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Proverbs 24:5. A wise man is strong— The LXX read, A wise man is better than a strong one, and a man of understanding than a strong labourer. This reading seems preferable to ours; which, however, may imply according to the original, A wise man is better than a strong one, and a man of knowledge than he who is mighty in strength. The following verse is connected with this, as a proof how much wisdom is preferable to strength. For by wise counsel, &c. i.e. "This is plainly seen in war itself, wherein success is often owing more to conduct than force." The LXX support this meaning.
Proverbs 24:10. If thou faint, &c.— The plain meaning is, "Thou art not a man of courage, if thou canst not bear adversity with an equal mind." Some, however, paraphrase it, "If adversity deject thee, and break thy spirit, thou wilt be so much the more unable to get out of it."
Proverbs 24:11. If thou forbear, &c.— Do not delay to deliver those who are led unto death, and who are now about to be slain. Houbigant. Or, Deliver them who are drawn unto death, and those who are ready to be slain, if thou canst prevent it. The wise man, in this and the following verse, inforces the necessity of giving our assistance towards the rescue of innocent persons when their lives are in danger, either by counselling them, or petitioning others in their behalf, or by doing any thing in our power for their deliverance. See Bishop Patrick.
Proverbs 24:13-14. My son, eat thou honey, &c.— It is well known in how high esteem honey was among the ancients for food, for drink, for medicine, for preserving of dead bodies, and particularly for infants. See Isaiah 7:15. Sir 39:26. Hence the ancient Christians used to give a little milk and honey to those who were baptized, as persons newly regenerate and born again; because honey, as well as milk, was the nutriment of little children in those countries. See 1 Samuel 14:27. Luke 24:41-42. All this may be applied to wisdom, from whence the mind derives the greatest satisfaction; and therefore it ought to be our daily diet, our sweetest refreshment, from the beginning of our days to the end of them. See Bishop Patrick.
Proverbs 24:16. For a just man falleth seven times— i.e. Into trouble or affliction, not into wilful sin. The Hebrew word נפל napal, rendered falleth, is never applied to sin; but, when set in opposition to the word קום kum, riseth up, implies affliction or calamity; as in Micah 7:8. Amos 8:4. Jer 25:27 and Psalms 34:19-20. These words are commonly not only in sermons, but in books, applied to the falling into sin; and that men may the more securely indulge themselves in their sins, and yet think themselves good men, they have added something to them; for they are commonly, cited thus, A just man falleth seven times a day; which last words are not in any translation of the Bible, much less in the original; but only in some corrupt editions of the Vulgate. The plain meaning of the text is what we have given; and therefore we must take heed of reading the Holy Scriptures so carelessly, as to turn our medicine into poison; which is the fault of those, who, from such mistakes, give way to their evil affections, and let them carry them into sin.
Proverbs 24:21-22. My son fear thou the Lord, &c.— The LXX, read, My son, fear God and the king; and be not disobedient to either of them: Pro 24:22 for they shall suddenly avenge the wicked; but the punishments of both of them, who shall know? Whence it is plain, says Dr. Grey, that they read the same word in both verses, though they happened to read the wrong word in both; namely שׁניהם sheneihem, them both; whereas it seems evident to me, that שׁונים shonim, them that are given to change, should be read in the second period as well as in the first; and then the sense will be, Suddenly shall their calamity rise; and the destruction of changes, who knoweth? i.e. "Who can tell the manifold miseries and mischiefs, which men of factious spirits bring upon themselves and others?" Houbigant renders the latter clause of the 22nd verse, And who can foresee the destruction by which they shall fall? The wise man here commands us first to obey God; and then, the king, or supreme legislature and magistrates of a state, whose office it is to see the laws of God observed by the subjects, and to make such laws as are not repugnant to those of God, to punish the contumacious, and to pronounce all sentences according to the law; and, thirdly, not to intermix with factious discontented persons, who wish to disturb the established government, and by that means bring upon themselves and others swift destruction.
Proverbs 24:23. These things also belong to the wise— The meaning may be, that the following proverbs were selected from the books of the wise men who lived after Solomon, to the time of Hezekiah. The words at the head of this verse seem to be a new title to the proverbs which follow to chap. 25: Such is the opinion of Calmet, Grotius, Grey, &c. But may they not signify only and simply, "These things also which follow belong to the wise, holy, and virtuous conduct of life?"
Proverbs 24:26. Every man shall kiss his lips, &c.— See Gen 41:40 in the margin of our bibles. The Egyptian translators of the LXX seem to have understood this verse in much the same sense as the passage referred to; Lips shall kiss those things which answer right words; "Shall kiss those writings by which a judge giveth just decisions." Solomon seems to be speaking of a dignified judge, as the preceding words lead us to suppose; for they express the effects which just or unjust judgments should have on the people: Proverbs 24:23. It is not good to have respect of persons in judgment: Proverbs 24:24. He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous, i.e. He who absolveth the guilty, him shall the people curse, &c. He that giveth a right answer then, in this verse, is apparently the description of a judge who pronounces right judgments on those causes which are brought before him to trial; and this kissing, agreeably to all that precedes, must refer to the people, the nation, not to the king for whom he judges. I do not, however, know whether a still more unexceptionable interpretation may not be proposed. The rescripts of authority were wont to be kissed, whether they were believed to be just or not, except in cases where persons assumed something of independence; nay, the letters of people of figure were treated after this manner by persons over whom they had no authority, and who knew not the contents of them, merely because they were letters of people of figure. It is possible, therefore, that these words may rather refer to another eastern custom which D'Arvieux gives an account of in his description of the Arabs of mount Carmel, who, when they present any petition to their Emir for a favour, offer their billets to him with their right hands, after having first kissed the papers. The Hebrew manner of expression is short, and proverbs have a peculiar shortness; Every lip shall kiss, one maketh to return a right answer; that is, "Every one "shall be ready to present the state of his case, kissing it as he delivers it, when there is a judge whose decisions are celebrated for their being equitable. So another of these apothegms of Solomon is delivered with something of the like turn of expression. A crown of glory the hoary head, in the way of righteousness it shall be found; that is, "The hoary head is a crown of glory, when it is found in the way of righteousness." See the Observations, p. 259.
Proverbs 24:27. Prepare thy work without, &c.— He must begin to labour in his field, and perform the works without doors, before he builds his house: he must have wherewith to subsist, before he thinks of a commodious lodging: he must deliberate long, and reflect much, before he begins to build; but there must be no deliberation in point of sowing or tilling the ground: AEdificare diu cogitare oportet, (says Cato, de Re Rustic. cap. 3:) conferere cogitate non oportet, sed facere oportet. Our Saviour in the Gospel, Luk 14:28 requires him who thinks of building a tower to sit down first, and reckon with himself whether he has wherewith to go through with his undertaking, for fear of leaving his work imperfect, after having laid the foundations. In the moral sense, it is easy to make the application of this field, which must be cultivated before the building of a house, to the exercise of solid and interior graces and virtues, to a serious and profound study of the truths of religion, before the setting up to instruct or direct one's neighbour. A man must be a good labourer before he becomes an architect in the house of God. Some take the phrase to signify the engaging in marriage. "Begin with cultivating your lands, and you will be enabled to feed your family; and after this, if you will, you may think of marrying." See Calmet.
Proverbs 24:31. Grown over with thorns— We know very few of the thorns which are mentioned in Scripture. The ononis spinosa, or rest-harrow, that most pernicious and prickly plant, covers whole fields and plains in Egypt and Palestine. I make no doubt but this is referred to in some parts of the Holy Scripture; and shall leave it to the philologists to determine which of the thorns here mentioned it is. The Arabs at present in Egypt call it akol. This is perhaps that which Moses means when he curses the earth: it grows in great plenty promiscuously with the large thistles, in the uncultivated parts of Egypt. See Hasselquist's Travels, p. 289.
REFLECTIONS.—The observations and reflections which this wise king makes, are daily verified.
1. In worldly affairs, sloth and poverty are almost inseparably connected. See the picture of a negligent husbandman; he sleeps when others wake; his field, uncultivated, is covered with weeds, the hedge broken down, no revenue arising to the owner; and, as the necessary consequence of his neglect, want and wretchedness seize him as an armed man. And this will be the case in every trade and business with those, who, instead of diligence and activity, leave their affairs at random, live careless and negligent, expose themselves, and necessarily rush on their ruin. When such objects strike us, we must stay and pause, and learn wisdom by the reflections that we make on their folly.
2. In our spiritual concerns, the same observations hold good. The soul of the careless sinner is like this field of the slothful, over-run with the rank weeds of corrupt and vile affections; open to the inroads of every temptation; no fruit produced to God's glory, or his own comfort: yet, secure he sleeps on in the devil's arms, and cares not to be disturbed in his fatal dream; till, seized at last by death, and brought to a throne of judgment, too late he discovers his miserable condition, and receives the doom of the slothful in the place of torment. Such negligence in others should quicken our diligence, to break up the fallow ground of our hearts, to root out the thorns and nettles of corrupt desires, which are natives of the soil, to guard against the entry of temptation; and, watching unto prayer, daily to be working out our own salvation, and bringing forth those fruits of faith and holiness, whereby ourselves may be enriched, and which, through Jesus Christ, are to the praise and glory of God.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Proverbs 24". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent