1 “Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with
them.” We return here to the more usual form, the tetrastich. Be not
thou envious against evil men (see on ch.23:17, where a similar warning is
given, and compare v. 19 below). “Men of wickedness,” wholly given over to
evil. Neither desire to be with them. Their company is pollution, and association
with them makes you a partner in their sinful doings. The Septuagint prefaces
the paragraph with the personal address, υἱέ - huie - son.
v. 1. - (See homily on ch. 23:17-18)
2 “For their heart studieth destruction, and their lips talk of mischief.”
For their heart studieth destruction. The grounds of the warning arc here
given, as in ch. 1:15. “Destruction” (shod); Vulgate, rapinas, “violence”
of all kinds, e.g. robbery, murder. Their lips talk of mischief; utter lies and
slanders which may injure other people or bring themselves profit. Admiration
of such men and intercourse with them must be repugnant to every religious
soul. The Septuagint refers the verse to evil imaginations issuing in evil talk;
“For their heart meditates falsehoods, and their lips speak mischiefs.”
(πόνους – ponos – trouble; pain)
Warning against Evil Company (vs. 1-2)
· THE LOVE OF SOCIETY IS A NATURAL INSTINCT.
· EVIL COMPANY IS OFTEN MOST FASCINATING.
· THE ASSOCIATIONS THAT ARE FOUNDED UPON MERE
FELLOWSHIP IN PLEASURE ARE SELDOM SATISFACTORY,
· THE BAD MAN’S COMPANY IS MORE TO BE SHUNNED
THAN THAT OF ONE SUFFERING FROM A CONTAGIOUS
DISEASE. “Wicked companions,” said a man of the world, the novelist
Fielding, “invite us to hell.” “They are like to be short graces when the
devil plays the host,” said another.
In contrast dwith the conversation of the evil, wisdom is commended. (vs. 3-4)
3 “Through wisdom is an house builded; and by understanding it is
established:” Through wisdom is an house builded (see on ch.14:1).
By prudence, probity, and the fear of God a family is supported and
blessed, maintained and prospered. Established (see on ch. 3:19).
Septuagint, ἀνορθοῦται – anorthoutai – is being restraightened.
4 “And by knowledge shall the chambers be filled with all precious
and pleasant riches.” (Compare ch.1:13 and note ch.3:10.) With
all precious and pleasant (ch. 22:18) riches. Material
prosperity, copious store of necessaries, and wealth, follow on wisdom;
how much more do spiritual blessings attend the fear of God!
Wisdom is beneficial in peace and war. (vs. 5-6)
5 “A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength.”
A wise man is strong. בעוז, “in strength,” full of strength, because, however
feeble in body, he is wise in counsel, firm in purpose, brave in conduct,
thoroughly to be depended upon, and supported by his perfect trust in God
(compare ch.21:22). The Septuagint, with which agree the Syriac and Chaldee,
reading differently, renders, “A wise man is better than a strong man” — a
sentiment which Lesetre compares to Cicoro’s “cedant arma togae.” A man
of knowledge increaseth strength; literally, strengtheneth power; shows greater,
superior power, as Amos 2:14. The Septuagint, from some corruption of the text,
renders, “And a man having prudence (is better) than a large estate (γεωργίου μεγάλου
– georgiou megalou – great piece of cultivated land);” i.e. wisdom will bring a man
more worldly advantages than the possession of extensive farms. The maxim is
proved by what follows.
6 “For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of
counselors there is safety.” Thy war; war for thyself, for thy profit, equivalent
to “successful war” (compare Exodus 14:14). The clause is an echo of ch.20:18
(where see note). The last line is a repetition of ch.11:14 (compare also ch. 15:22).
Septuagint, “War is made with generalship (κυβερνήσεως – kubernaeseos –
administration), and help with a heart that counsels.”
Wisdom Edifies and Invigorates (vs. 3-6)
How fine a word is “edification,” building up, in its moral and Christian
uses! Here the image of the house is directly introduced, and may be
· WISDOM THE FOUNDATION OF DOMESTIC STABILITY
AND HAPPINESS (vs. 3-4) The same great principles apply in the least
as well as the most important things. Every day brings humble occasions
for the practice of the grandest laws, no less in the house, the farm, or the shop,
than in the council chamber or on the battle field. “Method is as efficient in
the packing of firewood in a shed, or the harvesting of fruits in a
cellar, as in Peninsular campaigns or the files of a department of state.” Let
a man keep the Law, and his way will be strewn with satisfactions. There is
more difference in the quality of our pleasures than in the amount.
Comfort and abundance in the home are the certain signs of prudence
and sense and action constantly applied.
· WISDOM THE SOURCE OF MANLY STRENGTH. (vs. 5-6.)
Wisdom is the source of manly strength. (vs. 5-6.) It was a great man who said,
“Knowledge is power.” (Sir Francis Bacon) It is not the force of brute strength,
but that of spiritual energy, which in the long run rules the world. The
illustration of the text is aptly selected from war, where, if anywhere, brute
force might be supposed to prevail. Experience shows that it is not so. The
complete failures of men like
Recent wars have illustrated the truth that it is the deliberate and matured designs
of the strategist and far-seeing statesman which command success, rather than
the “great battalions” on the
side of which
another application, sheer force of intellect is often surpassed and outdone by
the steady and constant employment of humbler powers. Strength in any form
without prudence is like a giant without eyes. Violence and craft may seem
the readiest way to wealth; yet experience shows that prudence and piety lead
most surely to desirable prosperity.
Building with Wisdom (vs. 3-6)
God is the Divine Builder. “He that built all things is God” (Hebrews 3:4).
Man, also, is a great builder. The whole scenery of the earth is not a
little changed by the houses and temples, by the bridges and factories, by
the manifold structures of every size and shape, that he has built. But these
are not the most serious and important of his works. We look at:
· THE HOUSES WE ARE BUILDING. Of these, three are the most
deserving of attention.
Ø Our estate. The position and provision we secure for ourselves and our
family; an honorable place we take among men, as neighbors and fellow
citizens. Every man has to set this before him as a thing to be patiently
pursued and ultimately attained. Some men think of little else or nothing
else, therein making a fatal mistake; but it is the manifest duty as well as
the clear interest of us all, to build up a house of this kind.
Ø Our character. This is “a house” of the first importance. We are here for
this express purpose — that we may be daily and hourly building up a
noble and estimable character; such a character as God will Himself
approve; such as man will admire, and will do well to copy; such as will
command the commendation of our own conscience; such as will stand
firm and strong against all the perils by which it is beset; such as will
contain many virtues and graces in its various “chambers” (v. 4).
“Precious and pleasant rubies,” indeed, are these.
Ø Some cause of Christian usefulness. We should all be diligently
occupied in raising or sustaining some “work” of holy usefulness, by which
the seeds of truth may be scattered, hearts may be comforted, lives may be
brightened, souls may be won to righteousness and wisdom, Christ may be
honored, and His kingdom advanced.
· THE INDISPENSABLE MATERIALS. The wisdom which is from
above. “Through wisdom is a house built, and by understanding it is
established” (v. 3). For wisdom includes or secures:
Ø The fear and therefore the favor of God. (See ch. 1:7; 9:10.)
o To walk and to work in the fear of God is to do all things uprightly and
honorably, truly and faithfully, heartily and thoroughly; and this is the
way to build up any one of these three “houses.”
o To enjoy the favor of God is to have behind us that energizing and
sustaining power without which all labor is vain (Psalm 127:1); it is to
possess the protecting care which will shield us from the storms that
might otherwise overthrow us (ibid. ch. 121:1-8).
Ø The various orders of strength which we need for good building (v. 5).
o It tends to physical health and strength.
o It conduces to mental strength and the increase of knowledge; it
supplies us with good judgment, with tact, with prudence, with
patience, with the very implements of successful labor.
o It ministers to moral and spiritual strength; for it brings us into
communion with God and to the study of His Word.
Ø The power of resistance and attack. By “wise counsel we make war”
(v. 6). It is a very great matter, in all spheres of activity, to know when
to make peace and when to show a fearless front of opposition. And when
the latter course has to be taken, there is much true wisdom needed in
order that our house, our stronghold, may not be carried and dismantled.
We need courage, decision, watchfulness, energy, self-command, readiness
to make terms at the right moment. To attain to the wisdom which will
thus build up our house, we need to
o yield our hearts fully to the only wise God and Saviour;
o open our minds daily to receive his heavenly wisdom;
o ask of Him who “giveth to all men liberally, upbraiding not.”
In vs. 7-10, some distichs (a pair of verse lines) now follow, concerned with wisdom
and its opposite.
7 “Wisdom is too high for a fool: he openeth not his mouth in the
gate.” Wisdom is too high for a fool. It is beyond his reach, he
cannot follow its lead, and has nothing to say when his counsel is asked,
and no ability to judge of any question presented to him. “Wisdom”
(chochmoth) is in the plural number, intimating the various attributes
connoted by it, or the different aspects in which it may be regarded (see
note on ch.1:20). “Too high” (ראמות, ramoth) is also plural;
and Delitzsch and Nowack take it to mean, not so much “high things” as
“precious things,” such as pearls or precious stones, in accordance with
Job 28:18, “No mention shall be made of coral or of crystal; yea,. the
price of wisdom is above rubies.” In this sense Delitzsch translates,
“Wisdom seems to the fool to be an ornamental commodity,” a costly and
unnecessary appendage, which is not worth the sacrifices entailed by its
pursuit. Whichever way we take it, the point is the rarity and inaccessibility
of wisdom, and the repugnance of fools to make any exertion in order to
reached: fear of God, piety, knowledge, fortitude, mercifulness, sincerity
(‘De Doctr. Christ.,’ 2:7). He openeth not his month in the gate. When
men gather in the usual place of assembly (ch. 8:3; 22:2), to take
counsel on public matters, he has nothing to say; he listens fatuously, and is
silent. Septuagint, “Wisdom and good thought are in the gates of the wise;
the wise turn not aside from the mouth of the Lord, but reason in assemblies.”
8 “He that deviseth to do evil shall be called a mischievous person.”
He that deviseth to do evil. He who shows a certain kind of
misapplied cleverness (in contrast to the true wisdom) in planning and
pursuing evil schemes. Shall be called. Defined and explained, as
ch.16:21 (compare ch. 21:24). A mischievous person;
literally, lord of mischief; i.e. owner, possessor of mischief. One must not
be led by such a man’s apparent astuteness to attribute; to him wisdom; he
is an impostor, a mere intriguer, who is sure to be exposed ere long.
Septuagint, “Death befalls the undisciplined.”
9 “The thought of foolishness is sin: and the scorner is an
abomination to men.” The thought of foolishness is sin. “Sin” is the subject in
this clause as “the scorner” is in the next; and what it says is that sin is the
exeogitation, the contriving of folly. The scorner is the real fool, in that he
does not pursue his proper end, prepares misery for himself, is blind to his
best interests. The connection between sin and folly, as between wisdom
and righteousness, is continually enforced throughout the book. The
scorner is an abomination to men. The man who scoffs at religion and
every high aim is an object of abomination to the pious, and is also a cause
of evil to others, leading them to thoughts and acts which are hateful in the
eyes of God. Septuagint, “The fool dieth in sins (John 8:24), and
uncleanness belongeth to a pestilent man.” The text here followed, as in
other passages of this chapter, is quite different from the received one.
Sin and Folly (v. 9)
However these words are read, they point to an association of sin and folly.
This may be regarded from two points of view, according as we start with
the thought of the sin or with that of the folly.
Ø It chooses the worse of two courses. Thus it blunders into self-injury.
Evil is not only culpable in the sight of God; it is hurtful to the evil doer.
Its path is dark, degraded, disappointing. It is foolish to turn from the
way of light and honor and satisfaction to such a course.
Ø It is short-sighted. In choosing a way one should look to the end of it. It
is madness for the belated traveler to turn aside to the grassy path when
the rough, stony road would take him home, and he knows not whither
the pleasanter way will lead him. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans
6:23); it is, then, nothing but folly to work for the master without
considering his direful payment.
Ø It perverts the thoughts. Sin involves folly, and it also leads to greater
folly. Many sins directly poison and paralyze the intellectual faculties.
(Is that what has happened to American Pop Culture? – CY – 2014) All
sins confuse the lines of right and truth. Thus the man who lives in sin is
blinding his eyes to the greatest facts. To know of the doctrine we must do
the commandment (John 7:17). The willful sinner obscures the doctrine
by breaking the commandment.
opposite point of view. We start with the folly. This is to be regarded as a
seed of sin. It is true that sin is primarily concerned with the moral nature.
A man cannot really sin altogether in ignorance, because if he does not
know that he is doing a wrong thing, to him the thing is not wrong. But, on
the other hand, there is a culpable ignorance, arising from carelessness,
disregard for truth, moral obliquity. Now, as sin is at the root of that
ignorance, so the ignorance may, in such a case, serve as a link m the
miserable chain of consequences that drags new sins into existence.
These facts should lead us to certain practical conclusions.
Ø It is our duty to seek the light that we may avoid sin. Truth is not
merely given as a luxury, it is, first of an, a beacon light. It is to
guide us over the wilderness in the right way.
Ø The teaching of children is a moral and religious duty. (Deuteronomy
6:3-15). The advantages of education are usually discussed from a
utilitarian standpoint. But the chief advantage is that it should open the
eyes of children to the wisdom of doing right and to the folly of
wickedness. Many poor children grow up among scenes of vice and
crime without having an opportunity of knowing of a better way.
(See “Sunday Morning Coming Down” by Johnny Cash on You Tube –
CY – 2014). The Christian Church is called to be a light in the world,
leading from sin, not forcibly, but by showing the clear wisdom of
goodness, as well as its moral obligation.
The Thought of Foolishness (v. 9)
It will be well to be on our guard against a possible mistake here; for next
in importance to our knowledge of what things are wrong and hurtful, is
our freedom from imaginary fears and morbid anxieties respecting those
things which are perfectly innocent and pure. We look, then, at:
CONDEMNED BY THESE WORDS.
Ø The serious but mistaken thoughts of childhood or of uneducated
manhood. It is not every thought which cannot be characterized as
wisdom that must be condemned as “foolishness.” The honest
attempts of artless simplicity to solve problems or to execute
commands may be honorable and even commendable failures;
they are the conditions of growth.
Ø The lighter thoughts of the cultured and mature, thoughts of merriment
and frolicsomeness, moving to honest laughter, are far from being sinful.
They are clearly in accordance with the will of the Divine Father of our
spirits, who is the Author of our nature, with its faculties and tendencies;
they are often found to be a necessary relief under the otherwise intolerable
strain of oppressive care and burdensome toil. One of the most serious and
one of the most kind-hearted and successful servants of our race (Abraham
terrible time of the civil war by finding occasional refuge in humor. But
thoughts of foolishness.
Ø Our responsibility for our thoughts. Impalpable and fugitive as they are,
our thoughts are a very real part of ourselves, and they constitute a
serious part of our responsibility to God. That they do so is clear; for:
o On them everything in human life and action ultimately depends.
Action depends on will, will on feeling, and feeling on thought.
It is what we think and how we think that determines what we
do and what we are. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
(ch. 23:7) Thought is the very foundation of character.
o Thought is free. We may be compelled to speak or to act in certain
prescribed ways; but we are masters of our own minds, and we
can think as we like. How we think depends on our own volition.
o We either choose deliberately the subject of our thoughts (by
selecting our friends, our books and papers, our TV shows,
our topics of conversation), or we are led to think as we do
by the mental and moral character which we have been
deliberate]y forming; we are responsible for the stream
because we are responsible for the spring.
Ø The sinful character of foolish thoughts. Foolish thoughts may be:
o irreverent, and all irreverence is sin; or they may be
o selfish, and all selfishness is sin; or
o impure, and all impurity is sin; or
o unkind and inconsiderate, unloving or vindictive, and
all unkindness is sin; or
o short-sighted and worldly, and all worldliness is sin
(I John 2:15-17). The conclusion of the whole matter is that
if we would be right with God, “harmless and blameless”
(Philippians 2:15), we must be right in our “inward thought”
(see Hebrews 4:12); and that if we would be right there, in
those central depths or our nature, we must:
§ place our whole nature under the direct rule of the Holy
§ seek daily for the cleansing influences of His Holy Spirit,
the continual renewal of our mind by His inspiration;
§ “keep our hearts beyond all keeping” (ch. 4:23), especially by
welcoming, with eagerness and delight, all the wisdom of
God that we can gather from His Word.
10 “If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small.”
The maxim seems to be unconnected with the preceding. There is a
paronomasia between צָרָה (tsarah), “adversity,” and צַר (tsar), “small,”
narrow. So we may say in English, “If thou faint in time
of straitness, straitened is thy strength.” If you fail, and succumb to anxiety
or danger, instead of rising to meet the emergency, then you are but a
weakling or a coward, and the strength which you seemed to possess and
of which you boasted, perhaps, is nothing worth.
Some Traits of Folly and Sin (vs. 7-10)
· THE GROVELING MIND. (v. 7.) Wisdom is too high for the
indolent to climb to, for the sensual and earthly to admire and love. They
are like Muck-rake (one who digs in a dung heap), in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s
Progress. From such no good counsel ever comes. They are dumb “in the gate,”
on every important occasion, when help, light, sympathy, are needed. The base
prudence which inspires many popular proverbs — the prudence “which adores
the rule of three, which never subscribes, never gives, seldom lends, and asks
but one question of any project, ‘Will it bake bread?’” — is indeed folly.
“Self’s the man,” says a Dutch proverb. But those who would gain all for
self end by losing self and all. “What shall if profit a man if he gain
the whole world and lose his own soul?”
· THE MALICIOUS TEMPER. (v. 8.) There are degrees in vice as in
virtue. It is a short step from groveling egotism to active malice. Extract
the root of self-seeking out of any dispute, private or public, in Church or
state, and the other differences may soon be adjusted. To make mischief is
a diabolic instinct, and it certainly springs up in the mind void of healthy
occupation and of interest for the true, beautiful, and good; for the mind’s
principle is motion, and it cannot cease to act.
· SIN IN THE THOUGHT AND THE MOOD. (v. 9.) When busy
invention and meditation are at work in the mind of the wicked and the
fool, nothing good is produced. Still more is it the case with the scoffer. In
him the ripened and practiced powers of the mind are brought into alliance
with evil desire. Such a habit of mind, once detected, excites the utmost
odium and abhorrence. The man who can sneer at goodness, or hold what
is by common consent good and beautiful in contempt, is already an
outcast from his kind, and need not complain if he is treated as such.
· COWARDLY FAINT HEARTEDNESS. (v. 10.) The pressure of circumstances
should rouse in us the God-given strength. The man who makes duty his polar
star, and trusts in God, can actually do more when things seem to be against
him than widen all is in his favor. Moral cowardice is closely connected with
the root sin of unbelief. Indulgence in it impoverishes and weakens the soul,
so that the man ends by being actually unable to do what once he only fancied
himself unable to do. Here is an illustration of Christ’s saying, “To him that hath
shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken that which he hath.”
(Matthew 13:12; 25:29)
Fainting in the Day of Adversity (v. 10)
Ø The day of adversity will come. (Just like “the Day of the Lord” –
II Peter 3:10 – CY – 2014). All have not an equally painful lot. It is
only the pessimist who refuses to admit that God sends a happy life to
some; and if the lines have fallen in pleasant places (Psalm 16:6),
nothing but ingratitude or sentimentality will deny the fact. Nevertheless,
the dark day of adversity will rise on every soul of man. It cannot be
eluded, though in youth and health the spirit refuses to anticipate it.
It is well to be prepared to meet it.
Ø Strength is wanted for the day of adversity. This will be a time of
assault, strain, pressure. The soul will then be besieged, buffeted, and in
danger of being crushed. Therefore there is need of sufficient strength,
not only for prosperous times, but for this harder occasion. The lighthouse
must not only be strong enough to stand in calm weather; it should be able
to resist the battering rams of the tempest. The ship must be built for the
storm. The army that can look smart in a review is useless if it goes to
pieces on the field of battle. The model navy is an extravagant ornament if
it will not serve us in action. The lamp is useless if it goes out in the hour
of darkness. Religion is for the time of trial and temptation. The spiritual
life needs to be strong enough to hold on through terror, temptation, and
trouble; or it is a delusion.
Ø Faulty strength will fail in the day of adversity. Trouble is trial. The
season of affliction will assuredly be severe enough to prove our strength.
(Thanks be unto God that with Him “as thy days, so shall thy strength
be” - Deuteronomy 33:25 – CY – 2014). It is vain for any one to live
on empty boasts and idle pretences. The hollowness of such folly will
be exposed at the fatal moment. The soft-metal sword will certainly
double up in the battle and bring disaster on its unhappy owner.
Ø To faint in the day of adversity is to make one’s strength small. Such a
collapse will undermine one’s energy. The coward is always weak. To
fear is to fail. (“God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power,
and of love, and of a sound mind.” - II Timothy 1:7) But courage
inspires strength, and he who is able to keep up a brave heart in the
day of adversity is most likely to conquer. Few men have
been called upon to endure such hardships and to face such perils as
Livingstone, alone in the heart of
characterized by a wonderful buoyancy of temperament, by high spirits
and unfailing cheerfulness. Nelson is said not to have known fear.
Gordon was as ready to face death as to go to his daily duty. No doubt
such heroic courage is largely due to the natural greatness of the men
who possessed it But it is not independent of moral qualities. For:
Ø The secret of the highest courage is faith. He who trusts God is armed
with the might of God. This is higher than natural strength, because
“even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall
utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be
weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31). Thus there
is a strength that is perfected in weakness (II Corinthians 12:9).
Ø Therefore we have no excuse to faint in the day of adversity. With such
stores of strength for the weakest, failure is culpable, Note: We are not to
blame for meeting with adversity — we cannot escape it; nor for suffering
under it — this is natural; but only for fainting, i.e. for collapse and
despair. Yet even this may not mean utter failure. We may still have some
strength, though it be sickly and fast ebbing away. Like Gideon’s heroes,
we may be “faint, yet pursuing” (Judges 8:4).
vs. 11-12 are a hexastich (six lines), inculcating humanity on the ground of God’s
11 “If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death, and those
that are ready to be slain;” If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn
unto death. The sentence is not conditional, אם in the second line being
equivalent to לוּ, utinam, “oh that!” “would that!” So the first hemistich should
be rendered, “Deliver them that are haled to death,” and the second, “And
those that are tottering to slaughter, oh, hold them back!” The sentence is
somewhat obscure, but Cheyne well explains it thus: “Some victims of a
miscarriage of justice are about to be dragged away to execution, and the
disciple of wisdom is exhorted to use his endeavors to deliver them” (‘Job
and Solomon’). In the case supposed a moral obligation lies on the pious
and well-informed to save a human life unjustly imperiled. (There is a
lot of guilt over the once, and now imperiled babies of the abortion industry!
- CY – 2014) At the same time, there is nothing in the passage which absolutely,
shows that the punishment of the guiltless is here deprecated; it looks rather as
if Wisdom had no pleasure in the death of men, innocent or not, and that the
victims of an extreme sentence claimed pity at her hands, whatever might be the
circumstances of the verdict. Septuagint, “Deliver those that are being led
away to death, and redeem (ἐκπρίου – ekpriou – hold back) those that are
appointed to be slain; spare not (to help them)” (compare Psalm 82:3-4).
12 “If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not; doth not He that pondereth
the heart consider it? and He that keepeth thy soul, doth not He
know it? and shall not He render to every man according to his
works?” If thou sayest, Behold, we knew it not. The disciple of
Wisdom may excuse himself from making any effort for the prisoners’
release, by saying he had not heard of the case.
excuse to be inability, vires non suppetunt. The Septuagint makes it a personal
matter, ignoring the plural form of the previous paragraph. “I know him
not, he is no friend of mine; why should I trouble myself about him?” Such
a selfish person, like the priest and Levite in the parable, would “pass by on
the other side” (Luke 10:31). Doth not He that pondereth the heart consider it?
God knows the truth — knows that the excuse is vain; for He is the Weigher and
Searcher of hearts (ch. 16:2; 21:2). Cain’s plea, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
(Genesis 4:9) is unavailable; the law of love is limited by no circumstances.
He that keepeth thy soul, doth not He know it? The expression, “keeping the soul,”
may be equivalent to “preserving the life;” but it more probably means watching,
observing, the inmost secrets of the nature (Job 7:20). The verb used is rx"n; (natsar),
which has both significations. The sense of “forming.” which some give it, seems not
allowable. (For “heart” (leb) and “soul” (nephesh), see note on ch.2:10.) Shall not
He render to every man according to his works? Knowing the heart and the motive,
God deals out retributive justice (ch.12:14; Psalm 62:12; Romans 2:6). Septuagint,
“But if thou say, I know not this man, know that the Lord knoweth the hearts of all;
and He who formed (πλάσας – plasas – molding; plastic) breath for all, Himself
knoweth all things, who rendereth to every man according to his works.”
Compassion for the Wronged (vs. 11-12)
· THE HEART AND HAND SHOULD EVER BE READY AT THE
CALL OF DISTRESS. (v. 11.) The picture seems to be placed before us
of one arriving at the place of judgment, seeing an innocent sufferer yet,
like the priest and the Levite in the parable, passing by “on the other side.”
“To see and sights moves more than hear them told;
For then the eye interprets to the ear
The heavy motion that it doth behold.”
To respond to these mute appeals from any of God’s creatures is to obey a
law immediately known within our breast; to resist them is to sin against
him and against our own souls. (sins of omission – CY – 2020)
· NEGLECT OF DUTY CANNOT ESCAPE PUNISHMENT. (v. 12.)
Ø Human nature is fertile in excuses. For the burden of blame and of
conscious guilt is the heaviest we can bear. But searching is the truth of the
proverb, “Whoso excuses, accuses himself,” Ignorance of duty needs no
excuses; but excuses for neglect can never be valid.
Ø Excuses may avail with man, but not with God. With fallible men they
may and often do pass for truth. At all events, they must often be accepted
by those who need in turn to make them. But God knows the truth of
every heart, and in every case; and to Him excuses are either needless or
Ø Judgment will be executed in spite of our excuses. God is the Vindicator
of the wronged, and the Recompenser of all according to their deeds.
Scripture is very impressive on the sin of neglect of kindly duties to
others, in regard to which the conscience is so often dull (Luke 14:18-20).
Men content themselves with the reflection that they have not done
others positive harm — a negative position. But the other negative
position, that we have not done the good we had a call to do, on this the
teaching of Christ fixes a deeper guilt. Noble as it is to save a life from
bodily death, still more glorious in its consequences is it to save a soul
from death and hide a multitude of sins. (James 5:20)
Culpable Negligence (vs. 11-12)
Following the Revised Version and the now generally accepted rendering
of these verses, we will read the first as an exhortation to deliver men from
death, and the second as a warning against neglecting this duty.
and those that are ready to be slain see that thou hold back.” Note first the
grounds, and then the application, of this exhortation.
Ø The grounds of it.
o It springs from human need. Men are in danger in war, famine,
poverty, disease, sin. (Think of how secular governments of the
world think. They seem to be concerned about all those mentioned
above EXCEPT SIN! - How strange! – CY – 2014). The world
cannot go on without mutual assistance. The selfish policy of
sauve qui peut [every man for himself] would be fatal to society.
o It is based on human brotherhood. God has made all men of one
blood (Acts 17:26). Our fellow creatures of the animal world have
claims upon us; for, like us, they are sensitive, and God made both
us and them. Much more are our fellow men in our care. (Then
why the obsession with eagle eggs and the neglect of the human
fetus? – CY – 2014)
o It is urged by Divine commands. The Bible teaches duty to man
as well as to God, on Divine authority. The mainly negative
requirements of the ten commandments do not cover all our duty.
We are called upon to love our neighbors as ourselves (and God
with all our heart, soul, mind and strength - Mark 12:30)
o It is confirmed by the example of God. He has given us our lives,
spared them when forfeited by sin, and saved them from many
dangers. He has given his Son in death to save us from ruin.
SUCH REDEEMING MERCY makes CHURLISH NEGLIGENCE
on our part doubly culpable.
Ø The application of it.
o There should be mercy in war. It is heathenish to refuse quarter. The
Christian soldier will dress the wounds of his enemy.
o We should render assistance in cases of accident and danger. It is
horrible to read in the newspapers of men who would watch a child
drown because they were not officers of the Royal Humane Society,
because it was not their business to save life, and even because they
had good clothes which they did not wish to soil. Selfish people
will see a man half murdered in a street quarrel without interfering.
o We should help the poor. This applies to our own poor first, then to
those of our neighborhood, but the obligation extends as far as aN
o Hospitals deserve support, for ministrations to the sick directly tend
to preserve life.
o Social reforms (moral – there are reforms today that generations
ago, could not have been supported by Bible believing Christians –
CY - 2014) demand Christian assistance.
o It is our supreme duty to spread the gospel throughout the world.
This is a “Word of life” (Philippians 2:16). To let men perish for lack
of the bread of life is
culpable negligence. The lepers of
rebuke such conduct (II Kings 7:9).
Ø Ignorance is no excuse. “Behold, we knew it” (or “him”) “not.” Of
course, this does not apply to unavoidable ignorance. But the rich
should know the condition of the
poor. It is the duty of the
investigate the condition of the
the comfortable complacency of ignorance is unpardonable. Further, if
the attempted excuse be that the sufferer is personally unknown to us,
this must not be admitted. He is still our brother. The parable of the
good Samaritan shows that the perfect stranger has claims upon us.
Ø God observes this negligence. He “pondereth the heart.” He reads our
secret thoughts and weighs our motives. Thus He knows whether we are
kept back by unavoidable ignorance or inability to help, or whether the
negligence is willful. With this awful fact before us, that there is One
who “pondereth the heart,” all flimsy excuses must shrivel up and leave
the negligence of the needy in its naked guilt.
Ø God will treat us according to our treatment of our fellow men. “With
what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2).
Moreover, in regard to the duty now before us, it is to be observed
that God takes note of omissions as well as of transgressions. The “eternal
fire” is not spoken of by our Lord for thieves, murderers, etc., but for those
who failed to help the hungry, the thirsty, the needy (Matthew 25:41-46).
Inexcusable Indifference (vs. 11-12)
The principles contained in this passage are these:
· THAT ALL HUMAN NEED IS A CLAIM FOR HELP. God has so
“fashioned our hearts alike” (Psalm 33:15), and has so bound together our
lives and our interests, that we are under serious obligation to one another.
No man is at liberty to live an isolated life; he owes too much to those that have
gone before him, and is too closely related to those who are around him, to
allow of such a course. To wish it is unnatural, to attempt it is immoral
“We are members one of another;” we are brethren and sisters one of
another. And whenever any one about us — whoever or whatever he or
she may be — is in any kind of difficulty or distress, is in need of sympathy
and succor, there is an imperative demand, as clear as if it came from an
angel’s trumpet or straight out of the heavens above us, that we should
stop, should inquire, should help as best we can (see I John 3:17-18).
· THAT THE EXTREMITY OF HUMAN NEED IS A MOST
POWERFUL PLEA. If any sufferer on life’s highway is a man to be pitied
and relieved, how much more are they who are “drawn unto death,” who
are “ready to be slain”! To see our brother or our sister — made like
ourselves, and capable as we are of intense suffering, holding life as
precious as we ourselves regard it — in circumstances of keen distress or
of utmost danger, and to withhold our pity and our aid, this is
condemned of God. Whether we “pass by on the other side” (Luke 10:31),
so as to hide our cruel indifference as well as we can from our own
sight; or whether we pass close by, clearly recognizing our duty, but
cynically and heartlessly declining to do it; or whether we stand awhile and
pity, but conclude that help will be too costly, and so pass on without
helping; — we are guilty, we are unbrotherly, inhuman, altogether unlike
· THAT EXCUSES WILL NOT AVAIL US. If we want to escape
from our plain duty we seldom refuse it point blank. We do not say to our
Lord or to ourselves, “We will not;” we say, “We would if—,” or “We will
when—.” When our brother is in difficulty or in sorrow, and urgently
needs the extricating hand, the sympathizing word, we may plead, to
ourselves or to our neighbors, our ignorance of the sufferer, our imperfect
acquaintance with the circumstances, our want of time, our incapacity for
assisting in that kind of trouble, our multitudinous and pressing duties and
claims, etc. These may succeed with men, but they will not avail with God.
GOD KNOWS the hollowness of these poor pleas; to His eye they are only
thin veils that do not hide our cruel selfishness; He judges that nothing
justifies us in abandoning the perishing to their fate, and He condemns us.
· THAT GOD IS GRIEVED WITH US FOR OUR OWN SAKE. He
“that keepeth our soul” knows it. And because God does “keep our soul,”
He is grieved to see us take up an attitude towards our brother which
Ø proves us to be unbrotherly, and
Ø helps to fix us in our cold-heartedness. For every act and instance of
selfishness hardens our heart and makes it more capable of cruel
indifference than before.
· THAT CRUELTY AND KINDNESS MOVE TO THEIR REWARD.
“Shall he not render to every man according to his works? ” (v. 12,
Ecclesiastes 12:14) Cruelty and kindness must be cursed or blessed
by the immediate effects they leave in the soul of the agent. But they also
move toward a day of award, Then will a selfish indifference hear its
strong, Divine condemnation (Matthew 25:41-45) Then, also, will a
generous kindness listen to its warm, Divine commendation
(ibid. ch. 25:34-40).
An Exhortation to the Study of Wisdom, with an Analogy (vs. 13-14)
13 “My son, eat thou honey, because it is good; and the honeycomb,
which is sweet to thy taste:” Eat thou honey, because it is good. Honey
entered largely into the diet of the Oriental, and was regarded not only as
pleasant to the taste and nutritious, but also as possessed of healing powers.
It was especially used for children’s food (Isaiah 7:15), and thus becomes an
emblem of the purest wisdom. “I have eaten my honeycomb with my
honey,” says the lover in Song of Solomon 5:1; and the psalmist says
that the ordinances of the Lord are “sweeter than honey and the
honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10; see on ch. 25:16).
land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 3:8); hence is derived the
continual reference to this article of diet in the Bible.
14 “So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou
hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall
not be cut off.” So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul; better,
know, apprehend wisdom to be such for thy soul — to be as pleasant and
nourishing and profitable to thy soul, as honey is to thy taste and thy body.
The moralist would have his disciple feel the same relish for wisdom that
he has for sweet food, recognize it not simply as useful, but as delightful
and enjoyable. When thou hast found it. To find wisdom is to get
possession of it and use it (compare ch. 3:13, and note there). Then
there shall be a reward. The apodosis begins here. We have had the same
assurance in ch.23:18 (where see note). The word is literally
future. One who has obtained wisdom has a glorious hope before him;
habebis in novissimis spem, Vulgate; but his hope is better than that — it
goes with him, not in his last hour only, but all his life long. Septuagint,
“Then shalt thou perceive wisdom in thy soul; for if thou find it, fair shall
be thine end, and hope shall not fail thee.”
Zeal in the Pursuit of Wisdom (vs. 13-14)
· THE SWEETNESS OF WISDOM. (v. 13.) Not without deep
meaning is the sense of knowing the truth compared to the sensuous relish
of the palate for sweet food. Here is, indeed, a
“Perpetual feast of nectared sweets,
Where no crude surfeit reigns.”
(Compare Psalm 19:11.)
· ENCOURAGEMENT IN ITS PURSUIT. (v. 14.) It brings a true
satisfaction both during the pursuit and at its end, which can be said of few
other objects of eager ambition in this world. The seeker for truth may be
compared to the maiden of the parable, who timely fills her lamp with oil,
and “hope that reaps not shame.” The pursuit of wisdom, or of truth as
understood and taught in this book, is no chase of dreams or abstractions;
it is the affair of all. Truth is all that touches and convinces man, whether
as an individual, or as a member of society, or the citizen of a nation. It is
that which tells him that he is not isolated in the midst of unknown beings;
but that beyond his individual life he partakes in a life that is universal. All
that in the past, whether facts, thoughts, or sentiments, are in question, that
makes us contemporary with the facts, fellow heirs with humanity in great
thoughts, sympathetic with great sentiments, is truth.
Next is a warning against plotting for the ruin of a good man’s
house, with a view doubtless of profiting by the disaster. (vs. 15-16)
15 “Lay not wait, O wicked man, against the dwelling of the righteous;
spoil not his resting place:” Lay not wait, O wicked man, against the
dwelling of the righteous. רָשָׁע (rasha) is vocative (compare Ezekiel 33:8);
taken appositionally, as in Revised Version margin, “as a wicked man,” it is
senseless; for how could he lay wait in any other character? Spoil not his
resting-place. “Spoil,” as ch.19:26 (where see note). Drive him
not from his house by violence and chicanery. Vulgate, “Seek not impiety
in the house of the righteous;” do not attempt to cloak your insidious
designs by detecting some evil in the good man, and making yourself the
instrument of retribution, as if you were doing God service in afflicting him
(John 16:2). Septuagint, “Bring not an ungodly man into the pasture
of the righteous, neither be thou deceived by the feasting of the belly.”
The Test of Adversity (vs. 10, 15)
We have all of us to expect:
· THE TESTING TIME THAT COMES TO ALL MEN. It is true that
prosperity has its own perils, and makes its own demands on the human
spirit. But when the sky is clear above us, when loving friends stand round
us with protecting care, when privileges abound on every side, it is
comparatively easy to maintain an equable and obedient mind. We can all
row with the stream and sail with the favoring wind. But the hour must
come to us that comes to all in time, when we have to face difficulty, or to
bear obloquy (public criticism or abuse), or to sustain heavy loss, or to go on
our way with a lonely heart, or to suffer some keen and all but crusading
disappointment. When we are moved to say with Jacob, “All these things
are against me” (Genesis 42:36); with Elijah, “Lord, take away my life”
(I Kings 19:4), we faint and fall in the day of adversity.
· THE RESOURCES THAT SHOULD BE AT OUR COMMAND.
When that hour comes to us, as it certainly will, we should be prepared to
bear ourselves bravely and well; for there are many sources of strength
with which we should be supplied. There is:
Ø Ordinary human fortitude. Such manliness and strength of will as have
enabled many thousands of souls — even without any aid from religion —
to confront danger or death, or to show an undisturbed equanimity of
mind. in the midst of severe sorrows. But beyond this there is for us:
Ø Christian resignation. The willingness to leave the whole disposal of our
lives to the wisdom and the love of God; readiness to endure the holy will
of a Divine Father, of our best Friend.
Ø Christian faith. The assurance that God is dealing with us in perfect
wisdom and parental love at those times when we can least understand his
Ø Christian hope. The confidence that “unto the upright there will arise
light in the darkness” (Psalm 112:4), that God will grant a happy issue out
of all our afflictions; that though the just man fall seven times, he will rise
again (see v. 15); that though weeping may endure even for a long and
stormy night, joy will come in the morning ( ibid. ch. 30:5).
Ø Communion with God. To the distressed human spirit there remains that
most precious refuge, the leaning of the heart on God, the appeal of the
soul to him in earnest, believing prayer.
· THE INFERENCE WE ARE OBLIGED TO DRAW. If, with all
these resources at our command, we “faint;”
Ø if we indulge a rebellious spirit, repining at our lot and thinking
ourselves hardly used; or
Ø if we yield ourselves to misery and melancholy, showing ourselves
unequal to the duties that devolve upon us, resigning the useful activities in
which we have been engaged; — then we must conclude that “our strength
is small;” we have failed to enrich our souls with that spiritual power of
which we might and should have become possessed. But that we may not
have to deplore our weakness in the day of adversity, and that we may not
give a sorry illustration of Christian life as it ought not to be seen, let us
learn what is:
· OUR WISDOM AT THE PRESENT TIME. And that is to be gaining
strength, to be continually becoming “strong in the Lord, and in the power
of his might.” This is an imperative duty (Ephesians 6:10; II Timothy 2:1;
II Peter 3:18). And we are not without the necessary means. If, in the days
of sunshine and prosperity, we are daily nourishing our faith, our love, our
hope, our prayerfulness, by constant exercise in devotion and in sacred duty,
by using the privileges so amply supplied to us, by cultivating and cherishing
our union with Jesus Christ our Lord, we shall be strong, and we shall
16 “For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again: but the
wicked shall fall into mischief.” A just man falleth seven times, and riseth
up again. The fall may be taken of sin or of calamity. Preachers, ancient and
modern, have made much use of this text in the first sense, expatiating how
a good man may fall into venial or more serious sins, but he never loses his love
of God, and rises from his fall by repentance on every occasion. We also often
find the words in die, “a day,” added, which indeed occur in some
manuscripts, but are not in the original. But the verb naphal seems not to
be used in the sense of “falling” morally; and the meaning here is that the
just man frequently falls into trouble, — he is not secure against worldly
cares and losses, or the insidious attacks of the man mentioned in v. 15;
but he never loses his trust in God or offends by fretfulness and impatience,
and always God’s providence watches over him and delivers him out of all
his afflictions. “Seven times” means merely often, that number being used
to express plurality or completeness (see on ch. 6:31; 26:16; and
compare Genesis 4:24; Job 5:19 (which is like our passage); and
Matthew 18:22). The expectation which the sinner conceived when he
saw the good man distressed, that he might seize the opportunity and use it
to his own benefit, is woefully disappointed. In contrast with the recovery
and reestablishment of the righteous, when the wicked suffer calamity there
is no recuperation for them. The wicked shall fall into mischief; Revised
Version better, are overthrown by calamity (compare ch.14:32,
and note there). Septuagint,” But the ungodly shall be weak in evils.”
The Fall of a Good Man (v. 16)
Ø Here is a warning against presumption. “Let him that thinketh he
standeth take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12). No one is so
perfect as to be impeccable. Peter, who little expected it, failed in
the moment of trial, when he denied his Lord three times.
Ø He is a warning against wrong judgments. If a good man stumbles
it is commonly thought that he proves himself to have been a hypocrite
from the first. No notion could be more unwarrantable. It is possible
that the former life was honest and true and up to its pretension, but
that a sudden change for the worse has occurred through yielding to
overpowering temptation. The citadel was honestly guarded; but in an
unwary moment, when the custodian was sleeping, or careless, or weak,
it fell before the assaults of the ever-watchful foe. This may even be
repeated many times. We can scarcely think of a really good man
lapsing utterly from the right way as many as seven times and as
often returning to it. But some measure of sin is committed many times.
There is not a Christian who does not fall into numerous sins.
need not now discuss the thorny doctrine of “final perseverance.” Without
retreating into the tangled thicket of a priori dogmatics, we may discover
certain plain and practical. considerations which will encourage us to
believe in the recovery of the lapsed.
Ø The bent of a good man’s life is towards goodness. He is a just man.
Righteousness is characteristic of him. It is his habit. His fall is an event,
His righteousness is his life. He is not the less guilty in his sin. He cannot
shake it off and disown it, fortifying himself against the charge of it under
the guise of his habitual righteousness. A long career of goodness is no
excuse for a single wrong deed. Nevertheless, beneath and behind the sin
into which the man has been surprised are the general tone and temper of
his life. This will make his fall an agony. One look from Christ, and the
shamefaced disciple goes out to weep bitterly (Matthew 26:75). The
Christian who has been surprised in an hour of weakness will be in the
greatest distress afterwards. He can have no rest till he is forgiven and
restored. Hence there is a hope for him which we cannot cherish on
behalf of the bad man who has had no experience of the better way and
who, unrepentant, has no inclination to follow it.
Ø A good man may return. There is danger in despair. The miserable
penitent fears that he may have committed the unpardonable sin,
forgetting that his very grief is a proof that that dark eternity of guilt
has not yet been reached. God is long-suffering and merciful. (II Peter
3:9). Seven times the poor man falls; seven times he is forgiven and
restored by his COMPASSIONATE LORD!
Ø The grace of God assists recovery. Indeed, without this it were
impossible. But with it who shall despair? On the other hand, after a
wicked man has indulged in sin he refuses to open his heart to
DIVINE GRACE! The one and only means by which he might climb
up out of his deep ruin is rejected by him.
In conclusion, we may gather from a consideration of this subject that the
first essential is the character of a man’s life, rather than that of isolated
and perhaps exceptional deeds. God notes every deed, and not one can go
unavenged. But the fundamental question is — How does a man live in the
main? is the set of his life towards goodness? does he habitually face the
light or the darkness? Though with many stumbles and shameful bruises, is
he, on the whole, going up, not down? If so, he is one of God’s sons.
Vs. 17-18 have a warning against vindictiveness, nearly approaching the
great Christian maxim, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44).
17 “Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be
glad when he stumbleth:” Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth. “Thou
shalt love thy neighbor” was a Mosaic precept (Leviticus 19:18); the addition,
“and hate thine enemy,” was a Pharisaic gloss, arising from a misconception
concerning the extermination of the Canaanites, which, indeed, had a
special cause and purpose, and was not a precedent for the treatment of all
aliens (see ch. 25:21-22). When he stumbleth; rather, when he
is overthrown. The maxim refers to private enemies. The overthrow of
public enemies was often celebrated with festal rejoicing. Thus we have the
triumph of Moses at the defeat of the Amalekites, and over Pharaoh’s host
Judges 5.); and the psalmist, exulting over the destruction of his country’s
foes, could say, “The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance;
he shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked” (Psalm 58:10). But
private revenge and vindictiveness are warmly censured and repudiated.
18 “Lest the LORD see it, and it displease Him, and He turn away His
wrath from him.” The tyrant and the victim are made to change sides.
Lest the Lord see it, and it displease Him. God has told us fully what is
His mind respecting it (Matthew 5:43-48; Romans 12:14, 20).This malignant
pleasure at others’ misfortunes (which Aristotle, ‘Eth. Nic.,’ 2:7. 15, calls
ἐπιχαιρεκακία – epichairekakia – rejoicing at evil) is a sin in the eyes of God, and
calls for punishment. And He turn away His wrath from him; and, as is implied,
direct it upon thee. But it seems a mean motive to adduce, if the maxim is
taken baldly to mean, “Do not rejoice at your enemy’s calamity, lest God
relieve him from the evil:” for true charity would wish for such a result.
The point is not so much the removal of God’s displeasure from the enemy
as the punishment of the malignant man, either mentally or materially. To a
malignant mind no severer blow could be given than to see a foe recover
God’s favor and rise from his fall. The moralist then warns the disciple
against giving way to this ἐπιχαιρεκακία lest he prepare for himself bitter
mortification by having to witness the restoration of the hated one, or by
being himself made to suffer that evil which he had rejoiced to see his
neighbor experience (compare ch.17:5, and note there).
Violence and Shameful Joy Defeated (vs. 15-18)
· THE ATTITUDE OF THE MAN OF FRAUD AND VIOLENCE
DEPICTED. (v. 15.) He is like the prowling wild beast, seeking whom
he may devour. God the Creator has not armed us with tooth or tusk or
other means of defense, like the wild beasts which are formed for making
war on others. We are strongly furnished for defense, not for attack.
Ferocity is distinctly an unnatural vice in us.
· HIS ACTIVITY IS DEVASTATING. Here, again, he resembles the
wild beast in his blind fury, the boar that uproots and overturns in the
· THE SELF-RECOVERY OF THE RIGHTEOUS. (v. 16.) To fall
into sin and to fall into trouble are two different things. Avoid the former,
and God will not forsake thee in the latter. Seven falls stand for many — an
indefinite number of falls. There is an elasticity in rectitude like that of the
young sapling; bent to the earth, it rebounds with strong upspring. “It may
calm the apprehension of calamity to see how quiet a bound nature has set
to the utmost infliction of malice. We rapidly approach a brink over which
no enemy can follow us.” But evil, being purely negative, a zero, the
absence of internal power and virtue, has but an illusory existence, and
quickly passes sway.
· BASE JOY TURNED INTO SHAME. (vs. 17, 19.) He who
rejoices in the trouble of another, his own trouble stands behind the door.
Why should he fear who takes his post with Omnipotence at his back?
“Souls that of God’s own good life partake
He loves as His own self: dear as his eye
They are to Him; he’ll never them forsake.
When they shall die, then God Himself shall die;
They live — they live in blest eternity.”
The tyrant and his victim are made to change sides. The “wrath” which
seems expressed in the calamities of the latter is transformed into the
revelation of an “everlasting kindness,” while terror strikes the heart of him
who sought to infuse it into his foe (compare R. Browning’s striking poem,
Vs. 19-20 are a warning against envying the prosperity of the wicked.
19 “Fret not thyself because of evil men, neither be thou envious at the
wicked:” Fret not thyself because of evil men (compare v. 1 and Psalm 37:1).
The verb (charah) means “to burn,” “to be angry;” so here we may render,
“Be not enraged on account of evil doers.” The anger would arise on account
of the apparent inequitable distribution of blessings.
cum pessimis; Septuagint, “Rejoice not over (ἐπὶ - epi - over) evildoers.” Neither be
thou envious at the wicked; i.e. do not fancy that their prosperity is to be desired,
nor be led to imitate their doings in order to secure like success. The next verse
shows the solemn reason for this warning.
A Needless Trouble (v. 19)
PROSPERITY OF BAD MEN.
Ø It is unjust. This was an ancient source of perplexity and trouble of
mind. While good men often suffer, bad men are often exceptionally free
from the world’s ills. This pains us as a frightful discord in the psalm of
life. It raises doubts as to the presence, or the power, or the justice of God.
If the just Lord is in our midst and is almighty to rule, why does He permit
such condition of society?
Ø It is hurtful. Prosperity confers power. Thus great resources are at the
disposal of bad men, who are able to expend them in extensive schemes of
wickedness. (In our times this is true and their names are in the news
when it comes to undermining Judaeo-Christian values – CY – 2014)
A successful Napoleon can deluge a continent with blood, and
bring misery into thousands of households. The triumph of bad men not
only enables them to inflict suffering to a frightful extent; it gives them
exceptional opportunities for spreading the infectious malaria of their sin.
When a bad man prospers he contaminates his trade, lowers the character
of business generally, and tempts his employes to do wrong on a scale
that is proportionate to his enterprises.
Ø It seems to be enviable. Sin looks like a short cut to success. It is hard
for a good man who resists temptations to be rewarded with distresses
which he would have escaped if he had yielded.
BAD MEN. (See Psalm 73:1-22)
Ø Prosperity is infinitely inferior to character. The great question is not as
to what a man has, but as to what he is. It is far more important to be
upright and holy in life than to be rich, successful, and happy in one’s
circumstances. Surely he who values true goodness will feel that it is a
pearl of great price — the cost of which would not be compensated for by
all the wealth of the
wicked is to turn aside from the higher possession which may be
enjoyed in POVERTY and ADVERSITY.
Ø The prosperity of the wicked is delusive and unsatisfactory. It professes
to give pleasure, but it cannot afford real happiness, for it has nothing in it
to respond to the deeper cravings of the soul. He who feasts upon it is like
a man who would fill himself with chaff and sawdust. In his very satiety
he is miserably hungry. Full, he yet starves. Or worse, he is like one who
drinks madly of salt water, and is plunged into an agony of thirst in
consequence. If, as may happen, however, he feels a measure of
satisfaction, this can only be by deadening his higher nature. Such
a state is delusive and more terrible than open complaining.
Ø This prosperity is short-lived. “The candle of the wicked shall be put
out” (v. 20). The psalmist who was alarmed at the prosperity of the
wicked saw another picture when he came to consider their end (Psalm 73).
He who would share the purple and fine linen of Dives on earth must also
share his bed of fire after death (Luke 16:19-31). It is only the short-sighted,
earthly minded man who will much envy the prosperity of the wicked. A
deeper thinking man will dread it, and be well satisfied if he has the true
blessedness of LIFE ETERNAL!
20 “For there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the
wicked shall be put out.” For there shall be no reward to the evil man.
He has no happy “future” to expect, as v. 14; ch. 23:18 (where see note).
The candle, etc. (see ch.13:9, where the clause appears). Septuagint, “For the
evil man shall have no posterity, and the torch of the wicked shall be quenched.”
Next, in vs. 21-22, is an injunction urging loyalty to God and the king.
21 “My son, fear thou the LORD and the king: and meddle not with
them that are given to change:” Fear thou the Lord and the king. The king is
God’s vicegerent and representative, and therefore to be honored and obeyed
(see Ecclesiastes 8:2; 10:20; I Peter 2:17). Meddle not with them
that are given to change. There is some doubt about the intepretation of
the last word שׁונִים (shonim), which may mean those who change,
innovators (in which transitive sense the verb does not elsewhere occur), or
those who think differently, dissidents, who respect neither God nor the
king. The verb שָׁנָה signifies transitively “to repeat,” and intransitively “to
be changed;” so it may be most accurately translated here, with Delitzsch,
“those who are otherwise disposed,” who have not the proper sentiments
of fear and honor for God and the king.
detractoribus non commiscearis, by which word he probably means what
we call revolutionists, persons who disparage and despise all authority.
Septuagint, “Fear God and the king, and disobey neither of them.” The
verse has been largely used as a text by preachers who desired to
recommend loyalty and to censure disaffection and rebellion.
22 “For their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the ruin of
them both?” For their calamity shall rise suddenly. Though these
dissidents seem to succeed for a time, yet retribution shall fall suddenly
upon them. And who knoweth the ruin of them both? This seems to
mean the two classes, those who dishonor God and those who dishonor
the king; but no such distinction is made in the previous verse; the rebels
are classed under one category. Wordsworth renders, “the stroke of
vengeance from them both,” i.e. from God and the king. Otherwise, we
must give another signification to שׁניהם, and, with the Syriac and many
modern commentators, take it in the sense of “years,” which שְׁנֵיהֶם will
bear, as Job 36:11, and translate, “The destruction [equivalent to ‘end’]
of their years, who knoweth?” No one can tell when the crisis of their fate
shall come; but it will arrive some day, and then the time of their prosperity
will be at an end. Septuagint, “For they (God and the king) will suddenly
punish the ungodly; and who shall know the vengeance of both (τὰς τιμωρίας
ἀμφοτέρων – tas timorias amphoteron – the punishment of both)?” After this the
Septuagint inserts three proverbs not found now in the Hebrew, which, however,
Ewald (‘Jahrb. der Bibl. Wissensch.,’ 11:17, etc.) considers to have been translated
from a Hebrew original: “A son that keepeth the commandment shall be safe from
destruction (ch. 29:27, Vulgate), and he hath fully received it (the
word). Let no lie be spoken by the tongue of the king; and no lie shall
proceed from his tongue. The king’s tongue is a sword, and not of flesh;
and whosoever shall be delivered unto it shall be destroyed; for if his anger
be inflamed, he consumes men with their nerves, and devours men’s bones,
and burns them up as a flame, so that they are not food for the young
eagles.” The allusion at the end is to animals killed by lightning. Here
follows the series of proverbs (ch.30:1-14) called in the Hebrew,
“The words of Agur.” The second part of “the words of Agur,” and “the
words of Lemuel” (Ibid. vs.15-ch.31:9) follow in the Greek after
ch.24:34 of the Hebrew. Delitzsch explains the matter thus: In
the copy from which the Alexandrines translated, the appendix (Proverbs
30-31:9) was divided into two parts, half of it standing after “the words of
the wise” (Proverbs 22:17-24:22), and half after the supplement
containing further sayings of wise men (Proverbs 24:23-34).
Religion Fortifies the Heart against Envy (vs. 19-22)
WICKED. It is very marked in the Old Testament. It is a common
temptation. For we look at the outside of man’s condition, and are
deceived by illusions. A pirate’s vessel in the distance, a mansion built and
inhabited by infamy, are beautiful objects of aesthetic contemplation. So it
is that the show and bravery of success master our senses.
end” — darkness and the blackness of darkness. The wicked have no
future. When this is once clearly seen, the charm on the surface fades away,
and the edifice of proud but godless prosperity sinks almost into a smoking
SECURITY AND BLESSEDNESS. (vs. 21-22.) The one
comprehensive word for religion is the “fear of Jehovah,” reverence for
God, and for all that, being true, is of the very nature of God. And
obedience to the king includes all those civil and social duties which we
incur as members of an ordered commonwealth. Religion and loyalty go
together; and the best way to make good subjects to the queen is to make
men good servants of God. They will not make conscience of civil duties
who make none of Divine.
Vs. 23-34 form a second supplement to the first Solomonic book, and
contain further “words of the wise.”
23 “These things also belong to the wise. It is not good to have respect
of persons in judgment.” These things also belong to the wise; are the sayings
of wise men. The following proverbs, as well as the preceding, are derived from
wise men. Mistaking this superscription, the Septuagint makes it a personal
address: “This I say to you who are wise, so that ye may learn.” The first
line is not a proverb, but the introduction to the ensuing collection. It is
not good to have respect of persons in judgment (see ch.18:5,
and note there; and ch.28:21, where the expression is the same
as here). To regard one person before another is to be partial and unjust.
To say this error is “not good” is a meiosis, the meaning being that it is
very evil and sinful (compare ch. 20:23). The statement is developed and
confirmed in the next two verses, which show the results of partiality
and its opposite.
24 “He that saith unto the wicked, Thou are righteous; him shall the
people curse, nations shall abhor him:” He that saith unto the wicked,
Thou art righteous. The judge is supposed to be acquitting a guilty person.
Him shall the people curse. The Hebrew is “peoples,” as Septuagint and
Vulgate, maledicient eis populi. Nations shall abhor him. Not individuals,
nor families only, but the whole community, wherever such an iniquitous ruler
is found, shall execrate and hate him. (Contrast this with the way the citizens
Court, who basically have violated the instruction of v. 21 – “my people love
to have it so” [see Jeremiah 5:29-31 with pending results – CY – 2014)
The voice of the people is universally against him; no one is so blind and
degraded as openly to applaud his acts. The verb nakab, “to curse,” means
primarily “to bore or pierce;” hence some have translated it here, “him shall
the peoples stab.” But the word is used in the sense of distinguishing by a
mark or brand, and thence passes into the sense of cursing, as ch.11:26;
Leviticus 24:11; Job 3:8. In ch. 17:15 the unjust judge is called an abomination
to the Lord. In this case the vox populi (voice of the people) is vox Dei (voice
25 “But to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing
shall come upon them.” But to them that rebuke him shall be delight (see on
ch.2:10). They who punish the wicked, with them it is well; they
are approved by God and applauded by the people. Vulgate, Qui aruunt
cum laudabuntur, “They who convict him shall be praised.” And a good
blessing shall come upon them; literally, a blessing of good — one that
has in it all good things, the happy contrast to the curses which meet the
unjust judge (Is this not just one of the reasons that the
is seemingly devoid of this in the last 40 years? – CY – 2014). Septuagint,
“But they that convict them (the guilty) shall appear more excellent, and
upon them shall come blessing.”
Partiality and Equality in Judgment (vs. 23-25)
· RESPECT OF PERSONS. The literal translation is, “To distinguish
persons in judgment is not good.” The judge should be impartial as the pair
of scales, the emblem of his office, and blind to the persons who appear
before him, that is, to their rank and position, as the symbolical figure of
Justice is represented to be. “One foul sentence doth more hurt than many
foul examples; these do but corrupt the stream, the other corrupteth the
· THE WILFUL PERVERSION OF RIGHT. (v. 24.) When the just
man is suffered to fail in his cause before his adversary, the very nerve of
public right is unstrung. It strikes a direct blow at the common weal, and
hence brings down the curses of peoples and the enmity of states.
· EQUAL AND JUST JUDGMENT. (v. 25.) “A judge ought to
prepare his way to a just sentence, as God useth to prepare his way, by
raising valleys and taking down hills; so when there appeareth on either
side a high hand, violent persecution, cunning advantages taken,
combination, power, great counsel, then is the virtue of a judge seen to
make inequality equal; that he may plant his judgment as upon an even
ground” (Bacon). In the present text the glance is towards a proper and
due severity, which will not allow the wicked to escape. “Odium may
equally be incurred by him who winks at crime and by him who has no
regard to mercy. For in causes of life and death, judges ought, as far as the
law permits, in justice to remember mercy, and to cast a severe eye upon
the example, but a merciful eye upon the person” (Bacon). The purity of
the judicial bench is one of the greatest of public blessings. (The liberal
slant of the United States Supreme Court in the last sixty years is a tragedy
and is exemplified in the current coup taking place at the present. CY – 2020)
26 “Every man shall kiss his lips that giveth a right answer.”
A distich (a pair of verses) connected with the subject of the preceding
paragraph. Every man shall kiss his lips that giveth a right answer; or
better, he kisseth the lips who giveth a right answer. An answer that is fair
and suitable to the circumstances is as pleasant and assuring to the bearers
as a kiss on the lips. Such a salutation would be a natural sign of sympathy
and affection. Thus Absalom won the hearts of the people by kissing those
who came to court with their suits (II Samuel 15:5). In Genesis 41:40,
where the Authorized Version has, “According to thy word shall all
my people be ruled,” the Hebrew runs, “Thy mouth shall all my people
kiss,” i.e. they shall do homage to thee, which is another signification of
this action. This, however, would not be suitable here, as the kiss is
supposed to be given by the speaker.
27 “Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field;
and afterwards build thine house.” Prepare thy work without. The proverb
enjoins a man to look well to his resources before he undertakes to build a
house or to establish a family. “Without” (chuts) (ch.7:12; 8:26); in the
fields. Put in due order all immediate work in thy farm. And make it fit
for thyself in the field. It is edifying to recollect that God has made the
Earth the eternal mediator and minister to us of material blessings which
lie at the foundation of all our life. That is, in short, steadily and
with due foresight cultivate your land; provide abundant
means of subsistence before you attempt to build up your house.
A suitor had, as it were, to purchase his bride from her relations by making
considerable presents; it was therefore necessary to provide a certain
amount of wealth before contemplating matrimony. And afterwards build
thy house. This is, indeed, the meaning of the passage; but the Hebrew
makes a difficulty, as it is literally, “afterwards and thou shalt build.” Some
have supposed that some words have dropped out of the text. But vav in
וּבָנִיתָ, coming after a date or notification of time, as here after אַהַר
(compare Genesis 3:5), “has the future signification of a perfect consecutive,”
equivalent to “after that, then, thou mayest build.” Septuagint, “Prepare thy
works for thy going forth, and get ready for the field, and come after me,
and thou shalt build up thine house.” In a spiritual sense, the heart must be
first cleared of thorns, and opened to genial influences, before the man can
build up the fabric of virtuous habits, and thus arrive at the virtuous character.
The Prudence and Policy of Industry (v. 27)
· ALL LABOR IS ROOTED IN THE TILLAGE OF THE EARTH.
‘Tis thus that bread was first wrung from her — by universal field labor.
Our ancestors were all agricultural laborers. All other industry must be
fruitless and stop without the action of this spring. It is therefore the part
of all prudent and good men to encourage cultivation, to improve the
condition of the laborer and the farmer. All honor to the great statesmen
of our time who have wrought in this cause. It is edifying to recollect that
God has made Mother Earth the eternal mediator and minister to us of
material blessings which lie at the foundation of all our life.
DOMESTIC COMFORT AND
LABOR. It is the “prudence of a higher strain” than that which begins
and ends with mere sensual comfort that is taught in this book. It is
attention to law, it is unbelief in luck, which constitutes its principle.
Self-command, unslothful habits, constant exertion, put the bread a man eats
at his own disposal, so that he stands not in bitter and False relations to other
28 “Be not a witness against thy neighbor without cause; and deceive
not with thy lips.” Be not a witness against thy neighbor without cause
(chinnam); gratuitously (ch.3:30; 23:29; 26:2), when you are
not obliged in the performance of a plain duty. Persons are not to put
themselves forward to give testimony to a neighbor’s discredit, either
officiously as busybodies, or maliciously as slanderers. The maxim is
expressed in general terms and is not to be confined to one category, as the
Syriac and Septuagint render, “Be not a false witness against thy fellow
citizen.” And deceive not with thy lips. The Hebrew is really interrogative,
“And wouldest thou deceive with thy lips?” (Psalm 78:36). The deceit is
not so much intentional falsehood as misrepresentation arising from haste
and inconsiderateness consequent on this unnecessary eagerness to push
forward testimony unsought. Septuagint, “Neither exaggerate with thy lips.”
29 “Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to
the man according to his work.” The subject is still continued, as if the moralist
would say, “Though a man has done you an injury by gratuitously testifying
against you, do not you retaliate in the same way.” Say not, I will do so to him as
he hath done to me (see ch.20:22, and note there). The lex talionis (Law of
Retaliation) should not be applied to private wrongs. The high morality of the
Christian code is here anticipated, the Holy Spirit guiding both.
Just Conduct to our Neighbor (vs. 26-29)
· TRUE WITNESS. (v. 26.) He who gives true and faithful answers —
especially in courts of justice — delights, even as the sweetest kiss upon
the mouth delights. The poet alludes to the effect upon the ear. The
understanding can no more be delighted with a lie than the will can choose
an apparent evil. “Strange as it may seem,” says one playfully, “the human
mind loses truth.” We may add, “when passion does not blind the intellect
to its beauty.” In the court of justice, all but the guilty and those interested
in his fate see the beauty of truth, and prize it above all things. Hence to
speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is the solemn
oath of witnesses.
· FALSE AND UNCALLED-FOR WITNESS. (v. 28.) To bear false
witness strikes at the very root of conscience and moral obligation. But
criminal, though in a less degree, is the volunteering of evidence without
cause against another; i.e. when no object but private hatred and revenge is
to be served. Compare the case of Doeg (I Samuel 22:9-10); the
Pharisees with the wretched sinner in John 8; the words of the Lord in
John 15:25. Speak evil of no man, not only that evil which is altogether
false and groundless, but that which is true, when speaking of it will do
more harm than good (Matthew Henry).
· DELIBERATE DECEPTION. About a court of justice, which
represents truth, there gathers a dark shade of roguery and falsehood;
“persons that are full of sinister tricks and shifts, whereby they pervert the
plain and direct courses of courts, and bring justice into oblique lines and
· BLIND INDULGENCE OF VINDICTIVE TEMPER. (v. 29;
compare ch. 20:22.) Nothing is more deeply impressed in the Bible
than the truth of compensation or retribution. But men must not take the
law into their own hands. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith Jehovah.”
“Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man’s nature runs to,
the more ought law to weed it out. In taking revenge a man is but even
with his enemy; but in passing it over he is superior. It is the glory of a man
to pass by an offence. The man who studies revenge keeps his own wounds
green, which otherwise would heal and do well” (Bacon).
Rendering Evil for Evil (v. 29)
It is interesting to note that this conduct is not only rebuked by Jesus
Christ, but also forbidden in the Old Testament, and even in the Book of
Proverbs, which is thought to deal too much in temporal and self-regarding
motives. So utterly is it foreign to right mindedness. Yet it is most
common, and apparently most natural.
EVIL FOR EVIL.
Ø It appears to be just. There is a natural fitness m things, and this seems
to be satisfied by the lex talionis, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a
Ø It offers to check evil. It appears to be a natural form of punishment.
Indeed, it was sanctioned in rough, primitive times, though subject to
judicial inquiry (Exodus 21:24).
Ø It satisfies the craving for revenge. This is the reason which encourages
it far more than considerations of abstract justice or anxiety about the
public weal. “Revenge is sweet,” and to restrain the impulse to strike an
offender in return for his blow is hard and painful.
Ø It agrees with prevalent customs. It is “after the manner of man” to
avenge a wrong, and apparently the habit springs from innate instincts.
At all events, it works without reflection. Therefore it appears to be a
part of the economy of nature. To refuse it is like denying a natural
Ø The sense of revenge lies in our lower nature. It is shared by the brute
creation, like hunger and lust. But it is aggravated by the sin of hatred
and by selfishness. There is nothing noble or elevating in it. On the
contrary, it drags us down. Long-suffering braces the moral fibers of
the soul; revenge relaxes them.
Ø We are not called upon to execute sentence on our fellow men. If there
is to be a requital, this must come from God, to whom belongs just
vengeance (Romans 12:19). We are usurping the rights of God when
we impatiently take it into our own hands. Moreover, we are the worst
possible judges of our own rights. When deeply wounded, or irritated by
insults, or blinded. by passion, we are not in a fit condition to exercise
judicial functions. Yet it is just on such occasions that we are most
tempted to wreak vengeance on the head of an offender.
Ø It is our duty to forgive and save our fellow man. Even if punishment be
due to him, vengeance from us is not owing. Our business is to seek to
reclaim by “heaping coals of fire” on our wrong doer (Ibid. v.20). Instead
of doing to him as he has done to as, our Christian motto is to do to him
as we would that he should do to us.
Ø Revenge is un-Christlike. Christians are called to follow in the footsteps
of the patient and brave Jesus, who was patient under provocation, even
praying for His enemies. (“Who, when He was reviled, reviled not
again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed Himself
to Him that judgeth righteously.” - I Peter 2:23; “Father forgive them
for they know not what they do.” - Luke 23:34)
Ø Revenge is unseemly in those who need forgiveness. We are dependent
on the mercy of God. He has not taken vengeance on us. But if we
forgive not men their trespasses, neither will our heavenly Father forgive
us our trespasses. (Matthew 6:15) Thus Portia rightly says to Shylock:
“Consider this —
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy.”
The Ignobler and the Nobler Spirit (vs. 17-18, 29)
(See homily on ch. 20:22.) There can be no question at all, for the testimony of
human history is everywhere and at all times the same, as to:
· OUR DISPOSITION UNDER SIN, IN VIEW OF OUR ENEMIES.
These two passages indicate it. It is both passive and active.
Ø A disposition to rejoice at their discomfiture; to exult in the secret places
of the soul when we hear of their failure, of their defeat, or even of their
suffering. (This is malice. CY – 2020)
Ø A disposition to inflict some injury on them by our own effort. The
impulse of the man who is struck is to strike again; that of the man who is
cheated is to take the next opportunity of overreaching the treacherous
neighbor; the prevalent feeling, under the long reign and malignant
influence of sin, is to compass, in some way or other, the humiliation, or
the loss, or the anger of the man who has injured us. We rejoice when our
enemy falls; we do more and worse than that — we do our best, we use
our ingenuity and put forth even our patient labor, to bring about his
overthrow. So common, so universal, is this sentiment of revenge and
retaliation, that no one is in a position so speak severely of his neighbor or
to condemn him harshly. Yet we understand now:
· ITS UNWORTHINESS OF OUR NATURE. It was not to cherish
such thoughts as these, nor was it to act in such a way as this, that our
Divine Father called us into being, and gave to us our powers.
Ø We were made to love and to pity; and for us to harbor in our souls a
feeling of positive delight when we witness the misery or misfortune of a
brother or a sister is really inhuman; it is a perversion, under the malign
power of sin, of the end and purpose of our being.
Ø We were made to help and bless; and for us to expend the powers with
which we are endowed to injure, to inflict suffering and loss, to send as far
as we can on the downward road a human heart or human life, — this is
wholly unworthy of ourselves, it is a sad departure from the intention of
our Creator. We see clearly:
· ITS OFFENSIVENESS TO GOD. “Lest the Lord see it, and it
Ø God has told us fully what is His mind respecting it (Matthew 5:43-48;
Romans 12:14, 20).
Ø It is altogether unlike HIS OWN ACTION, for He is daily and momently
blessing with life and health and innumerable bounties those who have
forgotten or disregarded or even denied Him.
Ø There are two aspects in which it must be obnoxious to Him.
o He is the Father of our spirits, and how can He look with anything but
sorrow on antagonism and hatred between His children?
o He is the Holy and the Loving One, and how can he see with anything
but displeasure the hearts of men filled with the feelings of malevolence,
the hands of men occupied in dealing bitter blows against one another?
What, however, is the way by which this deep-rooted disposition can be
expelled, and another and nobler spirit be planted in our souls? What is
the way to:
· THE WORTHIER AND NOBLER SPIRIT. The one way to rise
above vindictiveness and retaliation and to enter into the loftier and purer
air of forgiveness and magnanimity is to connect ourselves most closely
with our Lord Jesus Christ.
Ø To surrender ourselves wholly to Him, and thus to receive His Divine
Spirit into our hearts (John 7:38-39; 15:4; 17:23).
Ø To have our hearts filled with that transforming love to our Father
and our Saviour which will make us to become, unconsciously and
gradually, like Him in spirit and behavior.
Ø To let our minds be filled with the knowledge of His will, by patient
and prayerful study of His Word and of His life.
Vs. 30-34 are a mashal ode concerning the sluggard (for similar odes,
compare ch. 7:6-23; Job 5:3-5; Psalm 37:35-36; Isaiah 5:1-6).
30“I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man
void of understanding;” The field…the vineyard; the two chief objects of the
farmer’s care, which need constant labor if they are to prove productive.
Moralizing on this passage, St. Gregory (‘Moral.,’ 20:54) says, “To pass
by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of
understanding, is to look into the life of any careless liver, and to take a
view of his deeds.”
31 “And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered
the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down.”
Thorns. Kimmashon is the word here used, but the plant has
not been certainly identified (compare Isaiah 34:13). Nettles (charul).
The stinging nettle is quite common in
is probably the prickly acanthus, which quickly covers any spot left
uncultivated (Job 30:7). Revised Version margin suggests wild vetches.
So spiritual writers have used this apologue as teaching a lesson
concerning the soul and the life of man, how that spiritual sloth allows the
growth of evil habits, and the carelessness which maintains not the defense
of law and prayer, but admits the enemy, and the result is THE LOSS OF
TRUE RICHES and THE PERISHING OF THE HEAVENLY LIFE!
The two verses are thus rendered, or morally applied, in the Septuagint:
“A foolish man is as a farm. and a man wanting in sense is as a vineyard;
if you leave him, he will be barren, and will be altogether covered with
weeds, and he will become deserted, and his fences of stone are broken
32 “Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received
instruction.” Then I saw, and considered it well (ch. 22:17). I looked on
this sight, and let it sink into my mind. I looked upon it, and received
instruction (ch. 8:10). I learned a lesson from what I saw.
33 “Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to
sleep: 34 “So shall thy poverty come as one that traveleth; and thy want
as an armed man.” These verses are a repetition, with very slight variations,
of ch.6:10-11 (where see notes), and possibly have been introduced here by
a later editor. V. 33 seems to be the sluggard’s own words; V. 34 shows the
result of his sloth. There are numberless proverbs dedicated to this subject in
all languages; e.g.
that hunts does not feel them.”
The Septuagint is somewhat dramatic in its rendering: “Afterwards I repented,
I looked that I might receive instruction. ‘I slumber a little, I sleep a little, for a
little I clasp my hands across my breast.’ But if thou do this, thy poverty will
come advancing, and thy want like a good runner. ” The word ἐναγκαλίζομαι –
enagkalizomai – clasping ; folding - occurs in ch.6:10, but nowhere else in the
Septuagint. It is used by Mark (Mark 9:36; 10:16). It has been thought that the
original mashal ended with v. 32, the following passage being added by a scribe
as illustrative in a marginal note, which afterwards crept into the text.
The Field of the Slothful (vs. 30-34)
Nothing is more characteristic of the Book of Proverbs than its scorn of
slothfulness and its strenuous inculcation of industry. To doubt these
subjects were especially important in view of the perennial indolence of
Orientals. But slothfulness is not unknown in the West, and in the fierce
competition of modern life a smaller indulgence in idleness will bring sure
disasters. Men often blame their circumstances, the injustice of fate, etc.,
when they should accuse their own lack of energy. The difference between
the successful and those who fail to attain anything in life is more often
than not just that between hard work and self-indulgent, easy living.
Moreover, many men who are diligent in business are most slothful in
spiritual matters. Hence applications of the parable in the present day.
Ø This is visible to the casual wayfarer. The writer simply “went by” it;
yet he took in enough at a glance to understand its condition. A man’s
character is impressed upon his work. A slovenly man will have a
slovenly hand. The neglected field and the ill-kept vineyard reveal
the idle and foolish nature of their owner.
Ø The field is seen to be in a miserable condition.
o It is overgrown with thorns and nettles. It is not left empty if it is
untilled. Weeds grow on the neglected land. If we fail to do our duty,
positive mischief will follow. If we neglect the field of the world,
briars of ignorance, folly, and sin will spring up; if we fail to train
the vineyard of our own family, nettles of evil will appear in the
minds of our children, to sting us for our indolence. Thus was it
with Eli, who failed to rebuke his sons (I Samuel 2:22-25, 29).
If we do not cultivate the gardens of our own souls, rank weeds
of sin will certainly grow up there and bear their poisonous fruits.
o Its defenses are broken down. The indolent man lets his walls fall into
dilapidation. Thus his property lies open to the robber and the destroyer.
The wild boar from the wood will root up his vine. If we are not
Watchful and careful, evil will come in from without and spoil our
work, our home, our souls. It needs care to guard against aggression.
Ø It is slothful.
o His evil is negative. He commits no offence. Yet he is ruined. We
may be undone by simple omission without any transgression.
o His evil is in delaying to do his duty. He does not mean to forego it.
He only postpones fulfillment. Yet he is ruined and disgraced.
We owe duties to time. We do wrong by not accomplishing our work
promptly, though we intend to accomplish it ultimately. (I have
been a great procrastinator in my life, much to my chagrin! -
CY – 2014) We have not unlimited time before us. Today’s
neglected task cannot be performed tomorrow without
hindering tomorrow’s work. The foolish virgins failed by being
TOO LATE! (Matthew 25:1-13)
o It is self-indulgent. The sluggard enjoys his sleep. Selfishness is the
root of idleness. But this, in turn, is stupefying. One does not note
how the fresh morning glides away while he lies with his eyes closed
in sinful sleep. So also the slumber of the soul that neglects the call
to its highest duty is a selfish sleep.
o It is foolish. The sleep is a poor compensation for poverty and shame.
· THE CERTAIN CONSEQUENCES.
Ø Ruin follows. Poverty comes on the slothful man of business as a natural
punishment. Poverty of soul, emptiness, fruitlessness (“so is he that …
is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21) and finally DEATH follows
Ø This may be unsuspected. “Like a highwayman.”
Ø It will be irresistible. The want will come “as an armed man.”
Sloth is peculiarly liable to creep into one’s habits without being noticed, Therefore
the need to:
· pay attention,
· consider, and
· receive the instruction of v. 32.
The Sluggard’s Vineyard: a Parable of Sloth (vs. 30-34)
· A PICTURE OF INDOLENCE. (vs. 30-31.) The vineyard in the
East corresponds to the garden, orchard, or small farm in the West. In the
parable it is overgrown with nettles and thorns. The stone fence is
crumbling for want of repair. We may contrast the picture in Isaiah 5:1-7
of what a vineyard ought to be. The way in which God tilled the
chosen people is the way in which He would have each of us attend to
the garden of the soul.
· THE SIGHT CARRIES A LESSON AND A WARNING. (vs. 32-34)
Let us attend to the parables of Nature. The eye is the great critical
organ, and we never lack lessons if we use it. The lesson here is — the
effect has a cause — the wildness of Nature betrays the sin of man. Neglect
marks itself on her truthful face. The sluggard’s soul is revealed in her
aspect not less than in the unkempt hair and squalid face of the human
being. Here is the “vile sin of self-neglect,” which involves all other
neglect, clearly mirrored. In such spectacles and in the gloomier ones of
malarious swamps, once smiling fields, God writes His judgment on the
broad earth’s face against the crime of sloth. The warning is against
poverty and want, which stride on with noiseless footsteps, rushing in at
last with sudden surprise upon dreaming self-indulgence, like an armed
robber. Sudden seeming woes are long preparing, and no curse “causeless
· THE MORAL APPLICATION.
Ø The analogy of Nature and the human spirit. Both are of God. Both
contain principles of life, beauty, and use. Both need cultivation in order to
their perfection. In both sloth and neglect are punished by loss and ruin.
Ø The personal moral duty. To “awake from sleep,” to “stir up the gift
within us,” to “work out our salvation,” to be good husbandmen, good and
faithful servants in this garden of the Lord — the soul. If not faithful here,
how can it be expected that we shall be faithful in spheres more remote?
The Neglected Garden (vs. 30-34)
The whole scene is before us. The sluggard is asleep while everything is
going wrong; instead of the flower is the thorn; the ground is colored
with the green weeds; the wall is breaking down; where should be beauty is
unsightliness; where should be fruitfulness is barrenness or wilderness; ruin
is written, on everything, everywhere. So is it with the farmer, with the
tradesman, with the merchant or manufacturer, of the sluggard order.
Consider it well. Negligence, dilatoriness, half-heartedness, in any
department means decay, breakdown, ruin. Poverty is on its way, and will
certainly be knocking at the door; want will present itself with a force that
cannot be resisted.
We have all of us a garden, an estate of our own, which God has given
us to cultivate — that which is of more value than many thousands of acres
of fertile soil, that which no riches can buy — our own true self, our own
human spirit. God has solemnly charged us to cultivate that, to weed it of
error and prejudice, of folly and of passion;
o to plant truth there, His own living, abiding truth;
o to plant righteousness there, purity of heart, integrity of soul;
o to plant love there, such as fills his own gracious Spirit;
o to build there walls of wise, strong, protecting habits, which
will fence and guard the soul from intruding enemies.
There are all too many who treat this garden, this estate, with careless
negligence; they throw their energy and force into everything else —
business, love, politics, art, pleasure, society; but themselves, their own
spirit, their own character, they leave to fare as best it may without care
and without culture. (“What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole
world and lose his own soul, or what shall a man give in exchange for
his soul?” - Mark 8:36-37)
Very sad indeed are the results of this foolish and guilty negligence. This
picture of the sluggard’s garden will tell us what they are.
broken wall! The eye turns from it with repugnance. And the neglected
garden of the soul? Instead of the beautiful flowers of Christian reverence
and love, and the fair fruits of holiness and zeal, and the strong walls of a
noble character, there are seen by God and man the unsightly weeds of
transgression, of selfishness, of untruthfulness — perhaps the thorns of
intemperance and impurity and profanity.
regions they have to make their way through all kinds of rank growth,
grass, or shrub which is high, strong, or thorny, covering many miles at a
stretch. What waste is there! What corn, what fruit, would not that land
produce? Alas! for the pitiful waste of an uncultured human soul! What
beauties might not be seen there, what fruits might not be grown there,
what graces and virtues might not be produced there, if only the truth of
Christ were received into the mind and welcomed to the heart!
garden; their seeds will be carried by the winds into his neighbor’s,
and do mischief enough there. A neglected soul is a mischief-working
soul. It cannot confine its influence to itself or its own life. Those
influences cross the wall and get into the neighbor’s ground.
(Witness robbing Peter to pay Paul in the out of control American
welfare system. Now contraceptives are thrown into it! – CY – 2014).
And the seeds of sin are hurtful, poisonous things, spreading:
into the minds of men. If we are not blessing our neighbors by the lives
we live, we are an injury and an evil to them (and to society! - CY –
himself. He may not see it until it is too late. Poverty has been traveling
toward him, but only at the last bend of the road does it come in sight.
Want suddenly appears “as an armed man,” strong, irresistible; there is no
way of escape; bankruptcy is before him. The soul that is neglected is being
ruined; day by day it is being enfeebled, enslaved, deteriorated; the good
that was there is lessening and disappearing; the hard crust of selfishness
and worldliness is thickening. The soul is being lost; it is perishing. “I
considered it well” — “set my heart up in it” (marginal reading) This is,
indeed, a thing to be well considered, to “set the heart upon,” for the issues
of it are those of life or DEATH! There is time to restore it; but a little more
negligence, and the hour of “ruin” will have struck.
"Excerpted text Copyright AGES Library, LLC. All rights reserved.
Materials are reproduced by permission."
This material can be found at: