corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.09.22
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Proverbs 3

 

 

Verses 1-10

CHAPTER 4

THE EARTHLY REWARDS OF WISDOM

Proverbs 3:1-10

THE general teaching of these nine introductory chapters is that the "ways of Wisdom are pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." We are taught to look for the fruit of righteousness in long life and prosperity, for the penalty of sin in premature destruction. "The upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it. But the wicked shall be cut off from the land, and they that deal treacherously shall be rooted out of it." [Proverbs 2:21-22] The foolish "shall eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the backsliding of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. But whoso hearkeneth unto Wisdom shall dwell securely, and shall be quiet without fear of evil." [Proverbs 1:31-33] "By Wisdom thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased. If thou art wise, thou art wise for thyself; and if thou scornest, thou alone shall hear it." The ways of Folly have this legend written over the entrance-gate: "The dead are there; her guests are in the depths of Sheol." [Proverbs 9:12; Proverbs 9:18]

This teaching is summarized in the passage before us. "My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: for length of days, and years of life, and peace, shall they add to thee. Let not mercy and truth," those primary requirements of wisdom, "forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thy heart"; i.e., let them be an ornament which strikes the eye of the beholder, but also an inward law which regulates the secret thought. "So shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man"; that is to say, the charm of thy character will conciliate the love of thy fellow creatures and of thy God, while they recognize, and He approves, the spiritual state from which these graces grow. "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not upon thine own understanding: in all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes; fear the Lord, and depart from evil: it shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. Honor the Lord with thy substance, and with the first-fruits of all thy increase: so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy vats shall overflow with new wine." [Proverbs 3:1-10] The rewards of wisdom, then, are health and long life, the good-will of God and man, prosperity, and abundant earthly possessions. As our Lord would put it, they who leave house, or wife, or brethren, or parents, or children, for the kingdom of God’s sake, shall receive manifold more in this time, even of the things which they surrender, in addition to the everlasting life in the time to come. [Luke 18:29-30]

This is a side of truth which we frequently allow to drop out of sight, in order to emphasize another side which is considered more important. We are accustomed to dwell on the promised joys of the future world as if godliness had no promise of the life which now is, and in so doing we take all life and color from those expected blessings. The true view seems to be, the way of wisdom, the path of the upright, is so full of joy, so crowned with peace; the life of the children of the kingdom is so wisely and bountifully provided for; the inevitable pains and troubles which fall to their share are so transformed; that from this present good we can infer a future better, gathering hints and promises of what we shall be from the realized felicity of what we are.

If we try to estimate the temporal blessings of wisdom we do not thereby deny the larger and more lasting blessings which are to come; while if we ignore these present joyful results we deprive ourselves of the surest evidence for the things which, though hoped for, are not yet seen.

We may, then, with much advantage try to estimate some of the immediate and apprehensible benefits of the life which is lived according to the dictates of heavenly wisdom.

(1) First of all, the right life is a wholesome life-yes, physically healthy. Obedience to the eternal moral laws brings "health to the navel," and that peculiar brightness which is like the freshness of dew. The body is a sacred trust, a temple of the Holy Ghost; to use it ill is to violate the trust and to defile the temple. The temperance of habit and orderliness of life which Wisdom requires of her children are the first conditions of vitality. They who seek health as the first consideration become valetudinarians and find neither health nor happiness; but they who diligently follow the law of God and the impulse of His Spirit find that health has come to them, as it were, by a side wind. The peace of mind, the cheerfulness of temper, the transfer of all anxiety from the human spirit to the strong Spirit of God, are very favorable to longevity. Insurance societies have made this discovery, and actuaries will tell you that in a very literal way the children of God possess the earth, while the wicked are cut off.

Yet no one thinks of measuring life only by days and years. To live long with the constant feeling that life is not worth living, or to live long with the constant apprehension of death, must be counted as a small and empty life. Now, it is the chief blessedness in the lot of the children of light that each day is a full, rich day, unmarred by recollections, unshadowed by apprehensions. Each day is distinctly worth living; it has its own exquisite lessons of cloud or sunshine, its own beautiful revelations of love, and pity, and hope. Time does not hang heavily on the hands, nor yet is its hurried flight a cause of vain regret; for it has accomplished that for which it was sent, and by staying longer could not accomplish more. And if, after all, God has appointed but a few years for His child’s earthly life, that is not to be regretted; the only ground for sorrow would be to live longer than His wise love had decreed. "If God thy death desires," as St. Genest says to Adrien in Rotrou’s tragedy, "life has been long enow."

The life in God is undoubtedly a healthy life, nor is it the less healthy because the outward man has to decay, and mortality has to be swallowed up of life. From the standpoint of the Proverbs this wider application of the truth was not as yet visible. The problem which emerges in the book of Job was not yet solved. But already, as I think we shall see, it was understood that the actual and tangible rewards of righteousness were of incomparable price, and made the prosperity of the wicked look poor and delusive.

(2) But there is a second result of the right life which ordinary observation and common sense may estimate. Wisdom is very uncompromising in her requirement of fair dealing between man and man. She cannot away with those commercial practices which can only be described as devising "evil against thy neighbor," who "dwelleth securely by thee." [Proverbs 3:29] Her main economic principle is this, that all legitimate trade is the mutual advantage of buyer and seller; where the seller is seeking to dupe the buyer, and the buyer is seeking to rob the seller, trade ceases, and the transaction is the mere in-working of the devil. Wisdom is quite aware that by these ways of the devil wealth may be accumulated; she is not blind to the fact that the overreaching spirit of greed has its rich and splendid reward; but she maintains none the less that "the curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked; but He blesseth the habitation of the righteous." [Proverbs 3:33]

It is a very impressive experience to enter the house of a great magnate whose wealth has been obtained by questionable means. The rooms are beautiful; works by the great masters shed their radiance of eternal truth from the walls; the library gleams with the well-bound books of moralists and religions teachers. The sons and daughters of the house are fair and elegant; the smile of prosperity is in every curtained and carpeted room, and seems to beam out of every illuminated window; and yet the sensitive spirit cannot be rid of the idea that "the curse of the Lord is in the house."

On the other hand, the honorable man whose paths have been directed by the Lord, no matter whether he be wealthy or merely in receipt, as the result of a life’s labor, of his "daily bread," has a blessing in his house. Men trust him and honor him. His wealth flows as a fertilizing stream, or if it run dry, his friends, who love him for himself, make him feel that it was a good thing to lose it in order to find them. In proportion as the fierce struggle of competition has made the path of fair dealing more difficult, they who walk in it are the more honored and loved. Nowhere does Wisdom smile more graciously or open her hand to bless more abundantly, than in the later years of a life which has in its earlier days been exposed, and has offered a successful resistance, to the strong temptations of unrighteous gain.

(3) Further, Wisdom commands not only justice, but generosity. She requires her children to yield the first-fruits of all their possessions to the Lord, and to look tenderly upon His poor. "Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbor, Go, and come again, and tomorrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee." [Proverbs 3:27-28] And the teaching of experience is that those who act upon this precept purchase to themselves a good possession. The main value of the Mammon of unrighteousness is, as our Lord says, to make to ourselves friends with it, friends who shall receive us into the everlasting habitations. The money we spend upon our own pleasures, and to promote our own interests, is spent and gone; but the money given with an open hand to those poor children of God, to whom it is strictly due, is not spent at all, but laid up in the most secure of banks. There is no source of joy in this present world to be compared with the loving gratitude of the poor whom you have lovingly helped. Strangely enough, men will spend much to obtain a title which carries no honor with it, forgetting that the same money given to the needy and the suffering purchases the true honor, which gives the noblest title. For we are none of us so stupid as to think that the empty admiration of the crowd is so rich in blessing as the heartfelt love of the few.

But in enumerating these external results of right living we have only touched incidentally upon the deeper truths which lie at the root of it. It is time to look at these.

God is necessarily so much to men, men are necessarily so completely bereft without Him, that clear vision and strong action are utterly impossible apart from a humble dependence upon Him. The beginning of all wisdom is, as we have seen, in the recognition of God, in personal submission to Him, in diligent obedience to all His directions. This appears, before we reflect, to be a mere truism; when we have reflected, it proves to be a great revelation. We do not at first see what is meant by trusting in the Lord with all our heart; we confuse it with that tepid, conventional relation to God which too frequently passes current for faith. We do not readily apprehend what is implied in acknowledging God in all our ways; we suppose that it only means a general professing and calling ourselves Christians. Consequently, many of us who believe that we trust in the Lord, yet lean habitually and confidently upon our own understanding, and are even proud of doing so; we are wise in our own eyes long after our folly has become apparent to everyone else; we resent with a vehemence of righteous indignation any imputation upon the soundness of our judgment. The very tone of mock humility in which we say, "I may be wrong, but" shows that we are putting a case which seems to us practically impossible. Consequently, while we think that we are acknowledging God in all our ways, He does not direct our paths; indeed, we never gave Him an opportunity. From first to last we directed them ourselves. Let us frankly acknowledge that we do not really believe in God’s detailed concern with the affairs of the individual life; that we do not, therefore, commit our way with an absolute surrender into His hand; that we do not think of submitting to His disposal the choice of our profession, the choice of our partner in life, the choice of our place of residence, the choice of our style of living, the choice of our field of public service, the choice of our scale of giving. Let us confess that we settled all these things in implicit and unquestioning reliance upon our own understanding.

I speak only in wide and fully admitted generalities. If Christians as a whole had really submitted their lives in every detail to God, do you suppose that there would be something like fifty thousand Christian ministers and ten times that number of Christian workers at home, while scarcely a twentieth of that number have gone out from us to labor abroad? If Christians had really submitted their lives to God, would there have been these innumerable wretched marriages-man and wife joined together by no spiritual tie, but by the caprice of fancy or the exigencies of social caste? If Christians had really asked God to guide them, meaning what they said, would all the rich be found in districts together, while all the poor are left to perish in other districts apart? If Christians had really accepted God’s direction, would they be living in princely luxury while the heathen world is crying for the bread of life? Would they be spending their strength on personal aims while the guidance of social and political affairs is left in the hands of the self-interested? Would they be giving such a fragment of their wealth to the direct service of the Kingdom of God?

We may answer very confidently that the life actually being lived by the majority of Christian people is not the result of God directing their paths, but simply comes from leaning on their own understanding. And what a sorrowful result!

But in the face of this apostasy of life and practice, we can still joyfully point to the fact that they who do entirely renounce their own judgment, who are small in their own eyes, and who, with their whole heart trusting Him, acknowledge Him in all their ways, find their lives running over with blessing, and become the means of incalculable good to the world and to themselves. It would not be easy to make plain or even credible, to those who have never trusted in God, how this guidance and direction are given. Not by miraculous signs or visible interpositions, not by voices speaking from heaven, nor even by messages from human lips, but by ways no less distinct and infinitely more authoritative, God guides men with His eye upon them, tells them, "This is the way; walk ye in it," and whispers to them quite intelligibly when they turn to the right hand or the left. With a noble universality of language, this text says nothing of Urim or Thummim, of oracle or seer, of prophet or book: "He shall direct thy paths." [Proverbs 3:6] That is enough; the method is left open to the wisdom and love of Him who directs. There is something even misleading in saying much about the methods; to set limits to God’s revelations, as Gideon did, is unworthy of the faith which has become aware of God as the actual and living Reality, compared with whom all other realities are but shadows. Our Lord did not follow the guidance of His Father by a mechanical method of signs, but by a more intimate and immediate perception of His will. When Jesus promised us the Spirit as an indwelling and abiding presence He clearly intimated that the Christian life should be maintained by the direct action of God upon the several faculties of the mind, stimulating the memory, quickening the perception of truth, as well as working on the conscience and opening the channels of prayer. When we wait for signs we show a defect of faith. True trust in our Heavenly Father rests in the absolute assurance that He will make the path plain, and leave us in no uncertainty about His will. To doubt that He speaks inwardly and controls us, even when we are unconscious of His control, is to doubt Him altogether.

When a few years have been passed in humble dependence on God, it is then possible to look back and see with astonishing clearness how real and decisive the leadings of the Spirit have been.

There were moments when two alternatives were present, and we were tempted to decide on the strength of our own understanding; but thanks be to his name, we committed it to Him. We stepped forward then in the darkness; we deserted the way which seemed most attractive, and entered the narrow path which was shrouded in mist. We knew He was leading us, but we could not see. Now we see, and we cannot speak our praise. Our life, we find, is all a plan of God, and He conceals it from us, as if on purpose to evoke our trust, and to secure that close and personal communion which the uncertainty renders necessary.

Are you suspicious of the Inward Light, as it is called? Does it seem to open up endless possibilities of self-delusion? Are you disgusted with those who follow their own willful way, and seek a sanction for it by calling it the leading of God? You will find that the error has arisen from not trusting the Lord "with the whole heart," or from not acknowledging Him "in all ways." The eye has not been single, and the darkness therefore has been, as our Lord declares that it would be, dense. [Matthew 6:22] The remedy is not to be found in leaning more on our own understanding, but rather in leaning less. Wisdom calls for a certain absoluteness in all our relations to God, a fearless, unreserved, and constantly renewed submission of heart to Him. Wisdom teaches that in His will is our peace, and that His will is learnt by practical surrender to His ways and commandments.

Now, is it not obvious that while the external results of wisdom are great and marked, this inward result, which is the spring of them all, is more blessed than any? The laws which govern the universe are the laws of God. The Stoic philosophy demanded a life according to Nature. That is not enough, for by Nature is meant God’s will for the inanimate or non-moral creation. Where there is freedom of the will, existence must not be "according to Nature," but according to God; that is to say, life must be lived in obedience to God’s laws for human life. The inorganic world moves in ordered response to God’s will. We, as men, have to choose; we have to discover; we have to interpret. Woe to us if we choose amiss, for then we are undone. Woe to us if we do not understand, but in a brutish way follow the ordinances of death instead of the way of life.

Now, the supreme bliss of the heavenly wisdom is that it leads us into this detailed obedience to the law which is our life; it sets us under the immediate and unbroken control of God. Well may it be said, "Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies." [Proverbs 3:13-15] And yet rubies are very precious. I learn that the valley in Burmah where the most perfect rubies in the world are found is situated four thousand five hundred feet above the sea level, in a range of mountainous spurs about eighty miles due north of Mandalay; but owing to the difficult nature of the intervening ground, the valley can only be reached by a circuitous journey of some two hundred miles, which winds through malarious jungles and over arduous mountain passes. An eminent jewellers’ firm is about to explore the Valley of Rubies, though it is quite uncertain whether the stones may not be exhausted. Wisdom is "more precious than rubies, and none of the things thou canst desire are to be compared unto her."

To know the secret of the Lord, to walk in this world not guideless, but led by the Lord of life, to approach death itself not fearful, but in the hands of that Infinite Love for whom death does not exist, surely this is worth more than the gold and precious stones which belong only to the earth and are earthy. This wisdom is laden with riches which cannot be computed in earthly treasures; "she is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her." [Proverbs 3:18] The creation itself, in its vast and infinite perfections, with all its aeonian changes, and all the mysterious ministries which order its details and maintain its activities, comes from that same wisdom which controls the right human life. The man, therefore, who is led in the ways of wisdom, trusting wholly to God, is in harmony with that great universe of which he forms an intelligent part: he may lie down without being afraid; he may walk securely without stumbling; no sudden fear can assail him; all the creatures of God are his sisters and his brothers; even Sister Death, as St. Francis used to say, is a familiar and a friend to him.

We have been dwelling upon the outward results of Heavenly Wisdom-the health, the prosperity, the friends, the favor with God and man which come to those who possess her. We have been led to seek out the secret of her peace in the humble surrender of the will to its rightful Lord. But there is a caution needed, a truth which has already occurred to the author of this chapter. It is evident that while Wisdom brings in her hand riches and honor, [Proverbs 3:16] health to the navel, and marrow to the bones, [Proverbs 3:8] it will not be enough to judge only by appearances. As we have pondered upon the law of Wisdom, we have become aware that there may be an apparent health and prosperity, a bevy of friends, and a loud-sounding fame which are the gift not of Wisdom, but of some other power. It will not do, therefore, to set these outward things before our eyes as the object of desire; it will not do to envy the possessors of them. [Proverbs 3:31] "The secret of the Lord is with the upright," and it may often be that they to whom His secret has become open will choose the frowns of adversity rather than the smile of prosperity, will choose poverty rather than wealth, will welcome solitude and contumely down in the Valley of Humiliation. For it is an open secret, in the sweet light of wisdom it becomes a self-evident truth, that "whom the Lord loveth He reproveth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth." [Proverbs 3:12]

There is, then, a certain paradox in the life of wisdom which no ingenuity can avoid. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, but we may not seek them because they are pleasant, for other ways are pleasant too, or seem to be so for a while. All her paths are peace, but we do not enter them to gain peace, for the peace comes often under the stress of a great conflict or in the endurance of a heavy chastening. A thousand temporal blessings accompany the entrance into the narrow way, but so far from seeking them, it is well-nigh impossible to start on the way unless we lose sight and care of them altogether. The Divine Wisdom gives us these blessings when we no longer set our hearts on them, because while we set our hearts on them they are dangerous to us. Putting the truth in the clearest light which has been given to us, the light of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are called upon to give up everything in order to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and when we are absorbed in that as our true object of search everything is given back to us a hundredfold; we are called upon to take up our cross and follow Him, and when we do so He bears the cross for us; we are called upon to take His yoke upon us and to learn of Him, and immediately we take it-not before-we find that it is easy. The wise, loving only wisdom, find that they have inherited glory; the fools, seeking only promotion, find that they have achieved nothing but shame. [Proverbs 3:35]


Verses 1-35

CHAPTER 10

TWO VOICES IN THE HIGH PLACES OF THE CITY

Proverbs 9:1-18, Proverbs 20:14 with Proberbs 3, and Proverbs 20:16 with Proverbs 4:1-27

AFTER the lengthened contrast between the vicious woman and Wisdom in chapters 7 and 8, the introduction of the book closes with a little picture which is intended to repeat and sum up all that has gone before. It is a peroration, simple, graphic, and beautiful.

There is a kind of competition between Wisdom and Folly, between Righteousness and Sin, between Virtue and Vice; and the allurements of the two are disposed in an intentional parallelism; the coloring and arrangement are of such a kind that it becomes incredible how any sensible person, or for that matter even the simple himself, could for a moment hesitate between the noble form of Wisdom and the meretricious attractions of Folly. The two voices are heard in the high places of the city; each of them invites the passers-by, especially the simple and unsophisticated-the one into her fair palace, the other into her foul and deadly house. The words of their invitation are very similar: "Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that is void of understanding, she saith to him:" but how different is the burden of the two messages! Wisdom offers life, but is silent about enjoyment; Folly offers enjoyment, but says nothing of the death which must surely ensue.

First of all we will give our attention to the Palace of Wisdom and the voices which issue from it, and then we will note for the last time the features and the arts of Mistress Folly.

The Palace of Wisdom is very attractive; well-built and well furnished, it rings with the sounds of hospitality; and, with its open colonnades, it seems of itself to invite all passers-by to enter in as guests. It is reared upon seven well-hewn marble pillars, in a quadrangular form, With the entrance side left wide open. This is no shifting tent or tottering hut, but an eternal mansion, that lacks nothing of stability, or completeness, or beauty. Through the spacious doorways may be seen the great courtyard, in which appear the preparations for a perpetual feast. The beasts are killed and dressed: the wine stands in tall flagons ready mixed for drinking: the tables are spread and decked. All is open, generous, large, a contrast to that unhallowed private supper to which the unwary youth was invited by his seducer. [Proverbs 7:14] There are no secret chambers, no twilight suggestions and insinuations: the broad light shines over all; there is a promise of social joy; it seems that they will be blessed who sit down together at this board. And now the beautiful owner of the palace has sent forth her maidens into the public ways of the city: theirs is a gracious errand; they are not to chide with sour and censorious rebukes, but they are to invite with winning friendliness; they are to offer this rare repast, which is now ready, to all those who are willing to acknowledge their need of it. "Come, eat ye of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled." [Proverbs 9:5]

We were led to inquire in the last chapter how far our Lord identified Himself with the hypostatic Wisdom who was speaking there, and we were left in some doubt whether He ever consciously admitted the identity; but it is hardly a matter of doubt that this passage was before His mind when He spoke His parable of the Wedding Feast. And the connection is still more apparent when we look at the Greek version of the LXX, and notice that the clause "sent forth her bond-servants" is precisely the same in Proverbs 9:3 and in Matthew 22:3. Here, at any rate, Jesus, who describes Himself as "a certain king," quite definitely occupies the place of the ancient Wisdom in the book of Proverbs, and the language which in this passage she employs He, as we shall see, in many slight particulars made His own.

Yes, our Lord, the Wisdom Incarnate, has glorious ideas of hospitality; He keeps open house; His purpose is to call mankind to a great feast; the "bread and the wine" are prepared; the sacrifice which furnishes the meat is slain. His messengers are not commissioned with a mournful or a condemnatory proclamation, but with good tidings which they are to publish in the high places. His word is always, Come. His desire is that men should live, and therefore He calls them into the way of understanding. [Proverbs 9:6] If a man lacks wisdom, if he recognizes his ignorance, his frailty, his folly, if he is at any rate wise enough to know that he is foolish, well enough to know that he is sick, righteous enough to know that he is sinful, let him approach this noble mansion with its lordly feast. Here is bread which is meat indeed; here is wine which is life-giving, the fruit of the Vine which God has planted.

But now we are to note that the invitation of Wisdom is addressed only to the simple, not to the scorner. [Proverbs 9:7] She lets the scorner pass by, because a word to him would recoil only in shame on herself, bringing a blush to her queenly face, and would add to the scorner’s wickedness by increasing his hatred of her. Her reproof would not benefit him, but it would bring a blot upon herself, it would exhibit her as ineffectual and helpless. The bitter words of a scorner can make wisdom appear foolish, and cover virtue with a confusion which should belong only to vice. "Speak not in the hearing of a fool; for he will despise the wisdom of thy words." [Proverbs 23:9] Indeed, there is no character so hopeless as that of the scorner; there proceeds from him, as it were, a fierce blast, which blows away all the approaches which goodness makes to him. Reproof cannot come near him; [Proverbs 13:1] he cannot find wisdom, though he seek it; [Proverbs 14:6] and as a matter of fact, he never seeks it. [Proverbs 15:12] If one attempts to punish him it can only be with the hope that others may benefit by the example; it will have no effect upon him. [Proverbs 19:25] To be rid of him must be the desire of every wise man, for he is an abomination to all, [Proverbs 24:9] and with his departure contention disappears. [Proverbs 22:10] They that scoff at things holy, and scorn the Divine Power, must be left to themselves until the beginnings of wisdom appear in them-the first sense of fear that there is a God who may not be mocked, the first recognition that there is a sanctity which they would do well at all events to reverence. There must be a little wisdom in the heart before a man can enter the Palace of Wisdom; there must be a humbling, a self-mistrust, a diffident misgiving before the scorner will give heed to her invitation.

There is an echo of this solemn truth in more than one saying of the Lord’s. He too cautioned His disciples against casting their pearls before swine, lest they should trample the pearls under their feet, and turn to rend those who were foolish enough to offer them such treasure. [Matthew 7:6] Men must often be taught in the stern school of Experience, before they can matriculate in the reasonable college of Wisdom. It is not good to give that which is holy to dogs, nor to display the sanctities of religion to those who will only put them to an open shame. Where we follow our own way instead of the Lord’s, and insist on offering the treasures of the kingdom to the scorners, we are not acting according to the dictates of Wisdom, we get a blot for that goodness which we so rashly offer, and often are needlessly rent by those whom we meant to save. It is evident that this is only one side of a truth, and our Lord presented with equal fullness the other side; it was from Him we learnt how the scorner himself, who cannot be won by reproof, can sometimes be won by love; but our Lord thought it worthwhile to state this side of the truth, and so far to make this utterance of the ancient Wisdom His own.

Again, how constantly He insisted on the mysterious fact that to him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken what he hath, precisely in the spirit of this saying: "Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning." The entrance into the kingdom, as into the house of Wisdom, is by humility. Except a man turn, and become as a little child, he cannot enter. Wisdom is only justified of her children: until the heart is humble it cannot even begin to be wise; although it may seem to possess a great deal, all must be taken away, and a new beginning must be made-that beginning which is found in the fear of the Lord, and in the knowledge of the Holy. [Proverbs 9:10]

The closing words in the invitation of Wisdom are entirely appropriate in the lips of Jesus, and, indeed, only in His lips could they be accepted in their fullest signification. There is a limited sense in which all wisdom is favorable to long life, as we saw in chapter 3, but it is an obvious remark, too, that the wise perish even as the fool; one event happens to them both, and there appears to be no difference. But the Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus Christ, was able to say with a broad literalness, "By Me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased." With Him the outlook widened; He could speak of a new life, of raising men up at the last day; He could for the first time give a solution to that constant enigma which has puzzled men from the beginning, How is it that Wisdom promises life, and yet often requires that her children should die? How is it that the best and wisest have often chosen death, and so to all appearance have robbed the world of their goodness and their wisdom? He could give the answer in the glorious truth of the Resurrection; and so, in calling men to die for Him, as He often does, He can in the very moment of their death say to them with a fullness of meaning, "By Me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased."

And then how entirely is it in harmony with all His teaching to emphasize to the utmost the individual choice and the individual responsibility. "If thou art wise, thou art wise for thyself: and if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it." There can be no progress, indeed no beginning, in the spiritual life, until this attitude of personal isolation is understood. It is the last result of true religion that we live in others; but it is the first that we live in ourselves: and until we have learnt to live in ourselves we can be of no use by living in others. Until the individual soul is dealt with, until.it has understood the demands which are made upon it, and met them, it is in no position to take its rightful place as a lively stone in the temple of God, or as a living member in the body of Christ. Yes, realize this searching assurance of Wisdom, let us say, rather, of Christ: if you are like the wise virgins in the parable, it is for your own everlasting good, you shall enter into the hall with the Bridegroom; but if you are like the foolish virgins, no wisdom of the wise can avail you, no vicarious light will serve for your lamps; for you there must be the personal humiliation and sorrow of the Lord’s "I know you not."

If with scornful indifference to your high trust as a servant of the Master you hide your talent, and justify your conduct to yourself by pleading that the Master is a hard man, that scorn must recoil upon your own head; so far from the enlarged wealth of the others coming to meet your deficiencies, the misused trifle which you still retain will be taken from you and given to them. Men have sometimes favored the notion that it is possible to spend a life of scornful indifference to God and all His holy commandments, a life of arrogant self-seeking and bitter contempt for all His other creatures, and yet to find oneself at the end entirely purged of one’s contempt, and on precisely equal terms with all pious and humble hearts; but against this notion Wisdom loudly exclaims; it is the notion of Folly, and so far from redeeming the folly, it is Folly’s worst condemnation: for surely Conscience and Reason, the heart and the head, might tell us that it is false; and all that is sanest and wisest in us concurs in the direct and simple assurance, "If thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it."

Such is the invitation, and such the warning of Wisdom; such is the invitation, and such the warning, of Christ. Leave off, ye simple ones, and live. After all, most of us are not scorners, but only very foolish, easily dazzled with false lights, easily misled with smooth utterances which happen to chime in with our own ignorant prejudices, easily seduced into by-paths which in quiet moments we readily acknowledge to be sinful and hurtful. The scorners are but a few; the simple ones are many. Here is this gracious voice appealing to the simple ones, and with a winsome liberality inviting them to the feast of Wisdom.

At the close of verse 12 (Proverbs 9:12) the LXX give a very interesting addition, which was probably translated from a Hebrew original. It seems to have been before our Lord’s mind when He drew the description of the unclean spirit walking through waterless places, seeking rest and finding none. [Matthew 12:43] The passage is a figurative delineation of the evils which result from making shams and insincerities the support of life, in place of the unfailing sureness and available strength of wisdom; it may be rendered thus: "He who makes falsehood his support shepherds the winds, and will find himself pursuing birds on the wing; for it means leaving the paths of his own vineyard, and wandering over the borders of his own husbandry; it means walking through a waterless wilderness, over land which is the portion of the thirsty; he gathers in his hands fruitlessness." What a contrast to the spacious halls and the bountiful fare of Wisdom! A life based upon everlasting verities may seem for the time cold and desolate, but it is founded upon a rock, and not a barren rock either, for it sends forth in due course corn, and wine, and oil. The children in that house have bread enough and to spare. But when a man prefers make-believe to reality, and follows the apparently pleasant, instead of the actually good, what a clutching of winds it is! What a chase after swift-vanishing birds of joy! The wholesome ways, fruitful, responsive to toil, are left far behind; and here soon is the actual desert, without a drop of water to cool the lips, or a single fruit of the earth which a man can eat. The deluded soul consumes his substance with harlots, and he gathers the wind. The ways of vice are terrible; they produce a thirst which they cannot quench; and they fill the imagination with torturing images of well-being which are farther removed from reality by every step we take. Wisdom bids us to make truth our stay, for after all the Truth is the Way and the Life, and there is no other way, no other life.

And now comes the brief closing picture of Folly, to which again the LXX give a short addition. Folly is loud, empty-headed as her victims, whom she invites to herself, not as Wisdom invites them, to leave off their simplicity, but rather as like to like, that their ignorance may be confirmed into vice, and their simplicity into brutishness. She has had the effrontery to build her house in the most prominent and lofty place of the city, where by good rights only Wisdom should dwell. Her allurements are specially directed to those who seem to be going right on in their wholesome ways, as if she found her chief delight, not in gratifying the vicious, but in making vicious the innocent. Her charms are: poor and tawdry enough; seen in the broad sun-light, and with the wholesome air all round her, she would be revolting to every uncorrupted nature; her clamorous voice would sound strident, and her shameless brow would create a blush of shame in others; she naturally therefore seeks to throw a veil over herself and a glamour over her proposals; she suggests that secrecy and illicitness will lend a charm to what in itself is a sorry delight. It is clandestine, therefore it is to be sweet; it is forbidden, therefore it is to be pleasant. Could anything be more sophistical? That which owes its attraction to the shadows of the night must obviously be intrinsically unattractive. It is an argument fit only for the shades of the lost, and not for those who breathe the sweet air and behold the sun. Her house is indeed haunted with ghosts, and when a man enters her portal he already has his foot in hell. Well may the LXX add the vehement warning, "Spring away from her clutches; do not linger in the place; let her not have thy name, for thou wilt traverse another’s waters; from another’s waters hold aloof, from another’s fountains do not drink, in order that thou mayest live long, and add to thy years of life."

And now, before leaving this subject, we must briefly remark the great change and advance which Christ has brought into our thought of the relation between the two sexes. This Book of Wisdom is a fair illustration of the contempt in which woman was held by the wise men of Israel. One would suppose that she is the temptress, and man is the victim. The teacher never dreams of going a step backward, and asking whose fault it was that the temptress fell into her vicious ways. He takes no note of the fact that women are first led astray before they lead others. Nor does he care to inquire how the men of his day ruined their women by refusing to them all mental training, all wholesome interest and occupation, shutting them up in the corrupting atmosphere of the seraglio, and teaching them to regard the domestic sphere, and that only in its narrowest sense, as the proper limit of their thought and affection. It was reserved for the Great Teacher, the Incarnate Wisdom Himself, to redress this age-long injustice to woman, by sternly holding up to men the mirror of truth in which they might see their own guilty hearts. It was reserved for him to touch the conscience of a city woman who was a sinner, and to bring her from her clamorous and seductive ways to the sweetness of penitential tears, and the rapturous love which forgiveness kindles. It is He, and not the ancient Wisdom, who has turned the current of men’s thoughts into juster and kindlier ways on this great question. And thus it is that the great Christian poet represents the archangel correcting the faulty judgment of man. Adam, speaking with the usual virtuous indignation of the stronger sex in contemplation of the soft vision of frail women presented to his eyes, says:-

"O pity and shame, that they, who to live well

Entered so fair, should turn aside to tread

Paths indirect, or in the midway faint!

But still I see the tenor of man’s woe

Holds on the same, from woman to begin."

The correction is the correction of Christ, though Michael is the speaker:-

"From man’s effeminate slackness it begins," Said the angel, "who should better hold his place, By wisdom and superior gifts received."

Our Lord draws no such pictures as these in the book of proverbs; they have their value; it is necessary to warn young men against the seductions which the vices of other men have created in woman’s form; but He prefers always to go to the root of the matter; He speaks to men themselves; He bids them restrain the wandering eye, and keep pure the fountains of the heart. To that censorious Wisdom which judges without any perception that woman is more sinned against than sinning He would oppose His severe command to be rid of the beam in one’s own eye, before making an attempt to remove the mote from another’s. It is in this way that He in so many varied fields of thought and action has turned a half-truth into a whole truth by going a little deeper, and unveiling the secrets of the heart; and in this way He has enabled us to use the half-truth, setting it in its right relation to the whole.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Proverbs 3:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/proverbs-3.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology