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Observations about fools, about sluggards, and about contentious busy-bodies.
Proverbs 26:2. As the bird by wandering— "Curses which fly out of men's mouths causlessly shall no more alight where they would have them, than a sparrow which wanders uncertainly, or a dove which flies away swiftly, will settle according to their direction;" or it may be, Such curses fly as swiftly as those birds, whose property it is to fly up and down, over the head of him against whom they are directed, and never touch him." The words may be rendered, As the sparrow is for wandering, as a wild dove to fly, so the rash curse shall not come.
Proverbs 26:4-5. Answer not a fool, &c.— They who choose to review antiquity, in its antique garb, will observe, that had the folly of these fools been only of one condition or denomination, then the advice to answer, and not to answer, had been repugnant to itself: but as their folly was of various kinds, in some of which to answer might offend the dignity, and in others not to answer might hurt the interests of truth; to answer, and not to answer is a consistent, and may, for aught critics know, be a very wise direction. Had the advice been given simply, and without circumstance, to answer the fool, and not to answer him, a critic, who had reverence for the text, would satisfy himself in supposing that the different directions referred to the doing a thing in and out of season. But when to the general advice about answering, this circumstance is added, according to his folly, that interpretation is excluded; and a difficulty indeed arises a difficulty which has made those who have no reverence for the text, accuse it of absurdity and contradiction. But now to each direction reasons are subjoined, why a fool should, and why he should not be answered; reasons which, when set together and compared, are at first sight sufficient to make a critic suspect that all the contradiction lies in his own incumbered ideas. 1. The reason given, why a fool should not be answered according to his folly, is lest he [the answerer] should be like unto him. 2. The reason given, why he should be answered according to his folly, is, lest he [the fool] be wise in his own conceit. The cause assigned for forbidding to answer, therefore, plainly insinuates, that the defender of religion should not imitate the insulter of it in his modes of disputation, which may be comprized in sophistry, buffoonery and scurrility. The cause assigned of directing to answer, as plainly intimates, that the sage should address himself to confute the fool upon his own false principles, by shewing that they lead to conclusions very wide from, very opposite to, those impieties which he would deduce from them. What can better produce the effect here intimated, the cure of the fool's vain conceit of his superior wisdom? If any thing can allay the fool's vanity, and prevent his being wise in his own conceit, it must be the dishonour of having his own principles turned against himself, and shewn to be destructive of his own conclusions. What can be more mortifying?
Proverbs 26:6. He that sendeth a message— Schultens renders this, He that cutteth off the feet, he that drinketh down bitterness, he that sendeth commands by the hand of a fool, are equal: That is, there is the same simplicity in the one as in the other of these actions: The two former expressions are intended to exaggerate the latter; and the meaning of the proverb is, "He that employs a fool to execute his commands, does himself the greater injury, and will bring upon himself the greatest uneasiness." The Syriac reads, He drinketh iniquity from under his feet, who sendeth a message by a fool. The proverbial turn of the expression renders it extremely difficult to be understood.
Proverbs 26:8. As he that bindeth a stone in a sling— The plain meaning of this seems to be, what Bishop Patrick has given in his paraphrase; "As a stone put into a sling stays not long there, so is that honour thrown away which is bestowed upon a fool." Houbigant explains it in the same manner. Some of the versions render it, As he who throweth a stone to Mercury's heap; which is supposed to be an allusion to the superstitious custom, obliging passengers to throw a stone to such heaps in honour of Mercury; but it is very doubtful whether this custom was so old as Solomon's time. See Calmet's note. Parkhurst supposes the meaning to be, As a spark, or small piece of precious stone, in a heap of stones, so is he who giveth honour to a fool. The precious stone in one case, and the honour in the other, are thrown away and lost. See his Lexicon on the word רגם ragam.
Proverbs 26:10. The great God that formed all things— There is a great diversity of opinion respecting this verse. Mr. Peters says, that formed all is the same as forming the universe, and parallel to Isaiah 44:24.; and if so, our rendering is as unexceptionable as any. Houbigant has it, The fool and the drunkard imagine great things: the fool and the drunkard pass over the sea: That is, in the folly and pride of imagination. See his note, and also Schultens.
Proverbs 26:13. The slothful man saith, &c.— In this and the following verses, three degrees of sloth are represented; the first, when a man is loth to stir out of doors about his business in the field, in this verse; the second, when he is loth so much as to leave his bed; Pro 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, he observes Pro 26:16 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. After this follows an admonition against rashly intermeddling in other men's affairs: against backbiters and dissemblers; especially such as are malicious, and cover the malignity of their minds under fair shews of friendship and esteem.
Proverbs 26:18. Firebrands, arrows, and death— Firebrands and deadly arrows. Houb.
Proverbs 26:23. Burning lips, and a wicked heart— Splendid lips, with a wicked heart. Houbigant. The LXX read, Smooth lips, disguising a wicked heart.
Proverbs 26:25. There are seven abominations in his heart— i.e. A great variety of base and wicked designs.
Proverbs 26:28. A lying tongue hateth, &c.— A deceitful tongue shall suffer its own example, a deceitful mouth shall fall into ruin. Houbigant. Our translation, however, may be justified; and the meaning is, that it is common for men to hate those to whom they have done ill turns: Proprium humani ingenii est, odisse quem laeseris, says Tacitus; and this aversion is always strong in proportion to the greatness and injustice of the wrong which has been done. See Calmet.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Proverbs 26". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34