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Bible Commentaries

John Trapp Complete Commentary
Proverbs 16

 

 

Verse 1

Proverbs 16:1 The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, [is] from the LORD.

Ver. 1. The preparations of the heart in man.] He saith not ‘of man’ as if it were in man’s power to dispose of his own heart, but "in man," as wholly wrought by God; for our sufficiency is not in ourselves, but "in him (as we live, so) we move" [Acts 17:28] - understand it of the motions of the mind also. It is he that "fashioneth the hearts of men," [Psalms 33:13] shaping them at his pleasure. He put small thoughts into the heart of Ahasuerus, but for great purposes. And so he did into the heart of our Henry VIII about his marriage with Katherine of Spain, the rise of that Reformation here, Quam desperasset aetas praeterita, admiratur praesens, obstupescet futura, (a) as Scultetus hath it, which former ages despaired of, the present admireth, and the future shall stand amazed at.

And the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.] For though a man have never so exactly marshalled his matter in hand, as it were in battle array, - as the Hebrew word (b) here imports, and as David, using the same word, saith, he will marshal his prayer, and then be as a spy upon a watch tower to see what became of it, whether he got the day, [Psalms 5:3] - though he have set down with himself both what and how to speak, so that it is not only scriptum in animo, sed sculpture etiam, as the orator said, yet he shall never be able to bring forth his conceptions without the obstetrication of God’s assistance. The most eloquent Demosthenes being sent various times in embassy to Philip, king of Macedonia, thrice stood speechless before him, and thrice more forgot what he intended to have spoken. (c) Likewise Latomas of Lovain, a great scholar, having prepared a set speech to be made before the emperor, Charles V, was so confounded when he came to deliver it that he uttered nothing but nonsense, and thereupon fell into a fit of despair. So Augustine, having once lost himself in a sermon, and wanting what else to say, fell upon the Manichees (a point that he had well studied), and by a good providence of God converted one there present, that was infected with that error. Digressions are not always useless. God’s Spirit sometimes draws aside the doctrine to satisfy some soul which the preacher knows not. But though God may force it, yet man may not frame it; and it is a most happy ability to speak punctually, directly, and readily to the point. The Corinthians had elocution as a special gift of God. And St Paul gives God "thanks for them, that in everything they were enriched by him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge." [1 Corinthians 1:5]


Verse 2

Proverbs 16:2 All the ways of a man [are] clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits.

Ver. 2. All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes.] Every man is apt to think well of his own doings, and would be sorry but his penny should be good silver. They that were born in hell know no other heaven; neither goes any man to hell but he hath some excuse for it. Quintilian could say, Sceleri nunquam defuisse rationem. As covetousness, so most other sins go cloaked and coloured. Sed sordet in conspectu iudiciis quod fulget in conspectu aestimantis. (a) All is not gold that gliters. A thing that I see in the night may shine, and that shining proceed from nothing but rottenness. Melius est pallens aurum, quam fulgens aurichalcum. (b) "That which is highly esteemed amongst men, is abomination in the sight of God." [Luke 16:15]

But the Lord weigheth the spirits.] Not speeches and actions only, as Proverbs 5:21, but men’s aims and insides. Men see but the surface of things, and so are many times mistaken, but God’s fiery eyes pierce into the inward parts, and there discover a newly found world of wickedness. He turns up the bottom of the bag, as Joseph’s steward did, and then out come all our thefts and misdoings that had so long lain latent.


Verse 3

Proverbs 16:3 Commit thy works unto the LORD, and thy thoughts shall be established.

Ver. 3. Commit thy works unto the Lord.] Depend upon him alone for direction and success; this is the readiest way to a holy security and sound settlement. Hang not in doubtful suspense, as meteors do in the air. Neither make discourses in the air, so one renders it, as those use to do, whose hearts are haunted with carking cares. Let not your thoughts be distracted about these things; so the Syriac hath it. But "cast your burden upon the Lord," [Psalms 55:22] by a writ of remove, as it were. Yea, "cast all your care upon God, for he careth for you." [1 Peter 5:7] I will be "careless" according to my name, said John Careless, martyr. "Commit the matter to God, and he will effect it." [Psalms 37:5]

And thy thoughts shall be established.] Never is the heart at rest till it repose upon God; till then it flickers up and down, as Noah’s dove did upon the face of the flood, and found no footing till she returned to the ark. This is certain, saith a reverend divine, (a) yet living, so far as a soul can stay on and trust in God, so far it enjoys a sweet settlement and tranquillity of spirit. Perfect trust is blessed with a perfect peace. A famous instance for this we have in our Saviour, "Now is my soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour; but for this cause came I to this hour. Father, glorify thy name." [John 12:27-28] All the while the eye of his humanity was fixed upon deliverance from the hour of temptation; there was no peace nor rest in his soul, because there he found not only uncertainty, but impossibility; "For this cause came I to this hour." But when he could come to this, "Father, glorify thy name" - when he could wait on, acquiesce in, and resign to the will of his Father - we never hear of any more objection, fear, or trouble. Thus he.


Verse 4

Proverbs 16:4 The LORD hath made all [things] for himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.

Ver. 4. The Lord hath made all things for himself.] That is, for his own glory, which he seeks in all his works. And well he may; for, first, He hath none higher than himself to whom to have respect; and, secondly, He is not in danger (as we should be in like case) of being puffed up or desirous of vain glory. Or thus, "He hath made all things for himself," that is, for the demonstration of his goodness, (a) according to that of Augustine, (b) Quia bonus est Deus sumus; et in quantum sumus, boni sumus. We owe both our being and wellbeing, and the glory of all to God alone. [Romans 11:36]

The wicked also for the day of evil,] i.e., Of. destruction. Hereof Dei voluntas est ratio rationam; nec tantum recta sed regula. (c) Howbeit, whereas divines make two parts of the decree of reprobation - viz., preterition and predamnation - all agree for the latter, saith a learned interpreter, that God did never determine to damn any man for his own pleasure, but the cause of his perdition was his own sin. And there is a reason for it. For God may, to show his sovereignty, annihilate his creature; but to appoint a reasonable creature to an estate of endless pain, without respect of his desert, cannot agree to the unspotted justice of God. And for the other part, of passing over and forsaking a great part of men for the glory of his justice, the exactest divines do not attribute that to the mere will of God, but hold that God did first look upon those men as sinners, at least in the general corruption brought in by the fall; for all men have sinned by Adam, and are guilty of high treason against God.


Verse 5

Proverbs 16:5 Every one [that is] proud in heart [is] an abomination to the LORD: [though] hand [join] in hand, he shall not be unpunished.

Ver. 5. Every one that is proud in heart, &c.] That lifts up himself against God and his righteous decree; daring to reprehend what they do not comprehend about the doctrine of reprobation, as those chatters, Romans 9:20. These, while, like proud and yet brittle clay, they will be knocking their sides against the solid and eternal decrees of God - called mountains of brass [Zechariah 6:1] - break themselves in pieces. So likewise do such as "stumble at the word, being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed." [1 Peter 2:8] How much better were it for them to take the prophet’s counsel, "Hear, and give ear, be not proud, for the Lord hath spoken it. Give glory to the Lord your God" - let him be justified and every mouth stopped, subscribe to his most perfect justice, though it were in your own utter destruction - "before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains." [Jeremiah 13:15-16] That was a proud and atheistic speech of Louis XI, Si salvabor, salvabor; si veto damnabor damnabor: If I shall be saved, I shall be saved; and if I shall be damned, I shall be damned; and there is all the care that I shall take. Not unlike to this was that wretched resolution of one Ruffus, of whom it is reported that he painted God on the one side of his shield, and the devil on the other, with this mad motto, Si tu me nolis, iste rogitat: If thou wilt not have me, here is one who will!

Though hand join in hand.] {See Trapp on "Proverbs 11:21"} Some make "hand in hand" to be no more than ‘out of hand,’ ‘immediately’ or ‘with ease’; for nothing is sooner or with more ease done than to fold one hand in another. God "shall spread forth his hands in the midst of them, as he that swimmeth spreadeth forth his hands to swim, and he shall bring down their pride together with the spoil of their hands." [Isaiah 25:11] The motion in swimming is easy, not strong; for strong strokes in the water would rather sink than support. God with greatest facility can subdue his stoutest adversary when once it comes to handy gripes; when once his hand joins to the proud man’s hand - so some sense this text - so that they do manus conserere, then shall it appear that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." [Hebrews 10:31]


Verse 6

Proverbs 16:6 By mercy and truth iniquity is purged: and by the fear of the LORD [men] depart from evil.

Ver. 6. By mercy and truth iniquity is purged.] Lest the proud person, bearing these dreadful threats, sbould fall into despair, here is a way shewed him how to escape. "By mercy and truth"; that is, by the goodness and faithfulness of God; by his love tbat moved him to promise pardon to the penitent, and by his truth that binds him to perform; "iniquity" - though never so hateful, be it blasphemy or any like heinous sin [Matthew 12:31] - "is purged," or expiated, viz., through Christ, "who is the propitiation for our sins." [1 John 2:2 Proverbs 14:22] {See Trapp on "Proverbs 14:22"}

And by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.] As in the former clause were declared the causes of justification, so here the exercise of sanctification, for these two go ever together. Christ doth not only wash all his in "the fountain" of his blood "opened for sin and for uncleanness," [Zechariah 13:1] but healeth their natures of that swinish disposition, whereby they would else wallow again in their former filth. The laver and altar under the law situated in the same priest’s court signified the same, as the water and blood issuing out of Christ’s side, viz., the necessary concurrence of justification and sanctification in all that shall be saved: that [the latter] was intimated by the laver and water; this [the former] by the altar and blood.


Verse 7

Proverbs 16:7 When a man’s ways please the LORD, he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.

Ver. 7. When a man’s ways please the Lord.] Sin is the only make-bait that sets God and man at difference. Now, when God is displeased, all his creatures are up in arms to fetch in his rebels, and to do execution. "Who then would set the briars and thorns against him in battle? Would he not go through them? Would he not burn them together? Let him then take hold of my strength, saith God, that he may make peace with me, and he shall make peace with me." [Isaiah 27:4-5] And not with God only, but with the creature too, that gladly takes his part, and is at his beck and check. Laban followed Jacob with one troop, Esau met him with another, both with hostile intentions. But God so wrought for Jacob, whom he had chosen, that Laban leaves him with a kiss, Esau meets him with a kiss. Of the one he hath an oath, tears of the other - peace with both. Who shall need to fear men that is in league with God?


Verse 8

Proverbs 16:8 Better [is] a little with righteousness than great revenues without right.

Ver. 8. Better is a little with righteousness, &c.] A small stock well gotten is more comfortably enjoyed and bequeathed to posterity than a cursed hoard of evil gotten goods. The reason why people "please not God, and are contrary to all men" - as this verse refers to the former - is, because they prefer gain before God, and care not how they wrong men so they may have it. See Proverbs 15:16.


Verse 9

Proverbs 16:9 A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.

Ver. 9. A man’s heart deviseth his way, but God directeth his steps.] Man purposeth, God disposeth of all. [Proverbs 19:21] Events many times cross expectation, "neither is it in man to order his own ways." [Jeremiah 10:23] This the heathen saw, and were much troubled at, (a) as were the Athenians when their good General Nicias lost himself and his army in Sicily. So the Romans when Pompey, Cato, and others, worthy patriots, were worsted by Julius Caesar. Brutus, a wise and valiant man overthrown by Antony, cries out, ω πλημων αρετη, &c., O miserable virtue, thou art a mere slave to fortune! Christians have learned better language, and can set down themselves with sounder reason if crossed of their designs or desires. They know "it is the Lord"; they are "dumb, because it is his doing," and they are "punished less than their deserts." [Ezra 9:13] Pompey, that seeing all to go on Caesar’s side, said there was a great deal of mist over the eye of Providence, did no better than blame the sun, because of his sore eyes. (b)


Verse 10

Proverbs 16:10 A divine sentence [is] in the lips of the king: his mouth transgresseth not in judgment.

Ver. 10. A divine sentence is in the lips of the king.] It is, or should be. His words usually pass for oracles, and many times stand for laws. It should be his care, therefore, to "speak as the oracles of God." [1 Peter 4:11] Yea, "so to speak, and so to do, as one that shall be judged by the law of liberty," [James 2:12] or, as some read it, As they that should judge by the law of liberty. Our old word Koning, and by contraction King, comes of Con, saith Becanus, which comprehends three things, Possum, scio, audeo - I can do it, I know how to do it, and I dare do it. If either he want power, or skill, or courage to do justice, the people, instead of admiring his divinations, will cry out of him, as the Romans did of Pompey, Miseria nostra magnus est: This great one is our great misery.

His mouth transgresseth not in judgment.] Viz, If he ask counsel at God’s mouth, as David did, and execute "justice, justice," as Moses speaks, {Deuteronomy 16:20, marg.} that is, pure justice, without mud or mixture of selfish affections sparing neither the great for might, nor the mean for misery.


Verse 11

Proverbs 16:11 A just weight and balance [are] the LORD’S: all the weights of the bag [are] his work.

Ver. 11. A just weight and balance are the Lord’s,] i.e., Are commanded and commended by him. [Proverbs 2:1 Deuteronomy 25:14-16] {See Trapp on "Deuteronomy 25:14"} {See Trapp on "Deuteronomy 25:15"} {See Trapp on "Deuteronomy 25:16"}

All the weights of the bag are his work,] i.e., His ordinance, and therefore not to be violated. Yea, they are iudicia Domini, as the Vulgate here reads the former clause, God’s judgments. "Let no man therefore go beyond or defraud his brother" in buying and selling, "for God is the avenger of all such." [1 Thessalonians 4:6] Surely his magistrates must not transgress in judgment, lest they prove but fures publici, as Cato (a) called them; latrones cum privilegio (b) as Columella, public thieves; "scabs," as the prophet Isaiah terms them, {Isaiah 5:7, marg.} and lest their regiment without righteousness appear to be but robbery with authority. So neither must private persons cheat and deceive their brethren by false weights and measures, &c., lest they be looked upon as the botches of the commonwealth, and enemies to civil society.


Verse 12

Proverbs 16:12 [It is] an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness.

Ver. 12. It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness.] It is so for any man, but especially for great men. Peter Martyr told Queen Elizabeth in an epistle, that princes were doubly obliged to God: first, as men; secondly, as chief men. When I was born into the world, said Henry IV of France, there were thousands of others born besides myself; what have I done to God more than they? It is his mere grace and mercy which doth bind me more unto his justice; for the faults of great men are never small. (a) Thus he. It is reported of Tamberlane, (b) that warlike Scythian, that having overcome Bajazet the great Turk, he asked him whether ever he had given God thanks for making him so great an emperor? who confessed ingenuously he never thought of it. To whom Tamberlane replied, that it was no wonder so ungrateful a man should be made a spectacle of misery. For you, saith he, being blind of one eye, and I lame of a leg, was there any worth in us, why God should set us over two great empires of Turks and Tartars, to command many more worthy than ourselves? Good turns aggravate unkindnesses; and men’s offences are increased by their obligations.

For the throne is established by righteousness.] Politicians give many directions for the upholding and conserving of kingdoms; but this of Solomon is far beyond them all. See it exemplified in Jeremiah 22:15-20, "Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? Did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him?" &c.


Verse 13

Proverbs 16:13 Righteous lips [are] the delight of kings; and they love him that speaketh right.

Ver. 13. Righteous lips are the delight of kings,] i.e., Of good kings, such as David was, who loved Nathan never the worse, but the better, for dealing plainly with him, gave him free access to his bedchamber, and named him a commissioner for the declaring of his successor. [1 Kings 1:32] King Edward VI took much delight in Latimer, that faithful preacher; and Queen Elizabeth inquired much after Dearing, after she had once heard him telling her in a sermon that once it was tanquam ovis, but now velar indomita iuvenca, &c. But Dearing was without her knowledge laid up fast enough by the bishops, and kept far enough from coming near the court any more.

And they love him that speaketh right.] They should do so; but it happens somewhat otherwise ofttimes. Ahab hated Micaiah, and looked upon Elijah as a troubler of Israel. Alas! what had these righteous ones done? They taxed his sin, they foretold his judgment; they deserved it not, they inflicted it not, they were therefore "become his enemies, because they told him the truth." Truth breeds hatred, as the fair nymphs are feigned to do the ugly fawns and satyrs. Most princes are held by their parasites, who soothe them up in their sins, and smooth them up with fair words, which soak into them as oil doth into earthen vessels. David was none such; [Psalms 101:3-5] he went not attended, saith one, ut nunc fit, magno agmine aionum, negonum, ganeonum, palponum, gnathonum, balatronum, with a great sort of sycophants, courtparasites, flatterers, &c., but had the best he could pick to be next his person, and loved them that spoke right.


Verse 14

Proverbs 16:14 The wrath of a king [is as] messengers of death: but a wise man will pacify it.

Ver. 14. The wrath of a king is as messengers of death.] In the plural number, the better to set forth the danger of a king’s displeasure. (a) "Thou shalt surely die, Ahimelech." [1 Samuel 22:16] "Adonijah shall be put to death this day." [1 Kings 2:24] "Hang Haman on the tree that is fifty cubits high," &c. Hunc pugionem tibi mittit senatus, &c. Queen Elizabeth was so reserved, that all about her stood in a reverent awe of her very presence and aspect, but much more of her least frown or check; wherewith some of them, who thought they might best presume of her favour, have been so suddenly daunted and planet stricken that they could not lay down the grief thereof but in their grave. (b) One of these was Sir Christopher Hatton, Lord Chancellor, who died of a flux of urine and grief of mind. Neither could the queen, having once cast him down with a word, raise him up again, though she visited and comforted him. (c)

But a wise man will pacify it.] Either by some prudent speech or political device, as Abigail did David, and David Saul; as Benhadad’s servants did Ahab, and as our King Edward I’s servant did him. (d) For this king venturing his life, by spurring his horse into a deep river, only to be revenged on his servant that had incensed him by a saucy answer, was soon pacified when once he saw him on his bended knees, exposing his neck to the blow of the drawn sword, wherewith the king pursued him.


Verse 15

Proverbs 16:15 In the light of the king’s countenance [is] life; and his favour [is] as a cloud of the latter rain.

Ver. 15. In the light of the king’s countenance is life.] As when it is well with the head, it is the better with all the members; and as when the sky is clear, the bodies of men are in better temper. When David had given Ziba the land, "I humbly beseech thee," said he, "that I may find grace in thy sight, my lord king." [2 Samuel 16:4] As if he should say, I had rather have the king’s favour than the lands. Artabazus (in Xenophon) complained when Cyrus had given him a cup of gold, and Chrysantas a kiss in token of his special favour, saying, that the cup that he gave him was not so good gold as the kiss that he gave Chrysantas.

Ut mala nulla feram nisi nudam Caesaris iram,

Nuda parum nobis Caesaris ira mali est?’

- Ovid.

And his favour is as a cloud of the latter rain.] That refresheth the ground after drought, and ripeneth the corn before harvest. In the island of St Thomas, on the back side of Africa, in the midst of it is a hill, and over that a continual cloud wherewith the whole island is watered. {a} Christo optime congruit haec sententia, saith Lavater here. This saying of Solomon may very fitly be applied to Christ, the King Immortal. "He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth"; [Psalms 72:6] one cast of his countenance is more worth to a David than all the world’s wealth, [Psalms 4:7-8] yea, more worth than the corporeal presence of Christ: therefore he tells his disciples they shall be great gainers by losing of him; for I will send you the Comforter, who shall seal up my love to you, and shed it abroad in your hearts.


Verse 16

Proverbs 16:16 How much better [is it] to get wisdom than gold! and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver!

Ver. 16. How much better is it to get wisdom than gold,] q.d., It is unspeakably better to get grace than gold; for what is gold and silver but the guts and garbage of the earth? and what serves it to but the life that now is, the back and belly? and what is the happiness that a man hath in much store of it but skin deep, or rather imaginary? "Surely man walketh in a vain show, in heaping up riches." [Psalms 39:6] That I speak not of the uncertainty of riches, their commonness to the wicked also, the insincerity of the comforts they yield, and their utter insufficiency to fill the infinite heart of man. Non enim plus satiatur cor auro quam corpus aura. The contrary of all which is true of heavenly wisdom. "How much better is it, therefore, to get wisdom than gold."


Verse 17

Proverbs 16:17 The highway of the upright [is] to depart from evil: he that keepeth his way preserveth his soul.

Ver 17. The highway of the upright is to depart from evil.] That is his road, his desire and endeavour, his general purpose, though sometimes (by mistake, or violence of temptation), he step out of the way, and turn aside to sin, yet there is no "way of wickedness" [Psalms 139:24] in him. His endeavour is, with Paul, to walk in all good conscience, to shape his course by the chart of God’s Word, to shun sin as a serpent in his way, as poison in his meats.

He that keepeth his way, preserveth his soul.] As, if a man be out of God’s precincts, he is out of his protection. "He shall keep thee in all thy ways," [Psalms 91:11] not in all thine out strays. He that leaves the highway, and takes to byways, travelling at unseasonable hours, &c., if he fall into foul hands, he may go look his remedy; the law allows him none.


Verse 18

Proverbs 16:18 Pride [goeth] before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

Ver. 18. Pride goeth before destruction.] A bulging wall is near a downfall. Swelling is a dangerous symptom in the body; so is pride in the soul. Sequitur superbos ultor a tergo Deus. (a) Surely, as the swelling of the spleen is dangerous for health, and of the sails for the overbearing of a little vessel, so is the swelling of the heart by pride. Instances hereof we have in history not a few. Pharaoh, Adonibezek, Agag, Haman, Herod, &c. Xerxes, having covered the seas with his ships, and with two millions of men, and passed over into Greece, was afterwards, by a just hand of God upon him for his prodigious pride, forced to flee back in a poor fisher’s boat, which, being overburdened, had sunk all, if the Persians, by the casting away of themselves, had not saved the life of their king. (b) It was a great foretoken of Darius’s ruin, when in his proud embassy to Alexander he called himself the king of kings and cousin of the gods; but for Alexander he called him his servant. (c) The same senators that accompanied proud Sejanus to the senate conducted him the same day to prison; they which sacrificed unto him as to their god, which erst kneeled down to adore him, scoffed at him, seeing him dragged from the temple to the jail - from supreme honour to extreme ignominy. (d) Sigismund, the young King of Hungary, beholding the greatness of his army, in his great jollity, hearing of the coming of the Turks, proudly said, What need we fear the Turk, who need not at all to fear the falling of the heavens; which, if they should fall, yet were we able, with our spears and halberts, to hold them up from falling upon us? He afterwards shortly received a notable overthrow, lost most of his men, and was himself glad to get over Danube in a little boat to save his life. (e) What should I speak of Bajazet, the terror of the world, and, as he thought, superior to fortune, yet in an instant, with his state, in one battle, overthrown into the bottom of misery and despair, and that in the midst of his greatest strength? (f)


Verse 19

Proverbs 16:19 Better [it is to be] of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.

Ver. 19. Better it is to be of a humble spirit.] A humble man is worth his weight in gold; he hath far more comfort in his losses than proud giants have in their rapines and robberies. Truth it is, that meekness of spirit commonly draws on injuries. A crow will pull wool from a sheep’s side; she durst not do so to a wolf or mastiff. Howbeit, it is much better to suffer wrong than to do it; to be patient than to be insolent; to be lowly in heart and low of port than to enjoy "the pleasures," or treasures, "of sin for a season."


Verse 20

Proverbs 16:20 He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy [is] he.

Ver. 20. He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good.] Doing things with due deliberation and circumspection, things of weight and importance especially - for here Deliberandum est diu, quod statuendum est semel - we may look for God’s blessing, when the best that can come of rashness is repentance. Youth rides in post to be married, but in the end finds the inn of repentance to be lodged in. The best may be sometimes miscarried by their passions to their cost, as good Josiah when he encountered the King of Egypt, and never so much as sent to Jeremiah, Zephaniah, or any other prophet then living, to ask, Shall I go up against Pharaoh or not?

And whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.] Let a man handle his matter never so wisely, yet if he trust to his own wisdom, he must not look to find good. God will cross even the likeliest projects of such, and crack the strongest sinew in all the arm of flesh. The Babylonians held their city impregnable, and boasted, as Xenophon witnesseth, that they had twenty years’ provision beforehand; but God confuted their carnal confidence. The Jews in Isaiah, when they looked for an invasion, looked in that day to the armour of the house of the forest, and "gathered together the waters of the lower pool, numbered the houses, and cast up the ditches to fortify the wall; but they looked not all this while to God their Maker," &c. Therefore they had "a day of trouble, and of treading down, and of perplexity, by the Lord God of hosts in the valley of vision." [Isaiah 22:5; Isaiah 22:8-10] Where the beginning is creature confidence or self-conceitedness, the end is commonly shame and confusion, in any business. Whereas he that, in the use of lawful means, resteth upon God for direction and success, though he fail in his design, yet he knows whom he hath trusted, and God will "know his soul in adversity." [Psalms 31:7]


Verse 21

Proverbs 16:21 The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.

Ver. 21. The wise in heart shall be called prudent.] He shall have the style and esteem of an intelligent, though not, haply, of an eloquent man. Of some it may be said, as Solinus (a) saith of his poly-histor to his friend Antius, Fermentum (ut ita dicam) cognitionis, ei magis in esse, quam bracteas eloquentiae deprehendas, - You may find more worth of wisdom in them than force of words. Bonaventure requireth to a perfect speech congruity, truth, and ornament. This latter some wise men want, and it is their ornament that they neglect ornament, as Cicero writes of Atticus, (b) and as Beza writes of Calvin, that he was facundiae contemptor et verborum parcus, sed minime ineptus scriptor - a plain but profitable author.

And the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.] That is, eloquence with prudence edifieth, and is of singular use for the laying forth of a man’s talent to the good of others. As one being asked whether light was pleasant, replied, That is a blind man’s question; (c) so if any ask whether eloquence and a gracious utterance be useful in the Church of God, it is an insulse (d) and inficete (e) question. Zaneby, speaking of Calvin and Viret - who were preachers together at Geneva when he first came there out of Italy - uses these words: Sicut in Calvino insignem doctrinam, sic in Vireto singularein eloquentiam, et in commovendis affectibus efficacitatem admirabar; { f} i.e., As Calvin I admired for excellent learning, so did I Viret no less for his singular eloquence and efficacy in drawing affections. Beza also was of the same mind, as appears by that epigram of his:

“Gallica mirata est Calvinum ecclesia nuper,

Quo nemo docuit doctius:

Et miratur adhuc fundentem mella Viretum,

Quo nemo fatur dulcius.”


Verse 22

Proverbs 16:22 Understanding [is] a wellspring of life unto him that hath it: but the instruction of fools [is] folly.

Ver. 22. Understanding is a well spring of life.] Vena vitae - as the heart is the principle of life, the brain of sense, so is wisdom in the heart of all good carriage in the life, and of a timely laying hold upon eternal life; besides the benefit that other men make of it, by fetching water thence as from a common well.

But the instruction of fools is folly.] When they would show most gravity they betray their folly. They act not from an inward principle, therefore they cannot quit themselves so, but that their folly at length will appear to all men that "have their senses exercised to discern between good and evil." [Hebrews 5:14] There are that read the text, Castigalio stultorum stultitia est. It is a folly to correct or instruct a fool, for it is to no more purpose than to wash a blackmore, &c.


Verse 23

Proverbs 16:23 The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips.

Ver. 23. The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth.] Frameth his speech for him, and seasoneth it with salt of grace, ere it sets it as a dish before the hearers. Nescit poeuitenda loqui qui proferenda prius suo tradidit examini, saith Cassiodore. (a) He cannot lightly speak amiss that weighs his words before he utters them. The voice which is made in the mouth is nothing so melodious as that which comes from the depth of the breast Heart sprung speech hath weight and worth in it.

And addeth learning to his lips.] By restraining talkativeness, and making him as willing to hear as to speak, to learn as to teach, to be an auditor as an orator.


Verse 24

Proverbs 16:24 Pleasant words [are as] an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.

Ver. 24. Pleasant words are as a honeycomb.] Dainty and delicious, such as "the preacher set himself to search out"; [Ecclesiastes 12:10] such as his father David found God’s words to be; [Psalms 119:103] "wells of salvation." [Isaiah 12:3] "Breasts of consolation"; [Isaiah 66:11] the honey drops of Christ’s mouth. [Song of Solomon 5:16] Oh, hang upon his holy lips, as they did! [Luke 19:48] Hast thou found honey with Samson? Eat it as he did. [Proverbs 25:16] Eat God’s book as John did; [Revelation 10:9] find fatness and sweetness in it. [Psalms 63:5] Get "joy and gladness" out of it. [Psalms 51:8] And if at any time the word, in searching our wounds, put us to pain, as honey will cause pain to exulcerate parts, let us bear it, and not be like children, who, though they like honey well, yet will they not endure to have it come near their lips when they have sore mouths.

Sweet to the soul, health to the bones,] i.e., Satisfactory to the mind and medicinal also to the body, which many times follows the temperament of the mind. Alphonsus, King of Sicily, is said to have recovered from a dangerous disease by the pleasure that he took in reading Quintus Curtius, and some others in like sort by reading Livy, Aventine, &c. But these were "physicians of no value" to that of David. "Unless thy law had been my delight, I should then have perished in mine affliction." [Psalms 119:92] Look how those that are fallen into a swoon may be fetched again with cold water sprinkled on their faces, or with hot water poured down their throats. So those that are troubled in mind may by patience and comfort of the Scriptures recover hope.


Verse 25

Proverbs 16:25 There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof [are] the ways of death.

Ver. 25. There is a way that seemeth right to a man.] This we had before, totidem verbis, in Proverbs 14:12; {See Trapp on "Proverbs 14:12"} And think not this a vain repetition; but know that it is thus redoubled, that it may be the better remarked and remembered. Nothing is more ordinary or more dangerous than self-delusion. To deceive another is naught, but to deceive thyself - which yet most men do - is much worse; as to belie one’s self, kill one’s self, &c., is counted most abominable. To warn us therefore of this greatest wickedness, it is that this sentence is reiterated.


Verse 26

Proverbs 16:26 He that laboureth laboureth for himself; for his mouth craveth it of him.

Ver. 26. He that laboureth, laboureth for himself.] He earns it to eat it, he gets it with his hands to maintain "the life of his hands," as it is therefore also called [Isaiah 57:10] Animantis cuiusque vita in fuga est, saith the philosopher; Life will away if not repaired by aliment. Et dii boni; quantum hominum unus exereet venter! (a) Oh what ado there is to provide meat for the belly! There are those who make too much ado, while they make it "their god," [Philippians 3:19] as did that Pamphagus, Nabal; those in St Paul’s time, that "served not the Lord Jesus Christ, but their own bellies"; and our Abbey lubbers, Quorum luxuriae totus non sufficit orbis; O monachi, vestri stomachi, &c. See my Common Place of Abstinence.

For his mouth craveth it of him.] Heb., Bows down to him, or upon him, either as a suppliant or as importunately urgent. (b) The belly hath no ears; necessity hath no law. Malesuada fames will have it if it be to be had. Drusus, meat being denied him, did eat the very stuffings of his bed; but that was not nourishment. (c) The stomach of man is a monster, saith one, which, being contained in so little a bulk as the body, is able to consume and devour all things; and yet is not consumed of itself, nor destroyed by that heat that digesteth all that comes into it.


Verse 27

Proverbs 16:27 An ungodly man diggeth up evil: and in his lips [there is] as a burning fire.

Ver. 27. An ungodly man diggeth up evil,] i.e., He ransacketh and raketh out of the dust, out of the dunghill, such old evils as have long lain hid, to lay in the saints’ dishes, and to upbraid them with. Thus the Manichees dealt by Augustine when they could not answer his arguments, they hit him in the teeth with his youthful follies; whereunto his reply was only this, Quae vos reprehenditis, ego damnavi: What you discommend in me, I have long since condemned. The malicious Papists did the like to reverend Beza, reprinting his wit-wanton poems (put forth in his youth), on purpose to despite him; and objecting to him his former miscarriage which he had sorely repented. This, when one of them did with great bitterness, all the answer he had, was, Hic homo invidet mihi gratiam Christi; This man envies me the grace of Jesus Christ. Neither dealt Aaron and Miriam much more gently with their brother Moses, [Numbers 12:1] when they "spake against him because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married." Who was this Ethiopian woman but Zipporah? - for an Ethiopian and a Midianite are all one and the same. And when did he marry her? Many a year ago. [Exodus 2:21] But they were resolved to pick a hole in Moses’s coat; and having nothing else to fasten on, they dig up this evil, and throw it as dirt in his face.

In his lips there is a burning fire.] The tongue, in its shape and colour, resembleth a flame of fire. "It is oft set on fire of hell, and itself setteth on fire the whole course of nature." [James 3:6] "Their breath, as fire, shall devour you," [Isaiah 33:10] as the fire of Etna devoured Empedocles, that would needs go too near it. "But what shall be given unto thee, or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue?" - false though thou speak the truth, if with a mind to do mischief: - "Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper," [Psalms 120:3-4] yea, that very fire of hell, from whence thou wast enkindled.


Verse 28

Proverbs 16:28 A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends.

Ver. 28. A froward man soweth strife.] The Belialist before mentioned, [Proverbs 16:27] as he digs, so he sows; but as ill seed as may be, that which comes not up but with a curse, as cud-weed, (a) and devil’s bit. He is a sedulous seedsman of sedition; this bad seed he sows in every furrow where he can find footing.

And a whisperer separateth even very friends.] A pestilent tale bearer that carries tales, and so sows strife. Such were Doeg and other abjects that tare David’s name, "and ceased not," [Psalms 35:15] tossing it with their carrion mouths as dogs, buzzing into Saul’s ears ever and anon that which might set him agog against him. Such also were those malicious make baits the Pharisees, who, when they thought the disciples had offended, spake not to them, but to their Master, "Why do thy disciples that which is not lawful?" As when they thought Christ offended, they spake not to him, but to his disciples. Thus these whisperers went about to "separate very friends," to make a breach in the family of Christ, by setting off the one from the other. "The words of such whisperers are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly." [Proverbs 18:8] They are like the wind that creeps in by the chinks and crevices in a wall, or the cracks in a window, that commonly prove more dangerous than a storm that meets a man in the face upon the champion [the plain].


Verse 29

Proverbs 16:29 A violent man enticeth his neighbour, and leadeth him into the way [that is] not good.

Ver. 29. A violent man enticeth his neighbour.] As those seducers at Ephesus "dragged disciples after them" (a) [Acts 20:30] compelling them by their persuasions to embrace distorted doctrines, such as cause convulsions of conscience. Such are said to "thrust men out of God’s ways"; [Deuteronomy 13:5] as Jeroboam did the house of Israel; as Julian and other cunning persecutors did in the primitive times, prevailing as much by their tising tongues, as by their terrifying saws. (b) Hebrews 11:37, "They were sawn asunder, they were tempted." The apostle ranks and reckons their alluring promises among their violent practices. But "though they speak fair, believe them not; for there are seven abominations in their hearts." [Proverbs 26:25]


Verse 30

Proverbs 16:30 He shutteth his eyes to devise froward things: moving his lips he bringeth evil to pass.

Ver. 30. He shutteth his eyes to devise froward things.] Wicked men are great students; they beat their brains and close their eyes that they may revolve and excogitate mischief with more freedom of mind. They search the devil’s skull for new devices, and are very intentive to invent that which may do harm; their wits will better serve them to find out a hundred shifts or carnal arguments, than to yield to one saving truth, though never so much cleared up to them.

Moving his lips, he bringeth evil to pass.] Mumbling and muttering to himself, and so calling the devil into counsel, he hath him at hand to bring about the business. Bartolus (a) writes of Doctor Gabriel Nele, that by the only motion of the lips, without any utterance, he understood all men, perceived and read every man’s mind in his countenance. If Nele could do so, how much more the devil? who, besides his natural sagacity, hath had so long experience, and both knows and furthers those evil plots and practices that he himself hath injected into wicked hearts.


Verse 31

Proverbs 16:31 The hoary head [is] a crown of glory, [if] it be found in the way of righteousness.

Ver. 31. The hoary head is a crown of glory.] Old age and honour are of great affinity in the Greek tongue. (a) God gave order that the aged should be honoured. [Leviticus 19:32] {See Trapp on "Leviticus 19:32"}

Credebant hoc grande nefas, et morro piandum,

Si iuvenis vetulo non assurrexerat. ”

- Juvenal, sat. 13.

There is a certain plant (which our herbalists call herbam impiam, or wicked cudweed) (b) whose younger branches still yield flowers to overtop the elder. Such weeds grow too rife abroad. It is an ill soil that produceth them.

If it be found in the way of righteousness.] Canities tunc venerabilis est, quando ea gerit quae canitiem decent, &c., saith old Chrysostom. (c) Hoariness is then only honourable when it doth such things as become such an age; else it is mucor potius quam canities, rather filthy mouldiness than venerable hoar headedness. Manna, the longer it was kept against the command of God, the more it stank. What can be more odious than an old goat, an old fornicator? &c. What more ridiculous than puer centum annorum, a child, of fourscore or a hundred years old? Turpis et ridieulosa res est elementarius senex, saith Seneca. (d) An A B C old man is a shameful sight. Nectarius, that succeeded Nazianzen at Antioch, had little else to commend him to the place but a goodly gray beard and a graceful countenance. (e) Whereas of Abraham it is reported that he went to his grave in a good old age, or, as the Hebrew hath it, with a good gray head. Pluck out the gray hairs of virtue, and the gray head cannot shine with any great glory.


Verse 32

Proverbs 16:32 [He that is] slow to anger [is] better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.

Ver. 32. He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty.] Unruly passions are those Turks, saith one, that we must constantly make war with. Those Spaniards, with whom, as another saith, whoever made peace, gained nothing but repentance. Pax erit infida, pax incerta, as Livy (a) saith of that which the Romans made with the Samnites; a peace worse than war, as Augustine (b) saith of the peace brought in by Sulla. Men must be at deadly feud with those "lusts that war in their members," [James 4:1] "fighting against their souls." [1 Peter 2:11] These to conquer is the noblest and most signal victory, since in subduing these we overcome the devil, [Ephesians 4:26 James 4:7] as in yielding to them, we "give place" to him, and entertain him into our very bosoms. Passionate persons, though they be not drunk, yet are not they their own men; but have so many lusts, so many lords, conquering countries, as Alexander, vanquished of vices; or as the Persian kings, who commanded the whole world, but were commanded by their concubines. How much better Valentinian the emperor, who said, upon his deathbed, that among all his victories one only comforted him; and being asked what that was, he answered, I have overcome my worst enemy, mine own naughty heart.

Latius regnes, avidum domando

Spiritum, quam si Lybiam remotis

Gadibus iungas, et uterque poenus

Serviat uni. ”

- Horat., Carm., lib. ii.

I cannot better translate it than by Solomon’s next words,

He that ruleth his spirit, is better than he that taketh a city.] See this exemplified in Jacob, who did better, when he heard of the rape of Dinah, in "holding his peace," than his sons did in taking and pillaging the city Shechem. [Genesis 34:5] None was to triumph in Rome that had not gotten five victories. (c) He shall never triumph in heaven that subdueth not his five senses himself.


Verse 33

Proverbs 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof [is] of the LORD.

Ver. 33. The lot is cast into the lap.] This sentence at first sight seems light and unworthy of the place it holds in this book. But as every line in the holy Bible is pure, precious, and profitable, so this sets forth a matter of very great moment - viz., that the providence of God extendeth to the disposing of all things, even those things, also, that in regard of as are merely contingent and casual. Lottery is guided by providence, as in the finding out of Achan, designing of Saul to be king, dividing the land among the Israelites, &c. Chance-medley (a) is providence [Exodus 22:1-31] Cambyses, lighting off his horse, after he had been showing great cruelty to them of Athens, his sword flew out of his scabbard and slew him. Disponit Deus membra pulicis et culicis, saith Augustine: God disposeth of gnats and flies. Birds flying seem to fly at liberty, yet are they guided by an overruling hand; [Matthew 10:26-31] he teacheth them to build their nests; [Psalms 84:3] ק in the word קן for a nest there is written bigger than ordinary, to imply so much, say Hebricians; he also provides them their meat, their several meats in due season - the young raven especially, [Psalms 147:9] if that be true that Aristotle (b) reporteth. This doctrine of God’s particular providence rightly resented, yields incredible profit and comfort. See my Love Tokens, pp. 11, 12.

 


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Bibliography Information
Trapp, John. "Commentary on Proverbs 16:4". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/proverbs-16.html. 1865-1868.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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