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With this chapter begins the fourth main division of this book, consisting, as its introductory words inform us, of sayings and perhaps writings of Solomon, which were placed together in their present form by men appointed to the work by King Hezekiah. Zöckler remarks that “while the first and larger section of the book purports to be essentially a book for youth, this is evidently a book for the people, a treasury of proverbial wisdom for kings and subjects—as is indicated by the first introductory proverb.… Whether as the source from which the transfer or compilation of the following proverbs was made, we are to think simply of one book or of several books, so that the transfer would be the purely literary labour of excerpting, a transcribing or collecting by copying; or whether we have to consider as the source simply the oral transmission of ancient proverbs of wise men by the mouth of the people, must remain doubtful. It is, perhaps, most probable that both the written and the oral tradition were alike sifted for the objects of the collection.” (Zöckler, in Lange’s Commentary.)
Proverbs 25:1. Copied out, rather “collected.” See the remarks above.
Proverbs 25:2. Honour, rather “glory,” as in the first clause.
Proverbs 25:3. The word is should be omitted; unsearchable applies equally to the three subjects of the sentence.
Proverbs 25:4. The finer, rather the “founder,” or “goldsmith.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Proverbs 25:1-3
GOD’S MYSTERIES AND MAN’S RESEARCH
I. There is much connected with God’s nature and with His government that will never be revealed to man in his present state. This is in accordance with the greatness of God and the littleness of man in comparison with him. There are many things connected with God which man in his present state could not comprehend, and there are others which he might comprehend, but of which it is better he should remain in ignorance. The parent conceals many things from a child because the concealment is more consistent with a wise training than the revelation of them would be. Some of them the child could not understand, and others it is better that he should not know until he attains to riper years. When he has become a man he will admire the wisdom of his parent in thus withholding from him what he did. God, as the infinitely wise Parent and Trainer of human creatures, often doubtless conceals much from us from similar reasons, and we shall one day see that the concealment was to the glory of His gracious character. When a physician is called to treat a man whose life is hanging upon a thread, he is not expected to enter into an explanation of the nature of the remedies he uses or to give a reason for all the treatment he prescribes. Such an explanation would be unworthy of the dignity of his profession and hurtful to his patient. Concealment is often an essential and necessary part of his plan, and when the sick man is restored to health he acknowledges that it was to the glory of his healer that he kept him for a time in ignorance. God is the great Physician and Healer of human souls, and it would neither befit His majesty nor further His purposes of mercy to reveal the reasons of all He does to His fallen creatures. When they have attained to perfect moral health they will give glory to Him for all that He concealed as well as for all that He revealed.
II. But there is much that is hidden that will be revealed to the diligent seeker. If it is God’s prerogative and a part of His divine plan to conceal much from man, it is His purpose and desire to reveal much to him if he will only seek after it. How many of God’s operations in nature are full of mystery to one who only looks upon the surface of things, but how far diligent and earnest searchers have penetrated into the secret workings of the Divine wisdom in this direction. Although there is much hidden from them, still there is much that was once a mystery that is now made plain. And it is doubtless the same also in relation to God’s working in higher regions—in His dealings in providence and in His plan of redemption. Although there is much here that must remain a mystery to the human mind, he who diligently and reverently seeks to know the mind and purpose of God in relation to these things will not lose his reward.
III. While then, it is God’s prerogative to determine what He will reveal to man it is man’s glory and duty to be ever seeking to know more of God’s ways and works. The third verse seems to institute a comparison between the Divine and human rulers. These latter have their state secrets—sometimes for arbitrary purposes and in other cases from necessity they conceal their plans until their ends are accomplished. If the government is a despotic one this secrecy is to be feared and deprecated; if, on the other hand, the ruler or rulers are merciful and just their subjects may safely trust them when their plans of action are for a time hidden. But however it may be with human kings, there is no questioning the right of the King of Kings to hide what He pleases from His creatures, and no reason for His creatures to doubt either His wisdom or His love in so doing. But man has a duty to perform in relation to this concealment. His Maker and his Ruler does not desire to see him sit down in indolent indifference, making no effort to penetrate the secrets of the world around him, or to apprehend in some degree some of the deep things of God’s “unsearchable dealings.” (Romans 11:33). The veil seems to have been cast over some of these problems for the very purpose of stimulating man to search and to test the depth of his interest in them. While, then, the pursuit of knowledge of any kind is good, there is none so elevating, none that brings so rich a reward, and none that man is so bound to follow after, as the knowledge of God in His works of creation, and providence, and redemption. Solomon, as the greatest monarch of his day, counted this his first duty and his highest glory, and there have been many uncrowned kings in all ages of the world who have set this before them as the aim and end of their life, and in so doing have set a diadem upon their own brows and have won the homage and love of multitudes of their race.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 25:1-2. It was a good saying of a pious divine, “Lord preserve us from a comprehensible God.” It is our duty to venerate and wonder, and not to pry with curious eyes into the secrets of God. The history of the fall is an everlasting warning to the sons of Adam to prefer the tree of life to the tree of knowledge.—Lawson.
1. Taking it in contrast with the latter part of the verse—“but the honour of kings is to search out a matter,”—there is implied the idea that the Divine knowledge is universal, perfect, and free from everything of the nature of inquiry, investigation, effort, in the acquisition. His acquaintance with all things is, in the strictest sense, intuitive, and, in the strictest sense, complete. He requires no “searching out” in order to discover anything; nor is it possible to make any addition to His knowledge. The past, the present, and the future are alike before His all-comprehensive mind. He sees all the present. He remembers all the past. He foresees all the future. His knowledge is “light without any darkness at all;” and it is light that is equally clear through the immensity of the universe, and through all time and all eternity!
2. The language implies God’s entire independence and supremacy, as a part of His glory. He “giveth not account of any of his matters,” further than, in sovereignty, He sees meet to do. He conceals when He pleases. He discloses when He pleases:—“Who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been His counsellor?” and who can demand the disclosure of any one of the secrets of the infinite and independent Mind?
3. The impenetrable depth of His counsels is a part of God’s glory. His “judgments are a great deep.” What line of created wisdom can fathom them?—
“Not angels, that stand round his throne,
Can search His secret will!”
“Canst thou, by searching, find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is high as heaven; what can’st thou do? deeper than hell; what can’st thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea.” “O the depth of the riches, and wisdom, and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” This is fitted to inspire us, His intelligent creatures, with “reverence and godly fear.” In the sovereign secresy, the unapproachable reservation, the unfathomable mysteriousness of the Divine counsels—in the very requirement that we humbly how, in adoring submission, where we cannot comprehend, without asking a question, or urging a further disclosure:—in all this, there is something that gives the Creator His proper place. There is in it a sacredness, an awfulness, that makes us feel, as we ought to do, our infinite distance. This is God’s glory.—Wardlaw.
Proverbs 25:3. There is no searching the height or the depth of the King’s heart, any more than the height of heaven, or the depth of the earth, (which in those unastronomic days meant blankly not at all). Give God a universe to rule; and what He must do in that great compass, as a King, is quite unsearchable.—Miller.
For Homiletics of Proverbs 25:4-5 see on chap. Proverbs 20:26; Proverbs 20:28, page 596.
Proverbs 25:6. Put not forth, literally “bring not thy glory to view, do not display thyself.”
Proverbs 25:7. Whom thine eyes have seen. There is some difference of opinion as to the person to whom this sentence refers. Fleischer understands it as referring to the king, and to the additional humiliation felt when it comes upon one who has pressed so far forward that he can be perceived by the king. Delitzsch refers it not specially to the king, but to “any distinguished personage whose place he who has pressed forward has taken up, and from which he must now withdraw when the right possessor of it comes and lays claim to his place.… Thine eyes have seen him in the company, and thou canst say to thyself, this place belongs to him, according to his rank, and not to thee; the humiliation which thou endurest is thus well deserved, because, with eyes to see, thou wert so blind.” (Delitzsch).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 25:6-7
I. A wise man will let others judge of his qualifications for a high place or position. Men who consult their happiness and reputation are not so anxious to rise in the world as they are to qualify themselves for rising. A wise man knows well that it is not merely the position he occupies which raises him in the estimation of others, but the ability which he shows to fill the post, and the fitness which men recognise as existing between him and his high place. He has no desire to step into a position which he could not fill with some credit to himself and advantage to others, knowing well that he would then be like the jackdaw in the peacock’s borrowed plumes, an object of derision to all beholders. He would rather occupy a low place with abilities to fill a higher, than be in one which was above his abilities, and he therefore gladly leaves the question of his social advancement in the hands of others.
II. Self-promotion is not likely to result in satisfaction to the only actor in the transaction.
1. It is generally short-lived. If a man is really fit for advancement, some one or some number of people are generally to be found to say to him, “Friend, go up higher.” The interests of men in general, are concerned in having the best men in the foremost places; and such men, in the end, are generally placed in them by common consent. But when a man without this call steps into a place of honour, it is very common for others to resent his self-conceit, and to call upon him to give place to a more worthy person. And so his self-constituted triumph is soon over.
2. It often ends in humiliation. It is hard to be obliged to take a lower place under any circumstances, but when we are thus retracing steps which our self-esteem alone prompted us to take, the chagrin is great indeed. And as the ascent in such a case is generally made before the eyes of many onlookers, so the descent will be equally public, and this adds much to the disappointment and the shame.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Ambition is to the mind what the cap is to the falcon, it first blinds us, and then compels us to lower by reason of our blindness.—E. Cook.
Now, it is not a little said in praise of him to whom it is said, “Come up higher.” For, first, it showeth his modest humility, which is the praise of all other virtues. Secondly, it showeth the worth of his quality, which deserveth advancement. Thirdly, it showeth that to be due unto him which is bestowed upon him. On the other side, it is not a little reproach unto him that is put lower. For, first, his pride is objected to him; the overthrow of all that is praiseworthy. Secondly, his unworthiness is rejected with an upbraiding of it. Thirdly, the due punishment of being placed lower is justly inflicted.… And as if he were one unworthy for the prince to look upon, it is not said, by whom thou art seen, but whom thine eyes have seen, as noting also the proud presumption of the unworthy intruder. Jermin.
Proverbs 25:8. Lest thou know not, etc. As will be seen from the italics in the English version, this sentence is very elliptical. Zöckler reads, “lest (it be said to thee) what wilt thou do,” etc. Delitzsch, “That it may not be said,” etc. Miller, “Lest what thou doest, in its after consequence, be thy neighbour putting thee to shame.”
Proverbs 25:9. A secret to another. Rather “The secret of another”
Proverbs 25:11. Pictures of silver. Literally “sculpture,” or “figures” of silver. Delitzsch translates “salvers,” Zöckler “framework.” Stuart says, “The idea is that of a garment of precious stuff, on which is embroidered golden apples among picture-work of silver. Costly and precious was such a garment held to be; for, besides the ornaments upon it, the material itself was of high value.” Fitly spoken. Literally “in, or upon its time.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH. Proverbs 25:8-11
TWO WAYS OF TREATING AN ENEMY
It is undoubtedly lawful, and sometimes indispensable, that a man who has been wronged by another should seek redress from the offending person. These verses seem no refer to an injury done to character and reputation, and seeing that these are a man’s most precious possessions, he has certainly as much right to seek restitution from him who has sought to rob him of this wealth, as he has to try and capture the thief who has stolen his money or his plate, and make him give back his unlawful gain. Solomon does not condemn all interference with a neighbour who puts us “to shame,” but sets before us two opposite courses of action, either of which may be taken in such a case. He gives the consequences of both.
I. There is the way of inconsiderate passion. This is a bad way, because—
1. It may lead us to overstep the bounds of right and justice. A man under the power of anger has no ear open to the counsels of reason and prudence, and under such an influence he will very likely become as great an offender against his neighbour as his neighbour was against him. He in his turn may become a slanderer and a betrayer of secrets (Proverbs 25:9), and so lose all hold on his opponent; and even be put to shame by the very person whom he intended to bring to shame. He is like a blindfolded man who rushes hastily down a steep path without considering what will be the end of so mad an Acts 2:0. It is the least likely way to convince the offender of his fault. Words of angry recrimination, or deeds which savour of the spirit of revenge, will almost certainly make an enemy tenfold more of an enemy. If he disliked us before without any reason, his dislike will now have some foundation to rest upon, and the gulf of separation will be widened instead of bridged over. The end to be aimed at when a brother man has trespassed against us is clearly defined by Christ. We are to try to “gain our brother” (Matthew 18:15), that is, we are to try and win his esteem and love. This can never be done if we “go forth hastily to strive.” But—
II. There is the way of personal and wise remonstrance.
1. The complaint of our wrongs is to be made first to the person offending. Here the teaching of the wise man and the “greater than Solomon” are identical. “If thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone.” (Matthew 18:15.) To speak of it to a third person is to expose our neighbour unnecessarily, and, perhaps, to blacken his character far beyond his deserts. For, although we may give a plain unvarnished tale of his offence, he to whom we give it may colour it when he repeats it to another, and so what was but a molehill at the first may grow into a mountain before long. But if we go directly to the transgressor himself, we make it plain to him that we have no desire to make him suffer for his offence, and only ask him to deal with us in the same spirit of brotherly love in which we deal with him. Our willingness to cover his fault will go a long way towards persuading him to confess and forsake it.
2. We are to reason and persuade rather than to upbraid. The discourse is to take the form of a calm debate. We are to ask for the grounds of his attack upon us, and not be too proud to enter into explanations of any act that he may have misconstrued. We are to try and convince him of the harm he will do to himself if he persist in trying to injure another, and we are to seek to clothe all our arguments and entreaties in language which is the least likely to offend and most calculated to win. Such words are compared by Solomon to a beautiful work of art which is precious and admirable not only for the skill displayed in the workmanship, but for the costly nature of the material out of which it is fashioned. (See Critical Notes on Proverbs 25:11.) It may be a robe of costly material embroidered with gold and silver, or it may be a basket of wrought silver holding fruits of gold, but whatever the exact form of the production, it reveals skilful design on the part of the artist, and bears witness to his painstaking skill. A carefully framed appeal to lay before an offending brother is a work of art in a higher sphere—it calls forth all the tact and wisdom that we possess to fashion such a garment—to carve such a piece of work, but it is worth all the labour and pains that can be spent upon it, and will bring to its author the goodwill of others and the approval of his own conscience.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 25:8. For the sake of illustration, to suppose two or three varieties of this result:—
1. The hasty man meets his supposed adversary,—some word or act of whom has just reached him. He is all full of the fuming pride of offended self-consequence; very big; very wrathful. In this spirit he makes his charge; and finds it is a mere idle unfounded rumour that has come to his ears; that there is actually nothing in it; that nothing of the kind has ever been either said or done; that there is no ground whatever for all his excitement and transport!—How foolish he looks, when his imagined enemy, against whom he has been breathing out the vehemence of passion, all collected and cool, stands wondering at his agitation,—unable to divine what has come over him!—And how is he laughed at for having stirred himself up to all this heat and hurry,—all this violence of emotion—for nothing!—
2. It turns out that in the cause between him and his neighbour, which he has so hastily taken up, he is in the wrong—that, after all his froth and bluster, truth and justice are clearly on the other side, with all the solid and satisfactory argument; while on his there is little or nothing beyond the noisy and vehement protestations of self-sufficiency, and he is quite unable to withstand the proofs against him—the verdict of all impartial persons being in favour of his opponent. In this case, he must either, after having his pride keenly mortified, cool down, and own himself in the wrong—which is the best thing he can do, but far from easy to a man of his temper; or the more he is overpowered by evidence of facts and by sound argument, the more must the sense of conscious defeat, and consequent feeling of inferiority, inflame him to rage; by which he will only render himself the more ridiculous, and give cause of more lasting mortification and shame.
3. The same things are true of a controversial dispute on any subject. Generally speaking, the hastiest and most self-confident is the most likely to fail. Such confidence very often accompanies partial information and superficial and one-sided views. The petulant, consequential disputant “goes forth hastily to strive,” in the full assurance that his arguments are such as cannot be resisted, and in the full flush of anticipated triumph—of victory before the battle. But objections meet him, of which he had never thought. Arguments are arrayed and urged on the opposite side, such as had never occurred to his own mind, and such, therefore, as he did not at all expect, and cannot refute.… He is abashed, confounded, stupified.—Wardlaw.
It is he that liveth in peace that doth enjoy himself. It is he that is at home, and findeth the comfort of what God hath bestowed upon him. He that falleth into strife goeth from his rest and contentment, goeth forth from himself, so that he is hardly himself while the strife continues.… Therefore let not strife be a thing into which thou art carried of thine own accord; but either let thine adversary drive thee into it, or else let necessity or some good reason either draw thee or force thee.—Jermin.
Proverbs 25:11. The beauty of the texture sets off the fruit with additional charms. So does a lovely medium enhance the attractiveness of truth. “The preacher should strive to find out acceptable words”—words fitly spoken—giving to each their proper meat—and that “in due season,” suited to their ages and difference of temperament. “How forcible are right words!” (Job 6:25.) Our Lord witnessed of Himself, as “gifted with the tongue of the learned, that He might know how to speak the word in season” (Isaiah 50:4)—a word upon the wheels—not forced or dragged, but rolling smoothly along, like the chariot-wheels. His discourses on the living water and the bread of life arose naturally out of the conversation, and therefore were full of arresting application. Paul powerfully charged superstition on the Athenians by an inscription on their own altar; and strengthened his reasoning by quoting from one of their own poets. (Acts 17:22-28.) To a corrupt and profligate judge he preached “righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come.” (Acts 24:25.)—Bridges.
That words may deserve this character, they must be the words of truth; for falsehood and error are on no occasion fit to be spoken. And therefore Job reproves his friends for endeavouring, by false doctrine, to comfort him, and direct his exercise in the time of his distress. But words may be true and yet unfitly spoken, for although nothing is to be spoken but truth, yet truth is not always to be spoken. Doeg the Edomite was guilty of murder before he killed the priests of the Lord, by telling the enraged tyrant that David had received bread and asword from Ahimelech. Jonathan was a man of a very opposite spirit, and discovered it by the seasonable mention he made to his father of David’s exploit in slaying Goliath. By putting Saul in mind of this noble action, he disarmed for a time his angry resentments.—Lawson.
Proverbs 25:12. An obedient ear. Literally “an ear that heareth.”
Proverbs 25:13. The cold of snow, etc. “The coolness of snow is not that of a fall of snow, which in the time of harvest would be a calamity, but of drink cooled with snow, which was brought from Lebanon, or elsewhere, from the clefts of the rocks; the peasants of Damascus store up the winter’s snow in a cleft of the mountain, and convey it in the warm months to Damascus and the coast towns.” (Delitzsch.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 25:12
GIVING AND TAKING
I. To give reproof effectually needs—
1. A character which deserves respect. An iron pin when cold may by the exercise of much strength and the expenditure of much time be driven through a plate of iron, but if it be red hot, it goes through it with speed and ease. A blunt axe may fell a tree, but if it has a good edge the work is done far more quickly and effectually. So a very faulty man may obtain a hearing when he reproves, and his reproofs may do good, but the same reproof from the lips of one who possesses a high moral character will be far more likely to reach the conscience of the listener and lead him to repentance.
2. A knowledge of the character and disposition of him whom he reproves. It is indispensable that the physician who ministers a powerful drug to a patient, or who subjects him to a critical operation, should first know something about his bodily constitution, should ascertain if there is tendency to disease which his treatment might strengthen, or exceptional weakness of any organ which would make it unable to bear the strain he is about to put upon it. If he do not make some preliminary investigation on these matters he may be developing an evil as great as the one he seeks to eradicate. A reprover should remember that all men are not alike in their temperament and moral development, and that consequently what would do real good to one transgressor would only harden another, and that, therefore, there must be acquaintance with the patient before the medicine is administered.
3. A sincere desire to benefit the offender. He who reproves without a real feeling of pity and a wish to help him whom he reproves will find that his words will do about as much good as water does to a rock when it falls upon it. It may drop day and night for years, but the rock is rock still—no moisture penetrates it and no verdure clothes it. So reproof that is not dictated by love will never reach the heart, and no fruits of repentance will result from fault-finding for its own sake.
4. A due regard to a fitting time and place. He must not rebuke his child when he is suffering pain, or charge home a fault upon the father of a family before his children. We are not likely to reform a drunkard by upbraiding him when he is under the influence of drink, or to convince a proud man that he is wrong by putting him to shame before others. A wise reprover will not only see to it that his medicine is suited to his patient, but will consider when it is most fitting to administer it.
II. To take reproof meekly—
1. Reveals a man under the control of reason. It is only the delirious patient or the child who angrily resists the surgeon’s knife, and looks no further than the present pain. A reasonable man may cry out under the operation, but he knows that his future health depends upon it, and he therefore submits patiently, although he suffers acutely. If a man looks at reproof in the same light, he will receive it in the same spirit, and give a convincing proof that he is not ruled by passion but by reason.
2. Reveals a man governed by true self-love. Love for our own true interests prompts us to welcome every hand stretched out to help us, and every means afforded us of becoming better and wiser. A wise reprover is a true friend, and he who does not recognise him as such shows that his own advancement is not the aim of his life and the object of his desire. But no greater proof of a sincere regard for our own moral and spiritual growth can be given than that of lending an obedient ear to a wise reproof.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The wise reprover or instructor, who lovingly and seasonably telleth his neighbour of his fault or duty, may fitly be likened unto a jewel of pearl; for he lighteneth and enricheth him that is instructed with knowledge and the gifts of God’s Holy Spirit. The attentive and obedient hearer who desires to increase in learning, and who receiveth the word of God with meekness, may also be aptly resembled to a golden earring; for he is transformed from glory to glory, by the ministry and instruction of the prudent and learned teacher.—Muffett.
When a reproof is both administered in wisdom and received in humility and in good part,—then there is a union of two equal rarities. A reproof well-administered is rare; and not less so is a reproof well taken. We may remark, however, that the rareness of the latter arises, to no small extent, out of the rareness of the former. It is because reproof is so seldom wellgiven, that it is so seldon well-taken.—Wardlaw.
An earring is fastened to the ear, and that it may be fastened, it pierceth the ear, and being so fastened, it is an ornament to the whole face; so like-wise is a reproof upon an obedient ear. First, it pierceth it, and is received willingly into it; secondly, it is fastened upon it, so that it stays with it; thirdly, it is an ornament to his whole life, which is thereby reformed.—Jermin.
For Homiletics on the subject of Proverbs 25:13, see on chap. Proverbs 13:17, page 321.
Proverbs 25:14. A false gift. This gift is generally understood to be one bestowed by the boaster, but which is worth nothing, or the mere promise of a gift which is never fulfilled.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 25:14
CLOUDS WITHOUT RAIN
I. Those who promise and do not perform are wantonly cruel. To raise expectations without fulfilling them is one of the greatest unkindnesses of which men can be guilty. For however sorely the gift or the service desired may be needed, if the needy brother has never had any hope of possessing it, his sense of loss is not nearly so keen as it is if, depending on the word of another, he has felt as if the coveted good was almost in his grasp. The thirsty traveller in the desert feels his thirst more terribly after the deceitful mirage has led him to believe that a refreshing lake is just within his reach. He thinks he sees the sparkling water but a few paces distant, and is already in fancy drinking his fill when all his hopes are destroyed by the vanishing of the deception, and he is in a far worse condition than he was before its appearance. There are many men who are as deceitful and as disappointing as the mirage of the desert. Their large promises awaken bright hopes in the breast of some wayfarer on the journey of life, and he looks forward with confident joy to the time when he shall possess the promised gift. But his heart is gradually made sick by the deferred hope (chap. Proverbs 13:12) until at last he becomes aware that he has been cruelly deceived, and finds himself a far more wretched man than he was before the promise was made to him.
II. As a rule he who promises most will perform the least. Those who bestow most upon others are those who do not spend much time in talking about what they will do. Sometimes a heavy cloud is seen in the heavens, which seems as if it would every moment fall in refreshing showers. But a few drops only fall on the parched earth, and while the husbandman is looking with confident expectancy it vanishes from his sight. On another day a cloud which seems to promise far less falls in abundance upon the thirsty land. This is not the rule in nature, but it is in relation to the promises and performances of men. The loud boaster is well-nigh certain to be a cloud without rain, and should therefore never be relied upon, and the greatest givers are generally those who promise least.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
This verse may be understood, either of God’s gift to man, or man’s gift to God, or else of man to any other man. For many there are who boast of those gifts which God never bestowed on them; and though God be infinite in His bounty, yet by their lying do make Him more bountiful than He is. Many there are who boast of their gifts to God, either in regard of the church or the poor, whereas His church or His poor have them as little as God Himself needs them. Many boast of their kind gifts to others, whereas their not performing them makes them more unkind than if they never had promised.… Their false gifts are as the clouds, and their boasting as the winds. Their false gifts do lift them up, as the clouds are; their great boasting maketh a great noise as the wind doth. The winds drive the clouds and scatter them; so doth their boasting spread abroad the fame of their false gifts; and as the clouds without rain darken the heavens without watering the earth; as the dry wind troubleth the air without refreshing the ground; so these boasters even darken the heaven with their naughtiness, and trouble the earth with their brags, but satisfy none with their deeds.—Jermin.
Proverbs 25:15. Prince. Rather “Judge”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 25:15
FORBEARANCE AND PERSUASIVENESS
I. Patience without speech is an overcoming power. The strongest smith will find a piece of cold iron too much for him—if he attempt to bend or break it he will be met with a resistance which he cannot overcome. But he places the apparently unconquerable bar upon the coals, and by degrees it seems to assume altogether another nature, and is ready to be fashioned to any shape or form. He gets this victory by waiting, and he finds it a far more effectual method than attempting to subdue the metal by physical force. Forbearance will sometimes do as much for the stubborn human will as the fire does for the iron. Many men who cannot be threatened into compliance with our wishes, may be overcome by patient kindness. A prince may be here put by Solomon as a type of all men in authority and high position, who by reason of their position are less under the power of others and consequently are less likely to yield to any other force than persuasion. With such men high-handed dealing and efforts to intimidate generally provoke a more stubborn resistance.
II. Patience seconded by gentle speech is doubly powerful. The smith’s work is not done when by waiting he has given time for the iron to become soft and impressible; he must then bring his skill and activity to bear upon it and so mould it to his will. So after long forbearance there must be wise and persuasive speech to finish the work. The long-suffering patience, perhaps under trial and provocation, has softened the hard heart or the stubborn will, and now the gentle words are listened to and have their full weight. But this would not have been the case if patience without speech had not gone first to make way for them.
III. Those who conquer by forbearance in deed and gentleness in word walk in the Divine footsteps. In the dealings of God with the human race, no attribute of His character is more manifest than “the riches of His forbearance and long suffering” (Romans 2:4), and it is by this that He “leads men to repentance.” “Instead of coming down upon man by storm,” says Dr. Bushnell, “in a manner of direct onset to carry his submission by storm, God lays gentle siege to him, waiting for his willing assent and choice.… To redress an injury by gentleness, and tame his adversary’s will by the circuitous approach of forbearance and a siege of true suggestion is not the manner of men, only of God.” It is not, alas! the manner of men in general, but all those who call Him Master try to imitate Him in this as in all other of His perfections that can be imitated by finite and imperfect creatures.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The soft member breaking the hard bone may seem to be a paradox. But it is a fine illustration of the power of gentleness above hardness and irritation. Apply it to those who are set against the truth. Many a stout heart has been won by a forbearing, yet uncompromising, accommodation to prejudice. In reproof Jehovah showed what He could do in “the strong wind and the earthquake.” But His effective rebuke was in the “still small voice;” without upbraiding; sharp, yet tender, (1 Kings 19:11-13.) So powerful is the energy of gentleness! Indeed, “among all the graces that adorn the Christian soul, like so many jewels of various colours and lustres, against the day of her espousals to the Lamb of God, there is not one more brilliant than that of patience.”
Proverbs 25:16. Filled. Rather “Surfeited.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 25:16
USE AND ABUSE
I. The good gifts of God are to be enjoyed by men. “Every creature of God is good,” says the apostle, “and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). God has filled the world with gifts to minister pleasure to the bodily senses as well as to the spiritual aspirations, and the first are given to us “richly to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17), as much as the last. Our Great and Beneficent Father, has not omitted to provide even for the gratification of our palate, but has furnished us with an almost infinite variety of natural productions, pleasant to the taste. His kindness in this matter is not to be overlooked, and these good gifts are not to be treated as though they were beneath our grateful appreciation. The asceticism which refuses to partake of them is not in accordance with the spirit of either the Old or New Testament.
II. There is no material and temporal good which cannot be misused by man. Honey may here stand for any or all the lower sweets of life—for every blessing which is not of a purely spiritual nature—and the greatest temptation to misuse of these lies in the direction of over-use—of indulging in them to the neglect of other and more precious good, and so to the injury of the higher nature. Honey is a delicious article of food, and wholesome and nutritious to a certain extent, but if a man attempted to live upon it to the exclusion of plainer fare he would find that his bodily health would suffer. In like manner is there danger to spiritual health from an undue indulgence of even the gifts of God, which minister only or chiefly to the senses, or which belong to this life alone.
III. The misuse of what is good in itself puts an end to all real enjoyment of it. If a man eats immoderately of honey it soon ceases to be pleasant to his taste, and the very sweetness that at first attracted him produces loathing. The same nausea of spirit follows immoderate indulgence in any merely temporal or material good—that which, used lawfully, would always afford true and real enjoyment, cloys upon the man who abuses it by over-use.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The figure varies. In a former sentence we are commanded to eat honey because it is good (chap. Proverbs 24:13), and that was very carefully explained. It meant that piety was itself good, and we were to taste and see (Psalms 34:8) that before we could be Christians. But now the figure varies. There is a sweetness of eternal hope, even when we have not got down to the sweetness of a saving piety. We are to put on the helmet of hope. So the Apostle tells us (1 Thessalonians 5:8). But Solomon cautions us that we are to put on no more than is “sufficient.” We are eating more than enough honey when we have no right to eat any, and so we may be eating too much when we ought to be getting more. There is such a thing as having more hope than evidence. And if a man has too much confident hope of heaven for the amount he has of piety, there certainly is a case of eating more than is sufficient.… Blessed is the man that has “found honey.” Let him eat so much as is sufficient for him in this dismal pilgrimage. But, when he is once refreshed like Jonathan, let him sound for an advance.—Miller.
Proverbs 25:17. Withhold. Rather “Make rare.”
Proverbs 25:18. A maul. An instrument or weapon shod with iron, probably a war-club.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 25:17
I. We may by indiscretion close a door which we have ourselves opened. There are many things which are pleasant and welcome occasionally, which become not only unwelcome, but annoying, if we have too much of them. We do not desire to hear the sweetest song every day and all the day long—that which is refreshing and delightful now and then becomes wearisome if constantly repeated. We must apply this rule to ourselves in relation to our fellow-men. While we rejoice to feel that there are those who love us so well as to desire our presence upon all occasions, we must remember that most of our acquaintances will not set so high a value upon us, and that to be seen too often where we should be welcome if seen but seldom, is by our own act to shut our neighbour’s door upon us.
II. Our neighbour’s objection to our constant visits may arise from no unkindly feeling. Men who have work to do in the world cannot give all their time, or much of it, to the entertainment of visitors. There are those who, living to no purpose themselves, forget that others feel themselves accountable to God for the use they make of their lives, and such idle people often sorely vex and hinder their busy neighbours by their thoughtless and unseasonable visits. The man who enters a house and takes from a diamond necklace one precious stone after another until he has taken the whole, is doubtless no friend, but a thief and a robber, and is punishable by the law of the land; but the man who enters his neighbour’s house and robs him of hour after hour, steals property which probably cannot be redeemed, or redeemed only by encroaching upon the hours which ought to be given to rest. So that such a thoughtless intruder steals not only his neighbour’s time, but indirectly his health and power to work. Surely such pests of society ought not to have the name of friend bestowed upon them, but deserve to be branded with a name more befitting their character, and more in accordance with their actions.
For Homiletics of Proverbs 25:18, see on chap. Proverbs 12:18, page 274.
Proverbs 25:19. Foot out of joint. Rather “An unsteady foot.”
Proverbs 25:20. Nitre. “Not the substance we now understand by nitre—i.e., nitrate of potassa (saltpetre), but the natron or native carbonate of soda of modern chemistry.” (Smith’s Dictionary.) The combination of the acid and alkali would, of course, produce effervescence.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 25:19-20
MISPLACED CONFIDENCE AND UNSEASONABLE SONGS
The day of adversity is, as we saw on chap. Proverbs 24:10, a testing time for the man who is the subject of the calamity, and it is also a season in which he tests the worth of those who have called themselves his friends in the time of his prosperity. These verses deal with two varieties among many who intensify his affliction and deepen his grief, instead of bringing him help and comfort. There is—
I. The faithless friend. This phrase is a contradictory one, but it is used for want of a better. The word friend, in its highest and best sense, denotes one who is worthy of trust and who never fails in the hour of trial. But there are many who assume the name who are unworthy of it, and whose failure when they are most needed is one of the most bitter drops in the cup of calamity. If the cable breaks in a calm sea the vessel and the crew may escape serious injury; but if it gives way amid storm and tempest, the consequences are most disastrous. It is hard to find a professed friend failing us when we are sailing in calm waters, but it may then be borne without entirely crushing the spirit. But when such a discovery is first made in the day of trouble, it is enough to break the stoutest heart.
II. The undiscerning friend. There are many real friends who lack the ability to discern how best to help the sorrowful and heavy hearted. They sing a song with the intention of giving cheer when tears, or at least silence, would be far more acceptable to the wounded spirit. Songs of gladness, such as are doubtless here intended, fit the spirit when it is walking in the sunlight, but they aggravate the suffering of those who are in darkness of soul. He who aspires to the name of friend must learn to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those that weep.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 25:19. The greatest disaster, in proportion to the number of men engaged, that befel our arms in the Eastern insurrection, was the direct result of confidence in an unfaithful man. At Arrah-on-the-Ganges three or four hundred soldiers were sent to attack a body of the rebels, and relieve some British residents who were in danger there. A native was employed to ascertain the position of the enemy. In consequence of his report, the men left the river and made a night march into the interior. The messenger was false. The little army fell into an ambush prepared for them in the jungle. Two-thirds of their number were shot down in the dark by unseen foes. The remnant escaped to their ship when the day dawned. As they lay in that fatal valley getting their wounds in the dark, and helplessly wishing for the day, how exquisitely bitter must have been the reflection that a too ready trust in a faithless man had wrought them all this woe.—Arnot.
The God of nature hath placed the teeth in two jaws, that the one may be helpful to the other; and he hath supported man with two feet, that the one may be a succour to the other. From hence, to teach us the help and support which one man ought to yield to another. It is by means of this mutual support in the feet that we pass over the blocks that lie in our way; for while the one foot is lifted up to step over them, the other bears up the body. It is the mutual help of the jaws, and by their meeting together, that we break hard things and make them fit nourishment for us. In like manner, therefore, when a block lies in the way of anyone, another should be ready to support him until he get over it. When a hard distress lieth upon anyone, another should be ready to help him for the better breaking through it. But in this point too many are like a broken tooth, and he that looketh to meet with them for help in his distress, findeth them not to answer his expectation … and too many are like a foot out of joint, and he that thinketh to rest upon them in time of need, is sure to fall by them.—Jermin.
Proverbs 25:20. He that taketh away a garment from another may think to ease his burden, but it being done in cold weather, it addeth to his coldness; he that putteth vinegar upon nitre may think only to break the hardness of it, but he dissolveth it. In like manner he that singeth songs to a heavy heart may think to ease the burden of sorrow, may think to break the hardness of grief, but such is the force of the sad contraposition, such is the power of the contrariety between singing and sorrow of heart, that the ease of one’s heart being able to sing, increaseth the weight of the other’s trouble that he cannot do so.—Jermin.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 25:21-22
A BLESSED RECOMPENSE
I. A recompense which is difficult. No one can affirm that it is an easy thing to minister help and comfort to one who has done us an injury, but it is more difficult in some cases than in others. Men are not bound to us by equal ties: some are merely related to us because they partake of the same common humanity; others are our kinsmen according to the flesh; while others stand in an even nearer relation, and are brothers in a spiritual sense, being partakers with us of what is called in Scripture language the new birth. According to Christ’s teaching this is the nearest and closest bond which can unite men, and yet it cannot be denied that we sometimes have to exercise the grace of forgiveness even towards these brethren. But the motive power which prompts us to return good for evil is certainly stronger in this latter case than in the others, or at least it ought to be so. For when we reflect that the brother who has wronged us stands in the same relation to Christ as we do ourselves, it ought not to be at all difficult for us to feed him when hungry, or in any other way in our power to minister to his needs. There will also in most men be found more or less natural promptings to succour an enemy who is related to them by ties of blood—the nearer the natural relationship the more easy will it be, as a rule, to comply with the command given by the Wise Man. But the greatest difficulty will be found in obeying it when the enemy is one who is altogether unlike us in character, and who is only related to us in the broad and universal sense of being human. To be active and earnest in our endeavours to relieve the necessities of such an one needs often much Divine help, but it is demanded of us by Him who died for a world at enmity with Him.
II. A retaliation which is blessed in its results. We understand with Zöckler, the figure here used to “describe the deep pangs of repentance which one produces within his enemy by rewarding his hatred with benefits.” This is a result most desirable and blessed for him who has been the offender. For it is the only road by which he can regain peace of mind and self-respect, as well as the esteem of all right-minded people. This restoration of an erring brother would in itself be a great reward to a good man, but it is not, according to Solomon, the only one which is accorded to him who thus recompenses good for evil. A special reward for the special act is promised by Jehovah. There is one which is the outcome of the laws by which He governs men. If a traveller in a cold region finds a fellow traveller lying benumbed and forsaken by the roadside, and does what he can to raise and restore him, the effort makes his own blood circulate more quickly, and his own frame glow with warmth. This is the outcome of a natural law of God, and there is a spiritual one akin to it. For whenever an effort is made to raise and restore one who has morally fallen, he who makes the effort feels a reflex glow of moral life and health in his own spirit. This is the certain effect which must follow every act of goodwill towards an enemy, as surely as the shadow follows the substance. But there are probably other rewards of an external nature—many blessings that come to a good man’s life may be direct and special gifts from His Father above for deeds which, like the one now under consideration, are especially pleasing to Him.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
We may profess our goodwill towards our enemy, that we forgive and pray for him from our heart. But unless we are ready with the practical exercise of sympathy, we are only the victims of our own moral delusion.—Bridges.
It is action, not affection, that is here spoken of—not the disposition of the heart, but the deeds of the hand; and if it be a more practicable thing that we should compel ourselves to right bodily performances than call up right mental propensities, this may alleviate somewhat our dread of these precepts, as if they were wholly unmanageable or incompetent to humanity. Before, then, taking cognisance of what should be the inward temper of Christians towards those who maltreat or oppress them, we would bid you remark that the outward conduct towards them is that which forms the literal subject-matter of the commandments here given. The disciples are in this place told that … hard as it may be under their cruel provocations to keep unruffled minds and to feel peaceably, they, as much as in them lies, are to live peaceably … while it may not be the tendency of nature so to desire, our bidden obligation is so to do, for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head.—Chalmers on Romans 12:20.
Now, we know that if a coal or two of fire be laid on the hearth of the chimney below, he that is cold cannot be wholly warmed, or receive much good thereby; but if one basketful be poured on the fire after another, so that the coals are heaped up to the mantel-tree, or are as high as his head that fain would warm him, then he waxeth thoroughly hot and beginneth even to burn. It seemeth then that by this borrowed speech is meant, that if a man shall be very bountiful even unto his enemy, and heap upon him one good turn after another, this will cause his affection, which before was cold, to burn within him. Thus dealt David with Saul, who spared his life when he might have slain him, and only cut off a piece of his coat when he might have cut off his head.—Muffett.
I take for granted, what I believe to be the truth, that the words “for thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head,” have reference, not to the fires of Divine vengeance, but to the influence of kindly treatment melting down the enemy to conciliation, as fuel heaped on the ore fuses it from its hardness, and sends it forth in liquid streams, to take the features and impress of the mould.—A certain prince, on leading his generals and his army against an advancing host of invaders, declared his resolution not to leave a single enemy alive. He sent an embassy to treat with them. He made proposals such as subdued and attached them, and rendered them valuable allies. On astonishment being expressed that he should have thus failed in his determination and promise, his ready reply was—“I have not failed: I have kept my word. I engaged not to leave a living enemy; nor have I. They are enemies no longer—they are friends.” He had “heaped coals of fire on their head.”—Wardlaw.
For hunger and thirst are common enemies, both to thee and him. And therefore, as where a common enemy invadeth, particular enmity is laid aside, and all join there to help and withstand him; so here lend a hand to resist these common enemies, which though now have seized on thine enemy may quickly sieze on thee. Besides he is hungry as a man, he thirsteth as a man—not as an enemy—and therefore as a man give him bread to eat, give him water to drink. This may also quench the hunger of his enmity, and satisfy also the hunger of his hatred.—Jermin.
If anyone desires to try this work, he must bring to it at least these two qualifications, modesty and patience. If he proceed ostentatiously, with an air of superiority and a consciousness of his own virtue, he will never make one step of progress. The subject will day by day grow harder in his hands. But even though the successive acts of kindness should be genuine, the operator must lay his account with a tedious process and many disappointments.… The miner does not think that his coals of fire are wasted, although he has been throwing them on for several successive hours, and the stones show no symptoms of dissolving. He knows that each portion of the burning fuel is contributing to the result, and that the flow will be sudden and complete at last. Let him go and do likewise who aspires to win a brother by the subduing power of self-sacrificing love.—Arnot.
Proverbs 25:23. Driveth away. Rather “Brings forward the rain-clouds.” Most modern commentators adopt this rendering of the verb, and read the latter phrase to suit the metaphor—“So a secret or slanderous tongue, a troubled countenance.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 25:23
THE WAY TO TREAT A BACKBITER
It will be seen from a reference to the Critical Notes, that nearly all modern commentators render this verse quite differently from the common version, and so reverse the meaning. It will, however, bear the common rendering. “I confess,” says Wardlaw, “that if the word will bear it at all, our version seems decidedly preferable. There is something tame, commonplace, and of little practical consequence—hardly worth forming the subject of a proverb—in saying that as the north wind brings rain, ‘a backbiting tongue’ brings anger. But the verse as it stands in our translation inculcates a most important lesson.” We therefore take the proverb as we find it in our Bible, as setting forth—
I. An unrighteous action producing a righteous emotion. We have before had brought before us in this book the peculiar iniquity of backbiting and its evil results (see page 274). The special unrighteousness of the act lies, of course, in the fact that the person who is the subject of it, being absent and ignorant of the charge brought against him, has no opportunity of defending himself. A feeling of indignation against such an act, and an expression of it in the countenance, is therefore demanded from every lover of truth and justice. He who will calmly listen to a tale of slander and show no tokens of disapproval, makes himself a partaker of the sin. But it is impossible for a righteous man to act thus. When a putrid body is presented to our bodily senses, if we are healthy men we experience a feeling of revulsion which we cannot conceal. And so if a man is morally healthy he must experience and reveal a strong dislike to the backbiting tongue.
II. The unrighteous action overpowered by the righteous emotion. When the heavy rain-clouds which overspread the sky are dispersed and driven away by the wind, they show themselves to be the weaker of the two contending forces. And so when the backbiting tongue is silenced by the look of righteous indignation, it gives proof that, however strong the workings of evil are, the power of goodness is stronger. Those who set their faces against this or any other vice, may always draw encouragement from the fact that there is a reprover within the breast of the wrong-doer, which in spite of all efforts to stifle it, seconds the reprover from without—wherever the conscience is at all awake, it says Amen to a faithful rebuke, whether administered by word or look. And so it is that a countenance upon which is written righteous anger is so potent a check to a backbiting tongue.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
It is a great encouragement to talebearers, to observe that their wicked stories are heard with attention. If a man looks upon them with a cheerful countenance, and listens to their tales, and makes them welcome to his table, they naturally conclude that the person to whom they speak has as bad a heart as themselves, and they will not fail to bring him new stories of the like kind, as soon as they have got an opportunity to learn or to make them. But if the receiver of stolen goods is a sharer with the thief in his guilt, and if any man that encourages another in evil partakes in his sin, then he that hears the backbiter with complacency is little better than himself, and would probably follow the same trade if he had the same talents for it. We cannot, therefore, clear ourselves from the sin of backbiting, unless we refuse to receive a bad report of our neighbour, and testify our displeasure, by all proper methods, at the base conduct of the assassins that would murder in the dark the good-name of their fellow-creatures. When the murderers of Isbosheth brought their master’s head to David, judging from their own disposition that it would be an acceptable present to him, he treated them in such a manner that no man ever sent another present of the like kind to him.—Lawson.
There is a place for anger as well as for love. As in nature, a gloomy tempest serves some beneficial purposes for which calm sunshine has no faculty; so in morals, a frown on an honest man’s brow is in its own place, as needful and useful as the sweetest smile that kindness ever kindled on the human countenance … We don’t want a fretful passionate man; and if we did, we could find one without searching long or going far. We want neither a man of wrath nor a man of indiscriminating, unvarying softness. We want something with two sides; that is, a solid real character. Let us have a man who loves good and hates evil, and who, in place and time convenient, can make either emotion manifest upon his countenance. The frown of anger is the shade that lies under love and brings out its beauty.—Arnot.
For Homiletics on Proverbs 25:24, see on chap. Proverbs 21:9, page 613.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 25:25
COLD WATER AND GOOD NEWS
I. Two blessings often ardently longed for. In these days of travel, many more can enter into the spirit of this analogy than in the days of Solomon—the comparative ease by which men can reach the most distant lands, and which in one aspect brings all places and people so much nearer together than in ancient times, is on the other hand the cause of far more separation between those who are bound together by tender ties, and fills far more hearts with an anxious longing for tidings from far countries. No more apt illustration could be used to picture such a condition of spirit than that of thirst; for as it, if of long duration, prostrates the frame and renders every other blessing of life incapable of affording any comfort, so often does a long delay of tidings concerning those most dear paralyse all the energies of the soul, and render it unable to gain comfort from any other source. The wife whose husband has been long fighting for his country on the distant battle-field, or the father whose son has been for years seeking his fortune in some far-off land, turn often with distaste from all the comforts and interests which surround them, and would willingly sacrifice many near blessings in exchange for cheering news from those beyond the seas. They are like the traveller in the desert, whose gold cannot allay his consuming thirst, and who would willingly give a bag of pearls for a cup of cold water.
II. Two blessings bringing like results. Hagar and her son wandered in the desert till the water was spent in the bottle, and then mother and son gave up all for lost and lay down to die. We may take it for granted that neither the youth nor his mother were easily overcome or quickly daunted, but thirst and its attendant evils would soon have slain them as certainly as a band of desert robbers. But when God showed to Hagar the well, and they had drank of its waters, it was as though a new life had entered into them, and hope and energy returned. This is a type of what has happened to many a heart-sick soul since those days. Jacob was going down to his grave still mourning for the son lost so many years ago, and life, we may well believe, had lost its interest for him when his sons brought the astonishing tidings, “Joseph is yet alive, and is governor over all the land of Egypt.” And the old man renewed his youth, and, so to speak, began to live again, so life-restoring often to a thirsty soul are good news from a far country.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
A far-off land sends specially good news because we faint the more, and long the harder, for the very reason that it is so distant. They come more seldom. And our relations with far-off lands are weightier and more critical than those beside us. So much for the secular significance. But oh! the spiritual! The righteous scarcely are saved. (1 Peter 4:18). We are in a wilderness. (Revelation 12:6; Revelation 12:14). Our enemies are legion. (Ephesians 6:12). We run the gauntlet with daily foes, (Ephesians 5:16); and that with daily changes in their attempts to trip us. (Proverbs 5:6). The sinner, wherever he may be met, is faint with fatigue. Our Saviour knew this when He shaped His appeal “Come unto me, all ye that labour, etc. (Matthew 11:28). Now, high over all other modes of comfort is the “good news from a far-off land.” All right there, come anything! A man’s life may have been a perfect failure, quoad the opinion of the world; but if he have Heaven it has been the very best—there has not been an hour of it that has not been “marshalled by a Divine tactic,” the best for the man and the best for his part in the war.—Miller.
We shall especially apply the subject—to heaven—good news from heaven. There are several things that make good news from a far country as grateful as “cold waters to a thirsty soul.” I. If the country reported is altogether unlike our own. The human mind is always interested in what is novel and romantic—strangeness has a strange fascination for the soul. What charms have the reports of Captain Cook, Moffatt, Livingstone, for all minds.… II. If the country reported has conferred an immense benefit on us. Supposing that we had once been in a state of abject slavery, and that the far country reported to us had effected our emancipation and guaranteed our liberty, with what interest should we listen to everything about it—the act that served us would invest all the incidents connected with this history with a special charm.… III. If the country reported contained any that are dear to us. New Zealand, Vancouver’s Island, and many other countries, are extremely interesting to many families in this land, on account of the friends they have living in them.… IV. If the country reported is a scene in which we expect to live ourselves. With what interest does the emigrant listen to everything referring to that land whither he is about wending his way, and which he is adopting as his home. Heaven as a far country pre-eminently meets all these conditions of interest. There is the Novel … How unlike that country is ours. Here is a sphere for the play of the romantic. There is the Benefactor. What benefits that far country has conferred on us! Thence we have received Christ the Redeemer of the World, and the Blessed Spirit of wisdom, purity, and love. There are our Friends. How many of those whom we have known and loved are there. How many such are going there every day. Some of us have more friends in heaven than on earth. There we expect to live. There we expect an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away.—Dr. David Thomas.
Proverbs 25:26. Falling down—i.e., “yielding” or “wavering.” Corrupt. Rather “Ruined.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 25:26
THE EVIL RESULT OF MORAL COWARDICE
I. There can never be a good reason why a good man should waver or bow down before a bad man. Many reasons often exist why one bad man should fear another bad man, they are both on the wrong side, both arrayed againt the moral order of the universe, and therefore are on the weakest side, and cannot count upon the support of any superior and all-powerful force. Neither of them has conscience or God upon his side; each one has to fight his battle on his own charges, and can with no confidence foretell the result. But the want of firmness on the part of a righteous man in the presence of wickedness—even when that wickedness is allied with all the power that it can arrogate to itself—is contrary to reason. For as surely as light must defeat the darkness, so surely must right in the end prove itself victorious over wrong. A good man has the whole force of the moral universe upon his side, and is assured both by experience and by Divine promise that if he holds fast to the end he shall be more than conqueror.
II. The wavering of such a man pollutes the very sources of social morality. Unreasonable although it is, yet it is not out of the range of human experience. “The best men are but men at the best” says an old writer, and in times of great trial they often give evidence that it is so. Good and noble men have sometimes trembled and given way before the terrors of the stake, and far less terrible suffering has often sufficed to shake the constancy of true men who were less courageous. But whenever such a fall takes place it is a heavy blow to the cause of right and truth upon the earth. A good man is like a fountain of pure and living water. He is a source of moral life and health in the circle in which he moves; even if he does not put forth any direct or special effort for the advancement of morality, his life will as certainly have an influence for good as the lighted candle will illumine the darkness around it. But if he shows himself a coward when exposed to loss or danger for the sake of right, it will do as much harm to the moral health of the community in which he lives as would be done to its bodily health if the stream from which its members drink were polluted at the fountain head. The mischief done in each case may not show itself by any startling results. The poison in the water may not kill, but only lower the standard of health in those who partake of it, and so a moral fall in a good man may not lead other men to open apostacy from the right path, but it may make the walk of many unsteady. Christ tells His disciples this same truth when He calls them the “salt of the earth,” and asks “if the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted” (Matthew 5:13). In other words, the good are the conservators of the moral purity of the world, and if any one among them ceases to sustain this character he is not only a loser himself but a source of loss to others.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Lord Bacon gives this proverb political application: “It teaches that an unjust and scandalous judgment in any conspicuous and weighty cause is, above all things, to be avoided in the State;” and in his Essay
(56) of Judicature, he says: “One foul sentence doth more hurt than many foul examples; for these do but corrupt the stream, the other corrupteth the fountain”—Tr. of Lange’s Commentary.
Eastern fountain and springs (where the rains are only periodical, and at long intervals) are of no common price. The injury of corrupting them is proportionate. The well is therefore a blessing or a curse, according to the purity or impurity of the waters. A righteous man in his proper character is “a well of life, a blessing in the midst of the land.” But if he fall down before the wicked by his inconsistent profession, the blessing becomes a curse, the fountain is troubled, and the spring corrupt. What a degradation was it to Abraham to fall down under the rebuke of an heathen king; to Peter, to yield to a servant maid in denying his Lord! How did David’s sin trouble the fountain, both to his family and his people! How did the idolatry of his wise son corrupt the spring through successive generations!
When a minister of Christ apostatises from the faith (and mournfully frequent have been such spectacles) or compromises his principles from the fear of man, the springs and fountains of truth are fearfully corrupted. When a servant of God, of standing and influence, crouches and falls down under the wicked, the transparency of his profession is grievously tarnished. Satan thus makes more effective use of God’s people than of his own—Bridges.
Proverbs 25:27. The last phrase in this verse is variously rendered. The words is not are not in the Hebrew. Stuart reads, “Searching after one’s own glory is burdensome”—i.e., Honour, like honey, is good only when sought in moderation. Zöckler renders “To search out the difficulty, brings difficulty”—i.e., “Too strenuous occupation of the mind with difficult things is injurious.” Delitzsch translates:—“But, as an inquirer, to enter on what is difficult, is honour”—i.e., To overdo oneself in eating honey is not good, but the searching into difficult things is nothing less than an eating of honey, but an honour. The word translated glory is literally weight, and is often used to mean excellence and honour. But it will bear the opposite meaning of a burden or difficulty.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 25:27
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
For Homiletics on the first clause of this verse, see on Proverbs 25:16, page 703. A reference to the Critical Notes will show that, owing partly to its elliptical form, the rendering of the second clause has been much disputed. The reading found in our version is, however, quite admissible on the principles of Hebrew interpretation, and accords well with the first clause. The analogy teaches—
I. That a desire for the good opinion of others is right and salutary. As honey is not only a pleasant but a wholesome article of food, so the wish to stand well with our fellow-men is a God-implanted feeling which is very beneficial both to the individual man and to society as a whole. He is a churlish being who does not care what other people think about him, who sets at nought their esteem or their blame, while a right regard to their judgment of us insensibly produces a beneficial influence upon our conduct and temper.
II. But it is a desire which must not rule our life. Just as honey must not be substituted for plainer food, or made the staple article of diet, so a desire for the good opinion of others must not be put before higher motives—must not be made the ruling principle of life. This proverb may be linked with the preceding one to some extent, for the lack of firmness which good men sometimes display in the society and under the influence of worse men than themselves is often due to a desire not to lose their good opinion—not to be thought obstinate, or morose, or conceited. But when any question of right or wrong is at stake the approval or disapproval even of those whose goodwill is most precious to us must be cast aside.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
There is such a thing as vain glory. There is such a thing as a person’s indulging an insatiable appetite for applause and honour. There is such a thing as “searching it out,” looking ever after it, eager to get it, and touchily jealous of every omission to bestow it and every deficiency in its amount; exploring for it in every possible direction; listening with an ear on the alert to catch every breathing of adulation; fishing for praise; throwing out hints to draw it forth; eulogising others, to tempt a return; saying things in disparagement of oneself, for the sake of having them contradicted—things which, said by another, would stir the hottest of his blood. The temper of mind may be put in exercise, in regard to greater and to smaller matters. It may assume the form of a proud ambition, or of a weak-minded vanity. But in either case it may with truth be said that “it is not glory.” A man’s honour should rather come to him, than be eagerly solicited and searched for. It should not be made his object.—Wardlaw.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 25:28
A DEFENCELESS CITY
The other side of this picture is given in chap. Proverbs 16:32. (See page 497.)
I. Such a city as is here described proclaims the lack of a wise and powerful governor within. The walls and buildings of a city are constantly exposed to influences which promote decay, even if no hostile military force attacks them. The everyday exposure to storm and sun and rain will have a tendency to make the mortar crumble, and the bricks or stones to become loose and fall away. Hence, if a wise man governs a city he will make it a part of his constant duty to watch for the first signs of weakness, and if he has the authority which his position ought to put into his hand, he will cause each breach to be repaired as soon as it is discovered. And when we see a city whose walls are in a perfect condition—where there are no fallen stones and no crumbling mortar—we feel at once that there is rule and authority residing there. But “a city broken down and without walls” tells plainly the opposite story. Now every human spirit in this fallen world is exposed daily, and sometimes hourly, to influences which tend to irritate and vex it, and so to destroy its means of defence against temptation, and lower its dignity and mar its moral beauty. And if a man yields himself up to these influences, and allows them to hold undisputed sway over his life, he proclaims himself to be without those essential elements to his welfare and happiness—wisdom to see his danger, and power to guard it.
II. Such a city gives an invitation to the invader without. If a fortress is known to be well fortified, if there is no weak or unguarded point, an enemy will not hastily try to take possession of it. Its strength will oftentimes be its security against attack. But if its fallen towers and tottering defences tell of weakness and anarchy within, its condition will tempt the foe to enter. So if a man gives evidence that he has no control over his passions, both evil men and evil spirits will mark him for their prey, and will make it their business to lead him from one sin to another—to make him not only a negative but a positive transgressor. Such an one, in the language of Paul, “gives place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
To come to particulars; if any be angry or given to wrath, will he not quickly be led captive to revile and to commit murder? If the affection of covetousness possess any, will he not easily be drawn to deceive and steal? The like is to be said of all the passions of the mind, which, if a man cannot bridle or govern, they will carry him headlong with violence into all mischief and misery, as wild and fierce horses oftentimes run away with an unguided coach or waggon—Muffett.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Proverbs 25". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14