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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Proverbs 1

 

 

Verse 1

1.—INTRODUCTION DESCRIBING THE PURPOSE OF THE BOOK (Proverbs 1:1-6).

(1) Proverbs.—For the various senses of the Hebrew mâshâl thus translated, see Introduction.

Solomon.—The absolute quiet and prosperity of the reign of Solomon (the man of peace), as described in 1 Kings 4:20, sqq., would naturally be conducive to the growth of a sententious philosophy; whereas the constant wars and dangerous life of David had called forth the impassioned eloquence of the Psalms.


Verse 2

(2) To know.—That is, they are written that one may know. The writer in this and the following verses heaps up synonyms with which to bring out the wide purpose of the instruction he offers.

Wisdom (chokhmah).—The original meaning of this word is “firmness,” “solidity,” having an opinion based upon sound reasons; the opposite state of mind to being “carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).

Instruction (mûsâr).—Or rather, discipline, the knowledge how to keep oneself under control. (Comp. 2 Peter 1:6 : “Add to your knowledge temperance,” or self-control.)

To perceive the words of understanding.—Comp. Hebrews 5:14 : “To have the senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Comp. also Philippians 1:10.) The opposite condition to this is having the heart made “fat” (Isaiah 6:10) by continuance in evil, so that it can no longer understand.


Verse 3

(3) To receive the instruction of wisdom.—To take in, or appropriate, the “discipline” which results in “prudence” (haskçl) or practical wisdom; so David “behaved himself wisely” (1 Samuel 18:5).

Equity.—Literally, what is straight, so true, honest.


Verse 4

(4) Subtilty (‘Ormah).—Used in a bad sense (Exodus 21:14) for “guile.” For the meaning here, comp. Matthew 10:16 : “Be ye wise as serpents;” comp. also the reproof of Luke 16:8, that “the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light;” and St. Paul’s advice to “redeem the time “(Ephesians 5:16), i.e., seize opportunities for good.

Simple.—Literally, those who are open to good impressions and influences, but who also can be easily led astray. (Comp. Proverbs 8:5; Proverbs 14:15.)

Young man.—The Hebrew term is used of any age from birth to about the twentieth year.

Discretion.—Or rather, thoughtfulness; a word also used in a bad sense in Proverbs 12:2, and there translated “wicked devices.”


Verse 5

(5) A wise man will hear.—That is, if he listen to these proverbs. (Comp. Proverbs 9:9.) It is not the young only who will derive profit from them.

A man of understanding.—Or rather, of discernment.

Wise counsels.—Literally, arts of seamanship: i.e., guiding himself and others aright through the “waves of this troublesome world.”


Verse 6

(6) Interpretation.—Or an obscure thing which needs interpretation, so corresponding to “dark sayings.”

Dark sayings.—Literally knots, intricate sayings, like Samson’s riddle (Judges 14:12).


Verse 7

2.—FIFTEEN DIDACTIC POEMS, OR DISCOURSES ON VARIOUS SUBJECTS (Proverbs 1:7 to Proverbs 9:18).

(a) First Discourse:—Against Companionship in Robbery (Proverbs 1:7-19).

(7) The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.—The first discourse is prefaced by a distich, which serves as a key-note to all the teaching of the book. This expression, “the fear of the Lord,” occurs thirteen times in the Proverbs, and plays a prominent part throughout the Old Testament.

“When God of old came down from heaven,

In power and wrath He came.”

That law which was given amid “blackness, and darkness, and tempest” was enforced by the threat, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10). Men had to be taught how hateful sin was to God, and the lesson was for the most part instilled into them by the fear of immediate punishment. (Comp. Deuteronomy 28) But when the lesson had been learnt, and when mankind had found by experience that they were unable to keep the law of God by their own strength, then the new covenant of mercy was revealed from Calvary, even free justification “by God’s grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). And with this new message a new motive to obedience was preached. The “fear of the Lord” was now superseded by the higher duty of the “love of God,” and of man, for His sake. “The love of Christ constraineth us,” says St. Paul. “We love Him because He first loved us,” writes St. John. Now, it was seen that, although the “fear of the Lord” may be the “beginning of wisdom,” yet something better still may be aimed at: that “he that feareth is not made perfect in love;” and so the teaching of St. John, the last New Testament writer, is summed up in the words, “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

Fools (’evîlîm).—Self-willed, headstrong persons, who will listen to no advice.


Verse 8

(8) My son.—The address as of a master to his pupil. This phrase only occurs twice again in Proverbs, excepting in sections (2) and (4).

Law.—Rather, teaching. (Comp. Proverbs 3:1.)


Verse 9

(9) Ornament of grace.—Given by Wisdom. (Comp. Proverbs 4:9.)

Chains about thy neck.—The reward of Joseph (Genesis 41:42) and of Daniel (Daniel 5:29).


Verse 10

(10) If sinners entice thee.—A warning against taking part in brigandage, a crime to which Palestine was at all times peculiarly exposed, from the wild character of its formation, and from its neighbourhood to predatory tribes, who would invade the country whenever the weakness of the government gave them an opening. The insecurity to life and property thus occasioned would provide a tempting opportunity for the wilder spirits of the community to seek a livelihood by plunder.


Verse 11

(11) Without cause.—To be taken with “lurk.” Though he has done us no harm.


Verse 12

(12) Alive.—Comp. the death of Dathan and Abiram (Numbers 16:30).


Verse 16

(16) For their feet . . .—The first reason against taking part with them: the horrible nature of the crime they are committing.


Verse 17

(17) Surely in vain . . .—The second reason: their folly in so doing, for God will bring punishment upon them; in the “same net which they hid privily will their foot be taken “(Psalms 9:15). Even birds are wiser than they. It is useless to spread a net in the sight of any bird.


Verse 18

(18) And they lay wait.—Yet they cannot see that in truth they are laying wait, not for the innocent, but for themselves, as God will deliver him, and bring the mischief they designed for him upon their own head.


Verse 19

(19) So are the ways . . .—The conclusion of the discourse. The same phrase occurs in Job 8:13.

Which taketh away . . .—That is, covetousness takes away the life of him who has this vice in his heart, who is, according to the Hebrew idiom, the “owner” of it. (Comp. similar expressions in Proverbs 22:24; Proverbs 23:2, where an “angry” man and a man “given to appetite” are literally an owner of anger and appetite.)


Verse 20

(b) Second Discourse:—Wisdom Addresses her Despisers (Proverbs 1:20-33).

(20) Wisdom.—The form of the Hebrew term (chokhmôth) has been taken for an abstract singular noun, but probably it is the plural of chokhmah (Proverbs 1:2), signifying the multiform excellences of wisdom. It is possible that Solomon may have originally meant in this passage only to describe, in highly poetic language, the influence and work in their generation of those in whom “the fear of the Lord” dwells. So, too, many of the Psalms (Psalms 45, for example), in the first instance it would seem, are intended to describe the excellence of some earthly saint or king, yet they are completely fulfilled only in the Son of man, the ideal of all that is noblest and best in man. And thus the description of Wisdom in her manifold activity, as represented in Proverbs 1, 8, 9, so closely corresponds to the work of our Lord, as depicted in the New Testament, that from the earliest times of Christianity these passages have been held to be a prophecy of Him; and there is good reason for such a view. For a comparison of Luke 11:49 (“Therefore also said the wisdom of God, Behold, I send,” &c.) with Matthew 23:34 (where He says, “Behold, I send”) would seem to show that He applied the title to Himself. St. Paul in like manner speaks of Him as the “Wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24); says He has been “made unto us wisdom” (1 Corinthians 1:30); and that in Him “are hid all the treasures of wisdom” (Colossians 2:3). For passages from the Fathers embodying this view, see references in Bishop Wordsworth on this chapter.


Verse 21

(21) Crieth.—She cannot bear to see sinners rushing madly on their doom. (Comp. Christ’s weeping over Jerusalem, Luke 19:41; and Romans 9:2, sqq; Philippians 3:18, sqq.)


Verse 22

(22) How long . . .—Three classes of persons are here addressed: (1) simple ones, open to good influences, but also to evil (Proverbs 1:4); (2) scorners (lçtsîm), men who despised what was holy, priding themselves on their cleverness in so doing (Proverbs 14:6), who avoided the wise, and held themselves above their advice (Proverbs 15:12), proud, arrogant men (Proverbs 21:24). The name first appears at the time of Solomon, when the prosperity of the nation was favourable to the growth of religious indifference and scepticism. Isaiah had to deal with them in his day, too (Isaiah 28:14). (3) Fools (khesîlîm), dull, stupid persons, stolidly confident in their own wisdom.


Verse 23

(23) I will pour out my spirit unto you.—Comp. the prophecy of Joel 2:28, promised by our Lord (John 7:38-39), and fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2:17).

I will make known my words unto you.—For a similar promise that God’s will shall be revealed to those who fear and follow Him, comp. Psalms 25:14 : “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him;” and Christ’s promise: “If any man will do God’s will, he shall know of the doctrine,” &c. (John 7:17).


Verse 24

(24) Because I have called.—Wisdom’s call having been rejected, she now changes her tone from “mercy” to “judgment” (Psalms 101:1). (Comp. Romans 10:21 : “All day long I have stretched forth my hands,” &c.)


Verse 26

(26) I also will laugh . . . I will mock.—For expressions like this, comp. Psalms 2:4; Psalms 37:13; Psalms 59:8, where the same actions are attributed to God. They are not to be taken literally, of course, for the sight of human folly can give no pleasure to Him. They signify that He will act as if He mocked when He refuses to hear their cry. Similar expressions, imputing human actions to the Almighty, are Genesis 11:5; Genesis 11:7; 2 Chronicles 16:9; Psalms 18:9; human feelings, Genesis 6:6.


Verse 28

(28) Then shall they call upon me.—They did not call upon Him in an “acceptable time,” in “a day of salvation” (Isaiah 49:8), while He was “near” (Isaiah 55:6); so at last the master of the house has “risen up, and shut-to the door” (Luke 13:25), and will not listen to their cries.

They shall seek me early.—As God had done, “daily rising up early,” and sending the prophets unto them (Jeremiah 7:25).


Verse 32

(32) The turning away of the simple . . .—i.e., from God. (Comp. Jeremiah 2:19.)

Prosperity of fools—i.e., the security, apathy of dull, stupid people (khesîlîm), who cannot believe that God will fulfil His threatenings. (Comp. Psalms 73 throughout.)


Verse 33

(33) Shall dwell safely . . .—Comp. Psalms 37 throughout for similar promises.

Shall be quiet from fear of evil—Comp. Ps. cxii 7: “He shall not be afraid of any evil tidings,” &c

 


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Proverbs 1:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ebc/proverbs-1.html. 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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