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Instruction; correction, discipline, which shows a man his faults, gives him a lowly opinion of himself, and opens his mind to receive knowledge, especially the knowledge of himself and of all moral obligations. Is brutish; is as insensible to higher aspirations, to regret for the past or hope of amendment, as a brute beast (comp. Proverbs 30:2). On this point St. Augustine is quoted: "Quicumque corripi non vis, ex eo sane corripiendus es quia corripi non vis. Non vis enim tua tibi vitia demonstrari; non vis ut feriantur, fiatque tibi utilis dolor, quo medicum quaeras; non vis tibi tu ipse ostendi, ut cum deformem te vides, reformaturum desideres, eique supplices ne in illa remaneas foeditate" ('De Corrept. et Grat.,' 5). Such conduct is unworthy of one who is possessed of an immortal soul and infinite capacity for progress and improvement.
A good man. The word is general, the particular virtue intended being often modified by the context. In view of the contrast in the second clause, it means here "pure," "straightforward." having a heart free from evil thoughts. As the psalm says, "Surely God is good to Israel, even to such as are pure in heart" (Psalms 73:1). Obtaineth favour of the Lord (Proverbs 8:35); Septuagint, "Better is he who findeth favour from the Lord." A man of wicked devices (Proverbs 14:17); one whose thoughts are perverse and artful. Will he—Jehovah—condemn; Vulgate, "He who trusts to his imaginations doeth wickedly;" Septuagint, "A man that is a sinner shall be passed over in silence (παρασιωπηθήσεται)."
A man shall not be established by wickedness. Man is metaphorically compared to a tree, especially the olive. Wickedness gives him no firm hold for growth or life (comp. Proverbs 10:25). The root of the righteous shall not be moved. The righteous are planted in a good soil, are "rooted and grounded in love" (Ephesians 3:17), and the root being thus well placed, the tree is safe, and brings forth much fruit (comp. Proverbs 12:12; Job 14:7-9).
Proverbs 12:4-12 contain proverbs concerning the management of a house and business.
A virtuous woman; one whose portrait is beautifully traced in Proverbs 31:1-31. The term is applied to Ruth (Ruth 3:11). The Vulgate renders, diligens; Septuagint, ἀνδρεία. The expression means one of power either in mind or body, or both. The same idea is contained in ἀρετὴ and virtus. Such a woman is not simply loving and modest and loyal, but is a crown to her husband; is an honour to him, adorns and beautifies his life, making, as it were, a joyous festival. So St. Paul (1 Thessalonians 2:19) calls his converts "a crown of glorying." The allusion is to the crown worn by the bridegroom at his marriage, or to the garlands worn at feasts (comp. So Ruth 3:11; Isaiah 61:10; Wis. 2:8). The Son of Sirach has much praise for the virtuous woman: "Blessed is the man that hath a good (ἀγαθῆς) wife, for the number of his days shall be double. A virtuous (ἀνδρεία) woman rejoiceth her husband, and he shall fulfil the years of his life in peace" (Ec 26:1, 2). She that maketh ashamed; "that doeth shamefully" (Proverbs 10:5; Proverbs 19:26); one who is a terrible contrast to the woman of strong character—weak, indolent, immodest, wasteful. Is as rottenness in his bones (Proverbs 14:30; Habakkuk 3:16). Such a wife poisons her husband's life, deprives him of strength and vigour; though she is made "bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh" (Genesis 2:23), far from being a helpmate for him, she saps his very existence. Septuagint, "As a worm in a tree, so an evil woman destroyeth a man." Here again Siracides has much to say, "A wicked woman abateth the courage, maketh an heavy countenance and a wounded heart: a woman that will not comfort her husband in distress maketh weak hands and feeble knees" (Ec 25:23). Thus runs a Spanish maxim (Kelly, 'Proverbs of All Nations')—
"Him that has a good wife no evil in life
that may not be borne can befall;
Him that has a bad wife no good thing in life
that chance to, that good you may call."
The thoughts of the righteous are right; literally, judgments; i.e. just and fair, much more then words and actions. St. Gregory ('Mor. in Job,' lib. 25) takes another view, seeing in "judgments" the stings of conscience, and a rehearsal of the day of account. "The righteous," he says, "approach the secret chambers of the Judge in the recesses of their own hearts; they consider how smartly he smites at last, who long patiently bears with them. They are afraid for the sins which they remember they have committed; and they punish by their tears the faults which they know they have perpetrated. They dread the searching judgments of God, even in those sins which perchance they cannot discover in themselves. And in this secret chamber of inward judgment, constrained by the sentence of their own conduct, they chasten with penitence that which they have committed through pride" (Oxford transl.). But the counsels of the wicked—which they offer to others—are deceit. The mere "thoughts" are contrasted with the mature, expressed "counsels" Septuagint, "The wicked steer (κυβερνῶσι) deceits." (For "counsels," see notes, Proverbs 1:5 and Proverbs 20:18.)
The words of the wicked are to lie in wait—a lying in wait—for blood (see Proverbs 1:11). The wicked, by their lies, slanders, false accusations, etc; endanger men's lives, as Jezebel compassed Naboth's death by false witness (1 Kings 21:13). The mouth of the upright shall deliver them; i.e. the innocent whose blood the wicked seek. The good plead the cause of the oppressed, using their eloquence in their favour, as in the Apocryphal Story of Susannah, Daniel saved the accused woman from the slanders of the elders.
The wicked are overthrown, and are not; or, overthrow the wicked, and they shall be no more. The verb is in the infinitive, and may be rendered either way; but the notion is scarcely of an overthrow. The Vulgate has, verte impios; i.e. change them a little from their previous state, let them suffer a blow from any cause or of any degree, and they succumb, they have no power of resistance. What the stroke is, or whence it comes, is not expressed; it may be the just judgment of God—temptation, trouble, sickness—but whatever it is, they cannot withstand it as the righteous do (see Proverbs 11:7). Some commentators see in the phrase the idea of suddenness, "While they turn themselves round, they are no more" (Proverbs 10:25; Job 20:5). Septuagint, "Wheresoever the wicked turn, he is destroyed." The house of the righteous, being founded on a secure foundation, shall stand (Matthew 7:24, etc.).
According to his wisdom. A man who gives practical proof of wisdom by life and character, whose words and actions show that he is actuated by high views, is praised and acknowledged by all (see on Proverbs 27:21). Thus we read of David, that he behaved himself wisely, "and he was acceptable in the sight of all the people" (1 Samuel 18:5). The Septuagint, taking lephi differently, renders, "The mouth of the prudent is commended by men." He that is of a perverse heart; Vulgate, "a vain and senseless man;" Septuagint, "one slow of heart (νωθροκάρδιος)." One who takes distorted views of things, judges unfairly, has no sympathy for others, shall be despised.
This verse may be translated, Better is a man who is lightly esteemed and hath a slave, than he that boasts himself and lacketh bread; i.e. the man who is thought little of by his fellows, and is lowly in his own eyes, if he have a slave to minister to his wants (which all Orientals of even moderate wealth possess), is better off than one who boasts of his rank and family, and is all the while on the verge of starvation. "Respectful mediocrity is better than boastful poverty." Ecc 10:1-20 :27, "Better is he that laboreth and aboundeth in all things, than he that boasteth himself, and wanteth bread." But the words rendered, hath a slave, are literally, a servant to himself. So the Vulgate has, sufficiens sibi, "sufficing himself," and the Septuagint, δουλεύων ἑαυτῷ, "serving himself." And the expression implies attending to his own concerns, supplying his own wants. Hence the gnome means, "It is wiser to look after one's own business and provide for one's own necessities, even if thereby he meets with contempt and detraction, than to be in real want, and all the time assuming the airs of a rich and prosperous man." This latter explanation seems most suitable, as it is not at all clear that, at the time the book was written, the Israelites of moderate fortune kept slaves, and the proverb would lose its force if they did not do so. Says a mediaeval jingle—
"Nobilitas morum plus ornat quam genitorum."
A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast. For "regardeth," the Hebrew word is literally "knoweth" (Exodus 23:9); he knows what animals want, what they can bear, and treats them accordingly (comp. Proverbs 27:23). The LXX. translates "pitieth." The care for the lower animals, and their kind treatment, are not the produce of modern sentiment and civilization. Mosaic legislation and various expressions in Scripture recognize the duty. God's mercies are over all his works; he saves both man and beast; he hateth nothing that he hath made (Psalms 36:6; Psalms 145:9; Jonah 4:11; Wis. 11:24). So he enacted that the rest of the sabbath should extend to the domestic animals (Exodus 20:10); that a man should help the over-burdened beast, even of his enemy (Exodus 23:4, Exodus 23:5); that the unequal strength of the ox and the ass should not be yoked together in the plough (Deuteronomy 22:10); that the ox should not be muzzled when he was treading out the corn (Deuteronomy 25:4): that the sitting bird should not be taken from her little brood (Deuteronomy 22:6), nor a kid seethed in its mother's milk (Exodus 23:19). Such humane injunctions were perhaps specially needed at a time when man's life was little regarded, and animal sacrifices had a tendency to make men cruel and unfeeling, when their symbolical meaning was obscured by long familiarity. These enactments regarding animals, and the mysterious significance affixed to the blood (Genesis 9:4; Le Genesis 17:10-14), afforded speaking lessons of tenderness and consideration for the inferior creatures, and a fortiori taught regard for the happiness and comfort of fellow men. Our blessed Lord has spoken of God's ears of flowers and the lower creatures of his hand. But the tender mercies; literally, the bowels, regarded as the seat of feeling. The wicked cannot be supposed to have "tender mercies;" hence it is best to take the word in the sense of "feelings," "affections." What should be mercy and love are in an evil man only hard.heartedness and cruelty.
A contrast between industry and idleness, repeated at Proverbs 28:19. He that tilleth his land. Agriculture was the first of industries, and always highly commended among the Jews, bringing a sure return to the diligent (Proverbs 10:5; Proverbs 20:4; Proverbs 27:18, Proverbs 27:23-27; and Ec Proverbs 20:28). He that followeth after vain persons; rather, vain things; μάταια, Septuagint, empty, useless employments, profitless business, in contrast to active labour on the land. The Vulgate renders, qui sectatur otium, "he who studieth ease;" but the original, reikim, will not bear this meaning. Is void of understanding; he not only, as is implied, will be reduced to poverty, but shows moral weakness and depravity. The Septuagint and Vulgate here introduce a paragraph not found in our Hebrew text: "He who takes pleasure (ὅς ἐστιν ἡδύς) in carouses of wine will leave disgrace in his strongholds (ὀχυρώμασι)" (Isaiah 28:7, Isaiah 28:8; Habakkuk 2:16). Probably this verse is derived from the following, with some corruption of the text.
Modern commentators have endeavoured to amend the text of this verse by various methods, which may be seen in Nowack's note on the passage; but the existing reading gives an appropriate sense, and alteration is not absolutely needed, though it is plain that the LXX had before them something different from the Masoretic text. The wicked desireth the net of evil men (Ecclesiastes 7:26), that he may use the means which they take to enrich themselves; or matsod may mean, not the instrument, but the prey—"such booty as evil men capture;" or yet again, the word may mean "fortress," i.e. the wicked seeks the protection of evil men. So the Vulgate, Desiderium impii munimentum est pessimorum, "What the wicked desire is the support of evil men," or, it may be, "the defense of evil men," i.e. that these may be secured from suppression and interruption. Another interpretation, which, however, seems somewhat forced, is that "the net" is a metaphor for the judgment of God, which overtakes sinners, and into which they run with such blind infatuation that they seem to "desire" it, The safest explanation is the second one given above, which signifies that the wicked man seeks by every means to obtain the prey which he sees sinners obtain, and, as is implied, gets small return for his labour, does not advance his interests. But the root of the righteous yieldeth fruit. The root supplies the sap and vigour needed for healthy produce. Without any evil devices or plotting, the righteous gain all that they want as the natural result of their high principles. Another hindering is, "He (the Lord) will give a root of the righteous," will enable them to stand firm in time of trial. Septuagint, "The desires of the impious are evil; but the roots of the pious are in strongholds," i.e. are secure.
The wicked is snared by the transgression of his lips; rather, in the transgression of the lips is an evil snare (Proverbs 18:7). A man by speaking unadvisedly or intemperately brings trouble upon himself, involves himself in difficulties which he did not foresee. Often when he has spoken in order to injure others, the slander or the censure has redounded on himself (comp. Psalms 7:15, Psalms 7:16; Psalms 9:16). The just; the man who does not offend with his lips, avoids these snares. The Septuagint here introduces a couplet not found in the Hebrew: "He who looketh gently (ὁ βλέπων λεῖα) shall obtain mercy; but he who frequents the gates [or, 'contends in the gates,' συναντῶν ἐν πύλαις] will harass souls." This seems to mean the man who is calm and considerate for others will himself be treated with pity and consideration (Matthew 5:7); but he who is a gossip, or a busybody, or litigious, will be always vexing his neighbours.
A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth (Proverbs 13:2; Proverbs 14:14; Proverbs 18:20). A man's words are like seeds, and if they are wise and pure and kindly, they will bring forth the fruit of love and favour and respect. Christian commentaters see here a reference to the day of judgment, wherein great stress is laid on the words (Matthew 12:37). Of a man's hands. That which a man has done, his kindly actions, shall meet with full reward (comp. Isaiah 3:10, Isaiah 3:11; Matthew 25:35, etc.; Romans 2:6).
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes; i.e. in his own judgment (Proverbs 3:7 : Proverbs 16:2). The second clause is best translated, as in the Revised Version, "But he that is wise hearkeneth unto counsel," distrusting his own unaided judgment, which might lead him astray (Proverbs 13:10; Proverbs 14:12; Proverbs 16:25; Proverbs 21:2; comp. Ec 35:19; Tobit 4:18). Theognis, 221, etc.—
Ὅς τις τοι δοκέει τὸν πλησίον ἴδμεναι οὐδὲν
Ἀλλ αὐτὸς μοῦνος ποικίλα δήνε ἔχειν
Κεῖνός γ ἄφρων ἐστὶ νόου βεβλαμμένος ἐσθλοῦ
Ἴσως γὰρ πάντες ποικίλ ἐπιστάμεθα
"Who thinks his neighbour nothing knows,
And he alone can see,
Is but a fool, for we perhaps
Know even more than he."
A fool's wrath is presently ("in the day," αὐθημερόν) known. A foolish man, if he is vexed, insulted, or slighted, has no idea of controlling himself or checking the expression of his aroused feelings; he at once, in the same day on which he has been incensed, makes his vexation known. A prudent man covereth—concealeth—shame; takes no notice of an affront at the moment, knowing that by resenting it he will only make matters worse, and that it is best to let passions cool before he tries to set the matter right (comp. Proverbs 20:22; Proverbs 24:29). Christ's injunction goes far beyond this maxim of worldly prudence: "I say unto you that ye resist not evil;" "Unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek, offer also the other" (Matthew 5:39; Luke 6:29); and it is certain that these maxims might be carried into practice much more than they are, even in the present state of society. Septuagint, "A clever man (πανοῦργος; callidus, Vulgate) concealeth his own disgrace." Corn. a Lapide quotes a Hebrew proverb which asserts that a man's character is accurately discerned "by purse, by cup, by anger;" i.e. by his conduct in money transactions, under the influence of wine, and in the excitement of anger.
He that speaketh—breatheth out fearlessly (Proverbs 6:19)—truth showeth forth righteousness. The truth always conduces to justice and right, not only in a matter of law, but generally and in all cases. Vulgate, "He who speaks that which he knows is a discoverer of justice;" Septuagint, "A just man announces well proved assurance [or, 'the open truth'] (ἐπιδεικνυμένην πίστιν)." A false witness showeth forth deceit (Proverbs 14:5, Proverbs 14:25); exhibits his true character, which is fraud, treachery, and wrong doing.
There is that speaketh. The word implies speaking thoughtlessly, rashly; hence we may render, "a babbler," "prater." Such a one inflicts wounds with his senseless tattle. Like the piercings of a sword. The point of the simile is seen when we remember that the edge of the sword is called its "mouth" in the Hebrew (Genesis 34:26; Exodus 17:13, etc.; comp. Psalms 59:7; Psalms 64:3). The Greek gnome says—
Ἀλλ οὐδὲν ἕρπει ψεῦδος εἰς γῆρας χρόνου
"A sword the body wounds, a word the soul."
Vulgate, est qui promittit, which restricts the scope of the clause to the making of vain promises (Le Proverbs 5:4; Numbers 30:7-9), continuing, et quasi gladio pungitur conscientiae, "And is pierced as it were by the sword of his conscience." where "conscience" is added to make the meaning plain. Such a man suffers remorse if he breaks his promise, or if, like Jephthah, he keeps it. The tongue of the wise is health; it does not pierce and wound like that of the chatterer, rather it soothes and heals even when it reproves (Proverbs 4:22; Proverbs 10:11).
The lip of truth shall be established forever. Truth is consistent, invincible, enduring; and the fact belongs not only to Divine truth (Psalms 117:2; Matthew 24:35), but to human, in its measure. Septuagint, "True lips establish testimony," pointing the last word ad as ed. Is but for a moment; literally, while I wink the eye (Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44). Lying never answers in the end; it is soon found out and punished (Proverbs 19:9; Psalms 52:5). Septuagint, "But a hasty (ταχύς; repentinus, Vulgate) witness hath an unjust tongue." One who gives his testimony without due consideration, or influenced by evil motives, readily fails into lying and injustice. With the latter half of the verse we may compare the gnome—
Ἀλλ οὐδὲν ἕρπει ψεῦδος εἰς γῆρας χρόνου.
"Unto old age no lie doth ever live."
"A lie has no legs," is a maxim of wide nationality; and "Truth may be blamed, but shall ne'er be shamed."
Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil; i.e. that give evil advice; such are treacherous counsellors, and their advice can only work mischief, not joy and comfort (see on Proverbs 3:29). But to the counsellors of peace (health and prosperity) is joy. They who give wholesome advice diffuse joy around. Vulgate, "Joy attends them;" Septuagint, "They shall be glad;" but the original signifies rather to cause joy than to feel it.
There shall no evil—mischief—happen to the just. The mischief (aven) intended is not misfortune, calamity, but the evil consequences that follow on ill-doing (Proverbs 22:8); from these the righteous are saved. Our Lord goes further, and says (Matthew 6:33), "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these (temporal) things shall be added unto you." Vulgate, "Nothing that happens can make a just man sorrowful;" for he knows it is all for the best, and he looks toward another life, where all seeming anomalies will be cleared up. Septuagint, "The just man takes pleasure in naught that is unjust." The wicked shall be filled with mischief; rather, with evil, moral and physical (Psalms 32:10). The Old Testament takes a general view of God's moral government without regarding special anomalies.
(Comp. Proverbs 6:17; Proverbs 11:20.) They that deal truly; Septuagint, ὁ δὲ ποιῶν πίστεις, "he who acts in good faith."
A prudent man concealeth knowledge (Proverbs 12:16; Proverbs 10:14). He is not wont to utter unadvisedly what he knows, but waits for fitting opportunity, either from humility or wise caution. Of course, in some cases reticence is sinful. The LXX; reading the passage differently, renders, "A prudent man is the seat of intelligence (θρόνος αἰσθήσεως)." The heart of fools proclaimeth foolishness (Proverbs 13:16; Proverbs 15:2). A foolish man cannot help exposing the stupid ideas that arise in his mind, which he considers wisdom. Septuagint, "The heart of fools shall meet with curses."
speak of the means of getting on in life.
The hand of the diligent shall bear rule (Proverbs 10:4). For "diligent" the Vulgate has fortium, "the strong and active;" Septuagint, ἐκλεκτῶν, "choice." Such men are sure to rise to the surface, and get the upper hand in a community, as the LXX. adds, "with facility," by a natural law. But the slothful (literally, slothfulness) shall be under tribute; or, reduced to compulsory service, like the Gibeonites in Joshua's time, and the Canaanites under Solomon (Joshua 9:21, Joshua 9:23; 1 Kings 9:21). So Proverbs 11:29, "The fool shall be slave to the wise;" and an Israelite reduced to poverty might be made a servant (Leviticus 25:39, Leviticus 25:40). The LXX; taking the word in another sense, translates, "The crafty shall be for plunder;" i.e. they who think to succeed by fraud and trickery shall become the prey of those who are stronger than themselves.
Heaviness—care—in the heart of man maketh it stoop (Proverbs 15:13; Proverbs 17:22). Care brings dejection and despair; hence the Christian is bidden to beware of excessive anxiety, and not to perplex himself with solicitude for the future (Mat 6:1-34 :84; 1 Peter 5:7). A good word maketh it glad.
Λύπην γὰρ εὔνους οἶδεν ἰᾶσθαι λόγος.
"A word of kindness grief's keen smart can heal."
Septuagint, "A word of terror disturbs the heart of a (righteous) man, but a good message will gladden him." The "word of terror" may be an unjust censure, or evil tidings. Says a Servian proverb, "Give me a comrade who will weep with me; one who will laugh I can easily find."
The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour. This rendering has the authority of the Chaldee, and would signify that a good man is superior to others morally and socially, is more respected and stands higher, though his worldly position be inferior. But the clause is better translated, The just man is a guide to his neighbour, directs him in the right way; as the Syriac puts it, "gives good counsel to his friend." Septuagint, "The righteous wise man (ἐπιγνώμων) will be a friend to himself;" Vulgate, "He who regards not loss for a friend's sake is righteous," which is like Christ's word, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Hitzig, Delitzsch, and others, reading differently, translate, "A just man spieth out (or, looketh after) his pasture; i.e. he is not like the sinner, hampered and confined by the chain of evil habits and associations, but is free to follow the lead of virtue, and to go whither duty and his own best interests call him. This gives a very good sense, and makes a forcible antithesis with the succeeding clause. But the way of the wicked seduceth them; "causes them, the wicked, to err." Far from guiding others aright, the wicked, reaping the moral consequences of their sin, drift hopelessly astray themselves. Before the last clause some manuscripts of the Septuagint add, "But the judgments of the wicked are harsh; evils shall pursue sinners" (Proverbs 13:21). The whole is probably a gloss.
The slothful man (literally, sloth) roasteth not that which he took in hunting. There is some doubt concerning the correct meaning of the word translated "roasteth" (חרךְ), which occurs only in the Chaldea of Daniel 3:27, where it signifies "burned" or "singed," according to the traditional rendering. It seems to be a proverbial saying, implying either that a lazy man will not take the trouble to hunt, or, if he does hunt, will not prepare the food which he has taken in the chase, or that he does not enjoy it when he has gotten it. Others render, "will not start his prey;" or "catch his prey," Septuagint; or "secure his prey," i.e. will not keep in his net what he has caught, but carelessly lets it escape. The Vulgate renders, "The cheat will gain no profit." The word rendered "cheat," fraudulentus in the Latin, and δόλιος in the Greek, is the same as that rightly translated "slothful" (Daniel 3:24). But the substance of a diligent man is precious; i.e. the substance which an honest, industrious man acquires by hi.s labour is stable and of real value. This second clause, however, is variously translated, Revised Version, But the precious substance of men is to the diligent, or, is to be diligent; Delitzsch, "Diligence is a man's precious possession;" Septuagint, "A pure man is a precious possession." The Authorized Version is probably erroneous, and the rendering should be, as Delitzsch and Nowack take it, "But a precious possession of a man is diligence."
In the way of righteousness is life (comp. Proverbs 10:2). For the promise of temporal prosperity which the Jew saw in such passages as these we substitute a better hope. And in the pathway thereof—of righteousness—there is no death. Many combine the two words thus: "no death," i.e. immortality; but examples of such combination are not forthcoming, and the anomaly is not necessitated by the failure of the usual rendering to afford an adequate sense. The Greek and Latin versions are noteworthy. Septuagint, "The ways of the revengeful (μνησικάκων) are unto (אֶל, not אַל) death." St. Chrysostom refers to this rendering: "He here speaks of vindictiveness; for on the spur of the moment he allows the sufferer to act in order to cheek the aggressor; but further to bear a grudge he permits not; because the act then is no longer one of passion, nor of boiling rage, but of malice premeditated. Now, God forgives those who may be carried away, perhaps upon a sense of outrage, and rush out to resent it. Hence he says, 'eye for eye;' and yet again 'The ways of the revengeful lead to death." Vulgate, "A devious path leads to death"—a path, that is, which turns aside from the right direction, a life and conversation which are alien from justice and piety. But both the Septuagint and the Vulgate have missed the right meaning of the words in question; derek nethibah, "pathway." Many see in this verse a plain evidence that the writer believed in the immortality of the soul. We have reason to suppose that such was his faith, but it cannot be proved from this passage, though we may consider that he was guided to speak in terms to which later knowledge would affix a deeper interpretation (see Proverbs 14:32, and note there). It is Jesus Christ "who hath brought life and immortality (ἀφθαρσίαν) to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10). Writers in Solomon's time could speak only darkly about this sublime and comforting hope, though later, as in the Book of Wisdom and throughout most of the Apocryphal books, it formed a common topic, and was used as a reason for patience and resignation.
The instability of wickedness
I. WICKEDNESS MAY BRING TEMPORAL PROSPERITY. It is important to observe the limitations of our subject. The Bible is not an unreasonable book; it does not ignore the patent facts of life; it does not deny that there are pleasures of sin. The very statement that "a man shall not be established by wickedness" implies that he may be lifted up, and may really enjoy prosperity for a season. Though not built up, he may be puffed up. This is to be borne in mind, lest the experience come as a delusion. All the warnings about the fatality of a sinful course are given with a frank recognition of its transient advantages. Therefore the occurrence of these advantages does not contradict the warnings.
II. WICKEDNESS DOES NOT SECURE STABLE PROSPERITY. It does not "establish." There is no faculty for building in it. There are "tents of wickedness;" but these are frail and flimsy compared to "the house of the Lord" (Psalms 84:1-12). When at its best and brightest, the product of evil is but a bubble that will burst with a touch of righteous judgment. The equilibrium is unstable. There is no foundation of truth to support the poor structure; it is not built according to the laws of righteousness; it is not guarded against the shock of adverse circumstances. The bad prosperous man has many enemies. All the course of the universe is in the long run directed against him. He has not God on his side, and at any moment the suspended hand of justice may fall upon his unsheltered head.
III. WICKEDNESS WILL NOT LEAD TO PERMANENT PROSPERITY. The pleasures of sin, at the best, do but endure for a season. The sinner lives, so to speak, "from hand to mouth." If in this life only he had hope, the prospect would be poor; for most of the delights of wickedness are very brief, and the consequences of shame and trouble soon follow even upon earth. The harvest of a young man's folly may be reaped by middle age. But when we consider the eternal future, the utter inability of wickedness to establish any enduring prosperity becomes clearly visible. For no one can pretend that his wicked devices extend beyond the grave; and no one can fortify himself against the pains of a future state by any successful Macchiavellianism, however cleverly devised it may be with a view to worldly security.
IV. WICKEDNESS SECURES NO PROSPERITY TO A MAN HIMSELF. "A man shall not be established by wickedness." His business may be so established; his plans and devices may be made firm. But these things are not the man himself, and all the while they are prospering he may be tottering to ruin, like a consumptive millionaire or a paralytic winner of a lottery prize. Then the whole pursuit has ended in failure; for what is the use of the huntsman's success in shooting the game if he cannot bring home and enjoy what he has acquired?
V. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS A TRUE SECURITY. It has a root in the eternal laws of God. Though the storm tear off its "peaceable fruits," this deep and hidden source remains. We cannot be satisfied with only wearing a "robe of righteousness." We must have the living thing with its deep root—a growth which Christ plants (Romans 3:22).
Justice to animals
I. ANIMALS HAVE RIGHTS WHICH MAY BE OUTRAGED BY INJUSTICE. We hear more of kindness to animals than of justice towards them. It seems to be assumed that they have no rights, and that all our consideration for them must spring from pure generosity, perhaps even from a superabundant condescension. The exercise of it is treated almost as a work of supererogation. These assumptions are based on an inordinate regard for our own supremacy. Man may consider himself as the lord of creation. If he may take this exalted view of himself, he cannot on that account shake off all obligations towards the dumb serfs on his estate. This natural feudalism requires protection, etc; from the aristocracy of creation, while it allows of the exaction of dues from the underlings. For we are all animals, though men are more than animals. All orders of creation are made by one God, and all sham in many common wants and feelings. The young lions are represented as crying to God for their food, and he as giving them their meat in due season. Christ tells us that God feeds the ravens—those wild birds of the mountains, while not a homely sparrow falls to the ground without the notice of our heavenly Father. It is not for us to be above giving their due to fellow creatures for whom God cares so tenderly. These animals not only make mute appeals to our compassion; they cannot be ill treated without injustice.
II. THE CHARACTER OF A MAN WILL BE REVEALED BY HIS TREATMENT OF ANIMALS.
1. Character is revealed in the treatment of the helpless. A man's cattle are his property, and they are in his power. He is more free in his treatment of them than in his behaviour towards his fellow men. Therefore his true character will come out the more clearly when he is in his stable than when he is in his dining room.
2. The lower creatures claim consideration.
(1) Their very inferiority gives point to this claim. Man stands to them somewhat in the position of a God. Therefore it becomes him to show the spirit of a limited Providence in his treatment of them.
(2) Moreover, when he owns any animals, he is involved in especial responsibilities. He is their guardian, and their welfare largely depends upon him.
(3) Further, if they render him patient service, the least that he can do is to give them all things necessary to make their lot of bondage happy to them.
(4) Lastly, their affectionateness vastly strengthens the ties of obligation. Horses and dogs learn to love their masters, and love has its sacred claims in animals as well as in men.
3. Lack of consideration for animals is a sign of a base nature. The very sympathy of the wicked is cruelty, but this cruelty is not possible without the evil heart, of which it is the corrupt fruit. The brutal cattle drover, and the heartless horseman who lashes his weary, patient animal, do but make a public exhibition of their own low natures.
Truth and righteousness
We have here a suggestion of the close connection between truth and righteousness. This connection is based on a reciprocal relation. Truthfulness is a trait of righteousness, and righteousness is advanced by truthfulness.
I. TRUTHFULNESS IS A TRAIT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. The truth here referred to is that which is most often mentioned in the Bible, viz. subjective truth, the agreement between our convictions and our utterances. We cannot attain to perfect objective truth, to the truth which consists in an agreement between our beliefs and the facts of the universe, because all men sometimes err even with the most innocent intention of finding the truth. We are liable to delusions from without, and to the influence of an unconscious bias from within. But we can all utter what we believe to be true. Now, this truth speaking is one of the most solemn and absolute obligations of righteousness.
1. The grounds of the obligation.
(1) We recognize the awful duty of truthfulness in our conscience.
(2) The Teutonic conscience is supposed to respond to this duty more readily than the Oriental conscience. Yet it is clearly and firmly insisted on in the Bible.
(3) It is most evident in the transparent life of Christ, who is a true Witness to the truth (John 18:37).
(4) All social arrangements presuppose truthfulness; without it society becomes a confusion. Truth cements the social fabric; lying dissolves it. A city of universal liars would be an inferno of mutual distrust, suspicion, and necessary isolation.
2. The bearing of the obligation.
(1) On small things. Slight inaccuracies of speech may seem to be of no importance; but they open the door for more gross forms of deceit, by generating a habit of indifference to truth. Apart from this tendency, the least untruth is treason against the royal supremacy of truth.
(2) In difficult cases. When we are severely tried, it is hard to speak the truth. Yet it is just then that truthfulness becomes a positive quality. Under such circumstances only a character that is morally sound will stand the strain. Indeed, it needs the grace of Christ to keep true in word and deed under all provocations to easier paths.
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS ADVANCED BY TRUTHFULNESS.
1. In the individual. Untruthfulness is certain to issue in a lower moral tone all round. We cannot abandon one of the guardian towers of the soul without risking the whole citadel. The liar is not only a person who uses false language. His cowardly habit eats into the very heart of virtue and rots the moral fibre of his soul. On the other hand, there is no more bracing moral tonic than a loyal and reverent regard for truth. The true man is likely to be honest, just, and pure in all respects.
2. In the world. Truth always makes for righteousness. No greater blunder was ever made than the supposition that "pious frauds" could be used for advancing the cause of Christianity. Any temporary gain that could be produced in this way must be unsound from the first, and the ultimate issue is certain to be moral indifference and unbelief. Some truths are unpleasant, some ugly, some seemingly hurtful. Yet, in the end, truth makes for soul health. Above all, is not he who is "the Truth" also the great Source of the world's righteousness?
I. KNOWLEDGE MUST FIRST BE POSSESSED. We cannot hide what we do not hold. The idea of secreting knowledge suggests the owning a large amount of it, or at least of knowledge of some value. The tradesman who puts all his wares in the window is not the proprietor of a large stock. It cannot be a superficial mind which conceals much knowledge. Such an action suggests a granary of truth, a storehouse of ideas, a territory rich in minerals that lie far below the surface.
II. KNOWLEDGE MUST THEN BE PRIZED. Men may hide things from various motives—from shame as much as from love, because the things are bad quite as much as on account of any value set upon them. Thus the criminal tries to hide the evidences of his crime—buries his victim in a wood, or flings the telltale knife into a pond. But it is not with this ugly knowledge, which a man would only too gladly banish from his own mind, that we are now concerned. There are choice secrets, rare attainments, and much-valued stores of information. Such knowledge may well be kept for its own sake.
III. KNOWLEDGE SHOULD NEVER BE DISPLAYED. The vanity which would make a show of knowledge is one of the weakest traits of humanity. It is usually a sign that but little is really known. A great pretence is made by the aid of a mere smattering of information cleverly arranged, like the scenery on a small stage adjusted to suggest a long vista. Such a parade of learning springs from more love of admiration than love of truth. The loyal seeker after truth will have little thought of "making an effect" by the exhibition of his mental properties. He will prize his possessions on their own account, though no one else may be aware of their existence.
IV. KNOWLEDGE MAY SOMETIMES BE ABUSED. We may know damaging facts about a neighbour, and then charity will urge us to hide our knowledge. The feverish passion for gossiping tears the cloak of common decency which should cover the knowledge of what is bad. It is shocking that details of crime and vice are made familiar to millions by the blare of the newspaper trumpet. But, further, the knowledge of good things may sometimes be abused. The revelation may be premature; God did not send forth his Son till "the fulness of the times." Truth may be misapprehended. The most sacred things may be degraded by irreverent handling.
V. KNOWLEDGE IS TO BE USED. We do not have it as a hidden jewel to be laid by in a secret place and forgotten. Though buried in the soul and little talked about, it is a living thing, like a seed in the soil. It is given us that it may influence our lives and become a vital part of our souls.
VI. KNOWLEDGE SHOULD BE WISELY IMPARTED. We have no right to keep to ourselves any knowledge that would be helpful to our brethren. Concealment must never go so far as to hide from others the good news of God. The gospel is for the world. All Divine truth is for all honest inquirers. "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear."
This proverb shows us depression of soul in its own distress and gloom, and then gives a hint of the way in which it may be remedied.
I. THE STATE OF DEPRESSION. The heart is bowed down with heaviness. This is very different from external adversity and from the natural feelings that are produced by such a condition. It may be quite independent of circumstances. The buoyant soul will face great ca]amities with comparative cheerfulness, while the heavy heart is depressed among sight of unbroken prosperity.
1. Depression is caused by personal conditions. Not being the reflection of circumstance, it must be the expression of internal experience. Frequently it is a result of a man's bodily state, a merely nervous disorder or a consequence of deranged health. We look for religious remedies when the true cure is in the hands of the physician. But it may be that melancholy thoughts have depressed the soul. Then the gloom within is projected on to the world without, and the sunnier scenes are overclouded.
2. Depression is a deplorable state of mind. It is a source of deep distress to the sufferer. It spreads an atmosphere of gloom among others. It checks enterprise by paralyzing hope. If the joy of the Lord is our strength, sorrow of soul must be a source of weakness. Depressed Christian people discredit the name of religion by making it appear unattractive to the world. Gratitude is scarcely compatible with depression, and the soul that has given way to this deplorable experience is not likely to sing the praises of God. Thus depression tends to check worship. On the other hand, it reveals the soul's great need of God, who in his long suffering compassion has pity on his distressed children. "He knoweth our frame, he remembereth that we are dust."
II. THE CURE OF DEPRESSION. When it is due to physical causes, physical remedies may be needed. In many cases, change of scene and brighter circumstances may help to remove it. But there are also social and moral remedies, among which not the least valuable is a wise expression of brotherly kindness. Pure condolence may do more harm than good by aggravating the painful symptoms, and yet "a good word maketh" the heart "glad."
1. The utterance of the word may be helpful. Isolation and silence are depressing. "It is not good for man to be alone." The heavy heart seeks solitude, and uncongenial society cannot be helpful. But sympathetic society's healing, even though it be admitted with reluctance. Christ founded a Church. He sought to cheer his people amid the various scenes of their heaven ward pilgrimage by means of Christian companionship.
2. The contents of the word should be helpful. We may not do much good by moralizing. Though advice for the depressed is easy to find, it is not often acceptable. But words of affection are wonderfully healing. Cheerful thoughts should help the depressed.
3. It is our duty to relieve the depressed. To blame, to shun, or to patronize are all no-Christlike methods. But the Christian should endeavour to make the world brighter by his presence. Above all, if it is possible to lead the depressed to hope in God, the surest method of cure is within our reach.
Righteousness and life
I. THE ASSOCIATION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND LIFE. It is something to have two such great ideas brought into close juxtaposition. Their very proximity is a revelation. They mutually illumine one another. We know more of righteousness when we see its bearing on life, and we have a better understanding of life when we recognize its dependence on righteousness. There is thus a relationship of ideas to be recognized here over and above the separate forms of the ideas themselves. The limitation of the subject is also instructive. We do not see to what else righteousness may be related. It may or it may not bring happiness, wealth, and success. What it is related to is distinct from all these ends, and greater than any of them—viz. life.
II. THE FORM OF RIGHTEOUSNESS THAT IS CONNECTED WITH LIFE. This is the path of righteousness. It is not righteousness regarded as an abstract idea, or viewed only as a law. It is not an external garment of righteousness, nor an internal principle of righteousness. It does not consist in one or more isolated deeds of righteousness. On the contrary, what is here presented to us is a view of a continuous course of righteous action. It may not be the highest path of holiness, but it is at least a right path. The traveller may stumble upon it, loiter by the way, even forget himself at times, and sleep. Yet, on the whole, this is the course he pursues. He is trying to do the right thing in his daily experience.
III. THE INFLUENCE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS UPON LIFE. The path is life.
1. It is the path of a living soul. No one can continuously pursue a right course unless he has the spiritual life in him. Dead souls may be galvanized into momentary spasms of goodness by an electrifying example or the shock of a great authority. But the path of righteousness can only be trodden by those who have within them the soul energy to follow it.
2. It is the path that quickens life. It is not like the deadly tracts of sin, those ways of wickedness that head down into the fatal swamps of soul death. This path runs over bracing mountain heights.
3. It is the path that leads to life. There is a fuller life beyond, not yet reached; and righteousness is the way to it. Every attainment in holiness is accompanied by a deepening of the soul life. The way of God leads to eternal life. The gospel of Christ does not set aside this Old Testament principle, but it gives the new righteousness of a new life.
IV. THE FATAL RESULT OF LEAVING RIGHTEOUSNESS. "A devious way leadeth to death."
1. The way of evil is devious. It is not only an alternative; it is a departure from the normal course. He who is in it is where he ought not to be. Then this way is no direct high road; it is a wandering bypath.
2. The deviousness of the way is fatal to the traveller upon it. The higher way is made for the good purpose of leading to She city of life. The devious way is not purposely made; it is a lawless beaten track, which runs out into the wilderness. It must be dangerous to follow such a course. To pursue it to the end is to court soul destruction.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
I. THE WISDOM OF SUBMISSION, THE FOLLY OF RESISTANCE, TO REPROOF. As self-knowledge is the most precious and indispensable, and as it comes to us by chastisement, i.e. by disappointment, humiliation, pain of various kinds,—to welcome correction, to be willing and anxious to know our faults, is the mark of true wisdom. To fret at reproof, to be angry with the counsellor, to hate the revealing light, is the worst folly and stupidity.
II. THE FAVOUR AND THE DISFAVOUR OF GOD ARE DISCRIMINATING. The good reap his good will; the crafty and malicious are exposed to his condemnation.
III. MORAL STABILITY AND INSTABILITY. Wickedness gives no firm foundation. The bad man is insecure, as a tottering wall or a leaning fence. The good man is like the oak, firmly and widely rooted, which may defy a thousand blasts and storms.—J.
Blessings and miseries of domestic life
I. ELEMENTS OF HAPPINESS IN THE HOME.
1. The virtuous wife. (Proverbs 12:4.) The word is literally "a woman of power," and the idea of force lies in the word and the idea of virtue. Her moral force and influence makes itself felt in all the life of the household (Proverbs 31:10; Ruth 3:11). She is her husband's "crown of rejoicing", his glory and pride.
"A thousand decencies do daily flow
From all her thoughts and actions."
2. Noble thoughts and words. (Proverbs 12:5.) This expression includes, of course, noble words and deeds, and implies all that we speak of as high principles. And these are the very foundations and columns of the home. But expressly also the straightforward speech of the good man is named. (Proverbs 12:6.) There is "deliverance" in the mouth of the righteous; men may build upon his word, which is as good as his bond.
3. Hence, stability belongs to the house of the good man. (Proverbs 12:7.) If we trace the rise of great families who have become famous in the annals of their country, the lesson is on the whole brought home to us that it is integrity, the true qualities of manhood, which formed the foundation of their greatness. On a smaller scale, the history of village households may bring to light the same truth. There are names in every neighbourhood known as synonyms of integrity from father to son through generations.
4. Prudence is an indispensable element in character and reputation. But let us give the proper extension to the idea of prudence which it has in this book. It is the wide view of life—the mind "looking before and after," the contemplation of all things in their long issues, their bearings upon God, destiny, and eternity. The prudence which often passes by that name may be no prudence in this higher souse.
5. Self-help. (Proverbs 12:9.) To be "king of two hands," and bear one's part in every useful toil and art, to be a true "working man," is the only honourable and true way of living. "Trust in thyself;" every heart vibrates to that iron string. "Heaven helps those who help themselves." Proverbs unite with experience to bid us lean upon the energies God has placed in brain and hand and tongue. He is never helpless who knows the secret of that self-reliance which is one with trust in God.
6. Mercifulness. (Verse 10.) The good man "knows the soul of his beast;" enters into their feeling pains, and needs, and feeds them well. The Law of Moses is noted for its kindness to animals. And in the East generally there is a deep sense that animals are not only the slaves of man, but the creatures of God. A person's behaviour to dumb creatures is, like behaviour to women end children, a significant part of character.
7. Industry and diligence. (Verse 11.) The picture of the hard-working farmer or peasant rises to the mind's eye. Enough bread, competence, is ever conditioned by industry. Times may go hard with the farmer, but the evil that is foreseen and fought against by extra diligence is no evil when it comes; and how seldom are the truly industrious known to want, even in the most unfavourable seasons! This is a bright picture of domestic soundness, happiness, and prosperity. Let us contrast it with—
II. ELEMENTS OF MISERY IN THE HOME.
1. The vicious wife. Like a canker in her husband's bones. The slothful, or drunken, or extravagant, or frivolous wife is the centre of all evil in the house; she is like a stagnant pool in a weed grown garden. One may tell in many cases by the mere aspect of the house whether there be a good wife and mother dwelling there or not.
2. Unprincipled habits. (Verse 5.) Where the speech is impure, where there is mutual reserve and concealment, conspiracy and counter-conspiracy going on, neither truth nor love, how can a home be otherwise than cursed?
3. Fierce spite. (Verse 6.) All spite is murderous, and if it does not issue in the last extreme of violence, at least it lacerates the heart, burns, and is self-consuming. When taunts, recriminations, answering again, fill the air of a house, the very idea of the family and its peace must vanish.
4. Dissolution and break up. There are homes that go to pieces, names that sink into obscurity, families that die out; and a moral lesson may here too be often inferred.
5. Moral perversity is at the root of these evils (verse 8). There is a twist in the affections, a guilty misdirection of the will. Contempt in others' minds reflects the moral basis, and prophesies its miserable end.
6. Idle vanity and pride, again, contrasted with that habit of honest self-help which is free from false shame, is another of the tokens that things are not going well. To be above one's situation, to shun humble employment, to stand upon one's dignity,—these are sure enough marks of want of moral power, and so of true stability.
7. Cruelty, again, to inferiors or to dumb creatures marks the corrupt heart. Even the comparative tenderness of the bad man is a spurious thing, for there is no real kindness from a heart without love.
8. The frivolous pursuit of pleasure, again, the "chase after vanity," opposed to steady industry, is one of the unfailing accompaniments of folly and conducements to failure, poverty, and misery.
1. The indications of a sound state of things in the household, or the reverse, are numerous and manifold, but all connected together. Partial symptoms may point to widespread and deeply seated evil.
2. At bottom the one condition of happiness is the fear of God and the love of one's neighbour; and the cause of misery is a void of both.—J.
Virtues and vices in civil life
I. SOME VICES OF SOCIETY.
1. Envious greed. (Proverbs 12:12.) The wicked desires the "takings" of the evil. It is a general description of greedy strife and competition, one man trying to forestall another in the bargain, or to profit at the expense of his loss; a mutually destructive process, a grinding of egoistic passions against one another, so that there can be no mutual confidence nor peace (Isaiah 48:22; Isaiah 57:21). The hard selfishness of business life, which may be worse than war, which elicits generosity and self-denial.
2. Tricks eye speech. (Proverbs 12:13.) How much of this there is, in subtler forms than those of ancient life, in our day! Exaggerations of value, suppression of faults in articles of commerce, lying advertisements, coloured descriptions, etc.,—all these are snares, distinct breaches of the moral law; and were they not compensated by truth and honesty in other directions, society must crumble.
3. Conceit of shrewdness (Proverbs 12:14) is a common mark of dishonest men. This may seem right in their own eyes, no matter what a correct moral judgment may have to say about it. There may lurk a profound immorality beneath the constant phrase, "It pays!" Want of principle never does pay, in God's sense. The seeming success on which such men pride themselves is not real. They laugh at the preacher, but expose themselves to a more profound derision.
4. Passion and impetuosity. (Proverbs 12:16.) The temper unfits for social intercourse and business. Flaming out at the first provocation, it shows an absence of reflection and self-control. How many unhappy wounds have been inflicted, either in word or deed; how many opportunities lost, friendships broken, through mere temper!
5. Lying and deceit. (Proverbs 12:17.) The teaching of the book harps upon this string again and again. For does not all evil reduce itself to a lie in its essence? And is not deceit or treachery in some form the real canker in a decaying society, the last cause of all calamity? "We are betrayed!" was the constant exclamation of the French soldiers during the last war, upon the occurrence of a defeat. But it is self-betrayal that is the most dangerous.
6. Foulness or violence of speech. (Proverbs 12:18.) The speech of the fool is compared to the thrusts of a sword. Not only all abusive and violent language, but all that is wanting in tact, imagination of others' situation, is condemned.
7. Designing craft. (Proverbs 12:20.) The wicked heart is a constant forge of mischief. And yet, after this catalogue of social ills, these moral diseases that prey upon the body of society and the state, let us be comforted in the recollection
(1) that all evil is transient (Proverbs 12:19); and
(2) that its just and appropriate punishment is inevitable.
The first and last of frauds with the wicked is that he has cheated himself and laid a train of malicious devices which will take effect upon his own soul certainly, whoever else may escape.
II. SOCIAL VIRTUES.
1. They are the condition of security to the practiser of them. The root of the righteous is firmly fixed (Proverbs 12:12). In time of distress he finds resources and means of escape (Proverbs 12:13).
2. They yield him a revenue of blessing. He reaps the good fruit of his wise counsels and pure speech. They come back to him in echoes—the words of truth he has spoken to others (Proverbs 13:2; Proverbs 18:20). And so too with his good actions. They come back with blessing to him who sent them forth with a prayer (Proverbs 12:14). Spiritual investments bring certain if slow returns.
3. Some characteristics of virtue and wisdom enumerated.
(1) It is the part of wisdom to listen to all proffered advice, from any quarter, to discriminate and select that which is good, and then follow it (Proverbs 12:15). In critical times we ought, indeed, to find ourselves our own best counsellors, in the privacy of prayer, in communion with the Divine Spirit. But it is ever well to consult friends. Conversation with such wonderfully helps us to clear our own perceptions, resolve our own doubts, confirm our own right decisions.
(2) It is the part of prudence to ignore affronts (Proverbs 12:16), instead of hastily resenting them like the fool. A good illustration may be taken from Saul, as showing the contrast in the same person of wisdom and folly in this matter (1 Samuel 10:27 and 1 Samuel 20:30-33). In the heathen world, Socrates was a noble example of patience under injuries. He taught his disciples that the man who offered an unjust affront really more injured himself than him who received it; and that if the insulted person resented it, he did but place himself on a level with the aggressor. Either you have deserved the affront or you have not. If you have, submit to it as a chastisement; if you have not, content yourself with the testimony of your conscience. But above all, the example of our Saviour is the example for us, "who when he was reviled, reviled not again, but submitted himself to him that judgeth righteously." His whole behaviour at his trial should make a deeper impression upon us than a thousand arguments.
4. Truthful speech is one of the most eminent signs of virtue and godliness How constantly is this emphasized!
(1) Truthful and right speech can only proceed from the truthful mind. "He who breathes truth," says Proverbs 12:17, "utters right." We must make truth the atmosphere of our being, our very life itself, as in ancient thought the breath is identified with the life.
(2) Truthful and wise speech is also known by its effects (Proverbs 12:18). It heals, it brings salvation—correction to error, comfort to the wounded heart. Compare the picture of our Lord in the synagogue at Nazareth, and the words he quotes from Isaiah as expressive of the purport of his ministry (Luke 4:16, etc.).
(3) It is valid, abiding, permanent in value (verse 19). Much in our knowledge is subject to the laws of change and growth. We grow out of the old and into the new. But the simple sentiments of piety and duty common to all good men are capable of no change, no decay. Of them all the good man will ever say, "So was it when I was a boy; so is it now I am a man; so let it be when I grow old!"
5. Joy, peace, and eternal safety are the portion of the wise and just (verses 20, 21). Joy in the heart, peace in the home and amongst neighbours, safety here and hereafter. Translated into the language of the gospel, "Glory, honour, immortality, and eternal life!" (Romans 2:7). For in one word, he enjoys the favour of his God, and this contains all things (verse 22). - J.
Experimental truths: 1. Prudent reserve and foolish babbling
I. PRUDENCE HAS REGARD TO TIME, PLACE, AND PERSONS; FOLLY HAS NONE.
II. PRUDENCE KNOWS THAT THERE IS A TIME FOR SILENCE; THE FOOL WILL STILL BE TALKING. A quiet tongue shows a sound head.
III. ANXIETY TO MAKE KNOWN OUR OPINIONS MAY BE BUT ANXIETY TO EXALT OURSELVES. Great talkers are great nuisances. The ambitious aim to shine cannot be hidden. The fool talks as if he were ambitious to be known for a fool.
IV. SILENCE IS ALWAYS SEASONABLE IN REFERENCE TO SUBJECTS WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND. Were this rule observed, conversation would be generally more entertaining and more profitable. At the same time, a great many pulpits would be emptied, and publishers and printers would have a sorry time of it. Let us confess that there is a great deal of the fool in every one of us.—J.
2. The promotion of the diligent and the subjection of the slothful
I. THE DILIGENT RISE IN LIFE. This is too obvious to need insisting upon. But often, when wonder is expressed at the rise of ordinary men, this solution may be recurred to. As a rule, it is not the greatest wits who fill the high places of the realm, but the greatest workers.
II. HE ONLY IS FIT TO GOVERN WHO HAS BEEN WILLING TO SERVE. For in truth the spirit of the true servant and that of the true ruler are alike in principle; it is respect for law, for right beyond and above self-will and self-interest, which animates both. If this has been proved in the trials of an inferior situation, its genuineness has been discovered, and it becomes a title to promotion. Abraham's servant (Genesis 24:2, Genesis 24:10) and Joseph (Genesis 39:4, Genesis 39:22) are illustrations from patriarchal life.
III. THE SLOTHFUL DECAY. This too is obvious. But perhaps we often fail to fix the stigma of sloth in the right place. Many busy, energetic, fussy people miscarry because their activity is ill-placed. To neglect one's proper vocation anal work is idleness, no matter what may be the uncalled for activity in other directions.—J.
3. Depression and comfort
I. DEPRESSION IS COMMON.
II. TROUBLE AFFECTS THE HEART. When we use the word "discouragement" we point to a state that is both bodily and psychical. The action of the heart is lowered, and there is less energy to act and to endure.
III. THE IMMEDIATE EFFECT OF SYMPATHY. The kindly word, and all that it expresses of love and fellow feeling on the part of our friend, quickens the pulse, and restores, as by magic, the tone of the mind.—J.
4. Good guidance and misleading counsels
The true translation seems to be, "The righteous directs his friend aright: but the way of the wicked leads them astray."
I. WE ARE ALL SUSCEPTIBLE TO THE INFLUENCES OF THOSE ABOUT US. This is true even of the strongest minds; how much more of the feebler!
II. WE ARE ALWAYS SAFE IN THE COMPANY OF MEN OF RECTITUDE. The character of the man, not his mere opinions, is the force that goes forth from him to enlighten and guide.
III. WE ARE NEVER SAFE IN THE COMPANY OF UNPRINCIPLED PERSONS; no matter how correct their conversation or unexceptionable their expressed opinions.—J.
5. Laxity and industry
I. LAXITY GOES EMPTY HANDED. The proverb seems to call up the image of a hunter who is too lazy to pursue the game.
II. INDUSTRY IS ITSELF A CAPITAL. Toil is as good as treasure; such seems to the force of the proverb. And we may be reminded of the parable of the farmer who indicated to his sons the treasure in the field; their persevering toil in digging led to their enrichment.—J.
6. The straight road and the bypath
I. RECTITUDE MAY BE COMPARED TO A STRAIGHT ROAD. It has a definite beginning, a clearly marked course, a happy termination.
II. ALL IMMORALITY AND IRRELIGION MAY BE COMPARED TO BYPATHS. See Bunyan's Bypath Meadow in 'Pilgrim's Progress.'
III. LIFE AND DEATH ARE THE TWO GREAT TERMINI. All the more impressive because we know not what they contain of blissful or of dread meaning: "Behold, I set before you life and death!" is the constant cry of wisdom, of every true teacher, of the unchanging gospel.—J.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Proverbs 12:1, Proverbs 12:15
The downward and the upward paths
Whether we are daily ascending or descending depends very much on whether we are ready or are refusing to learn The man of open mind is he who moves up, but the man whose soul is shut against the light is he who is going down.
I. THE DOWNWARD PATH. We strike one point in this path when we come to:
1. The forming of a false estimate of ourself. When "our way is right in our own eyes" (Proverbs 12:15), and that way is the wrong one, we are certainly in the road that dips downward. The wise who love us truly are grieved when they see us imagining ourselves to be humble when we are proud of heart, generous when we are selfish, spiritual when we are worldly minded, sons of God when we are children of darkness; they know well and sorrow much that we are in a bad way, in the downward road.
2. The consequent refusal to receive instruction. The man who thinks himself right is one who will oppose himself to all those who, and to all things which, approach him to instruct and to correct. He takes up a constant attitude of rejection. Whenever God speaks to him by any one of his many agents and influences, he is resolutely and persistently deaf.
3. The consequent sinking into a lower state; he becomes "brutish." A man who never admits correcting and purifying thoughts into his mind is sure to decline morally and spiritually. If our soul is not fed with truth, and is not cleansed with the purifying streams of Divine wisdom, it is certain to recede in worth; it will partake more and more of earthly elements. The finer, the nobler, the more elevating and enlarging elements of character will be absent or will grow weaker; the man will sink; he will become brutish.
II. THE UPWARD PATH. This is, naturally and necessarily, the reverse of the other. It is that wherein:
1. We form a true estimate of ourselves.
2. We open our minds to welcome wisdom from all quarters. We. hearken "unto counsel," i.e. to the words of those who are wiser than ourselves. And it may be that some who have much less learning, or experience, or intellectual capacity than we can claim are in a position to advise us concerning the way of life. It may be even "the little child" who will "lead" us into the circle of truth, into the kingdom of God. And not only unto "counsel" shall we hearken; we shall give heed, if we are wise, to the suggestions of nature, to the teaching of events, to the promptings of the Divine Spirit. We shall be always ready and even eager to learn and willing to apply.
3. We attain to a higher and deeper wisdom. "Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge." In the upward way which he of the humble heart and open mind is travelling there grow the rich fruits of heavenly wisdom. The higher we ascend, the more of these shall we see and gather. To love counsel is to love knowledge; it is to love truth; it is to become the friend and disciple and depository of wisdom. There is a knowledge which is very precious that may be had of all men; it is found on the plain where all feet can tread. There is also a knowledge which dwells upon the hills; only the traveller can reach this and partake of it; and the path which climbs this height is the path of humility and heedfulness; it is taken only by those who are conscious of their own defect, and who are eager to learn all the lessons which the Divine teacher is seeking to impart.—C.
Proverbs 12:3, Proverbs 12:12
Strength and fruitfulness
Concerning the righteous man two things are here affirmed.
I. IN HIM IS STRENGTH. "The root of the righteous shall never be moved." The strong wind comes and blows down the tree which has not struck its roots far into the foil; it tears it up by the roots and stretches it prone upon the ground. It has no strength to stand because its root is easily moved. The righteous man is a tree of another kind; his root shall never be moved; he will stand against the storm. But he must be a man who deserves to be called and considered "righteous" because he is such in deed and in truth; for they are many who pass for such of whom no such affirmation as this can be made. The man of whom the text speaks:
1. Is well rooted. He is rooted
(1) in Divine truth, and not merely in human speculation;
(2) in deep conviction, and not merely in indolent acceptance of inherited belief, or in strong but evanescent emotion;
(3) in the fixed habit of the soul and of the life, and not merely in occasional, spasmodic outbursts.
2. Is immovable. There may come against him the strong winds of bodily indulgence, or of pure affection, or of intellectual struggle and perplexity, or of worldly pressure; but they do not avail; he is immovable; his roots only strike deeper and spread further in the ground. He "stands fast in the Lord;" he is a conqueror through Christ who loves him. For:
3. He is upheld by Divine power. While his own spiritual condition and his moral habits have much to do with his steadfastness, he will be the first to say that God is "upholding him in his integrity, and setting him before his face."
II. IN HIM IS FRUITLESSNESS. "The root of the righteous yieldeth fruit" (Proverbs 12:12). The ungodly man cannot be said to bear fruit, for the product of his soul and of his life does not deserve that fair name.
1. The forms of godly fruitfulness are these:
(1) all excellency of spirit;
(2) all beauty and worthiness of life, the presence of that which is pleasing in the sight of God and admirable in the sight of man;
(3) all earnest endeavour to do good, the patient, persevering effort to instil the thoughts of Christ into the minds of men, to awaken their slumbering consciences, to lift up their lives, to ennoble their character, to enlarge their destiny.
2. The source and the security of such fruitfulness are:
(1) Union with the living Vine.
(2) Abiding in him (John 15:1-8).
(3) The wise and kind discipline of the Divine Husbandman (John 15:2; Hebrews 12:10, Hebrews 12:11).—C.
Right (just) thoughts
"The thoughts of the righteous are right," or are "just" (Revised Version). There is something more than a truism in these words. We may see first—
I. THE PLACE OF THOUGHT IN MAN. This is one of the greatest importance, for it is the deepest of all; it is at the very foundation.
1. Conduct rests on character. It is often said that conduct is the greater part of life; it is certainly that part which is most conspicuous, and therefore most influential. But it is superficial; it rests on character; it depends on the principles which are within the soul. It is these which determine a man's position in the kingdom of God.
2. Character is determined by our prevalent and established feeling; by what we have learned to love, by what we have come to hate. As a man thinketh in his heart, as he feels in his soul, so is he; it is our final and fixed attachments and repulsions that decide our character.
3. Feeling springs from thought. As we think, we feel. By the thoughts admitted to our minds and entertained there are determined our loves and our hatreds. Life, therefore, is ultimately built on thought. What are we thinking?—this is the vital question. Now, the thoughts of the righteous, the upright, the good, the true man, are right, or just.
II. THE JUST THOUGHTS OF THE GOOD. A good man's thoughts are such as are:
1. Just to himself. He owes it to himself to thick only those thoughts which are pure and true. If he harbours those which are impure and untrue, he is doing himself deadly injury, he is inflicting on his spirit, on himself, a fatal wound. This he has no right to do; he is bound, in justice to himself, to guard the gate of his mind against these—to admit only those which are true and pure.
2. Just to his neighbours. He owes it to them to think thoughts that are honest and charitable. We wrong our brethren, in truth and fact if not in appearance, when we think of them that which is not fair toward them. Every really righteous man will therefore banish thoughts which are not thoroughly honest, and also those which are uncharitable; for to be uncharitable is to be essentially and most materially unjust.
3. Just to God. We owe to our Divine Creator and Redeemer all thoughts which are
(1) reverent, leading us to piety and devotion;
(2) grateful, leading us to thankful praise;
(3) submissive, leading us to the one decisive, all-inclusive act of self-surrender, and to daily and hourly obedience to his holy will;
(4) trustful, leading us to a calm assurance that all is well with us, and that the darkness or the twilight will pass into the perfect day.—C.
Consideration or comfort?
It is worth remarking that we might obtain a very wholesome truth from the text, if we take the exact reverse of the proverb as worded in our version; for then we reach the wise conclusion—
I. THAT SELF-RESPECT, HOWEVER INDIGENT, is better than "being ministered unto" at the cost of reputation. It is better to lack bread, or even life itself, really honoring ourself, than it is to receive any amount of service from others, if we have forfeited the regard of the good, and are deservedly "despised." But taking the words as they are, and reaching the sense intended by the writer, we gather—
II. THAT DOMESTIC COMFORT AND SUFFICIENCY ARE MUCH TO BE PREFERRED TO THE GRATIFICATION OF PERSONAL VANITY. One man, in order that he may have consideration and deference from his neighbours, expends his resources on those outward appearances which will command that gratification; to do this he has to deny himself the attendance which he would like to have, and even the nourishment he needs. Another man disregards altogether the slights he may suffer from his meddlesome and intrusive neighbours, in order to supply his home with the food and the comforts which will benefit his family. It is the latter who is the wise man. For:
1. The gratification of vanity is a very paltry satisfaction; there is nothing honourable, but rather ignoble about it; it lowers rather than raises a man in the sight of wisdom.
2. The gratification thus gained is likely to prove very ephemeral, and to diminish constantly in its value; moreover, it is personal and, in that sense, selfish.
3. Domestic comfort is a daily advantage, lasting the whole year round, the whole life long.
4. Domestic comfort not only benefits the head of the household, but all the members of it, and he who makes a happy home is contributing to the good of his country and his kind. Using now the words of the text as suggestive of truths which they do not actually hold, we learn—
III. THAT THERE IS A VALUABLE SERVICE WHICH ALL MAY SECURE. "He that hath a servant." Men are divisible into those that are servants and those that have them. Some are the slaves of their evil habits; these are to be profoundly pitied, however many menservants or maidservants they may have at their call. But we may and should belong to those who hold their habits, whether of the mind or of the life, under their control and at their command. If that be so with us, then, though we should have no dependents at all in our employ, or though we ourselves should be dependents, living in honourable and useful service, we shall have the most valuable servants always at hand to minister to us, building up our character, strengthening our mind, enlarging our life.
IV. THAT WE SHOULD SECURE NOURISHMENT AT ALL COSTS WHATEVER. We must never he "the man that lacketh bread." To attain to any honour, to receive any adulation, to indulge any tancy, and to "lack bread," is a great mistake. For nourishment is strength and fulness of life; it is so in
(1) the physical,
(2) the intellectual,
(3) the moral and spiritual realm.
With the regularity and earnestness with which we ask for "daily bread," we should labour and strive to secure it, for our whole nature.—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 29:11.)—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 27:23.)—C.
Growth and seductiveness
The goal which a man will reach must depend on the tendency of the habits he has formed, or the way in which his life inclines, whether upward or downward. Are his habits such that we can properly speak of them as growing toward perfection, or such as may be more properly thought of as conducting or seducing to wrong and ruin?
I. THE GROWTH OF GOODNESS. "The righteous is more abundant than his neighbour" (marginal reading). He is more abundant because:
1. The blessing of God rests upon him, and his reward is in fruitfulness in some direction.
2. Righteousness means or includes virtue, temperance, industry, thrift, culture; and these mean prosperity and success.
3. God's great prevailing law that "to him that hath [uses, or puts out, what powers he has] is given, and he shall have abundance," is constantly operating here and now, in all realms of human action; consequently, the good man is reaping the beneficial result.
(1) In the physical world, bodily, muscular exercise "is profiting," and ends in abounding health and strength and capacity of endurance.
(2) In the mental world, study and patient observation result in abounding knowledge and intellectual grasp.
(3) In the spiritual world, devotion and the daily learning of Christ (Matthew 11:28) end in abounding virtue, in the "more abundant life" which the Saviour offers to confer. Thus the life of the righteous man is one of continual growth in all good directions, and he is "more abundant than his neighbour."
II. THE SEDUCTIVENESS OF SIN. "The way of the wicked seduceth them." We read (Hebrews 3:18) of "the deceitfulness of sin." And we know only too well by experience and observation how seductive and deceitful are its ways.
1. It begins with a pleasureableness which promises to continue, but which fails, which indeed turns to misery and ruin (see Proverbs 7:6-27). At first it. is a soft green slope, but the end is a steep and rocky precipice over which the victim falls.
2. It promises an easy escape from its hold, but it coils its cords around its subjects with quiet hand, until it holds them in a fast captivity.
3. It persuades its adherents that its ways are right when they are utterly wrong, and thus sings to sleep the conscience which should be aroused and active.
4. It pleads the crowded character of its path, and assures of safety; although the presence of a multitude is no guard or guarantee whatever against the condemnation and the retribution of the Almighty. But let youth understand that all these are "refuges of lies." For the truth is that
(1) the way of transgressors is all too soon found to be "hard" indeed.
(2) After a very little way is trodden, it is most difficult, and further on all but impossible to return.
(3) The paths of sin are all grievously wrong in the sight of Divine purity.
(4) "The wages of sin is death."—C.
The one way of life
"All that a man hath will he give for his life;" but of what worth is life to many men? What does it mean to them but work and sleep and indulgence? Of how many is it true that they "are dead while they live"! But "in the way of righteousness there is life, and in the pathway thereof is no death."
I. THE WAY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS THE ONE PATH OF LIFE. It is the one and only path; for the paths of sin are those of spiritual death. In them the human traveller is separated from God, from all excellency of character, from all true and lasting joy: and what is this but death in everything except the name? It is not the true, the real life of man. But righteousness in the full, broad sense in which the word is here employed, includes:
1. Devotion; the spirit of reverence, the act of prayer, the approach of our human spirit to God, and our habitual walking with him and worship of him.
2. Virtue; the practice of truthfulness, temperance, purity, integrity; the exercise of self-restraint, the discharge of the duties which we owe to our fellow men, respecting ourselves and honouring them.
3. Service; the endeavour, in a spirit of loving kindness, to raise, to succour, to guide, to bless, all whom we can reach and influence.
4. Joy; i.e. not mere excitement or gratification, which may expire at any moment, and may leave a sting or a stain behind, but rather that honourable and pure elation of spirit which springs from conscious rectitude, which is the consequence of our being in harmony with all that is around us, and with him who is above us, which lasts through the changes of circumstances, which "through all time abides" which "satisfies and sanctifies the soul." This is life; this is life indeed; this is worth callling life; and this is in the way of righteousness.
II. ITS IMMUNITY FROM DEATH. "In the pathway," etc.
1. No death during mortal life; so long as we walk in the light of Divine truth there is no fear of our stumbling into error and falling into the condition of spiritual death; our life in God and with him will be steadily maintained.
2. No real death at the end of that life; for though we must pass through "the portal we call death," yet "it is not death to die," when the termination of mortal existence is the starting-point of the celestial life; when the being unclothed of the earthly tenement means the "being clothed upon with our house which is from heaven," when "absence from the body" means "presence with the Lord."
3. Fulness and enlargement of life forever; for our hope and confident expectation is that, along whatever paths our God may lead us in the heavenly spheres, the way we shall take will be one that will be ever disclosing greater grandeurs, ever opening new sources of joy, ever unfolding new secrets, and making life mean more and more to our rejoicing spirits as the years and ages pass.—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 12". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent