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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 26

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-8

Proverbs 26:1-8

As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, so honour is not seemly for a fool

Honour paid to the wicked unseemly and pernicious

The respect which man pays his fellow is often grounded on reasons immoral and absurd.

Sometimes man is respected on the ground of his personal appearance, sometimes on the ground of his mental abilities, sometimes on the ground of his worldly possessions, sometimes on the ground of his lineage and social position; but respect for men on any of these grounds alone is very questionable in morality. The true and Divinely authorised ground of respect for man is moral goodness. The man who is morally good, however deficient in other things, has a Divine claim to our honour.

Honour paid to the wicked is unseemly. It is like “snow in summer and rain in harvest.” It is unseasonable and incongruous. How unseemly nature would appear in August with snow mantling our cornfields! Souls are morally constituted to reverence the good; to abhor the morally bad, wherever it is seen, whether in connection with lordly possessions, kingly power, or, what is higher still, mental genius.

Honour paid to the wicked is pernicious. “Snow in summer and rain in harvest” are in nature mischievous elements. Their tendency is to rob the agriculturist of the rewards of his labour, and to bring on a famine in the land. Far more mischievous is it when the people of a country sink so morally low as to render honour to men who are destitute of moral goodness. The perniciousness is also expressed by another figure in the text, “As he that bindeth a stone in a sling, so is he that giveth honour to a fool.” The word translated “sling” means a heap of stones, and the word “stone” a precious stone. Hence the margin reads, “As he that putteth a precious stone in an heap of stones, so is he that giveth honour to a fool.” The idea evidently is, as a precious stone amongst rubbish, so is honour given to a fool. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Verse 2

Proverbs 26:2

As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come.

Human anathemas

Another, and perhaps a better, translation is this, “Unsteady as the sparrow, as the flight of the swallow, is a causeless curse; it cometh not to pass.” “There is a difficulty here,” says Wardlaw, “in settling the precise point in the comparison. The ordinary interpretation explains it with reference to curses pronounced by men without cause--imprecations, anathemas, that are unmerited--and the meaning is understood to be--as the bird or sparrow, by wandering, and as the swallow, or wood-pigeon, by flying, shall not come--that is, shall not reach us or come upon us in the way of injury--so is it with the causeless curse. It will “do no more harm than the bird that flies overhead, than Goliath’s curses on David.” And it might be added that, as these birds return to their own place, to the nests whence they came, so will such gratuitous maledictions come back upon the persons by whom they are uttered.

Men are frequently the victims of human imprecations. Few men pass through the world without creating enemies, either intentionally or otherwise. Men vent their hatred in various ways.

That human imprecations are sometimes undeserved. The curse is “causeless.” Sometimes the curses of men are deserved. There are two classes of causeless curses--

1. Those that are hurled at us because we have done the right thing. When you are cursed for reproving evil, for proclaiming an unpopular truth, or pursuing a righteous course which clashes with men’s prejudices or interests, the curse is causeless.

2. Those that are uttered without reason or feeling. There are men who are so in the habit of using profane language that it almost flows from their lips without malice or meaning. The greatest men in history have been cursed, and some of them have died under a copious shower of human imprecations.

Undeserved imprecations are always harmless. “The greatest curse causeless shall not come.” Was David the worse for Shimei’s curse? or Jeremiah for the curse of his persecutors? “He that is cursed without a cause,” says Matthew Henry, “whether by furious imprecations or solemn anathemas, the curse will do him no more harm than the sparrow that flies over his head. It will fly away like the sparrow or the wild swallow, which go nobody knows where, until they return to their proper place, as the curse will at length return to him that uttered it.” “Cursing,” says Shakespeare, “ne’er hurts him, nor profits you a jot. Forbear it, therefore,--give your cause to heaven.” But if the curse be not causeless, it will come. Jotham’s righteous curse came upon Abimelech and the men of Shechem (Judges 9:56-57). Elisha’s curse fearfully came to the young mockers of Bethel (2 Kings 2:24). “The curse abides on Jericho from generation to generation.” (Homilist.)

Verses 3-11

Proverbs 26:3-11

A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back.

Aspects of a fool

Sin is folly. It sacrifices the spiritual for the material, the temporal for the eternal, the pure joys of immortality for the gratification of an hour.

He appears here as a servant. “A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool’s back.” This proverb inverts our ideas. We should have said, “A bridle for the horse,” and “a whip for the ass.” But the Eastern asses have much of the fire of our blood horses, while the horses are often heavy and dull. Therefore the ass there requires the bridle, and the horse the whip--the one to accelerate, the other to restrain and guide activity. As the horse and the ass, in order to be used as the servants of man, require the application of force, so does the fool. “A rod for the fool’s back.” If a stubborn sinner is to be made the servant of society, coercion must be employed. Argument, persuasion, example; these moral appliances will affect him but little.

He appears here as a debater. “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” There is an apparent contradiction here, but it is only apparent. The negative means, we are not to debate with him in his style and spirit, and thus become like him. We are not to descend to his level of speech and temper. The positive means, that we are to answer him as his folly deserves. It may be by silence as well as speech. The fool talks; he is often a great debater.

He appears here as a messenger. The meaning of this is, “He who would trust a fool with a message might as well cut off his feet, for he will have vexation and maybe damage.” How careful should we be to entrust important business to trustworthy persons! Solomon himself drank damage, by employing an “industrious” servant, but a fool in wickedness, who “lifted up his hand against the king,” and spoiled his son of ten parts of his kingdom (1 Kings 11:26-40). Benhadad drank damage by sending a message by the hands of Hazael, who murdered his master when the way was opened for his own selfish purposes (2 Kings 8:8-15). Much of the business of life is carried on by messengers or agents. How much a mercantile firm suffers by improper representatives!

He appears here as a teacher. “The legs of the lame are not equal, so is a parable in the mouth of fools.” It is not very uncommon to find fools sustaining the office and performing the functions of teachers. “They have a parable in their mouth.” The verses suggest two things concerning them as teachers--

1. That they appear very ridiculous. “The legs of the lame are not equal, so is a parable in the hands of fools.” The idea seems to be, as the cripple who desires to appear nimble and agile appears ridiculous in his lame efforts to walk, so the fool appears ridiculous in his efforts to teach.

2. As teachers, they are generally very mischievous. “As a thorn goeth up into the hand of the drunkard, so is a parable in the mouth of fools.” The idea is, that a fool handling the doctrines of wisdom is like a drunken man handling thorns. The besotted inebriate, not knowing what he is about, lays hold of the thorn and perforates his own nerves. The wise sayings in the mouth of a stupid man are self-condemnatory.

He appears here as a commissioner. “The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool and rewardeth transgressors.” The word “God” is not in the original. The margin is the more faithful translation--“A great man giveth all, and he hireth the fool; he hireth also transgressors.” The idea seems to be, that when worldly princes employ fools for the public service it is a source of anxiety and trouble to all good citizens. “The lesson has application from the throne downwards, through all the descriptions of subsidiary trusts. Extensive proprietors, who employ overseers of their tenants, or of those engaged in their manufactories, or mines, or whatever else be the description of their property, should see to the character of these overseers. Their power may be abused, and multitudes of workmen suffer, when the owner--the master--knows nothing of what is going on. But he ought to know. Many complainings and strikes, well or ill-founded, have their origin here.”

He appears here as a reprobate. The emblem here is disgusting, but the thing signified is infinitely more so. Peter quotes this proverb (2 Peter 2:20-22). The wicked man often sickens at his wickedness, and then returns to it again. Thus Pharaoh returned from his momentary conviction (Exodus 8:8-15); Ahab from his pretended repentance (1 Kings 21:1-29.); Herod from his partial amendment (Mark 6:20-27). (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Verses 4-5

Proverbs 26:4-5

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him

Answering a fool according to his folly

The ambiguity in these verses lies in the connecting words “according to,” which are here used in two different senses.

“Answer not a fool according to,” i.e.,, not in a manner agreeing with his folly, lest thou become as foolish and perverse as he. “Answer him according to,” i.e.,, according to the nature and desert of his folly; so as best to meet and refute it. (E. Pond, D. D.)

The treatment of a fool

There are many cases in which a fool is to be heard, and not answered at all. When a scorner reviles us, it is needless to reprove him for it. Our Lord often kept silence when impertinent questions were asked Him. But silence cannot be the rule in every ease. In many cases it is proper that a fool’s words should be answered, only you must take care in answering not to imitate him. If he speaks unreasonable, profane, peevish, or passionate words, you must not answer him in his own style. You are angry at him for his folly, and reprove him for the extravagance of his behaviour, and therefore you cannot but confess that yourselves are worthy of a very sharp reproof, if you behave like him at the very time that you are testifying your displeasure at his conduct. It becomes not the followers of Jesus to return railing for railing, or one angry reflection for another, but in whatever manner others talk, our tongues ought still to be governed by the law of meekness and charity. (George Lawson, D. D.)

The scorner answered

A certain preacher had wrought his best to benefit his audience; but one of them came to him, and somewhat rudely remarked, “Your preaching is of no use to me. I do not believe that I have a soul; I don’t want to be talked to about an imaginary hereafter. I shall die like a dog.” The minister calmly replied, “Sir, I have evidently failed through misapprehension. I did my best for the good of all my hearers; but I prepared the entertainment under the notion that I was catering for men with souls. Had I known there were creatures present who had no souls, and would die like dogs, I would have provided a good supply of bones for them.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Reply to scoffers

It is stated by one of the biographers of John Wesley that while he was staying at an hotel at Oxford for a few hours, some wild young men, who were aware of the fact, took occasion to play a joke upon him. Coming suddenly into the room where he was sitting, they exclaimed, “Oh, Mr. Wesley, the devil’s dead!” The aged saint arose, and placing his hands upon the heads of two of the young men, he said, with a voice full of pity, “My poor fatherless children, what will you do?”

Verse 8

Proverbs 26:8

As he that bindeth a stone in a sling, so is he that giveth honour to a fool.

Throwing a stone at an idol

The words should be translated, as Colonel Condor was the first to point out: “As he that throweth a stone at an idol, so is he that giveth honour to a fool.” The comparison refers to the universal custom, in ancient times, among Pagan nations of throwing a stone at an idolatrous shrine, not in execration of it, like the stones thrown to this day by the Jews at Absalom’s pillar at Jerusalem, but in honour of it. At the foot of some sacred tree, or some pillar consecrated to idolatrous worship, a cairn or heap of stones is generally found; each stone testifying of a visit paid to the spot by some votary; and the larger the heap the greater the veneration shown. In Greece, the worship of Hermes or Mercury consisted in throwing a stone at his image, set up as a mark by the wayside to protect travellers on a journey. In Palestine, amongst the primitive Canaanite inhabitants that still survived, idolatry was widely practised; and in early times it was a common sight, on rising spots among the hills of Judea and Galilee, to come upon a menhir, or dolmen, in which the object of worship was a rude stone image, forming the nucleus of a cairn or heap of stones which had gradually grown around it, in remembrance of the visits paid by worshippers. In Scotland many cairns are made of the stones thrown at a rude stone monument, or cromlech, as an act of worship; and, perhaps, many of the cairns of remembrance raised to the dead may have originated from this act of worship. The old saying, “I will add a stone to your cairn,” was the highest expression of reverence and regard that could be offered to a friend. With this explanation the comparison used in the Scripture proverb becomes plain and forcible. The proverb could only have been used by an iconoclast; and very probably came into existence in the days of Hezekiah, after the wholesale destruction, by this pious and zealous monareh, of the altars and stone monuments of the Canaanite idolaters which had corrupted Israel. Hezekiah was bent on the work of national reformation, and the purification and consecration of the temple by a perfect ceremonial was accompanied by the overthrow of all the “high places” and the idolatrous images and rites connected with them, as antagonistic to the holiness of the land as God’s heritage. And, therefore, the proverb of the text would have a deep force and meaning in his day. Like one who continued the old practice of throwing a stone at an idolatrous monument, in token of worship, a practice now forbidden and proved to be vain and useless, so was he who gave honour to a fool. A fool was as unworthy of honour as an idol is of worship. In the one case there is no reason for the honour; and in the other case the worship is a mere empty foolish superstition. An idol is nothing, and a fool is a negation. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)

Verse 11

Proverbs 26:11

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.

The accustomed course resumed

Dost thou ever raise thy little dam across the streamlet, and think to dry the bed below? Hast thou accomplished thy work, and stood watching awhile thy success? Hast thou seen the water above deepen and widen, and gather strength, and at length, impatient of restraint, push through thy yielding barrier, and resume its accustomed course? But couldst thou have turned the stream into another channel thou hadst triumphed, and the former bed had been left dry. So thou hast attempted, perhaps, to confine thy sinful will by the barrier of good resolutions. Thou hast seemed for awhile to gain thy point, and sin was at a stand. Alas! thou hast found that it but gained force by restraint; ere awhile the inclination has burst through all thy well-formed resolves, and hath rushed more impetuously than ever to the forbidden object. No; the will and affections must be turned into another course--towards God and heaven, and things spiritual; and then shall they cease to flow through the tempting vanities of this evil world. “This I say, then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16.) (H. G. Salter.)

Verse 12

Proverbs 26:12

Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit?

there is more hope of a fool than of him

The folly of self-conceit

The Scriptures are full of denunciations against the self-sufficiency of man. The writings of Solomon are conspicuous for expressions which stigmatise the absurdity and the guilt of a self-willed, self-sufficient spirit. Here he says that when a man is wise in his own conceit, there is so little hope of his reformation that even a fool would be a more promising subject for moral and intellectual discipline. Teachable and honest mediocrity is always attended with a fair hope of improvement. But that very quality which may preserve, even to dulness itself, the chance of amelioration, is necessarily wanting to him who is wise in his own conceit, namely, a tractable and docile temper. Whenever a feeling of self-sufficiency takes possession of a mind, even of more than ordinary strength, there is danger of its shutting out all prospect of effectual improvement. What exertions will be made by one who is content with his acquisitions? To him who knows better than the rest of mankind, instruction or advice must needs appear impertinent. This guilty and miserable habit locks up from the use of all who are under its dominion those riches without which the fairest intellect must ever remain poor indeed--the wisdom of other ages, and the resources and experiences of other minds. It is dismal to reflect on the number of characters which have been ruined by this unhappy delusion. When once this fatal sorcery has suspended in the mind all aspirations after higher attainments, from that moment the movement of the character becomes infallibly retrograde. By the known constitution of things it is impossible that the intellectual or moral powers can be for a moment stationary. There is, in man’s faculties, a constant tendency towards relapse and decay, which must be encountered by perpetual exertion. It is a sadder condition when the two characters in the text happen to coincide; when imbecility and arrogance go together; when the fool is wise in his own conceit. The language of the text applies to cases of great excess. But all cases have a tendency towards excess, and caution is useful in the earliest stages. The predominance of self-conceit is in most instances the result of negligent or injudicious culture. Self-will enters largely into the composition of every human character. It shows itself with the earliest dawn of the faculties. There is no instinctive impulse which prompts a child to the salutary but painful exercise of exploring his own insufficiency. The feeling of self-sufficiency is strengthened by the habit of comparing ourselves with low and imperfect characters, and by fixing ourselves in the centre of a very contracted circle. The mind should be elevated by the contemplation of the noblest forms of excellence, both intellectual and moral. Christianity is irreconcilably at war with every vice or infirmity which belongs to the family of pride. (C. W. Le Bas, M. A.)

Description and danger of religious self-conceit

Nothing renders a man so unmanageable, in the common concerns of life as self-conceit. But show the application of this passage in a spiritual sense.

Explain the statement of the text. Wisdom in this book is another name for religion. Foolishness is irreligion. Then the man who is “wise in his own conceit” is religious in his own conceits. All men are naturally subject to pride and vanity. A supposed superiority in religion will furnish ground for the exercise of this disposition as readily as any other fancied distinction. A man may be vain of his religion. Such persons very possibly have knowledge, and feeling, and what they call religious attainments. But they are destitute of self-knowledge: they have no real humiliation of heart, and they are greatly wanting in charity as to their judgment of the religious state and character of others. They have no notion of rendering to God a spiritual service. There is more hope of a fool, an irreligious person, than of such an one.

Show the grounds and reasons of the text. Such persons as described totally mistake the nature of true religion. To be religious is to be spiritually-minded. To advance in religion is to grow in grace. They pervert the very design and end of religion. It is designed to make men humble; it makes these persons proud. They have closed up the door to their own improvement. Use this subject for self-examination. By it try our own religion, and see what is our own spiritual state. (E. Cooper.)

Verse 13

Proverbs 26:13

The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets.

A lion in the way

The reprehensible sloth of the coward does not appear in what he says, but in what he leaves unsaid. He means, but is ashamed to say, “Because there is a lion in the way, I will shirk my duty.” The brave man says, Though a lion is in the way, I will slay it; anyway I will fight with it and wound it.”

“There is a lion in the way.” In what way? In the way of life--of every life. Life, if it is to be a true life, is not an easy thing. There is, indeed, such a thing as a life which is no true life, only a living death. Sloth, self-indulgence, self-abandonment to a besetting sin, caring for nothing but self, and the keeping one’s self miserably alive, to live at ease, to live selfishly, to live for pleasure, all this is to be dead while we live. If you live thus you may for a time live at home quite secure, fearless of the only lions you dread. If, on the other hand, you mean to live for nobler objects than those of shameless selfishness, you too, like Saul, will have to fight with wild beasts at Ephesus or elsewhere. There will be needed the girded loin and the burning lamp, the swift foot, and the sharp sword, and the stout heart, and the strong arm; faith and prayer, and the battle, and the Cross.

2. There are many lions, and not one only. True courage does not consist in the absence of any sense of fear--that may only be due to brute apathy--but it is to feel fear and to overcome it.

For the brave, true man there is the lion of the world. We live in days of wonderful, and for some men, pleasant compromises. Religion walks in silver slippers. Good and evil lie flat together, side by side, in amiable neutrality. You may take your choice. If what you are content with is compromise and conventionality, and the broad beaten road, and success and popularity, you may have it for the asking: it is quite easy to offend nobody. But if you would have any of the nobleness, any of the usefulness, of the prophet or the reformer, boldly rebuke vice, denounce a fashionable iniquity, fling away from you a theological falsehood, run counter to a general delusion, deal vigorously with the “lion in the way.” The lion of the world’s hatred and opposition may be avoided. It is avoided by thousands of sleek and prosperous men.

But there is another lion which each man must meet, the lion of his own fleshly nature, of his own physical and mental passions. Plato describes each man as consisting, so to speak, of three beings in one: a lion, a many-headed monster, and a man. Of these the man represents the controlling reason; the lion the fierce and irascible temper; the many-headed monster the low and animal passions. The man, the reason, must absolutely rule; the irascible impulses must not be crushed, indeed, but controlled; the monster of fleshly lusts must be utterly subdued. By every one of us that lion, that multitudinous and many-headed monster, must be fought.

Another lion is he who “goeth about, seeking whom he may devour.” Each of us knows by experience that there are some tendencies and temptations--to pride, to falsity, to blaspheming thoughts, to causeless hatred--which often come upon a man with fierce and unlooked-for suddenness, and we know not whence or where the tempting opportunity suddenly meets the susceptible disposition. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” Remember that he can be fought face to face, but the Christian has no armour for the back.

Consider the duty of facing these lions in our outward life. Everywhere individual license invades public rights. The slothful man (and the slothful man is the epitome of the slothful nation) is ingenious in excuses. Happily every now and then God-strengthened, God-inspired, good, brave, unsophisticated men, have torn their way through these thorny hedges of indolence, greed, and opposition; have faced the wild beast of demoralised public opinion, in spite of its erect mane and flaming eye.

The slothful man pleads that many have been slain by this “lion in the way.” Yes, it is quite true. But to them, as to their Lord, through death, and after death, if not in life, hath come the glory and the victory. Slain: yet no harm has come to them. Better a thousand times their death than the life of the selfish and the base. There is one way in which a man can die even better than this. It is when, homeless, landless, wifeless, childless, without even a hope of earthly things, he faces those fearful odds, not for his own wealth or his own comfort, but for his brother man; faces them for the sake of simple duty, faces them for the common love of humanity, faces them because, if God wills it, he, too, is ready to die for those for whom Christ died. Take courage, then, all ye who are fearless enough and noble enough to care for any righteous cause. (Dean Farrar.)

The slothful man

Man is made up of contradictions. A strong propensity to indolence, and a principle which prompts to action. There is a charm in the exercise of those physical and intellectual powers with which man is endowed. With many indolence diffuses its benumbing influence through all their faculties and powers. It becomes a disease, which strengthens itself by continuance. Habit is equally efficient in generating and confirming evil and good qualities. Extraordinary changes of moral character from bad to good have occurred in every age; but we have no right to calculate on them, so as to become indifferent to the ordinary growth of good or evil disposition. Indolence of character proceeds from a torpid state of the affections, or coldness of heart, in some partly natural, in most persons however, acquired by habit. In the state of indolence, the spellbound slumberer avails himself of every pretext for continuing to doze. The text gives one of his frivolous and groundless excuses. Consider some of the sluggard’s formidable discouragements and obstacles in the way of exertion--such as that labour is painful; that self-denial is against nature; and that there is no certain prospect of success, and that God, being all mercy, is ready to forgive at any time. You cannot question or dispute the evils, the misery and ruin to which indolence leads in this world; or the moral ruin to which the sin of lukewarmness, or indifference to your religious obligations, will lead you in the world to come. (James Flint, D. D.)

Seeing with our prejudices

We see not so much with our eyes as with our prejudices. “The wish is father to the thought.” Some men look at the religious life, and see in it nothing but what is narrow and bigoted, gloomy and morose. They do not want to see anything else. Some professing Christians look on the world’s amusements and discern no evil in them. It is to be feared they have no special desire to be convinced of any. There are members of Churches who look at Christian work in its varied departments and with its paramount claims, yet cannot be brought to discover their own qualifications to engage in it. The reason is, they have no wish to. “The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the streets.” And when anything in the shape of self-denying service is proposed to certain persons, this lion assumes most portentous dimensions, and rivals the thunder with his roar. (J. Halsey.)

Verses 17-22

Proverbs 26:17-22

He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife.

Mischievous citizens

The meddler (Proverbs 26:17).

1. His conduct defined.

2. His mischief indicated. Renders himself liable to the anger of one, if not both, of the contending parties.

The liar (Proverbs 26:18-19).

1. By his false representations he involves his neighbour in some embarrassment, contention, or pain, and then excuses himself by saying, “It is in sport.” A lie is no less a lie because spoken in the spirit of frolic and jest.

2. Many a practical jester does the maniac’s mischief without the maniac’s excuse.

The querulous (Proverbs 26:21). He is a social incendiary.

The talebearer (Proverbs 26:22).

1. He maintains strife. As the microscopic sting of a little insect sometimes poisons the blood and influences the body of a strong man, the mere whisper of a talebearer will kindle the fire of discord in a whole community.

2. He infects with poison; his words destroy the mental peace of him to whom they are uttered, the reputation of him of whom they are uttered, and the social happiness of both. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

Verse 23

Proverbs 26:23

Burning lips and a wicked heart are like a potsherd covered with silver dross.

Putrefaction phosphorescent

The illuminating power of phosphorus appears due to an extremely slow chemical reaction, and it is affirmed that vegetable and animal substances may grow phosphorescent at a certain stage of decomposition, or even without any appearance of putrefaction. Accredited authorities cite a host of examples of fresh or stale meats which have been seen to shine during the night with a more or less vivid clearness. Fish, and especially salt-water fish, when no longer fresh, acquire a phosphorescence which brightens during the first period, of putrefaction. Leave for two or three days dead saltwater fish in non-luminous sea-water; at the end of that time the water will be covered with a thin pellicle of fatty matter, and will soon become phosphorescent. But it is not only in material nature that we thus find brightness in combination with impurity. Genius itself has been found shining amidst moral putrefaction. (Scientific Illustrations.)

A wicked heart disguising itself

This may be meant either--

1. Of a wicked heart showing itself in burning lips, furious, passionate, outrageous words, burning in malice, and presenting those to whom, or of whom, they are spoken. Ill-words and ill-will agree together as well as a potsherd and the dross of silver, which, now that the pot is broken, and the dross separated from the silver, are fit to be thrown together to the dunghill

2. Or of a wicked heart disguising itself, with burning lips, burning with the professions of love and friendship, and even persecuting a man with flatteries; this is like a potsherd covered with the scum or dross of silver, with which one that is weak may be imposed upon, as if it were of some value, but a wise man is soon aware of the cheat. This sense agrees with the following verses. (Matthew Henry.)

Verses 24-27

Proverbs 26:24-27

He that hateth dissembleth with his lips.

Clandestine hatred

It is often greatly disguised. “Burning lips and a wicked heart are like a potsherd covered with silver dross.

It is excessively corrupt. “When he speaketh fair, believe him not: for there are seven abominations in his heart.” The word number “seven,” in Scripture, denotes “fulness” or “completeness.” The idea here is, that such a man’s heart is full of abominations.

It is liable to exposure. “Whose hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness shall be shewed before the whole congregation.” Dissembling never answers in the end. The Providence of God brings dark deeds to light. All sin will one day be stripped of its mask, and laid bare in all its putrescent hideousness to the open eye of the universe.

It is self-ruinous. “Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein.” Evil is a hard worker. It digs pits and rolls stones. And what is worse, all its hard work is self-ruinous. Into the pit which they have dug they shall tumble. Those who plot mischief for others will be overwhelmed with it themselves. Moab, in attempting to curse Israel, fell himself under the curse of God. Haman’s gallows for Mordecai was his own “promotion of shame.” The enemies of Daniel were devoured in the ruin which they plotted against him. Thus does God “take the wise in his craftiness, the wicked in his wickedness.” The malice that meditates the evil is often the cause of its own overthrow.

It is socially pernicious. “A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin.”

1. It injures by its slanders. “A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it.”

2. It injures by its flatteries. Flattery is a social curse. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

By injuring others we are ourselves often the greatest sufferers

The wasp’s sting is provided with a barb, and when he feels particularly vicious, and drives the sting into the flesh, it becomes so firmly imbedded that the only way for him to escape is to leave the sting behind. This, however, is sure to cause his death. He receives himself such a wound that he cannot recover. We sometimes forget that when we hurt others by stinging words and treacherous acts, we ourselves, in the long run, are generally the greatest sufferers. (W. Judson.)

Verse 28

Proverbs 26:28

A flattering mouth worketh ruin.

How may we best cure the love of being flattered

What flattery is. Solomon calls it “a mouth that flatters.” All that comes from the flatterer is complaisant, only heartiness and sincerity are wanting. All that appears is “a fair semblance,” but very falsehood. The actor in this tragedy never forgets himself and his own advantage, stripping the novice he hath coaxed, and living on him whom he deceived. There are two kinds of flattery: a self-flattery, and a flattery from others. As to the qualities of flattery, it may be hellish, revengeful, servile, cowardly, covetous, or envious. Love to be flattered is a disease of human nature. It is an immoderate desire of praise. When this desire prevails, we believe what the flatterer saith; set the value on ourselves by what such affirm of us. Another branch of love to be flattered is an affected seeking to ourselves, or giving unto others unnecessary occasions of setting forth the worth of our persons, actions, and qualifications, according to the standard of flatterers; a well-pleasedness to hear the great and good things by dissembling flatterers ascribed to us which either we never did, or did in manner much below what they report them. But--

Love of undue praise is pernicious. It destroys virtuous principles, natural inclinations to good, estates, reputation, safety and life, the soul and its happiness.

What may best effect its cure?

1. Consider the bad name that flattery hath ever had.

2. View the deplorable miseries it hath filled the world with.

3. Suspect all who come to you with undue praise.

4. Reject the friendship of the man who turns due praises into flattery.

5. Look on flattery, and your love for it, as diametrically opposed to God in the truth of all His Word.

6. Cultivate generous and pure love to all that is good.

7. Get and keep the humble frame of heart. Undue love of the praise of men is sacrilegious robbery of God. (Henry Hurst, M. A.)

The flatterer

As to the flatterer, he is the most dangerous of characters. He attacks at points where men are naturally most successfully assailable; where they are most in danger of being thrown off their guard and giving him admission. And when by his flatteries he has thus got the mastery, then follows the execution of the end for which they were employed--“worketh ruin.” The expression is strong, but not stronger than experience justifies. It even works ruin to the most interesting characters--characters admired and worthy of the admiration--by infusing a principle that spoils the whole, the principle of vanity and self-conceit. They thus lose their loveliest and most engaging attraction. And whatever be the selfish object of the flatterer, his selfishness obtains its gratification by the ruin of him whom his flatteries have deceived. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)

Flattery worketh ruin

The stem of the ivy is furnished with root-like suckers which insinuate their spurs into the bark of trees or on the surface of a wall. Who has not seen with regret some noble ash-tree covered with ivy, in whose embrace it rapidly yields up its life? Surely the root is draining the tree of its sap, and transferring it to its own veins. Thus does a sycophant gradually extend his influence over a patron until the manliness of that patron succumbs to his ascendancy. The hero is ruined, and the flatterer flourishes in his place. Beware of the insinuating aptitudes of the parasite! Let him, like ivy on a wall, keep his proper situation. Protect a noble nature from his advances. (Scientific Illustrations.)

Flattery cannot compensate for the damage it works

Parasitic plants send their roots into the substance of another plant, and derive their food from its juices; but though, like some of the human kind, they live upon their neighbour’s bounty, it must be admitted that they sometimes reward their benefactor by adorning it with their beautiful flowers. The Rafflesia Arnoldi, for example, whose flower is three feet across, and whose cup will contain several pints of fluid, grows attached to the stem of a climbing cistus in Sumatra. The mistletoe also, whose silvery berries adorn the oak. Whether these offerings of the parasite bear any reasonable proportion to the amount of damage done by it must be a question open to doubt. Certain it is that the offerings of the social parasite to his benefactor, consisting as they do of subservience, flattery, and petty traits, are no real benefit to anybody; whilst, on the other hand, the injury which the parasite does to honesty and manliness is most unmistakable. On the whole, we are inclined to think that all the productions of parasites, whether vegetable or human, are not sufficient to make us value the producers very highly. (Scientific Illustrations.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 26". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/proverbs-26.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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