Proverbs 26:1. As snow in summer, &c. — Unseasonable and unbecoming; so honour is not seemly for a fool — Because he neither deserves it, nor knows how to use it, and his folly is both increased and manifested by it. Bishop Patrick considers this as a tacit admonition to kings (for whose use principally, he thinks, this last part of the book of Proverbs was collected) to be very careful in disposing of preferments only to worthy persons; bad men being made worse by them, and usually doing as much hurt to others, by the abuse of their power, as snow or hail does to the fruits of the earth, when they are ripe and ready to be gathered. “So that,” says he, “we may make this aphorism out of Solomon’s words, that ‘the blending of summer and winter would not cause a greater disorder in the natural world, than the disposal of honour to bad men (and consequently throwing contempt upon the good) doth in the moral world.’”
Proverbs 26:2. As the bird by wandering — Namely, from place to place: that is, as by its restlessness it secures itself from the fowler, that he cannot shoot at it, or spread his net over it; so the curse causeless shall not come — Namely, upon the innocent person, but he shall escape from it as the bird escapes the fowler. Or, as some interpret it, “Curses which fly out of men’s mouths causelessly, shall no more alight where they would have them, than a sparrow that wanders uncertainly, or a dove that flies away swiftly, will settle according to their direction.”
Proverbs 26:4-5. Answer not a fool, &c. — Answer a fool, &c. — These contrary directions are easily reconciled, by considering the difference of persons, times, places, and other circumstances, and of the manner of answering. And such seemingly contradictory precepts are not only used by, but are esteemed elegant in other authors. Answer him not, when he is incorrigible, or when he is inflamed with wine, or with passion, &c., or when it is not necessary nor likely to do him good. Answer him, when he is capable of receiving good by it, or when it is necessary for the glory of God, for the discharge of a man’s duty, or for the good of others. Answer not, &c., according to his folly — So as to imitate his folly, in such passionate, or reproachful, or foolish speeches as he uses to thee; lest thou be like unto him — Show thyself to be as great a fool as he is. Answer a fool according to his folly — So as his folly needs and requires, convincing him strongly, reproving him sharply, and exposing him to just shame; lest he be wise in his own conceit — Lest thy silence make him arrogant and presumptuous, as if his words were unanswerable.
Proverbs 26:6. He that sendeth a message by the hand of a fool — He that employs a fool upon any important business, which is too hard for him; cutteth off the feet — Namely, of his messenger: he bids one go that wants legs; he sends one that wants discretion, which is as necessary for that employment as legs are for running or walking; and drinketh damage — Brings upon himself abundance of loss and mischief, not only spoiling the business about which he sends him, but making himself contemptible to the person to whom he sends him, and to others with him, as if he had not common prudence to choose a fit messenger, and giving occasion, by the folly of his messenger, to further misunderstandings, jealousies, and inconveniences. Drinking, it must be observed, in the Scriptures, frequently signifies the doing or receiving of any thing plentifully, as they who multiply sins are said to drink iniquity like water, and they who are greatly afflicted are commonly said to drink the cup of sorrow.
Proverbs 26:7. The legs of the lame are not equal — Hebrew, דליו, are lifted up, namely, in going, which is done with great inequality and uncomeliness; so is a parable in the mouth of fools — No less absurd and indecent are wise and pious speeches from a foolish and ungodly man, whose actions grossly contradict them, whereby he makes them contemptible, and himself ridiculous.
Proverbs 26:8. As he that bindeth a stone in a sling — Whereby he hinders his own design of throwing the stone out of it; so is he, &c. — No less absurd is he that giveth to a fool that honour which he is not capable of using aright. Bishop Patrick and Houbigant give a different interpretation of the verse, thus: “As a stone put into a sling stays not long there, so is that honour thrown away which is bestowed upon a fool.” Parkhurst, however, according to the translation in the margin, supposes the meaning to be, “As a spark, or small piece of precious stone, in a heap of stones, so is he that giveth honour to a fool.”
Proverbs 26:9. As a thorn, &c. — “It is as dangerous for a fool to meddle with a proverb as for a drunkard to handle a thorn, wherewith he hurts himself: but the sharpest saying no more touches a fool with any compunction, though spoken by his own mouth, than the drunkard feels the thorn when it runs into his hand and gives him a grievous wound.” — Bishop Patrick.
Proverbs 26:10. The great God formed all things, &c. — The Hebrew text of this verse will admit of different translations, as the reader may see by the margin, and commentators are much divided in their opinions of its meaning. The Hebrew word רב, rab, here rendered great, may be applied either to God or to a prince, and the proverb may be considered as declaring either how God the Creator and Governor of the universe will deal with sinners, or how kings and princes ought to act toward their subjects. Bishop Patrick’s paraphrase, which includes both, seems to give the most probable sense of the verse, thus: “The great God, who made all things, governs them also most wisely and equally; dispensing, for instance, his punishments suitable to men’s sins, whether out of ignorance, or of wilful wickedness; whom a good prince imitates; but a bad one proves a universal grievance, by employing either fools or profane persons in his service, who vex the rest of his subjects.”
Proverbs 26:13-16. The slothful man saith, &c. — “In this and the following verses, three degrees of sloth are represented; the first, when a man is loath to stir out of doors about his business in the field, Proverbs 26:13; the second, when he is loath so much as to leave his bed, Proverbs 26:14; and the third and highest, when he will scarcely put his hand to his mouth, Proverbs 26:15. By which hyperbolical expression the wise man admirably sets forth the incredible laziness of some, which increases upon them continually, if they will not shake it off; and yet, so presumptuous are they withal, that they laugh at those who take a great deal of pains to be wise, and fancy themselves much wiser; because, without any pains, they can find fault sometimes with other men’s works.” — Dodd. Thus, Proverbs 26:16, the sluggard is wiser in his own eyes — Because, by his idleness, he avoids those troubles and dangers to which other men, by their activity, expose themselves, forgetting, in the mean time, what reproach and loss are brought upon him by his slothfulness; than seven men that can render a reason — Namely, a satisfactory reason of all their actions, that is, who are truly wise men.
Proverbs 26:17. He that passeth by — Who is going on the way about his business; and meddleth with strife, &c. — In which he is not concerned, nor any way obliged to meddle; is like one that taketh a dog by the ears — Exposes himself to great and needless hazard, as a man that unnecessarily provoketh a mastiff dog against himself.
Proverbs 26:18-19. As a madman — Hebrew, כמתלהלה, as one that makes, or feigns himself mad, in order that, under that pretence, he may do mischief with impunity; casteth firebrands, arrows, and death — Any instruments of death and destruction against his neighbour’s person, house, or goods; so is the man that deceiveth his neighbour — That wrongs him under a false pretence of kindness and familiarity; and saith, Am I not in sport? — And then asks his neighbour why he resents it so heinously, saying he was only in jest: and intended merely to try how he would take it.
Proverbs 26:20-22. Where no wood is, the fire goeth out: &c. — As the fire will soon be extinguished if you take away the fuel that feeds it; so, where there is no tale-bearer — To carry such reports from one to another as may provoke them to mutual anger, enmity, and contention; the strife ceaseth — Animosity, hatred, and quarrels will die away. As coals to burning coals, &c. — As dead coals laid on burning coals, and wood on fire, increase the heat and flame; so is a contentious man — Hebrew, אישׁ מדונים, a man of contentions, that is, who loveth and giveth himself up to contentions; or, who is hard to please, and apt to find fault with every person and thing; to kindle strife — For unkind tempers and provoking words quickly produce quarrels and enmities, which destroy all peace, unanimity, and concord, and embroil people in endless hostilities against one another. The words of a tale-bearer are as wounds — This was observed before, Proverbs 18:8, (on which see the note,) and is here repeated, as being a point of great importance to the peace and welfare of all societies, and proper to be often and earnestly pressed upon the consciences of men, because of their great and general proneness to this sin.
Proverbs 26:23. Burning lips — Either, 1st, Lips pretending much love, that is, words delivered with a show of truth and fervent affection; or, rather, 2d, Burning with malice or hatred; that is, a slanderous or evil tongue; and a wicked heart — From whence evil thoughts and malicious words proceed; are like a potsherd covered with silver dross — Such a tongue and heart are of no real worth, although sometimes they make a show of it, as dross does of silver.
Proverbs 26:24-26. He that hateth dissembleth with his lips — Hebrew, ינכר, carries himself like another man, that is, pretends love and kindness; and layeth up deceit within him — Means, by counterfeiting kindness, only the more easily and securely to deceive thee. When he speaketh fair —
Hebrew, יחנן קולו, uses gracious or supplicating language, gives thee the kindest words, and assures thee he is sincere; believe him not — Give no credit to his flatteries and professions of esteem and regard; for there are seven abominations in his heart — That is, a great variety of base and wicked designs. Whose hatred is covered by deceit — With false professions of love; his wickedness shall be showed before the whole congregation — Instead of that secrecy and impunity which, by this art, he designs and promises to himself, he shall be brought to public shame and punishment.
Proverbs 26:27. Whoso diggeth a pit — That another may fall into it; shall fall therein — Himself. For, by the righteous judgment of God, the wicked are not only generally disappointed in their designs, but involve themselves in that mischief which they intended to do to others: see on Psalms 7:15; Psalms 9:15. And he that rolleth a stone — Namely, up a hill, with a design to do mischief to some person or thing with it; it will return upon him — And greatly injure if not crush him to pieces.
Proverbs 26:28. A lying tongue hateth, &c. — That is, he who slanders others hates those whom he slanders, because, by his calumnies, he hath made them his enemies. For “it is common for men to hate those to whom they have done evil: thus Tacitus, Proprium humani ingenii est, odisse quem læseris, ‘It is natural to man to hate one whom he hath injured;’ and this aversion is always strong in proportion to the greatness and injustice of the wrong which has been done.” See Calmet. And a flattering mouth worketh ruin — Though it be more smooth and plausible than a slandering mouth, yet it is, in truth, no less pernicious, betraying others either to sin, or to danger and calamity.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 26". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany