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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ proverbs-2.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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3. Third admonitory discourse, pointing out the benefits which arise from a sincere, earnest, and persevering search after Wisdom. This discourse divides itself into three parts.
(1) Proverbs 2:1-9 : a statement of the conditions which, if fulfilled, result in the highest knowledge of Jehovah—the fear of Jehovah and the knowledge of God, who is the Source of wisdom and the Protection and Ensurer of safety to the righteous.
(2) Proverbs 2:10-19 : the negatively beneficial results of Wisdom, in delivery from the paths of evil, from destructive lusts and passions, from the temptations of wicked men and wicked women.
(3) Proverbs 2:20-22 : the epilogue, or conclusion, combining encouragement on the one hand, and warning on the other.
The teacher here reverts to the original form of his address, as appears from the employment of the term, my son. It seems clear that it is no longer Wisdom personified who is the speaker, from the fact that the words, "wisdom and understanding" in Proverbs 2:2 are used without the possessive pronoun "my," which would have been undoubtedly inserted if this address had been a continuation of the discourse in the preceding chapter. Some of the ideas of that address, however, are restated, as the crying and lifting up the voice after Wisdom, and the conclusion, wherein the respective destinies of the pious and wicked are portrayed. The particle "if" (אֵם) is conditional, and serves to introduce the series of clauses (Proverbs 2:1-4) which lay down the conditions upon which the promises depend, and which form the protasis to the double apodosis in Proverbs 2:5 and Proverbs 2:9. De Wette, Meyer, and Delitzsch regard it as voluntative, as expressing a wish on the part of the teacher, and translate, "Oh that thou wouldst!" and אִם, "if," is used in this way in Psalms 139:19; but the LXX. (ἐάν) and Vulgate (si) make it conditional. It is repeated in an emphatic form in Psalms 139:3. Receive. The verbs "receive" and "hide" show that the endeavour after Wisdom is to be candid and sincere. "To receive" (לָקַה) seems to be here used, like the LXX. δεχέσθαι in the sense of "to receive graciously," "to admit the words of Wisdom." It is noticeable that there is a gradation in emphasis in the various terms here used by the teacher. Just as "commandments" is stronger than "words," so "hide" is stronger than "receive." The emphasizing is carried on in the following verses in the same way, and at length culminates in Psalms 139:4, which sums up the ardent spirit in which the search after Wisdom is to be prosecuted in presenting it to us in its strongest form. Hide. The original (צַפַן, tsaphan) is here used in a different sense to that in which it occurs in Proverbs 1:11 and Proverbs 1:18. It here refers, as in Proverbs 7:1; Proverbs 10:14; and Proverbs 13:22, to the storing or laying up, as of treasure, in some secret repository, and means "to lay up." The Divine commands of the teacher are to be hidden in safe custody in the memory, in the understanding, in the conscience, and in the heart (cf. Proverbs 4:21; Proverbs 7:1). The psalmist expresses the same idea in Psalms 119:11, "Thy words have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee."
This verse is dependent on the preceding. So that thou incline. The literal translation is "to incline;" but the inclination of the ear and the application of the heart follow as a consequence upon the precepting ideas (cf. the Vulgate, ut audiat sapientiam auris tua). The root idea of the original (קָשַׁב, kashav) is "to sharpen," viz. the ear as expressed, and so to give diligent attention to the precepts of Wisdom. In Proverbs 1:24 it is rendered "to regard." To apply thine heart is to turn the heart with the whole scope of its powers, in the spirit of humility and eagerness, to understanding. As the ear represents the outward vehicle of communication, so the heart (לִב, lev) represents the inward, the intellectual faculty, the mind, or it may mean the affections as suggested by the LXX. καρδία and Vulgate cor. Understanding (תְּבוּנָה, t'vunah) is here interchanged with "wisdom," which must determine its meaning to some extent. The LXX. interpreters take it as σύνεσις, the faculty of comprehension." Like בִינָה (vinah) in Proverbs 1:2, the word describes the faculty of distinguishing or separating: but it does not appear to be here used as representing this "as a faculty of the soul, but as a Divine power which communicates itself as the gift of God" (Delitzsch). A second and perhaps simpler sense may be given to the sentence. It may mean the turning or applying of the heart in an affectionate and loving way, i.e. with full purpose, to the discrimination of what is right and what wrong. The ideas of wisdom and understanding seem to some extent to be brought forward as personifications. They are things outside of ourselves, to which we have to give attention. Religion appeals not only to the affections, but also to the intellect, as this satisfies all the yearnings of our nature.
Yea, if thou criest after knowledge. The endeavour after Wisdom is not only to be sincere, it is also to be earnest, as appears from the "yea, if," and the verbs "crying" and "lifting up the voice," both of which frequently occur in Scripture as indicating earnestness. This earnestness is the counterpart of that which Wisdom herself displays (see Proverbs 1:20, Proverbs 1:21). Knowledge; i.e. insight. In the original there is practically little difference between "knowledge" and "understanding" (בִּינָה and תְּבוּנָה). They carry on the idea expressed in "understanding" in the preceding verse, and thus throw the emphasis on the verbs. The LXX. and Vulgate, however, take "knowledge" as equivalent to σοφία, sapientia, "wisdom." The reading of the Targum, "If thou tallest understanding thy mother," arises from reading אִם for אֵם, but is not to be preferred to the Masoretic text, as it destroys the parallelism.
If thou seekest, etc. The climax in the series of conditions is reached in this verse; and the imagery employed in both clauses indicates that the search after Wisdom is to be persevering, unrelaxing, and diligent, like the unremitting toil and labour with which men carry on mining operations. "To seek" (בָּקַשׁ, bakash) in the original is properly "to seek diligently" (piel), and is kindred to "to search" (קָפַשׂ, khaphas), which again is equivalent to "to dig" (חָפַר, khaphar), the Vulgate effodere, "to dig out." Compare the expression in Job 3:21, "And dig for it more than for hid treasures." We trace in these verbs the idea in the mind of the teacher indicated above, which finds expression also in the object of the search, the silver, in its crude state, and the hidden treasures (מַטְמֹנִים mat'monim), i.e. the treasures of gold, silver, and precious metal concealed in the earth. The comparison here made between the search for Wisdom and the search for the hidden treasures of the earth was not unfamiliar to the Hebrew mind, as it is found worked out with great beauty of detail in the twenty-eighth chapter of Job. Again, the comparison of Wisdom with things most precious in the estimation of man is natural and common, and occurs in Psalms 119:72; Job 28:15-19. The same ideas and comparisons here used are presented to us in the New Testament teaching, in our Lord's parable of the man who finds the hid treasure in the field, and, in the phraseology of St. Paul, who speaks of "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge," and of "the unsearchable riches of Christ." "Divine knowledge is an inexhaustible mine of precious ore" (Wardlaw). The language of the Proverbs would receive additional three from the circumstances of the reign of Solomon, the most splendid and prosperous era in the annals of the Jewish national history, in the means taken to secure the treasures of other and distant countries; the wealth and the riches of that reign (see 2 Chronicles 9:20-22) would help to bring out the idea of the superlative value of Wisdom. In no era of the Jewish national history was there such abundance of riches, such splendid prosperity, as in the reign of Solomon, whose ships of Tarshish brought "gold and silver" (see 2 Chronicles 9:20-22), and this state of things would give point to the comparisons which the teacher uses in our text.
Then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord. Then (אָן), introducing the first apodosis, and answering to the conditional "if" of Proverbs 2:1, Proverbs 2:3, Proverbs 2:4. The earnest endeavour after Wisdom meets with its reward, and those that seek shall find (cf. Matthew 7:7): and thus an inducement is held forth to listen to the admonition of the teacher. Understand implies the power of discernment, but Zockler gives it the further moaning of taking to one's self as a spiritual possession, just as "find" meaning primarily "to arrive at" conveys the idea of getting possession of (Mercerus). The fear of the Lord (יְרְאַת יְחָוֹה, yir'ath yehovah); "the fear of Jehovah," as in Proverbs 1:7. As it is the beginning, so it is the highest form of knowledge and the greatest good. Elsewhere it is represented as a fountain of life (Proverbs 15:27). All true wisdom is summed up in "the fear of the Lord." It here means the reverence due to him, and so comprises the whole range of the religious affections and feelings, which respond to various attributes of the Divine character as they are revealed, and which find their expression in holy worship. The knowledge of God (דַעַת אֱלֹהִים, daath Elohim); literally, the knowledge of Elohim. Not merely cognition, but knowledge in its wider sense. The two ideas of "the fear of the Lord" and "the knowledge of God" act reciprocally on each other. Just as without reverence of God there can be no knowledge of him in its true sense, so the knowledge of God will increase and deepen the feeling of reverence. But it is noticeable that the teacher here, as in Proverbs 9:10, where, however, it is "the knowledge of the holy" (דַעַת קְדשִׁים, daath k'doshim), gives the chief place to reverence, and thus indicates that it is the basis of knowledge, which is its fruit and result. The relation here suggested is analogous to that which subsists between faith and knowledge, and recalls the celebrated dictum of Anselm: "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam; sed credo, ut intelligam." Elohim, here interchanged with Jehovah, is not of frequent occurrence in the Proverbs, as it is only found therein five times, while the predominating word which is used to designate the Deity is Jehovah. But it is difficult to draw any distinction between them here. Jehovah may refer more especially to the Personality of the Divine nature, while Elohim may refer to Christ's glory (Plumptre). Bishop Wordsworth thinks that a distinction is made between the knowledge of Elohim and the knowledge of man which is of little worth.
For the Lord giveth wisdom. The Lord Jehovah is the only and true Source of wisdom. The truth stated here is also met with in Daniel 2:21, "He giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding." He "giveth," or more properly, "will give" (יִתֵּן, yitten, future of נָתַן, nathan), wisdom; but the connection requires us to understand that the assurance applies only to those who seek after it earnestly and truly (cf. James 1:5-7). The two coefficients to our obtaining wisdom are our efforts and God's assistance. Solomon may be adduced as s striking exemplification of this; he asked for "an understanding heart," and God graciously granted his request (see 1 Kings 3:9, 1 Kings 3:12). Out of his mouth (מִפִיו, mippiv); ex ore ejus; God is here spoken of anthropologically. He is the true Teacher. The meaning is that God communicates wisdom through the medium of his Word (Delitzsch. Pi.). The law proceeds from his mouth (Job 22:22). In the Book of Wisdom (Wis. 7:25), "Wisdom is the breath of the power of God." His word is conveyed to us through men divinely inspired, and hence St. Peter (2 Peter 1:21) says that "holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
Wisdom which is the foundation of security and safety, and hence is sound wisdom, is that which God treasures up for the righteous. The teacher passes to another phase of the Divine character. God is not only the Source of wisdom; he is also the Ensurer of safety, the Source of salvation to those who act uprightly. It will be noted that the use of the word is confined to the Proverbs and Job, with the exception of the two passages in Isaiah and Micah. Buckler. Besides storing up the treasures of sound wisdom, which the righteous may use and so obtain security in their uprightness, God is himself a Buckler, or Shield (מָגֵן, magen), to those who walk in innocence. This aspect of God's directly protecting power is met with in other parts of Scripture. In Genesis 15:1 he encourages Abram with the assurance, "I am thy Shield." In Psalms 33:20; Psalms 84:11; Psalms 89:18; Psalms 144:2, Jehovah is called a Shield to his saints. He renders them security against the assaults of their enemies, and especially against the fiery darts of the wicked one. Again, in Proverbs 30:5, it is said, "God is a Shield (magen) up to them that walk uprightly." It is incorrect to take מָגֵן (magen) either as an accusative after the verb or in apposition with "sound wisdom." To them that walk uprightly; literally, to the walkers in innocence (לְחֹלֵכֵי תֹם, l'khol'key thom). תֹם (thom) is "integrity of mind," "moral faultlessness," "innocence." "To walk uprightly" is to maintain a course of life regulated by right principles, and directed to right ends. He "walks uprightly who lives with the fear of God as his principle, the Word of God as his rule, and the glory of God as his end" (Wardlaw). The completeness of the moral and religious character is involved in the expression which is found also in Proverbs 10:9 and Psalms 84:11. The Vulgate translates the latter clause of the verse, proteget gradientes simpliciter, "he will protect those who walk in simplicity;" cf. 2 Corinthians 1:12 in illustration of the phrase. He layeth up; i.e. he treasures up (LXX; θησαυρίζειν), or preserves and protects (custodire, Vulgate), as a person does "treasure or jewel, that it may not be stolen" (Zockler). The majority of commentators read the Keri (יִצפֹן, "he will treasure up," future of צָפַן) in preference to the Khetib (צָפַן, perfect of same verb, with prefix וְ, "and he treasured up"), and this is the; reading adopted in the Authorized Version. The Keri implies that God does treasure up sound wisdom, while the Khetib, as Delitzsch observes, has the force of the aorist, and so represents the treasuring up as an accomplished fact. The same verb occurs in Proverbs 2:1, where it is translated in the Authorized Version by "hide," and also in Proverbs 7:1 and Proverbs 10:14 by "lay up." The laying up, or treasuring, points to the preciousness of that which is treasured, "sound wisdom." Sound wisdom. A great variety of opinions exists as to the true meaning of the word in the original, תְוּשִׁיָה (tvushiyyah), of which "sound wisdom" is an interpretation. Zockler explains it as "wisdom, reflection;" Delitzsch, as "advancement and promotion;" Dathe, as "solid fortune;" Gesenius, as "aid." The proper meaning of the word seems to he "substance," from the root יָשָׁה, "to be, to exist, to be firm." Professor Lee remarks on the word, "From the places in which it occurs, either wealth, thought, or some such sense it manifestly requires. It occurs in Job 6:13, in parallelism with 'help;' in Proverbs 2:7, with a 'shield;' in Job 1:6, with 'wisdom;' in Job 12:16, with 'strength;' in Proverbs 3:21, with 'discretion;' in Proverbs 8:14, with 'counsel' and 'understanding;' in Isaiah 28:29, with 'counsel;' and so in Job 26:3. In Job 30:22 and Micah 6:9, 'entirely' or the like seems to suit the context; see also Proverbs 18:1, and generally 'excess,' or 'abundance,' taken either in a good or bad sense, and varied by other considerations, seems to prevail in every case in which this word is used" (see Professor Lee, on Job 5:12). The parallelism of the passage before us seems to require that it should be understood in the sense of security; and transferring the idea to wisdom as the means of security. This idea is reproduced in the LXX. σωτήρια, the Vulgate salus, and the Targum incolumitas.
He keepeth the paths of judgment. This verse is explanatory of the latter hemistich of Proverbs 2:7, and points out more fully in what way God is a Protector of his saints. Some connect the Hebrew infinitive לִנְצֹד (lin'tsor), "to watch or keep," with "them that walk uprightly," and translate, "them that walk uprightly by keeping the paths of judgment;" but this is to transfer the idea of protection from God to such persons. The verb signifies specially "to defend, to preserve from danger," as in Proverbs 22:12, "The eyes of the Lind preserve knowledge; i.e. defend or protect it from danger." It is God who "keepeth the paths of judgment," as he alone has the power to do so. He watches over all that walk therein, guides, superin. tends, and protects them. The paths of judgment; or rather, justice, אֱרְהוֹת מִשְׁפָט (at'khoth mishpat). The abstract is here used for the concrete, and the phrase means "the paths of the just," i.e. the paths in which the just walk, or "those who walk justly" (Mercerus). This expression corresponds with "the way of his saints," just as "keep" and "preserve" are synonymous verbs, both meaning "to guard, keep safe, or protect." He preserveth the way of his saints. God does this
(1) by his preventing grace, as in Psalms 66:9, "He suffereth not our feet to slip." Cf. Hannah's song, "He will keep the feet of his saints" (1 Samuel 2:9);
(2) by angelic agency, as in Psalms 91:11, "He shall give his angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways." The saints are ever under the watchful care and mighty protection of Jehovah. His saints (חֲסִידָו, khasidav); i.e. the pious towards God, the godly, those in whose hearts the principles of sanctity have been implanted, and who cherish earnest inward love to God, and "walk righteously" and "speak uprightly" (Isaiah 33:15). It is remarkable that the word saints only occurs once (in this passage) in the Proverbs. During the period of the Maccabaean Wars, a party or sect, which aimed at ceremonial purity, claimed for themselves the title of Chasidim or Asidaeans (Ἀσιδαῖοι), as expressive of their piety or devotion. They are those whom Moses called "men of holiness," Exodus 22:31 (ואֲנְשֵׁי־קֹדֶשׁ, v'an'shev-kodesh); cf. Psalms 89:5; Psalms 149:1; Psalms 89:8; Deuteronomy 33:3; Daniel 7:18, Daniel 7:22, Daniel 7:22, Daniel 7:25. Under the Christian dispensation, the saints are those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 John 5:1), and who are holy in all manner of conversation (1 Peter 1:25; 1 Peter 1:0 Macc 2:42; 7:13; 2 Macc 14:6); see Bishop Lightfoot, 'Colossians and Philemon,' diss. 2, p. 355.
Then (אָז, az), repeated from Proverbs 2:5, introduces the second apodosis. As the former referred to God, so this appears to refer more especially to man, and thus we have stated the whole benefit, in its twofold aspect, which Wisdom confers on those who diligently seek her. It is not to be affirmed, however, that righteousness and judgment and equity refer exclusively to man; they must represent some aspects of our relationship to God, both from the meaning of the words themselves, and because the law which regulates our dealings and intercourse with man has its seat in the higher law of our relation to God. Righteousness, and judgment, and equity. These three words occur in the same collocation in Proverbs 1:3, which see. Yea, every good path. "Yea" does not occur in the original. The expression is a summarizing of the three previous conceptions, as if the teacher implied that all good paths are embraced by and included in "righteousness, and judgment, and equity;" but the term is also comprehensive in the widest degree. The literal translation is "every path of good" (כְּל־מַעְגֻּל־טוֹב, cal-ma'gal-tov), i.e. every course of action of which goodness is the characteristic, or, as the Authorized Version, "every good path," the sense in which it was understood by St. Jerome, omnem orbitam bonam. The word here used for "path" is מַעְגַּל (ma'gal), "the way in which the chariot rolls" (Delitzsch), and metaphorically a course of action, as in Proverbs 2:15; Proverbs 4:26.
Statement of the advantages which result from the possession of Wisdom, and specially as a safeguard against evil men (Proverbs 2:12-15) and evil women (Proverbs 2:16-19).
When wisdom entereth into thine heart. There is practically little difference as to the sense, whether we render the Hebrew כִּיby the conditional "if" or by the temporal "when" as in the Authorized Version. The conditional force is adopted by the LXX. ἐάν and the Vulgate si. In the previous section of this address, the teacher has shown that the search after Wisdom will result in possession.; now he points out, when Wisdom is secured, certain advantageous consequences follow. The transition is easy and natural. The form of construction is very similar to that adopted previously. There is first the hypothesis, if we give this force to כִּי, though much shorter; and secondly the climax, also shorter and branching off into the statement of two special cases. Entereth; or, shall enter (חָבוֹא, thavo) in the sense of permanent residence in the heart. Wisdom is not only to come in, but to rest there (cf. Proverbs 14:33). The expression is illustrated by John 14:23. The imagery of the verse is taken from the reception and entertainment of a guest. As we receive a welcome guest, and find pleasure in his company, so is Wisdom to be dear to the heart and soul. Into thine heart (בְּלִבֶּךָ, b'libecha). The heart (לֵב) "concentrates in it. self the personal life of man in all its relations, the conscious and the unconscious, the voluntary and the involuntary, the physical and the spiritual impulses, the emotions and states" (Cremer, 'Bib. Theol. Lex.,' sub voce καρδία). It is that in which the נֶפֶשׁ (nephesh),"soul," manifests itself. It is the centre of the life of will and desire, of the emotions, and of the moral life. Rudloff remarks that everywhere in the Scriptures the heart appears to belong more to the life of desire and feeling than to the intellectual activity of the soul. But at the same time, it is to be noted that intelligent conception is attributed to the heart (לֵב); Proverbs 14:10; Proverbs 8:5; Proverbs 16:9. The expression seems to be put here for the moral side of man's nature; and in the Hellenistic sense, καρδία, the proper equivalent of לֵב "heart," involves all that stands for νοῦς λόγος συνείδησις, and θυμός; i.e. it includes, besides other things, the intellectual faculty. The word "soul" (נֶפֶשׁ, nephesh) is here found in combination with "heart." The other passages where they are mentioned together are Deuteronomy 6:5; Psalms 13:2; Jeremiah 4:19; Proverbs 24:12. The soul is primarily the vital principle, but according to the usus loquendi of Holy Scripture, it frequently denotes the entire inward nature of man; it is that part which is the object of the work of redemption. The homo of the soul is the heart, as appears from Proverbs 14:10, "The heart knoweth his own bitterness [or, 'the bitterness of his soul,' Hebrew]." While the "heart" (לֵב) is rendered by καρδία and ψυχή, the only Greek equivalent to "soul" (וֶפֶשׁ) is ψυχή. The two expressions, "heart," and "soul," in the passage before us may be taken as designating both the moral and spiritual sides of man's nature. Wisdom is to be acceptable and pleasant to man in these respects. It may be remarked that an intellectual colouring is given to the word "heart" by the LXX; who render it by διανοία, as also in Deuteronomy 6:5 and other passages, evidently from the idea that prominence is given to the reflective faculty. Classically, διανοία is equivalent to "thought," "faculty of thought," "intellect." Knowledge (Hebrew, דָעָת); literally, to know, as in Proverbs 8:10 and Proverbs 14:6; here used synonymously with "wisdom." Knowledge, not merely as cognition, but perception; i.e. not merely knowing a thing with respect to its existence and being, but as to its excellence and truth. Equivalent to the LXX. αἰσσησις, "perception," and the Vulgate scientia. Is pleasant (Hebrew, יִנְעָם, yin'am); literally, shall be pleasant; i.e. sweet, lovely, beautiful. The same word is used impersonally in Jacob's blessing of Issachar (Genesis 49:15, "And he saw the land that it was pleasant"), and also in Proverbs 24:25, "To those that punish [i.e. the judges] there shall be delight." And this usage has led Dunn to take knowledge as an accusative of reference, and to translate, "There is pleasure to thy soul in respect of knowledge;" but the Authorized Version may be accepted as correct. "Knowledge" is masculine, as in Proverbs 8:10 and Proverbs 14:6, and agrees with the masculine verb "is pleasant." Knowledge will be pleasant from the enjoyment and rest which it yields. The Arabic presents the idea of this enjoyment under a different aspect: "And prudence shall be in thy soul the most beautiful glory."
Discretion shall preserve thee. Discretion (מְזַמָּת, m'zimoth), as in Proverbs 1:4, is the outward manifestation of wisdom; it tests what is uncertain, and avoids danger (Hitzig). The word carries with it the idea of reflection or consideration (see Proverbs 3:21; Proverbs 5:2; Proverbs 8:12) The LXX. reads, βουλὴ καλή, "good counsel;" and the Vulgate, concilium. Shall preserve thee. The idea of protection and guarding, which is predicated of Jehovah in Proverbs 1:8, is here transferred to discretion and understanding, which to some extent are put forward as personifications. Understanding (תְבוּנָה, t'vunah), as in Proverbs 2:11; the power of distinguishing and separating, and, in the case of conflicting interests, to decide on the best. Shall keep; i.e. keep safe, or in the sense of watching over or guarding. The two verbs "to preserve" (שָׁמַר, shamar) and "to keep" (נָצַר, natsar), LXX. τήρειν, occur together again in Proverbs 4:6.
To deliver thee from the way of the evil man. The first special advantage resulting from the protecting guardianship of discretion and understanding. From the way of the evil man; properly, from an evil way; Hebrew, מִדֶּרֶךְ רָע (midarek ra), not necessarily, though by implication, connected with man, as in the Authorized Version. רָע (ra), "evil," "wicked," in an ethical sense, is an adjective, as in Jeremiah 3:16 (לֵב רָע, lev ra), "an evil heart;" cf. the LXX; ἀπὸ ὁδοῦ κακῆς; the Vulgate, Targum, and Arabic, a vid mala, and the Syriac, a viis pravis. "Way," is here used in the sense of "conduct," and the evil way is a line of conduct or action which is essentially wicked or evil. The teacher has already Warned youth against the temptations and dangers of the way of evil men in Proverbs 1:10-15; he now shows that discretion, arising from wisdom being resident in the heart, will be a sufficient safeguard against its allurements. From the man that speaketh froward things. Perverse utterances are here brought in contradistinction to the evil way or froward conduct. Man (אִשׁ, ish) is here used generically, as the representative of the whole class of base and wicked men, since all the following verbs are in the plural, Froward things. The word תַּהְפֻכוֹּת (tah)pucoth), here translated "froward things," is derived from the root רףּ (haphak), "to turn," "to pervert," and should be translated "perverseness." Perverseness is the wilful misrepresentation of that which is good and true. The utterances are of a distorted and tortuous character. The word, only found in the plural, is abstract in form, and is of frequent, though not of exclusive, occurrence in the Proverbs. It is attributed to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 32:20. It is met with again in such expressions as "the mouth of perverseness," Authorized Version "froward mouth" (Proverbs 8:13); "the tongue of perverseness," "froward tongue," Authorized Version (Proverbs 10:31); "the man of perverseness," "froward man," Authorized Version (Proverbs 16:28). What is here said of wicked men is attributed to drunkards in Proverbs 23:33, "Thine heart shall utter perverse things." The expression finds its explanation in Proverbs 6:13, Proverbs 6:14. The spirit which indulges in this perverseness is stubborn, scornful, self-willed, and rebellious, and it is from such a spirit that discretion is a preservative. In Job 5:13 it is said that "the counsel of the froward is carried headlong" (see also 2 Samuel 22:27; Psalms 18:26; Psalms 101:4). The LXX. rendering of this word is μηδὲν πιστόν, "nothing trustworthy," which is amplified in the Arabic, quod nullam in se continet veritatem, "that which contains in itself no truth."
Who leave the paths of uprightness. Between Proverbs 2:13 and Proverbs 2:15 the teacher proceeds to give a more detailed description of those who speak perversely. Who leave (הַעֹזְבִים, haoz'vim); literally, forsaking, but the present participle has the force of the preterite, as appears from the context. The men alluded to have already forsaken or deserted the paths of uprightness (see previous note on the word "man." The paths of uprightness (אֱרְחוֹת ישֶׁת, ar'khoth yosher); the same as the "right paths" of Proverbs 4:11. The strict meaning of the Hebrew word translated "uprightness" is "straightness," and hence it stands opposed to "perverseness" in the previous verse. Uprightness is integrity, rectitude, honest dealing. The LXX. translators represent the forsaking of the paths of uprightness as a consequence resulting from walking in the ways of darkness, "O ye who have left the right ways by departing [τοῦ πορεύεσβαι, equivalent to abeundo] into the ways of darkness." Again, the ways of darkness (דַרְכֵי חשֶׁךְ, dar'chey kkoshek) are opposed to the "paths of uprightness" which rejoice in the light. Darkness includes the two ideas of
(1) ignorance and error (Isaiah 9:2; Ephesians 5:8), and
(2) evil deeds.
To walk in the ways of darkness, then, is to persist in a course of wilful ignorance, to reject deliberately the light of knowledge, and to work wickedness, by performing "the works of darkness (τὰ ἔργα τοῦ σκύτους)," which St. Paul exhorted the Church at Rome to east away (Romans 13:12), and by having fellowship with "the unfruitful works of darkness (τὰ ἔργα τὰ ἀκάρπα τοῦ σκότους)," against which the same apostle warned the Ephesians (Ephesians 5:11). They are ways of darkness, because they endeavour to hide themselves from God (Isaiah 29:15) and from man (Job 24:15; Job 38:13, Job 38:15). In their tendency and end they lead to the blackness of darkness forever. In Scripture darkness is associated with evil, just as light is with uprightness (see John 3:19, John 3:20). The same association of ideas is discoverable in the dualism of the Persian system, as formulated by Zoroaster—Ormuzd, the good principle, presides over the kingdom of light, while Ahriman, the principle of evil, is the ruler of the kingdom of darkness.
Who rejoice to do evil. Another element is here brought forward, and the description increases in intensity. The wicked not only rejoice to do evil themselves, but they exult when they hear of evil in others (cf. Romans 1:32). Such may be the interpretation, though the latter part, of the verse is capable of a different and more general rendering as signifying exultation in evil generally, whether it appears in themselves or others. The expression rendered in the Authorized Version, in the frowardness of the wicked, is in the original (בְּתַחְפֻכוֹת רַע, b'thah'pucoth ra), in the perverseness of evil, or in evil perverseness, where the combination of the two nouns serves to give force to the main idea, which is that of perverseness. This rendering is adopted in the LXX; ἐπὶ διαστροφῇ κακῇ, "in evil distortion;" in the Vulgate, in pessimis rebus; in the Targum, Syriac, and Arabic, in conversatione mala, "in a bad course of conduct;" and in the Targum, in malitiae perversione, "in the perversion of wickedness." It is not perverseness in its simple and common form that these men exult in. but in its worst and most vicious form (for a similar construction, see Proverbs 6:24; Proverbs 15:26; and Proverbs 28:5). How widely different is the conduct of charity, which "rejoiceth not in iniquity" (1 Corinthians 13:6)!
Whose ways are crooked; better, perhaps, who as to their ways are crooked. This is the construction adopted by Fleischer, Berthean, Zockler, and others, though it may be remarked that the substantive אֹרַח (orakh), "way," is common gender, and may thin; agree with the adjective עֵקֵשׁ (ikesh), "perverse," which is masculine. The Targum, LXX; Vulgate, Syriac, and Arabic, all make "crooked" agree with "ways," do that, grammatically, the Authorized Version may be regarded as not incorrect. Crooked (עִקְּשִׁים, ik'shim); i.e. tortuous, perverse, not straightforward, (σκολιαὶ, LXX.). Symmachus translates the original by σκαμβαί, i.e. "bent." Theodotion, by στριβλαί, "twisted, crookt? Sinners, in their perverseness, are ever winding about, turning in every direction, and changing from purpose to purpose, as wayward caprice or shifting inclination, the alternations of evil propensity, happen to dictate (Wardlaw). (For the expressions "crooked ways," see Psalms 125:5.) And they froward in their paths; i.e. perverse in their paths. The root idea of the Hebrew niph. participle וּנְלוֹזִים (vun'lozim), translated "and they froward," is "to bend aside," "to turn away." They are turned aside to the right hand and to the left in their walk. The niph. participle נָלוֹז (naloz) only occurs four times in the Scriptures—here; Proverbs 3:32; Proverbs 14:2; and Isaiah 30:12. This is the last feature in their wickedness.
To deliver thee from the strange woman. This is the second form of temptation against which wisdom (discretion) is a preservative, and the great and especial dangers arising from it to youth, owing to its seductive allurements, afford the reason why the teacher is so strong in his warnings on this subject. Two terms are employed to designate the source of this evil—"the strange woman" (אִשָה זָרָה, ishshah zara), and "the stranger" (נָכְרִיָה, nok'riyah)—and both undoubtedly, in the passage before us, mean a meretricious person, one who indulges in illicit intercourse. The former term is invariably employed in this sense in the Proverbs (Proverbs 5:2, Proverbs 5:20; Proverbs 7:5; Proverbs 22:14; Proverbs 23:33) of the adulteress (זָרִים, zarim), and Jeremiah 2:25. The participle זָר (zar), from the verb זוּר (zur), of which זָרָה (zarah) is the feminine form, is, however, used in a wider sense, as signifying
(1) one of another nation, or one of another family;
(2) or some one different from one's self;
(3) or strange.
(1) in Isaiah 1:7 we have "Strangers devour it (your land) in your presence;" but in Exodus 30:33 "the stranger" is one not the high priest.
(2) The "stranger" is another (Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 14:10; Proverbs 20:16; Proverbs 27:2, Proverbs 27:13).
(3) The "strange fire" (אֵשׁ זָרָה, esh zarah) is the unlawful fire as opposed to the holy fire (Le Exodus 10:1); the "strange god" (אֵל זָר, el zar) is the foreign god (Psalms 81:9). But the idea of foreign origin implied in the word is more strongly brought out in the next term, נָכְרִיָה (nok'riyah), on which Delitzsch remarks that it scarcely ever divests itself of a strange, foreign origin. This word is used to designate those "strange women" whom Solomon loved in his old age, and who turned his heart aside to worship false gods (1 Kings 11:1-8), "outlandish women," as they are termed in Nehemiah 13:26; it designates "the strange wives" of Ezra 10:1-44, and Nehemiah 13:27; and is applied to Ruth the Moabitess (Ruth 2:10). Again, it has to be further observed that the laws of the Mosaic code against prostitution were of a most stringent nature (Leviticus 19:29; Leviticus 21:9; Deuteronomy 23:17), and no doubt served to maintain a higher standard of morality among Israelitish women than that observed among the Midianites, Syrians, and other nations. Strong prohibitions were directed against the intermarriage of Israelites with the women of the surrounding nations; but the example set by Solomon would serve to weaken the force of these prohibitions, and would lead to a large influx of women of a different nationality. The conclusion we arrive at is that the class mentioned in the text, though not Israelitish by birth, were yet so by adoption, as the context clearly indicates (verse 17) the fact of marriage and the acceptance of certain religious observances. Such women, after a temporary restraint, would eventually set all moral and religious obligations at defiance. and would become the source of temptation to others. The allegorical interpretation given to this passage by the LXX. is to be rejected on the ground that the previous section (verses 12-15) speaks of perverse men. Which flattereth with her words; literally, who has made smooth her words, the hiph. perfect being used of חָלַק (khalak), "to make smooth," or "flattering." The preterite shows what her habitual practice is, and is used of an action still continuing, and so may be fitly rendered by the present, as in the Authorized Version: "She has acquired the art of enticing by flattering words, and it is her study to employ them;" cf. the Vulgate, quae mollit sermones suos, "who softens her words;" and the Syriac, quae subvertit verba sua, "who subverts her words," i.e. "uses deceit." The expression occurs again in Proverbs 5:3; Proverbs 6:24; Proverbs 7:5.
The guide of her youth (נְעוּרֶיהָ אַלּוּף, alluph n'ureyah); properly, the associate or companion of her youth. The Hebrew, אָלּוּף (alluph), being derived from the root אָלַף, (alaph), "to accustom one's self to," or "to be accustomed to" or "familiar with" anyone. The word is rendered as "friend" in Proverbs 17:9; Proverbs 16:28; Micah 7:5. The idea of guidance, which is adopted in the Authorized Version, and appears also in the Vulgate dux. and Targum ducatus, is a secondary idea, and is derived probably from the relation in which the husband stands to his wife. Various interpretations have been given to the expression. It occurs again in Jeremiah 3:4, where Jehovah applies it to himself, and says, through his prophet, to the religiously adulterous Judah, "Wilt thou not from this time cry unto me, My Father, thou art the Guide of my youth (אַלּוּף נְעֻרי, alluph n'ura)?" It has also been understood as referring to the woman's parents, her father and mother, who were her natural guardians. But the context seems to require that it should be taken as designating her husband. It will then be the correlative of "the wife of thy youth" of Malachi 2:14. The covenant of her God; i.e. the marriage covenant, called "the covenant of her God," because entered into in his presence. The forsaking of the guide of her youth is essentially bound up with a forgetfulness of the solemn covenant which she had entered into in the presence of God. No specific mention is made in the Pentateuch of any religious ceremony at marriage; yet we may infer, from Malachi 2:14, Malachi 2:15, where God is spoken of as "a Witness" between the husband and "the wife of his youth," "the wife of thy covenant," that the marriage contract was solemnized with sacred rites. The Proverbs thus give a high and sacred character to marriage, and so carry on the original idea of the institution which, under the gospel dispensation, developed late the principle of the indissolubility of the marriage tie. It is no objection to this view that the monogamic principle was infringed, and polygamy countenanced. The reason of this latter departure is given in Deuteronomy 22:28 and Exodus 22:16. The morality of the Proverbs always represents monogamy as the rule, it deprecates illicit intercourse, and discountenances divorce. It is in entire accordance with the seventh commandment. The woman who commits adultery offends, not only against her husband, but against her God.
For her house inclineth unto death; rather, she sinks down to death together with her house (Bottcher, Delitzsch). The objection to the Authorized Version is that it does not tbllow the construction of the original, the verb "sinks down" (שָׁחָה, shakhah) being feminine, while "house" (בָיִת, bayith) is invariably masculine. Aben Ezra translates, "She sinks down to death, (which is to be) her house;" but it seems better to regard "her house" as an adjunct of the strange woman. Her house includes all who belong to her. She and they are involved in the same fate. The Authorized Version is evidently influenced by the Vulgate, Inclinata est enim ad mortem domus ejus, "For her house is inclined to death." The LXX. gives a different rendering, Ἕθετο γὰρ παρὰ τῷ θανάτῳ τὸν οἶκον αὐτῆς, "For she hath placed her house beside death." So the Arabic. The "for" (כִּי, ki) refers back to verse 16, and indicates how great is the deliverance effected by wisdom. The meaning of the passage is aptly illustrated by Proverbs 7:27, "Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death." And her paths unto the dead. The dead (רְפָאִים, r'phaim) are properly the quiet, or the feeble. They are the shadowy inhabitants or shades of Hades, the inferi of the Vulgate, and are here put for Sheol itself. Compare the ἔδωλα καμνόντων of Homer, and the umbrae, "shades," of Virgil. The word occurs again in Proverbs 9:18; Proverbs 21:16; and in Psalms 88:11; Isaiah 26:14, Isaiah 26:19; Job 26:5.
None that go unto her return again. The fate of the companions of the strange woman is described as irrevocable. All who visit her shall not return again. The Targum reads, "They shall not return in peace." The difficulty which they who give themselves up to the indulgence of lust and passion encounter in extricating themselves makes the statement of the teacher an almost universal truth. Hence St. Chrysostom says, "It is as difficult to bring back a libidinous person to chastity as a dead man to life." This passage led some of the Fathers to declare that the sin of adultery was unpardonable. Fornication was classed by the scholastic divines among the seven deadly sins, and it has this character given to it in the Litany: "From fornication, and all other deadly sin." St. Paul says, "No whoremonger nor unclean person … hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God" (Ephesians 5:5; cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9; Revelation 22:15). The sin which they commit who have dealings with the strange woman is deadly and leads on to death, and from death there is no return, nor laying hold of or regaining the paths of life (see Job 7:9, Job 7:10). Compare the words with which Deiphobe, the Cumaean sibyl, addresses AEneas—
"Tros Anchysiade, facilis descensus Averno
Sed revocare gradum superasque evadere ad auras,
Hoc opus, hic labor est."
(Virgil, 'AEneid,' 6.126-129.)
"O Trojan, son of Anchyses, easy is the path that leads to hell. But to retrace one's steps, and escape to the upper regions, this is a work, this is a task."
Conclusion of the discourse in which are antithetically stated the respective destinies of the good and the bad, the upright and the wicked.
That (Hebrew, לְמַעַן l'maan); in order that (Vulgate, ut), carries us back properly to Proverbs 2:11. The protecting power of wisdom is developed in a positive direction. Negatively, it delivers from the evil man and from the strange woman, but it does more—"it shall keep thee in order that thou mayest walk in a good way," etc. The Hebrew לְמַעַן (l'maan) is coordinate with "to deliver thee," but it serves to bring the discourse to a conclusion. Umbreit renders it "therefore," thus making what follows an inference from the preceding discourse. So the Syriac, ambula igitur, "therefore walk." In the way of good men (בְּדֶרֶךְ טוֹבִים, b'derek tovim); i.e. in the way of the good, in an ethical sense, i.e. the upright, as in Isaiah 5:20. The Vulgate renders, in via bona, "in the good way." "The way of good men" is the way of God's commandments, the way of obedience. Keep. The Hebrew verb שָׁמַר (shamar) is here used in the sense of "to observe," "to attend to," but in a different sense from Psalms 17:4, "I have observed the ways of the violent man," i.e. that I might avoid them. To keep the paths of the righteous is to carefully attend to the life of obedience which they follow. The LXX. closely connects this verse with the preceding, and renders, "For if they had walked in good ways, they would have found the paths of righteousness light."
For the upright shall dwell in the land. Much the same language is met with in Psalms 37:29, "The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein foreverse" It is the secure and peaceful dwelling in the land which is intended (cf. Proverbs 10:30). To dwell in the land was always put forward as the reward of obedience to God's commandments (see Exodus 20:12; Le Exodus 25:18; Exodus 26:5), and the phrase conveyed to the Hebrew mind the idea of one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of all temporal blessings. The love of country was a predominant characteristic of the race. Elster, quoted by Zockler, remarks, "The Israelite was beyond the power of natural feeling, which makes home dear to every one, more closely bound to the ancestral soil by the whole form of the theocracy; torn kern it, he was in the inmost roots of life strained and broken. Especially from psalms belonging to the period of the exile this patriotic feeling is breathed out in the fullest glow and intensity." The land (אָרֶץ, arets) was the promised land, the land of Canaan. The word is not used here in the wider sense in which it occurs in Matthew 5:5, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth." And the perfect shall remain in it; i.e. they shall not, as Rabbi Levi remarks, be driven thence nor caused to migrate. The perfect (תְמִימִים, th'mimim), the holy (LXX; ὅσιοι), the spotless (immaeulati, Targum), those without a staid (qui sine labe, Syriae), the guileless (simplices, Vulgate). Shall remain; יִוָּתְרוּ (yivrath'ru), niph. future of יָתר (yathar), properly "to be redundant," and in the niph. form, "to be left," or "to remain." LXX; ὑπολειφθήσαντι "shall remain;" permanebunt, Vulgate.
But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth. The punishment of the wicked is contrasted with the blessings that are promised to the upright. Shall be cut off; יִפָרֵתוּ (yikkarethu), niph. future of כָרַת (karath), "to cut off, or destroy." LXX; ὀλοῦνται; Vulgate, perdentur.;The expression is used to convey the idea of extermination, as in Psalms 37:9 (cf. Job 18:17; Psalms 37:28; Psalms 104:35). The verb is found also in Genesis 17:14; Exodus 12:15. The earth; properly, the land. The same word (אַרֶץ, arets) is used as in Exodus 12:21. The transgressors (בּוֹגְדִים, bog'dim); here employed synonymously with "the wicked" (יְשָׁעִים, y'shaim), "the impious." The primary meaning of the verb from which it is derived (בָגַד, bagad) is "to cover," "to deal treacherously," and hence the word signifies those who act treacherously or perfidiously, the faithless. They are those who perfidiously depart from God, and break away from the covenant with Jehovah. LXX; παράνομοι (cf. Proverbs 11:3, Proverbs 11:6; Proverbs 13:2, Proverbs 13:25; Proverbs 22:12; Psalms 25:3; Psalms 59:5; Isaiah 33:1). Shall be rooted out (יסֶּחוּ, yiss'khu). This word is taken by Davidson as the future kal of נסַה (nasah), "to pluck up," and hence is equivalent to "they shall pluck up," or, passively, "they stroll be plucked up." Delitzsch remarks that it is as at Proverbs 15:25 and Psalms 52:7, active, "they shall pluck up," and this with the subject remaining indefinite is equivalent to the passive form, "they shall be plucked up." This indefinite "they" can be used of God, as also in Job 7:3 (Fleischer). The expression has been understood as referring to being driven into exile (Gesenius), and this view would be amply justified by the fate which overtook the apostate nation when both the kingdoms of Israel and Judah suffered this fate (cf. LXX. ἐξωθήσονται, "they shall be driven out"). It also derives colour from the language of the preceding verse, but the imagery appears to be derived from the cutting down and rooting up of trees. The destruction of the wicked and transgressors will be complete. They shall be exterminated (cf. Targum, eradicabuntur; Syriac evellentur; and Arabic, exterminabuntur).
The search for wisdom
I. DIVINE WISDOM MUST BE SOUGHT BEFORE IT CAN BE FOUND. It is true that Wisdom cries aloud in the street and invites the ignorant and simple to partake of her stores. But the burden of her cry is to bid us seek her, It is the voice of invitation, not that of revelation. The latter is only audible to those who incline their ears purposely and thoughtfully. The thoughtless are satisfied with hasty impressions of the moment; but the only religious convictions worth considering are the outcome of thought and prayer. Still, it is to be observed that this wisdom is not reserved for the keen-sighted, the intellectual, the philosophical. It is not ability, but industry, that is required; not exceptional capacity to attain knowledge, but diligence in pursuing it. Laborious dulness can never achieve the triumphs of the brilliant scholar in secular studies. Industry alone will not make a senior wrangler. But the highest knowledge, Divine knowledge, depends so much more on moral considerations which are within the reach of all, that it can stand upon this democratic basis and offer itself to all patient inquirers.
II. THE SEARCH FOR DIVINE WISDOM MUST BEGIN IN RECEPTIVE FAITH. This wisdom is not innate; it is not attained by direct observation; it is not the result of self-sustained reasoning. It comes as revelation, in the voice of God. Thus the soul's first duty is to hear. But the right attitude towards the Divine revelation is not merely a state of receptivity. It is one of faith and careful attention, receiving the words and hiding them. All through the Bible this essential distinction between heavenly truth. and philosophy, between the mere intellectual requisites of the one and the faith and obedience which lie at the root of the other, is apparent. The first steps towards receiving the wisdom of God are childlike trust and that purity and devoutness which bring the soul into communion with God.
III. THE SEARCH FOR DIVINE WISDOM MUST BE MAINTAINED WITH INCREASING EARNESTNESS. The verses before us describe a progressive intensity of spiritual effort—receiving, hiding the commandment, inclining the ear, applying the heart, crying after, lifting up the voice, seeking, searching as for hid treasure. The truth may not be found at once. But the earnest soul will not desist at the first discouragement; if his heart is in the pursuit, he will only press on the more vigorously. It is, moreover, the characteristic of Divine truth that a little knowledge of it kindles the thirst for deeper draughts. Thus we are led on to the most energetic search. Spirituality does not discourage the eager energy with which men seek worldly gain; on the contrary, it bids us transfer this to higher pursuits, and seek wisdom as men seek for silver, and sink mines after hidden treasures. Christ does not say, "Be anxious for nothing;" but, "Be not anxious for the morrow"—in order that we may transfer our anxiety to more important concerns, and "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."
IV. THE SEARCH FOR DIVINE WISDOM WILL BE REWARDED WITH SUCCESS. Some question this, and, after weary pursuit, abandon the quest in despair, or settle down into indolent indifference. Perhaps they lack patience—toiling in the night and taking nothing, they cannot hold on till the dawn, when the Master will give them a rich draught; or they seek wrongly, not in spiritual faith, but in cold human reason; or they seek a mistaken goal—the explanation of mystery rather than practical wisdom as the guide of life. This wisdom is promised to those who truly seek, and it is attainable.
Wisdom a gift of God
I. TRUE WISDOM ORIGINATES IN DIVINE INSPIRATION. Prophets and apostles—teachers of the highest truths—claim to be delivering a message from heaven. The greater the thoughts declared to us in Scripture, the more emphatic is the ascription of them to a superhuman source. Surely this very fact—this conjunction of unique value in the thoughts with the confident assertion that they are from God—should go far in leading us to believe in the inspiration of them. But it is also urged by the men who bring these truths to us that we can only receive them when we are inspired by the Spirit of God; and experience shows that they who have most spirituality of life are able to drink most deeply of the fountains of revelation. Further, when once we admit this much, it follows that, if we recognize the constancy of God in all his methods of action, it is reasonable for us to feel that all truth must depend on a Divine illumination for its manifestation, and that all wisdom must be the outcome of some degree of inspiration. Nevertheless, it is not to be inferred that inspiration dispenses with natural channels of knowledge; on the contrary, it opens the eyes of men, who must then use their eyes to be seers of spiritual truth.
II. THE INSPIRATION OF WISDOM DEPENDS ON SPIRITUAL RELATIONS WITH GOD. If inspiration is the source, the questions arise—Who are privileged to drink of this fountain? and how do they gain access to it? Now, it is much to be assured that this is not reserved to any select class of men. Prophets have a special revelation to convey a special message, and apostles have a distinctive endowment for the accomplishment of a particular mission; but the inspiration of wisdom generally is not thus limited. On the contrary, it comes freely to all who rightly avail themselves of it. What, then, are the conditions for receiving it?
1. Prayer. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gareth to all liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (James 1:5). Whosoever seeks shall find.
2. Purity. "The pure in heart shall see God," and the highest wisdom is in the beatific vision of him who dwells in the light of eternal truth.
3. Obedience. As we submit our wills to God's wilt, we open the channel through which his Spirit enters into us, and by fellowship illumines.
III. TRUE WISDOM, BEING INSPIRED BY GOD, WILL BEAR THE STAMP OF DIVINE CHARACTERISTICS. It will differ from mere human speculation; sometimes it will be so much in conflict with that speculation as to pass for foolishness (see 1 Corinthians 1:18). It will be distinctly opposed to the wisdom that is purely carnal, i.e. to that which takes account only of earthly facts and ignores spiritual principles, the wisdom of expediency, the cleverness of men of the world. Such wisdom is not only earthly; its low maxims and immoral devices proclaim it to be "sensual devilish" (James 3:15). Divinely inspired wisdom, on the contrary, is spiritual—taking account of the facts and laws of the higher order; pure—not ministering to selfish greed and degraded pleasure; wholesome—strengthening and elevating the soul; "peaceable, gentle, easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without variance, without hypocrisy" (James 3:17).
Proverbs 2:10, Proverbs 2:11
The antidote to temptation
I. WE NEED AN ANTIDOTE TO TEMPTATION. It is not enough to trust to our own spiritual health to throw off the poison. We are already diseased with sin, and have a predisposition to yield to temptation in the corruption of our own hearts. But if we were immaculate, we should still be liable to fall; the power of temptation is so fearful that the purest, strongest soul would be in danger of succumbing. The tempter can choose the moment of his attack. When we are most off our guard, when we are faint and weary, when we are suffering from spiritual depression, the mine may be suddenly sprung, and we may be lost before we have fully realized the situation. Like the dragon in Sponsor's 'Faery Queene,' which would have stifled the Red Cross Knight with the fiery fumes it belched forth unless he had fallen into the healing fountain, the tempter would destroy our spiritual life with an atmosphere of foul thoughts after more tangible attacks have failed, were it not that we have a supply of grace outside ourselves, equal to our need. Even Christ, when tempted, did not rest on his own purity and power, but appealed for support to the sacred wisdom of Scripture.
II. THE ANTIDOTE TO TEMPTATION MUST BE SOME FORM OF POSITIVE GOOD. Fire is quenched by water, not by opposing flames. Evil must be overcome with good. The way to keep sin out of the heart is to fill the heart with pure thoughts and affections till there is no room for anything else. The citadel entered most easily by the tempter is an empty heart.
III. TRUE WISDOM IS THE SUREST ANTIDOTE TO TEMPTATION. All knowledge tends in some degree to preserve from evil. Light makes for goodness. Both are from God, and therefore they must harmonize. Secular knowledge is morally useful. A very large proportion of the criminals in our jails can neither read nor write. Ignorant of wiser courses, they are led aside to the lowest pursuits. Sound intelligence and good information introduce men at least to the social conscience. But the schoolmaster is not the saviour of the world. Higher wisdom is needed to be the successful antidote to sin—that wisdom which, in the Book of Proverbs, is almost synonymous with religion—the knowledge of God and his laws, and the practical discernment of the application of this knowledge to conduct. We must know God's will and the way of the Christian life, the beauty of holiness and how to attain it, if we are to have a good safeguard against sin. Christ, the Wisdom of God, dwelling in our hearts, is the great security against temptation.
IV. TO BE EFFECTUAL AS AN ANTIDOTE TO TEMPTATION, WISDOM MUST BE RECEIVED WITH DELIGHT. Knowledge must be "pleasant." We are most influenced by that which we love most. There is a strength in the Divine joy. So long as religious truths are accepted in cold intellectual conviction, or submitted to through hard compulsions of duty, they will have little power over us. But happily God has joined the highest truth to the purest gladness. Wisdom is a pleasure to those who welcome it to their hearts. The acquisition of all knowledge is pleasurable, The knowledge of God is joined with peculiar spiritual delights. In rejoicing in this and in love to the incarnation of this wisdom in Christ, we have the strongest safeguard against temptation.
Rejoicing to do evil
We often insist upon the fact that goodness is the secret of true happiness, and invite men to rejoice in the service of God; but we are here reminded of an opposite kind of joy which some find in the course of wickedness.
I. THIS IS A POSSIBLE EXPERIENCE. It is so unnatural that one who knew nothing of the world might well declare it to be impossible. But experience proves its existence, and the explanation of it is not far to seek.
1. Naturally desirable ends lend a sense of pleasure to the evil means by which they are sought. The miser loves his money on its own account through previous associations with the ideas of what it might purchase. So the criminal may come to delight in his crimes because the profit he gets out of them has cast a glamour over the ugly deeds themselves.
2. Some pleasures are sinful. Then the whole course, end as well as means, is wicked; yet, as it concerns self-indulgence, a wicked glee accompanies it.
3. There is a sense of freedom in sin. There is more room to range at large over the broad way than in the narrow path of righteousness. The sinner has burst the shackles of law, and he revels in the licence of self-will.
4. Sin gives an opportunity for the exercise of power. Much evil is done simply for the sake of effect, in order that the doer of it may find himself producing results. But it is easier to do harm than to do good. Therefore a man turns to evil for the larger realization of his power. So wicked children delight in picking flies to pieces.
II. THIS IS A SIGN OF ADVANCED WICKEDNESS.
1. At first it is painful to sin. The poor, weak soul gives way to temptation, but the very act of sinning is accompanied with a sense of uneasiness and humiliation.
2. A further stage is reached when sin is committed with indifference. This is indeed a state of moral degradation, for conscience is now practically dead, and the sinner is as willing to have his pleasure by lawless means as in an innocent manner.
3. The lowest depth is reached when there is a positive pleasure in doing wrong. Evil is then chosen on its own account, and not as the disagreeable or the indifferent means for reaching some ulterior end. When two courses are open, the bad one is deliberately selected as the more pleasant on its own account. A malignant joy lights up the countenance of the abandoned sinner at the mere prospect of some new villainy. This is Satanic wickedness. The abandoned sinner can now exclaim with Milton's Satan—
"Evil, be thou my good!"
III. THIS IS A DELUSIVE JOY.
1. It is shallow. Though it may be excited into a diabolical ecstasy, it has no heart-satisfying qualities. Beneath it there is profound unrest, The peace which accompanies the joy of holiness, and which is the sweetest ingredient in the cup of the good man, is quite wanting here. There are shooting pangs, dark misgivings, and dread sinkings of heart in the midst of this monstrous delight.
2. It will not endure. The pleasures of sin do but endure for a season. The sweet morsels soon turn to dust and ashes. After the wild crete there follows deep depression or dread despair, or at best a sense of listless weariness. The appetite is soon exhausted. New and more piquant forms of wickedness must be invented to stimulate the jaded palate. At length the awful consequences must come, and anguish of soul follow the delights of sin when God's judgment takes effect.
I. CROOKED WAYS ARE DEVIATIONS FROM THE STRAIGHT PATHS OF MORAL SIMPLICITY. The man of high character is simple in conduct. Great complexity of motive is generally a sign of moral laxity. The way of right is straight because it makes for its goal without any considerations of expediency, danger, or]pleasure. To be turned aside from the steep Hill of Difficulty, or into By-path Meadows is to forsake the right for selfish ease. When men allow considerations of momentary advantage to guide their actions, they will be perpetually swayed from side to side till their track is marked by an irregular "zigzag." "The expression of truth," rays Seneca, "is simplicity."
II. CROOKED WAYS ARE SIGNS OF LACK OF PRINCIPLE. Principles are like the rails on which the train runs, keeping it in a direct course and facilitating its speed. The unprincipled man is off the rails, and the result is confusion. Like a ship without compass, rudder, or chart, the unprincipled man drifts with wind and tide, and so leaves behind him a crooked track. The security for straightforward conduct is the guidance of a deep-seated principle of righteousness.
III. CROOKED WAYS RESULT FROM SHORT-SIGHTED AIMS. The lane which is made, bit by bit, from farm to farm, is likely to wind about; but the old Roman high road that connects two distant cities runs as directly as possible. The ploughman who looks no further than his horses' heads will make a crooked furrow; to go straight he must fix his eyes on the end of the field. He who regards only present circumstances will wander aimlessly. To go right we must look out of self to Christ; beyond present expediency to the full purpose and end of life; above all earthly pursuits to the goal of the life eternal.
IV. CROOKED WAYS ARE DECEITFUL WAYS. Bad men often fear to go straight towards their evil aims lest they shall be discovered. They beat about the bush. The assassin avoids the high road and slinks along under a hedge, that he may come upon his victim unawares. The thief breaks into the house by the back door. Honesty is direct; dishonesty is circuitous. Crooked ways tend to become deceitful, if they are not so of set purpose. A man may wander in them till he has lost account of the points of the compass, and knows not whither he is going. The most elementary notions of right and wrong are then confused. This is the common issue of casuistic and disingenuous conduct; it results in self-deception.
V. CROOKED WAYS LEAD TO A FATAL END. The way to heaven is to "turn to the right, and keep straight on." The road that leads to destruction is broad, admitting of much irregularity of motion from one side to the other. It is the straight and narrow way that leads to life.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The conditions of religious knowledge
The previous chapter having shown us in a variety of representations the necessity and the worth of wisdom, the question is now dealt with—How shall it be sought and attained?
I. CONDITIONS ON MAN'S SIDE. The enumeration is climactic, proceeding from the less strong to the stronger expressions.
1. Receptivity. The open mind and heart, ever ready to "adopt" true sentiments and appropriate them as one's own. The point is not to ask—Who says this? By what channel does it come to me? But—Is it sound? is it true? If so, it is for me, and shall be made my own. Truth is common property.
2. Attention, concentration, assimilation. "Keeping her commands with us." The thorough student finds it necessary to exercise his memory, and to help it by the use of notebooks, where he hides his knowledge. So must we hive and store, arrange and digest, our religious impressions, which otherwise "go in at one ear and out at the other." Short germ sayings may be thus kept in the memory; they will burst into fertility some day.
3. Active application. In figurative language "bending the ear" and "turning the heart" in the desired direction. The mind must not be passive in religion. It is no process of "cramming," but of personal, original, spiritual activity throughout.
4. Passionate craving and prayerfulness. "Calling Sense to one's side, and raising one's voice to Prudence"—to give another rendering to Proverbs 2:3. We must invoke the spirit of Wisdom for the needs of daily conduct; thus placing ourselves in living relation with what is our true nature. Fra Angelico prayed before his easel; Cromwell, in his tent on the eve of battle. So must the thinker in his study, the preacher in his pulpit, the merchant at his desk, if he would have the true clearness of vision and the only genuine success. True prayer is always for the universal, not the private, good.
5. Persevering and laborious exertion. illustrated by the miner's toil. The passage (Job 28:1-28.), of extraordinary picturesque power and interest, describing the miner's operations, may help us to appreciate the Illustration. The pursuit of what is ideal is still more arduous than that of the material, as silver and gold. It is often said that the perseverance of the unholy worker shames the sloth of the spiritual man. But let us not ignore the other side. The toil in the spiritual region is not obvious to the eye like the other, but is not the less really practised in silence by thousands of faithful souls. We should reflect on the immense travail of soul it has cost to produce the book which stirs us like a new force, though it may appear to flow with consummate ease from the pen. Such are the conditions of "understanding the fear of Jehovah," or, in modern language, of appropriating, making religion our own; "receiving the things of the Spirit of God," in the language of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 2:14). It is the highest human possession, because permanent, inalienable, and preservative amidst life's ills.
II. CONDITIONS ON THE SIDE OF GOD. If religion be the union or identification of the soul with God, he must be related to us in such a way as makes this possible.
1. He is wisdom's Source and Giver. He not only contains in himself that knowledge which, reflected in us, becomes prudence, sense, wisdom, piety; he is an active Will and a self-communicating Spirit. The ancients had a glimpse of this when they said that the gods were not of so grudging or envious a nature as not to reveal their good to men. God is self-revealing; "freely gives of his things" to us, that we may know, and in knowing, possess them.
2. His wisdom is saving. "Sound wisdom" (Proverbs 2:7) may be better rendered soundness, or salvation, or health, or saving health. It seems to come from a root signifying the essential or actual. Nothing is essential but health for sensuous enjoyment; nothing but health, in the larger sense, for spiritual enjoyment. Let us think of God as himself absolute Health, and thus the Giver of all health and happiness to his creatures.
3. He is Protector of the faithful. The Hebrew imagination, informed by constant scenes of war, delights to represent him as the Buckler or Shield of his servants (Psalms 18:2; Psalms 33:20; Psalms 89:19). Those who "walk in innocence" seem to bear a charmed life. They "fear no evil," for he is with them. The vast sky is their tent roof. They may be slain, but cannot be hurt. To be snatched from this world is to be caught to his arms.
4. He is eternal Justice. Being this in himself, the "way of his saints," which is synonymous with human rectitude, cannot be indifferent to him. Right is the highest idea we can associate with God. It is exempt from the possible suspicion of weakness or misdirection which may cleave to the mere idea of goodness or kindness. It essentially includes might. Thus the soul finds shelter beneath this vast and majestic conception and faith of its God. These, then, are the conditions, Divine and human, of religion. That we may realize it in ourselves, "understand right, justice, and equity"—in a word, "every good way" of life and thought, uniting piety with morality—the conditions must be faithfully fulfilled. Perfect bodily health may not be attainable; some of its conditions lie without the sphere of freedom, and within that of necessary law. Spiritual health is attainable, for it lies within the sphere of freedom. Then God is realized; it is the ether of the soul, and the region of love and light and blessedness.—J.
The profit of religious knowledge
It is preservative amidst the influences of evil example and of sensuous solicitation.
I. THE WAY IN WHICH IT ACTS AS A PRESERVATIVE.
1. By taking up a central place in the consciousness. "When wisdom enters thy heart, and knowledge is dear to thy soul." Not as a stranger or mere guest, but a beloved and confidential intimate. The heart denotes here, as elsewhere, "the centre and organic basis of the collective life of the soul, the seat of sentiment, the starting point of personal self-determination." The soul, as used by Hebrew writers, denotes the entire assemblage of the passive and active principles of the inner life. Delitzsch terms the heart, as used in the Bible, "the birthplace of thought;" and thin is true, because thought springs out of the dim chaos of feeling as the defined crystals from the chemical mixture.
2. By counteractive force. If the inmost thing we know and feel be a sense of right and a sense of God, a pure sentiment and a lofty idea, this must exclude the baser feelings, and displace the images of pleasure and objects of desire which are unlawful and undivine. Them is watch and ward in the fortress of Man-soul against the enemy and the intruder. The "expulsive force of a new affection" operates. It is the occupied heart that alone is temptation proof. "Discretion shall watch over thee, prudence guard thee." The mind, directed to what is without, and feeling for its course among uncertainties, thus appears forearmed against dangers.
II. THE DANGERS FROM WHICH IT PRESERVES. Social dangers. In society lies our field of full moral development, both in sympathy with the good and in antipathy to the evil. Two dangers are particularized.
1. The influence of the bad man. We know men by their talk and by their actions—their habit in both; their "style," their "form," in the expressive language of the day.
(1) His talk is of "froward things," or "perversities"—cunning, crafty, malicious in spirit (Proverbs 2:12). Literally it is crooked talk, which is a relative term—the direct opposite of the "straightness" of Proverbs 2:9 being meant. Our moral intuitions appear in the mind under the analogy of relations in space, and are thus designated probably in all languages. The right line and the curve or zigzag represent what we feel about good and evil in conduct. The speech of evil insinuation, covert suggestion, bad tone, generally may be meant; or perhaps, rather, guilty topics of conversation. The East is more leisurely in its habits than are we; and the warning has peculiar adaptation to the unfilled hours of an easy life, and which bad talk so often wastes and corrupts.
(2) His habit of life. He forsakes the "straight paths" to walk in "dark ways," such as those alluded to by St. Paul (Romans 13:13; Ephesians 5:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:5). In the like sense that darkness is antipathetic to us, is moral evil (hence its appropriateness as an emblem); we may overcome the feeling partially, but only by doing ourselves a violence. It is a step further in self-perversion to "take pleasure in the execution of evil, and to make merry over wickedness." Human nature demands sympathy; the most depraved cannot do without it or the semblance of it. We are always craving the sight of that which reflects us; hence the sight of evil gives joy to the bad man, the sight of good enrages him. For he is a deformity. His ways are crooked, twisted all his mode of mind and life; a moral deformity. The conscience, armed with the healthy perception of the true, beautiful, and good, sees all this in the bad man, recognizes him for what he is, and so is proof against him. One great lesson of Goethe's 'Faust' is that the tempted man does not see the devil in human shape, because his moral temper has been first unstrung, and so his vision vitiated.
2. The solicitations of the bad woman. The expressions, "strange, foreign" (Proverbs 2:16), appear to designate her as the wife of another, an adulteress (comp. Proverbs 6:26; but the sense is disputed). To allegorize the passage is to weaken its force; for the actual dangers of youth are clearly indicated. She is depicted in the strongest light of reality. This is what she is in the view of the inspired conscience.
(1) Her infidelity to her husband and her God (Proverbs 2:17). For marriage is a bond, not only between two human beings, but between each and God. Affiance is the glory of womanhood; to break her plighted troth is to wreck all her true charm and beauty. "Companion of her youth" is a beautiful designation of the husband (Jeremiah 3:4; Psalms 55:14).
(2) Her dangerous arts. Oh, what can replace a youth defiled? or what more dangerous influence can there be than that of her whose "hatred is goaded by shame"—hatred against the virtue which confronts to reproach her? Her smooth tongue, flattering her victim with simulated admiration, and with the "hypocrisy of passion," is more deadly than the sword.
(3) Her deadly seductions. Death, the kingdom of the shades, the ghosts who lead, according to the view of the ancient world, a faint and bloodless existence below, is the end of her and the partakers of her sins. To Sheol, to Hades, the bourne whence no traveller returns, the steps of all her visitors tend. Her house seems ever to be tottering over the dark abyss. The truth held in this tragic picture is too obvious to need further illustration. Fatal to health of body, to peace of soul, to the very life itself, is the zymotic disease of lust. To the religious conscience thus the harlot appears; stripped of her paint and finery, her hypocrisy exposed, the poison of her being detected. It is the shadow of a life, and ends in emptiness, darkness, and ghostly gibbering.—J.
The principle of moral stability
This may be regarded as the epilogue or summary of the whole chapter. The object of all Wisdom's exhortations and warnings is the direction of youth to the good way, and that they may hold on the path of the just. For—
I. THE RIGHTEOUS HAVE A FUTURE BEFORE THEM. A "dwelling in the land"—the homeland; sound dear to an Israelitish ear. The form in which the happy future shall be realized may be first material, but only to pass into the spiritual. For ages Israel saw the promise under the image of material prosperity; afterwards, in the purification and enlightenment of her conscience by the gospel, she looked for a "better country, that is, an heavenly." Both senses may be included. The enlightened spirit knows how to idealize every material content, and will leave much undefined in the prospect. Enough to say of all the seekers of God's kingdom and righteousness, "They have a future before them." The soul itself suffices to itself for the scene el bliss, and converts the rich land of Canaan into the type of its inward joys and harvests of good.
II. THE WICKED HAVE NO FUTURE BEFORE THEM. That is, in the sense par excellence. Their doom is to be rooted out and cast forth from the land. What lies behind the material figure, who can say? To conceive it transcends the bounds of human thought. There is no travelling out of the analogies of experience possible. We reach at last a negative conception in the case both of future bliss and future woe. The Buddhists aim as their highest goal at the Nirvana, which is the negation of finite existence with its defects and evils. What must be the Nirvana of the wicked? The negation of the Infinite must mean confinement in self, and this is death indeed. They who have persistently said "No" to God and the good in their life will be confronted by an everlasting "No!" And thus again the wheel comes full circle, and they reap as they sow (comp. Matthew 7:24-27).—J.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The course, the goal, and the prize of wisdom
These are comprehensive verses; they include the three main features of the heavenly race.
I. THE COURSE OF THE WISDOM SEEKER. He who searches for wisdom is a wise runner in a heavenly race; he is pursuing an end which the Divine Author of his being distinctly and emphatically commends.
1. His search for life-giving truth must be characterized by readiness to receive. He must be wholly different in spirit from those who are disinclined to learn; still more must he be far removed from those who scornfully reject; he must be a son who "will receive the words" of wisdom—the words of the "only wise God," of him who is "the Wisdom of God" (Proverbs 2:1).
2. But there must be not only readiness; there should be eagerness to receive. He must "incline his ear" (Proverbs 2:2). Not only be prepared to listen when Wisdom speaks, but make a distinct and positive effort to learn the truth which affects him and which will bless him.
3. Beyond this, there must be carefulness to retain. The student must not let his mind be a sieve through which knowledge passes and from which it is readily lost; he must make it a reservoir which will retain; he is to "hide God's commandments" within him (Proverbs 2:1). to take them down into the deep places of the soul whence they will not escape.
4. Farther, there must be perseverance in the search. He must "apply his heart to understanding" (Proverbs 2:2). Not by "fits and starts" is the goal to be reached, but by steady, patient, continuous search.
5. And there must also be enthusiasm in the endeavour (Proverbs 2:3, Proverbs 2:4). With the impassioned earnestness with which a man who is lest in the pathless wood, or is sinking under the whelming wave, "cries" and "lifts up his voice," should the seeker after heavenly wisdom strive after the goal which is before him. With the untiring energy and inexhaustible ardour with which men toil for silver or dig for the buried treasure of which they believe themselves to have found the secret, should the soul strive and search alter the high end to which God is calling it.
II. THE GOAL HE WALL SURELY REACH. He who thus seeks for heavenly truth will attain that to which he is aspiring; "for the Lord giveth wisdom," etc. (Proverbs 2:6). There is no man who desires to be led into the path of that Divine wisdom which constitutes the life and joy of the soul, and who pursues that lofty and holy end in the spirit here commended, who will fail to reach the goal toward which he runs. That earnest and patient runner shall be helped of God; Divine resources shall be supplied to him; he shall run without weariness, he shall walk without fainting, till the winning post is clasped (see Matthew 5:6; Matthew 7:7, Matthew 7:8).
1. He shall apprehend the essential elements of religion. "Thou shall understand the fear of the Lord" (Proverbs 2:5). He will be led into a spiritual apprehension of that which constitutes the foundation and the essence of all true piety. He will be able to distinguish between the substance and the shadow, the reality and the pretence of religion.
2. He shall also—and this is a still greater thing—attain to a vital and redeeming knowledge of God himself. "Thou shall find the knowledge of God" (Proverbs 2:5). To know him is eternal life (John 17:3), But this knowledge must be—what in the case of the earnest disciple of heavenly wisdom it will become—a vital knowledge; it must be of the whole spiritual nature, and not only of the intellectual faculty. It must be a knowledge which
(1) engages the whole powers of the spirit;
(2) which brings joy to the soul;
(3) which leads to an honest effort after God-likeness.
III. THE PRIZE HE WILL WIN. It may be truly said that the runner in the race finds a deeper satisfaction in clasping the goal while his competitors are all behind him than in wearing the chaplet of honour on his brows. And it may be truly said that the most blessed guerdon which the heavenly runner wins is in that knowledge of God which is his "goal" rather than in the after honours which are his "prize." Yet we may well covet with intense eagerness the prize which Wisdom holds in her hand for those who are victorious. It includes much.
1. Stores of deep spiritual verities. "He layeth up sound wisdom," etc. (Proverbs 2:7)—greater and deeper insight into the most profound and precious truth.
2. Discernment of all practical wisdom. "Thou shall understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path" (Proverbs 2:9).
3. Divine guardianship along all the path of life. "He is a Buckler to them that walk uprightly. He keepeth the paths of judgment," etc. (Proverbs 2:7, Proverbs 2:8).—C.
The course of sin and the strength of righteousness
We have here portrayed for us—
I. THE SHOCKING COURSE OF SIN.
1. It begins in departure from rectitude. Evil men first manifest their error by "leaving the paths of uprightness." They were once under the wholesome restraints of righteousness. Parental control, the influences of the sanctuary and of virtuous society, held them in check, but these are thrown off; they have become irksome, and they are rebelled against and abandoned. The old and wise principles which were received and cherished are one by one discarded, and they stand unshielded, unguided, ready to wander in forbidden paths.
2. It continues in the practice of evil. Having thrown off old restraints, they "walk in the ways of darkness" (Proverbs 2:13); they proceed to do, habitually, those things which the unenlightened do—those things which shun the light and love the darkness; deeds of error and of shame.
3. It resorts to despicable shifts. "Whose ways are crooked" (Proverbs 2:15). Sin cannot walk straight on; it would be soon overtaken by penalty, or fall over the precipice. It is like men pursued of justice, who have to turn and double that they may elude those who are behind. The course of sin is twisted and tortuous; it resorts to cunning and craftiness. All manliness is eaten out of it; it has the spirit and habit of a slave (see Romans 6:16).
4. It hardens into utter perversity. They "are froward in their paths" (Proverbs 2:15); they "speak froward things" (Proverbs 2:12), i.e. they sink down into complete hardihood and spiritual stubbornness; their hearts are turned aside from all that is devout, pure, wise, and they have gone utterly after that which is profane and base.
5. It culminates in a hateful and hurtful propagandism. They "rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked" (Proverbs 2:14). Sin can go no further in enormity, no deeper in abasement, than when, rejoicing in iniquity, it seeks to lead others into the same guilt and vileness with itself. What a pitiful zealotry is this—the anxiety and pertinacity of sin in winning from the paths of rectitude the children of innocence and truth! What a saddening thought that thousands of our fellow men are actively occupied in this diabolical pursuit!
II. THE PERIL OF PIETY AND VIRTUE. Here, on earth, the purest virtue must walk side by side with the worst depravity. Sin sits down at the same hearth with goodness; profanity with piety. And thus brought into close contact, it is open to one to win or to seduce the other. We rejoice that godliness is seeking to gain impiety for God, but we mourn and tremble as we see sin seeking to pervert purity and goodness from "the right ways of the Lord." We are all open to human influence. The heart of man is responsive to human entreaty and example. But especially so is the heart of youth: that is tender, impressionable, plastic. Perhaps never a day passes but the sun looks down, in every land, on some young heart detached from truth, led into the path of evil, stained with sin, through the snares and wiles of guilty men. Who does not sigh with some feeling of solicitude as he sees the young man go forth from the shelter of the godly home into the world where the wicked wait, "rejoicing to do evil," and taking pride in the destruction they produce?
III. THE STRENGTH AND SECURITY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. When wisdom enters the heart and knowledge is pleasant to the soul, then discretion will preserve, and understanding will keep us (Proverbs 2:10, Proverbs 2:11). In other words, the cordial acceptance of the truth of God is the one security against sin. Delighting to do God's will, his Law being in the heart as well as in the understanding (Psalms 40:8), this will prove an effectual breakwater against the tides of evil. He that can say," O Lord, how love I thy Law!" (Psalms 119:1-176) will never have to utter words of bitter remorse and black despair. Would youth know the certain path of victory, and pursue that way which leads, not down to shame, but on and up to heavenly glory?
1. Let it regard with earnest gaze him who is the Wisdom of God in fullest revelation to the sons of men.
2. Yield to him its early, unbounded love.
3. Then will it find unfading joy in the Divine truth which flowed from his lilts, and which shone in his holy life. Whoso believes in him shall never be confounded.—C.
The way of sin: a sermon to young men
Reference is made here to one particular sin. While the words of the teacher are specially appropriate to it, they will also apply to all sin; they show the way it takes. Let us see—
I. THAT SIN IS THE CONTRADICTION OF THE DIVINE THOUGHT. It is a "strange" thing (Proverbs 2:16). The painted harlot is "the strange woman." And while the prostitution of a human being, meant to be a helpmeet for man in all his highest and holiest pursuits to a mere ministress to his unlawful lusts, is the very saddest departure from the Divine ideal, and amply justifies the use of the word "strange woman," we may remember that all sin is a strange thing in the universe of God. How it ever entered there is the problem which can never be solved. But meeting with it here. in whatever form, we say, "This is the contrary of the thought of the Supreme," "This is the exact opposite of his design," "This is something alien, unnatural, intrusive: cannot we cast it out?"
II. THAT SIN MUST STOOP TO FALSEHOOD IF IT WILL WIN ITS WAY. It "flattereth with its words" (Proverbs 2:16). Flattery is only another name for a sweet falsehood. The woman that is a sinner uses flattery to accomplish her ends. So sin cannot live without lying. That may be said of sin which was said of a great European usurper, that it "has deliberately taken falsehood into its service." But the most effective and destructive form of it is flattery. Let the young take earnest heed to their danger. When the lips of beauty speak soft and gratifying things, let purity beware; it is only too likely that temptation in its most seductive form is nigh, and that character and reputation are being insidiously assailed.
III. THAT SIN SINKS TO ITS DARKEST DEPTHS THROUGH VARIOUS VIOLATIONS. (Proverbs 2:17.) It is uncertain whether by the "guide of her youth" is to be understood her husband (see Malachi 2:14, Malachi 2:15), her parents, or her God. The second clause clearly refers to the marriage covenant, which is regarded as a sacred bond. Whichever be the correct view of the former clause, it is certain that the sinner of the text could only descend to her shameless depth by violating every promise she has made, by breaking through every fence which once stood between her and guilt. This is the inevitable course of sin. It violates first one vow, then another, until all sacred promises are broken.
(1) Deliberate resolutions,
(2) solemn assurances,
(3) formal vows;—all are infringed.
IV. THAT SIN LEADS STRAIGHT TO THE DOORWAY OF DEATH. (Proverbs 2:18, Proverbs 2:19.) It leads:
1. To physical death. Vice carries with it a penalty in the body; it robs of health and strength; it enfeebles; it sows seeds of sickness and death. The "graves of lust" are in every cemetery and churchyard in the land.
2. To spiritual death. "None that go unto her return again" as they went. Men come away from every unlawful indulgence other than they go—weaker and worse in soul. Alas for the morrow of incontinence, of whatever kind it be! The soul is injured; its self-respect is slain, its force is lessened; it is on the incline which slopes to death, and one step nearer to the foot of it. "Her house inclineth unto death."
3. To eternal death. They who resort to forbidden pleasure are fast on their way to the final condemnation; they have wandered long leagues from "the paths of life." We conclude with two admonitions:
(1) Keep carefully away from the beginnings of evil. Shun not only the "strange woman's" door, but the evil glance, the doubtful company, the impure book, the meretricious paper.
(2) The way of escape is immediate and total abandonment of sin. Such resolution made at once, seeking God's strength and grace, will permit the wanderer to "return again."—C.
Recompense and retribution
It ought to be enough for us that wisdom is the supremely excellent thing; that the service of God is the one right thing. We should hasten to do that which commends itself to our conscience as that which is obligatory. But God knows that, in our weakness and frailty, we have need of other inducements than a sense of duty; he has, therefore, given us others. He has made wisdom and righteousness to be immeasurably remunerative; he has made folly and sin to be utterly destructive to us. We look at—
I. THE REWARD OF WISDOM. (Proverbs 2:20, Proverbs 2:21.)
1. The man who pursues wisdom, who seeks conformity to the will of the Wise One, will have holy companionship for the path of life. He will walk in the way in which good and righteous men walk. Instead of being "the companion of fools," he will be "the friend of the wise." Those whose hearts are pure, whose minds are stored with heavenly treasure, and whose lives are admirable, will be about him, making his whole path fragrant with the flowers of virtue, rich with the fruits of goodness.
2. He will be upheld in personal integrity. Walking in the way of the good, and keeping the paths of the righteous, he himself will be preserved in his integrity, and be set before God's face forever (see Psalms 41:12). His feet will not slip; he will not wander into forbidden ways; he will keep "the King's highway of holiness;" his face will be ever set toward the heavenly Jerusalem.
3. He will dwell in the land of plenty (Proverbs 2:21). To "dwell in the land," to "remain" in the land of promise, was to abide in that country where all things in rich abundance waited for the possession and enjoyment of the people of God (Exodus 3:8). Those who are the children of wisdom now dwell in a region which is full of blessing. If outward prosperity be not always their portion, yet is there provided by God
(1) everything needful for temporal well being;
(2) fulness of spiritual privilege;
(3) the abiding presence and favour of the eternal Father, the unfailing Friend, the Divine Comforter.
II. THE FATE OF FOLLY. (Proverbs 2:22.) Those who were the children of folly in the wilderness period were shut out of the land of promise; they did not enter into rest. The threat of the Holy One to those who had inherited the land was deportation and distance from their inheritance—being "cut off" and "rooted out." The evils which foolish and stubborn souls have now to dread, as the just penalty of their folly and their frowardness, are
(1) exclusion from the "kingdom of God" on earth, and
(2) exile from the kingdom of God in heaven.
Such impenitent and unbelieving ones, by their own folly, cut themselves off from that "eternal life" which begins in a blessed and holy union with the Lord of glory here, and which is consummated and perpetuated in the nearer fellowship and more perfect bliss of heaven.—C.