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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Proverbs 21

 

 

Verse 1-2

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Pro . Rivers of water. Rather streams, the allusion being to the watercourses, which in hot countries intersect fields and gardens for the purpose of irrigation, in which the water is entirely under the control of the husbandman.

Pro Pondereth, rather weigheth, as in chap. Pro 16:2. It is the same verb as that used in 1Sa 2:3 and Isa 40:12-13.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

THE KING OF KINGS

I. Kings are more entirely in the hand of God than subjects are in the hands of kings. The king of the days of Solomon was, as some Oriental rulers are now, an absolute monarch. In the case of Solomon himself, his will was law, and in his hand was the power of life and death (see 1Ki ). Of Nebuchadnezzar it is said, "Whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive; whom he would he set up, and whom he would he put down" (Dan 5:19). It is to such a king that the proverb refers—to one who called no man or any number of men master, but upon whose single will apparently depended the destiny of millions. Yet he was not the independent being that he appeared, neither were his subjects so dependent upon his will as they appeared to be. The most abject slave in his dominions was less under his control than he was under the control of Him by whom "kings reign" and "princes rule" (chap. Pro 8:15-16). The gardener whose ground is intersected by water-channels finds it a very easy task to turn the stream in the direction he desires; the soil yields to his touch, and forthwith the water flows whithersoever he wills. But the moist earth is not so easily moulded by the hand of man, as the heart of the proudest monarch is subdued to obedience by his Maker; and the water is not more entirely subject to the will of the husbandman than is the will of the most stubborn despot to the will of Jehovah.

II. The power which God exercises over kings extends into a region where no earthly ruler can penetrate. The heart of the king is in the hand of Jehovah. This is more than the most absolute monarch can boast concerning his meanest subject. Nebuchadnezzar could issue his decree, that whoso did not fall down before his golden image should be cast into the fiery furnace, but he could not move the steadfast determination of the Hebrew youths to acknowledge no god but the God of Israel. His will could determine what should be done to their bodies, but all his threatenings could not reach their hearts. But God rules the spirit of a man in that He has access to his innermost thoughts and feelings, and can thus touch the spring of all his actions, and thus bring him to do His will, even when he seems to be doing only his own.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

Could anything be more bold? Mark the compass—first, of subject, the whole stream as the gardener turns it; second, of object, "whithersoever" or anything He pleases; and third, of sovereignty; its pleasing Him, that being the only test. The "king" may be a Cæsar. His lip may make new geographies (ch. Pro ). His "heart" may change the history of all things. And yet, like a vineyard's channels diverted by a child, this Pharaoh's heart is in the fingers of the Most High.… Upon whatsoever. Not toward anything. A stream may be turned in a new direction to get rid of it. God has no such streams. It is turned on something. For God has an end to answer when He rules even the vilest of fiends.—Miller.

Whether, in the second line, the pleasant refreshing influence of the rivulets, dispensing blessing and increase, comes into account as a point of the comparison, is uncertain (comp. Isa ); this, however, is not improbable, inasmuch as the heart of a king may in fact become in an eminent degree a fountain of blessing for many thousands, and, according to God's design, ought to be so. See chap. Pro 16:15.—Lange's Commentary.

For Homiletics on Pro see on chap. Pro 16:2, page 454.


Verse 3

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

THE MORE ACCEPTABLE SACRIFICE

I. The sacrifices of the Mosaic law were acceptable to God as ceremonial signs. They were instituted by God, and therefore He expected them to be offered, and was displeased when His commands concerning them were disregarded. But they were but the means to an end, and if they did not lead to that end they were worthless in His sight. They were intended to awaken a sense of sin, and to be accompanied by observance of higher precepts and by obedience to more enduring laws. It availed nothing for a man to offer his bullock or his goat unless he laid his will upon the altar at the same time—no sin-offering could be acceptable to God unless the sin was put away, and no meat-offering could be regarded with favour if the heart of the offerer was without love to his neighbour and his life was marked by acts of injustice to him. It was of no avail to come before the Lord with "thousands of rams, or with ten thousand rivers of oil" unless the higher requirement was fulfilled—to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God (Mic ).

II. The doing of justice and judgment is more acceptable to God because it is a moral reality. To love our neighbour as ourself is in itself good,—it is a moral attribute, an element of character, a part of the man himself. It is an expression of love to God and of obedience to His commands which can be made anywhere and at all times, for to do justice and judgment is the law of the moral universe, and belongs to heaven as much as to earth. It is to do what God has been doing from all eternity, for it is written that they "are the habitation of His throne" (Psa ). All other offerings without these are "vain oblations" and even "an abomination" (Isa 1:13) unto Him who owns "every beast of the forest and the cattle upon a thousand hills" (Psa 50:10). To expect a holy and spiritual Being to accept anything less than a moral reality is to expect Him to be satisfied with less than would often content a fellow-creature.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

Sacrifice; literally, slaughter. But with slender exceptions, the slaughter is a slaughter for sacrifice.… He did not love the slaughtering of His Son upon the cross. He did not love the slaughtering of beasts year by year continually. On the contrary, He does love righteousness, and, therefore, He does love, in the severities that men impugn, that very element of right which is the attribute that they would bring into the question. Doing righteousness Himself, He prefers the right-doing of His creatures to any form of sacrifice or possible service they can ever render.—Miller.

"Sacrifice" at best is only circumstantially good—rectitude is essentially so. Sacrifice, at best, is only the means and expression of good; rectitude is goodness itself. God accepts the moral without the ceremonial, but never the ceremonial without the moral. The universe can exist without of the ceremonial, but not without the moral.—David Thomas.

This maxim of the Proverbs was a bold saying then—it is a bold saying still; but it well unites the wisdom of Solomon with that of his father in the 51st Psalm, and with the inspiration the later prophets.—Stanley.


Verse 4

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Pro . The ploughing. This word is by most modern commentators translated, as in the marginal references, light. It is likewise so rendered in the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and in Luther's version. Ewald, Elster, Wordsworth, and others, translate as in the English version. The Hebrew words are very similar. Those who adopt the former rendering understand the word to stand in apposition to the high look and the proud heart of the first clause (literally "To be lofty of eyes, and to be swollen of heart"), and regard it as a figurative representation of the spirit of the wicked man. Ewald and others refer the ploughing of the wicked to the "very first-fruits of a man's activity."

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

THE PLOUGHING OF THE WICKED

I. The high look and the proud heart indicate a man wrong at the foundation of his character. They show that he has not yet learned the alphabet of true godliness—that he has not yet begun to know his guilt and his weakness. He is ignorant of the depravity of his moral nature—of the capabilities of wrong that lie hidden within him, undeveloped now, it may be, but ready to assert their presence when the temptation presents itself. The man who has been born blind is entirely ignorant of the outline even of his own features, but he does not form a conception which is farther removed from the reality than a spiritually unenlightened man does of the real features of his moral character. The proud man by his pride proclaims his moral blindness—his high look is a sure indication that the light within him is darkness—that he has never seen himself as he really is. Hence it follows that he is wrong at the very core and centre of his moral being; where pride holds her throne there is no room for God, there is no confession of sin, and no yielding to Divine guidance.

II. While the heart is wrong the whole life will be wrong. This truth is expressed in the proverb, however we translate the verb in the second clause (See Critical Notes). Things that are not wrong in themselves become wrong if done from a sinful motive. A man may plough a field, and in itself the action may be neither good nor bad, but if he plough in order to sow a crop of thistles the action is a criminal one. A man may be diligent and painstaking in his business, and his diligence may in itself seem commendable, but if he exercises it only to gain money for sinful ends his very buying and selling becomes sin. And if we translate the word "light," and understand it to signify prosperity, the truth taught is very much the same. While a man's pride keeps him at a moral distance from God, no matter how successful he may be, the taint and curse of unpardoned guilt is upon all his gains and possessions.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

Holy intention is to the actions of a man that which the soul is to the body, or form to its matter, or the root to the tree, or the sun to the world, or the fountain to the river, or the base to a pillar. Without these the body is a dead trunk, the matter is sluggish, the tree is a block, the world is darkness, the river is quickly dry, the pillar rushes into flatness and ruin, and the action is sinful, or unprofitable and vain.—Jeremy Taylor.

The evil spirit called sin may be trained up to politeness, and made to be genteel sin; it may be elegant, cultivated sin; it may be very exclusive and fashionable sin; it may be industrious, thrifty sin; it may be a great political manager, a great commercial operator, a great inventor; it may be learned, scientific, eloquent, highly-poetic sin! Still it is sin, and, being that, has in fact the same radical and fundamental quality that, in its ranker and less restrained conditions, produces all the most hideous and revolting crimes of the world.—Bushnell.

All thine actions while unregenerate—whether inward or outward, whether worldly or religious—are all sinful and cursed. Like the leper under the law, thou taintest whatever thou touchest, and makest it unclean.… Thy calling is not without its corruption.… nay, thy very religious exercises are sinful.… Thine incense stinks of the hand that offered it.… The vessel of thy heart is not clean, and God will not taste of the liquor which cometh out of it. Because thy person is not accepted, thy performances are all rejected. "Thou art in the flesh, and therefore canst not please God" (Rom ).—Swinnock.


Verses 5-7

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Pro . Thoughts, rather the counsels, the calculatings.

Pro . Vanity tossed to and fro. Rather a fleeting breath. The Hebrew word hebel, here translated vanity, means rapour.

Pro . Robbery, or violence, rapacity.

Pro . Zckler translates the first clause of this verse, "Crooked is the way of the guilty man." Fausset remarks that the Hebrew word ish (man) expresses a man once good; froward implies his perversity, by having left the good way. Right, i.e., direct, straightforward.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro ; Pro 21:7; Pro 21:17

TWO ROADS TO WEALTH

I. The most likely road to lead to wealth.

1. Thoughtful diligence as opposed to thoughtless haste. We have before considered the necessity of thought before action (see on chap. Pro ), and the same idea is conveyed in the use of the first noun here (see Critical Notes). But although it is wise and necessary to think before we act, thinking must only be preparatory to action, and must not take its place. It is good for a man to make a good plan of his house before he begins to build; but a house on paper only will not shelter him from the winter storms. It is advisable for the captain to study his chart well before he embarks upon his voyage, but if he does no more he will never reach the desired port. So it is good for a man to take counsel with himself and others before he sets out upon the voyage of commercial life—before he begins to build for a competency or a fortune; but after the thought and with the thought there must be action, and there must be painstaking and persevering action. He must not be all eagerness to-day and indifference to-morrow—he must not work hard this week and neglect his business next week;—such a man may get rich by a mere chance speculation or by a dishonest act, but, apart from all higher considerations, it is not the best road, because it is not the most likely road. No doubt there are men who have made their fortunes by short cuts—by what is called luck, or by craft and robbery—but these are the exceptions, and the way of diligent perseverance is the one by which riches are generally gotten.

2. Self-denial as opposed to self-indulgence. "He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich" (Pro ). He who spends in self-indulgence as fast as he earns will be always poor. The lover of pleasure and luxury will not be a lover of hard work, and as we have just seen, it is that alone by which most men grow rich. And the extravagant and idle man will not be very likely to keep within his means, and to confine himself to honest ways of making money. And both these roads are roads which lead in the end to ruin. It is not likely that Solomon here refers to any poverty except material poverty. But it is also true that no man whose heart is set upon the gratification of his own selfish desires—whose life is one of self-indulgent ease—can ever be rich in the only true and lasting riches. He must always be in poverty as to character, as to intellectual wealth, and as to the gratitude and respect of those whom he might bless with his riches. "If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's (or another's), who shall give you that which is your own?" Luk 16:11-12). He is a poor man who has nothing but what he must leave behind him when he leaves the world. The greatest millionaire has nothing he can call his own if he has not a godly character.

II. The only blessed road to wealth, viz., the way of truth as opposed to lying, the way of honesty as opposed to dishonesty. We need not consider these sins separately, for they are inseparable in human character and conduct. The liar is a thief, for by his tongue he cheats men of their rights, and the thief lies in action as well as in word. Solomon does not say that thieves and liars shall not grow rich. As a matter of fact they often do, and leave far behind them in their race those who are plodding slowly on in the path of honest diligence. But he looks to the end of such a way of making money, and of those who so make it. It often vanishes like a vapour (see Critical Notes), while the man who made it still lives. One falsehood leads to another, and a little dishonesty bringing success leads to another and another, each one on a larger scale, until the bubble becomes too thin, and it bursts and all is gone. But if the rogue keeps his fortune till the last—if he meets death a rich man, and is buried with all the pomp of wealth,—retribution awaits him before the tribunal of a righteous God. He sought death and destruction while he lived, and he found it even here;—destruction of character and spiritual death, and he who here "refused to do judgment" goes to meet his judge a morally self-ruined man—one whose spiritual deathblow has been dealt by his own hand. (On this subject see also Homiletics on chap. Pro , page 306.)

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

Pro . Haste may have much of diligence in the temperament. But as indolence is its defect, this is its excess, its undisciplined impulse. The hand too often goes before, and acts without the judgment. Hence our English philosopher wisely counsels us—"not to measure dispatch by the times of sitting, but by the advancement of the business." A wise man had it for a bye-word, when he saw men hasten to a conclusion—"Stay a little that we may make an end the sooner." To choose time is to save time, and an unreasonable motion is but "beating the air." The heavenly race is not to be run by so many heats, but by a steady course. "Run," not with haste or speed, but "with patience the race set before us." (Heb 12:1.) The seed springing up in haste withered. (Mat 13:20-21.)—Bridges.

Pro . They seek death because they not only walk in the way to it, but run and fly with post haste as if they were afraid they should come too late or that hell would be full before they got thither. Thus Balaam's ass never carries him fast enough after the wages of wickedness. Set but a wedge of gold before Achan, and Joshua that could stop the sun in his course, cannot stay him from fingering of it. Judas, in selling his Master, what he doth, doth quickly.—Trapp.

Treasures; literally stores; from a root to shut up. "Tongue;" standing for all instruments of labour (see comment on chap. Pro ). "Lying;" not telling lies in the worldly sense, for, so put, decent sinners would miss the signification, but lying in that high sense in which the most honest worldling may fill the portrait. "Tongue;" just coincident with fact, is of the haste of the last verse; that untrue uttering of thought against conviction in one's self, and, therefore, hardly to be dreamed of as spared by the Most High. Stores got by this lying career of business may seem solid, because they may be whole blocks of granite in some fire-proof square mile of street; and yet as to their possession the wise man employs a singularly intensive figure. They are driven breath! Surely he will pause at that! But no! They are driven breath as of men chasing after death!… The meaning is, that the hot breath of a man rushing to his doom is like the money made by the deceived impenitent. First, it is utterly perishable; second, it betokens the speed; and third, the voluntary rush to get himself to ruin.—Miller.

And forget not what the "lying tongue" includes—that he is chargeable with the evil who pretends, in any way, to be what he is not, to have what he has not, not to have what he has, to have said what he has not said, or to have done what he has not done, or not to have said and done what he has said and done; who tries to gain an end by any word, or act, or look, or even by silence and concealment designed to convey a false impression—by any means whatever not in harmony with honest truth—with "simplicity and godly sincerity." This, says Solomon, "is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death." It is a "vanity;" inasmuch as it involves both folly and sin—the folly being made evident in ultimate detection, exposure, shame, and loss—loss of character, loss of confidence, and many a time loss of even what the falsehood had acquired. It is "tossed to and fro." Men learn it from one another. The man who has been imposed upon retaliates—he has no satisfaction until he has succeeded in duping him by whom he has himself been taken in, in practising on him an equal or a better trick. It is practised with little thought—with the vanity of a light and inconsiderate mind—and laughed at, in many instances, when it proves successful, instead of engendering remorse. Success produces a hundred imitators: and the cheats and the dupes are successively reversed, the dupe becoming in his turn the cheat, and the cheat the dupe.—Wardlaw.

Pro . Self-indulgence is not human happiness; it is a delirium, not a delight. It is a mere titillation of the dying nerves, not a Divine thrill of our imperishable sensibilities and powers. Its music is the notes of a maniac, not the strains of a seraph.—David Thomas.

He may be rich secularly. For here is a proverb that on earth has but a partial verity. But now, spiritually it is as settled as the heavens. "He that loveth his life shall lose it" (Joh ). A man cannot scale heaven for its "wine." Unless a man gets higher objects than himself, he cannot see the kingdom of God. And, therefore, it is literally true that the wealth that the soul attains is never made by the very most feverish desire to escape, or by the very most impassioned thirst for the mere joy of heaven. "Man;" the higher name for man. He may be ever so skilful.… "Loving;" not, if it loves, but because it loves. It is no harm to love happiness; but it cannot be in loving it, or because we love it, that we can create everlasting riches.—Miller.

Strange as it may seem, the way to enjoy pleasure is not to love it; to live above it; to "rejoice as though we rejoiced not; to use the world, as not abusing it" (1Co ); never pursuing it as our portion, or as making the happiness of an immortal being. The man who gives his whole heart and time to the love of pleasure, and sacrifices to it all his prudence and foresight, is surely on the highroad to poverty. On the same road is he that loveth wine, under the power of a "mocking delusion." He that loveth oil—one of the most precious fruits of Canaan—may find, that "those who could not live without dainties came to want necessaries."—Bridges.


Verse 8

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

TWO WAYS

I. The way of fallen man. It is a froward or refractory way in relation to God. When we look at man's ways and compare them with the ways of all the creatures below him and inferior to him, we note a remarkable contrast. The sun, which was created to give him light and heat, never turns aside from its ordained path, and the moon never forsakes her orbit, but, with the rest of the heavenly bodies, continue in the way ordained for them at the creation, and impress us with a sense of order, and regularity, and obedience. And the living creatures beneath man remain true to their instincts, and manifestly fulfil their destinies in ministering to the wants of the human race. But when we come to man we come to a law-breaking, perverse creature—to a being who resists the law of God as written in his conscience, and the commands of God as given in revelation, and the very pleadings of self-love which often urge him to submission. The way of the Hebrew people under special Divine tuition is a specimen of the frowardness of all men in their natural condition, which is indeed a most unnatural condition, seeing that it is out of harmony with all the rest of creation. Delivered from bondage by miracle and fed and guided by the same miraculous love and power for nearly half a century, and again and again after their settlement in Canaan delivered from the consequences of their disobedience by the same mighty hand, the testimony against them was, "Ephraim, is joined unto idols, let him alone" (Hos ). Neither appeals to their conscience or their reason, or even to their own self-interest, nor promises nor threatenings, could induce them to choose God's way in preference to their own, and when He appeared among them in flesh, and after He had risen from the grave and the full meaning of His incarnation and death was unfolded to them by His apostles, they still perversely chose to go about "to establish their own righteousness" rather than "submit themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Rom 10:3). And man in general is as froward, as perverse, as was this froward people. Though their reason, and conscience, and self-love are all on the side of God's way they persist in walking in their own.

II. The way of renewed man. It is a direct or straight way (see Critical Notes), because it is an obedient way. No man but a godly man keeps in one undeviating course, for none but he has but one aim and goal. The unrenewed man may be swayed by passion to-day, and by worldly interest to-morrow; but with him who has been born to a new and higher life one principle lies behind all his actions; and whatever his secondary plans and purposes, they are all subordinated to the one ruling law—the will of God. His work—whatever it may be—whether that of the judge upon the bench, the minister in the pulpit, the tradesman behind the counter, or the sailor at the mast-head, has one end and aim above all others, viz., to glorify God; and this gives to it a directness and straightforwardness which is not an element in the walk and work of the ungodly. See also on chap. Pro , page 153, and on chap. Pro 11:3, page 196.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

No one is such a stranger in any land as man is in the land of righteousness; neither is any stranger so ignorant of his way, as man is of the way of virtue. Wherefore, man and purity are rightly opposed in our translation. For what is more froward, more impure, than man's way is? And he that is pure, how little man must he have in him. How must he put off man to put on purity. Wherefore, if in the whole way of man there be a right work, it is not the work of man, as he is man, but the grace of God.—Jermin.

It is too natural for us to think that, if we are no worse than the generality of our neighbours, we are safe. But Solomon and Paul teach us, that, to walk as men, is not to walk like saints (Cor. Pro ). Whilst we are following the course of this world, we are walking in the broad road that leadeth to destruction, and not in the narrow way that leadeth unto life.—Lawson.


Verse 9

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Pro . Wide house. Literally a house of companionship, i.e., to share the house with her.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro ; Pro 21:19

AN ANGRY WOMAN

I. No social discomfort is to be compared to that of an ill-tempered wife. A corner of the housetop would be exposed to the rain and to the storm, both of which, in eastern countries, are generally of a violent character; and although it is not uncommon for orientals sometimes to pass the night there, it would be most undesirable to be obliged at all seasons, and under all circumstances, to have no other place of refuge. He who had to dwell there would at one time be subjected to the intense heat of the mid-day sun, and at another would be chilled by the midnight air. Neither is the wilderness a pleasant place of abode. In addition to all the drawbacks of the housetop arising from exposure to the weather, a wilderness is a place of dreary solitude, and often of danger from wild beasts and lawless men. But it is better to dwell in either of these places than with a brawling or even with an angry woman.

1. Because one might enjoy intervals of repose. The rain would not always descend, neither would the storm-wind be always blowing; the sun would sometimes give forth only an agreeable warmth, and the night-wind bring only a refreshing coolness. Even in the wilderness the solitude would sometimes be enjoyable, and life there would not always be in peril. But the woman pictured here is one whose ill-temper is always ruling her and casting gloom over the home, and when there is no storm of passion actually raging there is one brewing and ready to burst forth. The unhappy partner of her life can never look forward to an hour of ease, for the lulls in the storm are but momentary, and the rifts in the clouds obscured again immediately.

2. Because, whatever may be the discomforts of a housetop or wilderness dwelling, they may leave the soul at rest. They can but reach the body, and the mind may be so absolutely calm or absorbed in thought as to be almost unconscious of what is passing without. To some men solitude has such charms that they are willing to forego many bodily comforts in order to obtain it. There have been and are those whose own thoughts are the only company they desire, and who would gladly brave the drawbacks of the housetop or the wilderness, if by so doing they could be left undisturbed to indulge their own speculations, or pursue their meditations. But the sharp tongue of a contentious woman leaves no corner of the soul undisturbed. It is vain for the subject of it to seek refuge in reflection upon more agreeable topics, to endeavour to banish the actual present by calling up images of the future, or of unseen though distant realities. All the powers of the mind are paralyzed by such an incubus, and the soul cannot wing its flight into pleasanter regions, as it can do sometimes when the suffering only touches the outer man.

II. External good fortune is no proof against this domestic curse. The "wide house" or the "house of companionship," suggests a goodly mansion—a dwelling which might be the centre of social gatherings, and whose owner is able to indulge in hospitality on a large scale. It calls up before us not the top-story garret of the very poor, or even the narrow dwelling of a struggling man, where the fight for bread, and the effort to make both ends meet, may have something to do with spoiling the temper of the housewife. But the angry and contentious woman is not confined to these abodes—Solomon almost seems to speak here from experience, but even if he did not, we know that even palace walls cannot keep out the curse, and that there is often such a skeleton at the most sumptuous feast.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

The family is sometimes a fierce fire. It comprehends the greatest portion of our world. It is to us the most interesting, and therefore is capable of becoming the most trying portion.—Cecil.

Everyone has known some pair chained together by human laws where the heart's union has either never existed or been rent asunder. Two ships at sea are bound together by strong, short chains. As long as the sea remains perfectly calm all may be well with both; though they do each other no good, they may not inflict much evil. But the sea never rests long, and seldom rests at all. Woe to these two ships when the waves begin to roll. There are two conditions in which they might be safe. If they were either brought more closely together, or more widely separated, it might yet be well with them. If they were from stern to stern riveted into one, or if the chain were broken and the two left to follow independently their several courses, there would be no further cause of anxiety on their account. If they are so united that they shall move as one body, they are safe; if they move far apart, they are safe. The worst possible position is to be chained together, and yet have separate and independent motion in the waves. They will rasp each other's sides off, and tear open each other's heart, and go down together.—Arnot.

Better to retire into a corner of the housetop than to quit the house and go into bad company for diversion, as many who, like Adam, make their wife's sin the excuse of their own.—Henry.


Verse 10

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

THE DESIRE OF THE WICKED

On "the desire of the wicked" see on chap. Pro , page 199. Concerning that desire it is here affirmed—

That it overmasters and destroys all natural feelings of compassion. The Bible teaches us that in the estimation of God he is our neighbour who, as one of the same great human family, stands upon the same level with us,—the child of the same God and heir to the same inheritance of sorrow and death. As such he has a claim upon our consideration and goodwill at all times, and sometimes he stands in need of our sympathy and help. Now there are spiritual desires and inclinations to which we are bound to subordinate some claims of human kinship. The relation of a disciple of Christ to his Master is so far above all human ties that they sink into apparent insignificance beside it, but this relationship has not the effect of lessening man's concern for the welfare of his brother, but of increasing it tenfold. But here is subjection to a principle as much below nature as the other is above it—evil instead of good is the aim of the life, and in proportion as it rules and reigns it drags a man below the level of even ordinary human nature and leads him to so earnest a pursuit of his own wicked devices that he has no time to pause to consider the claims of others.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

"Evil." All kinds of it. He rejoices in iniquity (1Co ); he rejoices in calamity (chap. Pro 17:5); he desires nothing but evil (chap. Pro 17:11). Blessed be God, if a soul desires anything but evil, i.e., desires it truly (see Jas 4:2), that soul is saved. As to the second clause, there may be a bending over earthly distress, but real favour to his neighbour the lost man never shows. "The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel" (chap. Pro 12:10).—Miller.

And here lies the difference between the godly and the wicked; not that the one is pure from evil, and the other commits it, but that the one does it from constraint, the other from delight. The one testifies—"What I hate"—the other—What my soul desireth—"that do I." As the fruit of this native cherished principle, self to the wicked is both his god and his object.—Bridges.

He views "his neighbour" in no other light than as, on the one hand, the means of thwarting, or, on the other, the instrument of promoting his own ends. Can he gain anything by him? he will flatter and cajole him, and do everything to win his favour, and secure his services. Does his "neighbour's" interest, reputation, personal and family comforts, connections, or even life itself, stand in the way of the attainment of his wishes?—he is ready to sacrifice all to his idol.—Wardlaw.

It is the common maxim of the schools, that, seeing the nature of the good is the nature of that which is desirable, it is impossible that evil, as it is so, should be desired. But then the schools do add also, that the will may desire anything, it is not required that it be good in the truth of the thing, but that it be apprehended as if it were good. And thus it is that the soul of the wicked desireth evil, because that he apprehendeth the good, either of some pleasure of profit, or some contentment in it.—Jermin.


Verse 11

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Pro . Instructed, Zckler translates this "prospereth," and understands the simple to be the subject of both clauses of the verse.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

INSTRUCTION FOR THOSE WHO NEED IT

I. An inevitable event in the history of the scorner. It is here taken for granted that he will be punished—that he who sets at nought the "counsel," and will have none of the "reproof" of wisdom, will have his day of reckoning. The "day of his calamity" and "fear" will come (chap. Pro ). Throughout this book, as throughout all the inspired writings, sin and punishment are linked as cause and effect. There is punishment in the constantly increasing dominion of evil in the soul, and there is punishment in the stings of conscience; but there is also punishment by the direct interposition of God, and it is to this that the proverb evidently points.

II. One of the fruits of wisdom. He who is wise will be instructed. Having used what he has, he will in accordance with the Divine law receive more. To "him that hath shall be given" (Mar ). He who by a wise use of five talents has gained other five, shall have his store increased still more. This is likewise a foundation principle of this book, that the wise are those who are willing to be instructed, and that to those who desire instruction it will not be wanting. The special point of the verse is in the fact—

III. That the punishment of the evil man, and the soul-advancement of the good, have a work to do outside the men themselves. When the scorner receives punishment others receive instruction. This is one of its objects. A good ruler, as we have before seen (chap. Pro ), is bound to distinguish between the righteous and the wicked for many reasons, and for this reason among others, that the punishment of one offender may prevent others from committing a like offence. Men often learn by example what they would not learn by precept—the inexperienced are often more deeply impressed by one instance of retributive justice than they would be by many admonitions in word. This is, as we know from God's Word, one end of His visitations. "For this cause," said God to Pharaoh, "have I raised thee up, for to show in thee My power, and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth" (Exo 9:16). There are vessels belonging to our navy which are past repair, and are therefore unfit for sea. Yet they are retained as light-ships along the coast, and are useful in preventing better ships from going to pieces on the rocks. Pharaoh had long scorned the commands and the judgments of Jehovah, and his own doom was fast hastening on. But he would still serve as a beacon-light to save others—by his punishment the simple would be made wise. But there is the other and brighter side of the picture. The inexperienced are allured to goodness by the advancement of the good, as well as deterred from evil by the downfall of the wicked. When the simple sees the wise man in the attitude of a learner—when he finds that the wiser he is the more he desires instruction; and when he marks the effect of his humility and earnestness in his growth in all that is calculated to win him respect and to afford him real satisfaction, he "receives knowledge" by "the instruction of the wise" as well as by the "punishment of the scorner."

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

A respectful sinner; how is he a scorner? The Holy Ghost plainly intends just the shock that such words occasion. If a man hears that he should repent, and knows the reasons, and among the reasons are facts like hell, and calls like Christ's, and scenes like death, with all the realities of an eternal judgment, is there any spoken scorn that can be thought of as more scornful than the acted scorn of not repenting? "The simple becomes wise," i.e., the subject or the witness of the punishment, just as it may happen … Punishment never wastes. The wicked may be thrust lower by his evil (chap. Pro ), but some saint receives the lesson. This principle reaches through the system. The philosophy of hell is its good-doing through all the universe.—Miller.

It is a stroke easily taken which another feels, the receiver only fears, and it is a blow haply given which, striking one, reacheth two; the scorner to his reward, the simple to his amendment … Let it therefore be a sharp punishment which is inflicted; smite a scorner, for such it is that the scorner deserveth, and it will work upon the simple, though not by the touch of the punishment yet by the virtue of it. And when wisdom hath once subdued him by fear, then will it lead him on to hear the wise, and by attention to receive knowledge.—Jermin.


Verse 12

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Pro . The words man and God are both supplied by the translators. The verse should be "The righteous considereth the house of the wicked (and) overthroweth, etc. Some understand it, therefore, to mean "The righteous man gives instruction to the house of the wicked to turn them away from evil." But Stuart remarks that the verb of the second clause is a very strong word, to precipitate, to cast down headlong, and refers the righteous (one) of the first clause to God. This is Zckler's rendering also.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

GOD'S SURVEILLANCE OF THE WICKED

We follow here the rendering now generally given of this verse. (See Critical Notes.)

I. We have a reference to a mystery in the government of God. It is mysterious that the wicked are permitted to live at large—to pursue their plans and carry on their iniquitous work. Under human governors, men who break the laws of the State and endanger life and property are not allowed to have liberty. If they are permitted to live, they live under restraint—their activities are confined within narrow limits, and so their power to do mischief is taken from them. The prisons scattered throughout our land declare that our rulers only permit those who break our laws to have a very narrow sphere of action; they live where all their freedom is taken from them, and where their rule of life is not their own will but that of others. But God allows those who break His laws a larger amount of freedom—He permits them to mingle freely with righteous men, and to exercise their influence upon the world, and to carry out designs which are often in defiance of His commands. This has often perplexed the good in the world, and they have again and again asked the question, "Wherefore do the wicked live—become old; yea, are mighty in power?" (Job .)

II. The wicked living thus at large have God for a sentinel. There are many men living at large who are known to be dangerous characters—who, although they do not come within the reach of the law, are known to cherish feelings and intentions which are antagonistic to it. Such people need a more vigilant supervision than those in the prison cells, just because their freedom is greater. An ordinary man can watch a criminal who is secure in a prison, but much greater watchfulness and skill is needed to supervise the actions of one at liberty. Every house of the wicked contains a lawbreaker at liberty, and often one house contains many such who have a large amount of freedom in the execution of their wicked designs. God is the only Being capable of being the sentinel over such a house. They need one who knows the heart as only God knows it—one who sees all their plans before they become actions. They need a sleepless sentinel—one who can be awake at all hours, and so can never be taken by surprise. And this they have in God. None enters or departs from the house of the wicked, and no plot is concocted within it that is not marked by this everwakeful sentinel. The wicked have what it is indispensable they should have—an omniscient and omnipresent eye ever upon them.

III. After the watch has been kept for a given time, the house is marked for falling. We know why God gives such men freedom, for He has told us. It is that they shall have opportunities of repentance—that they "shall turn from their way and live" (Eze ). He spares the house of the godless, for the same reason that the vine-dresser desired that the fruitless fig-tree should be spared (Luk 13:6-9). He gives men time to bring forth fruits of holiness, to their own profit and to His glory. So He considered the house of the sinners, before the flood. His "longsuffering waited while the ark was a preparing" (1Pe 3:20) for some tokens of a change of disposition towards Himself, and consequently towards His laws. But none came, and so the day came when the flood came, and swept away both the houses and their inhabitants. So He considered the house of the Jewish nation, after the death of Christ. In the days of John the Baptist, the "axe was laid unto the root of the tree" (Mat 3:10), but the hand was not lifted to strike, until the rejection of the Messiah, and of the ministry of His apostles, had proved that there was no hope of a moral change. The wicked shall be overthrown, but God considereth their house long before He gives the final blow.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

(It will be seen that these read the verse as in our version.)

The punishment of the wicked reads a lesson not only of love and trembling, but of wise consideration. Yet many are the perplexing mysteries of Providence. The righteous man does not always see with his right eyes. The prosperity of the wicked staggers his faith, excites his envy, and induces hard thoughts of God. (Psa .) But when he looks with the eye of faith, he sees far beyond the dazzling glory of the present moment. He wisely considereth their house; not its external splendour and appurtenances, but how it will end. He justifies God, and puts himself to shame, (Ib. Pro 21:16-22.) "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen 18:25.) Here we rest, until He shall "arise, and plead His own cause," and "with the breath of His mouth, and the brightness of His coming, destroy" the very existence of evil. Meanwhile, where the superficial eye sees nothing but confusion, let the righteous man wisely consider lessons of deep and practical profit. The shortness of the prosperity, and the certainty of the overthrow, of the wicked; the assurance of a day of recompense; the contrast of the substance of the godly for time and for eternity—these are the apprehensions of faith. Do they not marvellously set out the perfections of God, and call to each of His children—"My son, give glory to God?"—Bridges.


Verse 13

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

THE CRY OF THE POOR

I. The cry of the poor may always be heard. "The poor," said the Saviour, "ye have always with you" (Joh ), and so long as sin is in the world it must be so. There are many whom sickness and bereavement makes poor, and many who are in need because of the sin of others, besides those who have been brought to poverty by their own wrong-doings. And from all these creatures of need there comes a cry—a direct appeal, it may be, for help, or the voice of lamentation because of their distress. This cry may be around us even when no appeal comes from the lip, and when no word of complaint is uttered. The wrongs of the oppressed and the miseries of the needy cry still when there is no speech nor language, and when no voice is heard.

II. No human creature can afford to stop his ears to this cry. Not one of the millions who walk the earth can reckon upon being always independent of the pity and help of his fellow-creatures. He may be almost certain that he will not be so. He is not sure, however rich he is now, that he may not have to cry for bread, or he may have to cry for help in sickness or for sympathy in sorrow. It is quite certain that he will at some period of his existence cry to God for mercy. If, therefore, he is deaf to the cry of those whose distress he can relieve, he is as unwise as that servant of whom our Lord speaks in His parable, who refused to have compassion on his fellow-servant to the amount of a hundred pence, while he himself stood in need of the forgiveness of a far heavier debt. (Mat ; Mat 18:35). He who stops his own ears at the cry of the poor stops the ears of God against his own, for in the day when the favour of the King of the universe will be more precious than the wealth of ten thousand worlds, the charge will be brought against him, "I was an hungred and ye gave Me no meat; I was thirsty and ye gave Me no drink," etc. (Mat 25:42).

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

When we have reason to complain that we cry and shout, but God shutteth our prayer, let us consider our ways; perhaps we have shut our ears on some occasions against the cries of the poor. This was one reason why God accepted not the prayers and fasts of those people whom Isaiah speaks of in the fiftieth chapter of his book.—Lawson.

Did a rich man know for certain, that himself should be a beggar before he died, it would make him give to the poor when they cried, that others might give to him when he cried. Now the wise man here assureth every hard churl, that although now he be never so rich, yet shall he be a beggar.… The cries of the poor are but God's proclamation, whereby He publisheth His pleasure for the relieving of them. It is God therefore Himself that is not heard when they are denied; it is God that is not heard in His command, as well as the poor in his necessity. And, therefore, being made deaf as it were with the loudness of His own crying, He doth not hear the uncharitable when they cry unto him.—Jermin.


Verse 14

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

THE PACIFICATION OF ANGER

I. Human anger is an evil to be avoided. Even the anger of a righteous man exposes the object of it to danger. David had good reason to be angry with Nabal, but his anger, though it was the anger of a man just in the main, so nearly overmastered him for the time as to lead him to meditate a very bitter revenge. For even righteous indignation has a tendency to run into unrighteous action, as in the case of Esau and Jacob. The elder brother had just cause to be angry with the younger for his meanness and deceit, but lawful displeasure soon degenerated into an unlawful purpose, and Jacob had to flee for his life. If, then, even the anger of the righteous man is to be feared because it may lead him to visit the offender with justice without mercy, much more is the anger of the unrighteous man likely to lead him to extreme measures, and the anger of either is an evil to be avoided when it can be done without sin.

II. Gifts may appease human anger. This proverb does not, we think, refer to bribery but to lawful tokens of goodwill, and of a desire to be reconciled—to gifts by which we seek to make some atonement for a wrong done. Such were the presents which Jacob offered to Esau, and Abigail to David. A bribe is a gift offered to a third person who is to judge between the parties at strife, but the gift here is from the offender to the person offended.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

A gift in itself is gracious, but if it be secretly given it is yet more acceptable; for privy bestowing taketh away the blush of open receiving. When as then a present shall even so closely be conveyed unto the receiver as that it shall covertly be put into his bosom, then it will be most welcome and even forcible.—Muffett.

"Have gifts," says a judicious writer, "such a powerful influence to disarm resentment? Then let no man plead, in apology for the fury of his passions, that he is not able to conquer them. If money can conquer them, shall reason, and the fear of God, and the command of Christ, be too weak to bridle them? Surely the commandments of God our Saviour have too little authority with us, if they have less influence upon our spirits than gold and jewels have upon the spirits of almost all men."—Wardlaw.


Verse 15

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Pro . Shall be. These words are not in the original, and destroy the sense, which is that justice is joy to the good, and destruction to the bad. Luther renders, "It is a joy to the just to do what is right; but to the wicked a terror."

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

THE JOY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS

I. The just man's own character and actions give him joy. It is a matter of experience with all the righteous beings in the universe that joy comes to them from uprightness of character. The blessedness and joy of God Himself comes from His supreme and absolute righteousness, and in proportion as His creatures are conscious of partaking of His rectitude of character they feel joy. But this righteousness of character is made manifest in righteous deeds. We know that God is a righteous God by what He has done, and by what He has promised to do, and the character of righteous men is likewise manifested in their acts. From these deeds come joy to the doer. Whenever a good man is able to redress some injury, or to make right some moral wrong—to put into exercise the love of right which is always latent within him—he feels joy.

II. The just man derives joy from the justice and righteousness of others. His great desire is to see the world freed from the rule of sin, with all its consequent miseries, and he hails every act of justice done as one more step towards that end. He sympathises with all those who struggle for right against might, whether with human or Satanic powers, and every victory gained by them gladdens his heart. As he is on the side of justice he has nothing to fear, but everything to gain, from the advance of justice in the world, and in the universe, and therefore he not only rejoices in the doings of other righteous men, but especially in the righteous acts of God. Knowing that everyone of them tends to bring in the rule of everlasting righteousness, and knowing that this rule will be the best possible for both the just and the unjust, and having a glad consciousness that to him it can bring nothing but good, the just dealings of God are the constant theme of his glad meditations. With the Psalmist he can sing, "Seven times a day do I praise Thee, because of Thy righteous judgments" (Psa ).

III. The workers of iniquity have no such source of personal joy. The name given implies their character. It is iniquitous, unequal, crooked. Their path lies quite apart from the straight road of obedience to God and justice to men, and therefore none of the flowers and fruits which grow only in the one path can be gathered upon the other. But they not only miss the joy of the just, but are active agents in creating their own misery. Sin is a destructive power. Destruction is used in two senses. A thing is destroyed when the elements which composed it cease to be, but it is also destroyed when the form which made it precious and beautiful is lost. The palace is destroyed when the earthquake lays it level with the ground, although all the stones and timbers are still there. The garment is destroyed when the fire blackens and scorches it, although the warp and woof of the fabric is still in existence. So a man's destruction is, as we understand the Word of God, not the cessation of his existence, but the loss of all that makes existence of worth to himself and others.

IV. The workers of iniquity cannot rejoice in the righteous dealings of others. The rectitude of the just man condemns them. It makes their ways look more crooked by the force of contrast, and it rebukes their consciences. It necessarily sometimes takes a more active form against them. The thief cannot joy in the law that condemns him to punishment, and is not likely to take pleasure in the character of the judge who passes sentence upon him. No godless man can rejoice in reflecting on the righteousness of God, for that righteousness fills him with terror in the present, and apprehensions concerning the future.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

Not the saint's "judgment;" that is "joy," of course: but all "judgment," even the judgment of the lost. Sad doctrine that! and to man's feeling a very shameful one. But to man's reason there may be a glimpse of light. The highest "joy" is to be holiness; the highest holiness, the holiness of God. All judgment is built upon that. God's holiness, therefore, being the basis upon which He condemns the lost, in that "judgment" which is part of the trait may be part of the "joy" which springs to the glorified believer.—Miller.

"It is joy to the just to do right; but vexation" (distress, trouble) "to the workers of iniquity." Such is Boothroyd's rendering; and it agrees with the French. The righteous find their happiness in the ways of God,—in doing the thing that is right. So far from true religion—practical godliness—being a source to them of irksome melancholy, it is their "joy." But to the wicked it is irksome. The principle of goodness or of godliness being absent from the heart, all conformity to precept is against the grain with them. They may do what is right from compulsion, from considerations of interest, or from the constraint of conscience and fear; but pleasure in it they have none—no "joy." And hence it is that amongst ungodly, worldly men, the impression and saying are so prevalent, that religion is melancholy. While the heart continues at enmity with God, all outward conformity to the will and worship of God can be nothing better than vexation,—harassing and fretting to the spirit, and drawing forth the exclamation, What a weariness is it! The joy of religious and virtuous practice can only be felt where there is the inward power of religious and virtuous principle. It is a joy that can only be known by the experience of the new heart; and by the new heart it is felt to be the only joy worthy of the name. But the heart that is still a stranger to the love must be still a stranger to the joy; and the whole life of the good man must appear a life of bondage. The man who has no ear for music would regard the ecstasies of a Handel as ridiculous; but such ecstasies are not on that account the less real.—Wardlaw.

Gravity is nowhere so seemly, as when it is the robe of the judgment seat; and though justice be done, yet if wantonly or lightly done, it is divested of the honour of it. Wherefore the joy which the wise man here commendeth is not the vanity, but the alacrity of the mind. That detracteth from the worth of it even in the sight of men, this addeth to it in the sight of God. Now, that which breedeth this joy is the habit of it. He that doth judgment now and then is not righteous, though he do that which is righteous. It is the constant doer of judgment that is made righteous by it, and findeth joy in the doing of it.—Jermin.


Verse 16-17

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

LIKE TO LIKE

I. The way of understanding. What is this way? In other parts of this book it is called the "path of the just" (chap. Pro . See page 58). "A way of righteousness" (chap. Pro 12:28, page 291), and a "way of life" (chap. Pro 15:24, page 430). It is a way of understanding, because it is the path or method of life which is followed by those who have well considered their way—who regard both their present and future welfare in the highest sense of the word. The way of righteousness is a way of understanding, because it leads to spiritual life and blessedness, both here and hereafter; therefore those who walk in it give a proof of their wisdom. If we count a man to have no understanding who persists in walking on a road which those who know tell him leads to a precipice over which he must fall, and if the truth of what they say is confirmed by his own knowledge, how much more shall we count those of no understanding who persist in following the path of moral ruin? And by contrast the way of present moral light and life which is ever leading on to more light and life is well named "the way of understanding."

II. The doom of the wanderer from it. He becomes one of an assembly with whom it is most undesirable to be numbered—the congregation of the dead. The graveyard is a place in which living men never take up their abode. Those who are there are there because they can no longer remain in the dwellings of the living and healthy. They would pollute the homes of those who are in life, and must therefore be separated from them. There is a spiritual graveyard—a place to which those who are destitute of moral life must be banished, because they are unfit for any other dwelling. And there they must remain, for it is the only place suited to their character and disposition. Judas, when he left this world, went to his "own place" (Act )—to the place to which he belonged, because it was the abode of those like-minded with himself. From the parable of the rich man and Lazarus we infer that those who become numbered with that congregation will remain there until the great gulf fixed between them and the living is removed (Luk 16:26).

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

The original word here translated remains, signifieth to rest and be quiet. It is rest that giveth understanding, and it is understanding that giveth rest. A disquieted mind doth not readily understand things, and it is the understanding of things that quieteth the mind. In the way, therefore, of understanding, there be many resting-places. He that is wearied with the cares of the world, when he understandeth that man is born to cares, resteth himself therein. He that is toiled in getting the things of this world, when he understandeth how little sufficeth nature, and that when he dieth all shall be taken from him, resteth himself there. He that tireth his brains to search out knowledge, when he understandeth that the greatest part of men's knowledge is the least of his ignorance, and that to know Jesus Christ is life everlasting, resteth himself there. But he that wandereth from the way of understanding meeteth with no rest in all the ways he goes—his thoughts are in no quietness, his heart hath no contentment, his mind no peace. It is the grave alone that is the bed of his rest; and when he cometh to the congregation of the dead, to the general assembly of all mankind, then he shall be quiet. Or else, to consider the verse as our translation hath it: everyone that understandeth his way is not in the way of understanding. The crafty politician understands his way well enough, and goes on readily in it; the covetous worldling understandeth his way well enough, and goes and gets apace in it; the cunning cheater understandeth his way well enough, and passeth through with it. But none of these are in the way of understanding: that is but one, and is the enlightening of the understanding by the word and grace of God. That is the way of understanding, because thereby we understand ourselves to be in the right way indeed. The man, therefore, that wandereth out of this way, when he hath wandered all his ways, shall end them at last in the congregation of the dead—that is the rendezvous to which all are gathered—and being once there, he shall remain for ever amongst them. For when that change is come, they that have passed the way of understanding shall pass from death to life, but they that have gone out of the way shall only go from one death to another.—Jermin.

Pro has been treated with Pro 21:5-7.


Verse 17

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Pro . Thoughts, rather the counsels, the calculatings.

Pro . Vanity tossed to and fro. Rather a fleeting breath. The Hebrew word hebel, here translated vanity, means rapour.

Pro . Robbery, or violence, rapacity.

Pro . Zckler translates the first clause of this verse, "Crooked is the way of the guilty man." Fausset remarks that the Hebrew word ish (man) expresses a man once good; froward implies his perversity, by having left the good way. Right, i.e., direct, straightforward.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro ; Pro 21:7; Pro 21:17

TWO ROADS TO WEALTH

I. The most likely road to lead to wealth.

1. Thoughtful diligence as opposed to thoughtless haste. We have before considered the necessity of thought before action (see on chap. Pro ), and the same idea is conveyed in the use of the first noun here (see Critical Notes). But although it is wise and necessary to think before we act, thinking must only be preparatory to action, and must not take its place. It is good for a man to make a good plan of his house before he begins to build; but a house on paper only will not shelter him from the winter storms. It is advisable for the captain to study his chart well before he embarks upon his voyage, but if he does no more he will never reach the desired port. So it is good for a man to take counsel with himself and others before he sets out upon the voyage of commercial life—before he begins to build for a competency or a fortune; but after the thought and with the thought there must be action, and there must be painstaking and persevering action. He must not be all eagerness to-day and indifference to-morrow—he must not work hard this week and neglect his business next week;—such a man may get rich by a mere chance speculation or by a dishonest act, but, apart from all higher considerations, it is not the best road, because it is not the most likely road. No doubt there are men who have made their fortunes by short cuts—by what is called luck, or by craft and robbery—but these are the exceptions, and the way of diligent perseverance is the one by which riches are generally gotten.

2. Self-denial as opposed to self-indulgence. "He that loveth pleasure shall be a poor man: he that loveth wine and oil shall not be rich" (Pro ). He who spends in self-indulgence as fast as he earns will be always poor. The lover of pleasure and luxury will not be a lover of hard work, and as we have just seen, it is that alone by which most men grow rich. And the extravagant and idle man will not be very likely to keep within his means, and to confine himself to honest ways of making money. And both these roads are roads which lead in the end to ruin. It is not likely that Solomon here refers to any poverty except material poverty. But it is also true that no man whose heart is set upon the gratification of his own selfish desires—whose life is one of self-indulgent ease—can ever be rich in the only true and lasting riches. He must always be in poverty as to character, as to intellectual wealth, and as to the gratitude and respect of those whom he might bless with his riches. "If, therefore, ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's (or another's), who shall give you that which is your own?" Luk 16:11-12). He is a poor man who has nothing but what he must leave behind him when he leaves the world. The greatest millionaire has nothing he can call his own if he has not a godly character.

II. The only blessed road to wealth, viz., the way of truth as opposed to lying, the way of honesty as opposed to dishonesty. We need not consider these sins separately, for they are inseparable in human character and conduct. The liar is a thief, for by his tongue he cheats men of their rights, and the thief lies in action as well as in word. Solomon does not say that thieves and liars shall not grow rich. As a matter of fact they often do, and leave far behind them in their race those who are plodding slowly on in the path of honest diligence. But he looks to the end of such a way of making money, and of those who so make it. It often vanishes like a vapour (see Critical Notes), while the man who made it still lives. One falsehood leads to another, and a little dishonesty bringing success leads to another and another, each one on a larger scale, until the bubble becomes too thin, and it bursts and all is gone. But if the rogue keeps his fortune till the last—if he meets death a rich man, and is buried with all the pomp of wealth,—retribution awaits him before the tribunal of a righteous God. He sought death and destruction while he lived, and he found it even here;—destruction of character and spiritual death, and he who here "refused to do judgment" goes to meet his judge a morally self-ruined man—one whose spiritual deathblow has been dealt by his own hand. (On this subject see also Homiletics on chap. Pro , page 306.)

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

Pro . Haste may have much of diligence in the temperament. But as indolence is its defect, this is its excess, its undisciplined impulse. The hand too often goes before, and acts without the judgment. Hence our English philosopher wisely counsels us—"not to measure dispatch by the times of sitting, but by the advancement of the business." A wise man had it for a bye-word, when he saw men hasten to a conclusion—"Stay a little that we may make an end the sooner." To choose time is to save time, and an unreasonable motion is but "beating the air." The heavenly race is not to be run by so many heats, but by a steady course. "Run," not with haste or speed, but "with patience the race set before us." (Heb 12:1.) The seed springing up in haste withered. (Mat 13:20-21.)—Bridges.

Pro . They seek death because they not only walk in the way to it, but run and fly with post haste as if they were afraid they should come too late or that hell would be full before they got thither. Thus Balaam's ass never carries him fast enough after the wages of wickedness. Set but a wedge of gold before Achan, and Joshua that could stop the sun in his course, cannot stay him from fingering of it. Judas, in selling his Master, what he doth, doth quickly.—Trapp.

Treasures; literally stores; from a root to shut up. "Tongue;" standing for all instruments of labour (see comment on chap. Pro ). "Lying;" not telling lies in the worldly sense, for, so put, decent sinners would miss the signification, but lying in that high sense in which the most honest worldling may fill the portrait. "Tongue;" just coincident with fact, is of the haste of the last verse; that untrue uttering of thought against conviction in one's self, and, therefore, hardly to be dreamed of as spared by the Most High. Stores got by this lying career of business may seem solid, because they may be whole blocks of granite in some fire-proof square mile of street; and yet as to their possession the wise man employs a singularly intensive figure. They are driven breath! Surely he will pause at that! But no! They are driven breath as of men chasing after death!… The meaning is, that the hot breath of a man rushing to his doom is like the money made by the deceived impenitent. First, it is utterly perishable; second, it betokens the speed; and third, the voluntary rush to get himself to ruin.—Miller.

And forget not what the "lying tongue" includes—that he is chargeable with the evil who pretends, in any way, to be what he is not, to have what he has not, not to have what he has, to have said what he has not said, or to have done what he has not done, or not to have said and done what he has said and done; who tries to gain an end by any word, or act, or look, or even by silence and concealment designed to convey a false impression—by any means whatever not in harmony with honest truth—with "simplicity and godly sincerity." This, says Solomon, "is a vanity tossed to and fro of them that seek death." It is a "vanity;" inasmuch as it involves both folly and sin—the folly being made evident in ultimate detection, exposure, shame, and loss—loss of character, loss of confidence, and many a time loss of even what the falsehood had acquired. It is "tossed to and fro." Men learn it from one another. The man who has been imposed upon retaliates—he has no satisfaction until he has succeeded in duping him by whom he has himself been taken in, in practising on him an equal or a better trick. It is practised with little thought—with the vanity of a light and inconsiderate mind—and laughed at, in many instances, when it proves successful, instead of engendering remorse. Success produces a hundred imitators: and the cheats and the dupes are successively reversed, the dupe becoming in his turn the cheat, and the cheat the dupe.—Wardlaw.

Pro . Self-indulgence is not human happiness; it is a delirium, not a delight. It is a mere titillation of the dying nerves, not a Divine thrill of our imperishable sensibilities and powers. Its music is the notes of a maniac, not the strains of a seraph.—David Thomas.

He may be rich secularly. For here is a proverb that on earth has but a partial verity. But now, spiritually it is as settled as the heavens. "He that loveth his life shall lose it" (Joh ). A man cannot scale heaven for its "wine." Unless a man gets higher objects than himself, he cannot see the kingdom of God. And, therefore, it is literally true that the wealth that the soul attains is never made by the very most feverish desire to escape, or by the very most impassioned thirst for the mere joy of heaven. "Man;" the higher name for man. He may be ever so skilful.… "Loving;" not, if it loves, but because it loves. It is no harm to love happiness; but it cannot be in loving it, or because we love it, that we can create everlasting riches.—Miller.

Strange as it may seem, the way to enjoy pleasure is not to love it; to live above it; to "rejoice as though we rejoiced not; to use the world, as not abusing it" (1Co ); never pursuing it as our portion, or as making the happiness of an immortal being. The man who gives his whole heart and time to the love of pleasure, and sacrifices to it all his prudence and foresight, is surely on the highroad to poverty. On the same road is he that loveth wine, under the power of a "mocking delusion." He that loveth oil—one of the most precious fruits of Canaan—may find, that "those who could not live without dainties came to want necessaries."—Bridges.


Verses 18-20

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

THE RANSOM OF THE RIGHTEOUS

This verse must be understood to express the same truth as that in Isa , in which Jehovah, speaking to the Hebrew people, says, "I gave Egypt for thy ransom—Ethiopia and Seba for thee," referring doubtless to the deliverance by the overthrow of the Egyptians and other nations. Here the Divine interposition is not on behalf of an elect nation, but on behalf of a special character; not for the deliverance of Israel according to the flesh, but of the true Israelite—the righteous and upright man wherever he is found, for "in every nation he that feareth Him and worketh righteousness is accepted with Him" (Act 10:35).

I. When the wicked man stands in the way of the true advancement of the good he shall be removed out of the way. It is a law of the universe, and the end to which all God's government tends, that goodness shall finally have the ascendancy over evil—that right shall triumph over wrong. Now, although we speak of goodness and of evil in the abstract, they have no abstract existence; they can only exist in connection with free personalities; with beings who have the choice of their actions. Hence, if evil is to be put down, it must be put down in the person of evil men or devils, and if good is to rule it must rule in the person of the good. Therefore, when the transgressor in any way opposes the real and true advancement of the righteous man he opposes the advance of righteousness, and he must be sacrificed. This is not always apparent to human eyes; things often seem to tend in quite the contrary direction; but this is because we do not know what is really most conducive to the coming of the kingdom of righteousness, nor how the overthrow of evil can be best accomplished.

II. Every man must either be ransomed from sin or become a ransom for righteousness. The righteous and the upright on the earth have only become so by submission to the righteous will of God—by taking His yoke and choosing His service. This has delivered them from the power of evil—this has redeemed them from the slavery of sin. It was quite open to Pharaoh to fall in with God's will concerning Israel—to obey the demand which was made upon him. It was only after repeated refusal that he and his were made a ransom for God's people. It is in every case where God's will is made known, and it is only when men persist in transgression that they are made a ransom for the upright. But there is no neutral ground. Every man who is not upright is a transgressor, and as such will be subject to this law.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

In the time of some strange visitation for sin, the notorious offender, who is guilty of heinous crimes, by his suffering and death shall free the innocent person from the stroke of God's vengeance, who should not be spared, but plagued, if the evildoer were winked at. Moreover, some one that hath, by breaking the Lord's covenant or precept, caused trouble to fall both on himself and many others, who in like manner have not sinned as he hath done, shall, suffering alone for the sin which he hath committed, deliver by his misery the rest that are in the same adversity, but not for the same cause. The executing of Saul's sons (2 Samuel 21.), the storming of Achan (Jos ), and casting of Jonah into the sea (Jon 1:12), may more plainly declare and more fully prove the truth of this matter. It may be here objected, if the Lord punish the righteous for the wicked man's offence, how is he then righteous? To answer hereunto briefly—First, though the Lord afflict the innocent with the sinners oftentimes, yet He doth not correct them for the faults of transgressors, but for their own faults, there being none so just but that he sinneth sometimes. Secondly, when the just, having authority to punish sin, wink at the known offences of the ungodly, by letting them go scot-free, they make their transgressions their own, so that in such cases no marvel if the Lord scourge the just with the unjust; for even the just do in such cases appertain to the family of the unjust.—Muffet.

It is the hatred of the wicked against the righteous that bringeth them into captivity, but it is the favour of God towards them that He maketh those who have made them captives to be themselves the redemption of them. Or else, if the condition of this world by God's permission and providence hath cast the righteous into thraldom, it is the sport of the wicked to insult over them; but it is the compassion of God towards them that He maketh those who make sport at them to be themselves the sacrifice of their deliverance. And, seeing misery, being man's master, requireth the right of command over him, according as many are the general calamities of mankind, God maketh the wicked to serve it, and the transgressor to pay bondage unto it instead of the righteous.—Jermin.

The subjects of Pro have been already treated in this chapter. See on Pro 21:5-7, and on Pro 21:9.


Verse 19

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Pro . Wide house. Literally a house of companionship, i.e., to share the house with her.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro ; Pro 21:19

AN ANGRY WOMAN

I. No social discomfort is to be compared to that of an ill-tempered wife. A corner of the housetop would be exposed to the rain and to the storm, both of which, in eastern countries, are generally of a violent character; and although it is not uncommon for orientals sometimes to pass the night there, it would be most undesirable to be obliged at all seasons, and under all circumstances, to have no other place of refuge. He who had to dwell there would at one time be subjected to the intense heat of the mid-day sun, and at another would be chilled by the midnight air. Neither is the wilderness a pleasant place of abode. In addition to all the drawbacks of the housetop arising from exposure to the weather, a wilderness is a place of dreary solitude, and often of danger from wild beasts and lawless men. But it is better to dwell in either of these places than with a brawling or even with an angry woman.

1. Because one might enjoy intervals of repose. The rain would not always descend, neither would the storm-wind be always blowing; the sun would sometimes give forth only an agreeable warmth, and the night-wind bring only a refreshing coolness. Even in the wilderness the solitude would sometimes be enjoyable, and life there would not always be in peril. But the woman pictured here is one whose ill-temper is always ruling her and casting gloom over the home, and when there is no storm of passion actually raging there is one brewing and ready to burst forth. The unhappy partner of her life can never look forward to an hour of ease, for the lulls in the storm are but momentary, and the rifts in the clouds obscured again immediately.

2. Because, whatever may be the discomforts of a housetop or wilderness dwelling, they may leave the soul at rest. They can but reach the body, and the mind may be so absolutely calm or absorbed in thought as to be almost unconscious of what is passing without. To some men solitude has such charms that they are willing to forego many bodily comforts in order to obtain it. There have been and are those whose own thoughts are the only company they desire, and who would gladly brave the drawbacks of the housetop or the wilderness, if by so doing they could be left undisturbed to indulge their own speculations, or pursue their meditations. But the sharp tongue of a contentious woman leaves no corner of the soul undisturbed. It is vain for the subject of it to seek refuge in reflection upon more agreeable topics, to endeavour to banish the actual present by calling up images of the future, or of unseen though distant realities. All the powers of the mind are paralyzed by such an incubus, and the soul cannot wing its flight into pleasanter regions, as it can do sometimes when the suffering only touches the outer man.

II. External good fortune is no proof against this domestic curse. The "wide house" or the "house of companionship," suggests a goodly mansion—a dwelling which might be the centre of social gatherings, and whose owner is able to indulge in hospitality on a large scale. It calls up before us not the top-story garret of the very poor, or even the narrow dwelling of a struggling man, where the fight for bread, and the effort to make both ends meet, may have something to do with spoiling the temper of the housewife. But the angry and contentious woman is not confined to these abodes—Solomon almost seems to speak here from experience, but even if he did not, we know that even palace walls cannot keep out the curse, and that there is often such a skeleton at the most sumptuous feast.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

The family is sometimes a fierce fire. It comprehends the greatest portion of our world. It is to us the most interesting, and therefore is capable of becoming the most trying portion.—Cecil.

Everyone has known some pair chained together by human laws where the heart's union has either never existed or been rent asunder. Two ships at sea are bound together by strong, short chains. As long as the sea remains perfectly calm all may be well with both; though they do each other no good, they may not inflict much evil. But the sea never rests long, and seldom rests at all. Woe to these two ships when the waves begin to roll. There are two conditions in which they might be safe. If they were either brought more closely together, or more widely separated, it might yet be well with them. If they were from stern to stern riveted into one, or if the chain were broken and the two left to follow independently their several courses, there would be no further cause of anxiety on their account. If they are so united that they shall move as one body, they are safe; if they move far apart, they are safe. The worst possible position is to be chained together, and yet have separate and independent motion in the waves. They will rasp each other's sides off, and tear open each other's heart, and go down together.—Arnot.

Better to retire into a corner of the housetop than to quit the house and go into bad company for diversion, as many who, like Adam, make their wife's sin the excuse of their own.—Henry.


Verse 21

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

A NOBLE PURSUIT AND A RICH PRIZE

I. A noble pursuit. Following after righteousness and mercy. These words may be taken as referring both to a state of judicial righteousness before God and to mercy received from him, and also to the attainment of a righteous and merciful character. The teaching of the Scriptures is that the latter is the result of the former;—that all true righteousness and mercifulness among men flows from having obtained mercy from God, and having come into right relations with Him. If a pursuit of any kind is to be successful it must be conducted according to certain known laws, and must recognise certain indisputable facts. If a man sets out to seek a distant shore where he knows the land is fertile enough to afford him abundant means of living, he must regulate his pursuit of the land and of its riches in accordance with the laws which govern the natural world. During his voyage he must observe the laws of navigation—he must steer his vessel with a due regard to the winds and tides, or he will never reach the shore, and when he lands he must still seek to obtain what he desires by working in harmony with natural laws. If he ploughs in the autumn and expects to gather in the winter, or sows weeds and expects to reap corn, he will be utterly disappointed. God is willing to bless his endeavours if they are made in subjection to known and established conditions, but not otherwise. So in every pursuit, whether in the world of matter or of mind. "If a man also strive for masteries," says Paul, "yet is he not crowned except he strive lawfully" (2Ti ), that is, unless he conform to the rules of the course. The Grecian runner might reach the goal without having a regard to the conditions of the contest, but he would not even then receive the crown. But in the pursuit of many things—and especially in the following after a righteous and godly character—it is impossible to reach the desired end without observance of the conditions laid down by God Himself. There is one way only to become a truly righteous and merciful man, and that is by accepting the mercy of God and His method of justification, called in the New Testament "the righteousness of God" (Rom 3:21, etc.). The history of the Church combines with the testimony of Scripture to confirm this truth. The Jewish nation, as a nation, refused to accept it, "going about to establish their own righteousness they have not submitted unto the righteousness of God (Rom 10:3). Their history since has been a moral failure, and it is the history of all who have united with them in the rejection of the way of righteousness through the atonement of the Son of God. On the contrary, the acceptance of that righteousness and mercy has been the first step in the formation of the most righteous and merciful characters that have ever lighted up our world. The apostle who was the great expounder of the doctrine of imputed righteousness through the mercy of God could appeal to his spiritual children in such words as these: "For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile; … neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness … but we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children; so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us" (1Th 2:3-8). This was Paul's disposition and character after he became a partaker of Divine mercy and a justified man through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and all those who sincerely accept God's method of being made righteous bring forth the same kind of fruit in their life, although not always in such abundant measure.

II. A rich reward. He who seeks mercy and righteousness from God by faith becomes, as we have seen, a righteous and merciful man. This in itself is moral life—a quickening of the spiritual capabilities—an awakening to spiritual realities and joys which were before unknown—an entrance into the possession of all that makes existence worth having. Such a man gets honour of a real and lasting nature—the goodwill of all the good in all worlds and the favour of God Himself. He follows after righteousness for its own sake—out of pure love of holiness and purity, and not for any reward that it may bring either now or hereafter, and he finds as he follows it that many things are added unto it.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

"Follows after," chases eagerly. How absorbed the chase of some poor partridge on the hills. Even let that be our picture. "Righteousness and mercy, or kindness," the two tables of the law; a genial picture of all holiness. Now let a man chase holiness with the absorbed forgetfulness of self that such game would imply, and all else will come in at the death. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all things else will be added thereto." (Mat ). "Life," all sorts of life. "Righteousness," but one sort of righteousness in place of that personal righteousness which (in the first clause) we are still called to chase. "Glory," all sorts of glory. The list is not an illogical one. "Life," all that is' personally good and happy, "righteousness all that buys that and keeps a title to it, "glory," that which is above happiness, and is always to be counted higher—viz., the honour and excellency of absolute purity of being.—Miller.

There is nothing which a man hath that is not going from him; there is nothing that a man seeketh that doth not seek to keep itself from him. It is therefore following that bringeth a man both to finding and possessing. But they are spiritual things, not the things of this world, that are worthy either of a man's following, or finding, or possessing. They are righteousness and mercy that are worthy of our seeking, they are life, righteousness, and mercy that are worthy of our finding.… Gregory, comparing spiritual and temporal riches together, showeth their difference to be great, because spiritual riches do even then increase, when that they are laid out, earthly riches are either laid out and so consumed, or else are kept and are not profitable. And in the following after them there is also this difference, that he who followeth after the things of this world always findeth less than he looked for; but he that followeth after spiritual things shall be sure to find more than he did or could look for.—Jermin.


Verse 22-23

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

A WISE MAN AND A MIGHTY CITY

I. The city of the mighty will not easily yield to conquerors. When a fortress encloses within its walls many strong arms and stout hearts, it will not be captured by child's play. The confidence that the defenders have, not only in the strength of their position but in their own individual power and prowess, will certainly prevent them from giving up without a struggle. Such a city must be "scaled" or captured either by stratagem or by a mightier force than that which defends it. There are various ways in which this may be done. When the height and thickness of the walls prevent their overthrow from without they may be assailed from beneath, and when brave men cannot be subdued by the sword they may be by hunger.

II. In whatever way the city is taken wisdom is the mightiest force employed. Military strength—indeed physical force of any kind—is of little or no avail without wisdom to direct it. Under the guidance of a wise commander an undisciplined and almost powerless mob becomes a powerful army, and a very small amount of mere strength can be made very effective if it is wisely directed. Belshazzar had strong walls around his city, and a mighty army within it, but Cyrus possessed the wisdom which the Babylonians lacked, and therefore the "wise man" overthrew the confidence of the mighty.

III. Wisdom is a power that is needed to take other strongholds besides those built of brick or stone. Any obstruction or difficulty which a man encounters in life may be a "city of the mighty" to overthrow which wisdom will be an indispensable ally. Poverty is such a city, and it cannot be scaled by activity and industry alone—the industrious effort must be guided by wisdom. Ignorance may be compared to such a stronghold, and wisdom is needed to guide the pursuit after knowledge. Sinful habits are walls around a man, and they are so defended and strengthened by invisible powers of evil that they cannot be cast down by strength of will alone—wisdom must be sought from above to turn the struggle into a victory. But we have not only to contend with personal evils but with relative ones, with the misery and sin around us if not within us, and here again nothing can be done without wisdom. Muscular force can do a little to put down their outward manifestations, but wisdom only can do anything towards lessening their real and terrible hold upon men. The human soul, also, is a "city" which can be "scaled" only by "the wise man." In Eden the city of Man-soul was taken by the subtlety and craft of the devil, and a wisdom more than human is needed to regain it. The undertaking is especially difficult, because there are inhabitants within the city who are averse to a change of masters—there are evil tendencies within which make men unwilling to leave the yoke of Satan for the service of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ has, however, scaled this city of the mighty; all the wisdom of God has been brought to bear upon the work of reconciling men to Himself, and the Cross has accomplished what the physical force of Omnipotence itself could not have achieved.

What is strength without a double share

Of wisdom? Vast, unwieldy, burdensome;

Proudly secure, yet liable to fall

By weakest subtleties; strength's not made to rule,

But to subserve where wisdom bears command.—Milton.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

The Israelites never crushed the Philistines. The Jebusites long dwelt in Jerusalem's stronghold (Jos ). The sinner (at conversion) in his feeblest state enters Canaan, and "scales the city of the mighty." But when his foot has touched that eternal tramping-ground, alas for him! there is still the citadel! "A wise man," not only as being a wise man, but in becoming a wise man, has scaled the city of the mighty, and evermore afterwards, in becoming wiser, he is "casting down the strength of its place of confidence." … Not to print mistake upon his emblems, Solomon qualifies the last by those that immediately follow. Conversion is not a warfare. It is not the glow of camps or the shout of armed men, but a drowsy and forlorn awakening. Arrayed against it may be the strength of the mighty, but it is a strength absurd and miserable, as against a droning and depressing inanition. "We wrestle not against flesh and blood," and when we come to understand the venture, the climb over the gates is not a bound of strength, but a torpid crawl out of mortal infirmity of feeling. Hence the patient prosing of the Preacher, as he next approaches us (in Pro 21:23). Christian obedience is the way to triumph.—Miller.

The art of war has already shewn the pre-eminence of wisdom above strength. Prudent tactics, or a wise application of courage, triumphs over mere personal prowess. Joshua's stratagem in taking Ai was a proof of military wisdom. Solomon seems to have known of a wise man singly delivering his city from the power of a mighty king; a proof of wisdom quite tantamount to the strength of an aggressor scaling the walls, and thus casting down its confidence. (Ecc ). Much more therefore will spiritual wisdom, the immediate gift of God, overcome difficulties as formidable as the scaling of the city of the mighty. A wise calculation of the cost is eminently serviceable in achieving most important triumphs. (Luk 14:31-32). For does not conscious weakness lead to a single dependence upon God? And what difficulties are too great for an Almighty arm? "By thee"—said a valiant soldier in the army of faith—"I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall." "Weapons of a spiritual, not of a carnal," temper, "are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds" (2Co 10:4), impregnable to the power of man. All the promises are "to him that overcometh." Let the soldier go to the conflict "strong in the Lord," and "putting on his whole armour." (Eph 6:10). The triumph is sure. The heavenly city will be scaled. "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." (Mat 11:12.)—Bridges.

For Homiletics of Pro see on chap. Pro 13:3, page 294.


Verse 24

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Pro . Proud wrath, literally "wrath of pride," or overflowings of haughtiness.

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

A NAME OF DEGREES

I. Many terms are needed to set forth the complete character of the wicked man. A complicated machine has many parts, each of which has a different action and performs a different work, and each of which has its distinctive name. But the whole make up one machine, the name of which includes all the parts. So is it with a wicked man. He is like a complicated and destructive piece of machinery—all that he does and is may be comprehended in the general term, godless, or wicked; but the various vices which go to make up his character have their distinctive name. In this proverb three degrees of wickedness seem to be set forth under different names, each one being an intensified form of the vice that has gone before. First there is pride; the man overrates his own worth, and by so doing underrates the worth of others. From pride of heart comes haughtiness of conduct—he is overbearing and insolent in his bearing towards those whom he looks upon as his inferiors. Then he becomes a scorner—he despises all, whether good or bad, and so fills up the measure of wickedness. For when all feelings of respect and reverence for even human worth have died out of a man he cannot fall much lower.

II. Such a man is a constant vendor of what is within him. He dealeth in it; he cannot keep his pride and scorn to himself, it overflows in his contemptuous carriage, in his haughty look, in his angry words, and in his oppressive deeds. He may deny the fidelity of the portrait which Solomon here draws of him, but he whose dealings with his fellow-creatures are marked by these characteristics must submit to be called by the odious names here given.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

In the course of different proverbs this teacher will be found to have explained all his own use of terms. Piety as wisdom, and wickedness as folly—terms very characteristic of his books—he explains at the very first. Scorner is his favourite name for the impenitent. We were giving reasons for this under the eleventh verse.… The demurest sinner, who seems thoroughly respectful to the truth, would not push along so into the very jaws of death if he were not arrogantly trusting to himself, and if he felt not scornfully free from the necessities of the gospel.—Miller.

It is the nature of pride to show itself as losing the contentment of those things upon which it is placed, unless by showing of them it show itself in them. And yet so odious a vice is pride, and so shameful, as that it would fain hide itself also. But there is nothing that doth so manifest and make known the pride of anyone as his wrath doth; wherefore as the name of a man telleth who he is, so he who dealeth in wrath telleth his name.—Jermin.


Verse 25-26

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

THE SWORD OF THE SLUGGARD

I. A sluggard cannot help desiring the results of toil. It is natural and lawful for men to value bodily health and comfort, and all those blessings which are the ordinary fruits of industry—they are good things which God gives His creatures to enjoy, but they are not His only gifts nor His best gifts. But they are the main objects of the sluggard's desire, for an inordinate and exclusive love of them has made him a slothful man. If he had put his reputation and his duty before his love of ease—if he had listened to the voice of conscience rather than to the pleadings of self-indulgence, he would be a worker instead of a mere wisher. The text suggests that mere desire to possess is not a power strong enough to turn an indolent man into an industrious one, although it is strong enough to make him miserable and wicked. For—

II. A sluggard is an unrighteous man. This is both implied and expressed in the proverb. He is placed in contrast with the righteous man as one of an opposite character, and he is declared to be an habitual breaker of the tenth commandment. Covetousness is a sin nearly allied to envy, and both are in themselves transgressions of the moral law, and often lead to more heinous crimes. Let no man, then, say that his refusal to take his part in the work of the world is a matter which concerns himself alone, for even if a man were not responsible for a negative existence, such a course is certain to lead to positive sin.

III. He is a self-destroyer. This is a phase of sloth which has not been placed before us in former proverbs on the subject. The sluggard not only makes wretched the existence which it is his great aim to pamper, but he shortens it. His covetous and unsatisfied state of mind is as a canker-worm at the root of all that he does possess, and, deprived of the healthful influence of labour, he becomes an easy prey to disease and death. It is probable that nothing undermines the bodily constitution more surely than unsatisfied desire. Men who have been great workers, but who have not seen the desire of their hearts fulfilled, have often died in consequence. How much more likely will the slothful man be to die under such a disappointment! If the rust eats into the sword which is in constant use, how much more certainly will it destroy that which is never drawn from the scabbard!

IV. The righteous man is a worker and a giver. He is in all respects the exact opposite of the sluggard. He works not so much because of the gain of labour as because he loves to work, and because it is wrong to be idle. This he shows by the use he makes of much that he gains—he gives with an unsparing hand. In both he is an imitator of the righteous God, who is the Greatest Worker and the Greatest Giver in the universe. The righteousness of God prompts Him to bountiful acts towards needy creatures, and the righteousness of His righteous servants prompts them to do like deeds, according to their ability. On this subject see also Homiletics on chap. Pro , page 296.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

The desire kills him. Why? Because he will not gratify it. The way to gratify it is to get it accomplished.… Say not, It is the refusal that kills and not the desire. That is not altogether the case. The spark that is too weak to grow puts itself out by its attempts. The desire that is too dull to act has treasured in it the last remainders of the heart, and in its languid throbs makes itself the instrument of its own growing dissolution.—Miller.

In the Paris French translation the words stand thus—"All the day long he does nothing but wish." How very expressive at once of the unconquerable indolence and the fretful, envious, pining unhappiness of the sluggard! And in his wishing, he may at times, by the power of a sanguine imagination, work himself into hope; and then, disappointment only embitters the cup of his own mingling,—aggravates the misery, which he is painfully conscious is self-inflicted.—Further: he appears before us a stranger to all the positive and exquisite pleasures of charity and beneficence; but "the righteous giveth and spareth not." It is not said, you will observe—"the diligent giveth and spareth not;" because there are not a few who are sufficiently exemplary in diligence, to whom the Bible would not give the designation of "the righteous," and who are far from being distinguished for benevolence. But the antithesis, as it stands here, implies these three things: First, that diligence is one of the features in the character of the righteous:—Secondly, that the natural tendency, and ordinary result of this is, through the divine blessing, abundance to spare:—Thirdly, that another distinguishing feature of the character of the righteous man, is readiness to part with what his industry acquires—"giving, and not sparing;" that is, giving cheerfully, and giving liberally; not assenting merely to the truth of the maxim, as being the word of the Lord, but feeling the truth of it in their own heart's experience—"It is more blessed to give than to receive." Wardlaw.

It is not said by Paul, "If any man do not work, neither let him eat," for some would work and cannot get it, others would work and are not able, but "If any man will not work," if any have work to do, and will not, let him not eat. In the same manner the wise man speaketh; he doth not say, his hands do not labour, but his hands refuse to labour.… But he sheweth that though a sluggard be idle himself, yet his desire be so hard a labourer, that it is a daily labourer, and such a daily labourer painfully worketh all the day long. So that although he have no hands to work, his desire hath hands to beg and crave of him; which being not satisfied, is a just punishment of his careless sluggishness. But the righteous man, being as earnest in his labour as the other in his desire, getteth enough, not only to satisfy his own desire, but to supply the wants of others.—Jermin.


Verse 27-28

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Pro . With a wicked mind, literally "for iniquity, and may refer to a desire to cloak a sinful purpose by an outward show of piety, or an attempt to expiate a sinful act by an outward atonement. Miller reads for "how much more" "because also."

Pro . Constantly, rather for ever. Stuart understands the verse to mean "that the sincere listener to the Divine commands will ever be at liberty to speak, and find confidence put in what he says."

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

THE SACRIFICE OF THE WICKED

I. A Divine institution may become an abomination to the Divine Being. The right use of the gifts of God makes them blessings to men, but the abuse of them turns them into curses. So with the ordinances of worship, both under the Old Testament dispensation and in the New—that which is designed to bless men may by misuse add to their guilt before God, and that which, done in a right spirit, is most acceptable to Him, will, when joined to a sinful motive, be most abhorrent to His holy nature. The sacrifice of the Levitical dispensation was an ordinance of Divine appointment, but even those who lived before the days of the prophets were not left to suppose that the merely ceremonial act was of any value in the sight of God if a correspondent state of heart was wanting. The offering of Cain was unacceptable, because he lacked the faith of his brother Abel. (Heb ). Samuel taught the truth that "to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams (1Sa 15:22), and the father of our preacher was deeply conscious that "sacrifice and burnt offering" would not be acceptable to God unless they were the outcome of a "broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart" (Psa 51:16-17). The doctrine that "God is a spirit, and they who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth (Joh 4:24), is taught in the Old Testament as well as in the New. It is the teaching of this proverb.

II. A Divine institution may be used by men to cloak their iniquity. The absence of right motive is enough to turn the sacrifice into an abomination, as we have seen (see also on chapter Pro , page 408), but this comparatively negative wrong seems to lose some of its guilt beside the actual crime of the second clause of the verse, when men actually put on an outward semblance of religion, not from inadequate ideas of the requirements of God's law, or from the force of habit, or in a thoughtless spirit, but with the deliberate intention of deceiving their fellow-creatures. For it is inconceivable that any reasonable being can for a moment suppose that he can blind Him before whom all things must be "naked and opened" (Heb 4:13). If he believes in a God he cannot think that He is a Being who can be imposed upon by such a miserable deception, and, this being granted, it is most astonishing that any creature can presume to offer so great an insult to his Creator. And yet we know sacrifices have been and are even now being offered to God for no other purpose than to cloak sin.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

This is a New Testament idea:—"Ye ask and receive not," saith the Apostle James, "because ye ask amiss." How? Why, precisely in the way that the proverb points out, because ye do it for an interested purpose; as the Apostle expresses it, "that ye may consume it upon your desires." The wicked man asks for heaven that he may consume it in keeping comfortable through a long eternity. The proverb in Pro postulates the opposite, In merely loving happiness a man cannot create wealth. The mass of hypocrites, therefore, are these eternal-happiness hypocrites.… There may be other reasons, but that additional and fundamental among them all is this deepest one, that religious acts cannot be accepted if they are built upon nothing tenderer than "a calculated purpose." (So Miller translates the last two words. See also Critical Notes.) "Ye seek Me," says our blessed Redeemer, "not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves and were filled" (Joh 6:26).—Miller.

For Homiletics of Pro , see on chap. Pro 12:19, page 275. "The man that heareth" is evidently the man who is teachable and open to conviction, and therefore qualified to bear witness of the truth.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

The last clause of the proverb seems to fix and restrict the first. A false witness often becomes so by the culpable habit of thoughtlessly repeating, without examination or certain knowledge. A man may thus do very serious injury to his neighbour's character or property. It proves a very loose conscience, and an utter want of that "charity which covers" instead of exposing faults. It is "rejoicing in iniquity" rather than "rejoicing in truth." This false witness will certainly be punished by God; and even by man he will be confounded and silenced. No one for the future will regard or receive his testimony. But the man that heareth—the true witness who speaketh only what he heareth, and is fully acquainted with—he speaketh constantly—to conviction. He holds to his testimony and never contradicts himself. He "speaks the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." His word, even if it had been slighted at first, gains more and more credit and authority when the false witness shall have perished (chap. Pro ).—Bridges.


Verse 29

CRITICAL NOTES.—

Pro . Hardeneth his face, or "putteth on a bold countenance." Directeth, or "considereth" or "establisheth."

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

THE FACE AND THE WAY

The last verb in the text is better translated—establisheth, or maketh firm.

I. What is intended to reveal may be used to conceal. The human countenance is intended to express the feelings of the mind, and when a man is not afraid for another to read his thoughts and intentions, his face is to a great extent the index of his heart. But a bad man is unwilling that his neighbour should know what is passing within him—his thoughts and purposes will not bear the light—they are so selfish or impure that he is ashamed of them, or they are occupied with some malicious plan which must be concealed if it is to be successful. He therefore hardens his face—puts on an appearance of innocence and frankness as a cloak of the evil underneath. But this method of life is not an easy or a pleasant one—the contrast in the second clause seems to imply that such a man walks in an uneven or a miry road—it is hard to be always acting a part and to be obliged at all times to look what we do not feel, and there may come unguarded moments and unlooked-for surprises when the mask will fall and the truth come to light.

II. The godly man has no need to practise hypocrisy. His thoughts and desires, and aims, are toward the true and the good—his heart is filled with goodwill towards his fellow-men, and he has, therefore, nothing to fear or to be ashamed of when his face reveals his inner self. This way of the upright is, in comparison with the way of the wicked, as a firm and level road—he who walks on it finds solid ground beneath his feet, and has no need to be ever on the look-out for bogs and pitfalls.

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

A hardened heart and a hardened face,—a face that has learned to brave accusation and to look innocent under conscious guilt, are the most undesirable of all attainments. The confusion of innocence, when evil is imputed, is far preferable. Better far to be innocent and thought guilty, than to be guilty and thought innocent. Better far to have the sentence of acquittal in our own bosoms, though condemned by men, than to succeed in getting acquittal from men, and carry within us the sentence of guilt. How painful soever the former, we can still look up to God, and forward to His tribunal, as that of unerring rectitude,—where He will "bring forth our righteousness as the light, and our judgment as the noon-day." O! there will be no "hardening of the face" then. Conscience will do its duty. The eyes which are as a flame of fire will search the inmost soul. Every eye will quail, and every countenance, even the most hardened, sink, before the look of Him that sitteth upon the throne. He will then at once "wipe off the reproach of his people," and "bring to light the hidden things of darkness." And then they who, under the influence of faith, and fear, and love, have "considered their way," shall lift up their faces without dread, and meet the smiles of their gracious Judge!—Wardlaw.


Verse 30-31

MAIN HOMILETICS OF Pro

COUNSEL AGAINST THE LORD

I. Only those plans succeed which harmonise with the will of God. This is of course true only in regard to the ultimate and final issue of men's plans and purposes. Sometimes, and indeed oftentimes, counsel against the Lord is very successful for a season, and for a very long season, but it is only for a season.

1. This is obvious if we consider God's knowledge of the future. It is inseparable from His Divine nature that He shall be able to "declare the end from the beginning," and therefore He says "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:" "yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it" (Isa ). Imagine the general of a vast army being confronted with a handful of blind men, would there be any room to doubt who would have the victory? If a traveller whose eyesight is so dim that he can only see a step or two before him has to travel an unknown road, will he not do well to take the arm and avail himself of the guidance of a man whose sight is perfect? The plan or purpose of our life is the road we desire to walk upon, and as we "know not what shall be on the morrow" (Jas 5:14) we can only hope to attain our desire if we enlist the All-seeing God on our side, and in order to do this our counsel must be in harmony with His.

2. God's Almighty power, also, ensures the success of His counsel. "The horse is prepared against the day of battle," but what is the united force of a world compared with the might of Him "who hath comprehended the dust in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?" … The prophet answers the question, "The nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of a balance" (Isa ; Isa 40:15). The knowledge that our guide has of a dangerous path—the fact that he is acquainted with it from the beginning to the end—may not ensure our arrival at the desired goal. He and we may together be attacked by powerful foes, and power to protect is as needful as knowledge to guide. When we commit our way to God we have omnipotence as well as omniscience on our side.

II. Yet men are ever opposing their finite wisdom and strength to the almightiness and infinite knowledge of God. The proverb embodies a truth so palpable to any who will look facts plainly in the face—it contains an inference so obvious to an unprejudiced mind that it would seem unnecessary to write it if we did not know that sin has so distorted men's mental vision—so biassed their reason—that they are ever imagining a "vain thing" and taking "counsel against the Lord and against His anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us" (Psa ). The world is full of confirmations of the fact, and it also contains abundant evidence of the truth of the inspired word. "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision."

OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS

It would be a strong sentence if he declared that counsel against the Lord could never amount to anything.… But he does something more clear than that. There is no (such thing as) wisdom, etc., against the Most High. They could do nothing if they were; but wisdom never could be enticed to that side. The sentence embodies both ideas. There is no wisdom that could avail against God; but secondly, there is none that would ever attempt it. The expressions are peculiar. There is nothing of wisdom. The word is repeated: "Nothing, nothing, nothing."—Miller.

We may, perhaps, consider the wise man as pointing out three modes of covering and effecting evil purposes: in the twenty-seventh verse, the mask of religion; in the twenty-eighth, false testimony; in the twenty-ninth, the assumed boldness and look of innocence. But (Pro ) "there is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel, against the Lord." There may be against men. In one, or other, or all of these ways they may be deceived. There may, in many cases, be "wisdom, and understanding, and counsel" more than sufficient to impose upon and outwit them. But God knows all. His eye cannot be eluded; His designs cannot be thwarted; neither His promises nor His threatenings can be falsified, by any artifice, or policy, or might of the children of men—no, nor of any created being.—Wardlaw.

Wisdom is that which is gotten by experience, understanding that which is gotten by study, counsel that which is gotten by advice … but let all be put in the scales against the Lord, they are but as the dust of the balance unto Him … For if wisdom be gotten by experience, He is the Ancient of days; He was ancient when days began. If understanding come by study, He hath all understanding of Himself at once.… And the whole world is His common council, and that not to give at all, but to receive counsel from Him.—Jermin.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Proverbs 21:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/proverbs-21.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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