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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Proverbs 25

 

 

Verse 1

1. These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out — This is the title of this section. The Geneva Bible reads: “These are also PARABLES of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah copied out.”


Verse 2

2. Glory of God to conceal — “The counsels, designs, and operations of God are (often) inscrutable, (Deuteronomy 29:29; Romans 11:33-34,) and man can only adore with reverent humility that which is above his reach. It, therefore, redounds to the glory of God that his ways are inscrutable, and, as it were, concealed; but it is honourable for kings to search out vice in order to punish it, virtue in order to reward it, and truth in order to promulgate it.” — Holden. Compare Isaiah 45:15. Kings and those in authority should never, in the important matters of their trust, proceed without full and sufficient inquiry.


Verse 3

3. Heart of kings is unsearchable — It is one thing for kings to examine into matters carefully before deciding upon them, and another to keep the secrets of their own aims and plans. It is usually impossible for common minds to penetrate the secrets of State, or understand the comprehensive designs and plans of astute rulers. A private soldier ordinarily knows very little of the plan of a campaign or of a battle. A private citizen frequently knows as little of the strategy of his rulers. The allusion is, of course, to Oriental and despotic monarchs. But the proverb is pertinent, also, under other forms of government.


Verse 4-5

4, 5. Take away the dross, etc. — Let wicked counsellors and companions be removed from the king, and their places filled with good men, and the government will be established by equity and justice. A good proverb this for kings, and all who are in authority. Compare Proverbs 16:12; Proverbs 20:8; Proverbs 29:14.


Verse 6-7

6, 7. Put not forth thyself — The meaning is, “Do not bear thyself proudly.” — Conant. Do not make a display. “Spread not thyself” (Miller) before the king, to attract his attention, nor intrude among those of high rank. It is better to be exalted to a place thou hast not sought, than to be degraded from one into which thou hast pushed thyself. A good proverb for aspirants after office, whether in Church or State. Comp. Luke 14:8-10; Matthew 23:12.


Verse 8

8. Go not forth… to strive — Do not begin controversies, nor contend at law.

Know not what to do — Or, lest thou do something in the end that is humiliating or vexatious. Some critics would read the passage, Lest it be said to thee, What wilt thou do? The teaching is: “It is dangerous to plunge into litigation;” and the experience of thousands of years, and ten thousands of men, confirm it.


Verse 9-10

9, 10. Debate thy cause… neighbour — Reason with him — plead with him.

Discover not a secret — Do not suffer any angry feeling against thy neighbour, growing out of a contest, to induce thee to take vengeance on him by causelessly revealing a secret to his injury. This would be dishonourable, and get thee a bad name. “Make no third person a party to difficulties that can be settled between thee and him.” — Conant. Comp. Matthew 18:15.


Verse 11

11. A word fitly spoken — The margin reads, “spoken upon his wheels.” Compare Proverbs 15:23. That is, as Clarke explains, comes in naturally, runs smoothly, appears to be without design, rises out of the conversation, etc. With this accord many of the older interpreters. But later expositors, as also some of the ancients, do not regard the word אפניו, (ophnayv,) as derived from אופן, (ophan,) a wheel, but from, אפן, (ophen,) time, season, etc.; a word in season — at the fitting time. This is preferable.

Apples of gold in pictures of silver — Various are the renderings of this clause. “An apple of gold in a sardine (cornelian) collar.” — Septuagint. “Apples of gold in beds of silver.” — Vulgate. “Apples of gold among picturework of silver.” — Stuart. “Among figures of silver.” — Boothroyd, Noyes. “In framework of silver.” — Zockler. “In curiously wrought baskets of silver.” — Holden. “In a silver network basket.” — Patrick. “As golden fruit in baskets of silver.” — Muenscher. “Ingravings.” — Conant. Paraphrased by Dr. Adam Clarke: “Like the refreshing orange or beautiful citron served up in open-work or filigree baskets made of silver.” The principle point of difference among the critics is, whether the allusion is to real fruit in real baskets, or to pictures of fruit in baskets. The “idea,” says Stuart, “is that of a garment of precious stuff in which are introduced golden apples among picturework of silver.” This theory is favoured by the word משׂכיות, (maski-yyoth,) rendered in our version pictures, in others picturework, etc. The word and its cognates are used in the sense of pictures, resemblances, representations, engravings, sculptures, imagery, etc., in sundry places. Isaiah 20:10; Leviticus 26:1; Numbers 33:52; Ezekiel 8:12, etc. But the note of Dr. Clarke sufficiently accounts for the use of this word here on the other theory.

“The Asiatics,” says he, “excel in filigree silverwork. I have seen much of it, and it is exquisitely beautiful. The silver wire, by which it is done, they form into the appearance of numerous flowers… I have seen animals of this filigree work, with all their limbs, and every joint in its natural play. Fruit-baskets are made in this way, and are exquisitely fine. The wise man seems to have this kind of work particularly in view, and the contrast of the golden yellow fruit in the exquisitely wrought silver baskets, which may all be termed picturework, has a fine and pleasing effect upon the eye, as the contained fruit has upon the palate, at an entertainment in a sultry climate.” The comparison teaches that an agreeable medium greatly enhances the attractiveness of truth; that appropriate words, uttered at a fitting time, are sure to be acceptable and effective. — Muenscher. It is generally agreed that the apples of the verse are not our apples, but a fruit of the lemon kind, probably the citron — some think the quince; but the golden yellow citron is excellent and greatly relished. The citron trees were also very beautiful. The goodly trees in Leviticus 23:40 are explained by the Targum as the citron tree. The Rabbins say, that the first “fruits of them were carried to the temple in silver baskets.”


Verse 12

12. As an earring — The original means either an earring or a nose-ring. The Orientals are as fond of rings in their nostrils as our modern ladies of rings in their ears.

An ornament of fine gold — A necklace or collar “of fine gold.” An ear attentive to instruction is better than one ornamented with gold rings.


Verse 13

13. As the cold of snow — Snow was used among the Asiatics as we use ice, for the purpose of cooling their drinks in summer. It was considered preferable to ice for this purpose. When packed away in masses and consolidated, it did not melt so readily as ice, and was thought to make a more refreshing drink. Hermon was always covered with snow, and furnished an abundant supply to the adjacent country. The trusty messenger or ambassador, who executes his commission to the satisfaction of these sending him, is as welcome when he returns as the most refreshing drink is to thirsty reapers in the time of harvest. Compare Proverbs 10:26; Proverbs 13:17; Proverbs 22:21.


Verse 14

14. A false gift — This is understood of one that boasts of an intended gift which he never bestows.

Like clouds… without rain — Clouds and wind sometimes give promise of rain that comes not. Coverdale translates according to the sense: “Whose maketh great boasts and giveth nothing.” Compare 2 Peter 2:17; Judges 1:12. For false gift here, the Geneva has “false liberalitie.”


Verse 15

15. By long forbearing — By delay of anger or resentment; by patience.

A soft tongue (a gentle or kind word) breaketh the bone — Changes the most obstinate mind and allays the most irritated feeling. Similar to another proverb, “A soft answer turneth away wrath;” or the German proverb, “Patience breaks iron.” Compare Proverbs 15:1; Proverbs 16:14; Luke 18:45; Genesis 32:4, et seq.; 1 Samuel 25:24.


Verse 16

16. Hast… found honey — Which in the East is frequently found in large quantities in the cavities of trees, rocks, and the like.

So much — That is, only so much as shall satisfy. The proverb inculcates temperance and moderation in the enjoyment of sensual pleasures. “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” Philippians 4:5. For examples of honey-finding, comp. Judges 14:8, et seq.; 1 Samuel 14:26.


Verse 17

17. Withdraw thy foot — Rather, withhold: literally, make it rare or precious: let your visits be so rare that they will be valued. “There may be some connexion intended between this and the preceding. Though thy visits may be as sweet as honey, thy friend may learn to loathe them if too often repeated.”


Verse 18

18. A maul — Or a war club. As these were offensive and injurious weapons, so a false witness is among the most pernicious of men. Compare Proverbs 6:19; Proverbs 12:17; Proverbs 19:5; Proverbs 19:9; Proverbs 21:28; Psalms 120:3-4.


Verse 19

19. An unfaithful man — A treacherous one. “A treacherous man will not only fail you in distress, but will annoy you like a broken tooth or a sprained foot.” — Stuart. “An unsteady foot.” — Conant. “Sliding fote,” (foot.) — Geneva Bible.


Verse 20

20. As he that taketh away — Rather, putteth off.

In cold weather — Literally, in a day of cold.

Vinegar… nitre נתר, (nether,) the natron or natrum of the ancients, and wholly different in its qualities from our nitre or saltpetre. It is an alkali, native in India, Syria, Tripoli, Egypt, Hungary, and other parts of the world. It is found in abundance in many parts of Asia, where the natives sweep it up from the ground, and call it soap earth. It was used in washing clothes and in baths. Compare Jeremiah 2:22. It was made into soap by mixing it with oil. It readily dissolves in water, but produces a strong fermentation with acids. It is known in our modern chemistry (or a similar alkali produced by art) as the carbonate of soda. “Vinegar” here, as elsewhere in the Bible, means sour wine. Its Hebrew form is חמצ, (hhomets,) from the root חמצ, (hhamats,) to be sharp, sour, or to ferment.

A heavy heart — Might be rendered a bad heart, which, according to a high authority, has no relish for music: —

The man that hath no music in himself

Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils. Shakspeare.

So Melanchthon and others interpret the words, and make the meaning, “pertinacious sinners” are made more furious by admonitions. But the words are generally understood, as in our translation, of a heart affected with grief. Mirth, from its incongruity with his feelings, makes a sad man’s heart more sad. The Septuagint reads: “As vinegar is bad for a sore, so trouble befalling the body afflicts the heart;” and adds another: “As a moth in a garment and a worm in wood, so the grief of a man hurts the heart.”


Verse 21-22

21, 22. If thine enemy be hungry… thirsty — These verses are translated by the Seventy more literally than is their wont, only adding in Proverbs 25:22, τουτο γαρ ποιων, “in so doing.” In this form they are quoted by the Apostle Paul, Romans 12:20, except the last clause of 22, and the Lord shall reward thee. This is a good endorsement of the translation.

The latter verse is understood in two different senses:

1. Thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head — That is, on the supposition that he continues his unjust enmity, thou wilt aggravate the punishment which be shall receive from Jehovah. He will punish him the more severely, and reward thee the more richly. This meaning was held by the most of the ancients, and is accepted by some of the moderns as at least the primitive sense of the proverb.

2. Some of the ancient expositors, however, (and most of the moderns,) understood the figure, “coals of fire on his head,” as alluding, not to the painful and destructive effect of burning coals, but to the melting, fusing power of fire as applied to metals. Hence they derive this meaning: Thou wilt melt down his enmity, fill him with burning shame, and soften his hard heart into contrition and kindness.

It is admitted that the idea of pain or punishment enters into the figure, but only that of a mental, spiritual, and salutary kind; which pain, however, as such, is not the object of the treatment, but, rather, the beneficent effect of it is, Whatever may have been the original idea, the latter one is unquestionably the Christian sense, as is evident by what the apostle subjoins: “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” Nor do we see any sufficient reason to doubt that it was also the primitive sense. Many a bad man has been most effectually punished by kindness; and only this form of punishment does Christianity allow in private individual intercourse. Nor were such noble sentiments wholly foreign to the old dispensation. Comp. Exodus 23:4-5; Job 31:29; Proverbs 24:17. Miller renders the verse thus: “For shovelling live coals thyself upon his head, Jehovah shall punish thee;” that is, if instead of giving him food and drink, thou takest vengeance into thine own hands, God, to whom vengeance belongs, will punish thee. The verb ישׁלם, (yeshallem,) to requite, rendered “recompense,” admits of this sense.


Verse 23

23. The north wind — The north, or, rather, northwest wind is said to bring rain at Jerusalem, because it brings up vapours from the Mediterranean Sea. Luke 12:54.

Driveth away — The marginal reading is, “bringeth forth,” which is generally preferred as being more consonant with the etymology, better supported by the Versions, and more consonant to the fact.

Angry countenance a backbiting tongue — Many interpreters transpose the sentence and read thus: The north wind brings forth rain, and a covert tongue an angry countenance. (Conant and others.) This meaning is not beyond doubt. צפון, (tsaphon,) north, means hidden, concealed. The north was the dark, unknown quarter, as compared to the sunny south. This may have given the proverb more point to the Hebrews than it has for us. A wind from the hidden part produces a shower: a concealed (sly, slanderous) tongue, sorry faces.


Verse 24

24. Substantially the same as Proverbs 21:9; Proverbs 21:19, which see.


Verse 25

25. Thirsty soul — With the Hebrew the soul (nephesh) was regarded as the seat of sensuous feelings, and hence was frequently used concretely for the entire man.

Good news — Favourable report, as from a distant friend, or the success of some commercial or military enterprise. Comp. Proverbs 15:30; Genesis 45:27.


Verse 26

26. Falling down — Slipping, wavering, tottering, or ready to fall. It is used of persons whose affairs are not prosperous — who fail or are ruined in business. Some, however, understand it of moral lapses in the presence of the wicked.

Troubled fountain — As if trampled by the feet of beasts.

Corrupt spring — “A defiled well.” — Conant.


Verse 27

27. Not good to eat much honey — “Delicious as it is to an Eastern palate, yet, taken to excess, it is injurious. Proverbs 25:16. Sanutus tells us, that the English who attended Edward I. into the Holy Land died in great numbers as they marched in June to demolish a place, which he ascribes to the excessive heat, and their intemperate eating of fruits and honey.” — Harmer, vol. ii, p. 60. Search their own glory — For men to search for (seek after) their own glory is burdensome. Glory, honour, is good, and a legitimate object of desire; but an over-desire, leading to overaction, is as burdensome to the mind as too much honey is to the stomach, and far more injurious in its consequences.


Verse 28

28. Hath no rule — No restraint or control over his spirit, his temper, his passions. “That refraineth not his appetite.” — Geneva Bible.

Is like a city… broken down… without walls — Therefore in continual danger of invasion and harm. He is always liable to do or say something which will be injurious or fatal to himself. Comp. 2 Chronicles 32:5; Nehemiah 2:13. Ancient cities were invariably walled. Our Christian civilization and improved arts (the military among the rest) render such appendages unnecessary and useless.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Proverbs 25:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/proverbs-25.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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