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Proverbs 24:5. A man of knowledge, rather “a man of understanding,” increaseth strength, literally “maketh power strong.” Miller translates the entire verse thus:—“A strong man, if wise, is as a power indeed; and a man of knowledge makes strength really strong.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 24:1-6
I. An undertaking founded upon wickedness lacks the first element of stability. A house built upon a sandy foundation, we all know, does not possess the first requisite of safety. It is useless to erect any building for fine weather purposes only—if it is not able to stand a storm all the labour expended upon it is lost. Those places are very few where the tempest does not come sometimes, and even if we could find so favoured a spot, a sandy foundation would not be a permanent one. The ordinary play of the elements and the changes of the seasons would be ever at work upon the loose and shifting soil, and in time the house must fall. So it is with any work undertaken with an evil purpose or from wicked motives. There are laws at work in God’s universe which will forbid such a building to remain long in existence. It is very easy work to lay the stones in the sand—much more easy than to hew out a place for them in the solid rock—and the apparently rapid success of evil men and evil deeds tempts many an unwise builder to work after their method. But the experience of the Psalmist is repeated in every age and must be to the end of time: “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not; yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.” (Psalms 37:35-36.)
II. True wisdom consists in patient continuance in well-doing. In this passage, as throughout the entire Book of Proverbs, wisdom is set up as the rival of evil, and sin is accounted as the height of folly. The wise man accounts everything foolishness which is against the moral law of the universe, and the good man is in his estimation the only wise man. That this is a just and true estimate is apparent to all who look a little beneath the surface of things—to all who realise that it is one thing to seem and another thing to be. The mansion upon the sand-bank appears to be a more desirable dwelling place than the cottage upon the rock, but time will prove which is the safer of the two. But permanence or safety are not the only recommendations to the house of wisdom. There is a satisfaction and a positive joy to be found in doing the right to which the evil-doer is a stranger. To be on the side of the good is to be on the side of God and of conscience, to know from experience that all the moral powers of the soul grow stronger with use, and such experimental knowledge fills the chambers of the soul “with all precious and pleasant riches” (Proverbs 24:4). These considerations ought to make it easy to obey Solomon’s precept: “Be not envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them.” The mariner on even a stormy sea would not envy the dweller in the lighthouse if he knew that the waves were rapidly undermining its foundation and rendering its speedy fall certain, and to envy a man a short-lived prosperity which must have a sad end is as contrary to the dictates of reason and self-love. A consideration of their “end” (Psalms 73:17) is a good preservative against such an envy, and has been tried by many men since the days of Asaph with the same success. But without bringing the future into the present, envy of the wicked may be effectually prevented if we can realise their present loss. The inhabitant of the dwelling filled with materials to satisfy his bodily and mental appetites and wants does not envy him whose house is destitute of such comforts. Yet that would be more reasonable than for him who has the opportunity of rearing for himself a well-furnished house of wisdom—of building a character which shall be in itself a source of satisfaction and joy to his better nature—to desire the empty and unsatisfying portion of evil doers.
For Homiletics on Proverbs 24:6 considered by itself see on chap. Proverbs 11:14, page 214, and on chap. Proverbs 20:18, page 590.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 24:1. Sin is like sound, and it finds the moral nature of fallen man, like the atmosphere, a good conducting medium. The word or deed of evil does not terminate where it is produced. It radiates all round; and beside the direct propagation from a centre by diverging lines, it further reduplicates itself by rebounding like an echo from every object upon which it falls. Human beings may well stand in awe when they consider the self-propagating power of sin, and the facilities which their own corruption affords it. Different persons are affected in different ways. One is shaken by the example of wickedness in its first out-go, another by its rebounding blow, One is carried away in the stream, another hurts himself by his violent efforts to resist it. Some imitate the sin. Others fret against the sinner, Both classes do evil and suffer injury, Whether you be impatiently “envious against evil men,” or weakly “desirous to be with them,” you have sustained damage by the contact.—Arnot.
To be envious against evil men is plainly to confess ourselves to be worse than they are. For, as St. Gregory speaketh, we cannot envy except it be those whom we think to be better than ourselves. Indeed, to envy against evil men is to make wickedness to be goodness, and to show no goodness to be in his heart that is so envious.… Whosoever thou be that envieth evil men, I cannot tell who should envy thee, except the devil, because thou strivest to be more wicked than he is. For they are only the godly that he is envious against.—Jermin.
Proverbs 24:4. The last virtue here spoken of is knowledge, whereby the inward rooms of the house are filled with all precious substance; unto the providing and treasuring up of food, of money, and all things necessary and comfortable, the knowledge of times, the prices of things, and of the means whereby commodities may be obtained, is requisite.… It is not to be marvelled at that many young married folk and householders in these days have nothing in their families but want of necessaries and bare walls, seeing they want both wisdom and understanding, and knowledge.—Muffett.
(1) plenty of that which is precious and pleasant.
(2) Propriety. They must be that which is their own; and hereunto economical prudence much conduceth. God bestoweth abundance on the wicked ex largitate, only out of a general providence; but upon his people that are good husbands ex promisso, by virtue of this and the like promises.—Trapp.
Proverbs 24:5. A strong man. (See Miller’s rendering in the Critical Notes.) A common man, a better sort of man, a strong man, a mortal or weak man, are the four words for man in the Bible. This is a strong man. It means strong in a worldly sense. That man, if wise, is as a power indeed.… The meaning is that a “strong” man, if not “wise,” is not “strong” at all; that piety is itself strength; that the stronger a man without it, the weaker he is; that a strong man who is pious, not only becomes strong in that, but strong really by his worldly strength; because piety gives realness to every gift.—Miller.
I. Intelligence apart from piety is power. A man who has great intelligence, and knows how to use it, possesses a power superior to any physical force.… II. Piety apart from intelligence is a higher kind of power. It is the patience of love, endurance, patience, compassion; it is a power which will touch men’s hearts, move the very arm of Omnipotence, “take hold upon the strength of God.” III. Piety associated with intelligence is the highest creature power. What power on earth is equal to that possessed by the man of vast intelligence and consecrated affections, the man of sunny intellect and Heaven-inspired sympathies and aims?—Dr. David Thomas.
A wise man is not only strong in having wisdom, but in getting strength also.… For by wisdom knowing well the want and need of strength, he is careful and diligent to procure it; whereas many times strength, being presumptuous upon its own might, seeks not for wisdom to support it, and falls for want of having it.—Jermin.
Proverbs 24:7. Wisdom is too high, etc. Delitzsch here reads, Wisdom seems to the fool to be an ornamental commodity, and thinks “the comparison lies in the rarity, costliness, and unattainableness of wisdom.” “The word,” says Miller, “occurs but three times in the Bible; once in Job 28:18, translated coral; once in Ezekiel 27:16, translated coral and agate; and once in this passage, where it ought to be translated coral again.” Some, from this rendering, understand the verse to signify that the fool uses wisdom like a precious stone, only for ornament.
Proverbs 24:8. Mischievous person, literally a master or lord of mischief.
Proverbs 24:9. The thought, etc., rather, “the device or undertaking.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 24:7
A FALSE ESTIMATE AND A TRUE ONE
I. The fool’s estimate of wisdom. Solomon here gives the fool’s own reason for remaining in his folly, viz., that wisdom is difficult to acquire—that neither intellectual or spiritual knowledge can be gained without pains and self-denial. This is of course saying in effect that they are worthless, and this false estimate lies at the root of all ignorance, whether it be mental or moral. For if we can make a man feel that a thing is good and will bring him good, he will not be unwilling to seek to possess it, and his search and his pursuit will be diligent, and eager, and continuous, in proportion to the good which he believes the possession will bring to him. The idle schoolboy complains of the difficulty of his tasks, and of the severity of his teacher, because he does not rightly estimate the value of knowledge, and the moral fool finds fault with the methods of becoming spiritually wise, because he has no sense of the worth of such wisdom. But it must not be forgotten that the longer the fool makes the excuse of the text, the more true it becomes. The powers of the intellect, like those of the body, are less capable of use the longer they remain idle. If a healthy man is so indolent as to refuse to walk, his legs by long disuse may become unable to perform their office, and if the mental powers are left unexercised in youth, it is more difficult to use them to purpose in middle life. And it is so, too, with the spiritual perceptions and capabilities. Although it is never too late to acquire the highest wisdom, it certainly seems more out of the reach of the man who has neglected to seek it throughout a long life, than of him who gives to its pursuit the vigour and freshness of his youth.
II. The consequent estimate which wise men form of the fool. If men undervalue wisdom, they themselves are little valued, and their words and opinions have no weight with wise men. As it is a mark of folly generally to “open the mouth,” although nothing comes therefrom that is worth anything, the declaration that a fool “openeth not his mouth in the gate” must point, not to his own modesty or conscious inability to speak wisely, but to the estimation in which he is held by others.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
In bodily things, the more weighty they are, the lower they fall; the lighter they are, the higher they go. Contrariwise is it in the things of the soul, and the more weighty they are, the higher they are; the lighter they are, the lower they lie. It is therefore the lightness of a fool’s brain that makes wisdom too high for him: the giddiness of his head is not able to look up unto the height of it.… Therefore St. Gregory saith, If thou wilt find wisdom, tread upon the waves of this world, and walk upon the waters of this life, as St. Peter did, and she will reach forth her right hand to thee, as she did to Peter.—Jermin.
Proverbs 24:8-9 treat of subjects which have occurred more than once before. See on chap. Proverbs 6:12-19, page 81.
Proverbs 24:10. If thou faint, etc., rather “If thou hast been straitened in the day of straitness, strait is thy strength.” “The principle,” says Dr. Aitken, “is familiar enough, that courage and hopefulness is half a man’s strength.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 24:10
THE DAY OF ADVERSITY
I. The inevitable in human experience. The day of adversity is an ordination of God, as a necessary element in man’s moral training. The human rulers of a well-ordered State make certain provisions for the education of the young, and these provisions necessarily include many things that are distasteful, and even painful, to the pupils. But if they were left to map out their own course, and to arrange for themselves the plan of their education, we well know that the result in the end would be unsatisfactory to everybody, and most of all to themselves when they were old enough to judge. Even so is it with mankind and the Ruler of the world. God has purposed that men shall be subject to such a course of instruction and discipline as shall at least give them an opportunity of becoming wiser and better, and the day of adversity is an indispensable element in such a training. It therefore does not come to us by chance, nor is it always to be regarded in the light of a penalty for special sin, but is a token of Divine interest in our real welfare—an expression of Divine desire for our moral growth. It is wise, then, for all to recognise the fact that adversity in some form or other, at some period or other, is an inevitable event in their human life.
II. The test of human character. No man knows his moral strength until he comes face to face with trial. The chain that holds the vessel to the quay is only as strong as the weakest link, and if that one gives way the vessel is loosed from her moorings as surely as if every link was broken. So human character is only as strong as its weakest point, and if a severe strain is brought to bear upon a man, he will break down there. In the day of adversity every virtue and excellence that we possess will be subjected to a severe test, and if only one of them is found unequal to the trial, the whole character suffers, and we are in danger of losing our hold upon God, and so drifting from the right course. A man may have a high opinion of his own physical strength, and fancy that he is well able to grapple with any foe who might attack him. But it is not till he is in the grip of his antagonist that he knows how much or how little he is able to do and to bear. If he finds himself on the ground, stunned and bleeding, he rises from the struggle with a lower estimate of his own muscular strength than he had before. And so it is with the inner man when the day of adversity overtakes it—we think that our faith and moral courage are equal to any emergency, but we are sometimes stricken down to the dust and “faint” from the weight of a blow which we thought beforehand we could withstand, and for the rest of our lives have less confidence in our spiritual strength.
III. A strengthener of human character. Although men often “faint” in the day of adversity, or find their resources insufficient to meet their needs in the hour of trial, it is not necessarily the case, nor is it always so. Indeed, the intention of trial is not to take away our strength, but to increase it. If the day of adversity proves too much for our strength, the encounter may leave us morally weaker than we were before; but if we bear it courageously, and do not allow it to drive us to despair, or even to doubt, we come out of the ordeal stronger than when we entered into it. If a tree has too firm a hold upon the soil to be uprooted by the tempest, the shaking will but make it firmer still, and if our confidence and hope in God are not lessened by the blasts of adversity, they are rendered stronger and brighter, and more fitted to encounter the next storm. But fainting at the first blow of adversity leaves very little strength to meet the next trial, and this thought seems also to be in the proverb as it stands in the Hebrew.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
If you were to hear some men’s experience you would think they grew as the white pine grows, with straight grain and easily split, for I notice that all that grow easy split easy. But there are some that grow as the mahogany grows, with veneering knots, and all quirls and contortions of grain; that is the best timber of the forest which has most knots.… There are many who are content to grow straight, like weeds on a dunghill; but there are many others who want to be stalwart and strong like the monarchs of the forest, and yet when God sends the winds of adversity to sing a lullaby in their branches, they do not like to grow in that way. They dread the culture that is really giving toughness to their soul and strength to its fibre. Beecher.
The time of man’s distress, though it be a night of sorrow and trouble, which it bringeth to the soul, yet is it a day also, because it showeth truly to the soul what a man is.—Jermin.
Proverbs 24:11. Literally, “Deliver them who are dragged forth unto death, and them that totter to the slaughter, oh, rescue them.”
Proverbs 24:12. He that pondereth, literally, the Weigher of hearts. He that keepeth, rather “watcheth.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 24:11-12
POSITIVE PUNISHMENT FOR A NEGATIVE CRIME
I. The negative crime. The question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is here answered with an emphatic affirmative, for whatever may be the special reference of the words it is plain that they condemn as criminal the non-interposition of the strong on behalf of the weak and distressed. This crime may be committed from various causes. Those who are guilty of it may be entirely indifferent to the sufferings of others. There are many men and women who, if they are at ease themselves, never concern themselves about the sufferings of others—it matters not to them who is hungry so as they are well fed, and what privations others may be enduring while their needs are supplied. But the crime is oftener chargeable to moral cowardice and unwillingness to practice self-denial. A man may be sufficiently concerned for the danger of a drowning brother to throw him a rope, but he may shrink from throwing himself into the water and risking a watery grave on his behalf. So he may pity the ignorant and the erring and feel sad when he thinks of their sorrows and their sins, and yet be unwilling to sacrifice his money or his leisure or his social position in endeavours to save them. But the proverb seems to deal especially with what seems at first sight to be a less blameworthy class of persons than either of these—with those who have never considered the claims which others have upon them—who are really ignorant how many hearts are breaking around them and how many are perishing for the want of a helping hand. But this ignorance is here regarded as criminal. “Evil is wrought for want of thought, as well as want of heart,” but it is as much evil in the one case as in the other, and the want of thought is a sin in itself. And so is the want of knowledge here. God will not admit the plea “I knew it not,” but holds him who utters it guilty for his ignorance as well as for his neglect.
II. The positive punishment. No truth is taught more plainly in the Bible, than that men will not escape retribution of some kind because they have simply abstained from doing ill. The possessor of the one talent did not put it to a bad use, or throw it away. He kept it carefully wrapped in a napkin. But the sentence passed upon him was not merely that he should be deprived of his privilege, or that reward should be withheld, but:—“Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness.” (Matthew 25:30). “The tree that was only barren was burned,” says an old writer. The justice of this will be seen the more we consider how much actual wrong-doing on the part of some is chargeable to the not-doing of others. How much sin might be prevented if those who have it in their power sought to deliver others from bodily, or social, or moral death.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
“He that keepeth thy soul, doth not He know it.” This favour of God may be here mentioned partly as a strong obligation upon Him to preserve him who was made after God’s image, and whom God hath commanded him to love and preserve; partly to an encouragement to the performance of his duty herein from the consideration of God’s special care and watchfulness over those who do their duty; and partly to intimate to them the danger of neglect of this duty whereby they will forfeit God’s protection over themselves.—Poole.
The condition of sinners may be regarded as here very aptly set forth. They are “drawn unto death”—seized, or apprehended for death, and “ready to be slain:”—and the death to which they are doomed,—O how unutterably fearful! But you may naturally meet me with an objection here. In their condition there is no injustice; no unrighteous and cruel oppression. The sentence of death under which they lie is a divine sentence—in perfect accordance with all the principles of equity:—the sword with which they are “ready to be slain” is the sword of divine justice itself. They deserve to die the death. To attempt to prevent it would be to arrest the hand of God. Ought not divine, and therefore unimpeachable, justice to have its course? The objection—otherwise irresistible—God has Himself removed. Justice, infinite justice, had all its claims acknowledged and fulfilled on Calvary. On the ground of the sacrifice there offered, the atonement there made, the God of justice and mercy has called on sinners to accept pardon, in the name and for the sake of His Son. His call comes with authority. It is a command. It is in virtue of the satisfaction of justice in the atonement of Christ, that we ourselves enjoy our own deliverance from the death and destruction to which, in common with all, we were devoted. And the very same authority that commanded us to believe and be saved, enjoins on us to be agents in attempting the rescue of others. O! what should we not be ready to do, to sacrifice, to suffer, for such an end!—to effect such a rescue!—Wardlaw.
When Samuel Romilly’s Bill to abolish the punishment of death for a theft amounting to the sum of five shillings passed the English House of Commons, it was thrown out by a majority in the House of Lords. Among those who voted against the Bill were one archbishop and five bishops. Our poet here in the Proverbs is of a different mind. Even the law of Sinai appoints the punishment of death only for man-stealing.… In expressions like the above a true Christian spirit rules the spirit which condemns all bloodthirstiness of justice, and calls forth to a crusade, not only against the inquisition, but against all unmerciful and cruel executions.—Delitzsch.
The Hebrew midwives, and Esther in after ages, thus delivered their own people drawn unto death. Reuben delivered Joseph from the pit. Job was the deliverer of the poor in the extremity. Jonathan saved his friend at imminent risk to himself. Obadiah hid the Lord’s prophets. Ahikam and Ebed-melech saved Jeremiah. Johanan attempted to deliver the unsuspecting Gedaliah. Daniel preserved the wise men of Babylon. The Samaritan rescued his neighbour from death. Paul’s nephew delivered the great Apostle by informing him of the murderous plot. The rule includes all oppression, which has more or less of the character of murder.—Bridges.
“Who is lord over us?” is the watchword of the life-long battle between an evil conscience and a righteous Judge. Here the commandment is exceeding broad. Like Divine omniscience, it compasses the transgressor before and behind. It checks his advance, and cuts off his retreat. Although a man should actually maintain in relation to every brother the neutrality he professes, it would avail him nothing.… What ails our brother, that he needs the compassion of a tender heart and the help of a strong hand? He is “drawn unto death,” and “ready to be slain.” This is the very crisis which at once needs help and admits it. If the danger were more distant, he might not be sensible of his need; if it were nearer, he might be beyond the hope of recovery. He is so low that help is necessary; yet not so low as would render help vain. He is “drawn unto death,” and therefore is an object of pity; but his life is yet in him, and therefore he is a subject of hope.—Arnot.
Proverbs 24:14. There shall be a reward, rather, “there is a future,” as in chap. Proverbs 23:18.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 24:13-14
HONEY AND WISDOM
I. An analogy.
1. Honey is found by man ready prepared for his use; no human skill is needed to make it fit for food—nothing that man can do can render it more palatable than it is as it flows from the comb. So the revealed wisdom of God as it is found in the Scriptures needs no intervention of man to make it suitable to human needs.
2. As honey is evidently designed by God to furnish a wholesome and pleasant food for the body, so has He designed that the revelation of His mind and will by His inspired messengers shall provide wholesome and congenial food for the soul of man. The great abundance of honey in Palestine led to its forming a more prominent part of daily food than in western countries, and its possessing these two qualities made it very fit for general and constant use, and was a perpetual testimony to the providence of God in relation to the needs and enjoyment of His creatures. So is the provision which God has made for the spiritual wants of the children of men. On this point we must take the testimony of those who have tested this soul-food. We should not ask a man whether honey was pleasant to the taste if he had never eaten it, and those are not qualified to bear witness concerning the spiritual enjoyment and benefit to be derived from the “wisdom of God” who have not tested it. All those who have done so, whatever their condition in life, in whatever age they have lived, or whatever part of the world they have called their home, have agreed with David’s testimony that it is “more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honey-comb” (Psalms 19:10).
II. A contrast.
1. Honey may be eaten until it cloys the appetite and injures the eater, but not so with the word of God. Those who eat the most of this spiritual food are the most spiritually healthy, and have the keenest appetite for it.
2. Although this God-given bodily food may do much to nourish and sustain a healthy man, it cannot cure a diseased body, or prevent the inroads of sickness and decay. But there is a soul-transforming power in the spiritual food of which it is here an emblem. Those who eat of it are by it healed of spritual disease, and are continually and unceasingly growing in moral health and vigour.
3. The blessings flowing from eating the spiritual food are only fully realised in the life beyond the present. To this the wise man refers in the last clause. (For Homiletics on this thought, see on chaps. Proverbs 11:7; Proverbs 14:32, pages 201 and 391).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 24:13. The wise man’s feast which he makes his son is but one dish. And what need of more when that is both good and pleasant? The glutton provideth many dishes, and costly to make them luscious, but they are not good, not good for the health of the body.… On the other side, the physician provideth divers meats, and they are good—good either for the preservation of health or for the recovery of it, but they are not pleasant and grateful to the palate. That is the best feeding when these are joined together.… Or else if they are not joined together, notice that the wise man putteth good in the first place; as teaching thee rather to take that which is good though not pleasant, than that which is pleasant but not good.—Jermin.
Proverbs 24:14. When thou hast found it. That is, when thou hast so found it that thou canst feed upon it and convert it into nourishment, then thy pains of seeking shall be rewarded. And though it be a late reward, for wisdom is not quickly found, yet there shall be a reward, and that so full, that in nothing thine expectation shall be cut off. For though hardly yet it is well-gotten; and with pleasure will sweeten the pains, with good will satisfy the tarrying and recompense the delay. The Chaldee rendereth the middle part of the verse, “If thou hast found, the last will come better than the first.” As if this were a mark whereby to know whether we have found wisdom or not, because then the further we go on the more sweetness we shall find.—Jermin.
Proverbs 24:16. The wicked shall fall. Delitzsch reads, “the wicked are overthrown when calamity falls on them, i.e., they do not rise again and again as the just man does.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 24:15-16
A SOCIAL AMBUSH
I. A common practice of the wicked man in relation to the good. When we think of an ambush of men lying in wait to spring upon their foes at a fitting opportunity, two hostile parties are at once brought before us, we feel that there must be deep enmity on one side at least, or men would not be at such pains to overthrow their fellow-men. And this is indeed the case in society as a whole. Men are divided into two great parties. On one side stand the lovers of righteousness, and on the other the lovers of sin; and the latter must ever be more or less actively opposed to the former. But their favourite and most common method of attack is that indicated in the text. Wrong-doers are naturally cowards, and in their endeavours to injure better men than themselves they shrink from open attack. They are fully conscious that they could not stand their ground in a fair fight in the open field, and so they try to fall upon their foe in a moment when he is off his guard and in a place where he least expects to meet them. In other words, evil men do not often openly assail either the character or the position of a good man, but by lying words spoken in his absence they try to blacken the first, and by secret schemes to overthrow the second.
II. An utterly useless attempt of the wicked man in relation to the good. It is useless to try to kill a tree by lopping off the branches. Such a process may for a time deprive it of its beauty and stop its growth, but while the root has its hold upon the soil and can draw nourishment to itself from unseen sources beneath the surface it will live, and as soon as the axe has ceased to strike it will begin again to clothe itself in greenness and beauty. So it is with a righteous man. His enemies may succeed in bringing about his temporary overthrow and in depriving his outward life of much comfort, but the springs of his existence are fed from an invisible and unfailing source, and his well-being is not dependent upon external circumstances. And so even if the malice of the wicked is permitted to strip him of some things which made his life more apparently prosperous and secure, there is an inner life which they cannot touch, and which enables him in due time to recover from the wounds which they inflict either upon his character or his circumstances. For “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shall condemn.” (Isaiah 54:17.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 24:15. Because it spites the wicked, that the godly dwell in safety, therefore they lay wait against their dwelling, by affliction and miseries seeking to throw it down, and … because the virtues of the godly condemn the vices of the wicked, therefore they lay wait and search into their dwelling houses to espy out their faults, because the goodness of the righteous shameth the naughtiness of the wicked, therefore they seek to break in even into their bedchambers and places of rest, and there to discover their errors and infirmities. Solomon forbidding them to do it, showeth it to be their manner to do it.—Jermin.
Proverbs 24:16. Perhaps you will say, had I fallen only once, I would not be much afraid; but I have often fallen before the enemy, and one day I must perish. But hear what God says:—The righteous man falls not once or twice, but many times, and still he rises. Your experience of former deliverances should encourage your hopes of new deliverances, for the salvations of the Lord are never exhausted. In six troubles He will deliver, and in seven there shall no evil touch you.—Lawson.
God’s saints are bound to “rejoice when they fall into divers temptations.” What though they fall into them? not go in step by step, but be precipitated, plunged over head and ears. Say they fall not into one, but into many crosses—as they seldom come single—yet “be exceeding glad” says the apostle, as the merchant is to see his ships come laden in.—Trapp.
Proverbs 24:20. Reward. The same word used in Proverbs 24:14, and in chap. Proverbs 23:18. Its literal meaning is “a hereafter.” Zöckler translates it end in the first two instances, but in this case he reads future. Delitzsch and Miller render it hereafter or future in every verse.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 24:17-18
THE FALL OF AN ENEMY
Joy at the overthrow of an enemy is a feeling which is natural to an unspiritual man, but it is one which is here declared to be displeasing to God. Three reasons suggest themselves why this should be so.
I. Such an emotion is inconsistent with a man’s own well-being and happiness. The nature that can be indifferent to the calamities of another, even although that other has been an enemy in the past, is a nature destitute of all generosity and nobility. But the heart that can be glad at such an event is altogether possessed with the spirit of the devil—the flames of exultation that burn upon such an altar have been set on fire of hell. And as God loves the creature whom He at first created in His own image, it displeases Him to see him give place to a feeling so unworthy of his origin, and at the same time so productive of misery to himself. For the so-called joy that arises from such a cause is not only very short-lived, but is like a fire that blazes and burns brightly for a time, and then leaves nothing but a heap of ashes behind. The exultation over the fall of an enemy soon dies out, and leaves the heart scorched and dried by the heat of the unworthy passion.
II. It is inconsistent with the spirit of brotherhood that God desires to exist among men. If there has been a break in the harmony of a family, and one member has been at enmity with another, the oneness of the parentage ought to be sufficient to erase all memory of past wrongs when the offender is overtaken by misfortune. Such would be the case where there was any real family affection. God desires all His creatures to recognise a universal brotherhood in virtue of their relation to Him, their common Father. He desires men to be ever ready to seek occasions to draw together in unity, and to avoid all that deepens an opposite feeling. If a man retains his enmity against his offending brother when that brother by reason of misfortune might be reconciled to him, he ignores entirely the law of brotherly love which God desires to rule in His human family.
III. It is inconsistent with a right recognition of our need of Divine mercy. However much our offending brother may have wronged us, the amount of the debt of his trespass against us will bear no comparison to the amount of our indebtedness to God. In sinning against us he has but wronged an erring human creature like himself, and one who has very possibly failed in his duty towards him. But when we sin against God, we sin against One whose character is altogether fitted to win us to obedience, and whose every action in relation to us has been dictated by perfect love. It is only when we fail to recognise this truth that an unforgiving spirit can possess our hearts, and it is only when such a spirit has full sway that any man can exult in the downfall of his enemy.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
For prevention hereof think thus with thyself: Either I am like mine enemy, or else I am better or worse than he. If like him, why may I not look for the like misery? If better, who made me to differ? If worse, what reason have I to insult? (See Obadiah 1:12)—Trapp.
St. Gregory saith it is only the keeping of charity that doth prove us to be the disciples of God, and that we have charity is shewn in two ways, namely, if we love our friends in God, and if we love our enemies for God.… Because another is an enemy to thee, be not thou an enemy to goodness, an enemy to thyself, For he that rejoiceth when his enemy falleth, doth himself fall much worse, and hath more cause to be grieved for his own wretchedness; he that is glad in his heart when his enemy stumbleth, stumbleth more dangerously in his own heart.—Jermin.
For Homiletics on the subjects of Proverbs 24:19-20 see Proverbs 24:1 of this chapter, page 676, and chap. Proverbs 13:9, page 303.
Proverbs 24:21. Given to change, literally otherwise disposed, or, according to Miller, repeaters, turners back.
Proverbs 24:22. The ruin of them both, etc. This phrase is variously rendered, and different meanings are also attached to the same rendering. Delitzsch follows the Syriac version, and reads, “the end of their years, who knoweth it?” But Zöckler adopts the reading of the Authorised version, which is supported by the Vulgate, by Luther, Ewald, Elster, and others. Some understand the word both to refer to those who rebel against God, and those who rebel against the king (so Zöckler), while others apply it to God and the king, and the ruin foretold as that proceeding from them. Here begins a short appendix to the third main division of the book of Proverbs, the first clause of Proverbs 24:33 being its superscription, which is almost in the same words as that which introduces the division itself. (See chap. Proverbs 22:17.) It extends only to the end of the chapter, and consists of maxims which have no apparent connection with each other.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 24:21-22
RULE AND REVERENCE
I. The rule of some men and the subjection of others is a Divine ordination. God, by creating men with such different gifts and with powers of mind and body so unequal, evidently intends that society should not be on a dead level, but that in all communities there should be some recognised head. And the tendency of men in all ages to unite under some leader whom they deem worthy to be their head points to an instinct in human nature which we must refer to a Divine origin. The law of subjection and dominion has its place in the natural world. The entire solar system is held together by the subjection of the lesser bodies to one which is greater than all, and as the planets move in their orbits around the sun they seem like so many obedient subjects doing homage to their monarch, while their attendant satellites are in their turn subject to them. And the constant operation of this material law is productive of the most beneficial results. In like manner the observation of some such law among free and intelligent creatures is necessary to the order and consequent peace of society.
II. But the deference of the subject to his earthly ruler must be always subordinate to the will of the Divine ruler of both. There are cases in which to “fear the king,” in the sense of obeying him, would be to dishonour God, and times when he who demands obedience refuses to comply with the Divine demands upon himself. It is obvious therefore that the fear of the earthly king can only be carried so far as is consistent with loyal obedience to the “King of all the kings of the earth.” The first precept of the wise man in this verse admits of no limitation, but the second must be limited by the first. But those who have been the most faithful servants of God have ever been most ready to render “honour to whom honour is due” (Romans 13:7); and when duty has compelled them to disobey their commands they have done so with all due respect for their lawful authority. That fear of God which compels them to disobey unrighteous laws makes them obedient subjects to lawful rule, and constrains them, so far as is possible, to live as peaceable citizens.
III. Therefore the peace of a kingdom and the stability of a throne will be in proportion to the reverence of king and people for the Divine will. The fear of God is the great adjusting power in all relations of life. When it governs in the family the parents are loved and honoured by the children, and the children’s welfare is the constant care of the parents. It is this fear of God alone that can solve the vexed problem of the relations between masters and servants, between capital and labour, and between monarchs and people. Where it is wanting there will be a weak rule on the one hand, and a niggardly service and a halfhearted obedience on the other, and both are responsible for those outbursts of disorder which involve both in a common calamity.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The connection of the two fears in the passage before us is evidently intended to impress the one by the other:—If you fear God, fear the king. God, whom you are bound supremely to fear, and whose fear should produce obedience to His will, has enjoined the fear of earthly rulers: so that a failure in the fear due to them, becomes a violation of the fear due to Him.
I need hardly say, that by the king we are to understand the government of the country. It may be monarchical, or it may not. We are by no means to look upon such expressions as this, in Scripture, as attaching the authority of inspiration to one form of government more than to another. Respecting the comparative merits of different forms, the word of God should not be regarded as giving any decision, whether for the kingly, the aristocratical, the popular, or the mixed. The respect, or fear, is due to the legislative and executive powers, of whichsoever description these may be.—Wardlaw.
Submission of heart and life to the King Eternal overrides and controls, yet does not injure a citizen’s allegiance to an earthly ruler.… The fear of the Lord must go first, but the fear of the king may follow. The supreme does not crush, it protects the subordinate. Although the heart is full of piety, there is plenty of room for patriotism. Nay, more, patriotism nowhere gets full scope except in a heart that is already pervaded by piety. These elements are like the two chief constituent gases of the atmosphere. The space which envelopes the globe is full of one gas—it is also full of the other. To discharge the nitrogen would not make the space capable of containing more of the oxygen. The absence of the one constituent destroys the quality but does not enlarge the quantity of the other. Take away godliness, and your loyalty, without being increased in amount, is seriously deteriorated in kind. Take away loyalty, and you run great risk of spoiling the purity of the remanent godliness. God’s works are all good—His combinations are all beneficial. If we attempt to mend, we shall certainly mar them.… Go forward in your allegiance to “the powers that be,” not until you think you have gone far enough, but until you come upon the law of God, claiming the space in front for Himself, and absolutely forbidding your advance. Go forward with the fear of the king, unless and until the fear of the Lord cross your path like a wall.… No feasible rule can be laid down except what the Scriptures contain. Let any man try to write down a scale showing when and where private persons may lawfully resist public authority, and he will soon be convinced that the case is hopeless. Every attempt to define the liberty of rebellion will be found to open a door to anarchy. In point of fact, very little of the liberty that now exists in the world has been achieved by violent resistance to governments because of oppression in temporal things.—Arnot.
Proverbs 24:23. These things also belong to the wise. Rather “These (the proverbs which follow) are also from wise men” The word also connects this introduction with that in chap. Proverbs 22:17.
Proverbs 24:25. To them that rebuke, etc. The word him is not in the original, and spoils the sense. If this rendering of the verb is accepted, iniquity must be understood to be the subject of rebuke. Delitzsch however reads, “To them who rightly decide,” and Miller renders, “To them that set the thing right.”
Proverbs 24:26. A right answer, i.e., a faithful, straightforward answer. “The word comes,” says Miller, “from a verb meaning to be in front.” “The mention of the lips,” Zöckler remarks, “is to be explained simply by the remembrance of the question to which the upright and truthful answer corresponds.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 24:23-26
IMPARTIALITY OF TRUTH
I. Two blessings to society. While there is nothing that more certainly undermines the moral tone of any community than that “respect of persons” which the Bible so emphatically and constantly condemns (Leviticus 19:15; James 2:1), there is no person who more contributes to the welfare of society, and contributes more to its well-being than the man who judges all men by the same standard, viz., their character. It is especially indispensable that those who are set apart to administer the laws of the land should be men above all suspicion of partiality. For, wherever there is a code of law, it is a testimony to that inborn sense of justice which is more or less active in every human being; and although it may sometimes be but an imperfect attempt to render to every man his right, if it is administered by men of integrity it is one of the greatest bulwarks of national prosperity and security. It may well be a matter of thankfulness to every Englishman that the judicial bench of this land occupies the high position that it does in this respect as in all others, and that the days when men thought it possible to use unlawful influence with an English judge have passed away. But to what do we owe this blessing, if not to the greater hold which the principles of the Bible has upon our national life? But Solomon brings before us another character which is as necessary to a nation’s moral health, which is, perhaps, rarer than the first, but which might and ought to belong to every man. Those who are called to sit in judgment are the few, but those who in various ways are called to bear witness concerning persons and things, are the many. And some who would deem it a crime to have respect of persons in judgment, do not realise how much the cause of truth and righteousness would be furthered if men, in their every-day intercourse, would give a “right or straightforward answer” (see rendering in Critical Notes) to the questions put to them. If it was the habit of merchants and statesmen, of masters and servants, in the market and in the social circle, to speak the “truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” how much purer would be the moral atmosphere which we breathe, and how much more nearly would society on earth be like that of heaven.
II. The recognition which such characters receive from their fellow-men. In a world where the unrighteous far outnumber the righteous, and where most men are but half loyal to truth, it is remarkable that it should be so. But history in general and individual experience in particular bears witness that Solomon was right. Even unrighteous men cannot help admiring a just and truthful man, and their consciences and their experience combine to testify that they themselves have more to hope from those who are morally above them than from those who are on a level with themselves. It is probable that both moral sense and self-interest combine to bring people as a whole to bless him who rebukes the wicked and to “kiss his lips” who giveth a right answer.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 24:26. The meaning of that ceremony of kissing him that was anointed to be king, St. Gregory giveth to be this, that it was to teach him that was so kissed that God hath brought him to that dignity, to the end that he might make peace between God and his people that were under him, whereof a kiss is a sign and pledge. For by sinning we procure the enmity of God, when therefore a ruler is set up for the correction of sinners, thereby is taken away that which made us enemies to God. If, therefore, we read this verse as the English doth, we may understand it that everyone shall acknowledge him to be a peacemaker between God and them, who by right judgment punisheth the wicked.—Jermin.
Proverbs 24:27. House. This word may mean here as it does in Exodus 1:21, Ruth 4:11, 2 Samuel 7:27 etc., the family—the household interests.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 24:27
PLAN AND PATIENCE
I. Here is a lesson in working with method. In all undertakings it is necessary to consider what is the most important and indispensable element of success, and to make sure of that first. In the building of a house in the literal sense, the first thing to be done is to have a well-considered plan, and to gather and prepare suitable and sufficient materials. If, when the building is half finished, it is found that some great difficulty has been overlooked, or that the materials and the means to procure them are inadequate, failure and disgrace are the result, and all the time and money hitherto spent upon the work is thrown away. So in any other undertaking. If a man desires a certain position in life for which special qualifications are needed, he must first endeavour to know exactly what the requirements are, and then make sure that he is able to fulfil them. If he makes a start without well considering these things he may waste much precious time and energy, and ruin his prospects for life. The same principle may be applied to any philanthropic enterprise. These often fail, because they are entered upon without any just conception of the difficulties to be encountered, or of the resources which will be required to carry them on to a successful issue.
II. A lesson in working with patience. The proverb seems to warn men not to be in too great a hurry to realise the fulfilment of their desires; not to be impatient to reap the harvest before the crop has had time to ripen. Men are sometimes so eager to obtain a certain good which to them appears desirable that they make a desperate and reckless attempt to gain it by some other road than that of patient perseverance. A man makes up his mind that he must live in a certain style, and keep up a certain appearance before the world, and he sets out to build a stately mansion without waiting until he has acquired the means whereby he can do it honestly. Men often desire to be at the beginning of their career where they can only be after days and years of toil, and if they act under the inspiration of this spirit of impatience they often most effectually shut themselves out entirely from the realisation of their desires.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
This wisdom the very little bees do practise and show us, who first get honey and bring it into their hives, and afterwards make their seats and honeycombs. Against this rule here set down divers sorts of people offend, yea, all that take a preposterous course, whether in the matters of this life, or in those things that are spiritual. Some enter into the state of marriage before either they have wit, or have provided and gotten by their labour sufficient food or wealth to maintain them. Others lay out much on banquets, buildings, pastimes, or apparel, before they have a good stock or large comings in. Others meddle with hard points of controversy before they have learned the plain principles of religion. Others first and especially seek after the goods of this world, and, in the second place, at their leisure, and very slowly, they follow after the kingdom of God.—Muffet.
Possibly a spiritual meaning here, as elsewhere, lies beneath the prudential maxim. The “field” may be the man’s outer common work, the “house” the dwelling-place of his higher life. He must do the former faithfully in order to attain the latter.—Plumptre.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 24:28-29
AN UNCALLED-FOR TESTIMONY
I. There are times and circumstances in which it is our duty to witness against our neighbour. When the interests of right and truth are at stake, it is wrong for any man to be silent when by declaring what he knows, he could establish those interests, even although by so doing he brings punishment upon a fellow-man. It is often indispensable to the safety of innocent people that the wrong-doer should be exposed and brought to justice, and every man in such a case is not only blameless when he witnesses against such a “neighbour,” but blameworthy when he does not do so. This is not witnessing against him “without cause,” for there is a good and sufficient reason for the action.
II. Such witness-bearing is of quite a different character from that which springs from malice. There are men in society who seem to live like beasts of prey. As the lion or the tiger is ever watching his opportunity to spring upon some defenceless creature at an unguarded moment, so these men seem to make it their business to watch their fellow-creatures for opportunities to injure their reputation and mangle their character. And in a world of faulty human beings, it is not difficult for such men to find food for their malicious appetites, without transgressing the limits of truth. In most men there is enough imperfection, and in many of actual sin, to render it easy to make out a case against them. But if no actual good can come to anybody by exposing their failings, much harm will come to the man who thus bears witness against them without a cause. The evil tendencies of his own evil nature will be strengthened by the act, and he will be exposing himself to the danger of having a causeless testimony borne against himself in his turn.
III. There are circumstances in which there is a strong temptation to bear a causeless testimony. It is against this temptation that the proverb is especially directed. When a man has spoken evil of us without cause, when he has made public some hidden infirmity, or some secret fall, there is a great temptation to retaliate if opportunity offers—to tell what we know about him that will lower him in the estimation of his fellow-men. But this temptation must be resisted, both for our own sake and for his, and for this reason among others, that we are in the worst possible condition for bearing a truthful testimony. A man under the influence of intoxicating drink would be altogether unfit to bear witness for or against another. But the passion of revenge is as intoxicating to the human soul as the most potent liquor is to the human brain. It distorts the judgment, and dethrones the reason, and tramples under foot all the noblest emotions of our nature. A man under its sway would be very unlikely to be just to the object to whom he sought to return evil for evil; nay, he would be unable to confine himself within the limits of strict truth and pure justice. And, therefore, one who has wronged us is the man above all other men of whose faults we should never speak, unless there is an overwhelming moral necessity for it.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 24:28. “And mayhap, deceive with thy lips.” This is expressed by a little particle before the verb. It helps in the ancillary thought, that not only is speaking evil wicked if it can do no good, but also it may prove actually unjust. All statement has a hazard of mistake. If it can do some good, we may risk something so as to witness; but if there can be no good, we should risk nothing.—Miller.
Proverbs 24:29. It is a great wickedness, when God is made a pattern for wickedness; and it is a strong temptation to wickedness, when the example of the Lord seemeth to countenance that which is proposed to be done. It is therefore against this that the wise man adviseth in this verse. For though God say, I will render to everyone according to his works, thou mayest not say, I will render to the man according to his works. God speaketh as a Judge to whom it belongeth to consider the works of everyone, and accordingly to reward them; but no man may be a judge in his own cause, no particular man may do that for himself which a judge may do for him. Wherefore it is a bad imitation thus to imitate the Lord, for we are not to do all things that the Lord doth, but all things that the Lord commandeth us to do.—Jermin.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 24:30-34
THE SLUGGARD’S VINEYARD
I. We have here a precious possession in the hands of an unworthy proprietor. A vineyard is not a heritage of little or no value—if rightly cared for and cultivated it will yield to its owner the means of obtaining an honest living, and, it may be, put him in possession of wealth. Many a toiling, struggling man without an inch of ground on God’s earth to call his own would feel as if he had nothing left to desire if he had such a barrier between himself and poverty, and would joyfully toil from dawn to sunset to make the best of that which God’s providence had entrusted to him. But here is property which would be prized and cultivated by many in the hands of one who neglects and wastes it. The picture of our text is a parabolic representation of what is before our eyes every day. A vineyard of bodily strength is given to a man who by dissipation breaks down its wall and invites disease to enter. A vineyard of opportunities is inherited by a slothful youth who is too indolent and careless to improve them. The vineyard of a vast fortune or of a position of great influence is entrusted to one who is “void of understanding”—who does not realise his responsibility to God or to men.
II. We have man, by neglecting to use God’s gifts, limiting God’s power to bless him. It was God’s purpose that this vineyard should bring forth better things than thorns and nettles. He desired to see it covered with choice vines, whose branches should be loaded with clusters of refreshing fruit. But this could not be unless man would be a co-worker with Him. God did his part. The rain watered the soil, the sun shone upon it, but man refused to dig and plant, to weed and cultivate. And by withholding his power to labour he limited God’s power to bless. Men do the same in other fields of labour, and in connection with other opportunities of receiving the Divine blessing. Many good gifts come alike to the slothful and to the industrious man—to him who diligently “keeps” his vineyard and to him who neglects it. God makes His sun to shine, and sends His rain upon the fields of both. But in the one case sun and rain find a soil prepared to receive the full benefit of the blessings they can give, and in the other they can only strengthen the hold of the weeds upon the earth, and so increase the unfruitfulness of the vineyard. So men often limit God’s power to bless them by His providence. Opportunities are given to them of bringing great blessings upon themselves or upon others, but only on condition that they labour earnestly and diligently at some work which God gives them to do. They may be called only to the special cultivation of their own intellectual and spiritual powers, or they may also be in a position to transform others from weeds in the social and moral vineyard into plants of beauty and trees yielding fruit. But whether the field open to them is a wide one, or comparatively narrow, all God’s willingness to give the increase will be of no avail if they refuse to till the ground and sow the seed.
III. We have a swift and sure-footed avenger advancing to awaken the slothful sleeper. That slumber, though long and deep, will not go on for ever. It would indeed be unjust to the active and industrious man if the slothful never felt the consequences of his indolence. But this would be contrary to the laws by which God governs the world. One of these laws is, that bodily want, or intellectual or spiritual beggary, will in due time overtake him who neglects to exercise the faculties and capabilities which God has given him to enrich every part of his nature.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
This is a picture of sloth. At the same time it is a picture of sloth under attacks upon our faith. The world moves on, and, in our laziness, our garden gets all choked with new dogmas against the gospel. The writer has already said that we are not to yield to “them that are given to change” (Proverbs 24:21). He has also said that we are not to answer them with deceit (Proverbs 24:23): and, now, what remains? Why, that we baffle them, that we work as hard as they do. I know no proverb more useful for the men of our times. We lie upon our lees till we think philosophy a sort of wickedness; till we think quiet under its advances a sort of Christian faith. We let science work on, till, by sap and mine, it is near our citadel. Great bodies of learned work are built up while the Church sleeps. If she fights, it is with a sort of chicane, with the gongs and bright paper, like a Chinese troop; when duty plainly is, to work up abreast of science. If the Church has more light, she must expect more contest. If she has better arms, she must expect more battles; with more mind, of course more to oppose; otherwise she has less to do than less capable believers. The world’s science must be met by the Church’s science, and new, sturdy brambles in her prolific fields must be ploughed under by improved implements. Otherwise, old-time arguments, and a sort of a chicane of a retort; responses like those of women, rather intended to say No than to be an actual reply, become indicative of a sluggard-Church, and of a garden cumbered like that before us. Slothful, literally sluggard man. Man is here the better sort of man (see Miller’s comment of Proverbs 24:5); in the last clause it is “a common man.” The first has a field, the other a vineyard. All classes of men are bound to read up and get rid of occasions for cavil.… “The wall;” necessary to keep a church at all. Let scientists trample in upon the vineyard with nothing but a few old clothes to scare them, and presently we will have no Church whatever. Not “stone wall” (E. V.), but “the wall, as to its stones,” “pulled down.” It will not slowly crumble, but interested parties will help it when it begins to totter. “I saw, or looked.” Seeing such things requires an effort. Not the slothful man’s business alone! but mine! I am sufficiently like him. A vineyard with brambles, like that of Geneva, or England, or that of the cis-Atlantic Socinian States, is a picture for all mankind.… “Come, etc.,” “sauntering along,” Hithpael of walk. “Armed man.” Both these descriptions mean
(1) slowness, and
(1) unobserved ease of gait; but,
(2) doomlike certainty in coming. A Church that enjoys her ease may super-eminently prosper. Her foe may be behind the hill, and her doom may be sauntering noiselessly up, but their coming is as certain as the dawn.… A “little sleep” more, and the thing has been actually achieved.—Miller.
Let us learn from the scene described:
1. How gradual may be the approaches of the evils of sloth, while, at the same time, they are irresistible in the end. This is the lesson of the thirty-fourth verse. The traveller approaches by degrees. When comparatively at a distance, he appears harmless; but, when he has advanced a certain length, he is discovered to be “an armed man,”—all resistance to whom is too late, and consequently vain. Famine, though gaunt, is irresistibly mighty. Who can stand before it? Not the man of habitual sloth. The very habit has the more thoroughly incapacitated him for plucking up any spirit to ward off the final ravages of the frightful enemy. He succumbs, sinks, and dies.—
2. Our souls are committed by God to our own spiritual cultivation. This is no sinecure. They will not thrive themselves. If we would have them “as a watered garden, and as a field which the Lord hath blessed,” we must apply spiritual activity and labour, to stock them with the appropriate graces, affections, and virtues, and to promote the growth and productiveness of them all. We must sow the seed, and seek by prayer the showers of the Divine blessing—the promised influences of the Divine Spirit. We must watch over the germination, the springing, the growth, and the fructifying of the seed. Without this all will be stunted and sterile. The noxious and unsightly weeds of sin will spring and luxuriate, and overspread the soil; all growing that ought not to grow, and nothing growing that should. Let parents apply the principle to the spiritual instruction of their children. Your families are as vineyards committed to your care and culture. Imagine not that, when left to themselves, they will spontaneously yield good fruit. The experience of all generations reads you an opposite lesson. You must enclose; you must dig, and sow, and water, and watch, and protect the springing blade, till it comes to the ear, and the full corn in the ear. You must train from their earliest germs your tender plants, and guard, and support, and prune them, and clear and manure the soil around them. The incessant care of both parents must be bestowed upon this; and all little enough. They must look for the help and for the blessing of God. O see to it, that the verses before us be not a just description of any of your families—from your parental negligence, indifference, and sloth. Let every family be as a sacred enclosure for God; fenced in from the blasts and blights of the world, where the “plants of his right hand’s planting” are reared from the seed, for future productiveness.—Wardlaw.
Proverbs 24:32. The owner did nothing for the farm, and the farm did nothing for the owner. But even this neglected spot did something for the passing wayfarer, who had an observant eye and a thoughtful mind. Even the sluggard’s garden brought forth fruit, but not for the sluggard’s benefit. The diligent man reaped, and carried off the only harvest that it bore—a warning. The owner received nothing from it; and the onlooker “received instruction”.… People complain that they have few opportunities and means of instruction. Here is one school open to all. Here is a school-master who charges no fee. If we are ourselves diligent, we may gather riches even in a sluggard’s garden. He who knows how to turn the folly of his neighbours into wisdom for himself, cannot excuse defective attainments by alleging a scarcity of the raw material.—Arnot.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Proverbs 24". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent