Proverbs 24



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.” 

 (πόνουςponostrouble; pain)




                        Warning against Evil Company (vs. 1-2)












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,  ἀνορθοῦταιanorthoutaiis 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’scedant 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 megalougreat 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 (κυβερνήσεωςkubernaeseos

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

variously applied.



            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 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 Hannibal and Napoleon show it in one way.

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 Providence was said to be. And in

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.”

                                    (James 1:5)


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

obtain it. St. Augustine thus sums up the steps by which wisdom is

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.


  • FOLLY ISSUES IN SIN. We now look at the conjunction from the

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:





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

Lincoln) was only saved from complete mental derangement during the

terrible time of the civil war by finding occasional refuge in humor. But

what are:



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

One himself;

§         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 ones 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 Africa. Now, Livingstone was

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 (ἐκπρίουekpriouhold 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. St. Jerome makes the

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 (πλάσαςplasasmolding; plastic) breath for all, Himself

knoweth  all things, who rendereth to every man according to his works.”




                                    Compassion for the Wronged (vs. 11-12)



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)




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.


  • THE EXHORTATION. “Deliver them that are carried away unto death,

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.


 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

Oriental famine.


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 Samaria

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 West End to

investigate the condition of the East End. While this duty is neglected

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.

(Luke 10:30-37).


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:



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).



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 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.



“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). Palestine was a

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.



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.



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

not faint.


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 mans 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

at the Red Sea; of Deborah and Barak over Sisera (Exodus 15.; 17:15;

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

ἐπιχαιρεκακίαepichairekakiarejoicing 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)



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

cultivated garden.


·         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,

Instans Tyrannus’).


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. St. Jerome has, Ne contendas

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)





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 Indies. Therefore to envy the prosperity 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. St. Jerome has, Et cum

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.


  • THE ANTIDOTE TO THESE FEELINGS. (v. 20.) “Consider the

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

of the United States have tolerated lower judges and judges on the Supreme

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

of God).


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 United States

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)



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.



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




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.





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:



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

displease Him.”


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 Palestine, but the plant here meant

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


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.


  • “No sweat, no sweet;”
  • “No pains, no gains; ....
  • “He that wad eat the kernel maun crack the nut;”
  • “Good luck enters by dint of cuffs” (Spanish);
  • The dog in the kennel,” say the Chinese. “barks at his fleas; the dog

that hunts does not feel them.”

  • “Sloth and much sleep,” say the Arabs, “remove from God and bring

on poverty.”


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.




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.



      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





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.


  • UNSIGHTLINESS. What a dreary picture — weeds, thistles, thorns, a

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.


  • WASTE. African travelers tell us that passing over uncultivated

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!


  • MISCHIEF. These weeds will not be confined to the sluggard’s

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:


Ø      error,

Ø      falsehood,

Ø      delusion,


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 –



  • RUIN. The man who neglects his estate is really, steadily, ruining

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.



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