and trained? of thee for whom I have yearned and prayed? of thee from whom I have had a right to hope for such better things? Oh, lose not thy fair heritage! take the portion, live the life, wear the crown, still within thy reach!" A true and faithful mother has a right which is wholly indisputable, and strong with surpassing strength, to speak thus in affectionate expostulation to one who owes so much to her, and has returned her nothing. And what is—
V. THE FILIAL DUTY? Surely it is to receive such remonstrance with deep respect; to give to it a patient and dutiful attention; to take it into long and earnest consideration; to resolve that, cost what it may, the path of penitence and renewal shall be trodden; that anything shall be endured rather than a mother's heart be pierced by the hand of her own child!—C.
The allowable as the exceptional
It is often the case that that which is wrong as a rule is right as an exception; what it would be unwise, if not unlawful, to do under ordinary circumstances, it may be most wise and even obligatory to do in emergencies. This applies particularly, but not exclusively, to the subject of the text—
I. THE USE OF STIMULANTS. In a state of health and during the discharge of daily duties, shun the use of stimulants; depend upon that which nourishes and builds up. "Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish;" to the man who, by exposure or by some suddenly inflicted wound, or by starvation, is brought down to the brink of death, administer the reviving cordial. What we should not depend upon for daily strength we do well to fall back upon in the time of extremity, or in the case of special need.
II. THE EMPLOYMENT OF STRONG LANGUAGE OR VERY VIVID ILLUSTRATION. It is a great mistake to be always speaking in superlatives, or to be habitually indulging in expletives, or to be regularly resorting to highly coloured illustrations. It is a sign and also a source of weakness. These very soon lose their power by repetition, and then there is nothing in reserve. And the man who has no power in reserve is he who will find himself beaten in the battle. Temperate language, moderation in the use of imagery and the expression of disapproval, is the true and wise course. Strong language is for quite exceptional cases; it has its opportunity, but should be content to wait for it.
III. RESORT TO VIOLENCE. There are occasions when physical force should he and must he employed. The magistrate is compelled to resort to it; so also is the schoolmaster, and even the parent. But the less the better. Bodily chastisement is always regrettable, and only to be resorted to when all other means have failed. Its constant exercise only hardens the object of it, and it is not unlikely to harden the hand that administers it. The wise teacher and the wise parent will do his best to reduce it to its very lowest point.
IV. AFFECTIONATE DEMONSTRATIVENESS. This has its time and place, hut it is an exceptional rather than a constant one in the conduct of our life. When any one has lacked the tenderness and the affection which our heart craves, and is hungry for human love, when the free and full manifestation of heartfelt kindness will be like water to the parched lips, let it be freely and fully given. But the perpetual exhibition of endearment, whether in word or deed, is a mistake.
V. THE APPEAL TO SELF-INTEREST ON THE PART OF THE MORALIST AND RELIGIOUS TEACHER. We should, as a rule, place moral obligations and religious duty on the ground of conviction; we should continually endeavour to impress men with the reeling that they ate sacredly bound to respect themselves, to regard the rights of their brethren, to respond to the claims of God, their Father and their Saviour. Religion is the response of the human soul to the boundless claim of Infinite Goodness and Love. But Christ has himself taught us that it is right and well sometimes to make our appeal to the sense of self-interest—to say to men, "If not for Gods sake, who has a sovereign and supreme claim on your attention; is not for the sake of those who are related to you and dependent on you; yet for your own sake, because you love life and hate death, hearken and obey".—C.
Proverbs 31:8, Proverbs 31:9
The function and the privilege of power
God gives to some men place and power; they may inherit it, or they may win their way to it by the force of their talent or their merit. When they have reached it, what should be the use they make of it? We may look first at—
I. WHAT HAS BEEN ITS HABIT. Only too often the actual use that has been made of high station and of civil or military lower is that of
Men have used their elevation only to drink the sweet cup of pleasure; or to secure to themselves the spoils of high office, the treasures which law within their grasp; or to find a mean and despicable gratification in the enforcement of their own dignity and the humiliation of those beneath them. This is "human," if by human we understand that which is natural to man as sin has dwarfed and spoilt his nature, perverting his powers and degrading his delights. But of man as God meant him to be, and as a Divine Redeemer is renewing him, all this is utterly unworthy, let us see—
II. WHAT IS ITS TRUE FUNCTION. It is that of righteousness. A man is placed on high in order that he may "judge righteously." Whether he be the king, as in David's and Solomon's time; or whether he be the magistrate, as in our own time; or whether he be the teacher, or the manufacturer, or the farmer, or the master or father in the home; whatever be the kind or measure of authority enjoyed, the function of power is to judge righteously; it is to do justice; it is to see that innocency is acquitted and guilt condemned; it is to take pains and exercise patience in order that worth may be rewarded and that sin may be shamed; it is to be a tower of refuge to those who are conscious of rectitude, and to be a source of fear to those who know that they have been "doing evil;" it is to be a strength to the righteous and a terror to the guilty.
III. WHAT IT SHOULD COUNT ITS PECULIAR PRIVILEGE; IT IS TO BEFRIEND THE FRIENDLESS. There are those who are too weak to be of much service to their neighbours; there are those who are too selfish to cherish the ambition; but the strong man who is the good man, the man in power who has in him the spirit of his Master, will rejoice in his power mainly because it enables him to help those who would otherwise go on and go down without a helper;
If Solomon did write these words, we need not he surprised that he speaks of the rarity of the ideal woman; for she is hardly to be found in a crowded harem. It is the Christian home that contains her. We look at—
I. HER CHARACTERISTICS. And these are:
1. Piety. "She feareth the Lord" (Proverbs 31:30). She has within her the spirit of reverence, and the life she lives is one in which worship and the study of the will of God have no small share. She has a seat and is at home in the sanctuary; she is also constant and earnest in the quiet chamber of devotion; she knows well that the happiness of her home and the well being of her household depend upon the favour of the heavenly Father.
2. Purity. She is a "virtuous woman" (Proverbs 31:10). She gives her whole heart to her husband, and enjoys his full confidence (Proverbs 31:11).
3. Industry. The writer dwells upon the labours she puts forth for the sake of her husband and her household.
4. Wisdom. (Proverbs 31:26.) Her conversation is far removed from mere idle gossip or the vanities of an empty curiosity. She is familiar with "the Law of the Lord;" she knows what is the secret of lasting happiness. She can guide her sons and daughters in the way of life; and she instills her heaven born wisdom into minds that welcome it and will never lose it.
5. Kindness. "The law of kindness is on her lips." She is one that does not rule by the "constant droppings" of censure, hut by the never-failing stream of gentleness and encouragement. Love, not fear, is the sceptre which she holds, and is the source of her strength.
6. Beneficence. (Proverbs 31:20).
II. HER REWARD.
1. Affection and honour on the part of those who are nearest to her. Her husband trusts and praises her (Proverbs 31:28), and her children "rise up and call her blessed."
2. Strength and dignity in her home. She is "clothed upon with" the tributes woven by love and esteem. Her influence is felt much oftener than it is recognized, and long after her face and her voice are no longer seen and heard.
3. Security against future want. She "laugheth at the time to come," while those who lack her prudence and her skill have reason to shrink from the thought of it.
4. The prosperity of her relatives. Her husband, relieved of care and worry at home, is able to do his proper work, and succeeds in his sphere (Proverbs 31:23).
III. HER COMMONNESS IN THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST. It might be difficult to find "the virtuous woman" in the land and the time when Lemuet dwelt (Proverbs 31:10); but she may be found today in any number of Christian homes. Holding the faith of Jesus Christ, governed by his principles, living his life, animated by his Spirit, fulfilling his law of love, the wife and mother is to be seen taking an honored place, filling her home with the sweet fragrance of purity and affection, exerting her benign and gracious influence on her husband and her children. You have not to take a long journey to reach her, nor to take much pains to find her; she is at home in "the castle of the noble, in the mansion of the wealthy, and in the cottage of the poor and the lowly."
1. Let us freely acknowledge our great indebtedness to her. Those who have had the priceless advantage of a mother possessed of the Christian virtues and graces have more to thank God for than if they had inherited a titled name or an ample fortune.
2. If it be open to us, let us join her ranks. To be a woman living under the commanding influence of Christian principle, breathing a Christian spirit, and shedding a Christian influence in the home in which we live,—what is there, this side the gate of heaven, that any human spirit could more wisely wish to be? To be such is to be doing a most excellent work of God; it is to be filling a most honourable and useful sphere.—C.
#define abbreviation=Pulpit Commentary-Ecclesiastes_Song of Solomon
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