The Pulpit Commentaries
Certain proverbs concerning the fool (kesil), with the exception, perhaps, of Proverbs 26:2 (see on Proverbs 1:22).
As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest. Snow in summer would be quite unnatural and unheard of (see on Proverbs 25:13). Rain falls in the usual course of things only at stated times; whence arose the phrase of "the early and of latter rains" (see on Proverbs 16:15). From spring to October or November was the dry season, and a storm at harvest time was regarded, not merely as destructive or inconvenient, but as portentous and even supernatural (see 1 Samuel 12:17, etc.). The two cases are types of all that is incongruous and unsuitable. The LXX; apparently regarding their experience in Egypt rather than the actual text, translate, "As dew in harvest, and as rain in summer." So honour is not seemly for a fool (Proverbs 26:8; Proverbs 19:10). It is quite out of place to show respect to a stupid and ungodly man, or to raise him to a post of dignity; such conduct will only confirm him in his folly, give others a wrong impression concerning him, and afford him increased power of mischief. The Greeks had a proverb about giving honour to unsuitable objects: they called it washing an ass's head with nitre.
As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying. "Bird" (tsippor) is the sparrow, which is found throughout Palestine; "swallow" (deror), the free flier. The Authorized Version hardly gives the sense. The line should be rendered, as the sparrow in (in respect of) its wandering, as the swallow in its flying. The point of comparison is the vagueness and aimlessness of the birds' flight, or the uselessness of trying to catch them in their course. So the curse causeless shall not come. It shall, as it were, spend its force in the air, and fall not on the head on which it was invoked. A causeless curse is that which is uttered against one who has done nothing to deserve such denunciation. Septuagint, "As birds and sparrows fly, so a causeless ( ματαία) curse shall come upon no one" Bailey, 'Festus'—
"Blessings star forth forever; but a curse
Is like a cloud—it passes."
Closely connected with the superstition that dreads a curse is that which is alarmed by omens. Against this irrational fear we find some Eastern proverbs directed; e.g. "The jackal howls: will my old buffalo die?" "The dog barks—still the caravan passes: will the barking of the dog reach the skies?" (Lane). Instead of לאֹ, "not," the Keri reads לוֹ, "to him." This makes the proverb say that the unprovoked curse shall return upon him who uttered it. But this reading is not to be accepted, as it does not suit the terms of comparison, though it seems to have been used by St. Jerome, who translates, Sic maledictum frustra prolatum in quempiam superveniet. This retributive justice is often alluded to elsewhere; e.g. Proverbs 26:27 (where see note). So we find in various languages proverbs to the same effect. Thus in English, "Harm watch, harm catch;" Spanish, "Who sows thorns, let him not walk barefoot;" Turkish, "Curses, like chickens, always come home to roost;" Yoruba, "Ashes always fly back in the face of him that throws them" (Trench).
A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass. We should be inclined to invert the words, and say a bridle for the horse, and a whip for the ass; but it must be remembered that in early times the horse was not ridden, but only driven. The animals used in riding were the ass and mule, and sometimes the camel. The Eastern ass is really a fine animal, larger, more spirited, and more active than the poor creature which we are wont to see. Or the whip and bridle may be intended to apply to both animals, though divided between the two for rhythmical or antithetical reasons (see on Proverbs 10:1). A rod for the fool's back. Sharp correction is beth useful and necessary for the fool (so Proverbs 10:13; Proverbs 19:29). Similar treatment Siracides advises to be employed in the ease of an idle servant (Ec Proverbs 30:24-28). Septuagint, "As a whip for a horse and a goad for an ass, so is a rod for a lawless nation."
Answer not a fool according to his folly. Do not lower yourself to the fool's level by answering his silly questions or arguing with him as if he were a sensible man. Lest thou also be like unto him; lest you be led to utter folly yourself or to side with him in his opinions and practices. Our blessed Saviour never responded to foolish and captious questions in the way that the questioner hoped and desired, he put them by or gave an unexpected turn to them which silenced the adversary. Instances may be seen in Matthew 21:23, etc.; Matthew 22:21, Matthew 22:22; Luke 13:23, etc.; John 21:21, etc.
Answer a fool according to his folly. This maxim at first sight seems absolutely antagonistic to the purport of the preceding verse; but it is not so really. The words, "according to his folly," in this verse mean, as his folly deserves, in so plain a way as is expose it, and shame him, and bring him to a better mind. Lest he be wise in his own conceit; thinking, it may be, that he has said something worth hearing, or put you to silence by his superior intelligence.
He that sendeth a message by the hand of a fool. This clause comes in the Hebrew after the next. Cutteth off the feet, and drinketh damage. To entrust an important commission to a fool is to deprive one's self of the means of having it properly executed, and to bring upon one's self shame and injury. A man who is so silly as to employ such an unfit messenger, as it were, cuts off the feet which should bear him on his errand, and, instead of enjoying the satisfaction of seeing the business well performed, he will be mortified and damaged by the blunder and stupidity of his emissary. Septuagint, "He maketh for himself reproach from his own ways ( ὁδῶν,? ποδῶν) who sendeth a word by a foulish messenger." The Vulgate reads the first participle in a passive sense, claudus pedibus; but this is uneccessary. We have similar phrases to "drinketh damage" elsewhere; e.g. Job 15:16 "drinketh in iniquity;" Job 34:7, "drinketh up scorn;" and with a different word, Proverbs 19:28, "devoureth iniquity."
The legs of a lame man are not equal. The first word of this verse, דַּלְיוּ, has occasioned some difficulty. It is considered as an imperative from דלה, "draw off," "take away." Thus the Septuagint, ἀφελοῦ ; Venetian, ἐπάρατε. But the verb seems never to have this meaning; nor, if it had, would the sense be very satisfactory, for. as Delitzsch points out, lame legs are better than none, and there is a great difference between the perfectly crippled or paralytic who has to be carried, and the lame man ( פִסֵּחַ ) who can limp or get along on crutches. And when we explain the proverb in this sense (as Plumptre), "Take away the legs of the lame man and the parable from the mouth of fools," for both alike ere useless to their possessors, and their loss would not be felt—we must recognize that the conclusion is not true. No one would think of amputating s man's legs simply because he was lame, and such a one's legs cannot be considered absolutely useless. Others regard the word as third plural kal, "the legs hang loose;" though the form is not sufficiently accounted for. All explanations of the word as a verbal form have such difficulties, that some take it as a noun, meaning "dancing," which is Luther's interpretation, "as dancing to a cripple, so it becometh a fool to talk of wisdom." But the word could never sightly anything but "limping," and could not express the elegant motion of dancing. The Authorized Version considers the Hebrew to mean, "are lifted up," i.e. are unequal, one being longer or stronger than the other; but this loses the force of the comparison. There seems to be no better interpretation than that mentioned above," The legs of the lame hang loose," i.e. are unserviceable, however sound in appearance. St. Jerome has expressed this, though in a strange fashion, "As it is vain for a lame man to have seemly legs." So is a parable in the mouth of a fool. "Parable" (mashal), sententious saying, the enunciation of which, as well as the recital of stories, was always a great feature in Eastern companies, and afforded a test of a man's ability. A fool fails in the exhibition; he misses the point of the wise saying which he produces; it falls lame from his mouth, affords no instruction to others, and makes no way with its hearers. Siracides gives another reason for the incongruity, "A parable shall be rejected when it cometh out of a fool's mouth; for he will not speak it in its season" (Ec Proverbs 20:20). Septuagint, "Take away the motion of legs, and transgression ( παρανομίαν,? παροιμίαν, Lag.) from the mouth of fools."
As he that bindeth a stone in a sling. So Septuagint, ὅς ἀποδεσμέυει λίθον ἐν σφενδόνῃ. This gives a very good sense the point being either that the stone, after being firmly fitted in its place, quickly passes away from the sling, or, if more stress is laid on the word "bindeth," that the stone is so firmly fixed that it cannot be slung, and therefore never reaches the mark. The alternative rendering adopted by the Revised Version is this, "As a bag of gems in a heap of stones;" where the incongruity would consist either in exposing jewels on a cairn, or sepulchral monument, whence they could easily be filched, or in attracting undesirable attention. But there are grammatical and etymological reasons against this interpretation; and the Authorized Version is to be considered correct. The Vulgate is curious: Sieur qui mittit lapidem in acervum Mercurii. This rendering points to the custom, with which Jerome must have been familiar, of erecting statues of Mercury on the highways, which were thus placed under his protection. Round these statues were ranged heaps of stones, to which every wayfarer contributed by throwing a pebble as he passed. The absence of the critical faculty which discerned no absurdity in this anachronism is sufficiently remarkable. The Latin saying seems intended to denote useless labour, as we speak of "carrying coals to Newcastle." So is he that giveth honour to a fool. You pay respect to a fool, or place him in an honourable position, but your labour is wasted; he cannot act up to his dignity, he cannot maintain the honour; it passes away like the stone from the sling, or, if it remains, it is useless to him.
As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard. There is here no idea of the drunkard's hand being pierced with a thorn while he is insensible to the pain, but rather of his being armed with it, and ripe for mischief. So it is best to render, "A thornbush cometh into the hand of a drunkard;" he somehow gets possession of it, and in his stupid excitement is liable to become dangerous. Some understand עלה of the growth of the thorn; thus the Septuagint, "Thorns grow in the hand of a drunkard;" Vulgate, "As if a thorn grew in the hand of a drunkard." But one does not see the bearing of such an expression; and the translation given above is more appropriate. So is a parable, etc. (as Proverbs 26:7). In that passage the wise saying in a fool's mouth was compared with something useless, here it is compared with something injurious. He employs it purposely to wound others; or by the ignorant use of some sharp-edged word he does much mischief. In this hemistich the LXX. has read משל with a different vocalization, and renders, "servitude ( δουλεία) in the hand of fools." This seems to mean that it comes natural to fools to be manacled and restrained by force.
Few passages have given greater difficulty than this verse; almost every word has been differently explained. The Authorized Version is, The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool, and re-wardeth transgressors; Revised Version, As an archer (Job 16:13) that woundeth all, so is he that hireth the fool and he that hireth thorn that pass by. At first sight one would hardly suppose that these could be versions of the same passage. To show the diversity that obtained in early times we quote the Greek and Latin versions. Septuagint, "All the flesh of fools is much distressed ( πολλὰ χειμάζεται), for their distraction ( ἔκστασις) is brought to nought;" Vulgate, "Judgment decides causes, and he who imposes silence on a fool appeases wrath." From the various interpretations of which this proverb is capable, it may be surmised that it was originally one of those hard sayings which were intended to exercise the ingenuity of auditors. It has certainly had that effect in modern times. We may at once eliminate the rendering of the Authorized Version, though the sense is good and scriptural, denoting that the great Creator recompenses the good and punishes sinners. So the medieval jingle—
"Ante Dei vultum nihil unquam restat inultum."
"God" is not in the Hebrew, and rab, "great," is never used absolutely as equivalent to "God." Nor is the word used elsewhere to mean "head workman;" so the Revised Version margin, "a master worker formeth all things," is suspicious. Some translate, "A great man woundeth [equivalent to 'punisheth'] all; he renders their due to fools and to transgressors." One does not see why this should be attributed to the great man; it certainly is not generally true. Rosenmuller, "The mighty man causes terror; so does he who hires the fool and the transgressor;" but it is not clear why the hiring of a fool should occasion terror. The rendering in the Revised Version, or something very similar, has found favour with many modern commentators, though quite unknown to the mere ancient versions. According to this interpretation, the proverb says that a careless, random way of doing business, taking into one's service fools, or entrusting matters of importance to any chance loiterer, is as dangerous as shooting arrows about recklessly without caring whither they flew or whom they wounded. To this view Nowack objects that it is unparalleled to present an archer as a picture of what is unusual and profitless; that it does not explain why "hireth" is twice repeated; that the connection between shooter and the hire of fool and loiterer is net obvious; and that עברים does not mean "vagabonds" or "passers by." None of these objections are of much importance; and this interpretation still holds its ground. There is also much to be said for the rendering of the Revised Version margin, which is virtually that of Gesenius, Fleischer, Wordsworth, Nutt, and others: A skilful man, a master workman, produces, makes, everything by his own care and superintendence; but he that hires a fool to do his work hires, as it were, any casual vagabond who may know nothing of the business. One objection to this interpretation is that the verb חולל, does not elsewhere have the meaning here attributed to it. Considering all the above interpretations unsatisfactory, Hitzig, after Umbreit, followed herein by Delitzsch and Nowack, translates, "Much bringeth forth all," which means that he who possesses much can do anything, or, as St. Matthew 13:12, "Whosoever hath, to him shall be given" (comp. Proverbs 1:5 ). But the second hemistich comes in rather lamely, "But he who hires a fool is as one who hires a vagabond." Hence Delitzsch reads וּשְׂכַד for the first וְשכֵר, and renders, "But the hire and the hirer of the fool pass away," i.e. what the fool gets as wages is soon squandered, and the person who took him into his service is ruined by his incapacity. In this case the connection of the two clauses would be this: A rich man, in the nature of things, grows richer; but there are exceptions to this rule; for he who employs stupid and incapable people to do his business suffers for it in property, reputation, and probably in person also; and the incompetent person derives no benefit from the connection. It is impossible to give a decided preference to any of these expositions; and the passage must be left as a crux. It is most probable that the Hebrew text is defective. This would account for the great variations in the versions.
As the dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly; or, repeateth his folly. The fool never frees himself from the trammels of his foolishness; his deeds and words always bear the same character to the end. The same truth holds good of the sinner, especially the drunkard and the sensualist. If they feel temporary compunction, and reject their sin by partial repentance, they do not really shake it off wholly; it has become a second nature to them, and they soon relapse into it. Septuagint, "As when a dog goes to his own vomit and becomes hateful, so is a fool who returns in his wickedness to his own sin." The LXX. adds a distich which is found in Ecclesiasticus 4:21, "There is a shame that bringeth sin, and there is a shame that is glory and grace."
Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? (Proverbs 3:7). Nothing so shuts the door against improvement as self-conceit. "Woe unto them," says Isaiah (Isaiah 5:21), "that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight." Such persons, professing themselves wise, become fools (Romans 1:22; Romans 12:16; Revelation 3:17, Revelation 3:18). Touching conceit, Qui sibi sapit, summe desipit. The Oriental speaks of the fox finding his shadow very large, and of the wolf when alone thinking himself a lion. There is more hope of a fool than of him (Proverbs 29:20). A fool who is conscious of unwisdom may be set right; but one who fancies himself perfect, and needing no improvement, is beyond cure; his case is hopeless. So the sinner who feels and acknowledges his iniquity may be converted; but the self-righteous Pharisee, who considers himself to have no need of repentance, will never be reformed (see Matthew Luke 15:7; Luke 18:14). St. Chrysostom (Hom. in Phil.,' 7), "Haughtiness is a great evil; it is better to be a fool than haughty; for in the one case the folly is only a perversion of intellect, but in the other ease it is still worse; for it is folly joined with madness. The fool is an evil to himself; but the haughty man is a plague to others too. One cannot be haughty-minded without being a fool … The soul which is puffed up has a worse disease than dropsy, while that which is under restraint is treed from all evil" (Oxford transl.).
Proverbs concerning the sluggard.
This is virtually the same as Proverbs 22:13. The words for "lion" are different in two parts of the verse, shakhal being the lion of advanced age, ari the full-grown animal; the latter may possibly be assumed to be the more dangerous of the two, and so a climax would be denoted. There is a proverb current in Bechuana, which says, "The month of seed time is the season of headaches."
As the door turneth upon its hinges. The door moves on its hinges and makes no progress beyond its own confined sphere of motion; so the slothful man turns himself on his bed from side to side, but never leaves it to do his. work. Other analogies have been found in this proverb. Thus: The door opens to let the diligent go forth to his daily business, while the sluggard is rolling upon his bed; the door creaks when it is moved, so the lazy man groans when he is aroused; the door now is opened, now is shut, so the sluggard at one time intends to rise, and then falls back in his bed, and returns to his sleep (comp. Proverbs 6:9, Proverbs 6:10; Proverbs 24:33).
Very nearly identical with Proverbs 19:24. It forms a climax to the two preceding verses. Wordsworth takes "the dish" as a type of sensual pleasure, which the slothful loves, while he has no liking for active work.
The sluggard is wiser in his own conceit. The sluggard is here one who is too idle to think a matter out, and considers his own cursory view as sure to be right. He is one who deems study to be an unnecessary weariness of the flesh (Ecclesiastes 12:12), and flatters himself that he is quite able without it to give a satisfactory account of any question presented to him. Than seven men that can render a reason. "Seven" is the number of completeness (comp. Proverbs 6:31; Proverbs 9:1; Proverbs 24:16). The idle fool sets more value by his own judgment than by the sense of any number of wise men. Revised Version margin, "that can answer discreetly," is perhaps nearer the Hebrew, which implies the being able to return a wise and proper answer to anything asked of them. The LXX. reading a little differently, renders, "Wiser seems a sluggard to himself than one who in satiety ( ἐν πλησμονῇ) brings back a message." This is explained to mean that a sluggard thinks himself wise in not helping a neighbour with an errand or a message, though he would have probably been repaid with a good dinner for his kindness.
A series of proverbs connected more or less with peacefulness and its opposite.
He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him. "Meddleth with strife" should be "vexes, excites himself, with a quarrel." Is like one that taketh a dog by the ears, and thus needlessly provokes him to bark and bite. Regarding the position of the two participles in this verse, without any connecting link, Delitzsch takes "passing by" as attributed to the dog, thus: "He seizes by the ears a dog passing by, who is excited by a strife that concerns him not." The stray dog corresponds to the quarrel with which one has nothing to do. The present accentuation does not support this view; otherwise it is suitable and probable. Septuagint, "As he who lays hold of a dog's tail, so is he who sets himself forth as champion in another's cause." Ecclesiastes 11:9, "Strive not in a matter that concerns thee not." Says a Greek gnome—
πολυπραγμονεῖν τὰλλότρια μὴ βοῦλου κακά
Our English proverb says, "He that intermeddles with all things may go shoe the goslings." The Telugu compares such interference to a monkey holding a snake in his paw; it is hard to hold, dangerous to let go (Lane).
Proverbs 26:18, Proverbs 26:19
A tetrastich, but without parallelisms. As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death. The word rendered "madman" is an ἅπαξ λεγόμενον, and has been variously explained; but the Authorized Version is probably correct. "Firebrands" are darts with some blazing material attached to them. "Death "forms a climax with the other dangers mentioned, which the madman deals forth recklessly and indiscriminately. So is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, Am not I in sport? When a man has injured his neighbour by lies or malice, the plea that he was only in joke is not allowed; the injury is not less real because he excuses it by alleging it was done not seriously, but playfully; no more than the fatal effects of the use of murderous weapons are lessened by their being employed by the hands of a maniac. Practical joking is often a most serious matter. A mediaeval adage says wisely—
"Cum jocus est verus, jocus est malus atque severus,"
Septuagint, "Even as those who are under medical treatment ( ἱώμενοι) throw words at men, and he who first meets the word will be overthrown; so are all they that lay wait for their own friends, and when they are seen, say, I did it in jest." As insane persons who abuse and ill treat their physicians are excused by reason of their infirmity, so those who injure friends in secret try to excuse themselves when found out by alleging that they were only joking.
Some proverbs follow concerning the slanderer. Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out. Where the wood fails, and that was the only fuel then used, the fire must go out. So where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth; comes to silence (Proverbs 22:10). (For nirgan," whisper," see on Proverbs 16:28.) Septuagint, "With much wood fire groweth, but where there is not one discordant ( δίθυμος), strife is at rest."
As coals are to burning coals. As black, cold charcoal feeds glowing charcoal, as wood feeds a lighted fire, so a quarrelsome man (Proverbs 21:9; Proverbs 27:15) supports and nourishes strife. The verse is the counterpart of the preceding. Septuagint, "A hearth for coal and logs for fire, and a reviling man for tumult of strife."
(See Proverbs 18:8, where the gnome occurs.) Septuagint, "The words of knaves ( κερκώπων) are soft, but they strike to the secret chambers of the bowels."
The next proverbs are concerned with hypocrisy. The Hebrew denotes the comparison simply by position (see on Proverbs 25:11), thus: An earthen vessel (or, potsherd) overlaid with silver dross—growing lips and a wicked heart. So called "silver dross" is litharge, an oxide of lead used to this day to put a glaze on pottery (comp. Ecclesiasticus 38:30). The comparatively worthless article is thus made to assume a fine appearance. Thus lips that seem to burn with affection, and give the kiss of glowing, love, may mask a heart filled with envy and hatred Judas kisses and words of friendship hide the bad feelings that lurk within. Septuagint, "Silver given with guile is to be considered as a potsherd; smooth ( λεῖα) lips hide a grievous heart" (comp. Matthew 23:27).
He that hateth dissembleth with his lips. This and the next verse form a tetrastich. St. Jerome, Labiis suis intelligitur inimicus. But the verb here used, נכר, bears the meaning "to make one's self unknown," as well as "to make one's self known," and hence "to make one's self unrecognizable" by dress or change of countenance (1 Kings 14:5 ). This is much more appropriate in the present connection than the other explanation. The man cloaks his hatred with honeyed words. And layeth up deceit within him; meditating all the time treachery in his heart (Jeremiah 9:8). Septuagint, "An enemy weeping promises all things with his lips, but in his heart he contriveth deceits." The tears in this case are hypocritical signs of sorrow, intended to deceive the dupe.
When he speaketh fair, believe him not. When he lowers his voice to a winning, agreeable tone, put no trust in him. Septuagint, "If thine enemy entreat thee with a loud voice, be not persuaded." For there are seven abominations in his heart. His heart is filled with a host of evil thoughts (see on Proverbs 26:16), as if seven devils had entered in and dwelt there. Ecclesiastes 12:10, etc. "Never trust thine enemy; for like as iron rusteth, so is his wickedness. Though he humble himself, and go crouching, yet take good heed and beware of him." Plato's verdict concerning hypocrisy is often quoted, ἐσχάτη ἀδικία δοκεῖν δίκαιον εἶναι μὴ ὄντα "It is the very worst form of injustice to appear to be just without being so in reality". With this Cicero agrees ('De Offic.,' 1.13), "Totius injustitiae nulla capitalior est quam eorum, qui tum cum maxime fallunt id agunt ut viri boni esse videantur."
Whose hatred is covered by deceit; or, hatred may be concealed by deceit, as was said above (Proverbs 26:24). (But) his wickedness shall be showed before the whole congregation. The hater's real wickedness, at some time or other, in spite of all his efforts to hide it, will be openly displayed. He will show it before some third party and thus it will be divulged. At any rate, this will be the case at the judgment day, when he who hateth his brother shall be shown to be not only a murderer, but a hater of God also (1 John 3:15; 1 John 4:20). Septuagint, "He that hideth enmity prepareth deceit, but he revealeth his own sins, being well known in assemblies."
Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein. This thought is found often elsewhere; e.g. Psalms 7:16; Psalms 9:16; Ecclesiastes 10:8; Ecclesiasticus 27:25, 26. The pit is such a one as was made to catch wild animals; the maker is supposed to approach incautiously one of these traps, and to tall into it. And he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him. This does not refer to throwing stones into the air, which fall upon the head of the thrower, but to rolling stones up a height in order to hurl them down upon the enemy (comp. 9:53; 2 Samuel 11:21). Of such retributive justice we have numerous examples;e.g. Haman hung on the gallows which he had prepared for Mordecai (Esther 7:9, etc.). So the old story tells how Perillus, the inventor of the brazen bull in which prisoners were to be burned alive, was himself made to prove the efficacy of his own invention by the tyrant Phalaris; as Ovid says
"Et Phalaris tauro violenti membra Perilli
Torruit; infelix imbuit auctor opus."
('Art. Amat.,' 1.653.)
So we have, "Damnosus aliis, damnosus est sibi;" ἡ δὲ βουλὴ τῷ βουλεύσαντι κακίστη. St. Chrysostom speaks of the blindness of malice: "Let us not plot against others, lest we injure ourselves. When we supplant the reputation of others, let us consider that we injure ourselves, it is against ourselves that we plot. For perchance with men we do him harm, if we have power, but ourselves in the sight of God, by provoking him against us. Let us not, then, injure ourselves. For as we injure ourselves when we injure our neighbours, so by benefiting them we benefit ourselves" ('Hom. 14, in Phil.,' Oxford transl.).
A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; or, those whom it crusheth (Proverbs 25:15). There is a consensus of the Vulgate, Septuagint, Syriac, and Targum to translate דכיו "truth," thinking apparently of the Aramaean דַכְיָא "that which is pure." But the hemistich would thus state the baldest truism, and modern commentators unite in assigning to the word some such sense as that given above in the Authorized Version. A liar shows his want of charity by slandering his neighbour; and that men dislike those whom they have injured is a common experience. "It is a characteristic of human nature," says Tacitus ('Agric.,' 42), "to hate those whom one has injured." Seneca, 'De Ira,' 2.83, "Hoe habent pessimum animi magna fortuna insolentes, quos laeserunt, et oderunt." A flattering mouth worketh ruin; brings destruction on those who succumb to its seductive words. Vulgate, Os lubricum operatur ruinas; Septuagint, "A mouth uncovered ( ἄστεγον) causeth tumults." (For "the smooth mouth," comp. Proverbs 5:3; Psalms 12:3; Psalms 55:21; Isaiah 30:10.) The word for "tumults" is ἀκαταστασίας, which does not occur elsewhere in the Septuagint, but is common in the New Testament; e.g. Luke 21:9; 1 Corinthians 14:33.
The curse causeless
I. GOD WILL NOT HEAR A SINFUL PRAYER. A curse is a prayer. No ode has the power of inflicting direct harm upon his victim by sheer force of malignant words. Only the superstition of magic could suppose any such thing to be possible. A curse is just a prayer for evil to come on the head of the devoted person. But God will not heed such a petition if he disapproves of it. Prayer is not a force that compels God; it is but a petition that seeks his aid, and the response to it is entirely dependent on his will.
II. THERE IS A PROVIDENCE OVER LIFE. Curses cannot fly about like black-plumed birds of evil, roosting wherever their authors choose. Above the most potent and direful curse of man is the calm, fair, equable government of God. Though the whole human race combined to curse one on whom God smiled, not a shadow of real evil could light on his head. Balaam saw the uselessness of trying to curse a people whom God had blessed (Numbers 23:8).
III. IT IS MORE IMPORTANT TO WIN THE FAVOUR OF GOD THAN TO ESCAPE FROM THE CURSES OF MAN. This conclusion must necessarily result from the previous considerations. Man cannot really curse or bless. Our whole future depends, not on man's opinions, but on God's treatment of us. Yet many men are in an agony of distress when they are visited with the disapproval of society, while they take no steps to secure the favour of God. This "fear of man bringeth a snare." It is a cowardly thing, and reveals great weakness. We need a more tough moral fibre. How grand was the courage of John Bright, when, after standing on the pinnacle of popular fame in his triumph over the corn laws, he suddenly stepped down into a position of isolation and unpopularity by denouncing the Crimean War!
IV. IT IS WORSE TO DESERVE THE CURSE THAT IS NOT GIVEN THAN TO RECEIVE THE CURSE THAT IS NOT DESERVED. It may be that vile conduct is concealed or condoned by a low tone of social morality; while right conduct is misinterpreted or condemned by a false standard. Men shudder at crimes when they are guilty of more sinful vices. Nevertheless, what is evil deserves execration, and for the quick conscience ill desert is more dreadful than public disapproval.
V. NO MALIGNITY CAN ULTIMATELY FRUSTRATE THE CAUSE OF TRUTH AND RIGHTEOUSNESS. The curse causeless was flung at Christ. It appeared to alight on his head and he died in gloom a shameful death. Then he rose and triumphed, and shook off the harmless curse in his joyous victory. The enemies of Christ have cursed his gospel. But they have failed to destroy it. On the contrary, it flourishes under the curses of bad men. Though Satan and all his hosts combined against it they could not stay its glorious progress.
VI. NO SATANIC CURSES CAN HURT THE TRUE DISCIPLE OF CHRIST. All the curses of hell cannot touch a hair of the head of him who is sheltered by the grace of Christ. Even the deserved curses of his sin are not to hurt the Christian, pardoned and renewed.
Proverbs 26:4, Proverbs 26:5
The wise treatment of folly
These two verses need not be taken as mutually contradictory. They balance one another.
I. IT IS DIFFICULT TO ANSWER FOLLY. Whichever way we take it, we are in danger of blundering. If we meet it on its own ground we may share its shame. If we treat it soberly we may only incur ridicule. Both courses are beset with difficulties. This is especially true of folly in the biblical sense of the word, according to which it is not so much stupidity as wilful perverseness, light-hearted but depraved. It is not easy to find any point of attachment through which to influence this condition of soul. We need great grace in endeavoring to recover the thoughtless, foolish evil-livers. The sad may be approached through their troubles, but the frivolous elude our grasp.
II. IT IS A FATAL MISTAKE TO IMITATE THE FOLLY OF THE FOOLISH. St. Paul would become all things to all men in the hope that he might by any means save some. But he would never descend to frivolity; that would have been lowering to his true dignity as a servant of Christ. It is not necessary to be always grave. We may arouse and interest thoughtless people by using methods that would not be desirable or acceptable in the case of earnest men and women. Assuredly there is no virtue in pretence, pomposity, pride, a stilted style, etc. But it can never be right nor wise to say or do anything that would lower the majesty of truth and righteousness or degrade the ideal of Christian conduct. It may be possible to "draw" crowds by such more than questionable methods, but it is certainly impossible to "raise" them by such means, and what is the use of massing people together under pretence of religious work when our course of action is not likely to inspire the reverance which is the root of religion? It would be a far more successful method, as well as a more Worthy one, to have much humbler aims in regard to numbers, but much higher ones in regard to the spiritual character of our work.
III. IT IS NECESSARY TO TREAT THE FOOLISH IN REGARD TO THEIR FOLLY. We are not to give back foolish answers to foolish questions, nor to attempt to attract the frivolous by frivolous methods. But, on the other hand, it is not wise, nor is it right, to treat foolish people as though they were serious and thoughtful. Thus, if questions are raised in mockery, it is our duty to treat them accordingly, and therefore to refuse to answer them. If it is evident that an inquirer is not in earnest it is not for his good nor for the honour of truth to meet him with the language which would be suitable for an honest truth seeker. To do so would be to cast pearls before swine. It may be well to meet folly with gravity and to rebuke frivolity. This is answering a fool according to his folly, in the right way; for it is taking note of his folly and directing attention to it. Mockery should not go unchastised. Insincerity ought to be exposed. Pompous folly is sometimes best met by ridicule. Thus Erasmus castigated hypocritical pretences to piety with the keen rapier of his wit. It is wise to prick a windbag.
I. ITS CHARACTER. Self-conceit is just the cherishing of an undue opinion of one's own worth, powers, character, or attainments. This is not pride, because pride need not make special pretences, so long as it asserts itself with dignity, while self-conceit is concerned with the actual contents of the mental life. This is not vanity, for it is not merely a desire to be admired; it may, arid probably will, stimulate this desire; but possibly it will be too proud to cherish it. Self-conceit is absorbed with an inordinate conception of its possessor's own inner wealth, it makes a weak man believe that he can carry the gates of Gaza like a second Samson, and a foolish man think that he can solve the riddle of the Sphinx. It is profoundly honest in this. No Don Quixote could be more grave in the service of an illusion than the self-conceited man in pursuit of his hopeless aims.
II. ITS MISCHIEF.
1. It blinds to self-knowledge. It stands between a man and a true vision of his condition and character. It substitutes its own inventions for the facts of his inner life. Instead of seeing himself as he is, the conceited man only sees himself as he is painted by his besetting weakness. He mistakes the flattering picture for a photographic likeness.
2. It shuts the door on true knowledge. The conceited man will not learn, for he will not believe in his own ignorance. He starts with a consciousness of omniscience.
3. It refuses to follow guidance. In his exalted opinion of himself the poor deluded self-worshipper declines to be guided by those who are far more capable than he is. The captain dispenses with the pilot, the patient doctors himself, the suitor conducts his own case; in religious matters the self-conceited man prefers his own notions to the teachings of prophets and apostles. His "views" outweigh Bible truths.
III. ITS CAUSES.
1. It springs from self-love. Dwelling much on one's own excellences generates an inordinate conception of them. Love is a flatterer, and self-love flatters sell
2. It is nourished in ignorance. It is usually through a lack of perception of the narrowness of the horizon that the self-conceited man believes so much in himself. His village is the world. In looking at a panorama the picture seems to retreat into a great distance, whereas it is but a few feet from the observer.
3. It is sheltered by indolence. The conceited man will not rouse himself to inquire.
IV. ITS REMEDIES. These must follow the diagnosis of the disease and its causes.
1. Enlarged knowledge. As knowledge grows, the consciousness of ignorance increases.
2. Failure. Give it time, and self-conceit will work its own cure, through humiliating disasters.
3. Grace. A vision of the truth and righteousness of God and an endowment of the grace of Divine wisdom and goodness will humble a man into shame at his own previous self-conceit. So Nicodemus was humbled when Christ sent him back to his cradle.
A lion in the way.
I. INDOLENCE CREATES DIFFICULTIES. The hindrance is not real; it is purely imaginary. The lion is not in the way, but in the fancy of the slothful man. If a man is not in earnest in undertaking any work, he is certain to picture to himself insuperable obstacles. Thus missionary enterprises are discouraged by those who have no missionary zeal. The call of Christ to service and sacrifice is shirked by men whose inventive ingenuity has manufactured unsound excuses. The course of the Christian life is forsaken by some who see it beset with dangers that only spring out of their own reluctance to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Christ. Often when the slothful man cries, "There is a lion in the way," it is a lie; there is no lion.
II. INDOLENCE IS COWARDLY. It is possible that the indolent person really believes that the beast of the forest has actually invaded the city, is indeed prowling about its streets. He shrinks from a danger that he truly fears. Perhaps there is real danger. We do meet with difficulties and dangers in life. Threatening lions roar on the devoted servant of Christ. But then the true-hearted man will be brave to face difficulty, and only the coward will shrink and fail.
III. DANGER IS NO EXCUSE FOR INDOLENCE. If there be a lion in the street it may be all the more incumbent on a true man to go out of his house. For the lion has no right to be in the city. He should be slain forthwith. To leave him there at large is to yield to him. Are the streets to be given up to the daring intruder because no one is bold enough to face him? Meanwhile he may work fearful havoc. There may be children in the street. While the idle coward bolts and bars his doors and sits shivering in his house, the helpless little ones are left unprotected, a sure prey for the fierce brute. To shrink from the task of expelling the lion is to be guilty of shameful negligence. Because of the hindrances and difficulties of Christ's work cowardly and idle people permit the souls of their fellow men and the poor ignorant children of miserable degraded families to be destroyed.
IV. DANGER IS OVERCOME BY BEING FACED. Perhaps the lion's roar is worse than his bite. Who can tell but that he is a coward and will turn tail directly he is faced? Possibly, like Bunyan's lions, he is chained. But we shall never know till we go boldly up to him. Many apparent dangers are but empty threats. There are difficulties that need only to be confronted to vanish. The valiant Christian soldier will find that his enemies will give way before the "sword of the Spirit."
V. FOR THE INDOLENT MAN THERE IS A LION IN THE HOUSE. While he shrinks with terror from venturing forth there is greater danger at home. The hypochondriacal patient who dreads meeting the chili of fresh air for fear or' catching cold becomes a martyr to dyspepsia at home. The idle man is slain by his own indolence. Satan, who goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, is kept out by no locks and finds his victims in their most private retreats.
The fuel of strife
I. STRIFE WILL DIE OUT IF IT BE NOT SUPPLIED WITH FRESH FUEL. The fire will not burn after the stock of wood is all exhausted. The quarrel will not continue if the angry feelings that rage in it are not fed by fresh provocations. The unhappy experience of most quarrels is that these provocations are too readily supplied. But if one party to a quarrel really wishes for peace, he can often obtain it by simply abstaining from maintaining his contention. His opponent will tire of a one-sided war. Patience, meekness, and quiet endurance will thus make peace in the end. This was Christ's method. He brought peace by peaccably submitting to wrong.
II. STRIFE IS TOO OFTEN MAINTAINED WITH THE FRESH FUEL ADDED BY STRANGERS. If the two principals in a quarrel were left to themselves, they might tire of perpetual disputes. But a third party interferes, not as a peacemaker, but to take one side; or to meddle in pure mischief making, delighting to stir up the embers of strife; or to show his own power and importance. This conduct is the opposite of that of one who serves the Prince of Peace.
III. TALE BEARING ADDS FUEL TO STRIFE.
1. It may be true. We may hear something of one party in a quarrel which we know to be correct, and report it to the other, though it was never intended to be repeated. This rouses angry passions and renews the old battle. Immense harm is done by merely inconsiderate gossip. When an element of spite is added and there is a deliberate attempt to aggravate a quarrel, the conduct of the tale bearer is simply diabolical.
2. It is likely to be exaggerated. Most tales, like snowballs, grow as they proceed. Passing from one to another, they are unintentionally exaggerated. Surmise and inference are mixed up with the original narrative as part of the story. Rhetorical point is gained at the expense of accuracy.
IV. IT IS THE DUTY OF THE CHRISTIAN TO ALLAY STRIFE. His should be the blessedness of the peacemaker (Matthew 5:9). If we have Christian love we shall desire to do this, for chanty covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). Immense harm would he prevented by the merely negative course of refraining from repeating all words that have the slightest tendency to provoke ill will between other people. There is virtue in reticence. Silence here is indeed golden. But sometimes we should go further, and endeavour to make the best of people to one another, and so to heal quarrels.
V. NO TALE BEARER CAN REVIVE THE STRIFE BETWEEN THE SOUL AND GOD. If there be no more fuel, this will vanish. God desires to be reconciled with his children. If they will but lay down their arms, the old quarrel will cease at once.
1. God knows the worst of us. He knows all. Therefore he never makes discoveries that will rouse his wrath against our pardoned past.
2. He cannot be misled by deceivers. Tale bearers may malign our character before men, never before God.
3. The only thing to continue our strife with God is to continue our rebellious lives. While we seek peace, peace is secure.
Caught in one's own snare
One man may be supposed to have dug a pit in some dark place in the road, or to have concealed it by covering it with boughs and earth—like an Indian tiger trap—so that he may catch some wild animal, or perhaps make a prisoner or a victim of his enemy. Then, not heeding its whereabouts, he fails into his own snare. Another may be rolling a stone against his enemy, when it falls back and crushes the author of the mischief. Consider first some cases in which these things might happen, and then the principle that underlies them.
1. The deceiver. The pit is a snare. It is meant to deceive. Those who deceive others are likely to be deceived. They brand and blind the faculty of truth. They acclimatize themselves in a zone of falsehood. In the very belief that they think this well for them, they prove themselves deluded.
2. The swindler. This man may entrap unwary folk who trust his offers, and at first he may thrive and fatten on his ill-gotten gains; but his success is almost sure to be short-lived. Swindlers rarely prosper till old ago.
3. The tempter. One who imitates the work of the devil may have the devil's wicked triumph over weakness and ignorance. He may succeed in luring his victims to shame and ruin, and he may find a hellish glee in the awful ease with which he overcomes their virtue. But he is a short-sighted self-deceiver. There is a pit prepared for the devil and his angels, and the tempter is one of the latter. Satan makes hell, and every tempter prepares his own pit of destruction.
4. The opponent of Christ. The Jews rejected their Lord and laid snares for catching him. He was keen to reply, and turned the shame on the head of each party in succession—Pharisee, Sadducee, Herodian. In the end they accomplished his death. But they were punished in the frightful overthrow of their city. The world's rejection of Christ would mean the world's ruin. Every soul that plots against the kingdom of heaven unwarily plots for its own undoing.
II. THE UNDERLYING PRINCIPLE. This principle is that sin brings its own retribution. There is no need lot the conception of a Deus ex machina. No heralds of justice are wanted to proclaim the guilt of the offender; no heavenly executioners with flaming swords are required to bring swift vengeance on the guilty. If only the foolish sinner is left to himself, he will certainly reap the fatal consequences of his wickedness. Sin is naturally fatal. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption." The vile harvest of death grows in the soil of the man's own life. He is his own executioner. No doubt this terrible tact is based on a Divine decree that lies deeply embedded in the very constitution of the universe. Therefore, as the forest traveller unconsciously makes a circuit and returns to his old camp fire, so the sinner comes back to his own evil deeds, but to find them now as snares to entrap him and stones to crush him.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Sayings against folly
I. THE INAPTNESS OF HONOURS TO THE FOOLISH MAN. (Proverbs 26:1.) According to Jerome, it is something unheard of or impossible to experience, rain in the harvest time (see 1 Samuel 12:17, sqq.). The advancement of the fool appears to all men unseasonable, even shocking. High place reveals the more clearly the smallness of small souls. Honour is the just reward of virtue and ability. Let men be virtuous and wise, that they may be honoured, and that external distinctions may not rather invite the contempt of observers.
II. THE HARMLESSNESS OF UNMERITED CURSES. (Proverbs 26:2.) Aimless as the wayward flight of sparrow or swallow, they fail to strike their object (see that in 2 Samuel 16:5, sqq.; 1 Kings 2:8). "I would not hesitate to say," observes Trench, "that the great glory of proverbs in their highest aspect, and that which makes them so full of blessing to those who cordially accept them, is the conviction, of which they are full, that, despite all appearances to the contrary, this world is God's world, and not the world of the devil or of those wicked men who may be prospering for the hour. A lie has no legs." Truth may be temporarily depressed, but cannot fall to the ground (Psalms 94:15; 2 Corinthians 4:9). But as for the lie; its priests may set it on its feet again after it has once fallen before the presence of the truth, yet this will all be labour in vain; it will only be, like Dagon, again to fall.
III. FOLLY INVITES ITS OWN CHASTISEMENT. (Proverbs 26:3.) The instincts of flesh and blood show like untamed and unbroken-in animals, especially in idleness, and demand the like severe treatment. "Our flesh and sense must be subdued," not flattered and fed. If we do not practise self-control, God will administer his chastisements.—J.
Discussion of folly and its treatment
I. How we ANSWER THE FOOL. (Proverbs 26:4, Proverbs 26:5.)
1. Not according to his folly; i.e. so chiming in with his nonsense that yon become as he is. Do not descend into the arena with a fool. Preserve self-respect, and observe the conduct of the Saviour when to folly he "answered not again."
2. According to his folly; that is, with the sharp and cutting reply his folly invites and deserves. We have also examples of this in the conduct of our Lord; e.g. in reference to the inquiry of the Jews concerning the purging of the temple, which he answered by a reference to John's baptism (Matthew 21:25, etc.). The twofold treatment of the fool reminds that the spirit and motive must determine the act, and that opposite methods may be equally good at different times.
II. THE FOOL IS NOT TO BE TRUSTED. (Proverbs 26:6-7.)
1. With messages and commissions. (Proverbs 26:6.) He who does so is like one who amputates his own limbs, deprives himself of the means of gaining his object, or who voluntarily drinks of an evil brewage.
2. His words are not to be trusted. (Proverbs 26:7.) Sayings in the mouth of the fool are purposeless and pointless, when they even do no harm. Fools will not be prudent, says Luther, and yet would ever play the part of wise men. "A wise saying doth as ill become a fool as dancing does a cripple." The wise and weighty saying becomes in his mouth a jest. He who would instruct others in Divine wisdom must first have embraced it himself. Solemnity may be a cover for a sot; and the greatest folly is to impose on one's self.
III. THE FOOL IS NOT TO BE HONOURED. (Proverbs 26:8.) To lift him out of his place by compliments or honours is as inapt as to lay a jewel upon a common heap of stones. The sling makes the stone bound in it an implement of death; and to flatter the undeserving brings disgrace upon one's self. It is like putting sword or pistol into a madman's hand. But the other interpretation is better. Proverbs 26:9 shows how mischievous are even good things in the lips and hands of those who only abuse them. Luther quaintly says, "If a drunkard sports with a briar, he scratches more with it than he allows to smell the roses on it; so does a fool often work more mischief with the Scripture than good."
IV. THE FOOL IS INCORRIGIBLE. (Proverbs 26:11-12; see 2 Peter 2:22.) He returns to his exploded nonsense, his often-repeated fallacies; and to his exposed errors of conduct (Matthew 12:45; John 5:14; Hebrews 6:4-8). Relapses into sin, as into sickness, are dangerous and deadly. "A raw sin is like a blow to a broken leg, a burden to a crushed arm." The cause of these relapses and this incorrigibility is pointed out—deep-rooted self-conceit. This is the fruitful mother of follies. Let none deem himself perfect, but let every one cultivate humility as his dearest possession. God giveth grace to the lowly, but resisteth the proud and them that are wise in their own conceits.—J.
The vice of idleness
I. IT IS FULL OF EXCUSES. (Proverbs 26:13.) There is always some pretext for evading duty, however frivolous and absurd, with the idle man. Idleness is the parent of almost every sin; here of cowardice, he who excuses, accuses himself. Every manly act of exertion is imagined to be full of danger by the lazy mind. The sluggard does not see what danger of another and deadlier kind there is in stagnation. Danger is the brave man's opportunity, difficulty the lion in the way, by victory over which he may earn the laurel of victory and gain the joy of new conscious power.
II. IT LOVES REPOSE AND SELF-INDULGENCE. (Proverbs 26:14.) As the door swings perpetually upon its hinges, without moving a step from its fixed position, so with the sluggard. He "turns round and round, with dull stupidity, like the dyer's horse in the ring" (Proverbs 19:24). How often the cannot of the slave of vice or evil habit only disguises the will not of the sloth-eaten heart! To make mere rest our life-object is to contend against the order of God.
III. IT HATES EXERTION. (Proverbs 26:15.) Even the most necessary exertion may become by habit distasteful. To take his hand from his bosom, even merely to reach after the bread of life, is too much labour for him. And thus his life, instead of being a continual feast, sinks into spiritual indigence and starvation.
"The idle soul shall suffer hunger."
IV. IT BREEDS CONCEIT AND FOLLY. (Proverbs 26:16.) This is the strange irony of the vice, that the empty hand shall fancy itself full of wisdom. But such fancies are the very growth of the soil of indolence. It is impossible to make such a one understand his ignorance, for it requires knowledge to perceive it; and he who can perceive it has it not (Jeremy Taylor). The evil may creep into the Church. One may fall into an idle and passive piety, content with sitting still, hearing, praying, singing, from one end of the year to the other, without advancing one step in the practical Christian life (1 Thessalonians 5:6).—J.
I. MEDDLING IN OTHERS' QUARRELS. (Proverbs 26:17.) By a very homely image the folly of this is marked. To interfere in disputes which do not concern one is to get hurt one's self. No doubt the proverb admits of a very selfish application. We may excuse indifference to right on such a plea. But a true instinct of Christian justice and love will find a middle course. We should be sure of our call to act before we meddle in others' affairs. It is rare that it can be our duty to volunteer the office of judge. Benevolent neutrality is generally our most helpful attitude.
II. MAKING SPORT OF MISCHIEF. (Proverbs 26:18, Proverbs 26:19.) There is an ape-like line of mischief in human nature that needs to be watched. Amusing in trifling matters, it may, if encouraged, fly at high game. He that purposely deceives his neighbour under colour of a jest is no less prejudicial to him than a lunatic that cloth wrong out of frenzy and distraction (Bishop Hall). The habit of teasing should be corrected in children. What seems comparatively harmless in itself at first may readily become a habit and harden into a vice. It is in the little delicacies of daily life, no less than in the greatest matters, that we are called to practise the golden rule. We must consider the effect, as well as the intention, of our actions; for, as in the old fable, what is sport to us may be grievous hurt to another.—J.
Spite, cunning, and deceit
I. THE TALE BEARER AND MISCHIEF MAKER. (Proverbs 26:20-22.)
1. His inflammatory character. (Proverbs 26:20, Proverbs 26:21.) He keeps alive quarrels which, but for his vice, would die down for want of fuel. It is easy to fire the imagination with tales of evil, not so easy to quench the flames thus kindled. If the character is odious, let us beware of countenancing it by opening our ears to scandal. Personal gossip has in our day become an offence in the public press. But were there no receivers, there would be no thieves. If we cannot stop the scandalmonger's month, we can stop our own ears; and "let him see in our face that he has no room in our heart."
2. The pain he causes. (Proverbs 26:22.) Slander is deadly—it "outvenoms all the worms of Nile." "A whispered word may stab a gentle heart." "What weapon can be nearer to nothing than the sting of a wasp? yet what a painful wound may it give! The scarce-visible point how it envenoms and rankles and swells up the flesh! The tenderness of the part adds much to the grief." If God has given us a sting, or turn for satire, may we use it for its proper work—to cover evil with contempt, and folly with ridicule, and not at the devilish instigation of envy and spite. Let us dread and discourage the character of the amusing social slanderer.
II. THE BAD HEART. (Proverbs 26:23-25.)
1. It may be varnished over, but is still the bad heart. It is like the common sherd covered with impure silver, the common wood with veneer. The burning lips seem here to mean glowing professions of friendship. like the kiss of Judas.
2. Duplicity is the sign of the bad heart. The dissembler smiles, and murders while he smiles. The fair face hides what the false heart doth know.
"Neither man nor angel can discern
Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks
Invisible, except to God alone.
Oft, though wisdom wakes, suspicion sleeps
At wisdom's gate, and to simplicity
Resigns her charge, while goodness thinks no ill
Where no ill seems."
3. The need of prudence and reserve. "Trust not him that seems to be a saint." Indeed, it is an error to place perfect trust in anything human or finite. But the special warning here is against suffering flattery to blind us to the real character of one who has once been revealed in his true colours.
III. THE EXPOSURE OF WICKEDNESS. (Proverbs 26:26, Proverbs 26:27.) Vain is the attempt of men to conceal for any length of time their real character. What they say and what they do not say, do and do not do, reveals them sooner or later. And the revelation brings its retribution. The intriguer falls into his own pit, is crushed beneath the stone he set in motion. Curses come home to roost; the biter is bitten; and the villain suffers from the recoil of his own weapon. This appears also to be the sense of Proverbs 26:28. Though a lie has no legs, it has wings, and may fly far and wide, but it "hates its own master" (according to one rendering), and flies back to perch on his shoulder and betray him to his ruin.—J.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Proverbs 26:1, Proverbs 26:6, Proverbs 26:9
Honouring the unworthy
There are different ways in which we may honour men, whether the wise or the unwise. We may
I. ITS PAINFUL INCONGRUITY. "As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, so honour is not seemly for a fool." To hear a fool attempting lamely to discourse wisdom is suggestive of the motion of a man whose "legs are not equal." For the post of honour to be occupied by one who has disgraced himself by guilty foolishness, or who has neglected his opportunities, and is empty-minded and incapable, this is something which is manifestly unfitting; it offends our sense of the appropriate and the becoming. Shamelessness and honour, stupidity and responsibility, have no sort of agreement; they are miserably and painfully ill-mated.
II. ITS POSITIVE REVERSAL OF THE TRUE ORDER OF THINGS. The fool ought to be positively dishonoured. He need not be actually despised. There is too much of capacity, of indefinitely great possibility in every human spirit to make it right for us to despise our brethren. We are to "honour all men" because they are men, because they are, with us, the offspring of God, and may be his children in the highest and deepest sense (1 Peter 2:17). Yet is it our clear duty to see that folly is dishonored, that it is made to take the lowest place, that the man who does shameful things is put to shame before his fellows. Let those who dishonour God, disregard their fellows, and disgrace themselves, feel the edge of holy indignation; they should be smitten in faithfulness that they may be healed in mercy.
III. ITS INJURIOUSNESS. To honour the fool by giving him rank, or responsibility, or the opportunity of speech, is:
1. To injure him. For it is to make him "think himself to be something [or, 'somebody'] when he is nothing [or, 'nobody']." It is to fasten him in his present position of unworthiness, and thus to do him the most serious harm we can inflict upon him. The flatterer of the fool is his deadliest enemy.
2. To injure the community. It is "to drink damage," to bind a stone in a sling that is most likely to hit and hurt our neighbour, to smart with a wound from some sharp thorn. The foolish, the guilty, the wrong in heart and mind, do serious harm when they hold the reins of office or sit in the seat of honour. Their very elevation is itself an encouragement to folly and vice, and a discouragement to wisdom and virtue. They administer injustice instead of justice. They let all things down instead of raising them up. They advance those who are like-minded with themselves, and neglect those who deserve honour and promotion. Speaking from "the chair," they make falsity and foolishness to appear to be truth and wisdom, and so they mislead the minds and darken the lives and betray the souls of men.—C.
Proverbs 26:2, Proverbs 26:3
What to fear
Fear enters largely into human experience. It is an emotion which is sometimes stamped upon the countenance so that it is legible to all who look upon it. Under its baleful shadow some men have spent a large part of their life. We may well ask what to fear and how to be delivered from its evil There are some—
I. THINGS THAT HAVE BEEN, BUT NEED NOT HAVE BEEN, FEARED.
1. Men and women have dreaded "the evil eye" of their fellow men. They have been alarmed by evil omens, by signs and portents that have boded misfortune or calamity, by presentiments of approaching death, etc. All these things have been purely imaginary, and they have added largely and lamentably to the burdens and sorrows of existence. It is painful to think how many thousands, how many millions of mankind have had their hearts troubled and their lives darkened, or even blighted, by fears that have been wholly needless—fears of some evil which has never been more or nearer to them in fact than the shadow of the bird's wing as it circles in the air or flies away into the forest.
2. Of these imaginary evils that which is conspicuous among others is the curse of the wicked—"the curse that is causeless." The bitter imprecation of the heart that is full of unholy hatred may make the spirit quiver at the moment, but its effect should be momentary. Let reason do its rightful work and the anxiety will disappear. What possible harm can come of the bad man's curse? He has no power to bring about its fulfilment. Not in his hand are the laws of nature, the issues of events, the future of the holy. Let the feeling of apprehension pass away with a reflection that all these things are in the hand of the Supreme. Let it be as the wing of the flitting bird, out of sight in a moment. Let it be "as the idle wind which we regard not."
II. THINGS THAT MUST SOMETIMES BE BRAVED. Although we may entirely disregard the malediction of the guilty and the godless, we are obliged to attach some importance to their active opposition. When implication passes into determined hostility, we have then to lay our account with it. We have then to consider what we must do to meet it. But if we are obviously and consciously in the right, we can afford to brave and breast it. We are not alone. God is with us. Almighty power, irresistible wisdom, Divine sympathy, are with us; we may go on our way, doing our duty and bearing our testimony, fearless of our foes and of all their machinations. There is, however—
III. ONE THING FROM WHICH IT IS NATURAL TO SHRINK; the enmity of a bureau begirt. We may make light of the weapons of our adversaries; we may be fearless of their designs and their doings; but from the feeling of hatred in their hearts we do welt to shrink. It is far from being nothing that human hearts are actually hating us, malevolently wishing us evil, prepared to rejoice in our sorrow, in our downfall. We should not surely be entirely unaffected by the thought. It is a consideration that should move us to pity and to prayer. We should have a sorrowful feeling that ends in prayer that God would turn their heart, that leads also to the first available opportunity of winning them to a bettor mind. And there are those who should cherish—
IV. ONE SALUTARY FEAR. (Proverbs 26:3.) Those who are wrong in heart and life may dread the coming down upon them of that rod of correction which is found to be the only weapon that will avail.—C.
Proverbs 26:4, Proverbs 26:5
The two ways of meeting folly
They are these—
I. THE CAREFUL AVOIDANCE OF REPEATING IT. (Proverbs 26:4.) Only too often men allow the foolish to draw them into a repetition of their folly, so that one fool makes another. Folly is contagious, and we are all in some danger of catching it. This is the case with us when:
1. We let the word of anger provoke us to a responsive bitterness; then we are "overcome of evil" instead of "overcoming evil with good" (Romans 12:21).
2. We allow one exaggeration to lead us into another. When two men are in conversation, one is often tempted to lead the other into statements that exceed the truth; and exaggeration is only another name for falsehood.
3. We accept a foolish challenge. The young, more particularly, are fond of exciting one another to deeds of folly, and it often requires courage, steadfastness, even nobility of spirit, to refuse to follow the leading of unwisdom.
4. We indulge in idle gossip; letting the first statement about our neighbour, which is unfounded and slanderous, conduct us to idle and mischievous talk in the same foolish strain.
5. We permit ourselves to follow the lead of the man whose thoughts and words are in the direction of a doubtful, or a dishonourable, or a defiling region. In all these cases it behoves us "not to answer a fool according to his folly," to be silent altogether; or else to break away into another and worthier strain; or even to "take up our parable" against that which has been said in our hearing. But here we reach the other method, viz.—
If. THE WISE CONDEMNATION OF IT. Folly is sometimes to be rebuked (Proverbs 26:5). Silence on our part would be mistaken and abused; it would be regarded as acquiescence or as incapacity to meet what has been said, and folly would go on its way, its empty head held higher than before. We must use discretion here; must understand "when only silence suiteth best," and also when silence would be a mistake and even a sin. The times to answer a fool according to his folly, i.e. in the way which is demanded by his folly, are surely these:
1. When ignorance needs to be exposed.
2. When pretentiousness and presumptuousness want to be put down.
3. When irreverence or actual profanity requires to be rebuked and silenced.
4. When vice or cruelty deserves to be smitten and abashed. Then let the true and brave man speak; let the name and the honour of his holy Saviour, let the cause of truth and righteousness, let the interests of the young and the poor and the weak unloose his tongue, and let him pour forth his indignation. In so doing he will be following in the footsteps of the Lord of truth and love, and of the noblest and worthiest of his followers.—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 22:13.)—C.
Proverbs 26:18, Proverbs 26:19
The condemnation of sin
We have here, in a few strong sentences, a most forcible presentation of the evil and the guiltiness of wrong doing. We see—
I. ITS UGLIEST FEATURE—DECEPTION. "The man that deceiveth his neighbour" is not here simply the man who overreaches his customer or who introduces a low cunning into his business; he is rather the man who deliberately misleads his acquaintance, his "friend," and induces him to do that which is unwise and unworthy. He is the man who knows better himself, but who indoctrinates the inexperienced and the unwary with the principles, or rather the vain imaginations, of folly. He stoops so low that he does not hesitate:
1. To recommend forbidden pleasure as an object worthy of pursuit, though he knows well (or ought to know, if he can learn from experience) that guilty gratification is the very costliest thing that any man can buy.
2. To persuade men that an unprincipled life is a profitable life, as if "a man's life consisted in the abundance of the things which he possessed;" as if a life without integrity were not the most utter add miserable failure.
3. To recommend selfishness and indulgence as a condition of liberty, when in fact it is the beginning and is sure to end in the most humiliating bondage.
4. To represent the service of God and of man as a drudgery and a dreariness, when in truth it is the height of human nobility and the very essence of enjoyment.
5. To prevail upon the young to snatch at honour arid success instead of honestly labouring and patiently waiting for it. There is no more painful and repulsive thing under heaven than the sight of experience and maturity breathing its fallacies, its sophisms, its delusions, into the ear of inexperience and innocency.
II. ITS BITTER FRUIT. What do these delusions bring forth? The deceiver is a man who "scatters firebrands, arrows, and death." The ultimate consequences of the "deceitfulness of sin" are sad indeed; they are:
1. Impoverishment in circumstance.
2. The loss of the love and the honour of the wise and good.
3. Remorse of soul and, frequently, if not usually, the departure of self-respect.
4. Hopelessness and death.
5. The extension of the evil which has been imbibed to those around; becoming a source of poisonous error, a fountain of evil and wrong and misery.
III. ITS PRACTICAL INSANITY. The fool who does wantonly scatter the seeds of deadly delusions in the minds of men is "as a madman." There is no small measure of insanity in sin. Sin is a spiritual disease; it is our spiritual nature in a state of complete derangement, our mind filled with false ideas, our heart affected with delusive hopes and fears. There is no soundness, no wholeness or health about us, so far as we are under the dominion of sin. We do things which we could not possibly have done if only reason and rectitude held sway within us.
IV. ITS POOR AND PITIFUL APOLOGY. "He saith, Am not I in sport?" When a man deludes and betrays, when he wrongs and ruins a human soul, and then makes a joke of it, he only adds meanness to his transgression. Who, outside the bottomless pit, can see any fun in a blighted life, in a wounded and bleeding spirit, in a soiled and stained soul, in the ruin of reputation, in the blasting of a noble hope, in the shadow of spiritual death? Human life and character and destiny are infinitely serious things; they are not to be the butt of fools.—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 17:9.)—C.
Unfortunately, we have to treat men as we find them, not as we wish that they were and as their Creator meant them to be. We are compelled to learn caution as we pass on our way.
I. OUR FIRST DUTY AND ITS NATURAL REWARD. Our first duty, natural to the young and the unsophisticated, is to be frank, open-minded, sincere, trustful; to say all that is in our heart, and to expect others to do the same; to believe that men mean what they say and say what they mean. And the reward of this simplicity and truthfulness on our part is an ingenuous, an unsuspicious spirit, a spirit as far removed as possible from that of cunning, of artifice, of worldliness.
II. THE CORRECTION OF EXPERIENCE. All too soon we discover that we cannot act on this theory without being wounded and hurt. We find that what looks like pure silver may be nothing better than "earthenware of the coarsest kind lacquered over with silver dross." Behind the lips that burn and breathe affection for us and interest in us is a wicked heart in which are "seven abominations," in which dwells every evil imagination. We find that those who affect to be our friends when they stand in our presence are in fact our bitterest and most active enemies. We discover that our words, spoken in good faith and purity of heart, are misrepresented, and are made a sword to smite us. Experience compels caution, reticence, sometimes absolute silence.
III. THE TWO MAIN EVILS AGAINST WHICH TO GUARD. These are:
1. Fair speaking which is false. The false words that are ostensibly spoken in our interest, by one that means us harm; words which would lead to trust and expectation when we should be alive with solicitude and alert to avoid the danger which impends. By these our treasure, our position, our friendship, our reputation, our happiness, may he seriously endangered.
2. Flattery. The invention and utterance of that which is not felt at all, or the careless and perhaps well-meant exaggeration of a feeling which is entertained in, the heart. Few things are more potent for harm than flattery.
(a) It gives a wrong impression of our estate, and may lead to financial "ruin" (Proverbs 26:28).
(b) It encourages an over-estimate of our capacity, and may lead to our undertaking that for which we are incompetent, and thus to an humiliating and distressing failure.
(c) It engenders a false idea of our persona! worth, and may lead to spiritual infatuation, and thus to the ruin of ourselves.
IV. THE DUTY AND THE WISDOM OF WARINESS. As these things are so, as human society does hold a large number of dissemblers (Proverbs 26:24), as it is possible that the next acquaintance we make may be an illustration of this sad fact, it follows that absolute trustfulness is a serious mistake. We must be on our guard. We must not open our hearts too freely. We must know men before we trust them. We must cultivate the art of penetration, of reading character. To be able to distinguish between the true and the false in this great sphere is a very large part of wisdom. Next to knowing God, and to acquainting ourselves with our own hearts, is the duty of studying men and discerning between the lacquered potsherd and the pure silver.
V. THE DOOM OF DECEIT. To be rigorously exposed, to be unsparingly denounced, to be utterly ashamed (Proverbs 26:26, Proverbs 26:27).—C.
Monday, February 20th, 2017
the Seventh Week after Epiphany
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